The head coach is new. So are six of his assistants. The star of the team hasn't played in 21 months. The defense gave up 239 points in 11 games last year and was on the field so much of the time all the offensive players should get another year of eligibility. But still, Stanford is in the thick of the Rose Bowl race, such as it is, with the Pac-10 Conference in a shambles and half of it—five teams, including USC—ineligible for bowl play.
Eligible and worthy, the Cardinals have a platoon of gifted ballcarriers and a passing game that can score from San Francisco. Stanford may yield a ton of points, but it can score even more, especially since the return of Halfback Darrin Nelson, who missed all of last season after snapping a hamstring long-jumping at a track meet. In 1977, as a freshman, Nelson became the only collegian ever to rush for 1,000 yards and catch 50 passes in a single season. In 1978 he did it again.
With Nelson sidelined last year, Flanker Ken Margerum stepped forward to snare 41 passes for 733 yards, 10 TDs (a Pac-10 high) and All-America honors. Margerum has already surpassed Dallas Cowboy Tony Hill as Stanford's all-time leader in touchdown receptions with 19. Yet the real surprise of the year was Split End Andre Tyler, a part-timer the previous season, who hauled in 45 passes, tops on the team.
The last three NCAA passing champions—Guy Benjamin (in 1977), Steve Dils ('78) and Turk Schonert (79)—all came from Stanford. Now sophomore John Elway has the ball. As a sub last fall, he completed 50 of 96 passes (52%) for 544 yards and had six touchdowns, breaking the school record for freshmen previously held by Benjamin. He'll get time to pass, too, because the interior line has four returning 1979 starters, including 6'7", 270-pound Tackle Brian Holloway.
A year ago the defense showed its potential when it blanked USC in the second half to preserve a 21-21 tie. And the expertise that the defenders gained in practicing against two of the nation's best throwing quarterbacks was evident in the way they shut down most passing games. But on the ground, Stanford was burned for 4.3 yards a play. An improvement is likely now that 1978 Blue-bonnet Bowl standout Tom Hall has returned at linebacker after sitting out 1979 with an injured Achilles tendon. And Linebacker Milt McColl has recovered from a sore shoulder that hampered him last fall. Stanford's entire kicking game is the responsibility of Ken Naber, the country's No. 11 returning punter (42.4-yard average). As for Naber's field-goal ability, his 56-yarder with no time left on the clock beat the Bruins 27-24.
The new coach is Stanford alumnus Paul Wiggin, a 15-year veteran of NFL coaching and a defensive whiz. A Stanford team that is actually concerned about defense is one of the novelties of the season.
10. BRIGHAM YOUNG
What can BYU do for an encore? In 1979 it went 11-0, winning the WAC championship in a nationally televised 63-14 romp over San Diego State. In that game the Cougars scored their 63 points in 66 plays. All in all, BYU led the nation in total offense, scoring on passes, and in kickoff returns. The Cougars gained an average of seven yards every time they snapped the ball. With 14 starters and 19 second-teamers returning, the encore may well be more of the same.
All-America Quarterback Marc Wilson has been succeeded by Jim McMahon, who had beaten Wilson out of the job in 1978 and in that year was All-WAC. McMahon sat out 1979 following knee surgery. Now he will have Wilson's top seven receivers to throw to, a group that caught no fewer than 228 passes, 23 of them for touchdowns. Most dangerous among them is Lloyd Jones, who averaged 22.3 yards on 33 catches.