Exhibit a in the case for a playoff system in Division I-A football is the 1989 Division II playoff bracket. Mississippi College wasn't even expecting a bid when it was selected to make its second appearance in 10 years in the 16-team tournament. The Choctaws were the last team chosen, after they finished second in the Gulf South Conference. But when the flurries cleared at the end of the snowy championship game in Florence, Ala., Mississippi College had a field goal, Gulf South rival Jacksonville State had nothing, and perennial Division II powers Portland State and North Dakota State had egg on their faces after being eliminated in the quarterfinals.
Mississippi College is strong again this season. Quarterback Russ Purvis, who has been waiting patiently for two years, is expected to win the job now that Wally Henry has departed, and Robert Taylor gives the team experience at fullback. Senior flanker Nathaniel Bolton (62 receptions, including 13 in the '89 playoffs) returns as one of the nation's most potent offensive weapons. Two-platoon football was a way of life in the Bolton household in McLain, Miss., where Nathaniel was one of 20 children. Well, someone had to play both ways.
North Dakota State's elimination in the 1989 quarterfinals was a shock, considering that the Bison had appeared in the title game in five of the previous six years, winning four championship rings. Look for NDSU to rebound ASAP. Only six of last year's starting Bison are gone. Returning to the offensive backfield are two candidates for the Harlon Hill Award, given to the division's most valuable player. Quarterback Chris Simdorn and tailback Tony Satter, both seniors, are a pair of great reasons to run the option. Each rushed for more than 1,000 yards last year, and each has a shot at the Bison career rushing record. Satter is equally dangerous on kickoff returns; he broke through the wedge in 1989 for an average of 31.3 yards during the regular season, second best in the country. Coach Rocky Hager's swarming defense is led by senior Phil Hansen, a 6'5", 258-pound defensive tackle with a linebacker's feet, who piled up 17 sacks last season.
The Bison will face another title contender in their season opener against Indiana (Pa.) University on Sept. 1. The showdown may be the high point of the regular season; Indiana was another upstart in '89, charging into the final four. The passing tandem of quarterback Tony Aliucci and receiver Andrew Hill, who hooked up 40 times during the regular '89 season, returns, but Hill's patterns may have to be a bit shorter because Indiana must replace three mainstays on its offensive line.
The home fans are more than just the 12th man at Portland (Ore.) State; they're also amateur offensive coordinators. As a promotional gambit, coach Pokey Allen allows the fans to call some of the Vikings' plays, and if the school's recent fortunes are a barometer, there are some pretty fair bleacher quarterbacks in Portland. Last season, in the second series of the Vikings' first game, Allen allowed the fans to call either a run or a pass by holding up placards, and he'll repeat that gimmick at some point in '90. In addition, a contest will be held each week in which Allen will select one play from among those submitted by amateur coaches. Fortunately, Allen and the fans have good material to work with, especially senior quarterback Dennis Del'Andrae, who many think is the best player in Division II. Del'Andrae is only 5'11", but he found his receivers for more than 3,000 yards last season, carrying on the Viking throwing tradition of Neil Lomax and June Jones. One of the few players in the huddle who looks up to Del'Andrae is tailback Curtis Delgardo, who makes up for his 5'5", 175-pound frame with 4.5 speed and Astaire-like moves.
UC Davis is the only Division II titan ever to make the playoffs that doesn't offer scholarships to its football players. Why bother, when you've won the Northern California Athletic Conference title every year for the past 19? Senior quarterback Jeff Bridewell, who threw for almost 2,500 yards last season, should get the Aggies to 20. Junior defensive tackle Mike Shepard is responsible for more losses than a bad stockbroker.
At Texas A&I, things just won't be the same without Johnny Bailey. The Javelinas must replace the tailback who won three straight Harlon Hill awards, rushed for 6,320 career yards and set 102 NCAA, conference and school records. Senior Dennis Clay, whose perfectly respectable '89 season—656 rushing yards on 136 carries for a 4.8-yard average—was far overshadowed by Bailey's, will get the chance to prove that the Javelinas were more than just a one-man team.