SI Vault
September 10, 1979
1. USC
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September 10, 1979

The Top 20

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Bryant's biggest task will be replacing Quarterback Jeff Rutledge, a three-year starter who threw 30 touchdown passes to break a Tide record held by Joe Namath. Steadman Shealy, a typically handsome, blond, blue-eyed Omicron Delta Kappa who last fall ran and passed—he completed nine of 14 attempts—for 473 yards as Rutledge's understudy, gets first crack at the job. But Shealy has undergone knee surgery, and "He's not as quick as he once was," world-class pessimist Bryant says. But even Bear is obliged to add, "Still, he's not slow crippled."

Otherwise, the offense is robust. Split End Keith Pugh twists, lunges, soars (pick any two on a given pass play) as he makes eye-popping catches. Halfbacks Major Ogilvie and Mitch Ferguson and Fullback Billy Jackson all gained 5.5 yards or more a carry. The line features a trio of All-SEC blockers: Dwight Stephenson, Jim Bunch and Mike Brock.

On defense, 'Bama has lost five stars, among them first-round NFL picks Barry Krauss, a linebacker, and Marty Lyons, a tackle. But the line still includes faces all too familiar to Penn State—Byron Baggs, Curtis McGriff and Wayne Hamilton. And if Tackle David Hannah, a 1977 starter who missed '78 because of a knee injury, stays as fit as he was in the spring, Bryant can buttress the secondary by shifting All-SEC E. J. Junior from the line to safety.

The Tide has seven home games, four of them in Tuscaloosa, where it has won 45 straight. The big one won't come until...the Sugar Bowl against—Notre Dame? Georgia? Penn State? The only regular-season upset possibilities would seem to be in an October outing at Florida and in the season finale against archrival Auburn.

Not that Bryant agrees. "In the first place," he growls, "the schedule isn't easy. In the second place, every one of those teams would rather beat Alabama than anybody they play." Hey, Bear, you just won another award—from the Tuscaloosa Scalpers' Society.

3. Nebraska

If there's one thing Nebraskans love even more than seeing Running Back I. M. Hipp break a tackle on the way to another 200-yard game (he's rushed for that distance or more in three games), it's a bonfire. Like the blaze before the Corn-huskers upset No. 1-ranked Oklahoma last November, which, among other things, was fueled by a piano, beds, police barricades and several vending machines. Or the one during spring practice in April when six live turkeys got barbecued.

The ASPCA rightfully hit the roof, and Lincoln cops moved in to make arrests. They collared three Cornhusker players, who subsequently were arraigned. There was no excuse for such behavior, because the players should have had more than their fill of roasting turkeys—read opponents—on the field.

In '78 Nebraska incinerated six teams and made the Top Ten in the polls for a 10th straight year. Nonetheless the season was a disappointment. Late in the fourth quarter of the finale against Missouri, the Huskers led 31-28 and appeared to be headed for the Orange Bowl to play Penn State for the national title. But the Tigers rallied to win 35-31, and Nebraska was rematched against Oklahoma, in the Orange Bowl, with no chance of becoming No. 1.

But, disappointments aside, last year provided some heady portents for this season. Moreover, during the regular season Nebraska averaged 501.4 yards a game. Because the ballcarriers who amassed 73% of the rushing yardage and the receivers who caught 81% of the passes are still on hand, the Huskers figure to be tougher than they've been since they won the national championships in 1970 and '71, especially because they'll be driven by the desire to gobble up the honors they missed last year.

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