This is the NCAA's version of the Not-Ready-for-Prime-Time Players. There are now 46 teams in Division I-AA, up from 39 last year, and enthusiasm is growing right along with the numbers. "It's been an outstanding opportunity for us in particular," says Donald Combs, athletic director of champion Eastern Kentucky University. After an 11-2 season, the Colonels won the I-AA title with a 30-7 defeat of Lehigh last December and, says Combs, "our exposure has gone up dramatically."
With good reason. Eastern Kentucky won an uphill battle to gain the top spot. The Colonels' two regular-season losses had put them behind Murray (Ky.) State in the Ohio Valley Conference standings, but when Grambling State (8-3) was upset by Southern 14-7 in the final week of the season, Eastern Kentucky was selected for the four-team playoffs. Then in the semifinal game, EKU and Nevada-Reno were tied before a field goal won it for the Colonels, 33-30 in double overtime.
This year, 33 lettermen are back to defend the crown, including Fullback Dale Patton and Tailback Alvin Miller, who combined for 1,506 yards and 18 touchdowns. But only four starters return to the defense, and if that isn't enough to worry Coach Roy Kidd, he must also break in a new quarterback.
Murray State (9-2-1), which lost to Lehigh 28-9 in the other semifinal, is a good bet to race back to the playoffs. The Thoroughbreds have 20 returning starters, the best of whom may be All-America Safety Terry Love. This could be bad news for other Ohio Valley contenders, Austin Peay (Tenn.) State (7-4 in '79) and Western Kentucky (5-5). Lehigh (10-3), the Division I-AA runner-up, should have another winner for Coach-of-the-Year John Whitehead. Returning to the defense are seven starters who allowed an average of just 7.2 points per game, most notably secondary mainstays Lou D'Annibal, Charley Marck and Keith Conley.
Last year's Division II champion, Delaware (13-1), moves up to I-AA this fall, and should be an immediate contender. In their three playoff games, the Blue Hens scored 156 points while giving up 59. Quarterback Scott Brunner was drafted by the New York Giants, but the Hens, with junior Rick Scully taking the snaps, have plenty left. Boston University (8-1-1) will once again be top dog in the Yankee Conference (11th-ranked passer Jim Jensen calls signals for the Terriers) especially since rival Massachusetts (6-4) will be without Quarterback Mike McEvilly.
After two straight years in the playoffs, Nevada-Reno (8-4) comes back as strong as ever. Fullback Frank Hawkins, who led the division with 1,683 yards rushing, is back, as are 10 starters on defense. All this plus a new mascot, an Arctic wolf named Sazar.
Boise State (10-1) is off its one-year probation and on a 10-game winning streak. The Broncos have all but two starters back to help All-Conference Defensive End Ralph Esposito, and eight Broncos return to the second-ranked offense, led by Joe Aliotti, the division's most efficient passer (65.75% for 1,870 yards). Tailback Cedric Minter ran for 1,012 yards in '79.
Impressive enough, but the Broncos' independent neighbor, Portland State (6-5), is due for a change of luck. Of 377 points scored by the Vikings and 271 by their opponents, a total of only 12 points separated Portland from a perfect season. If senior Quarterback Neil Lomax can't make up for an over-generous defense, nobody can. He has thrown 1,133 passes and connected on 642 (56.7%) for 9,188 yards, and his receivers are outstanding: Stuart Gaussoin (90 catches), Clint Didier (51) and Fullback Joel Siegel (47), also the I-AA scoring leader with 16 touchdowns.
Alcorn (Miss.) State (8-2) of the Southwestern Conference was tops in defense, giving up only 166.4 yards per game. The Braves' offense, however, ranked 38th out of the 39. In 1980, it promises to be just as rank. However, Alcorn's so-called "Tunnel Defense," which allegedly allows no daylight, has 10 members back, including Safety Leslie Frazier, whose 10 interceptions led the division.
With Delaware now in Division I-AA, crowing rights in Division II should belong to Youngstown (Ohio) State, which was 11-1 before losing to Delaware 38-21 in the championship game in Albuquerque. The Penguins have a tough schedule and have lost 13 first-stringers, but Tailback Robby Robson, who gained 1,489 yards and led the division with 20 touchdowns, is returning, and 110 hopefuls showed up at spring practice to keep him company.
To earn its third straight playoff berth, Youngstown will have to hold off those cats from Eastern Illinois and Northern Michigan. Eastern's Panthers (7-4) will be playing without Chris (Poke) Cobb, who set the small-college career rushing record of 5,042 yards after averaging 146.3 yards a game last year. However, Northern Michigan's Wildcats (4-6) are counting on Quarterback Phil Kessel and receivers Scott Sible and Mark Marana. Kessel was the Division II leader in total offense (2,164 yards) last season.
Morgan State (9-2) made the playoffs in Coach Clarence Thomas' second season, and should do it again. Sophomore Quarterback Darrell Coulter will again be at the helm along with the mainstays of the "Quiet Storm" defense, safeties Vaughn Dennis and Mark Young.
