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Smith, who could be Ohio State's best runner since Archie Griffin won back-to-back Heismans in 1974 and '75, is the main reason the Buckeyes should make amends. The former two-time Mr. Ohio prep star gained 1,126 yards last season, breaking Griffin's freshman record by 259 yards. This season Smith, fullback Scottie Graham and a finally healthy Carlos Snow will be the main men until Ohio State finds a replacement for quarterback Greg Frey, who passed for 2,062 yards last year. The leading candidates are Kent Graham, a transfer from Notre Dame, and redshirt freshman Joe Pickens. On defense the Buckeyes will build around inside linebacker Steve Tovar, who led the team with 125 tackles last season, and end Alonzo Spellman, who sat out the winter quarter because of academic misconduct but came back to have a good spring.
Also hoping to make a comeback this season are the Tigers, who have been so dominant in the SEC—winning titles in 1987, '88 and '89—that last season's 8-3-1 record was considered a disappointment. "It's obvious we weren't a hungry team," says cornerback Corey Barlow. "That's not the case this year. This year the seniors want to get back into the championship mode, and we have worked hard to get better."
Coach Pat Dye has shaken up his staff and changed his philosophy on both sides of the ball. On defense, instead of the customary 3-4, the Tigers will use a four-man front, even though that means moving Walter Tate, the league's best noseguard, to tackle. On offense Dye upset some Auburn fans by passing over popular Pat Sullivan, his quarterback coach and the Tigers' Heisman Trophy winner in 1971, to name Tommy Bowden, Bobby's son, as offensive coordinator.
Bowden, who filled the same role last season for Bill Curry at Kentucky, believes in a wide-open passing game, which should be good news for quarterback Stan White. His performance last season as a freshman (2,242 yards, 14 touchdowns) wasn't exactly shabby. "For years our defense has been known around the country as one of the toughest and one of the best," says wide receiver Dale Overton. "This year we want our offense to develop the same reputation." The Tigers' best runner will be tailback Darrell (Lectron) Williams, who seems to be completely healthy for the first time in his career.
The Hawkeyes hope to parlay 16 starters returning from last season's Rose Bowl team and a soft nonconference schedule (Hawaii, Iowa State and Northern Illinois) into an improvement on their 8-4 record of 1990. It could happen. Iowa gets Michigan at home and doesn't have to play Michigan State. "We're anxious to go back to the Rose Bowl," says running back Mike Saunders, "and I think it's realistic to believe that we'll be out there playing Washington again. The only thing that can stop us is ourselves."
The Hawkeyes almost stopped themselves last season, losing three of their last four games, largely because of breakdowns in the punting game. Ohio State, Minnesota and Washington all succeeded in making blocks that were instrumental in their victories, leading Iowa coach Hayden Fry to order extra work for punter Jim Hujsak and the punting team in spring practice. Elsewhere, Fry likes what he sees, even at running back, where Saunders and Marvin (Scooter) Lampkin will try to make Iowa fans forget Nick Bell and Tony Stewart, who combined for 1,768 yards rushing. Quarterback Matt Rodgers hopes to bring recognition to Iowa for having the all-league performer at that position for the seventh time in the last nine years.
As erratic as Iowa was last season, no team had more of a roller-coaster ride than did the Crimson Tide. In its first season under coach Gene Stallings, the Tide got off to a horrible start, losing its first three games, then rallied for a 7-4 record that included Alabama's first win over Auburn in five years. The Tide then succumbed in a 34-7 humiliation at the hands of Louisville in the Fiesta Bowl. After all that, nobody is certain what to expect this season, though the decision by tailback Siran Stacy to stay in school instead of leaving for the NFL was certainly good news for the team.