AUBURN, ALA., SEPT. 4 -- A handful of newly shuffled college football coaches make their debuts across the country today, with some of them expected to become mentors, some mere custodians and some public enemies.
For Texas, former player and assistant David McWilliams takes over from the fired Fred Akers and will attempt to end the unranked Longhorns' sorrowful times with an upset at No. 5 Auburn (ESPN, 4:30 p.m.). The Longhorns are hoping he will be a unifying presence after the divisiveness of Akers' tenure and a 5-6 record in '86, their first losing mark in 30 years.
Sixth-ranked Louisiana State was abandoned by Bill Arnsparger, but last season's Southeast Conference champion has been entrusted to a potential boy genius in the 34-year-old Mike Archer when the Tigers open at No. 15 Texas A&M (ESPN, 8 p.m.). It's one of the glamor games of the weekend because A&M was the Southwest Conference winner a year ago.
At Alabama, Bill Curry was greeted by a death threat and pure outrage -- for the simple reasons that he had a losing record at Georgia Tech and is not an Alabama native -- when he was named to replace Ray Perkins. Crimson Tide fans are skeptical about this perhaps too nice of a man even though they open at Legion Field against far weaker Southern Mississippi (2:30 p.m.).
Only at No. 10 Miami do things remain the same, despite all that talk that Jimmy Johnson would be sauntering off to another job. Miami's rivalry with No. 20 Florida hasn't changed either; it will be more vehement than ever when the Gators travel to Miami for what will be the last meeting between the bitter enemies until 1992.
With the names and places finally in order, it's time for the smokers, catfish fries, wine festivals and tailgates. At Auburn, just how eager the Tigers are to get started is proclaimed by bumper stickers that read, "Avoid the Rush: Hate the Tide Early This Year." First, however, comes Texas, which is never without talent, no matter how many upheavals there are in Austin.
"You have to be apprehensive," McWilliams said of his debut. "But we're to that point where we've done all the practicing we can do. It's time to play. We need to play."
Perhaps no coach is more eagerly awaited than McWilliams, the '86 Southwest Conference coach of the year at Texas Tech. Having played for and co-captained the Longhorns' 1963 national campionship team and then coached for 16 years under Darrell Royal and Akers, he is regarded as a unanimous choice to restore some glory to all that faded burnt orange.
"It's nice to have 100 percent support when you're talking about the coach, because that's reflected on the team," quarterback Bret Stafford said. "The transition was smooth as could be. Even before he was hired, he was pretty much the unanimous choice."
Texas is aching to erase the memory of last season's record, but that will be difficult. Akers went to Purdue and left McWilliams just eight seniors. Also, McWilliams has had the travails of taking over a gigantic program with just one year of experience as a head coach at Texas Tech.
"There's so much to think about, so many details," he said. "It's like a business. You get all ready to open, and then you say, 'Where's the key to the front door?' "
Texas remains dramatically inexperienced, one reason Auburn is favored by 13 points. Another is that the Tigers may be the pre-eminent defensive team in the country, with nine starters back from last season.
But there is a real question for Auburn in the backfield, where the Tigers are without a classic running back for the first time in roughly 10 years, ranging from Joe Cribbs to Bo Jackson to Brent Fullwood. The job has been passed to sophomore James Joseph, but he runs just a 4.7 in the 40-yard dash. That means Auburn will be pass oriented. It does have a quarterback in Jeff Burger, if his ingenue offense line (three new starters in place because of ailing veterans) does not collapse.
LSU's Archer, the youngest coach in Division I football, might be a figure of skepticism if it weren't for all that talent. Archer took over when Arnsparger stepped down at the end of last season to become athletic director at Florida, and his task in his first season may be one of mere maintenance, as he has inherited one of the richest offenses in the country.
Sophomore quarterback Tommy Hodson was a classy freshman rated sixth in the country in passing efficiency, and he has a horde of talent in all-America wide receiver Wendell Davis (80 catches, 1,244 yards, 11 touchdowns) and sophomore tailback Harvey Williams, a someday Heisman candidate.
The Aggies are respectable now under Jackie Sherrill, but since last season they have lost 12 starters, including quarterback Kevin Murray, who decided to depart for the NFL with one year of eligibility left. His replacement is backup Craig Stump, but the looker of the offense will be running back Keith Woodside, a circus-time double threat who is as dangerous catching the ball.
Miami and Florida may not have the rankings to make their game an eye-catcher, but they have the players. The Hurricanes have a figure of national curiosity in Steve Walsh debuting at quarterback as Vinny Testeverde's replacement. Florida's Kerwin Bell gets to show off for the first time nationally since the Gators were cloaked in probation. He will be making his run at a Heisman Trophy.
The Labor Day weekend concludes Monday with the coaching debut of Southern California's Larry Smith. Smith and the No. 19 Trojans wade right into a nationally televised game at Michigan State, which is unranked but fortified by Heisman hopeful Lorenzo White (WJLA-TV-7, 8 p.m.).