- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
If the Big West disappears from Division I-A, as has been rumored, would anybody notice? This league sported the big time's three lowest attendance averages last season, and there are more independence movements here than in Yugoslavia. The only arena in which bodies always outnumber empty chairs is at Fresno State—and the Bulldogs are defecting to the Western Athletic Conference after this season. With quarterback Mike Barsotti and tailback Anthony Daigle, Fresno will do lots of scoring, but the defensive line gives up yards quicker than a wholesale carpet outlet. The only obstacle for opponents is safety Marquez Pope, the league's co-defensive player of the year.
Memo to staff: Find out what's in the water at Utah State. In recent years the Aggies have successfully recruited title-type talent, including the league's best backfield tandem, Roger Grant and Floyd Foreman. Then last winter, 25 of the 29 recruits who visited the campus decided to stay. If State has enough healthy bodies left after back-to-back games against Nebraska and Oklahoma, it could make a run at the conference crown. San Jose State will play in every continental time zone this season and won't taste home cooking until Oct. 19. This will be a rebuilding year for the Spartans, who lost a lot of talent at the skill positions. Pacific quarterback Troy Kopp ranked third in the nation last season in passing yards per game, touchdown throws and total offense per game, and with all of his favorite receivers back, he might guide the Tigers' run-and-shoot to a major improvement over 1990's 4-7.
At UNLV the energetic Hunkie Cooper passes, runs, catches and returns kicks. Willie Brown replaced the late George Allen as coach at Long Beach State and hired two other former Raider cronies, Mike Davis and Jimmy Warren, as assistant coaches. There's nobody to carry the bags to the bus at New Mexico State, because there is only one freshman. Nineteen of the Aggies' 20 recruits this season are junior college signees. State's end-of-season win over Cal State-Fullerton ended a string of 27 straight losses. Budget cuts nearly cost Fullerton its football program last fall, which might have been a fitting response to the Titans' 1-11 record and average home crowd of 2,738.
The Mid-American Conference hasn't had a repeat champion in 11 years, but the Chippewas of Central Michigan could end the jinx behind the talented trio of quarterback Jeff Bender, tailback Billy Smith and wide receiver Ken Ealy. If the Chips fall, look for Miami of Ohio to continue its rise from the depths of 1989, when the Redskins went 2-8-1. Jon Wauford, a 255-pound defensive end, is the conference's best defensive player. Ball State's best-known fan, alumnus David Letterman, will be rooting for the Cardinals to find a replacement for tailback Bernie Parmalee, a four-year star, but otherwise Ball has six returning starters on offense and seven on defense. Western Michigan has a solid running game and 6'6", 330-pound tackle Paul Hutchins, who is only the second-biggest player in the league. Toledo has its third coach in three years, and at least seven players on defense will be starting at their positions for the first time. How about a name change at Bowling Green? Let's face it, the Falcons have been to two bowls in 72 years, though green aptly describes rookie coach Gary Blackney. Speaking of names, Eastern Michigan has a linebacker named Eddie Nwagbaraocha (pronounced Nwagbaraocha). The fiercest competitor in Ypsilanti has to be the play-by-play man. Kent has nearly everyone back from last season's 2-9 team, including quarterback Joe Dalpra. Ohio's troubles begin at quarterback and get worse from there.
A Pac-10 team hasn't won even a share of a national title since Southern Cal finished atop the UPI Coaches' Poll in 1978. Washington stands the best chance of ending that drought, though the Trojans could spoil everything for the Huskies when the two teams meet on Nov. 9. Poor UCLA plays half of its games at the Rose Bowl, but it hasn't booked New Year's Day there for six years. The Bruins might not have to wait much longer if sophomore quarterback Tommy Maddox blossoms as expected. Maddox could turn out to be better than Troy Aikman, the former Bruin who is with the Dallas Cowboys. For now, though, UCLA would be happy to win the championship of Los Angeles—the Bruins have not beaten USC since 1986 (they tied in 1989). One of college football's more exciting revivals is taking place at California. The Bears hadn't been to a bowl since 1979 (remember that Garden State showdown with Temple?). Then two years ago coach Bruce Snyder lassoed tailback Russell White, the most highly prized recruit in the state, and last season, as a sophomore, White ran for 1,000 yards. The result was a date with Wyoming in the Copper Bowl (Cal won 17-15) and even grander hopes for '91. White's Uncle Charles won the Heisman Trophy as a USC halfback in 1979, and before he's done, young Russell could become the first Bear ever to win the prize.
