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Indeed, Florida's best game defensively was the season finale, in which it held Miami, a team that had scored 27 points against Notre Dame a week earlier, to 10 points. By then Richard Ruth, who bench-presses 435 pounds, and Michael DuPree had emerged as a formidable pair of ends. And the linebackers were awesome, especially Scott Hutchinson, who led the Gators with 12 sacks, and Scot Brantley, Rookie of the Year in the SEC.
Brantley is a training-room psychologist who suggests that the real problem on defense was too many juniors. As many as six started. "Freshmen and sophomores play hard because it's new; seniors because this is it," he says. "But juniors have no built-in motivation." The Brantley Observation will be tested this season, for Florida starts just four juniors. Included in that count is Placekicker Berj Yepremian, Garo's little brother.
Once again the Gators have no shortage of fine running backs and receivers. Wes Chandler is an All-America split end whose 44 catches netted 967 yards, tops in the SEC, and 10 TDs, as many as anyone in the nation. Halfback Tony Green is just 292 yards shy of becoming Florida's all-time rushing leader. Green has great acceleration and elusiveness, and catching Chandler in the secondary is a bit like catching a dollar bill dropped out of an airplane. Also returning are Willie Wilder, who gained even more yards than Green in 1976, and 230-pound Earl Carr, a 9.7 sprinter who shifts to fullback this year. Only Dave Forrester returns to the line, but newcomers Mark Totten (6'6", 290 pounds) and Steve Kiefer (6'5", 270) certainly have the size, and Bill Bennek was a standout in the spring.
With Quarterback Bill Kynes deciding to accept a Rhodes scholarship over another year of football, Terry LeCount takes over. He is a 9.5 sprinter and ex-split end whose one pass attempt last season was good for a touchdown. "He's an absolute ath-a-lete," Dickey says. "He'll make the switch with no trouble at all."
Pitt and Utah replace Houston and North Carolina on the schedule; otherwise it is the same. The big one is Mississippi State on Sept. 24. That's when Dickey finds out if LeCount and the defense are as good as he thinks. Or, in terms of juniors, if less truly is more.
It is hardly a surprise to find the Cornhuskers in the Top 20. In the past eight seasons they have won 79 games, and last year's 27-24 defeat of Texas Tech in the Astro-Blue-bonnet was their seventh bowl victory during that period. What is surprising is finding the Cornhuskers ranked as low as 18, especially since six of their first seven games will be played before home crowds in Memorial Stadium.
Most years that would have proved too great an advantage to spot a Nebraska team. But as of this spring there was no first-string quarterback—or rather there were five, which is the same thing—and Nebraska's power I needs a passer in the tradition of Jerry Tagge, David Humm or Vince Ferragamo to make it go. The depth chart lists Ed Burns, Tim Hager, Randy Garcia, Jeff Quinn and Tom Sorley all on the same line. Last year they completed a total of nine passes, which was fine because Ferragamo was winging his way to 2,254 yards and 22 touchdowns. But someone is going to have to come through during those first seven weeks, because after that Nebraska runs into Oklahoma State, Missouri and Oklahoma on the road to close out its regular season.
Tom Osborne has never beaten the Sooners in the four years since he succeeded Bob Devaney as coach, although his teams have always finished in the Top Ten in the year-end polls. The rap is that Osborne is too conservative, especially when it counts most. All three of last year's defeats (the Huskers finished 9-3-1) were to conference rivals, which is proof positive that the Big Eight has become too strong, top to bottom, to be bullied by the likes of Nebraska any longer.
In the Cornhuskers' favor is the presence of Lance Van Zandt, who was hired away from Kansas to revamp Nebraska's so-called bend-but-never-break defense, which cracked wide open in two of last year's losses (34-24 to Missouri and 37-28 to Iowa State). Under Van Zandt the unit should be more attack-oriented than in the past. Or as Linebacker Jim Wightman says, "This is a more vicious system." Still, the personnel is smallish, particularly by Nebraska standards.