The Year of the Running Back Gets a Chance for an Encore Performance

Times Staff Writer

The Mormons from Brigham Young are defending national champions. Perhaps the best running back in the country is the son of a Baptist minister. Boston College has lost its “Hail Mary” quarterback, but the Eagles’ best player this year is preparing to become a priest. The Methodists from SMU had the NCAA’s good book thrown at them. Colorado’s Bill McCartney doesn’t have a prayer. Does Notre Dame’s Gerry Faust? To learn more about the 1985 college football season, read on.

1 If last season was the year of the running back, then what is this season? Considering that 13 of last season’s top 20 rushers were underclassmen, it’s still the year of the running back. That doesn’t even include Auburn’s Bo Jackson and Navy’s Napoleon McCallum, who missed most of last season with injuries.

Ohio State’s Keith Byars, the son of a Baptist minister from Dayton, returns for his senior year after leading the nation in rushing last season. Washington State’s Rueben Mayes and TCU’s Kenneth Davis, second and third in rushing last season, also return.

Others returning who finished among the top 20 in rushing last season include LSU’s Dalton Hillard, SMU’s Reggie Dupard, Army’s Doug Black, Arizona State’s Darryl Clack, Iowa’s Ronnie Harmon, Notre Dame’s Allen Pinkett, Illinois’ Thomas Rooks and USC’s Fred Crutcher.

2 Is this the year the Big Ten finally wins another Rose Bowl? From a historical standpoint, probably not. Teams from the Big Ten have won only four times in the last 20 years.


On the other hand, the the Big Ten is so loaded at the top this season that Michigan again will be hard pressed to break into the first division. The Wolverines tied for sixth last season. The Big Three this season, Ohio State, Iowa and Illinois, are all possible top 10 teams.

Balance is still a relatively new occurrence in this conference, which at the beginning of this decade was known as the Big Two (Ohio State and Michigan) and Little Eight. But in the last four years, the Big Ten has had four different Rose Bowl representatives.

The improvement in the conference is due to the its discovery of the forward pass. The Big Ten has three of the nation’s most productive passers, Iowa’s Chuck Long, Illinois’ Jack Trudeau and Purdue’s Jim Everett.

The Big Ten also has the nation’s best receiver, Illinois’ David Williams, and Byars, 1984 Heisman Trophy runnerup.

3 Which are the best teams that won’t be seen on television this fall? The networks would love to televise the Sept. 7 season opener between a couple of top 20 teams, USC and Illinois, but both still are prohibited from appearing on television during the regular season.

The Trojans technically no longer are on probation, meaning they can be ranked this season in the UPI coaches’ poll, but they still must serve the final year of their television ban. The Illini are on the second-year of a two-year probation.

But both teams are eligible to accept bowl bids, in which they can appear on television. So NBC still could get this matchup on New Year’s Day from Pasadena.

Florida is banned from television until the end of the 1986 season. The Gators were stripped of their 1984 SEC championship, their first in 52 years, but they were allowed to keep their championship rings.

Taking the fall at Florida was head coach Charley Pell, who resigned after three games last season. He fell to Gulf Shores, Ala., where he drives a $24,000 Cadillac that was awarded to him by Florida boosters.

SMU, predicted to finish among the top five in most pre-season forecasts, recently received one of the most severe sentences in NCAA history.

But because the Mustangs already were under contract to appear on television Dec. 7 at Oklahoma, their television ban does not begin until next season.

This is the last time in the last 11 years the Mustangs have been sent down the river by the NCAA. If the NCAA’s so-called death penalty for repeat offenders had gone into effect before Sept. 1, the Mustangs would be asking for blindfolds. Not even Rose Bird would want to spare these notorious outlaws.

Incredibly, some of the violations this time occurred after the NCAA officially notified SMU in March, 1983 that it was investigating the Mustangs. How’s that for flaunting the law?

Coach Bobby Collins had a clause in his contract that stipulated he would be fired if he was directly involved in violations, but the NCAA did not find him guilty of wrongdoing. He formerly was head coach at Southern Mississippi, which went on probation after he left for violations that occurred during his tenure.

4 Which is the most underrated team? Houston has been to the Cotton Bowl four times in the nine years it has been a member of the Southwest Conference, more than any other team during that period.

Yet, Coach Bill Yeoman’s Cougars continue to be treated as a poor relation to their SWC cousins.

Even though Houston has 15 starters returning from a 7-5 team that finished strong, winning its final three regular-season games and playing Boston College even for three quarters in the Cotton Bowl, the Cougars begin this season unranked. The Cougars’ schedule includes three pre-season Top 20 teams, but two of them--Washington and SMU--have to play at the Astrodome.


5 Who is college football’s best coach? In a poll of ex-coaches, recruiting analysts and writers last year by The Miami Herald, Washington’s Don James was voted “the most complete coach in a profession that demands many talents.” Under James, the Huskies have finished either first or second in the Pac-10 for eight straight seasons.

According to the poll, Virginia’s George Welsh is the best game coach. Last year, in Welsh’s third season at Virginia, he got the Cavaliers into a bowl game, their first ever. Not even the university’s founder, Thomas Jefferson, could do that.

