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In the Big Ten 1977 will be a year in which the good get better. Ohio State, the No. 5 ranked team in the nation in 1976, has eight starters returning on offense and seven on defense. The Buckeyes also have 28 prize freshmen, a bunch being compared to the class of '70, among whose luminaries were Rex Kern, John Brockington and Jack Tatum. Whether Ohio State will be the best, however, won't be determined until the last game of the season. This year the Big Ten title game is scheduled for Ann Arbor.
Woody Hayes took his 9-2-1 Buckeyes into the 1977 Orange Bowl against Colorado and his two-tailback attack prevailed 27-10. The 64-year-old coach had started last season with his customary I formation, which relied on Fullback Pete Johnson to be the chief churner of the cloud of dust. But Johnson sprained both ankles in the third game, a 22-21 upset by Missouri, and Hayes went to Tailbacks Jeff Logan and junior-college transfer Ron Springs. Well healed in time for the Orange Bowl, Johnson spent the evening on the bench. This year Hayes will start the season with his fastest backfield in memory and may even try some more new tricks—with the proviso that the ball stays on the ground. Last season Ohio State put the ball in the air only 40 times and scored only one touchdown on a pass in 12 games.
Veteran junior Quarterback Rod Gerald will direct the offense, which will again feature the shifty Logan, who gained 1,248 yards in 218 carries in 1976, and the speedy Springs, who rushed for 389 yards in 72 carries. There is also Gerald himself to contend with. The fastest man in the back-field (4.3 in the 40), he ran for 465 yards last year. Should Hayes decide he needs more heft in the backfield ( Logan is 5'10", 184 pounds, Springs 6'2", 196 pounds), there is a power fullback waiting in the wings, 6'1", 223-pound Paul Campbell. With only two of last year's starters missing, the offensive line, led by 279-pound Tackle Chris Ward, will again be a force to be reckoned with.
All-America Tom Skladany, the nation's leading punter in 1974 and 1975, graduated. Junior David McKee, a 1976 walk-on, will probably do the punting this season, while freshman Doug McEldowney and soccer player Vlade Janakievski, a native of Yugoslavia, will be the placekickers.
A lack of depth in the secondary may be the Buckeyes' only weakness, even though that unit returns intact, and Hayes contends that "nobody in the country recruited better defensive backs." Standout Defensive End Bob Brudzinsky has graduated, but reserve Linebacker Paul Ross is a promising replacement. The speed of All-America Safety Raymond Griffin and the range of Linebacker Tom Cousineau, who led the Buckeyes in tackles (102) and assists (82), should guarantee that the defense will be redoubtable again. Just how redoubtable will be determined on Nov. 19 when it meets Michigan, last season's NCAA leader in total offense, to decide whose turn it is to go to the Rose Bowl.
By the end of last season Texas A&M may have had the best college football team in the country. In the stretch the Aggies won six games in a row by lopsided scores and breezed to a 37-14 victory over Florida in the Sun Bowl. In a most practical way, that final rush of out-of-balance scores contributes to the belief that the Aggies can be every bit as good this year. True, eight starters are gone from a defensive unit that ranked fourth in the nation. But because the Aggies ran off with so many games, their reserves got a lot of playing time and thus valuable experience, and 14 lettermen will be on call.
The Aggies may have been a bit lacking in speed last season, but not in strength or size. Consider Fullback George Woodard who at 6 feet, 265 pounds is even more immense than he was last year. He could never be confused with a jackrabbit, but who really wants to catch him? In the spring Coach Emory Bellard abandoned the wishbone—which he had helped introduce while on the University of Texas staff in 1968—in favor of the veer. After a week the Aggies were back to the wishbone, and Bellard gave up any notion of trimming down Woodard. The Aggies put Woodard through weight and density testing and found that he has only 17% fat, low for his size, fat-testers say. As a wishbone fullback it is handy to be big and strong. A sophomore last year, Woodard ran up the middle for 1,153 yards and 17 touchdowns. Complementing him was 6'2", 197-pound freshman Halfback Curtis Dickey, who rushed for 726 yards and eight touchdowns. The other running back, David Brothers, was also a freshman starter and accounted for 244 yards. Three more starters return in the offensive line—Center Mark Dennard and Tackles Frank Myers and Cody Risien. It is hard to imagine any collection of mere humans who will be able to stop the Aggies on the ground.
Unless, of course, there is no passing game to worry about, and that is unlikely. Despite the departure of a couple of top receivers, A&M's passing should suffice. The quarterback is David Walker, who started his first game for the Aggies at the age of 16. At this time last year Walker was a third-teamer and discouraged. He had quit football to stay home in Sulphur, La., but finally decided to return and started those all-victorious, high-scoring final seven games, in which he completed 60% of his passes.
It will be up to a rebuilt defense to decide how high in the polls A&M can go. But Bellard doesn't waste anyone's time by poor-mouthing his chances. "I don't think our defense is going to be a weak spot," he says.