Nobody is safe around Stanford's 6'7", 300-pound Bob Whitfield, especially his friends. The junior tackle sprinkles hot sauce in sleeping Cardinal mouths and steals their clothes while they shower. When he gets serious, Whitfield is also one of the top three offensive linemen in the country. Oregon is diving into the gene pool to replace its departed leader, quarterback Bill Musgrave. Bill's kid brother, Doug, and former USC quarterback Sean Salisbury's younger sibling, Brett, are two of the rookies looking to win the starting job. Most observers had expected Arizona State's Larry Marmie to be deposited into the Grand Canyon of coaches by now. But despite a 4-7 record last year, a 16-16-1 career mark and zero wins over Arizona, Marmie is a great favorite of his players and is admired by school president Lattie Coor. The high school class of '91 was one of the best ever in the state, and Marmie skimmed off the cream, but that still puts the Sun Devils at least a year away.
Arizona has a great righty-lefty combination at quarterback. The interesting part is that both arms are connected to the same guy, George Malauulu. The junior option quarterback can pass equally well with either arm, though he has yet to throw righty in a game. Washington State's brightest star is premed placekicker Jason Hanson, who has hit 14 of 21 field goals from 50 yards or farther in his career. Oregon State has had 20 straight losing seasons, and things aren't looking much better this fall. The Beavers thought they had found their salvation when they signed Texas high school star quarterback Don Shanklin this spring, but he has yet to score high enough on his ACT to gain admission to Oregon State. New coach Jerry Pettibone will be forced to rely on journeyman senior Ed Browning to run his spread option offense.
Bear Bryant wouldn't recognize this newfangled Southeastern Conference. In a league in which coaches once lasted longer than Volvos, there are now only three men who have been on the job for more than three years. The plan of attack has also changed, from three yards and a cloud of red clay, to sprint past the magnolia and go to the post. Florida sets the pace in the SEC, but Alabama, Tennessee and Auburn are hot on its cleats. After two years in which LSU looked like a Three Stooges rerun, the Tigers decided to hire Curley, as in Hallman, as their new coach. Hallman inherits 22 of 24 starters, which is not necessarily a good thing. The quarterback is premed Chad Loup, who is familiar with critical cases. At Mississippi the Rebel yell was quieted to a whisper down the stretch, as Ole Miss lost two of its last three games after an 8-1 start. The Rebels get a break from the schedule—they don't play Alabama or Florida.
Georgia players had all kinds of trouble passing last season. They didn't throw the football well either. In response, coach Ray Goff has cracked down on those Dawgs who don't crack the books, and he has pulled the offense out of the Mesozoic Era with a flashy innovation called the drop-back pass. It should be Dooley noted that Georgia's 4-7 record last season was its worst in 30 years. After his own 4-7 debut at Kentucky, coach Bill Curry shouldn't be blamed if he was a little relieved not to be forced to install unbreakable living-room windows. In an attempt to give the defense some grit, Curry is calling the best of the group the Black Watch, which harks back to Curry's days as the coach at his alma mater, Georgia Tech, and not to his recent, unhappy stop at Alabama. New Vanderbilt coach Gerry DiNardo is a long-distance runner who has completed three marathons. Just ask his predecessor, Watson Brown, if anybody ever finishes, much less wins, the Nashville marathon. At Mississippi State, Rockey Felker is out. Jackie Sherrill is in. Can NCAA executive enforcement director David Berst be far behind?
For the first time since 1984 not a single Southwest Conference team's postseason plans will be spoiled by the NCAA, and fans will finally have a chance to see more than 10-second highlights of Houston's Heisman hopeful, quarterback David Klingler, whose Cougars will battle the Texas Longhorns for the trip to the Cotton Bowl. Klingler should be wary of Texas A&M, though. Since 1985, the Aggies have played the team featuring that year's Heisman winner in every season but one, and their record in those games is 4-1. At Baylor, great things are expected from defensive tackle Santana Dotson, who, as the story goes, got his unusual name because his mom was a fan of the famous rock guitarist. At Texas Tech, receiver Rodney Blackshear is also the conference's most feared return man, and the Red Raider faithful are convinced that he is this year's Rocket Ismail. Black-shear averaged 25.9 yards per kickoff return and caught 44 passes for 973 yards and nine touchdowns from his wideout spot.