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HERMAN HICKMAN SAYS: Last season there was an unusual situation in the Southwest Conference: the preseason predictions stood up pretty well. Again this fall there seem to be the same two outstanding teams, Texas A&M and Baylor, with Arkansas not so dark a horse.
Texas A&M, freed from bowl bans by the NCAA, is my favorite to repeat and play in the Cotton Bowl on New Year's Day. Despite the fact there were serious losses among middle linemen and linebackers, this may be a better squad than last year's champions, particularly offensively. The Aggies are well-stocked at the vital quarterback position, with seniors Roddy Osborne and Jimmy Wright reinforced by a brilliant sophomore, Charles Milstead. The two starting halfbacks, John Crow and Lloyd Taylor, are the best in the conference. Richard Gay will attempt to fill the fullback position of the departed All-America, Jack Pardee. The ends are sound and proved, and Charlie Krueger, one of the best tackles in the country, heads a group that bows to no team at this position.
Baylor impressed me against Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl last New Year's Day more than any team I had seen all season. Playing against the single wing for the first time, these boys handled their defensive chores with the greatest of ease and moved the ball consistently against the Vols. Two lines are returning—both as big, strong and experienced as the two lines of 1956. Outstanding in the forward wall are Guard Clyde Letbetter and Tackle Charles Bradshaw. Two experienced quarterbacks are the oft-injured Doyle Traylor and Louis Humphrey, while Larry Hickman is a fixture at fullback. Two sophomore speedsters may be heard from ere the season is over in the persons of Dobie Craig and Jim Millerman. Power running and the best line in the conference, offensively and defensively, will feature the Bears' play.
Arkansas has a brilliant backfield with speed to spare and an ordinary line. The running game should be paramount with all-SWC Fullback Gerald Nesbitt leading the attack. The return of Quarterback George Walker, who was out all the 1956 season with a knee injury, should also bolster the air attack. The Razorbacks should have little trouble scoring this season. Their major problem is in the line.
Rice, down in the depths for the past few falls, may be the surprise team of the conference. Its passing attack should be the best in the SWC, and its running game should be improved with more experience in the line. Both quarterbacks, Frank Ryan and King Hill, are returning. This combination completed 107 passes last season for a 55% average, and a sophomore, Larry Dueitt, is pushing these seniors for their jobs.
Texas lacks team speed, and new Coach Darrell Royal will have his troubles as he installs his split-T. Graduation losses were light, and 25 lettermen return from a team that dropped nine games. Many sophomores may take over veterans' positions. The most interesting switch is moving Walt Fondren, a truly great player, from halfback to quarterback.
Texas Christian, which has been 1-2 in the conference these past two years, has been wiped out by graduation and will have to depend largely on sophomores. However, the Horned Frogs still have Buddy Dike, their best fullback in years. Sophomores are promising, especially Halfback Jack Spikes. They will lean heavily on the running game.
Southern Methodist will have a rebuilding year under new Coach Bill Meek, fresh from Houston and the Missouri Valley championship. Five of the seven regulars are lost from the line, and star Quarterback Charlie Arnold missed spring practice with a ruptured kidney suffered in the Baylor game last fall; to add to the woes his understudy, Larry Click, has signed a professional baseball contract. Even though Arnold is medically ready, he is primarily a passer and might not fit into the split-T option play as a runner. Despite all this, Meek is pleased with the way the Mustangs have absorbed fundamentals, and he likes the spirit of the squad.
Texas Tech, with only ten lettermen returning and a tough schedule ahead, can look for a lean year. The Red Raiders, because of schedule difficulties, will not compete for the SWC title until 1960. Prospects for an improved season looked good after spring practice, but academic difficulties have deprived the squad of some of its better players. The worst loss was not academic: Floyd Hood, one of the outstanding guards in the Southwest, an ex-paratrooper and Golden Glover, damaged two vertebrae lifting his 20-pound baby.