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From the thud of the opening kick-off at "foreign" Fayetteville, where Texas Christian meets Arkansas on Saturday, until the last whistle blows at Houston and Fort Worth on November 26, nothing matters in the chauvinistic Southwest except the conference race. The teams are grouped closer than ever this year, with little chance of even the champion coming through unbeaten in conference play.
If there has to be a choice, Rice and Southern Methodist get the call: Rice with its exceptional quarterbacks and an excellent first line; SMU with its pro-sized line and backfield. Texas Christian is a solid dark horse and its 32-0 victory Saturday over Texas Tech should dispel any tendency to complacency among the favorites. Baylor's explosive offense will be backed by a stable defense. But this is all a kind of whistling in the dark. It seems only fair to remind the gullible of what happened to Arkansas last season. If ever a team was picked to roll over and die, the Razorbacks were. They declined the invitation and wound up in the Cotton Bowl. So shake up the hat and roll out the finish.
The Big Seven is faced with its usual perplexing problem: who will finish second? It has been eight years and 47 games since the University of Oklahoma last lost a conference game and this season's edition is up to snuff. The race for runner-up should teeter-totter between Colorado and Missouri.
Elsewhere in the wide Southwest the teams to watch are Houston in the ubiquitous Missouri Valley Conference and Texas Tech from the Border Conference. The latter, with one of the strongest first teams, could be among the region's top elevens.
Rice. Coach Jess Neely's 25th season as a head coach at a major college could well be a happy one. The line, led by Tackle Eddie Rayburn, is brick-solid. All-America Dick Moegle is certain to be missed among the backs but Sophomore Virgil Mutschink is said to be a reasonable facsimile. The real news is at quarter where Sophomore King Hill scored two touchdowns and kicked two extra points as the Owls downed Alabama 20-0.
Southern Methodist. I was much impressed with the size and speed of the Mustangs at a practice session several weeks ago in Dallas. There is supposed to be a weakness at ends and quarterback. Maybe there is, but Tackle Forrest Gregg leads a gargantuan line. The backfield is impressive. The Mustangs lost to Notre Dame 17-0, but that is no disgrace. Georgia Tech comes Saturday, then Missouri, but THE schedule opens with Rice on the 15th.
Texas Christian. Perhaps I rate TCU too high but they looked like the real thing against Texas Tech. Only five lettermen are missing from a so-so 1954 team. Hugh Pitts is one of the outstanding centers in a year of great centers. Jimmy Swink is an all-the-way runner at halfback and Charles Curtis, with a year's experience, will be a much improved quarterback.
Baylor. George Sauer's offensive hopes were dimmed considerably when his ill-fated but brilliant quarterback, Doyle Traylor, fractured an ankle. However, the great Delbert Shofner is still at one halfback position and dangerous Weldon Holley is at the other. End Henry Gremminger, an all-SWC last season, heads a competent line.
Texas. The Longhorns are spoiling to make up for last year's bad season but the road is long and hard. A disappointing 20-14 loss to Texas Tech in the opener won't be assuaged by the 35-21 win over weak Tulane Saturday. Texas does have two fine backs. Sophomore Quarterback Walter Fondren has been likened to Doak Walker, which is saying a mouthful; and Delano Womack was one of the league's best ball carriers for two years.