Purdue's offense catches the fancy of the fans, but scouts and coaches have their eyes on the Boilermaker defense. There have been losses, but consider the replacements, such as three huge sophomore tackles. One of them, Alex Davis, who goes 6'5" and 265 pounds, will start, backed up by Ron Maree, 6'6" and 272, and Donnie Green, 6'8" and 270. The other tackle is Bill Yancher, who weighs 240. The ends—Dennis Wirgowski, who switched from offense, and Bill McKoy—are 238 and 222. The defensive leader is 225-pound Middle Guard Chuck Kyle, a fast, combative type. There are two seasoned linebackers, Bob Yunaska and Dick Marvel, while Don Webster and Tim Foley return to the secondary to team up with sophomore Steve deGrandmaison and Larry Emch.
It may be that the national championship will be settled on September 28 when Purdue plays at Notre Dame, but Mollenkopf has his eyes elsewhere. "Sure," he says, "the Notre Dame game is going to be a very emotional one. We'd like very much to win it. But the fact is—and people may get upset about this—I'd trade a Notre Dame victory anytime for a Big Ten win. We want the conference championship, and we are shooting for the Rose Bowl. I think more of that game than I do of any national championship. A poll is an opinion. The Rose Bowl is where the action is." This year, because of USC, all the action there is might be in the Rose Bowl.
O. J. still leads the way, but too much muscle has gone to the pros
As a pair of celebrated California All-Americas, USC's O. J. Simpson and UCLA's Gary Beban were feted often, and frequently together, at various formal winter-season football feasts. Naturally, they had some time to chat with each other, and what did they talk about? Ah, well, All-Americas are human after all. As happens so often in modern man's self-conscious search for acceptance, each spoke about what he liked remembering most. "I just talked to him about The Big Game," says Simpson, "and he just talked to me about The Big Trophy." The Big Game was USC's 21-20 win over UCLA last year in which O. J. broke loose on a 64-yard touchdown run that sewed it up for the Trojans. And The Big Trophy was the 1967 Heisman Trophy, which Beban won at the season's end over O. J. himself.
Well, Beban is a high-priced Washington Redskin now and he plays for The Big Dollar. But O. J. Simpson, the most spectacular running back in the college game, is still living in a world of football that offers its immediate rewards in Big Games and Big Trophies. And, as things stand, O. J. could once again have a chief rival in both categories—Keyes of Purdue.
Their Heisman competition is an obvious duel, for if both escape injury and are one-half as effective as they are expected to be, no one in college football will match their performances or their headlines. The Big Game thing is slightly less certain. USC and Purdue are not scheduled to play each other this year, but there is always that postseason affair in Pasadena on New Year's Day. USC has been there three times in the last six years as Pacific Eight champion and, barring a surprise or two, such as losing to rugged Oregon State or still-tough UCLA, O. J. & Co. should be in the Rose Bowl business again. And if Purdue and Leroy aren't there, it only will be because the Boilermakers suffered an unexpected attack of Ohio State, or some such thing.
USC Coach John McKay, who is no mean psychologist, is predicting quite flatly that "Purdue will certainly win the national championship." Since USC was No. 1 in '67, one might think McKay was speaking with utter honesty from profound authority. Or one might think that he does not want to dwell on the prospects of his own team winning consecutive national titles.
It is surprising that this particular USC team has a chance to be No. 1 again, for its personnel losses have been severe. Gone are End Tim Rossovich and Linebacker Adrian Young, both All-Americas, along with five other starters from the defense. Gone from the offense are Tackles Ron Yary, another All-America, and Mike Taylor, along with that splendid split end, Earl McCullouch, and Guard Mike Scarpace. To fully appreciate the extent of the departed talent, one need only be aware that five USC seniors were first-round draft choices by the pros last winter.
Still, McKay is not depressed. As usual, he has some splendid junior-college transfers, a few huge sophomore linemen and a fair number of more than adequate rookie backs and receivers. But mostly McKay has O. J. Simpson once again, and with him lies most of USC's hope.