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Oklahoma Is the Answer, but What Is the Question?

September 01, 1986|RICHARD HOFFER | Times Staff Writer

Oklahoma is ranked so high by so many people it hardly seems worth the wear and tear on that silly schooner to conduct a football season. Miami's Vinny Testaverde is so beloved, the NFL draft might as well be held now. And now that Gerry Faust has found peace in Akron, well, why agonize along with Notre Dame each week? There's just no more of that ghoulish fun to be had now that the Irish have hired a stand-up comic.

Compared to last year, in other words, college football seems very much in order. Where's controversy, anticipation? You would think, in other words, that this season begins with fewer questions. Wrong.

1. Who will be the next Bo Jackson?

Almost certainly it will be Oregon's Chris Miller, one of the Pac-10s top returning quarterbacks. Miller, who passed for 2,237 yards and 18 touchdowns last season, played shortstop in the Seattle Mariner organization this summer. He hit .101 at Salinas.

2. Put it this way, who will win the Heisman Trophy?

Well, not Miller. Probably Testaverde, the Miami Hurricane who threw for 3,238 yards and 21 touchdowns, although he did not play baseball. Testaverde finished fifth in the voting as a junior last season and fits into the classic Heisman profile--senior quarterback on a Top-10 team. Also, Miami has increased its media mailing list from 600 to 1,000.

Your other nominee is Lorenzo White, the Michigan State running back who rushed for 1,908 yards last season as a sophomore. He led the nation, averaging 173.5 per game, and finished fourth in the Heisman voting. Although White gains a lot of yards in a lot of games, he is at his best on television, where the voters (sportswriters) are more likely to see him. Last year he averaged 245 yards in four TV games. His PR push is a weekly update called "The White Paper."

Longer shots are junior Thurman Thomas, who gained 1,553 yards at Oklahoma State last season, and Oklahoma's Brian Bosworth, a junior linebacker. Neither is getting anything special in the way of a publicity push, but Bosworth, by virtue of a bad haircut, may be getting more exposure than all the athletes combined.

Longest shot: Fresno State quarterback Kevin Sweeney, expected to break the NCAA career passing record this season. Fresno State has just two TV games, both on ESPN. To overcome this killing lack of exposure, the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. financed a summer trip to New York so Sweeney could talk to reporters there. Could be this year's Joe Dudek.

3. How long before we can decide on the national champion?

Is a week too long? Defending champion Oklahoma meets UCLA Saturday in Norman in one of the most critical games of the season. The Sooners, everybody's preseason pick, return virtually everybody. All-American nose guard Tony Casillas is the only name you'll miss from the country's No. 1 defense. And 10 starters are back on offense, including wishbone quarterback Jamelle Holieway, the only such person to actually carry a purse. It's probably pigskin, too.

UCLA will likely challenge the Sooners in the air. That's where the Sooners always get challenged.

If the Bruins fail to unseat the Sooners, the season could still be decided within the month. Three weeks later Oklahoma goes to Miami, which is ranked in almost everybody's top five. The Hurricanes, who blew a national title when Tennessee becalmed them in the Sugar Bowl, return another monster passing attack with Testaverde. And Oklahoma hates monster passing attacks. Last year Miami handed Oklahoma its only loss, when Testaverde threw for 270 yards.

Oklahoma practically gets a bye to the Orange Bowl if it wins those two games.

4. And if Oklahoma doesn't?

Besides UCLA and Miami, which are on the Oklahoma schedule, who best to challenge the Sooners but Michigan, which went 10-1-1 last season and actually won a bowl game. Bo Schembechler, who leads active coaches with the most victories (196) in Division I-A football, has never won a national championship. But then, he waited a long time to win a bowl game, too.

Dark horses, please: Penn State, which lost the national championship to Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl last season. And Texas A&M and Alabama, if Ray Perkins' coaching closet still isn't filled with ties.

5. Is this a down year for nicknames?

A little down, yes, although Florida quarterback Kerwin Bell, the Throwin' Mayoan, is back. And so is Texas A&M's 335-pound guard, Marshall (All Over This) Land. Paul (Boo Boo) Palmer, so small that all his mother could think of was a character from the Yogi Bear cartoon series, carries the ball at Temple. Lorenzo White is calling the Michigan State offensive line the "White Nights." Together they travel the "Great White Way." Also, Kansas defensive backs, Tony and Derek Berry. They're the Crunchberries, wouldn't you know.

6. What record will be broken?

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