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Bookmakers say, "Folks who bet on Missouri don't like money." Indeed, in two seasons under Warren Powers, the Tigers have had more ups and downs than a commuter airline. Two years ago they upset Notre Dame and Nebraska, but couldn't beat Big Eight pushovers Oklahoma State and Colorado. Last fall Missouri crushed strong South Carolina in the Hall of Fame Bowl and came awfully close to upsetting high-ranked Oklahoma (page 70) and higher-ranked Nebraska, losing both games by a total of five points. But the Tigers also lost to Kansas State, a team that won no other conference games.
Fully predictable, however, is what Missouri will do with the football—Quarterback Phil Bradley will keep it, throw it or hand it to Fullback James Wilder. In 522 of 750 downs from scrimmage last season, Wilder or Bradley ended up with the ball. "Some people say we're too basic," admits Assistant Coach Mike Price. "But we say let's hand it off and let the defense try to stop us."
Wilder is probably the Big Eight's best fullback when fit, as evidenced by the fact that last season he had 645 yards rushing and caught 20 passes, despite missing two games with an ankle injury. In short-yardage situations, everyone knows Wilder will get the ball but, as Price says, he's murder to stop. The problem is that in too many not-so-short situations, Wilder also gets the ball, and everyone expects it then, too. What makes him excel, in part, is a formidable line that features Center Brad Edelman and Tackle Howard Richards.
Bradley, twice an All-Conference quarterback, needs to pass and run for 1,171 yards to supplant Lynn Dickey ( Kansas State, 1968-70) as the Big Eight's alltime career total yardage leader. He is extremely quick and throws on the run with accuracy. Under his tosses will be junior college transfer Ron Fellows, a flanker, and Tight End Andy Gibler, a midseason find who made 21 of his 23 receptions in Missouri's last six games and, as Curt Gowdy might say, is only a sophomore.
Yet Missouri's greatest asset is defense, especially its secondary and most especially Safety Eric Wright, who recovered three fumbles, intercepted four passes and broke up eight more in '79. One Tiger coach calls him "a competitor, a spiritual leader, a wild man." Up front, Defensive End Wendell Ray is pretty much ditto.
Though Missouri plays both Oklahoma and Nebraska away, it has dropped Texas and doesn't face its usual suicidal schedule. Also, there are 26 seniors, making the Tigers the conference's most experienced team. Says Powers, "The lessons learned from the disappointments of last year should be a strength." So, eight or nine wins and a third consecutive bowl bid are entirely possible.
16. FLORIDA STATE
Florida State is the home of the Flying High Circus, the only collegiate circus in the U.S. Its performers occasionally come down, but after the Seminoles' 11-0 season, an Orange Bowl appearance and a Top 10 ranking, FSU fans are still way up in the clouds. And the team should be tougher this fall. Trouble is, the schedule is tougher, too.
This year Nebraska and Pittsburgh are in the offing, and the Seminoles open away at LSU, which is like starting the New Year with a hangover in a boiler factory. But while another undefeated regular season seems unlikely, so does anything worse than an 8-3 finish and another bowl bid.