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Nobody needs one of linebacker Larry Station's beloved computers to collate the cold facts about the 1984 Hawkeyes. Input: one of the best quarterbacks in the country; the best running tandem in the Big Ten; all 11 starters back from a defense that allowed only two TDs (one to Michigan, one to Florida in the Gator Bowl) over the final six games of last season. Output: The Hawkeyes will challenge for the Big Ten crown and should be every bit as good as they were in '83, when they reached as high as No. 3 in the national rankings and finished 9-3 after a 14-6 loss in the Gator Bowl.
Put into quarterback's terms, "We won't have to score as much this year to be good," says Chuck Long, who last season wound up second nationally in passing efficiency. He was the only quarterback in the country to average more than 10 yards per passing attempt. Put into coach's terms, "I think our defense may just be the best in the nation this year," says coach Hayden Fry.
There's much preseason anticipation in Iowa City about the offense, too. Long, a 6'4", 202-pound senior, has many weapons at his disposal. At tailback there's Owen Gill, the 6'1", 226-pound baby bull who gained 798 yards in '83 despite injuries and sharing the job with the now departed Eddie Phillips. Also, there's Ronnie Harmon, who was dragged kicking and screaming from his beloved tailback position to wide receiver two years ago. All Harmon has done as a pass catcher is gain an average of 19 yards for his 54 catches as a two-year starter. Then there's Jonathan Hayes, who at 6'5" and 245 pounds is such a specimen that one pro scouting service rates him as the nation's third-best tight end.
The defense is simply outstanding, and not just at Station's station. Two other headliners are tackle Paul Hufford and safety Mike Stoops. Station, a 6'1", 233-pound second team All-America, is already being compared with Dick Butkus, the Big Ten's best linebacker ever. It's a little early for that but not too early to note that Station probably won't be doing any beer commercials. For Butkus, a byte might be something to do in the middle of a pileup, but to Station, a computer science major, bytes were a regular part of his summer job with IBM in Cedar Rapids. "I'm the type of linebacker who likes to play it straight rather than do a lot of reckless things like blitzing," says Station, reflecting his computer mentality.
Both Station and Hufford missed spring practice to protect old knee injuries. Hufford tore his up while wrestling in high school, and having made a remarkable recovery, he says he "wasn't about to risk 20 straight days practicing on artificial turf." Says linebacker coach Barry Alvarez, "We didn't worry about Larry and Paul. There's only so much we could've taught them anyway."
The same can't be said of the offensive line. What it may lack in experience it makes up for in beef. The Hawkeyes could go 280, 270, 277, 272 and 270 from tackle to tackle. That should provide an adequate wall for Long to throw over as well as open plenty of holes for Harmon and Gill. Harmon is a sneaky sort. During practice he would sometimes deliberately drop passes in an attempt to persuade Fry to return him to his old tailback position. "But Coach Fry always smiled at me 'cause he knew what I was doing," says Harmon.
Fry will know what's doing this season, too. He'll use Gill and Harmon in the same backfield, though he would prefer that Gill not know, because Gill doesn't want to move to fullback fulltime. Fry's dilemma is a pleasant one, and he'll find a way around it. In light of his 25-11 record over three years, Fry's devoted followers in Iowa City don't need a computer to tell them that he has been a miracle worker.