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As if Steel City fans don't have enough to gloat about, what with the NFL-champion Steelers and the World Series-winning Pirates, the University of Pittsburgh seems set to give the City of Champions yet another reason to celebrate. In addition to defensive standout Hugh Green, the Panthers have a wealth of experience and are coming off an 11-1 season. But it is a sophomore who holds the key. Last season, in his first game, Dan Marino replaced the injured three-year starter, Rick Trocano, at quarterback and completed 22 of 30 passes against Navy. Marino's stats for six full games—which included a 59.59 completion percentage—put him 10th in the NCAA efficiency standings. And his best game was also his biggest. Against Penn State he went 17 for 32 in a 29-14 victory.
In that game Fullback Randy McMillan picked up 114 yards on the ground and 93 on pass plays, for three touchdowns. He returns as the McStrength of the backfield, while Tight End Benjie Pryor is tops in Marino's receiving corps. Pryor made All-East in '79, catching 45 passes for 588 yards.
The linemen protecting Marino are, man for man, larger than the Steelers who keep the heat off Terry Bradshaw, and have logged almost as much time playing together. They include an Outland Trophy candidate, Tackle Mark May (6'6", 282 pounds), who didn't let his man touch either Trocano or Marino once all last season.
On defense, Green is but one of nine seniors returning to a group ranked fourth in the nation in total defense, allowing only 184.3 yards a game. That defense, according to Coach Jackie Sherrill, only began to jell as a unit in the 26-14 victory over Washington. It peaked against Penn State, forcing 12 punts.
On Oct. 25, Pitt will get a chance to show Johnny Majors, Sherrill's predecessor as Panther head coach, just what kind of a house Jackie has built in four years. Says Sherrill, "It's a nice challenge any time you get a chance to play your employer of eight years." It's even nicer when you get to play him on the way to a national championship.
2. OHIO STATE
Columbus is riding high on the Buckeyes and with good reason, considering the flourish with which Ohio State closed out last season: five straight victories by the lopsided total score of 226-20, an 18-15 defeat of archrival Michigan and then a Rose Bowl game that was lost to mighty USC by a single point. To be sure, Ohio State didn't exactly overwhelm Northwestern, the Big Ten's flyweight, and two other victories, over Minnesota and UCLA, were squeakers. What's more, Coach of the Year Earle Bruce, who proved to be something of a genius in molding last year's supposedly so-so team into a contender, and the man who brought the word respectability into currency at Iowa State, has yet to demonstrate what he can do with a team that is expected to win. Which is what Ohio State is expected to do every year.
But just about every Buckeye who mattered is back again, most significantly UPI's Big Ten Player of the Year Art Schlichter. A two-year starter at quarterback, Schlichter already is Ohio State's alltime leading passer, although he is now entering his junior year. He can be electrifying. Against UCLA, with State trailing 13-10 and time running out, Schlichter hit six consecutive passes in an 80-yard drive that produced the game-winning touchdown. Schlichter also seems to have eliminated the one flaw in his repertoire. As a freshman he was intercepted 21 times, but after a year's experience at spotting camouflaged defenses, he had only six passes picked off last season.
Gliding under those passes once again will be Doug (White Lightning) Donley, who, after hauling in 37 for 800 yards in 1979, is a good bet to become the alltime leading Buckeye receiver, and Gary Williams, whose 25 catches included a 67-yarder for a touchdown in the Rose Bowl. Back, too, is Tailback Calvin Murray, the leading rusher, and Tim Spencer, an undersized (6'1", 204 pounds) but very quick fullback. Bruce can also call on Vaughn Broadnax, a freshman fullback from Xenia, Ohio and the state schoolboy heavyweight wrestling champion. Another freshman figures to press Tight End Brad Dwelle for game time, namely Judd Groza, whose dad is The Toe.