Penn State's overall talent will not be much different this season, however, because Paterno has capable replacements. He doesn't like to play freshmen too much, even though he was obliged to last year because of injuries. There are no real superstars around; the fact that the team has five co-captains may attest to this. Without Bahr, Penn State's offense figures to be more wide open out of sheer necessity. Moreover, Paterno took a spring trip, which revised his thinking a little.
Where did Paterno visit? Places like USC and California—plus Oakland, for a look at the Raiders. He says he picked up some interesting tidbits, but what might change the team's offensive complexion more than any other factor is sophomore Quarterback Chuck Fusina. As a freshman, Fusina helped beat Pittsburgh 7-6 in a game marked by Panther Kicker Carson Long's three errant field-goal attempts in the fourth quarter. Fusina still has to beat out senior John Andress, but he throws the ball so beautifully Paterno won't deny the possibility.
Because the Nittany Lions' two best players—Linebacker Kurt Allerman and Offensive Tackle Brad Benson—can't score many points themselves, Penn State's fortunes will turn on Cefalo's renewed good health and on players who had intermittent success last year: Tailback Rich Mauti (100-yard kickoff return, 70-yard TD reception) and Flanker Tom Donovan (61-yard run, 5.5-yard season average).
By the way, a word of advice to that guy in the bar who likes to call Paterno at 2 a.m. and ask how the Lions are doing: wait until Sept. 18 when Ohio State pays its first visit to Beaver Stadium. The coach says he'll have the answer after that one.
12 TEXAS A&M
For Texas A&M the best thing about the start of the 1976 season is that maybe people will stop talking about the 1975 season, which for the Aggies was the best of times and the worst of times. They won 10 of 11 regular-season games, shared the Southwest Conference title and led the nation in total defense. But a stunning loss to Arkansas in their last game kept them out of the Cotton Bowl and ruined their chances of gaining the national championship. Instead, the Aggies went to the Liberty Bowl, where, uninspired, they lost to USC. "It's a shame to have a 10-2 season and be so disappointed," says Defensive Tackle Jimmy Dean. "All the fans feel that way, and I guess I do too."
If 1975 was a season to forget, 1976 could be one to remember. Although half the starters are gone, including both wishbone halfbacks and two All-America defenders, there is no shortage of optimism in Aggieland. "A program is sound when you are able to replace your good players," says Emory Bellard, who has improved his record in each of his four years as coach. "We're at that stage now. We have every reason to be optimistic."
After experimenting with the veer offense in the spring, Bellard is staying with the wishbone, which he helped devise while an assistant at Texas. There will be more passing, however, with Quarterback David Shipman rated steady and dependable. As for the bread-and-butter running game of the wishbone, 240-pound Fullback George Woodard scatters tacklers like duckpins. Among the new candidates for halfback is speedy Curtis Dickey, one of the state's best high school runners last year and now one of several outstanding freshmen. Bellard also hopes some reassignments in the line will make the blocking more consistent.
Assistant Head Coach Melvin Robertson again feels pleased with his defense. "We might not produce last year's statistics, but we could be better," he says. "We have five guys the pros really like." Among them are All-Conference Tackles Jimmy Dean and Edgar Fields. "I've always been an Aggie," says Dean, who was born while his father was an A&M student 21 years ago. On the other hand, Fields says, "Until I came here, I didn't even know what an Aggie was." Another standout is Middle Linebacker Robert Jackson, who might still be loading steel at Texas Forge if he had not seen some of his old high school friends playing college ball on television and decided, "Hey, I can do that." Jackson called the coach at Henderson County Junior College, made that team and then attracted the attention of A&M recruiters.
Even with late-season road games at Arkansas and Texas, the Aggies like their chances this year. "I can't say we'll have an average season," says Fields. "I think we'll be great." Maybe even unforgettable.