Question: What wears maize and blue, wins more regular-season games than any other team in the country and goes belly up in bowl games? Answer: Bo Schembechler's Wolverines. They are 104-12-3 for his 11 seasons and 0 for 7 in postseason festivities. What does it all mean? Well, it might be that regularly scheduled games are more important to Ann Arbor than bowl frivolity. But if that's the case, it's small wonder that last season was Bo's most disappointing ever. Michigan finished 8-4 and a dismal 18th nationally after being picked as high as sixth. One insult added to the injury was that the combined margin of defeat for the four losses was only 10 points. Another was that miscues by the specialty teams directly accounted for three of those four defeats. Over the season, the Wolverines had four punts blocked and hit on only four of 19 field goals. Starting this season, punts will fly from the instep of a freshman, Don Bracken, from Thermopolis, Wyo. (pop. 4,000), who averaged 46.7 yards per kick in his senior year at Hot Springs County High. Because Bracken takes a quick 1�-step approach before letting fly, perhaps more kicks will find their mark. Meanwhile, sophomore Ali Haji-Sheikh, who is of Iranian-American descent, will take over full place-kicking duties after handling kickoffs as a freshman walk-on. He was also successful on four of four extra points.
Bo's next-best hopes ride on the defense. There are seven newcomers on a unit that had been fourth in the nation against the rush (99.3 yards a game). The line will be led by senior Tackle Mike Trgovac (6'2", 235 pounds), who was All-Big Ten at middle guard last year, while sophomore Free Safety Keith Bostic is a blue chipper in the secondary. He and his colleagues will be severely tested in games with California, Purdue and Ohio State, in which Michigan's deep defenders will have to match wits with the nation's top quarterbacks—Rich Campbell, Mark Herrmann and Art Schlichter.
Seven starters return to the offense, including Fullback Lawrence Ricks, Tailback Butch Woolfolk and Wide Receiver Anthony Carter, a 4.4 man in the 40. With all five starters back, the line may be the best that Bo has ever assembled.
However, everyone is still eager to find out who will fill the Rick Leach Chair of Offensive Dynamics, now vacant for a full season. The field of scholars was narrowed by one in the off-season when veteran Quarterback B.J. Dickey (along with five teammates) was suspended for a year because of undisclosed training violations. Rich Hewlett, an untested sophomore, or freshman Steve Smith of Grand Blanc, Mich., will start.
In sum, the Michigan equation of knowns and unknowns promises a season of discovery.
19. PENN STATE
An 8-4 season and a 9-6 victory over Tulane in the Liberty Bowl would be a respectable enough showing for many teams, but not for Penn State, coming as it did after two 11-1 seasons, the latter having brought the Nittany Lions within a goal-line stand of a national title in the Jan. 1, 1979 Sugar Bowl game. Alabama made the stand and won the championship. In retrospect, Coach Joe Paterno believes the Lions' slippage can be traced to that 14-7 loss, a deeply unsettling experience. "I didn't get over it until the middle of the season," he says. "A lot of things happened last year," says Center Bob Jagers, a senior and the offensive team captain, "and it's hard to put your finger on just what caused it. But we're taking it as a lesson." Just as the Lions' attitude in '79 reflected the frustration of the Sugar Bowl, the Liberty Bowl victory has produced a positive mood for '80. Says Middle Guard Greg Jones, the defensive captain, "There's a determination you wouldn't believe to try and turn things around this year. I guess everybody wants to prove a point."
Paterno himself is optimistic. He has a solid defensive unit, including 10 returning starters. One is senior End Larry Kubin (6'1", 222 pounds), who has made 27 quarterback sacks in the past two years. Another is Pete Harris, an All-America safety in 1978, who led the nation in interceptions (10) that season before sitting out last year because of his grades. "We don't have the dominant players," says Paterno, "and we may not have the speed to be a great defensive team. What we have to do is get into a scheme our people can be comfortable with, and maintain an all-out tempo." Given a schedule that includes teams from the Southwest (1), Atlantic Coast (2), and Big Eight (2) conferences as well as independents like Pitt, the Penn State defenders will be hard-pressed to match the record of their immediate predecessors, who held seven teams to a touchdown or less.
With that in mind, Penn State is working for better balance between the pass and run. "Last year we were basically a running team," says Jagers, "but this spring we worked on passing. We'll have more sets—a variety to choose from. We'd been real conservative, but I think that image will be gone this fall." In the backfield will be Booker Moore, who switched from tailback to fullback, and sophomore Tailback Curt Warner. Between them they rushed for 946 yards last season. The quarterback position will be another key. During spring practice, senior Dayle Tate added a broken jaw to his career injury list (a broken hand and a broken collarbone), and hung up his jersey. Since then there has been a spirited competition among sophomores Frank Rocco and Jeff Hostetler and freshman redshirt Todd Blackledge, all three apparently adept at running a diverse offense.