One of a series
Undated (AP) _ A smattering of pessimism has invaded Happy Valley, home of college football’s defending national champions.
″If you’re talking about a national championship contender, we’re not strong anywhere,″ according to Penn State Coach Joe Paterno. ″We have to literally rebuild our defense, our offense, our whole kicking game. I don’t think we’ve ever had as many areas that we’ve got to almost start from scratch at as we have with this group.
″We are losing so many fine football players. These are the kind of guys who made the big plays. We’ve got to find replacements for those kind of kids. We’ve got to replace leadership. It’s not just the tangible things we have to address, it’s the intangibles, as well.″
All is not gloom and doom for the Nittany Lions, who haven’t known a losing season since 1938, an NCAA record.
″I’m excited about this year; I am,″ Paterno adds. ″I think it will be a fun year for us. It’s one of the great things about college football - you get a bunch of guys and you work with them for ‘x’ number of years, and they go. And now you’ve got a new bunch of kids.″
Penn State’s starting lineup will include the likes of:
-Quarterback Matt Knizner. Paterno: ″I think Knizner will be the best quarterback in the East.″
-Tailback Blair Thomas, who averaged a school record 8.4 yards per carry last year while gaining 504 yards and finished second nationally in kickoff returns with a 31.9-yard average. Paterno: ″Blair can do everything. He’s probably the best blocker we’ve got, including fullbacks. He’s a great receiver. He’s got fantastic acceleration.
-Tackle Stan Clayton and guard Steve Wisniewski. Paterno: ″The offensive line has a chance to be better than any we’ve had in the last couple of years.″
-Linebackers Trey Bauer and Pete Giftopoulos. Paterno: ″I don’t think there are many teams in the country with a better set of inside people than Bauer and Giftopoulos.″
-Defensive back Eddie Johnson. Paterno: ″The best corner we’ve ever had.″
The only other returning starters are wide receiver Ray Roundtree and safety Marques Henderson. The Lions lost 15 starters, including the leading rusher, leading passer, leading receiver, leading scorer, leading tackler, leading interceptor, placekicker, punter and long snapper.
Paterno says they have not lost the winning attitude from 1986, as they did after winning their other national championship five years ago. The next year produced an 0-3 start.
″We may have been a bit too cavalier coming off the 1982 season and playing Nebraska (a 44-6 loss) with the ‘we could win no matter what’ kind of attitude,″ Paterno says. ″We don’t have that attitude now. We were much more intense this spring. We’re trying to go at this thing as if we’ve got something to prove to the world.″
Mike Gottfried went 5-5-1 in his debut at Pitt 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.″
Gottfried’s top priority is finding a quarterback to replace John Congemi, Pitt’s second leading passer. Gottfried doesn’t seem to be worried. ″We’ll throw the ball as well as we did last year,″ he warns.
The Panthers may not run as well without Charles Gladman, a 1,000-yard rusher in 1985 who was ruled ineligible after refusing to cooperate with investigators probing whether he took money from an agent, a charge he has denied. Pitt also lost defensive back Teryl Austin, who was declared ineligible for his involvement with agents.
They do return 260-pound tailback 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.
Pitt lost six other starters but has 45 lettermen returning. The offensive line looks strong, led by guard Mark Stepnoski, but there’s not much depth among the receivers.
Pitt ranked ninth nationally in total defense last year 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 in the secondary.
After a 10-2 record in 1984, Boston College slipped to 4-8 in ’85 but rebounded to 9-3 last year. Six starters return 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 standout linebacker in 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 behind the leadership of quarterback Don McPherson, the school record-holder in passing yards and touchdown passes. He will be joined by six other starters on offense and nine on defense, plus outstanding nose guard Ted Gregory, who suffered a broken leg in the second game.
Coach Don Nehlen’s overall record at West Virginia is 52-29-1, including last year’s 4-7. A brutal 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 numerous 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 bunch of fleet wideouts. Backup tailback Undra Johnson returns after rushing for 652 yards and A.B. Brown, a transfer from Pitt, is being touted as possibly West Virginia’s best running back 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. 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,″ says Rutgers cornerback Jean Austin. 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 Tyronne 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 Midshipmnen have good receivers and the offensive line should be solid.
Next: The Midwest.
End Adv Fri AM Aug 21