Nonetheless, Akers is going to have to rely on his offense if he is to keep on winning big. Fortunately, the offense is experienced and has recovered from numerous injuries. Eight first-stringers are back, three of whom were hurt last season or in spring practice. Among them are running backs A.J. (Jam) Jones and Rodney Tate, who together accounted for 1,148 yards in 242 carries last season.
As to who will be optioning the ball off to them, Akers is shopping around. The heir apparent at quarterback, Donnie Little, who threw for 750 yards and ran for 410 more before injuring the arch of his right foot, will be the starter, but when Akers wants to go to the air, he'll probably look to Rick McIvor, seeking a performance like the one the sophomore put on against Baylor. In that game, McIvor completed 12 of 24 for 270 yards, a school record. "I've seen Rick throw it 80 yards flat-footed," says Wide Receiver Les Koenning. "I know who I'd like to see in there."
Unlike last season, when Texas was the last major team to open its schedule (Sept. 22), this year the Longhorns get an early test—on Labor Day—at home against Arkansas. That game may be even more intense than usual as a result of the emotional aftermath of Texas' 14-17 defeat at the toe of the Razorbacks' Ish Ordonez last October. Barefoot Kicker John Goodson, who ended up in fourth place behind Ordonez in the NCAA rankings, may be the man to keep Akers out of Heartbreak Hotel.
Because Coach Vince Dooley's I-formation is built around the tailback, as he goes, so goes Georgia. Last year, when sophomore Matt Simon went mostly to the doctor because of injuries, Georgia went sour, finishing a disappointing 6-5. So Dooley went shopping, and last Easter he announced the signing of Herschel Walker, perhaps the most heavily recruited running back in the nation. At Johnson County High in Wrightsville, Ga., Walker ran for 45 touchdowns in his senior year, increasing his grand total to 86, both national high school records, and he gained a whopping 3,167 yards. He also won the state high school 100-and 200-yard dashes and at 6'1", 218 pounds was strong enough to win the state shotput title, too. The recruiting of this paragon caused such unreal expectations that Dooley may attempt to ease Walker into the lineup gradually, but that may not be feasible: the Bulldogs open against SEC rival Tennessee, a resurgent team, and face Texas A&M the next week.
Even a Herschel Walker needs an occasional block, and there the Bulldogs may be lacking. Gone are two All-Conference players, Center Ray Donaldson and Tackle Matt Braswell. Offensive Line Coach Wayne McDuffie admits his unit "isn't as physical as it has been in the past."
To take some of the pressure off the tailback, Dooley plans to have junior Quarterback Buck Belue throw the ball more often. Belue has a talented group of receivers, led by Split End Lindsay Scott, a burner who anchors the school's 440-yard relay team. And Belue won't have to move the ball far for Kicker Rex Robinson, who has booted two field goals of more than 50 yards and, with 40 three-pointers, already holds the SEC record for career field goals.
The Georgia defense should be strongest where it has been weak in recent years, in the interior of the line. With the likes of 270-pound Defensive Guard Eddie (Meat Cleaver) Weaver, the Bulldogs will have plenty of inside muscle. They need it: Dooley's defense uses just three defensive backs. The two linebackers often crowd up to give the appearance of an eight-man line. This so-called "perimeter defense" is effective against teams that run wide but has proved vulnerable against opponents such as Auburn, Clemson and South Carolina, which probe inside. "That's the way I'd try to beat our defense," says Guard Tim Morrison, "just keep pounding between the tackles. Under that kind of pressure sooner or later it would crack."
In the Southeastern Conference's system of rotating opponents, Georgia hasn't played Alabama since 1977 and won't face the Crimson Tide again until 1984. In case of a championship tie, the SEC slot in the Sugar Bowl is denied the team that played there more recently. Thus if Georgia can tie Alabama for the title this year, it will be the Bulldogs who spend New Year's Day in New Orleans.