The answer should be yes, at least in the cases of Hagan, who became the sixth player to both rush and pass for at least 1,000 yards in the same season; tailback Eric Bieniemy, who needs only 647 yards to surpass Charlie Davis (who played for Colorado from 1971 to '73) and become the top rusher in Colorado history; guard Joe Garten, a 6'3", 280-pound All-America who will become the school's first four-year starter; outside linebackers Kanavis McGhee and Alfred Williams, the twin terrors from Houston; and punter Tom Rouen, who last year led the nation with a 45.9 average. As far as sophomore linebacker Chad Brown is concerned, his teammates can only hope he can be trusted to keep his pets, three pythons, two boa constrictors, six other snakes and four lizards, at home.
Snakebit is probably how Southern Cal coach Larry Smith felt after defensive back Mark Carrier and linebacker Junior Seau each gave up his final year of eligibility to sign a fat pro contract. Their exits left the Trojans with only seven returning starters and their most inexperienced team in at least 25 years. And the Trojans will not be able to build early confidence against a bunch of nonconference patsies; they open with Syracuse, Penn State, Washington and Ohio State—all but Penn State on the road.
Still, Southern Cal always finds a way to a bowl game, usually the one in Pasadena. In quarterback Todd Marinovich (page 48) and tailback Ricky Ervins, the Trojans have the key elements of an attack that ranked eighth nationally in total offense last season. The defense will be anchored by linebacker Scott Ross and noseguard Gene Fruge, the only returning starters. "You look around and see all that inexperience and you realize what a challenge this is going to be," says Smith. "But I like challenges. This is fun."
Fun? If playing Southern Cal's schedule is fun, then playing Nebraska's must be a veritable Disney World. Sorry to harp on this, but the Huskers just can't be taken seriously as national title contenders until they beef up a nonconference schedule that this season includes Baylor, Northern Illinois, Minnesota and Oregon State. The only suspense will come when Nebraska plays Colorado on Nov. 3, and the Huskers get that one in Lincoln.
Only two starters return on offense, but don't be deceived. The Huskers suited up 163 players for their spring game, and among them are a lot of guys who can catch, run and throw. Mike Grant and Mickey Joseph will share quarterback early in the season, and junior Tim Johnk will start at fullback. One preseason practice casualty was wing-back Nate Turner, who broke his collarbone and will be out at least three weeks. The defense is so tough—seven starters, including strong safety Reggie Cooper and linebacker Pat Tyrance, preseason All-Americas, return from a unit that ranked eighth nationally in '89—that the Huskers won't need to score that much. The I-back job belongs to Leodis Flowers, who gained 493 yards last season as a backup, with 7.5 yards per carry.
Unlike Nebraska, Alabama has a schedule that will enable new coach Gene Stallings to moan every bit as much as did his mentor, the late Paul (Bear) Bryant, who never saw a schedule he didn't loathe. After a relatively easy opener, against Southern Mississippi, the Tide plays Florida at home and then Georgia on the road. Down the line are toughies against Tennessee and Auburn. Stallings will need a lot of breaks to match the 10-2 record that Bill Curry forged last season before he got fed up with the constant criticism and bolted for Kentucky. Curry didn't leave the 'Bama cupboard bare. On offense, the returnees include quarterback Gary Hollingsworth and two players who are among the best in the nation at their positions, tailback Siran Stacy and tight end Lamonde Russell. The entire line returns, as well. And the defense might not miss linebacker Keith McCants if Antonio London and Derrick Oden fulfill their vast promise.
Arkansas has a lot of question marks, and as coach Jack Crowe puts it, "The biggest one may be about their new coach." Crowe replaces Ken Hatfield, who moved to Clemson after going 55-17-1 in six years at his alma mater and winning back-to-back SWC championships the last two seasons. Of 11 starters returning from last season's Cotton Bowl team, the most important is Quinn Grovey, who may be the nation's best unknown quarterback. Last spring Grovey said, "This is it. I'm going for it. All-America, Heisman, everything." For that to happen, the Razorbacks will have to go 11-0 and get some TV exposure.
If Michigan falters in the Big Ten, the teams most likely to pick up the pieces are Illinois and Ohio State. Though the Illini have lost quarterback Jeff George, who became the No. I pick in the NFL draft after giving up his final year of eligibility, they still have one of the nation's best all-around backs, fullback Howard Griffith, and a strong defense, led by nosetackle Moe Gardner. Illinois opens the conference season on Oct. 6 at Ohio State, whose hopes depend on how its young offensive line develops. Buckeye quarterback Greg Frey has two fine receivers in flanker Jeff Graham and tight end Jeff" Ellis, along with a bruising runner in Scottie Graham (page 70). On defense, the Buckeyes will depend mainly on end Alonzo Spellman and linebacker Steve Tovar, both of whom are sophomores.
The departure of tailback Blair Thomas—a first-round draft pick of the New York Jets—would figure to make Penn State coach Joe Paterno a doubting Thomas, except that Paterno still has Willie Thomas at free safety and Tisen Thomas at corner-back, giving the Nittany Lions plenty of speed in the secondary. There's no Thomas to replace Blair in the offensive backfield, but there is a Thompson, Leroy, who will move from fullback to tailback. However, to cope with a road schedule that includes Southern Cal, Alabama and Notre Dame, Penn State will need a big season from erratic quarterback Tony Sacca.
At Brigham Young, naturally, quarterback is the least of coach La Veil Edwards's worries. Junior Ty Detmer, who has thrown for 5,812 yards and 45 touchdowns in two seasons, is such a treasure that Edwards put him off-limits to tacklers during spring practice. Detmer and tight end Chris Smith will form one of the nation's most formidable aerial combinations. To shore up the defense—remember BYU's 50-39 loss to Penn State in the Holiday Bowl?—Edwards has spent a lot of time consulting with the San Francisco 49ers.