To some degree, major college football is a name brand game. If a team carries the label ''Penn State,'' ''Alabama,'' ''Nebraska,'' or ''Ohio State,'' for example, you know it's good. This year should be no different.
But that doesn't mean the 1983 season won't have a fresh-from-the-oven aroma. Coaches generally stay the same and winning traditions remain intact, but the star players keep changing. And this year a number of schools are looking to fill major vacancies.
The most noteworthy of these may be at Georgia, where Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker decided to take the money (an estimated $3.9 million for three years) and do his running for the United States Football League's New Jersey Generals. Walker was a junior when he signed, so his departure was an unexpected blow to what has been the winningest team in America the past three years.
The college game has also bid adieu to one of the finest senior classes in history, a group boasting a glittering array of outstanding quarterbacks.
The valedictorian was Stanford's John Elway, probably the best pure passer since Joe Namath and a good enough baseball player that he considered a career in that sport as well.Other honor roll quarterbacks to pull up stakes for the pros are Todd Blackledge of Penn State, Dan Marino of Pittsburgh, Tony Eason of Illinois, Jim Kelly of Miami, and Tom Ramsey of UCLA.
Though he earned a degree last spring, Blackledge had another year of eligibility and could have returned to guide the defending national champions, who meet Nebraska Aug. 29 at the New Jersey Meadowlands in the inaugural Kickoff Classic.
Nebraska's only loss last season came to Penn State on a touchdown pass with four seconds left, so the game has a rematch flavor.
Altogether only six consensus first team All-Americans return - running back Mike Rozier of Nebraska; tight end Gordon Hudson of Brigham Young; linebackers Ricky Hunley of Arizona and Wilber Marshall of Florida; defensive tackle Ricky Bryan of Oklahoma; and defensive back Terry Hoage of Georgia.
And in what promises to be a wonderfully wide-open Heisman race, the slate is virtually clean. Rozier, who tied for 10th in last year's balloting, leads the way.
All this is not to say there's any dearth of talent, only that a lot of players who've waited in the wings are about to get their chance in the spotlight.
One player who grabbed part of it last year was Ernest Anderson of Oklahoma State. A virtual unknown when the season began, the compact running back piled up 1,877 yards to win the national rushing title while wearing a flack jacket and air-filled shoulder pads for protection. To prepare for the coming campaign , he's gone from 170 to 190 pounds by ''pumping iron'' during the off-season.
Besides Rozier, Anderson should receive some stiff competition in the rushing race from a flock of sophomores. Chief among them are Marcus Dupree of Oklahoma , Bo Jackson of Auburn, and Dalton Hilliard of resurgent Louisiana State.
The burly Dupree had six touchdown jaunts of 60 yards or longer last year, but he and Coach Barry Switzer haven't always seen eye to eye. Their differences, in fact, landed Marcus on the cover of Sports Illustrated in June with the ominous-sounding headline: ''Clash of Wills at Oklahoma.''
The two reportedly have made up, as they must for the Sooners to prevent Nebraska from rolling through the Big Eight schedule undefeated for a third straight season.
Most experts are predicting that one or the other of these gridiron giants will emerge as the conference champion, a title they've won or shared in 37 of the last 39 years.
Those who favor Nebraska usually point to Cornhusker quarterback Turner Gill, a gifted running and passing threat, as the pivotal factor. In the flipside to the John Elway situation, Gill may ultimately choose to play baseball professionally. But in the meantime, he is the linchpin and reigning MVP of the nation's most prolific offense.
Gill, of course, is not the only quarterback scrambling to fill the void left by last season's quarterback exodus. Ohio State feels it has a dandy in junior Mike Tomczak, who overcame some early jitters to engineer an impressive seven-game winning streak at the end of 1982. Doug Flutie of Boston College looks like the next Fran Tarkenton; 6 ft. 3 in. Jeff Hostetler stands tall in the pocket at West Virginia; and Duke's Ben Bennett, Florida's Wayne Peace, and Long Beach State's Todd Dillon all boast big-yardage portfolios.
A couple others you might want to keep an eye on throw from the south side. Flamboyant left-hander Boomer Esiason provides Maryland with plenty of chutzpah; while out in Utah, Steve Young, the great-great-great-great grandson of Mormon colonizer Brigham Young, upholds BYU's tradition of outstanding passers.
Even Northwestern has emerged from oblivion behind the passing artistry of Sandy Schwab, who, as a freshman, helped the Wildcats end a 34-game losing streak and complete a 3-8 season.
No question, on the whole the game has gone airborne in recent autumns. Last year, in fact, passing yardage exceeded rushing yardage for the first time in college history.
Many reasons are given for this trend, everything from rule changes to the development of greater numbers of good passers and receivers in high school.Playing styles tend to run in cycles, of course, but as long as pro-style offenses are in vogue, it's not surprising to see some schools snapping up National Football League coaches.
The best known of these is Ray Perkins, who left the New York Giants to replace a legend at Alabama. The legend, of course, is Bear Bryant, who compiled a record 323 career victories before his death last January.
PerkWns has scrapped the run-oriented Wishbone at his alma mater for an ''I'' formation that allows Alabama to go ''upstairs'' more often.
