Utah State celebrated its inaugural season in the PCAA by sharing the '78 title with San Jose State, and both schools have the bulk of their squads back. San Jose's biggest concern is keeping Quarterback Ed Luther's interceptions (24) down. Still, his average of 17.17 completions per game was fourth best in the NCAA. Utah State counts on Tailback Rick Parros and Tackle Rulon Jones. Pacific hopes new Coach Bob Toledo can apply some of USC's winning ways. Toledo spent three years guiding the Trojan defensive backs and has never been involved with a team on any level that lost more than four games. He'll be hard pressed to continue his streak; Pacific dropped twice that many last season. Fullerton State rushers gained 5,053 yards in '78, but a leaky defense negated that accomplishment by giving up 5,226—that works out to 475 yards per game. Maybe that's also why Safety Eric Bullock has become a quarterback this year. By his lonesome, the best that Quarterback Paul McGaffigan, the nation's ninth-ranked passer (170 completions and 2,164 yards), could do for Long Beach State last season was a 1-4 conference record. But he now has help in the form of Running Back Dan Duddridge, a junior-college All-America. Fresno State went 1-4, too, so Coach Bob Padilla has junked the Bulldogs' veer offense. Sadly, that won't prevent Fresno from finishing last.
Joggers in East Lansing often come across a lone figure clad in a T shirt emblazoned: MICHIGAN STATE, ROSE BOWL, 1980. The wearer is Marsha Rogers, and her shirt tells the world that after three years the team her husband Darryl coaches is off NCAA probation and will once again join the lucrative world of TV and bowl appearances. But it may be a year early for the Spartans, who shared the 1978 Big Ten championship, to become TV regulars. The battery of Eddie Smith to Kirk Gibson is gone; sophomore Bert Vaughn will replace Smith at quarterback and senior Eugene Byrd will switch from split end to Gibson's flanker spot. At 6'4", 215 pounds, Vaughn is big but inexperienced—he was supposed to be Smith's backup last season, but suffered a shoulder separation in the second game. Byrd, however, should adapt to his new position quickly, having made 43 receptions for 718 yards in '78. Elsewhere the Spartans look set with only five 1978 starters, aside from Smith and Gibson, among the missing. Michigan State's most serious concern is a block of crusher games in midseason. On consecutive Saturdays, the Spartans will face Notre Dame, Michigan, Wisconsin, Purdue and Ohio State.
It is an indication of the growing balance in the Big Ten that the Little Eight of two seasons ago has now shrunk to the Other Six. Minnesota might even cut that to five. Certainly new Coach Joe Salem knows what it's like to win, having been a backup quarterback for the Gophers in the 1961 Rose Bowl. Salem's first chore will be to choose either Mark Carlson or Wendell Avery as his No. 1 signal-caller. Whomever he picks, the veteran offense will be strong, particularly at tailback, where Marion Barber gained a Gopher-record 1,210 yards. The defensive units at Indiana and Wisconsin were sorely depleted by graduation, but the Hoosiers could be a surprise—if Fullback Tony D'Orazio and Tight End Dave Harangody recover from injuries the way Tailback Mike Harkrader did last season, when he rambled for 880 yards. Wisconsin was pleasantly surprised in 1978 by Ray Sydnor, a 6'8" basketball player who showed up to play tight end and had 27 receptions for 392 yards. Sydnor is back. As Iowa seeks its first winning season since 1961, it would seem that Coach Hayden Fry could build around his offensive unit, which is back mostly intact. He can't, because the Hawkeyes' attack scored only 125 points last year. Illinois Coach Gary Moeller admits, "We must become more balanced offensively." He could stand a little more equilibrium on the defense, too, considering that the 1-8-2 Illini were outscored 317-103 in '78. At Northwestern, Coach Rick Venturi has been saying, "I won't sleep till we're a winner." Get out the NoDoz, Rick. Except for a Sept. 15 game against Wyoming, this season looks like it's going to be one big eye-opener.
After two years of sharing the conference title, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga figures this is the season to go it alone. The key will be how often Quarterback Dennis Berkery can connect with Joe Burke, whose average gain of 28 yards a catch led the country in '78. Furman, the other defending co-champ, must undergo a drastic overhaul, its receivers corps, both lines and the secondary having been virtually swept clean of starters. Still, Quarterback David Henderson is back for the Paladins, and he was conference co-Player of the Year in 1978. East Tennessee State, which is eligible for the conference title for the first time, has a real crack at going right to the top with Mark Hutsell—eighth-ranked nationally in both passing (58.2% completions) and total offense in '78—taking the honors. The only way Appalachian State will better its 1978 record of 7-4 is if its defense can hold opponents to fewer than the 27 points a game it allowed last year. VMI needs a steady quarterback and consistent defense to bring it up from the Southern's second echelon. Western Carolina has a solid one-two punch in Quarterback Mike Pusey (14 TDs, 2,045 yards in '78) and Gerald Harp, the nation's No. 2 receiver (1,145 yards, 11 TDs), to go with an experienced defense. Sonny Randle, Marshall's new coach, says he loves a challenge, which is exactly what the Thundering Herd, 0-5 in league play a year ago, presents. The Citadel lacks aggressiveness on defense, having allowed an average of 28 points a game to conference opponents. However, the Bulldogs' strong rushing, featuring Tailback Stump Mitchell, could keep them in conference contention.
