To gather the material on which he based his choice of the eleven top football squads for 1954, Herman Hickman personally interviewed hundreds of coaches, players and sports writers. His travels took him to every corner of America. Last week, for example, he completed a swing which included Chicago, Denver, Seattle, Los Angeles, Dallas, Atlanta, Jacksonville and many places in between. He sought out not only the great, but also the near-great and those who, without much hope of ever attaining national championship status, gallantly stand up year after year to the best teams in the country. "With ten years of playing and 18 years of coaching behind me," said Hickman, who was an All-American guard at Tennessee, line coach at Army, and head coach at Yale, "I modestly believe that I have my finger on the pulse of U.S. football."