When Doug Dickey arrived in Gainesville in 1970, he inherited one All-America end with gout and a team with a tradition of big-play stars who didn't always want to play big. The campus was alive with Frisbees, halter-topped coeds and a professor who invented Gatorade. Alums considered the Florida-Georgia game the world's largest outdoor cocktail party, and although the Gators often won as many as eight or nine games, they had not won an SEC title in 42 years. "We couldn't look somebody in the eye and beat them," Dickey says. "Now I think we can."
Florida's record has improved annually since 1971. Last year the Gators lost only two games, by a total of four points, before Maryland upset them 13-0 in the Gator Bowl. "Nobody cared about the Terps," says Linebacker Scott Hutchinson. "We thought we'd get a Top Ten team to play in the Gator because we were really rolling."
This year the rolling should continue. Florida has a fairly soft schedule and 18 starters or former starters back. Jimmy DuBose is gone to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but the backfield sparkles even without him. Consider the speed: Halfback Willie Wilder outran Ivory Crockett in a 60-yard dash last winter. Fullbacks Larry Brinson and Robert Morgan both run the 40 under 4.6 and neither is as fast as Sammy (Juice) Lemon. Tony Green, a disappointment last fall, reported at a trim 180 pounds, hungry to break the school rushing record (856 yards) he set in 1974 when he was named SEC Freshman of the Year. Back, too, are Wes Chandler, who averaged 22.9 yards a catch, and Kicker David Posey, the SEC's leading scorer. The wishbone—or whoosh!bone, as it's known in Gainesville—will be run by senior Jimmy Fisher, a 43% passer, but a winner both times he started as a Gator. Dickey's main offensive problem, if it can be called a problem, is finding the right spot for Terry LeCount, a world-class quartermiler who has been alternating at quarterback and wide-out.
The strength on the offensive line—Guards Keith Tribble and Joe Pupello, Tackles Bruck Mulliniks and David Forrester and Center Robbie Moore—is evident when you consider that such specimens as Mark Totten (6'6", 275), Steve Kiefer (6'6", 263), Don Swafford (6'7", 233) and Gavin Sprietsma (6'7", 235) all come off the bench. And yet the bruisers most talked about are on defense: Darrell Carpenter, the team's leading tackier, and Hutchinson, shifting from tackle to middle linebacker in place of departed All-America Sammy Green.
With nine games in Florida and no Alabama to play, Dickey knows the time is ripe for a shot at the conference title. "We want 110% from our players," he says. "Those are the guys who we'll play." Which is another way of saying tradition better not interfere.
Arkansas' athletic committee was told in 1972 by Coach Frank Broyles that it would be at least three years before the slumping Razorbacks were competitive again. Competitive at Arkansas is not like competitive at other schools. Competitive in Fayetteville means winning nine or 10 games and going to the Cotton Bowl. Anything less is a disappointment, and in 1972, 1973 and 1974 the football-loving people of Arkansas were sorely disappointed. The team finished fourth in the Southwest Conference each of those years, won a total of only three more games than it lost and received no bowl invitations. "It was a very difficult time," says Broyles. "I put on a face and tried to go about business in an optimistic way."
What made matters worse was that the rest of the conference was growing stronger while the high schools in Arkansas were not producing the quality players they once did. Broyles got busy, poured money into new facilities and hired a staff of assistants who could recruit as well as they could coach. In 1975, right on schedule, all that effort paid off. Arkansas finished 10-2, shared the league title and flattened Georgia in the Cotton Bowl 31-10. Which made everybody in Arkansas very happy.
This year there should be even more joy. "Our squad has learned how to win again," says Broyles, "and we now have a proven player or a player with potential at every position."