If Clancy Edwards can keep his legs churning instead of cramping, the University of Southern California could very well sprint all the way to the NCAA track and field championship.
The Trojans, with practically all of their strength in the sprints, are the favorites in the national championships which begin tomorrow at the University of Oregon.
The Trojans were the choice last year, too, but Edwards, one of the premier sprinters in the world, incurred leg cramps and did not score in either the 100- or 200-meter dash. USC finished third with 48 points; Arizona State won with 64.
Southern California has won 2 track titles, more national championships than any other school in any sport. The Trojans last won in 1976 and their coach, Vern Wolfe, has guided them to five national outdoor titles and two indoor crowns.
"We are one of several teams that have a shot at this year's title and we have a good shot at it," Wolfe said, "but we must stay healthy.
"Texas-El Paso, UCLA and Washington State look like our main competition for the team title, but the host school, Oregon, could be a factor. With the local crowd pushing them, they might be a team that ignites and does very well."
Edwards is undoubtedly the key to USC's chances.
He is a 5-foot-11, 180-pound senior from Santa Ana, Calif. He is not a very good starter, but at 40 yards, he comes on strong. Because of his start and ability to run the turn, his best event is the 200.
His 20.03 clocking in the 200 meters is the best collegiate time in the country this year and his 10.18 for 100 meters is the third best. With Edwards running in the 400-meter relay, the Trojans have run a 38.85, fastest in the country. Even without him running the relay, they have run a 39.6.
"He (Edwards) will run both sprints, but we haven't decided if he will go in the sprint relay," Wolfe said. "He thinks he can run all three, but he couldn't last year."
The Trojans won the Pacific-Eight meet two weeks ago, despite being disqualified in two events in which they finished first, the 400 and 800 meters.
Edwards won both the sprints and ran on the winning sprint relay team in that meet, but there weren't as many preliminary heats as there will be in the national championships.
In addition to Edwards, intermediate hurdler Rich Graybehl won his specialty in 49.84 at the Pac-8 meet and the Trojans won the 1,600-meter relay.
Sophomore Billy Mullins ran the 400 in 45.03, only to be disqualified for stepping out of his lane.
Rayfield Beaton, from Guyana, has the second-best time in the country at 1:46.5 in the 800 meters, but he, too, had his first-place finish in the Pac-8 meet taken away. It was ruled that he cut off another runner.
The Trojans have another world class dash man in freshman James Sanford. His best time in the 200 this year is the 20.24 he clocked in finishing second to Edwards in a race. Two weeks ago, Sanford beat Olympic champion Don Quarrie and Edwards in Jamaica, in 20.38.
The Trojans' only real threat to score points in the field events is discus thrower Darrell Evans.
They have the defending long jump champion in sophomore Larry Dobley, but he had knee surgery two months ago and will not compete.
Scoring in the national meet will be a 10, 8, 6, 4, 2, 1 in all events, including the relays. Tomorrow's competition will be strictly preliminaries, Friday's action will be highlighted by finals in the 100-meter dash, 110-meter high hurdles and 10,000-meter run.
Maryland is sending a seven-man team to the meet, led by hurdler Skeets Nehemiah.