Occasionally, from his vantage point in Row ZZ about 12 blocks up, and away from the distant field, the average fan of a major university team will lower his binoculars to rest his eyes. Encompassing him will be the thunder of a crowd that is only half the size of the population of Monaco and stretches around a stadium that cost twice as much as the gross national products of Ethiopia, Ghana and Nicaragua combined. Although he is proud of the prosperous industry that football has become at his university, the fan may allow himself a momentary daydream. The place of his dream is named something gentle like Wistaria College, and it sits at the edge of a village hemmed by corn and oats. There, the quarterback greets even homely girls by name, the coach runs a root-beer stand in the summer and the split end is the janitor's son. Ah, Wistaria, where simplicity reigns and serenity is the scene.
There is still a trace of Wistaria football to be found in America, and if there is none of it in such technically "small college" giants as San Diego State, read on anyway to discover Goose Guice and to check the prospects of some teams that at least offer the illusion of sport at pasture's edge.
SAN DIEGO STATE
Here is what can happen when a sprig of shy Wistaria is transplanted to the fecund climate of California. When San Diego State first took seed in 1897 there were 115 students on a cozy, sunny little campus up on Montezuma Mesa. The sun is there still, but the coziness is gone, for SDS has exploded into a sprawling urban scene. It has 21,000 students, 1,600 faculty members, the football team plays in 52,000-seat San Diego Stadium and seldom do fewer than 40,000 attend the games. Indeed, San Diego State is on the brink of declaring to the NCAA that it wants a major-league university-division standing. And it's about time the NCAA said yes, for finding San Diego listed in the NCAA Guide back there with Sul Ross State and Ouachita Baptist is humiliating for all.
Although SDS had its 25-game victory streak broken last year in a 31-25 loss to big-time Utah State, it consistently grinds to shreds some of the country's good little teams. For the last two years it has won the national small-college championship, and this year may be more of the same, because San Diego has an excellent team again. For one thing, Coach Don Coryell has come up with an outstanding junior-college transfer, Halfback Harry Benjamin, who last year broke O. J. Simpson's JC rushing record with 1,372 yards in 204 carries. