College football, as seen during the last several seasons, can be disruptive to tranquil weekends.
Almost since the game began, it has inspired waves of rabid followers, nurtured hundreds of rivalries, and led to weekly battles for the Sunday sports section.
Certainly no lessening of excitement is seen in this, college football's 113 th season. If anything, there should be more. Why? Because the sport is not quite the closed fraternity it once was.
Scholarship limitations have gradually evened out the competition by distributing the playing talent. As a result, more schools - including some we haven't heard much from in a while - are making their presence felt.
Take last year, for example, when Iowa made it to the Rose Bowl, Southern Methodist won the Southwest Conference, West Virginia wound up in the Top 20, and Clemson, if you can believe it, was No. 1.
In other interesting developments, Notre Dame struggled home with its first losing season in 18 years, while the once stodgy Big Ten let its hair down, becoming the second leading passing conference (behind the Pacific Coast Athletic Association).
To cap things off, six schools passed the top ranking around like a hot potato before Clemson's Tigers wrapped their orange, asbestos paws around it.
This year the teams topping most polls are the Univerities of Washington and Pittsburgh, with Nebraska and Alabama also mentioned high by the majority of forecasters. All of these teams have plenty of lettermen reporting back from strong squads.
Washington has seldom been mentioned so prominently in pre-season discussions , but the Huskies have developed a bite to match their bark under Coach Don James, who's taken them to three Rose Bowls in seven years. The latest came last January, when Washington shattered Iowa's glass slippers in the first Rose Bowl shutout in 28 years. Quarterback Steve Pelluer and running back Jacque Robinson, a freshman reserve who raced for 142 yards in Pasadena, are the leading returnees.
Pitt, too, ended its '81 season on a high note - in New Orleans, naturally. In one of the great bowl game finishes, Dan Marino lofted a 33-yard, fourth down touchdown pass to beat Georgia in the Sugar Bowl's closing seconds. It was the type of play that has great carry-over potential. The question, though, is whether or not rookie head coach Serafino (Foge) Fazio can capitalize on this momentum and parlay it into a mythical national championship (major college football has no playoffs).
A Pittsburgh native, Fazio is hardly a stranger to the Panthers, having been the team's assistant head coach and defensive coordinator under Jackie Sherrill. Much of the talent Foge inherits he recruited himself, but Sherrill was still the one who seemingly stood on the brink of tying it all together into a championship knot.
Why he left has been a blockbusting off-season story. Simply stated, Texas A&M opened up the vault for him. The deal, which easily makes Sherrill the highest paid coach in the land, reportedly pays him some $250,000 (including fringe benefits) for serving in the dual capacity of head football coach and athletic director.
Michigan's Bo Schembechler was offered the job first, but turned it down. Sherrill, meanwhile, has become as controversial as J. R. Ewing for signing the six-year, $1.6 million package. Frank E. Vandiver, A&M's president, originally was so disturbed by what transpired, he contemplated resigning. For the moment everything has been ironed out.
The shock waves were real, though, and startled academicians who found the importance placed on winning football appalling. Sherrill, however, figures his salary has helped them face up to the realities of major college sports. ''For the first time,'' he observed, ''we brought into the open that college athletics is big business. We came in the front door.''
Actually, the handwriting's been on the wall for some time now, and not in invisible ink, either. For years, schools have scrambled after big, post-season bowl payoffs and regular season TV appearance fees.
Winning helps pay the bills, which are considerable in football, and often makes it possible to pay the freight for other sports as well. But as the pressures to win increase, so do instances of illicit activity.
At present, the chief resident of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) doghouse is the University of Southern California, a traditional power and the alma mater of 1981 Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Allen. Others serving time, which generally means being banned from either live TV, bowl games, or both, are Wisconsin, Arizona State, Oregon, Southern Methodist, Colorado, and Miami (Fla.).
Southern Cal has been handed a two-year probation for a ticket-scalping scheme that benefitted the players. Oddly, however, the TV ban won't begin this season because the Nov. 27 USC-Notre Dame game had already been slated to receive national TV coverage.
Southern Cal won't make out badly, and in fact is expected to pop up on television four times this fall due to liberalized appearance rules. The new regulations were ushered in with the new four-year, $263.5 million TV deal the NCAA signed with ABC and CBS.
For the past 17 years, ABC held exclusive coverage rights to the college game. The NCAA, however, felt the time was right to capitalize on the booming TV market. The two-network pact is much more lucrative. Each team stands to take home $525,000 for a nationally televised game, an increase of some 70 percent over the single-network arrangement.
The Turner Broadcasting System in Atlanta has even gotten into the act, and will show games the others bypass. Acting as a rearguard for those without Betamaxes are the ESPN and USA cable networks, which will provide games on a delayed basis.
Basically, college football coverage is going to resemble pro coverage, with rival doubleheaders carried on CBS and ABC plus pre- and post-game shows. And if the pros strike, college games could be shifted to the NFL's deserted Sunday afternoon time slot.
Appearing on TV is enough of a plum that schools practically turn somersaults for the privilege. Heavyweights Pittsburgh and North Carolina will throw early-season caution to the wind by playing each other Sept. 9 at Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Stadium. That game will be in prime time, as will a Labor Day shootout (moved up two weeks) between Clemson and Georgia and the Sept. 18 Michigan-Notre Dame clash.
In Georgia, newly installed stadium lights have made night action possible, while in South Bend, Ind., Notre Dame has arranged for portable lighting, an option five Atlantic Coast Conference schools are prepared to utilize.
Day or night, there should be plenty of exciting players worth training binoculars on. At the top of the list is Georgia tailback Herschel Walker, a two-time consensus All-America who may miss the season's first few games, including the nationally televised Clemson game, with a hand injury.
A junior, he contemplated challenging the National Football League's rule against drafting underclassmen, but thought better of it. His decision to stay in Athens, of course, delights Bulldog fans, who would like to see Walker win the Heisman Trophy, awarded to the nation's best player.
Others expected to throw their helmets in the Heisman ring are Stanford quarterback John Elway, Pitt's Dan Marino, and North Carolina running back Kelvin Bryant.
When it comes to passing, Elway is considered the best of the West, Marino the the best of the East. Among those who might dispute these titles are Tony Eason of Illinois and Jim Kelly of Miami (Fla.). As for pure athletic ability, it's hard to beat Southern Mississippi's Reggie Collier, who owns the distinction of being the first major college quarterback to gain 1,000 yards both rushing and passing.
In terms of out-and-out runners, Bryant carries one of the most impressive portfolios. He had 15 touchdowns in North Carolina's first three games last season before being injured. Penn State's Curt Warner is another thoroughbred.
Southern Methodist, with Eric Dickerson and Craig James, has a tremendous 1-2 rushing punch, as does Nebraska with the tandem of Roger Craig and Mike Rozier.
Among returning consensus All-Americas not previously mentioned are Michigan wide receiver Anthony Carter and Nebraska center Dave Rimington. Back defensively are end Billy Ray Smith (Arkansas), noseguard Tim Kumrie (Wisconsin) , defensive backs Tommy Wilcox (Alabama), Terry Kinard (Clemson), and Mike Richardson (Arizona State), and record-setting punter Reggie Roby (Iowa).