SI Vault
Herman Hickman
September 12, 1955
September's practice fields tell the story of a football team. SI's expert, fresh from a nationwide survey, here delivers his up-to-the-minute report
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September 12, 1955

The Eleven Best Elevens

September's practice fields tell the story of a football team. SI's expert, fresh from a nationwide survey, here delivers his up-to-the-minute report

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Football's '55 tour de force takes the stage on Saturday, September 17. It will swagger to its full strength the following Saturday and refuse to be relegated to the background even for a moment until the last bowl game has been played. The swirl of a major league pennant race or a Marciano-Moore heavyweight championship fight—yes, even the World Series—will be only of passing interest in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dallas, Houston, Columbus, Atlanta, Miami and many more citadels of football.

Gone are the days when the football powers played only "breathers" until the second or third week of October. Take a glance at some of the openers on the 17th. A double-header in Atlanta pits Georgia Tech against the University of Miami in the afternoon and Mississippi against Georgia under the lights. Pittsburgh plays California, Texas takes on Texas Tech, Missouri meets Maryland, UCLA entertains Texas A&M (the night of the 16th) and Florida meets Mississippi State—to mention only a few of what used to be midseason attractions. Only the staid East and the solid Midwest wait for the 24th.

The changing times not only have brought on the demise of the "soft" schedules but, concurrently, the complete about-face of college football coaches' traditional pessimism. Gone are the Gloomy Gils who never had the material which was bestowed in such bounteous bundles on their opponents, yet always managed to win from that selfsame opposition, leaving the only and obvious conclusion that the coach's genius pulled it off. The 1955 version of the college coach shoots pretty straight with both press and public in evaluating his team's chances. This is, to say the least, refreshing.

So, once again, I have made my selection of the 11 best college football teams for the current season; in other words, my 11 All-America teams, by contrast with the usual 11 individual All-America players. For the most part they are perennial powerhouses. Seven of the 11 were on my 1954 list. Few will finish the season unbeaten. Many meet each other. The round robin starts with Maryland and UCLA on September 24 and ends with the Army-Navy clash on November 26. In the interim will be upsets, near upsets and glorious goal line stands; but when the smoke of battle is cleared by December's chilling winds I expect the 11 teams which I have chosen to be at or near the top.

The line of demarcation between these 11 teams and the rest of the field is difficult to draw. My old West Point coaching compatriot, Andy Gustafson, has his Miami Hurricanes confidently poised for the big blow. If they can win the opener from Georgia Tech and can beat such stalwarts as Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Texas Christian, Alabama and at the same time never forget their finale with hungry Florida, they will deserve to be on top of the heap. But the assignment is a staggering one. Auburn, which handed Miami its only defeat (14-13) last year, is loaded lor bear. The Tigers were slow to start in 1954, along with Maryland, but both were among the toughest teams extant at the season's end.

If Texas Tech can get by its opening duo of Texas and Texas Christian it can conceivably go clean the rest of the way. West Virginia, with the sensational southpaw quarterback Fred Wyant pitching passes, has a good chance of remaining unbeaten at the end of a not too difficult schedule. Likewise, Len Dawson could set the Big Ten on fire with his pinpoint passing to the giant Purdue ends. Minnesota, my dark horse of last year, could make all predictions look silly. And lest we forget, out on the Coast they are saying that this is a Trojan year, and it's not idle talk either. But why go on?

For the fans there is only one important rule change from last season. It adds up to this: a player, provided he started the quarter, may re-enter the game once during that same quarter. This is a slight concession to the free-substitution addicts. Last year, as you may remember, a player could re-enter the game in the same quarter only in the last four-minute segments of the second and fourth.

Offensively, the split T formation still dominates the field, with the regular or Bear T next in popularity. The variations used, however, make any resemblances to the originals purely coincidental. Quite a few colleges, such as Michigan, Michigan State, Iowa and Southern California use the so-called multiple offense, shifting from an unbalanced (four men on one side of the center, two on the other) single wing to a T or Split T. Red Sanders at UCLA and Bowden Wyatt, at Arkansas last season and now at Tennessee, are the only coaches of note using the Tennessee balanced-line single wing. It might be worthwhile noting that both won their conference championships.

Defensively, the swing has been to a box type of defense which is basically a 5-4-2, devised primarily to use against the split T. The scheme is so well masked that only the coach himself can tell the formation of the moment, and most of the time he doesn't know until he studies the pictures the next day. Sometimes the team lines up with nine men on the line of scrimmage when the ball is ready for play, but mentally four of them are ready to leap back into the secondary as linebackers. With all this going on, it's better not to try to figure out the defensive alignments at all.

So, despite the dire predictions of the two-platoonists a couple of years ago, Football is back again, bigger and better than ever. But enough of this. Let's take a look at the 11 best elevens. For better or for worse, I'm stuck with them.

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