While Oklahoma, Ohio State, Navy and other big names in college football were engaged in last-minute preparations for their various bowl games on New Year's Day, millions of television sets were tuned in last December to a game which would decide the small-college national championship. Tiny Pittsburg State—out of Pittsburg, Kans.—was playing in the Holiday Bowl at St. Petersburg, Fla. against Hillsdale of Michigan, an overwhelming favorite with a record 34-game winning streak. Fullback Gene Wayenberg triggered a series of celebrations throughout Kansas when he intercepted a Hillsdale pass in the end zone on the last play of the game to preserve a thrilling 27-26 victory for Pittsburg. This was small-college football at its best, and it was good enough to cause Red Grange to observe: "That Pittsburg team is as good a team as I've seen all year, and I've seen some good ones."
Emphasis in this Special Issue is inevitably on the big-college teams, but no football preview would be complete without mention of a few of the hundreds of small colleges.
Pittsburg State: Gone are Fullback Wayenberg, Quarterback John Matous and Ends Carroll Cobble and Paul Crandell, heroes all in the NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) championship game. But the Gorillas are still in good shape. Coach Carnie Smith, who has never had a losing season in his nine years at State, will build around three Little All-America candidates—Guard Tom Miller, Tackle Ted Stahura and Halfback Chuck Norris. Norris, after leading the nation's small-college scorers part of last year, wound up with 90 points, a new school record. The defending national champs are ignoring the new two-point conversion option and will kick for one point only. They could repeat in their Central Intercollegiate Conference, but if not, watch for St. Benedict's of Atchison, Kans.
Hillsdale: The Dales are the Oklahoma of the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association, having won four straight conference titles and 34 games in a row before losing to Pittsburg State in the Holiday Bowl. Coach Frank Waters bemoans the loss of Little All-America Guard Dave Trippett and Quarterback Doug Maison, who was snapped up by the Green Bay Packers. He has a definite quarterback problem but will be helped by the return to college of Howard Rodgers. The Dales will be faster and will operate from a multiple offense. Waters also has a freshman line averaging 220 pounds, and freshmen are eligible to play varsity sports at this tiny school of 690 students. Hillsdale will dominate the conference again.
Louisville: The school that produced Johnny Unitas, quarterback of the Baltimore Colts, must now learn to get along without Halfback Len Lyles, the nation's leading scorer last season (132 points) and first draft choice of Unitas' team. Coach Frank Camp can't be too worried, however. An army of 22 lettermen is back, and the Cardinals should be as powerful as last season's Sun Bowl champions, who won nine out of 10. Passing ace Dale Orem will direct the team if he isn't dislodged by Sophomore Quarterback Pete Bryant.
East Texas State: The terrors of the Lone Star Conference are back with greater depth than the '57 squad which scored nine victories in 10 games, including a 10-9 win over Mississippi Southern in the Tangerine Bowl. State will have one of the fastest lines among the nation's small colleges and a backfield that includes the conference's leading scorer, Halfback Gary Berry. Quarterback Sam McCord will have two great pass receiving ends in Norman Roberts and a 6-foot-6, 220-pound newcomer named Dee Mackey who can really move.
Florida A&M: The Rattlers capped an undefeated and untied 1957 season with a 27-21 victory over Maryland State in the Orange Blossom Bowl. This state university at Tallahassee thus won the national Negro football championship and should be a strong contender again in 1958. The Rattlers can strike quickly on the ground with such squirming backs as Lewis Johnson and Dave Latimer, who got off scoring plays of 90 and 70 yards, respectively, in the bowl classic.
Denison: The Big Red fielded the most powerful team in the school's history last year and wound up with no better than a tie (with Wittenberg) for first place in the rugged confederacy of small Ohio colleges called the Ohio Conference. Denison logged an over-all record of 8-1, leading the NCAA's small-college division in total offense (3,877 yards); in rushing (3,349 yards); and in total offense and rushing per game. Two of the outstanding backs, Marv Smith and Darwin Zahn, have been lost from that team, but Coach Keith Piper will have another good first unit to keep Denison among the conference leaders. Folks at Granville are most excited over Quarterback Bob Rinehart and Hallback Walt Wolfe, a track star who holds the Denison record for the quarter-mile. If the Big Red slips, watch Wittenberg and perennial favorites Muskingum and Heidelberg.
Slippery Rock: This little School, 45 miles north of Pittsburgh, has been the butt of many jokes about collegiate football, but don't knock the Rock. Those who chuckle at the incongruity of seeing Slippery Rock's score listed close to South Carolina's may be interested to know that they lost only two games last season and expect to do equally well this season. Coach Bill Meise's team, which probably has as many subway alumni as Notre Dame, will be strong and fast, playing a wide-open offense and a tough defense. Watch for the name of Dan Woitovich, a sophomore quarterback who is an outstanding play-maker.
Hofstra: With Ivy League tailender Columbia the only other college team in the area, the Flying Dutchmen are being called the best in metropolitan New York. Coach Howdy Myers has lost Quarterback Larry Magilligan, who directed the split-T brilliantly and led the East's small colleges in passing and total offense. But he expects to have an even stronger team than the 9-1 club of last season. One reason is the return of End Don Baldwin, whose 39 pass receptions for 479 yards and six touchdowns were tops in the East. Another is the presence of Quarterback Tom MacDonald, a transfer student from Brown.
California Poly (Pomona): Cal Poly may be the biggest little team (with the biggest name: California State Polytechnic College) on the West Coast this year. Again directing the team is Quarterback Stan Jackson, who not only led the nation's small-college passers last year but topped all collegians with his 2,145 yards total offense (only the fifth player in history to reach the 2,000-yard plateau). If that isn't enough, the country's best small-college passing team also will field End Dan Hogan, who caught a remarkable 35 passes and scored seven touchdowns. There will be enough good runners to keep the defenses guessing, but for the main, Cal Poly will continue to please crowds with its spread T and flankers, patterned somewhat after Stanford and the pros.
Ripon: This little Wisconsin school of 545 students had one of the best teams, man for man, in the country last year. Next to Denison, the Redmen totaled more yards than any other small-college team in the land and wound up with an undefeated season. They have an adequate first team this season despite the loss of 11 lettermen, including all-Midwest Conference Quarterback Pete Mattiacci. Dave Smith, an outstanding fullback, will make Ripon run. Coach John Storzer's other big asset is Little All-America End Pete Kasson.
Kansas Wesleyan: The Coyotes captured the Kansas College Athletic Conference crown for the second year in a row and defy anybody to take it away from them, regardless of the loss of seven starters. Bill Austin or perhaps a freshman will lead an all-veteran squad that features a powerful and deceptive running attack. Halfback Ken Mulch and Fullback Maynard Kline will give the offense momentum. If Coach Gene Bissell's team is weak anywhere, it will be in the passing department.
Luther: Luther plays in a tough little circle called the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and will be the team to beat this year. The Norsemen have an impressive record of football achievement despite the lack of athletic scholarships. It was tops in the conference in 1954 and '57, placed second in 1955 and '56 and for seven straight years has had at least one man named to a Little All-America squad. Coach Edsel Schweizer lost Tackle Bruce Hartman to the San Francisco 49ers. But his returnees include Fullback Brad Hustad, the first sophomore ever to capture small-college ball-carrying honors. His total of 1,401 yards was the third-best on record.