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How fitting it is, given the colorful split personality of the Atlantic Coast Conference, that the league's two Top 20 contenders are the Skoal-spittin' Tigers of Clemson and the gentlemen Cavaliers of Virginia. As the two schools have at least one thing in common—their uniforms' hue—1990 will be something of an orange crush for the rest of the conference. Georgia Tech was truly a Rambling Wreck as it opened the 1989 season by losing three straight and lurched to within two defeats of the ACC record of 18 straight conference losses. But the Yellow Jackets became a wrecking crew, winning seven of their last eight games for their first winning season since 1985. As a redshirt freshman, quarterback Shawn Jones threw for 1,748 yards and 12 touchdowns, and he is the first returning starter under center in Bobby Ross's four years in Atlanta. The Yellow Jackets will replace tailback Jerry Mays, the conference's leading rusher in 1989, with T.J. Edwards, a rare intraconference transfer from Duke, or William Bell. On defense, NFL scouts will be swarming around All-ACC junior free safety Ken Swilling, the most talented Yellow Jacket in a decade.
"Come back, Shane" may be a familiar refrain at N.C. State, with the departure of quarterback Shane Montgomery, who led the ACC in passing yardage last season. This season, coach Dick Sheridan will go with a ground attack because Montgomery's heir, sophomore Charles Davenport, is an option quarterback. Davenport will pitch to speedy tailbacks Tyrone Jackson, a junior, and Aubrey Shaw, a sophomore, who were two of the Wolfpack's top four rushers from 1989. Safeties Jesse Campbell and Fernandus (Snake) Vinson anchor a formidable defense.
Former Duke assistant head coach Barry Wilson, chosen to replace coach Steve Spurrier at the Blue Devil helm, served part of his Army duty as a sentinel at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. At the very least, his new assignment will be livelier, though equally unknown is the identity of the Blue Devils' starting quarterback. Wilson has two fine résumés to choose between: Billy Ray opened '89 by leading Duke to a surprising 5-3 record before bowing out with a shoulder injury. Fill-in Dave Brown performed quite nicely in sparking the Devils to a 3-0 season finish, with 11 touchdown passes and an astounding average of 432 yards per game through the air. No matter which one wins the job, junior tailback Randy Cuthbert will be a prime target after catching 50 passes last season while becoming the first Duke ballcarrier in 17 years to rush for 1,000 yards.
You might think that North Carolina coach Mack Brown's two-year record of 2-20 would keep high school recruits away in droves. Nonetheless, Brown's 1990 prep crop was judged to be one of the best in the country. That's the good news. The bad news is that a couple of the Tar Heels' top prospects, quarterback Mike Thomas and tight end Oscar Sturgis, both from state champion Richmond Senior High in Rockingham, couldn't join the 700 Club on the SATs. They were sent packing to Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy this fall to bone up on their academics, and Thomas, who signed a minor league baseball contract with the Orioles, may never climb Chapel Hill. Brown is left with junior Todd Burnett at quarterback, who did not distinguish himself last season. The Tar Heels hope to get meaner on defense and are counting on tackle Roy Barker and linebackers Dwight Hollier, Eric Gash and Tommy Thigpen, who has been perfecting his technique by studying old films of former Heel Lawrence Taylor.
Whoever arranged the 1990 Maryland schedule has an odd sense of humor. The once-proud Terps, who haven't had a winning season since 1985, have nonconference dates at Michigan, Penn State and West Virginia. Coach Joe Krivak has chosen Scott Zolak to quarterback the lackluster Terps. A senior, Zolak has waited four years for this thankless assignment.
Free safety Lamont Scales led Wake Forest in tackles in 1989, a telling indication of the woeful state of the Demon Deacons' defensive front. Things won't improve much on a unit that yielded 435 yards and 29 points per game while registering just 10 sacks. On offense, ACC 110-meter hurdles champ Steve Brown is a deep threat at flanker. But for these Deacons, the hurdles will be too high.
Geographically, at least, Arkansas has always been odd man out in the All Texas Plus One Southwest Conference. Soon Arkansas will simply be out—gone to the Southeastern Conference, beginning in 1992. That conference doesn't make any more sense geographically, but it made a lot of financial sense to the Hog hierarchy, which couldn't resist the extra TV dollars. This season the SWC might as well pretend that Arkansas, a solid Top 20 contender, has already left. That will make the battle for the title of conference runner-up more exciting. Although the Razorbacks have won the crown two years running (and almost never passing), Texas A&M has not been far behind. Last year, a one-point loss to the Hogs separated A&M from a New Year's Day date in Dallas. This season the Aggies have an enforcer at outside linebacker named Tyronne (the first n is silent) Malone, a transfer from LSU. If halfback Darren Lewis can regain the spirit of the 1,692 yards he rushed for in 1988, the Aggies could ruin the Hogs' farewell.
Quarterback Andre Ware and his coach, Jack Pardee, have both left the University of Houston for the major leagues, but that doesn't mean that the Cougars' run-and-shoot offense will be hobbled. David (Slinger) Klingler passed for eight touchdowns and 865 yards as Ware's understudy in '89, career marks for some SWC starters. Klingler will be throwing to wideout Manny Hazard, who had more receptions (142) last year than anyone in Division I-A history, and handing off to Chuck Weatherspoon, who gained a remarkable 9.6 yards per carry in '89.
No doubt the Bears of Baylor spent much of the off-season enjoying films of their '89 season-ending 50-7 Texas Massacre, which was shot on location in Austin. That's the kind of momentum that can carry a team right into a new season—right up to Saturday, Sept. 1, when the Bears visit Nebraska. There, the momentum will cease. Those nonconference crunchers (Arizona State is on tap for the Bears the following week) will be misleading, though, because with a break here and there, Baylor could find itself in the thick of the SWC race. Coach Grant Teaff is returning to the I formation veer that he used in his first season, 18 years ago. The benefactor will be redshirt freshman fullback Robert Strait, a converted tailback who gained 8,404 yards and scored 127 TDs in four years at Cuero (Texas) High School. End Santana Dotson anchors a defense that was tops in the conference last year, and the Baylor secondary is airtight.
Spike Dykes's Texas Tech Red Raiders were the surprise of the conference last autumn, when they stormed to a 9-3 record. A visit to Ohio State and a rendezvous with Miami at Jones Stadium augur a more modest showing this fall, as does the loss of I-back James Gray, the SWC's leading rusher. Dykes welcomes back Butkus Award nominee Charles Rowe at linebacker, and the league's passers and receivers welcome back the entire Tech secondary, which ranked 100th in Division I-A in '89.