Pittsburgh's alltime leading running back, Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett, is a Dallas Cowboy. Coach of the Year Johnny Majors, who masterminded the Panthers' rise from a 1-10 team in 1972 to a 12-0 national champion in 1976, is the coach at Tennessee, his alma mater. All told, 11 starters are gone, five on offense and six on defense. Say hello to Jackie Sherrill, and wish him well. Pitt's new coach, who last year was at Washington State, is not a complete stranger. From 1973 to 1975 he was one of Majors' assistants and the architect of the Panthers' 5-2 defense, an alignment he plans to keep. But it is doubtful if he can keep Pittsburgh No. 1.
"I try to get the 'if nots'—what if I don't do this or that—out of my mind as quickly as possible and get to the 'ifs,' " says Sherrill, who at 33 is the youngest coach ever to undertake the task of defending a national title.
There are plenty of "ifs" on offense despite the return of Quarterback Matt Cavanaugh, who completed nearly 60% of his passes (for 1,046 yards) and rushed for 366 more. Sherrill will switch the Pitt attack from the veer to the I or pro set. The reason is not just Cavanaugh's quality arm. Pittsburgh's receiving corps is one of the areas where the team has great depth, with junior Split End Gordon Jones and senior Flankers Willie Taylor and Randy Reutershan. Fullback Elliott Walker, who blocked superbly for Dorsett, has shed 15 pounds since last season and at 190 should get the 300 yards he needs to become the school's second-leading rusher. Guards Tom Brzoza and Matt Carroll bring a total of five years of experience to the offensive line, but the other four starters are gone.
Last season Pitt had the nation's sixth stingiest defense, but has lost both ends, two linebackers, a tackle and the middle guard. However, the secondary—J. C. Wilson, LeRoy Felder, Jeff Delaney and Bob Jury—is intact; and it was second in the nation with 29 interceptions in 1976. The stick-out is Jury, a safety who pulled in 9 to rank second in the country in this category. The lone returning starter on the line is 6'6", 228-pound Tackle Randy Holloway, who topped the Panthers last season with 18 quarterback sacks. Junior Dave Logan steps in at middle guard and should do creditably. Although 6' 2", 240 pounds, he can run the 40 in 4.7.
The biggest "if of all is the kicking. Beginning in 1973 Carson Long and Larry Swider booted every placement and punt, respectively, but no more. "If I had been here last year," says Sherrill, "the one thing I would have done is recruit a kicker. Can you imagine a freshman coming in with the game on the line against Notre Dame on national television?" Sherrill's placekicker just may be David Trout, a freshman from Mount Pleasant, Pa. It won't take long to see if he's the goods. Tune in on Sept. 10 when Pitt opens against Notre Dame.
14 Mississippi State
In Mississippi these days, he who laughs last in the fall is generally a State fan. From all the old jokes a powerhouse is abuilding. No more do the football fans in Starkville think that The Wretched of the Earth is a chronicle of the Bulldogs' sufferings in the SEC. At last the football team is getting more publicity than the school's cheese factory. Or, at least it will after the NCAA lifts its probation two games into the season.
Last year, playing in relative obscurity (no TV exposure, no possibility of a bowl game), the Bulldogs of Bob Tyler went 9-2. their best record since before World War II, and as left-handed Quarterback Bruce Threadgill says, "If you can win being on probation, you sure can win being off it." Especially when most of the horses are back in the barn. Even Tyler, raised in the Southern tradition of preseason caution, says, "I feel good about this team." That's like Patton saying he felt good about the Third Army.
Gone is ace Running Back Walter Packer, plus three of the people who opened holes for him, but there to insure that the wishbone fulfills Tyler's every desire are Fullback Dennis Johnson, 6'4" and a fast 235 pounds and last year's leading rusher (859 yards), and 195-pound sophomore Halfback James Jones. In addition, there is licensed pilot Thread-gill, who came of age last season along with the Bulldogs' switch from the veer to the wishbone offense. As a sophomore, his pass completion percentage was a lowly 35%, but last year he completed 45 of 89 throws for seven TDs, scored four more himself and personally accounted for 1,361 of the Bulldogs' 3,803 yards of total offense.