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THE CONFERENCES
N. Brooks Clark
September 01, 1983
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September 01, 1983

The Conferences

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It has been six years since Johnny Majors took over at Tennessee. Despite worlds of talent, the Volunteers have yet to come up with a big season under Majors. Once again he has all kinds of gifted athletes, starting with the finest kicking duo in the nation. Last season Fuad Reveiz hit 27 of 31 field-goal attempts, including eight of 10 from 50 yards and beyond, and Jimmy Colquitt, a prized two-step punter, averaged 46.9 yards a boot to rank second in the nation and break the school record of 45.0 held by his uncle, Craig, now with the Steelers. The offense will miss Split End Willie Gault, who passed up a shot at the U.S. Olympic team as a sprinter and hurdler to sign a four-year, $1.8 million contract with the Bears. Tennessee still has Alan Cockrell, who last year threw for 2,021 yards, two proven tailbacks in Chuck Coleman and Johnnie Jones, and a nasty offensive line. What's needed is some smart coaching by new Defensive Coordinator Larry Marmie to help the Vols cut down on the 415.7 yards per game they allowed in 1982.

Vanderbilt's big season came a year earlier than Coach George MacIntyre had expected, as the Smorgasbord Offense—a little bit of everything—helped the Commodores to their best record since 1955. It also landed Offensive Coordinator Watson Brown the head job at Cincinnati. The departure of Brown, Quarterback Whit Taylor and Tight End Allama Matthews is bad news. But Vanderbilt keeps eight defensive starters, including Cornerback Leonard Coleman, who last year led the "men of steal" with eight interceptions, and a quarterback, Kurt Page, who came off the bench to put 14 points on the board in a near upset at Alabama.

Florida, led by 70% passer Wayne Peace and All-America Linebacker Wilber Marshall, should be getting set for a banner year, but the Gators' program is on the verge of ruin because of a flood of allegations and an NCAA inquiry into a players' ticket-scalping scheme, alleged recruiting violations and academic improprieties.

Mississippi State faces a rebuilding job on offense and one of the nation's toughest schedules. The Bulldogs' bright spot is wishbone artist John Bond, who last year threw for 1,591 yards and ran for 609. Billy Brewer takes over for Steve Sloan as coach at Ole Miss, but bad may get worse. The Rebels, who did not win a single SEC game in '82, lost their top three scorers, most of their offensive line and several key defenders. The only note of optimism for Coach Jerry Claiborne following Kentucky's first winless season ever is that the Wildcats start the year with Central Michigan, Kansas State, Indiana and Tulane before moving into the SEC meat grinder.

SWC

At Southern Methodist the difficulties only begin with the loss of Pony Express tailbacks Eric Dickerson and Craig James. The defense returns just three starters, including Nose-guard Michael Carter, who in mid-August decided not to forgo his senior football season to concentrate on making the Olympic team as a shotputter. The Mustangs' biggest worry is that they could be placed on probation for the second time in three years; the NCAA has been looking into possible recruiting violations by Pony boosters.

"The problem when I came in was that the players believed my arrival alone put them up here," says Jackie Sherrill, Texas A&M's $267,000-a-year-plus-perks coach, holding a palm at eye level. "Actually, they were here," he says, lowering his hand to stomach height. The Aggies will benefit from the arrival of southpaw Quarterback John Mazur, who transferred from Southern Cal after he lost the starting job there to Sean Salisbury, and the finest recruiting class—22 of the top 100 schoolboys in Texas—in the state. The Aggies won't reach the level of Sherrill's eyes until 1984 or '85, but this season they should approach his chin.

Arkansas lost nine first-stringers on offense and five on defense, including three All-Conference offensive linemen, Halfback Gary Anderson, All-America Defensive Lineman Billy Ray Smith and All-SWC Cornerback Danny Walters. Like many of his peers, Coach Lou Holtz has switched to the I formation. The Hogs tried it in the Bluebonnet Bowl and, says former veer-devotee Holtz, "The movie looked like a highlight film."

Baylor also has converted to the I. The Bears want to make better use of Halfback Alfred Anderson and of Gerald McNeil, the conference's top receiver. Though only 5'7" and 135 pounds, McNeil caught 52 passes for a 15.8-yard average in '82. Houston had five shots at Top 20 teams last year and lost them all. Quarterback Lionel Wilson is back after slipping from-nine touchdown throws and 11 interceptions in 1981 to five and 13, respectively, last fall. TCU's hopes rest with new Coach Jim Wacker, who won the Division II title at Southwest Texas State in 1981 and '82, while Rice's lie with the team doctor. Fifteen Owls, most of them suffering from knee injuries, have undergone surgery since last season, when Rice had nary a win nor a tie for the first time ever.

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