Les Wheeler, recently promoted from line to head coach, takes over a fine group of players that includes six starters from 1961, 17 other returning lettermen and hard-to-come-by transfers: Tackle Larry Curtis from Pepperdine, 6-foot-5 End Dewitt Jones from Tulsa and Wingback Owen Morrison from TCU. However, only Curtis is able to crack a first-team line that is not large but has excellent getaway speed and fits in nicely with the wing T offense and the running game Wheeler intends to play. Tailback Thayne McKnight, the best of a bright group of backs, last season showed his will-o'-the-wisp speed and change of pace by shaking loose for runs of 63 and 91 yards. As fleet as McKnight might be, he still runs second to Wingback Bubba Brown (9.8 for the hundred) who is also a blink faster than Quarterback Charley McCook. McCook, a fair hand at passing, has good and experienced Ends Gary Cohn and A.M. Dycus to receive.
CONCLUSION: Patient Abilene Christian, looking forward to a rise in fortunes, has only one worry—the defense is soft.
Football, the last few years, has brought Arizona out of the shadows of the Southwest Conference and into the bright lights of national prominence. While 1961 was the best year in the 62-year-old football history of the university, it was only a beginning. This season Arizona becomes a charter member of the more muscular Western Athletic Conference and Coach Jim La Rue hopes to start off big real big. He has a fast and experienced line that has grown stronger with the addition of sophomore starting Guard John Briscoe who should meld smoothly with Co-captain Howie Breinig, a small-size guard of deadly effectiveness, and brilliant two-way Tackle Gerald Zeman. Exceptional speed is the key to Arizona's T and split T offense. Last year's backfield graduated, but there are replacements in abundance. Passing is another story. Dave Long did not return for fall practice. Quarterback Bill Brechler must learn fast.
CONCLUSION: If it gets the passing, Arizona's chances for a big year are as bright as LaRue's fondest expectations.
The Sun Devils, sad to say, are bedeviled up front. From tackle to tackle, all of last year's starters are gone, and the second rank moving into position doesn't measure up defensively. Even so, Coach Frank Kush, with three platoons of strong, fast backs to operate his single and double wing T formations, has great expectations. Right Halfback Charlie Taylor moves his 200-pound frame at a 9.7 clip for the hundred and Left Halfback Tony Lorick is only a stride slower. These players, quick to catch passes, help to form the tautest deep defense in the Southwest. Yet, neither man is secure in his job. Sophomores Henry Carr, who may make the Olympics as a sprinter, and Larry Todd, another dash man who has the arm to exercise the pass option, may force them aside. At fullback there is the same comforting depth, but State may have trouble at quarterback, where big John Jacobs has sometimes proved brittle.
CONCLUSION: It is doubtful that Kush's offense will offset defensive shortcomings. But look for interesting, high-scoring games.
If Arkansas wins (or ties) one more Southwestern championship the conference commissioners ought to start antitrust proceedings. Opponents can take heart that the Razorbacks have lost six hard-to-come-by starters from last year's Sugar Bowl team. But this may be brief comfort. Coach Frank Broyles has solved similar problems in the past by shifting players and shuffling his wing T. This year he will switch from a basic halfback-quarterback offense to a quarterback-fullback attack, with dangerous runner and daring play-caller Billy Moore instructed to exercise the quarterback's run option frequently. When Moore isn't carrying the ball, he will hand off to powerful Fullback Billy Joe Moody or Jesse Branch and Jim Worthington, his two strong standbys. A dearth of fast, proven halfbacks, favored targets during the past three years, may limit the passing game. Defense comes first with Broyles, however. It will be as determined as ever.