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Red Grange
September 21, 1959
The onetime Galloping Ghost grabs the crystal ball and dashes for a prognostic touchdown with his selections of the top college teams plus a few thoughts on the kind of football ahead
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September 21, 1959

The Eleven Best Elevens

The onetime Galloping Ghost grabs the crystal ball and dashes for a prognostic touchdown with his selections of the top college teams plus a few thoughts on the kind of football ahead

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This is the time of the year when football experts and tyros alike retire behind cloudy crystal balls, and some are even caught pitching pennies in the air in the ever-optimistic hope that heads or tails will tell them which of their favorite teams are likely to prevail.

There is absolutely no discernible method in this autumnal madness. The prognosticator must invent his own personal ouija board for determining which of the nation's 110 major football teams is likely to be in the forefront of the rankings when the results are in at the end of November. The banners and buttons which you see me sporting in the drawing on the right merely represent my own personal choices for the nation's Eleven Best Elevens of 1959; but I hardly expect you to agree.

You will note, perhaps even with some consternation if your favorites are located in other sections of the country, that eight of the teams selected hail from the Midwest and the South. There can be little argument that year in and year out some of the nation's best football is played in these two areas. So it should be no great surprise to find Oklahoma, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Iowa, Louisiana State, Auburn, Mississippi and North Carolina among the Eleven Best. The Southwest, with its unpredictable and spectacular brand of football is, in my humble opinion, rapidly pushing aside the Midwest as a producer of fine football teams. It furnishes Texas Christian and Southern Methodist, while the East, aptly-enough, has a lonesome representative in Army. The West, beset with troubles which have reduced the once-great teams to everyday status, has failed to come forward with anything on a par with the Eleven Best, although hopes are high that the worm may soon begin to turn.

There were many who were considered, and a good case could probably be presented for such talented teams as Navy, Syracuse and Penn State in the East, Purdue, Northwestern and Notre Dame in the Midwest, Clemson in the South, Texas in the Southwest and Air Force, California and Southern California in the West. But, in the final analysis, they had to be relegated to the also-rans.

Now that we are committed, suppose we examine the facts which eventually forced me to conclude that these are indeed the Eleven Best Elevens.

Auburn made many an opposing coach drool with envy when its pro-sized line trotted on the field last year, and the Tigers will be just as big and just as powerful again this season. Coach Shug Jordan has the happy facility for enrolling these king-sized linemen and sharpening their skills. There is certainly no reason to believe that his lusty defense will be any less effective than it was in 1958, when it was the stingiest in the nation. Unbeaten in 24 straight games but still bowl-banned by the NCAA, Auburn will find its comfort in battering the opposition in the Southeastern Conference. If Jordan can prevent a letdown somewhere along the line, the Tigers might even be the best in the South despite a less-than-frightening schedule.

Louisiana State , fresh from its unexpected success last year as everybody's national champion, will still have its imaginative Chinese Bandits and its explosive halfback, Billy Cannon. Coach Paul Dietzel richly deserved his reward as Coach of the Year, but he knows that success often brings problems, and one of them will be the obvious fact that every opponent on the tough LSU schedule will be pointing for his team. Cannon, a truly great runner, can expect to find himself double-teamed and will be hit just a little bit harder by eager defenders. However, Dietzel's diversified attack is difficult to contain, and the hopped-up Tigers enjoy winning.

Oklahoma has become synonymous with victory and the reasons are simple. Coach Bud Wilkinson is a football perfectionist who recruits only the best players and insists on speed in his line and backfield. He finds halfbacks who can pass as well as run, fullbacks who can run like halfbacks and quarterbacks who can handle the option play. He puts them behind a big, fast and mobile line and gets more offense off the split-T than anyone else. And, just as important, he is a discerning schedule maker with a knack for keeping his tough games well spaced. If Oklahoma can get safely by Northwestern in its opening game, the Sooners should march through the Big Eight on their way to an unbeaten season.

Wisconsin's precocious juniors came within a whisker of winning the Big Ten championship a year ago, and now the juniors are seasoned seniors. Of course, seniors sometimes have a habit of succumbing to complacency, but Coach Milt Bruhn is convinced that his Badgers are eager enough to seize one of college football's juiciest plums. Wisconsin has one of the country's best quarterbacks in Dale Hackbart, a big fellow who can run when he isn't passing, and a strong defense. For what it is worth, the Badgers will know their fate before the season is half over. They meet Purdue, Iowa and Ohio State in their third, fourth and fifth games.

Ohio State's crunching offense has long been Coach Woody Hayes' trademark and the scourge of the Big Ten. Even when they don't win the title, the Buckeyes are close enough to the top to worry the life out of their rivals. But now the rumor is around that Woody may loosen up his offense a bit this fall. Either way, plain or fancy, Ohio State will be hard to beat. They still have a crashing work horse in Fullback Bob White and a fine end in All-America Jim Houston. Then there is Bob Ferguson, a sophomore halfback who will be an adequate replacement for the graduated Don Clark. Add the usual big, bruising offensive and defensive lines and you have the Hayes formula for winning games—and maybe even the Big Ten championship this year.

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