6 Which coaches may be out of work next season? Texas’ Fred Akers had the No. 1 team last October, but the Longhorns lost four of their last five games to finish out of the Top 20. Included was a humiliating 55-17 loss to Iowa in the Freedom Bowl. Akers has installed the run-and- shoot offense. That might be the formation used by the alumni against him if the Longhorns don’t improve.

After Pittsburgh finished 3-7-1 in 1984, Foge Fazio responded by shaking up his staff and bringing in five new assistant coaches. If that doesn’t turn the Panthers around, Pitt will be searching for a new head coach.

Texas A&M; is impatient for Jackie Sherrill to begin earning his salary. In the first three seasons of his 5-year, $1.4 million contract, the Aggies were 16-16-1. Mississippi State feels it has gone about as far as it can with Emory Bellard. North Carolina is asking what Dick Crum has done for the Tar Heels lately.

Faust could be one of the answers to this question every year. In his first four seasons at Notre Dame, the Irish are 25-20-1.

He’s optimistic, having had a new home built this summer in South Bend, but his five-year contract expires at the end of this season. If the Irish don’t earn a major bowl bid, he may have For Sale signs in his front yard next summer.

7 Which schools have the best halftime shows? For originality, it’s the University of Chicago. Ticket buyers receive kazoos and are invited at halftime onto the field, where they are instructed to stand in a circle. They then perform a “Salute to the Letter O.”

8 Who will be the first five offensive players chosen in the draft? 1. Bo Jackson, running back, Auburn.

2. Rueben Mayes, running back, Washington State.

3. Keith Byars, running back, Ohio State.

4. Robbie Bosco, quarterback, Brigham Young.

5. Neal Anderson, running back, Florida or Ronnie Harmon, running back, Iowa.

9 Who will be the first five defensive players chosen in the draft?

1. Jon Hand, defensive tackle, Alabama.

2. Jeff Tupper, defensive tackle, Oklahoma.

3. Leslie O’Neal, defensive tackle, Oklahoma State.

4. Tony Casillas, nose guard, Oklahoma.

5. Kevin Fagan, defensive end, Miami (Fla.).

10 Who is the best senior who might never play pro football? Boston College’s nose tackle, 6-2, 250-pound Mike Ruth, one of college football’s best defensive linemen, is waiting for a calling from a higher authority, even higher than Pete Rozelle.

Ruth will make a decision following this season whether to play professional football or enter the priesthood.

“I wouldn’t hesitate for a second to go into the priesthood,” Ruth told The Sporting News. “But it’s not really your own choice. God will let you know what to do. All you have to do is listen.”

Another senior who may never play pro football is Midshipman McCallum, who owes five years to the Navy upon graduation. He wants to become an astronaut.

11 Shawn Halloran already has been in action as Doug Flutie’s successor at Boston College. Who’s taking over for Bernie Kosar at Miami of Florida? When Vinny Testaverde came to Miami from Elmont, N.Y., he spent his freshman year on the bench while Jim Kelly was the quarterback of the Hurricanes. Testaverde was redshirted the next year, returning in 1984 to watch Kosar from the sideline.

Because Kosar had two years of eligibility remaining, Testaverde considered transferring after last season. But Kosar advised him to stay, then gave him the job by graduating early and turning pro.

Miami Coach Jimmy Johnson says Testaverde, 6-5, 214, has a stronger arm and more mobility than Kosar.

12 Which career records could be broken this season? - With Grambling’s fourth victory this season, Coach Eddie Robinson will surpass Bear Bryant’s career record of 323 wins.

- UCLA senior John Lee kicked a season-record 29 field goals in 1984, giving him 58 for his career. That’s 20 shy of the record set last season by Arizona State’s Luis Zendejas. Entering this season with 257 points, Lee also could break Zendejas’ Division I-A career scoring record of 368.

Zendejas might not even hold the family record after this season. His brother, Arizona’s Max Zendejas, enters this season with 55 field goals and 264 points.

- Bowling Green quarterback Brian McClure needs 2,974 yard passing to break Flutie’s career record of 10,579. Mississippi Valley State quarterback Willie Totten needs only seven touchdown passes to break Neil Lomax’ record of 106. If Illinois wide receiver David Williams catches 102 passes, one more than he caught last season, he will break Howard Twilley’s Division I-A record of 261.

13 Who has the best nickname? Florida’s third-year sophomore quarterback, Kerwin Bell, is known as the Throwin’ Mayoan. Bell, who led the Southeastern Conference in passing efficiency as a freshman, was a walk-on in 1983 from Mayo, Fla., Lafayette High School. His hometown is Day, Fla., population 250, where he was raised on a tobacco farm. He learned to pass by throwing footballs to his sister behind the chicken coop.

Honorable mention goes to Maryland guard Jeff (The Russian Bear) Holinka, Virginia tailback Barry (The Last) Word and UCLA linebacker Tommy (Freight Train) Taylor.

