Taking into account the many lineup changes, Holtz estimates he has 10 "starters" back on defense. "Of course," he says, "they weren't all that good last year. It's kinda like measles. You're not sure you want 'em again." There goes ol' poor-mouth again. Holtz admits, "I'm very pleased with our secondary, our linebackers and our defensive ends, and I'm no longer concerned about our interior defensive linemen." What has made that concern vanish is sophomore Billy Ray Smith, the son and namesake of the former Baltimore Colt lineman who played at Arkansas in the mid-'50s. "This spring we couldn't keep him out of our plays," marvels Arkansas' best offensive lineman, Right Guard George Stewart. "I pity the offensive linemen who will be told to block him the next three years."
Holtz has sold thousands of copies of his manual on the veer T offense Arkansas has used the past three years, but this spring the Razorbacks ran every play out of the I. The reason is that the Hogs have had trouble scoring from in close to the goal on the veer T and have had to call on Ordonez too often. More important, Arkansas lacks experience at quarterback, and, as Holtz points out, "In the veer the quarterback is the focal point of everything. In the I we can control what our quarterback has to do." The successor to all-SWC signal-caller Kevin Scanlon is Tom Jones, younger brother of the Colts' Bert.
Whichever formation the Razorbacks use, Arkansas has plenty of running backs. The best is versatile Gary Anderson, who led the team last year as a freshman with 1,240 yards running, catching and returning kicks. "This spring we used Gary at wide receiver, wingback and tailback in the I and as a running back in the veer," says Holtz, "and we still haven't found anything he can't do." The other starting running back should be another sophomore, Darryl Bowles, who spent the summer in the county workhouse for rustling a cow. Holtz is complaining that his fullback won't be ready for the Sept. 1 opener with Texas. Beware. Holtz may be hustling Longhorns.
In the '70s Oklahoma won 102 of 118 games—87.7%, tops in the country. In the final polls the Sooners placed No. 1 twice, No. 2 twice and No. 3 three times. Not once were they shut out. On top of that, Sooner players won a Lombardi Trophy ( Lee Roy Selmon), two Outland Trophies (Selmon and Greg Roberts) and a Heisman ( Billy Sims). As a new decade begins, Oklahoma's still O.K., but not quite as formidable. "We have less talent now than at any time since the '60s," says Coach Barry Switzer. "I see a lot of cliff-hangers."
Last year Oklahoma was 11-1 but was given fits by its three top-quality opponents: the Sooners edged Missouri by two points, Nebraska by three and flat lost to Texas. Without Sims Oklahoma might well have dropped all three games, and Sims has departed. "We just don't have a great back," Switzer says. "And great backs have been our edge against the best teams on our schedule."
To the less-than-best opponents, that is small consolation, because once again Oklahoma has the biggest, most belligerent linemen around. On offense, such formidable blockers as guards Terry Crouch (6'1", 275), Don Key (6'2", 250) and Steve Williams (6'2", 268), as well as tackles Louis Oubre (6'4", 262), Elbert Graham (6'3", 275), Lyndle Byford (6'5", 280) and Ed Culver (6'3", 275) will simply blow away most of the men they face. No wonder Oklahoma led the nation in rushing in 1978 and was second last fall. At 6', 230 pounds, Tight End Forrest Valora is dwarfed by the biggies, but he's Oklahoma's strongest player and probably its toughest. Valora was knocked unconscious in a sideline collision with a TV camera minutes before the Texas game. But he played all four quarters anyway, with a dozen fresh stitches sewn in his forehead.
Behind these blockers are three dependable backs, including Quarterback J.C. Watts, who knows how to win. Fullback Stanley Wilson started last year as a freshman and averaged 6.5 yards a carry, a mere fifth of a yard less than Sims himself. Senior David Overstreet has yet to live up to his billing, but this year he might. And who knows what to expect of freshman George (Buster) Rhymes, who refers to himself as "Buster, the Man with Luster."
Switzer's chief worry is on defense, where both linebackers and both ends are new, and the secondary will miss Co-captain Darrol Ray. But Tackles Keith Gary and Richard Turner will again fill in the middle. In 1979 Turner was the team's No. 1 tackier, and Gary, the Big Eight newcomer of the year, led the conference in tackles for losses. Another plus materialized in spring drills when lightly regarded Steve Haworth beat out Darrell Songy for the free-safety spot. Now Songy is a strong safety and cornerback.
Those potential cliff-hangers of Switzer's include games with Texas, Nebraska and Missouri, plus Gator Bowl champ North Carolina and, possibly, Stanford. Too many, it seems, for Oklahoma to dominate the first year of the '80s.