- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
So the defense—third-best in the nation a year ago, allowing only 209.1 yards per game—gets the Huskers into the Top Ten. But can the offense bump them all the way to No. 1? Like so many major powers, Nebraska has quarterback troubles—maybe. Mark Mauer, a senior from St. Paul, Minn., reads defenses well, and likely will start. But Mauer has never taken a snap that meant much to the outcome of a game (he threw 11 passes in 1980, five complete), and admits, "It will really be different than getting into a game when it's 30-6. That's the kind of experience I've had. I want to know what I can do when it's 0-0, or if we're down by a touchdown." Behind Mauer is hotshot sophomore Turner Gill, who could make Mauer the mop-up man again. Or, in typical Osborne style, the Cornhuskers may go again with two quarterbacks and give second-guessers in the stands something to gripe about.
The Huskers could use a fullback along the lines of the departed Andra Franklin, who carried for 678 yards and, more important, blocked with vengeance for Redwine, Hipp and, oh yes, the kid on the third string. Running Back Coach Mike Corgan talks up senior Phil Bates as Franklin's heir apparent.
Craig's dreaming now as he stares at the ceiling: "Isn't it fun when the season rolls around? Big crowds give me chills." If Nebraska can get by Florida State and Penn State, and then ice Oklahoma, you can bet things will stay hot in Lincoln until New Year's Day.
For 23 seasons Coach Paul Bryant has been the Bear in the air at Alabama football practices, directing the daily ebb and flow of the Crimson Tide from atop a 30-foot tower overlooking the team's practice field. From this distant remove, the Bear has cultivated an aura of flinty omniscience, not to mention a career record of 306-79-16. But last spring Bryant became so irritated at the Tide's often indifferent play that he came down from his tower and personally conducted a workout, just as he did in the old days. If the session proved little else, it showed that the Bear believes 'Bama has the talent to do a lot of things well, if not necessarily the will. "These kids have got to learn what it takes to be champions," says the 67-year-old Bryant. "If they don't realize that, we'll be embarrassed."
The only people likely to be embarrassed this year are Alabama's opponents. They have the unhappy task of facing a Tide squad that not only figures to be an improvement on last year's 10-2 Cotton Bowl champions, but also is loaded for Bear. Bryant is just nine victories short of breaking Amos Alonzo Stagg's mark of 314 career wins, the most in the history of the game. This year's squad would no doubt like to be the one to give Bryant the record, but the coach is soft-pedaling the subject. "I don't want our players trying to win games for me," he says. "I want us to get a positive attitude about football around here again."
The other side of that is, there's also no guarantee that 'Bama won't go undefeated. The big question is whether the Tide can generate enough offense to contend for a national championship. The backfield is full of speed, with Ken Simon, Jeff Fagan, Joe Carter and Linnie Patrick. The difficulty may be with the offensive line and at quarterback. In a spring scrimmage, the offense had the ball 17 times inside the 30-yard line and didn't score a TD. In the Tide's only losses last season—6-3 to Mississippi State and 7-0 to Notre Dame—it was the offense that failed, largely because there was no passing attack. This spring Bryant had his offense throwing more—often from unusual formations—and though the Tide will generally stick with its wishbone, there'll be some footballs in the Tuscaloosa air.
Whether those passes will be successful depends largely on the performance of junior Quarterback Ken Coley, who excited Alabama fans with his daring running as a substitute last season. When he finally got a chance to start against LSU, Coley led 'Bama to a touchdown on its first possession. But, on the Tide's second possession, he strained the motor nerve in his right hand and didn't play again all season. His fingers were paralyzed until February, when one day he awoke and found that mobility had returned. Sharing signal-calling duty with Coley will be sophomore Walter Lewis.
If Bryant can find replacements for ends E.J. Junior and Gary DeNiro and Linebacker Randy Scott, the defense might be even better than last year's, which at peak efficiency allowed only 25 points in eight games. The defense is anchored around senior Nose Guard Warren Lyles. Lyles grew up street-tough in Birmingham—"I had my first drink of wine at the age of five," he says, "then left it forever"—and decided he wanted to play for Alabama after Notre Dame defeated the Tide in the 1973 Sugar Bowl.
Alabama travels to three of its first four games, but among those only the opener at LSU threatens to be a struggle. Thereafter, there is a soft touch before every strong opponent, and Bryant has even scheduled open dates before Alabama's games with Penn State and Auburn. If all goes well and the Tide is undefeated when it faces Mississippi State on Oct. 31 in Tuscaloosa, Bryant will be going for career-win No. 315. "I don't know how long I'll keep going," Bryant says. "There might not be much of me left." Whatever, it should be more than enough.