Coming off a 5-5-1 season—worst in Darrell Royal's two decades as head coach—Texas, under new Coach Fred Akers, hopes to bounce back with a revamped offense geared around the running ability of 225-pound Earl Campbell. Akers' first move was to scrap the wishbone, which confined Campbell to banging up the middle. This year Texas will run from the veer, allowing Campbell to use his speed and exceptional strength on pitchouts, and from the I, with Campbell at tailback. "I was afraid they'd do something like this," says Oklahoma Defensive Coach Larry Lacewell. "At tailback Campbell will be almost unfair."
Akers also plans for Texas to throw the ball quite a bit to Campbell. Texas may also have two of the finest wide receivers in the school's history. One is senior Split End Alfred Jackson, the other is sophomore Flanker Johnny (Lam) Jones, the Olympic sprinter. Used at running back last year, Jones finished second to Campbell in team rushing. If the offense sputters, there is always Russell Erxleben, the nation's leading punter (46.6) who also kicked 12 field goals last season, including a 57-yarder. Should the largely untested defensive unit come through, Texas will be tough.
Another coach stepping into the role of spoiler is Lou Holtz, who takes over for Frank Broyles at Arkansas. Like Texas, the Razorbacks will rely on exceptional speed to make their veer go. And the similarities don't end there. Arkansas also has an outstanding kicker in Steve Little, whose longest placement last year was 61 yards. What could make the difference is that Holtz has a veteran defensive unit. Last year Baylor had a surprisingly good season (7-3-1), but graduation has riddled both the offensive and defensive teams, and it would be a shock if the Bears could do as well. Another young team is Rice, which under Coach Homer Rice threw 504 times last year. The Owls will probably keep firing, but Quarterback Tommy Kramer is gone and the intricacies of Rice's triple-pocket combination take time to master. In conference play last year SMU was 2-6; this year things could get worse. For instance, Ohio State is the last warmup before SMU closes out the season entirely with SWC opponents. TCU has not had a winning football team since 1971. New Coach F. A. Dry, from Tulsa, where his teams won or shared four Missouri Valley Conference titles, inherits 39 lettermen—including Receiver Mike Renfro, who seems to have his dad Ray's ability, with 42 receptions last year, 49 the year before—and a near hopeless task.
The Big Ten has two new coaches, Gary Moeller at Illinois and Jim Young at Purdue. Both played for Woody Hayes at Ohio State. Moeller was a linebacker and captain in 1962 and Young a fullback in the 1950s. Both have also been defensive coordinators for Michigan's Bo Schembechler. They would also love to break the stranglehold their former mentors have on the Big Ten title. They won't. While both Illinois and Purdue recruited well, neither is a threat in 1977. Moeller has installed a Michigan-style five-man line in hopes of plugging the Illinois defense that gave up 22 points a game last year. On offense, senior Quarterback Kurt Steger will have 6'7" Dan Melsek and 6'8" Rich Grimmett at the tackle spots for protection. Purdue upset Michigan 16-14 last year but finished in a four-way tie for third with Minnesota, Indiana and Illinois, each 4-4 in conference play. Young may have a wealth of Big Ten experience, but that is not the case with his team—particularly on offense, where Purdue will have new faces at quarterback, tailback and at all but one position on the offensive line.
Last season Michigan State was the Big Ten's premier passing team. Asked why his Spartans threw so much, second-year Coach Darryl Rogers said, "If I was winning all our games, except the Rose Bowl, I'd run, too." Given the Spartans' prospects, Quarterback Eddie Smith will still be in there pitching. Last year he passed for 1,749 yards and 13 touchdowns, seven of them to the conference's top receiver, Kirk Gibson. The Smith-Gibson combo is back, but so is a porous rush defense that gave up 256 yards per game as Michigan State went 4-6-1.
Indiana's starting backfield returns, including sophomore Tailback Mike Harkrader. His 1,003 yards rushing was second best among returnees in the Big Ten. And Coach Lee Corso has more good news. "We have Michigan right where we want them—off the schedule," he says.
Although Minnesota and Wisconsin have nine and seven defensive starters back respectively, neither has a veteran quarterback. Iowa will be trying to improve on its most successful season (5-6) in seven years, but it will take an upset or two to pull it off.