Second in a Series
Undated (AP) _ After winning everything last season, Penn State lost almost everything.
Gone from the 1986 national champions are 15 starters, including the leading rusher, leading passer, leading receiver, leading scorer, leading tackler, leading interceptor, placekicker, punter and long snapper.
″I don’t think we’ve ever had as many areas to almost start from scratch as we have with this group,″ says Coach Joe Paterno, whose next victory will be No. 200. ″We’re literally trying to regroup in just about every position, and even the positions I feel good about, like quarterback, I’m concerned about depth.″
Only three starters return on offense - split end Ray Roundtree, tackle Stan Clayton, guard Steve Wisniewski - and four on defense - inside linebackers Trey Bauer and Pete Giftopoulos, safety Marques Henderson, cornerback Eddie Johnson.
Only eight teams in the 52-year history of the Associated Press poll have won consecutive national championships and Paterno says the Nittany Lions won’t make it nine.
″If you’re talking about a national championship contender, we’re not strong anywhere. I don’t see how with this squad. We are losing so many fine football players. We’ve got to replace leadership. It’s not just the tangible things we have to address, it’s the intangibles as well.″
Still, there shouldn’t be too many unhappy moments in Happy Valley this fall as the Lions attempt to stretch to 49 their NCAA record string of seasons without a losing record. To wit:
- ″I think (senior Matt) Knizner will be the best quarterback in the East.″
- ″(Tailback) Blair (Thomas) can do everything. He’s probably the best blocker we’ve got, including fullbacks. He’s a great receiver. He’s got fantastic acceleration.″ Last year, Thomas averaged a school-record 8.4 yards per carry while gaining 504 yards and finished second nationally in kickoff returns with a 31.9-yard average.
- The offensive line ″has a chance to be better than any we’ve had in the last couple of years.″
- ″I don’t think there are many teams in the country with a better set of inside people than Bauer and Giftopoulos.″
- Johnson is ″the best corner we’ve ever had.″
Paterno doesn’t hesitate to remind his players that the 1983 team, which defended Penn State’s other national championship, lost its first three games, including an opening-game 44-6 blowout by Nebraska.
″We may have been a bit too cavalier coming off the 1982 season and playing Nebraska with the ‘we could win no matter what’ kind of attitude,″ he says. ″We don’t have that attitude now because we’ve got too many people that aren’t ready to play.
″We were much more intense this spring. We worked harder than we did after the 1982 season. We’re trying to go at this thing as if we’ve got something to prove to the world.″
Pittsburgh was 5-5-1 in Mike Gottfried’s debut but the second-year coach promises that ″we will, in the very near future, have Pitt back into the Top Ten of America’s college football teams and challenging once again for a national championship. We have accomplished building the foundation. It’s like building the foundation of a house. Now we can build on that solid foundation.″
Gottfried’s top priority is to find a quarterback to replace John Congemi, Pitt’s second-leading career passer. He will choose between senior Sal Genilla and redshirt freshman Larry Wanke. ″We’ll throw the ball as well as we did last year″ is another Gottfried promise.
The Panthers may not run it as well without Charles Gladman, a 1,000-yard rusher in 1985 who was ruled ineligible after refusing to cooperate in a probe into whether he took money from an agent, a charge he has denied. Pitt also lost defensive back Teryl Austin, who admitted getting money.
However, they do have a stud in 260-pound Craig ″Ironhead″ Heyward, the 1986 rushing leader with 756 yards, including 254 on 39 carries against then- No. 1 Miami. Heyward’s younger - and much smaller - brother, Nate, will be the fullback.
Besides Congemi, Gladman and Austin, Pitt lost six other starters but has 45 lettermen returning. As usual, the offensive line looks good, led by guard Mark Stepnoski, but there’s not much depth among the receivers.
