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Almost everybody in the Big Ten is convinced that the conference championship will be settled as early as October 12 when Purdue and Ohio State meet in Columbus. Everybody, that is, but Indiana, the third Big Ten team in the Top 20, and Minnesota. The Gophers, 8-2 last season and co-champions with Purdue and Indiana, are not about to surrender easily. They have All-America End Bob Stein back to lead a characteristically tight defense, and they hope Quarterback Phil Hagen and Fullback Jim Carter, the team's leading rusher, can generate sufficient offense. The main concern is that the squad is thin—and the schedule is thick, beginning with USC.
Michigan State comes off a jolting 3-7 season with an understandable chance for improvement. The Spartan defense seems strong, and Coach Duffy Daugherty figures his new attackers can't possibly be as bad as last year's inoffensive bunch. Senior Bill Feraco, a decent passer, is the new quarterback, and Tailback LaMarr Thomas and Fullback Reggie Cavender are good runners. Duffy also has history on his side. Twice before he has followed losing seasons with Rose Bowl teams.
Michigan and Illinois are not likely to be in the race, but they may have something to say about who wins it. Michigan's strength is in its good backs. Quarterback Dennis Brown passed for 913 yards, and Halfback Ron Johnson ran for 1,005. The Illini have Quarterback Bob Naponic and Fullback Rich Johnson returning, along with a small but sturdy defense. Iowa and Wisconsin will be somewhat improved, but pity poor Northwestern. The Wildcats play Miami, USC, Purdue, Notre Dame and Ohio State in their first five games. Theirs will be a battle not for victory, but for survival.
Football at Colorado is different. At one scrimmage the weather is rain, hail, snow and bright sun. The team training table and lounge is in a women's dorm. The whole backfield skis. Split End Monte Huber, who caught 45 passes last season, badly bruised his shoulder diving into a swimming pool. Coach Eddie Crowder directs practice in a striped Panama hat. Quarterback Bob Anderson is a bowlegged matinee idol who studies Russian II and modern drama and leads the team in, of all things, rushing. There were 22 serious knee injuries in 1967, which makes Colorado different, too. In part because of injuries, the Buffs do not rank with Oklahoma, Nebraska or Kansas, but the recovery of Fullback Tom Nigbur and Tackle Mike Montler could change that, for the rebuilt Colorado defense looks good.
For years Missouri's president and governor watched games from the worst place possible—the first row. Whoever put them there had football confused with musical comedy. Changes have been made. From new seats in row 80, dignitaries will see I formation passes by Terry McMillian augment the famed Missouri sweeps, as Dan Devine finally has come up with some offensive potential to aid his always excellent defense.
Dour Phil Cutchin has a bear trap of a team at Oklahoma State. With sophomores like Halfback Bub Deerinwater and Tackle Gary Burd, plus Fullback Jack Reynolds and Linebacker Larry Gosney, the Cowboys will stage at least one ambush. "Never before had I had kids quit on me," Kansas State Coach Vince Gibson says of last season. He may start 17 or 18 newcomers, led by Ends Mack Herron and Mike Montgomery and Tailback Russell Harrison. Iowa State is still struggling in a conference where everybody seems to keep improving.
For a long time the Missouri Valley was a league where the young man with the heart and the moves wound up with a basketball in his hands. Then somebody discovered that a 60-yard pass was as exciting to throw as a 40-foot jump shot, and now almost every football team in the league has a passer and a wide-open offense—every team, that is, except the likely winner, Memphis State. The Tigers, newcomers to the conference, have been bruised and beaten but also toughened by years of play against SEC teams. They hope to win now in the old SEC way—keep the ball when it's yours and take it away when the other team has it. The Tiger defense will be built around three men who have played together for two years, Monster Man Bill McRight and Linebackers Joe Rushing and Art Brumit.