With free-slinging quarterbacks Jimmy Jordan and Wally Woodham gone, Florida State can no longer boast the air attack that ripped opponents for an amazing 7,700 yards the past three seasons. But new Quarterback Rick Stock-still isn't bad. Against Memphis State last fall he completed six of seven passes and orchestrated two touchdowns, all in one quarter's work. The next morning, it was announced that he had a lock on the job and any other contenders would have to beat him out. His main target, Hardis Johnson, started in the Orange Bowl as a freshman. And unlike Woodham and Jordan, who were too small to carry the ball much, Stockstill, belying that wonderful name, runs as well as he passes. He is a robust 6'2", 190 pounds. Indeed, this team's capacity to run makes it even more potent than its predecessors. Tailback Homes Johnson, a starter in 1978 who sat out last year for personal reasons, is playing again, and Homes isn't even going to start. Sam Piatt is. He's a former wide receiver who moved to tailback in the spring and broke at least one big run every time the Seminoles scrimmaged. Back to open up holes is three-year starter Ken Lanier, a tackle whom Coach Bobby Bowden plucked out of Columbus, Ohio, from under the nose of Woody Hayes. If you get the idea that Florida State will run more, don't fight it. When it comes to football strategies, "I've always believed in blocking and tackling," Bowden says. "Everything else is irrelevant."
Returning to do the tackling are eight starters and eight second-teamers who were greatly responsible for the nation's 10th-best defense. Linebackers Reggie Herring and Paul Piurowski are both two-year starters, Cornerback Bobby Butler a three-year starter. Butler is conspicuous defending against punts. He has blocked six of them. Then there is Ron Simmons, the All-America noseguard who finished ninth in the 1979 Heisman Trophy vote (page 30).
"Last season we were the No. 1 independent in the nation," Bowden says. "I'm sure Pittsburgh will object to me saying that. But it means that now we've got a lot to live up to." The living-up might not be easy, but the reckoning will be conclusive. The Panthers visit Tallahassee on Oct. 11. That'll be some circus.
Under Coach Doug Barfield, Auburn has reversed itself. In the four years since Barfield succeeded the late Shug Jordan, the Tigers have improved from 3-8 to last year's 8-3. "When Doug came here, the kids hoped to win," says Offensive Coordinator Alex Gibbs. "Then they thought they could win. Now they believe they can win. That overcomes a whole lot of lousy coaching."
Last year a strong Auburn running attack also had to overcome a whole lot of lousy defense. The Tigers gave up 31 points to North Carolina State, 35 to Tennessee, 35 more to Vanderbilt and 42 to Wake Forest, yet still won two of those games. Those efforts spawned nicknames like "The Double-Digit Defense" and "The Swiss Cheese Defense." The Auburn secondary became the laughingstock of the SEC. And problems still exist. Auburn goes into this season with only one linebacker who has ever played the position before.
Nevertheless, the Tigers figure to be strong up the middle, which is patrolled by 6'5", 272-pound Defensive Tackle Frank Warren, a two-time All-Conference player. Barfield also is hoping to get a much-needed pass rush out of the 4-3 defense he installed in place of the SEC's standard 5-2 alignment. But if all else fails, the Tigers will fall back on their running game, which once again should be overpowering.
Auburn set team-total rushing-yardage records in each of the past two seasons, and the best Auburn back of all, James (Bye-Bye) Brooks, is still on hand. Last year he led the SEC with 1,208 yards rushing. In all but two games, Bye-Bye had runs of more than 50 yards.
Brooks was considered too small when he arrived at Auburn as a 5'10", 160-pound speedster, but over the past three years he has added 20 pounds of muscle to his upper body by lifting weights. Now he can run over tacklers as well as around them. In his spare time, Brooks is addicted to TV soap operas. Unfortunately, no one will be able to watch Bye-Bye on TV this fall. Because Auburn is on probation, it can't appear, on the tube. The Tigers fear this lack of exposure may cost their phenom a shot at the Heisman Trophy. Accordingly, Auburn publicist Buddy Davidson carries a videotape of Brooks' spectacular runs everywhere he goes. "That's the only way people can get to see James," he complains.
As he did last year, Gibbs has molded two offensive line units that will alternate to keep fresh troops in the game. To rest Brooks, Auburn would like to pass more, but the new quarterback, junior Charles Thomas, is a better runner than thrower. He attempted just 12 passes last season, completing six. After spring practice, Defensive Coach Buddy Nix observed, "I'd hate to think we had to win a game by throwing. It would be hard to do." Almost as hard as winning playing defense.