Virginia Union (10-2) and Mississippi College (10-3) both suffered playoff losses to Delaware—58-28 and 60-10 respectively. The Panthers, who led Division II in defense (allowing 138.3 yards and 6.1 points per game), are rebuilding, but Mississippi should make the championship finals, with Quarterback Wade Pharis returning to lead the Choc-taws offense and all but two first stringers back on defense.
At St. Joseph's College (8-2) 18 starters return, and the Mike Houston-to-Gus Pasquini/John Geske pass-catch team is intact. Between them, the two receivers had 80 catches in 79. Coach Al Jacks of Clarion (Pa.) State (9-1) faces his biggest rebuilding task in 18 years as coach.
Springfield College (8-2) and Towson State (9-1) will be strong in the East, while UC-Davis, after a 6-3-1 showing, also has some rebuilding to do to keep up with Santa Clara in the West. The Broncos (6-3) have the division's top-rated passer, Dave Alfaro, who completed 110 of 168 passes for 1,721 yards, and he has 18 of his teammates back.
Two years ago Ithaca (N.Y.) College lost its Division III semifinal playoff game to Wittenberg (Ohio) 6-3. Last December the Bombers (11-2) retaliated in the championship game, defeating Wittenberg 14-10, and this season Ithaca should hold the spotlight on the strength of its defense, headed by All-East tackles Jimmy Hoffman and Carl Guidotti. The Tigers (11-1), having lost all 11 starters from the I-formation offense, won't be quite as lucky.
A better bet for the finals is Ohio Conference rival Denison (7-2). The Big Red boasts Division III's leader in both rushing and total offense. He is single-wing Tailback Clay Sampson, now a senior, who amassed 2,255 yards—1,517 rushing and 738 passing. And hot behind Denison comes Baldwin-Wallace (8-2) which expects 33 lettermen to return to the playoffs.
In the Middle-Atlantic Conference, Widener (10-1), loser to Wittenberg in a semifinal playoff, could be topped by either Franklin & Marshall (7-2), which features seventh-ranked Quarterback Rob Shepardson, or Lycoming (Pa.) College (8-1-1), whose Rick Burd ranked eleventh among quarterbacks and was the conference MVP in '79.
While Carnegie-Mellon (10-1) faces a down year, the University of Dubuque (9-1), which had won nine straight before losing to Ithaca in the playoffs, should be improved. The Spartans' defense features All-America Tackle Gene Rowell.
The strength of the NAIA Division I is in the Lone Star Conference, the home of the national champ for 10 of the last 11 years. In 1979, Texas A&I had resigned itself to regrouping under a new coach, Ron Harms. Instead, the Javelinas (12-1) won the NAIA title, defeating Central (Okla.) State 20-14 in the Palm Bowl in McAllen, Tex. It was A&I's seventh national championship, and with a defense, featuring Cornerback Emmanuel Thompson, it is strong enough to make a bid for another. But the Javelinas will have to fend off improved conference rivals Angelo (Tex.) State (9-3) and Stephen F. Austin (8-3).
Central State (11-2) will again feature Quarterback Scott Burger, who also kicks off, punts, and returns kicks. In the same backfield is Running Back Steve Tate, an All-America who has rushed for 3,561 career yards.
After winning its first postseason berth ever, Presbyterian (S.C.) (11-2) now has defensive holes to fill, but Quarterback Jimmy Spence and a settled offense should be able to stave off Mars Hill (7-2-1) and its All-America safety, Steve Campbell, for the South Atlantic Conference title.
Fairmont (W.Va.) State (9-1-1) had the top defense in the NAIA (allowing an average 6.7 points per game), and has 44 lettermen back. Kearney State (8-2) has only nine returning starters, but they include Quarterback Dan Carstens and Tailback Dan Boomhower, whose rushing (828 yards last year) will help aim the Antelopes at the Palm Bowl.
The NAIA Division II defending champion is Findlay (Ohio) College (10-1-1), which defeated Northwestern (Iowa) 51-6 in the championship game. One reason for Findlay's success is Fullback Nelson Bolden, who had 1,300 yards and 23 touchdowns last year. The Oilers' toughest competition figures to come from inside its own Hoosier-Buckeye Conference, where Hanover (Ind.) (7-2), Anderson (7-2), and Wilmington (Ind.) (5-4) have improved.
Northwestern (10-2), however, will have trouble avenging its loss in the finals. The Red Raiders have 15 starters back, but lost two defensive All-Americas (Dennis Peters and Blaine Duistermars) as well as Quarterback Galen Kaemingk.
Bethany (Kans.) will have similar problems. The Swedes (11-1), who lost to Northwestern in postseason play, have the longest regular-season unbeaten streak (29 games) in the country, but must replace All-America Quarterback Mark Eggers and 12 other starters. Pacific Lutheran (9-2) is set with 16 first-teamers, including All-America Defensive Back Scott Kessler. Coach John Gagliardi, who has a 173-59-6 record in 27 years as head coach at St. John's (Minn.) (7-2), will be coaching his son, John Jr., a quarterback who should be instrumental in the Johnnies' bid to keep up with St. Olaf (7-3), Concordia (7-3) and St. Thomas (6-3).
The scouting reports—Top 20, Five to Watch, Best of the Rest and Small Colleges—were written by Joe Marshall, Mike DelNagro and Brooks Clark.