Naturally, Paterno is worried about the lack of experience in several positions, but one spot where there should be no problem of any kind is at tight end. That belongs to Ted Kwalick, the 6'4", 230-pound All-America who can run 40 yards in 4.6 seconds, has hands so big that he cannot find gloves to fit them and is so much a master of his position that a Dallas Cowboy scout says flatly, "Kwalick could start right now for almost any NFL team there is." Last year Kwalick caught 33 passes for 563 yards and four touchdowns. If Burkhart can hit him frequently, Kwalick will improve on that record this season.
Except for the quarterback, the Penn State backfield must be rated one of the best in the country, although there is an enormous if: Fullback Don Abbey, who was one of Paterno's sophomores last fall when he led the team in scoring with 88 points, had a winter knee operation, missed all of spring practice and is now in a wait-and-see condition as to whether his knee will hold up. If it does, Abbey's explosive inside punch, his pass-catching talent and his placekicking ability will present Paterno with tremendous backfield versatility. Halfback Campbell is an old-fashioned triple-threat tailback with speed and open-field elusiveness, and Charlie Pittman, another of last year's whiz kids, is a good outside speedster as well as an able pass receiver.
Of his defense, Paterno says, "We'll have more speed than last year, but it's not a big unit. In fact, it's the smallest I can remember." It isn't small, it's tiny. The front four, Tackles Jim Kates and Steve Smear and Ends Frank Spaziani and Lincoln Lippincott, average no more than 210 pounds, with Kates being the biggest at 225. But they are scrappy, and if they should allow some holes now and then Penn State's linebackers can plug them up. With the exception of sophomore Jack Ham, all are veterans. Mike Reid was back close to top form in the spring, and both Pete Johnson and Denny Onkotz, who intercepted six passes in '67, look solid. The secondary, with Paul Johnson and Mike Smith, both ex-running backs, at the corners and Neal Smith at safety, seems to be considerably speedier than last year's. All three, however, will be playing unfamiliar positions.
Although Joe Paterno could never be called a pessimist, he is aware of his team's weaknesses, the major one being the thinness of his reserves. The squad was hard hit by injuries in spring practice. "We have a depth problem everywhere," Paterno says. "With our schedule we must be concerned how we'll hold up over 10 games—and right now, I'm worried." There are few patsies in Penn State's future, which includes UCLA, Miami, Army, West Virginia and Syracuse. Yet Paterno is a realist as well as a risker, and when all the doubts and ifs about his team have been discussed, he confides, "We really could be better than last year."
If that's true Joe Paterno may find him-self with yet another bowl game decision. Half the fascination of the moment will be watching to see if gambling Joe goes "outside the percentages" again. The percentages are that he will.
The Bear got away with a fast one last year, but now he is ready to claw
A round mid-October, about the time that the leaves are lying gold and brown on the lawn in front of Paul W. Bryant Hall and on the shimmering new AstroTurf surface of the practice field, it will suddenly become apparent that Reconstruction returned, utterly unheralded and almost unnoticed, to Alabama in 1967. Yes, around mid-October when the Crimson Tide is unbeaten and really starting to roll, it will become ominously obvious that the wily old Bear in Tuscaloosa was doing a lot of secret rebuilding last year and that he managed to accomplish it without any damage to his 10-year record at Alabama, which includes an 87-14-7 mark, eight straight bowl appearances, nine consecutive years in the Top 10 and three national championships.
Yes, the Tide was out last year, believe it or not, and Bear Bryant considers the 8-2-1 count for the year to be no more than a mildly mediocre showing. Alabama's winning tradition was in residence, as usual, but instead of symbolizing one of those undeniably good teams that Bryant hatches so often, it concealed a squad that was ordinary. Quite a few teams could have rolled back the Tide last season. Florida State scored 37 points, more than any Bryant opponent ever, but still could only tie. Clemson missed by 13-10 and Auburn by 7-3, but both could have beaten Alabama. And LSU, a 7-6 loser because an extra point went awry, certainly should have tied Alabama and probably should have won going away. So only Tennessee and Texas A&M's Cotton Bowl team managed to defeat Alabama in the Reconstruction era, and now the opportunity probably is gone for the Tide's opponents. As an Alabama assistant coach says, "Anybody who didn't beat us last year had better look out, because nobody is going to beat us this year."
The Tide won't be all that good this season for there is still some rebuilding in the works, but Bryant thinks he has his best young players since 1961, and that is saying a great deal.