For the moment at least, it's Texas. Let's hear no arguments out of Norman, Tuscaloosa, South Bend and those other campuses with teams sporting one black eye. Texas has none, having wound up its season undefeated, the nation's only perfect record. In a last furious weekend of college football, the Longhorns scored a convincing 57-28 victory over Texas A&M as a bunch of teams rooted for a miracle. Alabama and Oklahoma crushed Auburn and Nebraska. Arkansas and Penn State edged Texas Tech and Pittsburgh. Michigan and Notre Dame were home eating turkey.
All those teams might be where Texas is today but for a single slip. Sometimes a team with one loss might have a genuine claim to No. 1 over an unbeaten team, but this is not one of those years. Oklahoma? Lost to Texas. Arkansas? Lost to Texas. Alabama? Lost to Nebraska which lost to Oklahoma which lost to Texas. Penn State? Lost to Kentucky which lost to Baylor which lost to Texas. Notre Dame? Lost to Mississippi which lost to Alabama which...well, we've been through that. Michigan? The Wolverines lost to Minnesota and, yes, the road winds back to Texas through Indiana, Nebraska and Oklahoma.
Come bowl time, the hopefuls get one last chance, especially Notre Dame. To finish the season as national champions, the Longhorns must beat the Irish in the Cotton Bowl. If they do not, hang on. Certainly Notre Dame will start waving index fingers. The winner of Oklahoma-Arkansas in the Orange Bowl will make loud noises. And there will be cries from the Sugar Bowl, too, if Alabama wins its game against Ohio State, which beat Minnesota, which....
Two other teams that often in the past have been deeply involved in such matters met last weekend, USC knocking UCLA out of the Rose Bowl—and knocking Washington in—with a last-second field goal. The game was not for No. 1, except in Los Angeles, but these two old rivals, despite their loss-studded 1977 records, had the satisfaction of playing the most dramatic game of this dramatic weekend.
TEXAS 57, TEXAS A&M 28
On the eve of his most important game, against Texas A&M in the Hate Bowl at College Station, University of Texas Running Back Earl Campbell wants some peace. To this end, he is tactfully ridding his dorm room of myriad followers. He locks the door, takes the phone off the hook, puts a rock group on the stereo, feeds his five goldfish and one catfish, then sets about answering a query as to how he got so good: "I don't drill on trying to be the best. I just expect to be." That sentiment warms the heart of his coach, Fred Akers, who likes to tell his players, "Seldom, if ever, do you exceed your own expectations."
Earl is one of 11 kids raised by a widowed mother in a plank shack on country road 492 near Tyler, Texas. He tried to improve his lot by hustling pool, which could earn him $100 on a good night. "We're poor," says Campbell, "but we're rich in a lot of ways."
Today, Campbell's ledger shows him to be the nation's leading rusher with 1,744 yards, leading scorer with 114 points and the foremost candidate for the Heisman Trophy. Plus, he plays for this year's surprising No. 1-ranked and undefeated (11-0) team. After all, Texas was 5-5-1 in 1976 and there seemed little hope for improvement in '77. Akers, in his first year as Texas' head coach, confesses a sane man would have thought a 7-4 prediction for this season extremely optimistic.
About this time a year ago Campbell was anything but an optimist. He was hurt (a hamstring injury, which caused him to miss most of six games), fat (more than 240 pounds) and toying with the idea of quitting football. Then a youngster at Austin's Mount Olive Baptist Church gave Campbell a sign that still hangs in his room: KEEP ME GOING, LORD.
Like an avalanche working its will on saplings, Campbell has kept going, running past, around but mostly over the opposition all year. With his remarkable combination of size, speed, strength and quickness, he is almost certainly one of the great running backs in college football history. "I just decided that this year I'm not settling for one guy tackling me," says Campbell, "and I really don't intend for two of 'em to get the job done."