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No Nebraskan is more fired up than Tight End Junior Miller, whose 33 receptions produced five touchdowns and 609 yards. After he caught five passes and ran roughshod over Kansas State, Wildcat Coach Jim Dickey groaned, "The way he mowed down our defensive backs, maybe the Humane Society ought to send him a letter." The Huskers will also throw to Tim Smith, the No. 3 receiver in 1978 despite doubling as a play messenger. Or to Wingback Kenny Brown, a breakaway threat any time he has the ball down-field, who, former Coach Bob Devaney says, "is as valuable to this team as Johnny Rogers was to the 1970 and '71 national champions." And then there's Hipp, the first Nebraska runner to gain 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons. The Huskers do have to replace Quarterback Tom Sorley, an able runner and a 58% passer. Candidates Jeff Quinn, Mark Mauer and Bruce Mathison all have promise.
The defense will field 17 lettermen, including nine of the top 10 linemen who helped Nebraska lead the Big Eight in stopping the rush last season. Unfortunately, the offensive line is in nowhere near as good shape, having lost two sets of quality tackles and guards.
Forgotten in the Chuck Fairbanks-Colorado-Boston Patriots sitcom of last spring was that Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne was offered the Colorado job first. Osborne also holds a doctorate in educational psychology. He didn't turn Colorado down just to watch bonfires.
When Coach Fred Akers took over in 1977, he inherited a once-proud team that had a 5-5-1 record. He figured he would be lucky to match that if he let things remain the way they were. So he retooled the offense, turning Earl Campbell loose. The Longhorns finished 11-1, and Campbell was voted the Heisman Trophy.
Then in 1978 Akers, who had few holdover stars, was forced to play eight freshmen in key positions and watched as his team suffered nearly as many injuries as Leonidas' boys did at Thermopylae. Even so, Texas ended up ranked ninth in the country. No wonder there's a consensus abuilding that Akers is fast becoming—I'll finish this thought in a moment, then back to you, Keith—some kind of coach.
If there are any doubters left, Akers should convert them this fall. With 20 first-teamers back, he has the wherewithal to mount a serious challenge for the national title. Once again, Texas' strength lies in its defense. There are nine starters on hand from the 1978 unit that gave up only 104.6 yards a game rushing and was the SWC's toughest to score on. Ricky Churchman, Derrick Hatchett and All-America Johnnie Johnson are mainstays in a secondary that held Rice, TCU and SMU, the conference's three top passing teams, to zero touchdowns. The luminaries up front are Steve McMichael, called Bam-Bam by his teammates, who made a team-high 142 tackles, and Bill Acker, whose specialties are sacks (14) and forcing fumbles (six).
Texas fans gasped last May when it was reported that McMichael had reached under the hood of his car while the engine was on and got his hands caught in the fan. The cuts have all healed, and surprisingly, the fan wasn't damaged. What has been damaged is the Longhorn kicking game, now that All-America Russell Erxleben has moved on to the New Orleans Saints. But even here Akers is not without a leg up; freshman Jeff Guy and sophomore John Good-son are both bright prospects.
Quarterback Donnie Little's fumbling on national TV—he lost the ball twice before network cameras—is not the habit viewers might suppose it to be. Though Little completed just 16 of 52 passes last fall, he excelled in spring drills, and Akers is confident that Texas' aerial game will be improved. "Donnie developed more poise and a stronger arm," Akers says. Little's running has never been questioned.
The offensive line has experience, as does the starting backfield. But depth is a concern. One thing the Longhorns don't lack, however, is Joneses. Though Running Back Ham is gone, Lam, Jam and Ram are back and are rarin' to go. Lam is Johnny Jones, the 1976 Olympic gold-medalist who led Texas in receptions (25) last year. Jam is actually A.J. Jones, who as a freshman was the leading Longhorn rusher in 1978. Ram is Jones Ramsey, 58, Texas' sports publicist who created the nicknames.