On defense, eight starters return to a unit that was the most difficult to score on in the Big Ten, allowing only 9.9 points per game. Linebacker Alvin Washington was the team's leading tackier last season, and he and Tackle Jerome Foster are the linchpins of a redoubtable defense. The secondary is all veteran and all hard-hitting, most notably Cornerback Todd Bell. If the Buckeyes have weaknesses, they could be at the offensive middle, where there are new faces at guard, center and both tackles, but Guard Joe Lukens looks like a good one.
"A year ago we had no confidence," says Donley. "Even when we were rolling, no one seemed too secure. But this year we know what we can do." Which, presumably, means win the whole thing.
Poker players whose hole cards are hiding a full house try not to jump up and down, but sometimes it's difficult not to. So when Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne says, "We could be a good team," something must be up. Something is. Tom Osborne has a heckuva hand.
Although four of five starters in each interior line and All-America Tight End Junior Miller have moved on, Osborne has reason to be confident. Miller, who was drafted in the first round by the Atlanta Falcons, was pushed all last season by Jeff Finn and Steve Davies, both of whom are now seniors with two letters apiece. There was so much depth at the position, Osborne often used a two-tight-end offense. He will again.
As for the offensive line, the Cornhuskers annually rebuild that, because being a senior is practically a prerequisite for starting in Lincoln. The surprise first-teamer this season is Tackle Randy Theiss, only the fourth sophomore lineman in 10 years to start for the Cornhuskers. And though Defensive End Derrie Nelson may be the only returning starter on the line that ranked second in the nation in rushing defense (93.1 yards per game), he is, in Osborne's words, "as good a defensive end as we've ever had." Says Nelson modestly, "In our system the linebackers control a lot of things and we're strong there." Strong means seniors Brent Williams and Kim Baker, who had 172 tackles between them, backed up by sophomores Steve McWhirter and Steve Damkroger. The fact is, the Cornhuskers are loaded. "This is the fastest and strongest team we've ever had," Osborne concedes, an admission that should chill Nebraska opponents.
Although Tailback Jarvis Redwine rushed for 1,100 yards, averaged 6.7 yards a carry and scored nine touchdowns despite a late-season ankle injury, he is considered even with, not ahead of, Craig Johnson, who has bulked up from 185 to 197 pounds. Also on hand is sophomore Roger Craig, who led all the Cornhusker ballcarriers in the spring game with 79 yards rushing. "We have such good backs that this year I shouldn't have to run much," says Quarterback Jeff Quinn. A part-time starter last year, Quinn had been criticized for running too much, starting with the opener, a 35-14 defeat of Utah State, in which he gained 112 yards on 19 carries. All told, Quinn ran 77 times for 245 yards in his four starts, while completing 57 of 110 passes for 702 more.
Nebraska's schedule is in its favor. Non-conference opponents are rebuilding, and the Huskers' toughest Big Eight games are at home, including the last of the season—the showdown with Oklahoma Nov. 22. By then Osborne's cards should all be on the table, and a No. 1 ranking could be on the line.
From tight end to split end, Alabama's entire national championship offensive line is gone. So, too, are the quarterback and fullback. Thus the Tide attack in next week's opener against Georgia Tech will boast a grand total of two seasoned starters. The defense, at least as it looked in spring practice, left Coach Bear Bryant none too thrilled, either. "Some people on defense have high opinions of themselves," growled Bryant. "That makes for large heads and small hearts."