In the tradition of Dickerjames (Eric Dickerson and Craig James), SMU’s interchangeable tailbacks, Dupard and Jeff Atkins, are known as Dupkins. Oregon’s offense is The Quack Attack. South Carolina’s defensive linemen are the Fire Ants.

14 Which schools had the best recruiting classes? Bob Gibbons of All-Star Sports in Lenoir, N.C. compiled a list after analyzing the evaluations of the top high school talent scouts. His top five:

1. Penn State.

2. Notre Dame.

3. USC.

4. Clemson.

5. Alabama.

15 Which freshman will have the most impact this season? Pittsburgh’s leading rusher last season, Craig (Ironhead) Heyward, has been suspended for disciplinary reasons, which could leave the tailback position open for Brian Davis, 5-11, 200, from Washington, Pa.

Davis, Parade Magazine’s Co-Player of the Year last season, is one of an elite group of freshman who was given a four, the highest rating, by Dick Lascola’s Scouting Evaluation Assn. in Fallbrook, Calif. Davis wasn’t expected to play in the opener Saturday because of an injury but should return for this week’s game against Ohio State.

Another running back who was given a four is USC’s Aaron Emmanuel from Quartz Hill, but he will face plenty of competition in the Trojan backfield, including Crutcher, Ryan Knight, Zeph Lee and Steve Webster.

16 Which players own a piece of the rock? The NCAA’s new rule that allows players to insure themselves against injury was a factor in Iowa quarterback Long’s decision to remain in school for an extra year. As a fifth-year senior, he would have been eligible for the NFL draft last spring. He insured his arm for $1 million.

Another Big 10 quarterback, Illinois’ Trudeau also is insured for $1 million. His favorite wide receiver, Williams, has $1 million hands. Illinois guard Jim Junga has a $200,000 neck. Ohio State’s Byars has $1 million legs. TCU’s Davis has $1 million knees. Syracuse defensive tackle Tim Green has $500,000 shoulders.

17 Which school has the worst mascot? Minnesota Coach Lou Holtz thought it was Minnesota. He was instrumental in the school’s decision to can Goldie the Gopher, a wimpy, smiling cartoon character that had become a symbol of the football team’s futility. Goldie was replaced by a macho gopher that looks more like Rambo.

But at least Goldie didn’t smell. A few years ago, Rice had its owl swiped by the cross-town rivals from the University of Houston. When the culprits sent a ransom note to Al Conover, Rice’s coach at the time, he told them to keep the bird. He said it cost too much to feed and had a bad odor. The owl was returned to Conover’s doorstep the next morning.

18 What rule changes go into effect this season? The most apparent rule change to fans concerns kickoff returns. In an attempt to increase kickoff returns, the NCAA passed a rule before last season that placed the ball at the 30-yard line on the touchback instead of the 20 if a kickoff went through the end zone. But the rule wasn’t popular and has been rescinded.

A more subtle change involves blocking, allowing offensive linemen more liberal use of their hands and arms. Most coaches believe that will make run-blocking easier, thus reversing the trend toward more passing in the last decade.

One change affects the University of Colorado and can’t be appealed to the NCAA. After the American Civil Liberties Union, which runs a lot to the left, protested that the Buffaloes’ pre-game prayer violates the law that requires separation of church and state, a Denver judge ruled that Coach Bill McCartney can no longer lead the team in the ritual because he is a state employee. Considering the Buffs’ record in recent years, they must not have been praying for victories anyway.

19 Which teams have the toughest schedules? Maryland can’t be accused of ducking anyone. The Terps’ first four games are against Penn State, Boston College, West Virginia and Michigan. In their other non-conference game, they play Miami of Florida.

Michigan and Notre Dame each play eight teams that went to bowl games last season, including each other in their Sept. 14 season opener at Ann Arbor. Facing a murderer’s row is Texas, which plays Oklahoma, Arkansas and SMU on successive October weekends, all away from home.

Give raspberries to Iowa, which opens at home against Drake and Northern Illinois. Tired of being the Black and Blue men, the Orangemen of Syracuse dropped Nebraska, Florida and Maryland from their schedule and replaced them with Kent State, Louisville and Mississippi State.

20 Which team will finish the season No. 1? Oklahoma, ranked No. 1 in both wire-service polls, probably has the best team, but that has little bearing on which team wins the national championship. There might have been 10 teams better than BYU last season.

Oklahoma finishes the season against Oklahoma State, Nebraska and SMU. Even if the Sooners win their first eight games, they probably will not be voted No. 1 if they lose one of the final three because the polls penalize teams more for losing late in the season than early.

The same holds true for Auburn, which plays three of its final four games against Florida, Georgia and Alabama.

Two other top teams, SMU and Florida, may have trouble remaining inspired the entire season because neither is eligible for a bowl. The Big Ten teams will knock each other out of contention. The conference champion will have at least two losses.

Washington will be No. 1.

The Huskies’ first four games are against Oklahoma State, Brigham Young, Houston and UCLA, but Washington can afford one early loss if it wins the rest. The Huskies play USC and Washington State on the final two weekends, but both games are in Seattle.