Besides Perkins, former NFL assistants Sam Wyche and George Perles will be making the transition to the college ranks. Wyche, a quarterback coach with the San Francisco 49ers, takes over at Indiana. Perles, a defensive coordinator with the Pittsburgh Steelers, steps in at Michigan State.
State reportedly had to pay $175,000 just to free Perles from a USFL contract. The school probably figures it's worth it, though, if he can turn the Spartans around. (Texas A&M apparently concluded the same thing last year when they lured Jackie Sherrill away from the University of Pittsburgh for somewhere in the vicinity of $250,000 a year.)
For some, of course, moving up in the world means entering the NFL, which is just what Southern Cal coach John Robinson decided to do, taking the Los Angeles Rams' head job after a brief retirement. His successor, USC assistant Ted Tollner, inherits a perennial power, but one that's just lost three consensus All-Americans and is on NCAA probation along with 1981 national champion Clemson , Arizona, Oregon, Wichita State, and Southern Mississippi. Because of various misdeeds, these teams are banned from accepting bowl bids and making TV appearances.
Getting on television, of course, is a desirable goal for any school looking for some quick spending money (about $500,000 for a nationally televised game - an amount shared with conference members in certain cases).
The NCAA's TV contract has been a hot topic during the past year. In a lawsuit, the universities of Georgia and Oklahoma have challenged the NCAA's right to serve as the sole bargaining agent of the association's membership. They want the right to market their own product, as has occurred at the conference level in basketball.
Others argue that such an arrangement would work against the common good and possibly open up TV negotiations to a wave of money-grabbing confusion. The issue, rather mercifully, is still tied up in the courts, and should remain so for a while. Top teams
1. Auburn - A stick-your-neck-out pick, but why not? There doesn't appear to be a four-star juggernaut on the horizon, and Auburn looks as good as anybody. The Tigers are solid throughout and play with a special zeal. Bo Jackson gives the offense a Herschel Walker-type running back and quarterback Randy Campbell has a real knack for directing the triple option.
2. Nebraska - Last season's top offensive team has three backfield stars returning, Turner Gill, Mike Rozier, and Irving Fryar. With the key ''skill positions'' occupied, the cornerstone for a national championship is in place.The Cornhuskers face a long, 12-game season, though, beginning with Penn State Aug. 29 and ending on the road against Oklahoma Nov. 26.
3. Notre Dame - Is this a do-or-bye year for Coach Gerry Faust? Although he keeps recruiting sensational freshman classes, the Irish haven't produced consistentlx during 5-6 and 6-4-1 campaigns. Quarterback Blaz Z./ - hree-year starter, and an advantageous schedule should help in establishUng a positive head of steam.
4. Ohio State - That's right, the post-Woody Buckeyes are about ready to make their firct Rose Bowl trip. Earl Bruce's team floundered miserably early last season, but then cam% on to win seven straight and finish with one of the strongest-looking squads in the country. Lots of key players return, including QB Mike Tomczak and classic fullback Vaughn Broadnax.
5. Texas - If any team stands a chance of leapfrowging to the head of the class, letterman-loaded Texas may be it.
6. Oklahoma - Internal friction may be the only thing that can derail the Sooners' otherwise well-greased machine. No one doubts that superback Marcus Dupree can level would-be tacklers, but side-stepping a soap opera Is really his main assignment (see story above).
7. Penn Stade - Not many schools could lose their top stars (in this case, QB Todd Blackledge qwrPtx m.rt Warner) and expect to make the Top 10. But Coach Joe Paterno is wise in the ways of plugging holes, a job made easier with the return of four outstanding defensive players.
8. Florida State - The offense could be dynamite with junior tailback Greg Allen, who led the nation in scoring last season with 21 touchdowns.
9. Southern Cal - Not evKf a coaching change, NCAA sanctions, young players, and the loss of three first-team All-Americans can keep the Trojans from winning. Somehow the Trojans always find themselves in the thick of things, maybe because there's so much raw talent available.
10. Louisiana State - The program is really rolling under Cox - Stovall, who has a terrific 1-2 running tandem in Dalton Hilliard and Garry James. They run behind a line that averages 270 pounds and is called the Lunch Bunch.
11. North Carolina - Don't let the
light blue uniforms fool you; the Tar Heels are rough and ready and the most consistent force in Atlantic Coast Conference.
12. Iowa - The Hawkeyes were supposed to be rebuilding last year. Instead they finished a strong third in the Big Ten and may now have better manpower, especially on offense, than during their 1981 Rose Bowl season.
13. Alabama - Coach Ray Perkins should pick up just where Bear Bryant left off, and probably with a more modern, pro-style offense.
14. Maryland - The resurgent Terrapins got a big boost from quarterback Boomer Esiason last year. He should keep Maryland in the national picture.
15. West Virginia - After consecutive nine-win seasons, the Mountaineers want to prove they're no flash in the pan.
Others to watch - Georgia (life after Herschel isn't so bad); Arkansas (a sleeper in the Southwest Conference); Washington (Coach Don James has the touch) , and Michigan (some things never change).