The whole season depended on Darrin Nelson, right? Well, the Cardinals certainly would have ranked higher with Nelson, the sensational halfback who is the only player in NCAA history to catch 50 passes and run for 1,000 yards in a season, a feat he has pulled off twice. Though Nelson has been redshirted as the result of a hamstring injury suffered while long-jumping in March, Stanford isn't out of the Pac 10 race by a long shot, because only six regulars are missing from the 1978 squad that went 8-4 despite a murderous schedule.
All that talent should make things easier for new Coach Rod Dowhower, who moved up to the head job in January when his former boss, Bill Walsh, left to take over the San Francisco 49ers. There is also good depth in the Cardinal ranks, a fact Dowhower exploited this spring when he had sophomore LaMott Atkins working in Nelson's running-back slot. If Atkins, who is studying to be a concert violinist, hits a clinker, Mike Dotterer or Vincent White, both freshmen, will step in. White, nicknamed VW, is a compact 5'8" and 170 pounds, which just happens to be about the same height and weight as Nelson. Another thing for which Dowhower can be grateful is the early-season schedule that features four straight gimme games (Tulane, San Jose State, Army and Boston College) that will allow his backfield to gain seasoning before meeting a conference opponent. That includes Quarterback Turk Schonert, a shaggy-haired, mustachioed fifth-year senior who thus far has thrown only nine passes in college games. Schonert, a former redshirt, hopes to fill Steve Dils' shoes the way Dils, who also redshirted, filled Guy Benjamin's. All Dils did when he got his chance was become the nation's No. 1 passer. It should help Schonert that Ken Margerum, who was the leading Pac 10 receiver with 53 catches for 942 yards in 1978, is back. Under Walsh, Stanford teams were noted for their offensive ability, but Dowhower is counting on people like Tackle Chuck Evans (who had seven sacks last year) and Linebacker Milt McColl to earn the veteran defense a reputation as well.
To Stanford students, who are not widely known for docility, the biggest hero of 1979 might turn out to be new Athletic Director Andy Geiger, fresh from the Ivy League. Last fall fans were prohibited from bringing bottles and cans into Stanford Stadium. Geiger has rescinded the prohibition. His timing is perfect. There should be much to be toasted.
18. Ohio State
For the first time in 29 seasons, somebody other than Wayne Woodrow (Woody) Hayes is the Buckeye coach. In place of the man who generated equal measures of controversy and success is Earle Bruce, 48, a former Hayes assistant, who most recently spent six seasons as the head man at Iowa State. There he turned a team that had had eight losing seasons in 10 years into a back-to-back-to-back eight-game winner. It was the first time since the mid-1920s that the Cyclones had three consecutive .500-plus seasons.
Clearly Bruce is a winner, but can he match the 238-72-10 pace set by Hayes? Judging by an exhilarating spring practice, and taking into account Ohio State's soft schedule, Bruce might win nine, maybe even 10 games, which would certainly be a step in the right direction. It won't hurt a bit that the quarterback he inherits, sophomore Art Schlichter, is already the Buckeye single-season total-offensive record holder. Or that Schlichter is thrilled that Bruce, unlike Woody, has a playbook that features page after page of pass plays.
After completing 16 passes for 194 yards and no interceptions in the spring game, Schlichter was beaming. "This is a new season, and it's going to be different," he said. "I want to win every game and overpower people, not just go out there with the goal of not losing."
Bruce inherits more than a few problems, too. Gone is Tom Cousineau—the linebacker who was the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft—and four other starters from a defense that was none too spectacular in the first place. Last season the Buckeyes gave up an un-Hayesian 313 yards and 18 points a game. Also among the missing are six-sevenths of the offensive line, Running Back Ron Springs and Split End Rod Gerald. Moreover, insiders say that Bruce has yet to cool off a smoldering clique of players who are still riled over Schlichter's ascension as a freshman to the No. 1 quarterback spot, a position Gerald had held for two years. The feeling is that Schlichter may still have to prove himself to his teammates, if not to Bruce and the NFL scouts.
"Backs are no problem," says Bruce, referring in part to recruits Kelvin Lindsey of Sandusky and Tim Spencer of St. Clairsville, either of whom might move right in at tailback. Two other candidates for the job, Calvin Murray and Ricky Johnson, combined for 731 yards last season. For sure, fullback is no problem, because last year's leading rusher, Paul Campbell (591 yards) is back. At flanker, Doug Donley has suddenly become a flashy receiver, hauling in 11 passes for 154 yards in the spring game. That's not bad, considering that in two seasons as just another dogface in Hayes' infantry he had caught only 26 passes. The weakest spots in the line are at tackle, where only Tim Brown, a 6'6" brother of former Buckeye All-America Aaron, has been up to Bruce's standards.