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A college football season has arrived at last in which the normally overcautious, self-tortured coach can quit stumbling over the water bucket every time his team fails to kick by third down. Darrell, Bear, Rip, Frank—the whole clan—have discovered that daring alternative, the forward pass, and in 1963 they will put the ball in the air more often by hand than by foot.
Job security being their first preoccupation, Texas' Darrell Royal, Alabama's Bear Bryant, Penn State's Rip Engle and Arkansas' Frank Broyles are not exactly doing funny imitations over this turn of events, but by their records of the past few years (see chart page 33) they have proved that they know how to spot a trend. Even more important, they know how to adjust to it.
Actually, these pathfinders led themselves inadvertently into the ulcerous new era of a wider, more open game by their own defensive thoroughness. While they managed to raise their infamous clouds of dust all right, the three yards that were supposed to follow became increasingly scarce. What the new style amounts to is another cycle in the evolution of modern T formation football. As the 5-2 Eagle defense caught up with the early straight T and the Oklahoma 5-4 shriveled the split T, the wide tackle six and the Monster (a roving linebacker) all but annihilated the power-accented wing T. As a result, college football's newest In trend is the shifting T and its newest In term is "extended motion."
In language that maybe the bands, the cheerleaders and even the spectators can understand, the shifting T will offer a more imaginative use of flankers, slot-backs and split ends deploying out of a shift just before the ball is snapped. The man in extended motion merely will take a wider route. The grand design is to scatter the defense and make the monster linebacker a poor guesser. And to make this offense work, the colleges must throw the football.
The season's two significant rules changes reinforce the decisions to pass more. Essentially, the substitution rule erases three-unit play. While coaches neither understand the rule nor approve it, they can see readily where flare passes to the sidelines will stop the clock, allowing them to insert specialists on second and third down. The other rule, which makes the quarterback eligible to receive a pass, already has the country's fullbacks spiraling footballs through the air with visions of quarterback glory dancing in their heads.
But the quarterbacks themselves will do most of the passing, and never have the colleges been so abundantly equipped in this department than they are this year. According to a majority of pro scouts, Miami's George Mira (see cover and page 96) is the best. But there are so many others of similarly proven talent pressing him that by the end of the season there will be people in every section of the country who will swear that they have the best boy, regardless of what All-America selection committees think. (For those closest to Mira, see scouting reports beginning on page 47.)
There also will be plenty of unconvinced partisans when the final standings of the top teams are published. Strenuous schedules both inside and outside their areas could easily reduce the won-lost records of some of the strongest teams in the land to the point where hardly any outsider would be impressed. Several of those on the 11 Best Elevens, selected by the editors of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED and listed in order of their expected finish (right), meet head-on. Texas plays both Oklahoma and Arkansas. USC faces Washington and the Sooners. Northwestern meets Wisconsin and Alabama must reckon with Miami. If these teams fall, Nebraska, Navy, Florida and Clemson could push their way inside, but it is unlikely that any will push as far up as Texas, which should finish the season undefeated, the strongest team of 1963.
The strongest team has in the person of Darrell Royal a strong coach and strong athletic director with a curiously mixed attitude about the trend of 1963. Royal's record is exceptional, but his idea about throwing the football is as typically collegiate as the drugstore on the main drag.
"Sure we're in the entertainment business," says Royal, "and as an athletic director I can see that it would be good to open up our game a little. But as a coach I can assure you that nothing is as entertaining as winning. If a pro team knew it could win every game by not throwing a pass, I think I know what it would do. No good coach is ever going to neglect defense or the kicking game. We have neglected the pass, and we'll work harder on that. But we'll do it because we think it'll help us win, not because it's better show biz."
If the college coach was once a caricature of a growling man in a faded sweatshirt and baggy canvas pants, he is today almost another cliché. He is young, vigorous, persuasive, militant and enthusiastic. Darrell Royal typifies the rising young coach who has dominated the college game in recent years with his personality as well as his success. Others are Broyles, Missouri's Dan Devine, Washington's Jim Owens, Northwestern's Ara Parseghian and Army's Paul Dietzel. But Royal's five-year record in the Southwest Conference—as tough a league as any and tougher than most—thrust against the light of his steady competition is the best in the country. (Mississippi's Johnny Vaught has won more often, but he plays an easier schedule.) Royal has won or tied for three conference championships in six seasons, been to five bowl games, beaten ageless enemy Oklahoma five consecutive times, never lost more than three games in a single season, never finished lower than fourth in the SWC. Except for two of those furious upsets that characterize the Southwest, Royal's teams of the last two years (9-1 in 1961, 9-0-1 in 1962) could have been national champions. The 1963 team is better than either of the previous two.