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Beyond the specifics, Oklahoma has two general problems that could undermine its national standing. First, the Sooners are rather thin below their top 25, and the law of averages suggests they cannot repeat last year's season in which they suffered almost no injuries. The talent is not as skimpy as Chuck Fairbanks likes to make out, but Oklahoma is no Purdue in depth this year. Second, there is the sudden resurrection of the Big Eight as a powerful, well-balanced conference. For years it had the worst record against outside competition of any major conference in the country, but it is now one of the toughest. Except for Oklahoma State and Kansas State—and both of them are improving—the rest of the Big Eight is almost dead-even. Times have changed since the mid-'50s when the Sooners were helped by breathers against some of the Big Eight's cream puffs while en route to their spectacular victory streak.
As far as Fairbanks is concerned, these factors will merely make it a little harder for him to implement his philosophy of life this year. "Winning," he said recently in his office, as he unwrapped a stick of grape gum with extreme deliberation and then chomped down on it hard, "is what life is about." There is a flatness to his eye and a bite to his tone that discourages any rebuttal. So does a fuzzy football lettered "Big 8 Champions" and an orange-filled trophy captured at the you-know-which bowl last New Year's Day.
Things have been going so well for the Sooners recently that even the luck of mascot Kirke Kickingbird, the Kiowa law student who does war dances, is improving. It was about time. Before 1967 Kickingbird, whose great-great grandfather signed a controversial treaty with the U.S. that gave most of Oklahoma to the white man, had lucked the Sooners into their worst seasons in years. He once did a rain dance at the Oklahoma pavilion at the World's Fair. It was followed by a six-month drought. The Oklahoma drought is over now.
8 OREGON STATE
The team may still be spellbound and The Great Pumpkin still aglow
Dee Andros is a large jiggly man with a round face, cherubic chin and sharp, pointed nose. When he smiles, which is often these days, his eyes crinkle and his face looks even rounder. He was christened Demosthenes Konstandies Andrecopolous by his Greek parents, but he changed his name because "even I couldn't spell it." Under any name, Andros would attract attention, in part because of his penchant for orange-Oregon State orange, of course. Andrecopolous (the name has to be tried once for size) leads his team onto the field for a game dressed in an orange sport jacket, orange socks, orange-and-black shoes and an orange-and-black-striped tie. His car is orange, his desk is orange, his bathroom is orange. Naturally, he has been nicknamed The Great Pumpkin.
If Andros is colorful, his football is not. He views the forward pass as an unnecessary adjunct to the game, an attitude that pleases his quarterback, Steve Preece, who last season compiled the worst passing record on the West Coast: 47 completions in 129 attempts, with 12 interceptions. "When we get fancy," says Andros, "we get behind." What he likes is disciplined ball control with the fullback smashing up the middle, halfbacks sweeping wide and the quarterback running the option. Andros rates his linemen more on toughness than skill, reasoning that a hard-hitting player is skillful. He tells his players, "It's no sin to get blocked, but it is a sin to stay blocked. Get yourself up off that ground like you're on hot coals. You can't play football on your knees."
Andros' Beavers were on their knees last year after losing to Brigham Young 31-13 in their third game, but they got up in a hurry to surprise second-ranked Purdue 22-14 and then, two weeks later, tied UCLA 16-16 after the unbeaten Bruins had taken Purdue's No. 2 ranking. Following that game, The Great Pumpkin roared, "We're tired of playing No. 2 teams. Bring on No. 1." That was USC, and the next week Oregon State upset the mighty Trojans 3-0 in the mud at Corvallis before 41,194, the largest crowd ever to see an athletic event in the state of Oregon. "That really warmed my heart," recalls Andros, whose Beavers went on to a 7-2-1 record.
Since then the excitement has been growing in Corvallis, a normally placid city of 35,000 (including the 14,000 enrolled at OSU) about 90 miles south of Portland in Benton County, which is so Republican that Alf Landon won there in 1936. Parker Stadium on the picturesque OSU campus has been enlarged from 33,000 to 41,000 seats and, unlike most schools where expansion means more paying fans, the number of seats reserved for students has been increased from 5,500 to 9,000.
What prompts this season's optimism is the presence of 36 lettermen, including 14 of 22 starters. Eight of these regulars are offensive players, including the entire backfield that accounted for 2,389 yards to lead the Pacific Eight in rushing in 1967.