Most college football teams that lose seven key starters from their offensive unit call the following season a rebuilding year. Especially with only 12 seniors on the roster.
Not Florida A&M. The Rattlers are calling this an "adjustment year." That means they simply beat opponents instead of demolishing them.
Unfortunately for Howard coach Floyd Keith and his team, A&M will be the Bison opponents at RFK Stadium Saturday afternoon. Coach Rudy Hubbard's team is 2-1 (Howard is 2-1) coming off a convincing 25-7 success at Grambling last week.
That victory ran A&M's winning steak to nine and gave it 26 wins in its last 27 games. A year ago the Rattlers were NCAA Division I-AA champions with a 12-1 record and they are ranked No. 1 now. In 1977 they were black national champions with an 11-0 record.
"We're a very different team this year, especially on offense," Hubbard said yesterday. "The fortunate thing for us is that, although we've lost seven starters, we have a lot of people still here who didn't start last year, but played."
Even with seven starters, including starting quarterback Pete Taylor out with injuries, A&M continues to dominate opponents. Sammy Knight substituted for Taylor last week and scored two touchdowns. In the meantime, the defense, led by nose guard Harrell Oliver, had 10 turnovers.
Our defense is playing well right now," Hubbard conceded, sounding pained at the admission. "They've done a lot to help out our offense, which hasn't really jelled yet."
If Hubbard's offense jells Saturday, Howard, a 55-17 loser at South Carolina State last week, could be in for a long afternoon. There is hope, however. Florida A&M plays Miami of Florida next week, its first game ever against an NCAA Division I school.
Hubbard insists, however, that his team will not be looking ahead.
"That's a big game for us, an interesting game," he said. "But I think we'll be fired up for Howard. We know they have the type of passing game that can hurt us. And their defense isn't very big but it is quick. They have good, quick players and they play hard."
So did Grambling and Albany State, defeated 28-0.
The man who put this powerhouse together is a former Woody Hayes running back (1965-68) and assistant coach at Ohio State. Hubbard came to A&M in 1974 with the school's football fortunes sagging. The great Jake Gaither had retired as coach in 1969 and none of his three successors had been able to keep the team afloat. Hubbard begun recruiting aggressively, cracked down on discipline and quickly turned things around.
Since Hubbard's arrival the Rattlers are 46-11-2 in a little more than five seasons and for the last three generally have taken to mauling people.
With a defense that has given up a total of 95 yards rushing in two games and an offensive line that has such people as two-time division I-AA All-American Tyrone McGriff (6-foot-1, 270 pounds), the Rattlers should give Howard all the competition it wants.
"Anything can happen on Saturday afternoon," Hubbard said. "All we can do is play to the best of our ability and let the rest take care of itself."
For 26 of the last 27 games "the rest" has taken care of Florida A&M quite nicely.