The real rub, say the wizards of passing, is that after you have spent so much time perfecting such an offense, precious little time is left for anything else. "You have to be totally committed to it," says Edwards, who estimates that less than a quarter of his backfield's time at practice is devoted to the running game. "Timing, timing, timing!" says Bowden, who recalls that when his FSU teams won so many games in the late '70s, before the rule changes made blocking easier, it was more a question of whether his quarterbacks would ever practice anything but the passing game.
All agree, too, that most coaches are inclined to lose their guts after putting in a passing attack and are likely to bail out at the first sign of trouble. "We're all basically conservative," says Bowden, "and deep down inside most of us don't trust the pass. So you see it happen: A guy comes in and turns a program around by doing it the quickest way, which is by passing. He goes from 2-9 to 7-4 or 8-3 and gets a little attention, and then he gets to worrying about it and decides the only way to win them all is to quit passing and go back to basics."
Bowden says that this situation leads to an identity problem, much like the one he now has at FSU with a quarterback, Eric Thomas, who is more runner than passer: "We're betwixt and between, but Eric's a great athlete who can do many things, and we run options and reverses and everything. [Not enough things worked against Georgia in the Citrus Bowl, however. The favored Seminoles were lucky to escape with a tie.] But if I had Flutie or Kosar or Bosco, I'd do exactly what they're doing—I'd pass. You're damn right I would."
On the other hand, it's quite unlikely that the Edwardses of this world will ever consider reverting to the game of old. If anything, they have more faith in the pass than in the run. Schnellenberger tried to mix a veer with his drop-back passing his first year at Miami (1979) but gave it up when he realized the blocking techniques were just too demanding and there wasn't enough time to be effective doing both. He says the ideal blend for a passing game is three-fourths pass, one-fourth run. But when you believe in it the way he does (and the way he now intends to teach it at Louisville), "You get to the point where it begins to take form, and you know you can't be stopped. We were that way last year."
Not everybody is sure this is the yellow brick road that college football has taken, however. Bowden says, "There are only so many good passers out there," and recruiting for them is already tough enough. Neither is he so sure football is the same "when you don't have players who love to get their noses bloodied." Joe Paterno, who has been bloodied himself lately (Penn State was 6-5 and missed a bowl for the first time in 14 years), is "not even sure what the rules are anymore," except that the game he sees on the field "is basketball, not football, and it's not my cup of tea. I like a game I can control. If I'd wanted to be a basketball coach, I'd have gotten into it 30 years ago."
There is no doubt, says Paterno, that the passing game "has never been more sophisticated," with all the reads and blocking calls between linemen and options on receivers, and the ever-more-critical intricacies of timing that are required. "But you don't have to be a complete football team anymore. The way you do it now is you get yourself a passer, a punter, a couple of good wideouts and a field-goal kicker. Then you get five big guys and put 'em in the weight room, and feed 'em and stick 'em on the offensive line and teach 'em how to hold.
"That makes up your passing game. It's a great equalizer, but it is touch football, and it's a joke." The trouble, Paterno admits, is that "the fans like it."
Well, why not? Of all the things it was and wasn't, certainly the season just past was not dull. If the ball flies around a little more than usual, and if Vanderbilt rises up now and again and smacks Alabama, and Army can go to a bowl like the big boys, and a 5'9" lightning rod from Boston can make the sky fall, what's so bad about a little parity?
In the same prepoll poll The Miami Herald took of the AP electorate, the Los Angeles Herald Examiner's representative said he had just about decided that there was no No.1 team. He said he would have left the No. 1 spot on his ballot blank if the AP had let him. He had come to the conclusion that if a 16-team tournament were held among the top 16 teams and then played over and over again 16 times, you would wind up with 16 different winners.
That may be closer to the truth than he meant it to sound, but if it is, one thing more is certain: All 16 would know how to pass the football. The cowards are kicking sand on college football's bullies these days, and the fans like it because it's fun. A tip of the cap to BYU, and may the 1985 season come soon.