After Missouri beat Army last year, Coach Tom Cahill shook his head and said, "They have so much depth in the backfield that most teams would be happy to start their third-stringers." The most versatile of the lot is Arthur Ashe's first cousin, Jon Staggers. While Ashe practiced tennis on a court between their houses in Richmond, Staggers was playing football. As a junior he led the Tigers in receptions and kickoff returns and was second in rushing. This year, he will also run back punts. Fullback Ron McBride is a two-year letterman whose most important contribution is as a strong, reliable blocker.
Waiting on the sideline, and confirming Cahill's cause for envy, is James Harrison, who is huge and fast. He played four positions for his high school in San Antonio—fullback, both defensive tackles and defensive end. Of the 85 schools that recruited him, he chose Missouri because, "The cloud-of-dust running game here is my kind of football."
Should McMillan and his backs ever find the dust choking them, Split End Mel Gray is capable of providing six quick points and a breather. He is the Big Eight's 100- and 220-yard champion and also happens to be the fastest man in the history of Missouri football.
The key to Dan Devine's string of winning seasons over the years has been his defensive units, and last year's was one of his best. But the defense suffered from graduations, and it may give Devine and Peter J. Carter many an anxious moment.
Missouri coaches are quick to point out that the front line uses a read-and-react style of play that can only be learned under game conditions. Missouri's schedule provides them with time enough to learn—the first three games are against nonconference teams. In the meantime, veteran Tackles Rocky Wallace and Mark Kuhlman should keep the opposition in check.
The rest of the defense had better be experts at the system by November, when the Tigers face Oklahoma and Kansas for the Big Eight championship. There are some conference coaches, notably Kansas' Pepper Rodgers, who believe that Devine has a tendency to choke in the big games, and the absence of an undisputed Big Eight title during his years there would appear to give substance to that theory.
But Peter J. Carter will have none of it. If the Tigers make it to another bowl, he'll be there to watch it, even if he has to sell his other restaurant.
8 NOTRE DAME
Notre Dame has added something new to its attack this year—girls. "The concept of the all-male institution is outdated," explained Father Hesburgh a few years ago, and with that the girls of St. Mary's were bused across South Bend's Dixie Way North to share classrooms with the boys. It was perhaps inevitable that this change would eventually affect the football program and, sure enough, this spring an announcement was made calling for girl cheerleaders. More than 100 St. Mary's students answered the call. When Ara Parseghian was told that young ladies would be dancing along the sidelines offering encouragement to the Fighting Irish, he reacted with a frown. "I didn't realize we would have them," the coach said, "but we won't have time to watch them anyway." Speak for yourself, Ara.
Parseghian's sense of urgency is understandable. On Sept. 27, when most other coaches are still trying to find out whether their linemen can block and their quarterbacks can throw, Parseghian has to face Purdue. "The most difficult problem about coaching at Notre Dame is losing early," Parseghian says, remembering last fall's 37-22 loss to the Boilermakers. Purdue scored 20 points in one 3½-minute explosion during the second quarter and, with the season just underway, Notre Dame's chances for a national championship had already vanished. "If you're the coach of a conference team, you can lose early and still go to a bowl with a 7-3 record. But we're a major independent. We have no conference to win and no bowls to look forward to [because of school policy]. Our position in the polls and, ultimately, the national championship—these are our objectives."