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September 10, 1979
1. USC
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September 10, 1979

The Top 20

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Why are all these optimists at North Carolina State saying that this year's squad may end up better than last year's? Don't they know that Ted Brown, Mr. Whole Shebang—the Wolfpack's top rusher and pass receiver for three years straight—is now in a Minnesota Viking uniform? Maybe, but even Coach Bo Rein, who by now certainly has noticed Brown's absence from the backfield, recently said, "This year we have a great senior class. We have won nine games in a season, and we have a chance to do better than that!"

If, indeed, this Wolfpack ends up being better than last year's 9-3 team, it will unquestionably be because of matters that may not be fully appreciated outside of Raleigh—like a defense that contains, not consumes, and a marvelous offensive line. "There are a lot of people on this team who are taking a lot more pride in getting ready for the season than ever before since I've been here," says Center Jim Ritcher, speaking like the sociology major he is.

Rein is more direct. "We have the best offensive line you could want," he says. Indeed, no one can remember having seen a bigger line in the ACC. Tackles Todd Eckerson and Chris Koehne go 6'4", 257 pounds and 6'6", 256, respectively. Guards Chuck Stone and Chris Dieterich are just as hefty. Ritcher is a comparative midget at 6'3", 245, but he bench-presses 425 pounds and has been timed in 4.6 for the 40. "He's the best center ever to line up in college ball," gushes Pat Dye, the coach at East Carolina. One might suspect that Dye is merely campaigning, because he'd love nothing more than to have his school voted into the ACC, but Syracuse Coach Frank Maloney has nothing to gain when he says, "Ritcher is absolutely the best center I've ever seen."

So what difference does it really make if it's junior Dwight Sullivan or senior Rickey Adams or University Chancellor Joab Thomas who succeeds Brown? Somebody in the Wolfpack backfield is going to gain a lot of yardage. Rein also plans to call more often upon Fullback Billy Ray Vickers, who gained 600 yards last year when he wasn't opening holes for Brown.

Quarterback Scott Smith has mastered the veer offense and throws accurately enough, completing 49% of 101 passes in 1978. Still, Smith did not get a single touchdown through the air. A greater threat to put points on the board is Nathan Ritter, who split the uprights with 17 of his 19 field-goal attempts, making him the nation's most accurate placekicker.

Last September the Pack defense was viewed as a liability. Then Tackle Bubba Green, Linebacker Joe Hannah and Safety Mike Nail, all of whom had been injured, recovered and played better than ever. They blended beautifully with Tackle Simon Gupton and Safety Woodrow Wilson, who, you guessed it, is known by teammates as El Presidente. Meanwhile, two newcomers at cornerback, Donnie LeGrande and Ronnie Lee, turned out to be very pleasant surprises for Rein, and—zingo!—the Wolfpack had an asset, not a liability. All of these players are still on hand, a year older and, presumably, wiser.

The Wolfpack schedule includes two tough non-conference opponents—Auburn and Penn State—which means that if Rein is serious about winning 10 games, he almost surely must go unbeaten in the ACC. Because the Wolfpack will play Maryland and North Carolina, its two most rugged challengers in the conference, in Raleigh, an unblemished ACC record is a possibility, especially for a team anxious to be known as something more than Ted Brown's supporting cast.

13. Missouri

As a rule, it's Missourians who insist on being shown, but in the case of Warren Powers, it was some folks from the Show-Me State who did some mean convincin'. In December 1977 they persuaded Powers to abandon Washington State and come to Missouri as coach of the Tigers, even though it would cost him a bundle to make the switch. Fifty-five grand, to be exact. That was the amount Washington State charged Powers to buy out the final year of his contract. Powers' investment paid off immediately as Washington State, which had gone 6-5 under him in '77, slumped to a 3-7-1 record, while Missouri had its best season (8-4) and got its first bowl bid (Liberty) in six years.

Powers is rightly anticipating another payoff this fall for two important reasons: the Tiger players are better, and their opponents are not. And with 17 underclassmen in the starting lineup, Powers should keep on getting big dividends through the 1980 season.

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