And then there are the smalls. To urbanites, big-school alums and Saturday afternoon TV watchers, they are as confounding as a Chinese menu—a lot of A&Ms and A&Is that don't seem to mean much. But to folks around Lorman, Miss. and Kingsville, Texas and the National Football League they mean plenty. Nearly a third of the players drafted into the pros this year come from the so-called small colleges. And if you think every last soul in the state of Ohio worships King Woody's Buckeyes, you're wrong. Around Springfield, home of Wittenberg University, NCAA Division III champs two of the last three years, they think Griffin is a shoe polish. In the wilderness of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, they don't know from Tony Dorsett. Their man is Michigan Tech's Jim Van Wagner, the winner of two Division II rushing titles, who has a chance to become the best runner in small-college history. Never heard of him? VanWagner doesn't care. "They respect me in Houghton and Hancock," he says, "and that's nice." That's the smalls.
This is also the smalls: a team that had gone 0-10 in 1974 went 13-1 in 1975 and won the Division II championship. In the big time, where only success can breed success, an 0-10 team can struggle for years before having a winning season. But Northern Michigan Coach Gil Krueger used eight freshmen in 1974 (his first year) to prepare for the turnaround. In 1975, the Wildcats lost only once in the regular season, then beat Western Kentucky 16-14 in the Camellia Bowl for the championship. Quarterback Steve Mariucci is back, along with Halfback Randy Awrey, who gained 627 yards after becoming a starter at midseason, and Wide Receiver Maurice Mitchell, who excited Green Bay Packers coaches last summer.
The only thing small about Grambling is its enrollment of 3,571. Besides having more of its people in pro football than any other school, the Tigers this year boast the nation's most exotic schedule. They will play in Tokyo (Morgan State), in Honolulu (Hawaii) and in three domed stadiums. The Tigers were 10-2 last year, but one of the losses was a result of the overzealous scheduling of little Prairie View and big Oregon State on the same day. Grambling chose to play Oregon State and won 19-12, taking a forfeit loss to Prairie View. Returning Quarterback Doug Williams threw 23 touchdowns, eclipsing Terry Bradshaw's Louisiana state record, and the defense is led by Cornerback Michael Harris (10 interceptions). Jet lag will be the main foe until the Tigers meet archrival Jackson State, which handed them their only legitimate 1975 loss.
Something very strange happened in Newark, Del. last year. The Blue Hens of Delaware failed to capture the Lambert Cup, symbolic of middle-sized college supremacy in the East, for the first time since 1967, and Coach Tubby Raymond's team turned in an embarrassing (for it) 8-3 record. In this "Blue-Hentennial Year" (cackle, cackle), Raymond has five experienced running backs led by Craig Carroll, and a seasoned line, but must replace Quarterback Bill Zwaan and Fullback Nate Beasley. Likely candidates are Ben Belicic and Greg Terry, respectively. A schedule that includes six Division I teams is the Hens' toughest ever. Two other teams to watch are Lehigh and South Carolina State, with 19 starters back from the nation's best defensive team (2.9 points per game).
Tennessee Tech went 6-1 in the Ohio Valley Conference last year, but the "1" was Western Kentucky, which went to the Division II finals while Tech stayed home. A reversal may be in order. OVC Coach of the Year Don Wade lost only one starter from his offense, and All-OVC Quarterback Gary Perdue returns to run it. Offensive Tackle Ed Burns (6'5", 240) will be starting for the fourth year.
Livingston (Ala.) University was second in the Gulf South Conference but was invited to the Division II playoffs ahead of champion Nicholls State ("They hate us for that," says Coach Jim King). In the first round at Grand Forks, N. Dak. most of the Livingston players saw something new—snow—and they must have liked it, for they beat North Dakota. Quarterbacks Ricky Seale and Willie Slater will take turns running the Tigers' no-huddle offense, which stars Halfback Jackie O'Neal. The defense is anchored by Tackle Perry Scoggins, who left Livingston in 1973, played two years at Auburn and returned, and All-America Safety Stanley King. North Dakota, with All-America Fullback Bill Deutsch, should be in contention again.
In the NAIA, Texas A&I may be the surest bet in college football. The Javelinas, led by Quarterback Rich Ritchie and Running Back Larry Collins (over 1,000 yards in each of his two years), take a 26-game winning streak into 1976. If there is a spoiler it will be Alcorn State, Henderson State or Jackson State. Alcorn's defense allowed only 15.9 yards a game on the ground, yet lost three games. The front four goes 260, 280, 236 and 286, and the secondary returns intact. Henderson has 16 starters from a 12-1 team; Tailbacks Joe Smith and Curtis Jones each has a 1,000-yard rushing season. Jackson State, with four superior runners (best is Ricky Patton), could beat Alcorn in the brutal Southwest Athletic Conference.
In NCAA Division III, the smallest of the smalls, coaches quake at the mention of that Ohio powerhouse, Wittenberg. Dave Maurer, who has the best winning percentage among the nation's college coaches, won his second national title last year with a 28-0 defeat of Ithaca, and the Tigers had their 21st consecutive winning season, best among all colleges. There are Division III contenders all over: Millsaps, Colorado College, Williams and Widener are but a few. Such is the beauty of the smalls. Like Wittenberg, they can get big mighty fast.
The scouting reports on the Top 20 teams, the conferences, the independents and the small colleges were prepared by Joe Jares, Edwin Shrake, Larry Keith, Douglas S. Looney, Joe Marshall, Kent Hannon, Mike Del-Nagro and John Papanek.