Quarterback Vince Ferragamo, a transfer from the University of California, started the last six games of the season after Terry Luck got hurt. He completed nearly 59% of his throws and ended up leading the Big Eight in touchdown passes with 12. But against Arizona State, Ferragamo threw an interception on the first series of downs and was benched by Coach Tom Osborne. He stayed on the sideline the rest of the afternoon while Nebraska lost 17-14. Neither Osborne nor Ferragamo has had much to say about the incident. Ferragamo went through spring practice as the No. 1 quarterback and will probably start against LSU in the season opener.
Nebraska's offensive line, with four returning starters, figures to be redoubtable. The man who makes the unit work is mountainous Bob Lingenfelter, a tackle who stands 6'7" and weighs 282 pounds. The principle beneficiary will be I-back Monte Anthony, a 207-pound junior who is starting for the third year. The only new face in the starting back-field will be Fullback Lafayette Donnell. If there is a weakness on offense, it would seem to be a lack of speed. Nebraska hasn't had a fast, shifty running back since Johnny Rodgers four years ago.
The defensive line is imposing. Tackle Mike Fultz, 6'5" and 275, was All-Big Eight last year. Ron Pruitt, a 251-pound senior, missed the season with a broken leg, but is now hale and hearty as well as eager and willing. The linebackers are returning starters. Only in the secondary are the Cornhuskers short on experience, but that does not mean they are short on talent.
Osborne, now in his fourth year as head coach, has a 28-7-1 record and says nine of his current Cornhuskers are among the best players he has ever had. That's good enough to assure that Memorial Stadium, the biggest thing in downtown Lincoln, will once again be the noisiest.
For the first time in 17 lively football seasons somebody other than John McKay is head coach of the Trojans. That somebody is John Robinson, 41, who was a McKay assistant for three years before shifting to the Oakland Raider staff last season. Will the school's 17th head man be a winner in the tradition of McKay (127-40-8) or Howard Jones (121-36-13)? Judging from an excellent spring practice and a fieldful of players wearing cardinal and gold, Robinson could be 12-0 this year or close to it, which wouldn't be a bad start in the right direction. It doesn't hurt that the four toughest-looking games on the schedule—against Missouri, Cal, UCLA and Notre Dame—will be played in L.A.
Actually, quarterback is the question-mark position, not head coach. Trojan fans remember the second half of last year's UCLA game when big Vince Evans couldn't have thrown a football into the Grand Canyon while standing at the rim. Robinson, who must have sprocket holes in his eyes from studying and restudying 1975 films, has decided that Evans must run more instead of standing back there for 10 minutes waiting to find an open man. Robinson has also hired one of the best quarterback coaches in the West, Paul Hackett, who helped develop Steve Bartkowski and Joe Roth at Cal. If Evans doesn't improve from a 31% passer to something near the desired 50%, USC will go with JC transfer Walt Ransom or Rob Hertel, also a fine baseball player. The receivers are first rate, especially Randy Simmrin, leading catcher as a soph, world-class quartermiler Ken Randle and Shelton Diggs. Noting that senior Tailback Ricky Bell caught a short pass in the Liberty Bowl and raced 76 yards to a score, Robinson plans to throw more to his backs.
Bell, a linebacker as a freshman and a fullback as a soph, led the nation in rushing from tailback in '75, amassing the second-highest yardage total in NCAA history, 1,875, which was 49.7% of USC's total offense. He could emulate Trojan Halfbacks Mike Garrett and O. J. Simpson as a Heisman Trophy winner. Bell and Fullbacks Dave Farmer and Mosi Tatupu will be running behind a good offensive line led by 265-pound Tackle Marvin Powell, a prelaw major, and Guard Donnie Hickman.
The defense doesn't have the glamour names, but it is anything but tissue paper. All-Coast Tackle Gary Jeter starts for the fourth season, and aiding him will be the team's leading tackier. Linebacker David Lewis, a 230-pounder who runs the 40 in a nifty 4.65, and Linebacker Mario Celotto, "one of the best defensive players in America," according to Robinson. Safety Clint Strozier led the secondary in both tackles and interceptions.
"This is a great school," says Robinson. "The football tradition is the greatest. We don't aspire to be average."