Because it is a I-AA independent from the South, William and Mary has heard more than enough about Georgia Southern, the two-time defending national champion and winner of four of the past six I-AA crowns. "We wanted to play them so badly last year, we could taste it. But we didn't get the job done," says the Tribe's quarterback, Chris Hakel, a 6'3", 230-pound drop-back passer, who threw for 3, 414 yards in '90. The Tribe's season ended a game short of that matchup when the team was upset by Central Florida in the playoffs. William and Mary appears poised to return to the playoffs, and Georgia Southern, even though it has replaced three quarters of its starting backfield, can yet again be penciled into the postseason bracket.
Georgia Southern is the quintessential I-AA program, and its admirers aren't limited to the Southeast. Idaho wide receiver Kasey Dunn, who led the division in receptions (88), catches per game (eight), receiving yards (1,164) and receiving yards per game (105.8), says, "We've got to be more like Georgia Southern and set our sights on the national championship. We don't want to look past anyone, but another Big Sky championship won't be that big a deal." True enough. The Vandals have won three of the last four Big Sky titles.
Holy Cross can also look right past its conference docket. The Crusaders, who have lost five games in the past five years, have won four of the last five Patriot League titles, and with quarterback Tom Ciaccio (a 62% passer for his career) back for his senior season, they'll breeze through the Patsies once again. Ohio Valley Conference co-champion Eastern Kentucky rolled over Georgia Southern and Central Florida en route to a 10-0 start last season. Then the Colonels dropped their final regular-season game to Morehead State and lost to Furman in the opening round of the playoffs. Eastern Kentucky coach Roy Kidd has two potential 1,000-yard backs in Tim Lester and Markus Thomas. Furman will once again shake off the rest of the Southern Conference behind junior back Carl Tremble, who averaged 122 yards per game last season, and a front that features four returning starters.
The door could swing open in the Gateway Conference for Bob Spoo's team at Eastern Illinois. If the Panthers can find someone to hand the ball to 160-pound scatback Jamie Jones, their experienced offensive line should carry them to a second league crown in five years.
Stephen F. Austin State will yo-yo its way back to the top of the Southland Conference. The Lumberjacks lost in the championship game two years ago, then tumbled to a 1-10 record last season. The lone win came on quarterback Mike Goddard's 314-yard passing effort, but after the game he was declared academically ineligible for the rest of the season. Goddard now has his credits in line, which is bad news for the rest of the Southland.
The Southwestern Athletic Conference title should go to Eddie Robinson's Alabama State. No, college football's alltime winningest coach hasn't left Grambling; this is linebacker Eddie Robinson, the top defensive player in I-AA. "I wonder how I missed him," says Coach Robinson. "I know his father." Bill Hayes's North Carolina A&T squad is hungry. But the question is whether Hayes will be able to keep his three 300-pound defensive linemen fed. The Aggies have all but one starter on defense returning, and they've got the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference's top quarterback in Connell Maynor.
If New Hampshire doesn't fold down the stretch again, it will win the Yankee Conference. The veteran offense features running back Barry Bourassa, the I-AA leader in all-purpose yardage and scoring. Dartmouth will nose out Cornell for the Ivy title. Dartmouth is a defense-oriented, ball-control club that could simply wear out the rest of the Ancient Eight.