Besides having to face front-runners Alabama and Georgia, Auburn's woes have been compounded by an NCAA probation for recruiting infractions. Yet the Tigers are looking forward to the season, largely because Joe Cribbs is hale. Cribbs rushed for 1,205 yards in '78 despite having been injured early in the season and having started only seven games. Why then is Coach Doug Barfield contemplating a switch from the I to a split back-field? In order to get the ball more often to James Brooks, Cribbs' replacement, who was averaging 134 yards a game before breaking his right foot. LSU lost the Liberty Bowl to Missouri, Charles Alexander and his 4,035 yards rushing to the Cincinnati Bengals and the interior offensive line to graduation. And to virtually ensure that retiring Coach Charlie McClendon's farewell year will be a tearful one, the Fighting Tigers must also meet both Alabama and USC, a dolorous prospect no other SEC school must face. At Mississippi State, Coach Emory Bellard, late of Texas A&M, is introducing the wishbone, but this clearly isn't change for change's sake. Bellard invented the run-oriented offense in 1968, and he probably had someone very much like James Jones, who averaged 5.3 yards per carry in 1978, in mind. One Bulldog player who might not be happy with the switch is Mardye McDole, who led the SEC with 48 receptions for 1,035 yards. Kentucky's Fran Curci has headaches on and off the field. In addition to suspending eight players after they were charged with rape and sodomy, he must replace more than 30 others with an assortment of redshirts and freshmen. In contrast, at Florida, an experienced squad—18 starters are back—is breaking in a new coach. Charley Pell has been impressed with what he has seen so far, particularly Linebacker Scot Brantley, who is almost sure to be an All-America. Ole Miss, 5-6 a year ago, dropped to eighth in the SEC. In his second season at Mississippi, Coach Steve Sloan, who turned around the football programs at Texas Tech and Vanderbilt, will be hard pressed to effect a similar transformation. A porous defense is the trouble spot for the Rebels. Another coach who may start to feel a bit of pressure is Tennessee's Johnny Majors. In the two years since he guided Pitt to the national championship and left there for his alma mater, his Vol teams have gone 4-7 and 5-5-1. This season, behind outstanding Quarterback Jimmy Streater, Tennessee should have a .500-plus record. Which is a lot more than can be said for the state's other SEC team, Vanderbilt. The Commodores appear to be headed for a fourth consecutive 2-9 season.
USC's lone defeat in 1978 came at Arizona State, then just a new kid on the Pac 10 block trying to earn a little respect. The victory over the Trojans got it for the Sun Devils. But the league's other newcomer, Arizona, didn't fare so well. The Wildcats went 3-4 in conference play and now must look to Nov. 3, the date of their first conference outing against USC, to make a name for themselves. They might do just that if Quarterback Jim Krohn remains healthy. Until he suffered bruised ribs midway through the '78 season, he was leading the Pac 10 in passing. The Wildcat defense features Tackle Cleveland Crosby, an All-America candidate who transferred from Purdue.
After losing 23 seniors from the squad that tied Arkansas 10—10 in the Fiesta Bowl, UCLA will have the conference's youngest team. No wonder Coach Terry Donahue says he's rebuilding "from the foundation on up." The keystone could be junior Running Back Freeman McNeil, who gained five yards per carry while performing spot duty last season. California enjoys the dubious distinction of becoming the first Pac 10 school to play all nine of its conference rivals in one season, and Michigan is one of the Golden Bears' non-league opponents. Trying to navigate that minefield will be junior Quarterback Rich Campbell, who was 164 for 293 for 2,287 yards as he made Cal the NCAA's No. 4 passing team. Although he may sound like a character from
Saturday Night Live
, Washington State Quarterback Samoa Samoa is in reality a junior hoping to fill the slot vacated by Jack (the Throwin' Samoan) Thompson. Samoa—who is Samoan—has a long way to go: Thompson's career total of 7,818 yards passing is the highest in Division I history. Also operating in the Cougar backfield will be Samoa's countryman Tali Ena, who rushed for 728 yards last season. No, Dorothy Lamour is not the head cheerleader. Oregon finished 2-9 last year but was impressive for its fine runners—led by Vince Williams—and its storming defense. For example, the Ducks sacked Thompson six times. Those assets are still in evidence, but any progress this young Oregon team makes probably won't be reflected in its record, because the Ducks face Colorado and Michigan State before opening conference play. Oregon State has experience and an easier schedule than Oregon, but its prospects of climbing from the depths of the Pac 10 standings aren't much better.
Arkansas State and Louisiana Tech, which shared the Southland championship a year ago, figure to battle it out again. The edge goes to Tech because of its quarterback, Eric Barkley, who is an excellent runner. Former Oklahoma defensive coordinator Larry Lacewell, who is now the head man at Arkansas State, inherits the best defense in the conference, but the Indians may be undone by the inexperience of Quarterback Gene Bradley. In contrast, Southwestern Louisiana needs defensive strength to complement the deft work of signal-caller Hal King. Texas- Arlington's notable asset is its running attack, and it has no liabilities of consequence. The bottom line: an outside shot at the conference title. In '78 McNeese State had an off year (7-4) by its lofty standards. Still, the Cowboys had their moments, as when Coach Jack Dolan was named president of the school. If his successor, Ernie Duplechin, can tighten up the defense, McNeese could challenge for the title again. Lamar has won only one conference game in the past four years. New Coach Larry Kennan and Quarterback Larry Haynes, the league's passing leader, figure to at least double that total this year.