But don't dial 911, or begin to imagine that the likes of Georgia will dominate the Southeastern Conference. Alabama has lost a player or two before, and of Bryant's last seven teams, five won 11 games and one won 12. The have-nots over that stretch, those underachievers of 1976, won only nine.
That it may take some time for the offense to coalesce doesn't mean much if opponents can't score. Sixteen starters and reserves return from the 1979 defensive unit that allowed just 58 points all season and flat shut out five opponents. That grudging group includes all-conference honorees E.J. Junior, Byron Braggs, Thomas Boyd, Jim Bob Harris and Tommy Wilcox.
Don Jacobs, 6'2" senior, makes his debut as starting quarterback. He's the guy who came off the bench to get the Tide a rousing come-from-behind 27-17 victory over Tennessee last October. Jacobs averaged 6.1 yards a carry in 73 tries and threw for two touchdowns, though he attempted only 23 passes. He has four potential targets: James Mallard, Jesse Bendross, Joey Jones and Keith Marks; Marks' main claim to fame is that his first college catch became a 48-yard TD.
Major Oglivie, the Sugar Bowl MVP, and Billy Jackson, runner-up to Oglivie by half a vote, provide experience and quality at halfback, while Mark Nix (five yards a carry), James Haney (4.9) and Mitch Ferguson (4.2), among others, supply additional running power. Up front is a lot of youth, but it isn't all that callow, five linemen having played enough to win letters.
Cornerback Boyd likens this year's offense to last year's defense. "We were young and matched up with a great veteran offense last spring and they made us look lousy," he says, "...until we got into a game and faced somebody else. Then the trouble was gone." Says Line Coach Dee Powell: "We lack experience but not guts or pride. I'll be surprised if we're not right where we want to be after a few games."
Incentive runs high. Alabama is shooting for an unprecedented third straight national title, and Bryant has one more personal goal, to surpass Amos Alonzo Stagg's record of 314 victories and become college football's winningest coach ever. Bear, with 296, can't do it this year, but every win brings him closer.
There was a time when Houston was scorned as "Cougar High," but Coach Bill Yeoman's teams have played in the Cotton Bowl three of the last four years, and around the SWC the game is now being called "The Cougar Invitational." Most of the credit goes to master innovator Yeoman, who each year wins, despite signing fewer blue chip prospects than any other SWC contender. Before last season, the Dallas Cowboys' personnel chief, Gil Brandt, correctly predicted that Houston would win the SWC. When skeptics pointed out that the Cougars had lost quite a few starters, Brandt replied, "Yeah, but Bill Yeoman's back."
And so he is once again, filling the gaps (seven of them left on the defense this fall) in his usual Yeoman fashion. Two nongaps are defensive tackles Hosea Taylor and Leonard Mitchell, who will be clogging up the middle, as is their wont. Taylor is 6'5", 265 pounds; Mitchell is 6'7", 270 pounds. Taylor made headlines when, with four seconds remaining at Arkansas, he blocked a field-goal try that would have given the Razorbacks a 13-13 tie. Instead the Cougars won the game, and the conference title. Mitchell is agile enough to play on Houston's basketball team, where he scored 62 points and had 64 rebounds in 1978-79. And if the Cougars ever field a gourmand squad, they're both in. At a Dallas steak house recently, each consumed two 24-ounce sirloins. Cornerback Donnie Love, who had five interceptions in his sophomore year, is the top returnee to the secondary that ranked 10th in the nation in '79.
Running from Yeoman's veer will be 5'9", 196-pound Terald Clark and 5'11", 205-pound John Newhouse (a cousin of the Cowboys' Robert Newhouse), who together accounted for over 1,700 yards last season. Quarterback Terry Elston, a backup to Delrick Brown last year, came off the bench four times to engineer come-from-behind, fourth-quarter wins. He produced the winning touchdown in the Cotton Bowl in the final 12 seconds on a six-yard pass to Flanker Eric Herring, his top target this season.