Yeoman will remind you that Houston was 2-8 in 1975. "We fired eight blanks that year, so how can you tell?" he says. This year, rival coaches know the Cougars are loaded with talent.
16 Arizona State
Since his high school playing days 30 years ago, Arizona State Coach Frank Kush had avoided a losing season until last year. His Sun Devils dropped their home opener to underdog UCLA and never recovered, finishing with a galling 4-7 record. "We had many things go wrong in 76," Kush says. "They were things tangible and intangible. If it were any one item we would have corrected it. Suffice it to say we started with spring ball and we're building solidly with winning foremost in mind." Grimace. "We will not sink to the levels of last season."
Senior Wide Receiver John Jefferson is one of the players Sun Devil fans hope will lead ASU back to glory. He suffered from recurring ankle sprains last season, yet he holds most of ASU's catching records and should have every one of them by the time he's through. Kush, who has coached such receivers as J. D. Hill and Charley Taylor, rates Jefferson the best. Who will be throwing to Jefferson is the question. Dennis Sproul saw the most action last year but suffered a knee injury that required off-season surgery, then more surgery for bone chips. The job could go to senior Fred Mortensen or one of two promising sophs, 6'5" Mark Malone or John Fouch. And there is a freshman with a good pedigree—Zeke Bratkowski's son Steve.
Tight End Bruce Hardy had a poor junior year but a fine spring, according to the coaching staff. Another junior that Kush feels is ready is Running Back Mike Harris, a 205-pounder who played little last year. Back, too, is 5'8", 174-pound Arthur (Turtle) Lane, who had knee surgery early in the 1976 season. Four out of five starters return in the offensive line; from an 11-0 team that would be impressive, from a 4-7 team, maybe not.
Speaking of his 5-2 defense, Kush, perhaps lying low, says he has "problems at the tackles." Switching 6'4", 242-pound Bob Pfister over from the offense may have solved one of them. The linebacking corps will be experienced. The defensive backfield had looked good going into spring training but looked even better coming out, after the coaching staff had a chance to work with junior-college transfer Kim Anderson.
Arizona State and Arizona turn the Pac-8 into the Pac-10 in 1978, so this will be the last season before, as Kush says, "we go out of the bass pond and into the ocean to fight sharks. We're going to have to get that quality kid who's as big as anyone else." ASU did do well in recruiting such blue-chippers as Bratkowski, Anderson, Running Back Newton Williams from North Carolina and 6'3", 240-pound Defensive Tackle Eddie Sanders from Miami.
"We have a lot to prove to ourselves," says Kush. "I think the kids have the right frame of mind. If they don't, they're going to have it. If you're any kind of competitor at all you don't forget that kind of year. That'll be a permanent scar as far as I'm concerned."
The quarterback is a senior with 15 plays under his belt, one of them a pass. The offensive line has one returnee. On defense, nine veterans are back, but a year ago Florida gave up 292 points in 12 games, and the 4,391 yards the Gators yielded was the most in the Southeastern Conference. Still, Florida should do just fine this season. The Gators won eight games last year, so the defense, as Coach Doug Dickey insists, isn't as bad as it seems. Heavy attrition, plus injuries, forced him to start eight new players, and it was a lack of experience, not talent, that led to boxcars on the scoreboard.