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THE TOP 20
Mike Delnagro
August 31, 1981
1. MICHIGAN
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August 31, 1981

The Top 20

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Whoever is at tailback will benefit from one of State's strongest offensive lines ever. The anchor is Outland Trophy candidate Farrell, who bench-presses 520 pounds. "Sean is so good," says Warner, a graduate of the O.J. Simpson School of Self-Preservation Psychology, "that I'm honored to play on the same team as him."

All this seems to add up to run, run, run, but the Lions should pass more effectively than last year, too, when they completed only 46.2% for an average of just 121.1 yards per game. Sophomore Todd Blackledge, who became the starting quarterback four games into his freshman season, hopes to throw "at least 20 to 25 times a game."

The top receiver will probably be sophomore Flanker Kenny Jackson, who defeated Jonathan Williams in the dashes when they were scholastic track rivals in New Jersey. Though Paterno kept his usual short freshman leash on Jackson last year, he still led the team in receptions with 21 and his five TD catches were one short of a State record.

Paterno now has a need to find depth on the defensive line, with Walker Lee Ashley, Ken Kelley or Villanova-transfer Al Harris slated to replace Kubin. But his secondary is solid. Of 41 Penn State grads playing pro ball, none is a defensive back, but seniors Paul Lankford and Giuseppe Harris (brother of Franco and Pete, also State grads) may change that come 1982. The linebacking is, as always for Penn State, solid and deep with Chet Parlavecchio, Ed Pryts and Matt Bradley, who plays the outside linebacker-strong safety position known as the "hero." The term has been around Penn State for 20 years because then-coach Rip Engle didn't like the word "monster." "We had to sit around one day thinking up 'nice' names," recalls Paterno, then an Engle assistant. Now Paterno is facing a monster schedule but may have assembled a team that will make him a hero.

7. NEBRASKA

"What you have to understand about last season," says Nebraska's Roger Craig as he sprawls sideways on a bed on a steamy Lincoln evening, "is that I didn't consider myself third-string I back." Nor, the evidence will show, did he play like one. Craig rushed for 769 yards, second-best for the Cornhuskers, and his 15 touchdowns made him the No. 2 scorer in the Big Eight and tied him for sixth nationally with a guy named Herschel Walker. But he was third-string I back.

Now, Jarvis Redwine and Craig Johnson, who played ahead of him, are gone, and Craig is first-string I back. If he plays like one, and if Nebraska beats Oklahoma—something the Huskers have done only once in the last nine tries—a national championship isn't a pipe dream.

"Our tradition is to do well every year," says Craig, whose brother Curtis was wingback for the Huskers in 1975, '76 and '77. "The offense is built around the I back. It's up to the I back to get the job done." That's bad news for Husker opponents because, unlike Nebraska I backs of recent vintage, including All-America Redwine and I.M. Hipp, both of whom preferred to run outside whenever possible—and sometimes when it clearly wasn't—Craig relishes taking the ball inside and addressing himself to ill-humored defensive linemen and linebackers on their own turf. "I just like to run over people," says Craig, a junior from Davenport, Iowa.

Craig blames himself for a late-game fumble at the two-yard line against Florida State last year, a game Nebraska lost 18-14. "If I had shifted the ball from my left hand to my right, I wouldn't have fumbled. I would have scored and we would have won," he says. That mistake haunts Craig (the loss ruined Nebraska's national championship hopes; their record was 10-2), and while he was working in a meat-packing plant in Lincoln this summer, he had lots of time to think about it.

Most Nebraskans have forgiven and forgotten that transgression, and the focus is on 1981. Linebacker Coach John Melton looks as if he swallowed a canary when he concedes, "Our first 11 defensive players are going to be as good a unit as we've ever had." Six were starters in 1980, which may be why Coach Tom Osborne didn't bother to name a defensive coordinator when Lance Van Zandt left to join the New Orleans Saints. Hey, Tom, are you saying that they are so good that the best coaching may be no coaching? The only if is at defensive end, where three of last year's top four are gone, but the best—Jimmy Williams, who led the 1980 team in tackles with 66—returns. Maybe Osborne is right in leaving well enough alone.

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