Gottfried installed the 4-3 defense last year and Pitt ranked ninth nationally in total defense and eighth against the rush. The defensive line returns tackle Tony Siragusa and end Burt Grossman while middle linebacker Jerry Olsavsky led the team with 127 tackles. Even without Austin, three starters return to the secondary.
After a 10-2 record in 1984, Boston College slipped to 4-8 in ’85 but rebounded to 9-3 last year and return six starters on offense and five on defense. The offense will feature the same pass-oriented attack, albeit with a new quarterback, while the defense includes a solid linebacking corps led by Bill Romanowski, top-notch ends in Eric Lindstrom and Bill Thompson and a veteran secondary.
Juniors Mike Power and Mark Kamphaus are battling at quarterback. Each started once last year and suffered a serious injury, Power a broken foot, Kamphaus a torn thumb ligament.
BC even has a Flutie - split end Darren Flutie, Doug’s younger brother, who caught 35 passes last year for 531 yards and five touchdowns. The Eagles also have a schedule that includes Southern Cal, Penn State, Pitt, Tennessee and Notre Dame.
Syracuse lost five of its first six games last year but finished 5-6 and returns its M&M combination of quarterback Don McPherson and Coach Dick MacPherson.
Donnie Mac comes into his senior year as the school record-holder in passing yards and touchdown passes. He will be joined by six other starters on offense and nine on defense. The Orangemen also regain the services of outstanding nose guard Ted Gregory, who suffered a broken leg in the second game.
There is a feeling at Syracuse that this may finally be ″next year.″
Despite West Virginia’s 4-7 record, Coach Don Nehlen’s overall mark is 52-29-1. A rigorous off-season training program is expected to help return the Mountaineers to the ranks of winners.
They lost only three starters on offense and four on defense but Nehlen is concerned with many positions, including quarterback, where either seniors Mike Timko and Ben Reed or redshirt freshman Major Harris will run the new option offense.
There is a flock of speedy wideouts and backup tailback Undra Johnson returns after rushing for 652 yards. A.B. Brown, who sat out last year after transferring from Pitt, is being touted as possibly the best running back to come to West Virginia during Nehlen’s tenure.
The offensive line is a strength and the defense gets a boost with the addition of free safety Terry White, a transfer from Ohio State, and sophomore Chris Haering may be the best young linebacker the Mountaineers have ever recruited.
Temple lost career rushing leader Paul Palmer - he led the nation last year - and probably will put the ball in the air more with new quarterback James Thompson throwing to tight end Mike Hinnant and wideout Keith Gloster.
The Owls’ strength should be the defensive line, linebackers and the offensive line, where all five starters return. The bad news is that seven of the first nine games are on the road.
″This is going to be our year to get to a major bowl and be one of the best teams in the East,″ Rutgers cornerback Jean Austin says. That was before tailback Matt Prescott, last year’s leading rusher, tore up a knee in the spring. He will miss the season, although the next seven rushers are back.
The Scarlet Knights return eight starters on offense and six on defense. They will rely heavily on quarterback Scott Erney, who took over midway through the 1986 season and threw for 1,160 yards and six touchdowns. The main task on defense is replacing both inside linebackers, including All-East Tyrone Stowe.
Army returns one of the nation’s top wishbone quarterbacks in Tory Crawford, whose 1,078 rushing yards last year were the most of any Division I- A quarterback and third-highest in West Point history.
The Cadets have a string of three winning seasons for the first time since 1966-68 but return only six offensive starters and three on defense from the team that started against Navy. Nevertheless, Coach Jim Young says the defense should be stronger and quicker, led by linebacker Ray Griffiths, the team’s leading tackler.
Navy, under new Coach Elliot Uzelac, has gone to the wishbone after losing 32 of 58 lettermen and 17 starters, including all 11 on defense. Halfback Chuck Smith is one of the area’s top runners but quarterback John Nobers has been in for only seven plays in three years. The Midshipmen have good receivers and the offensive line should be solid.
Next: The Midlands.
End Adv for Tues PMs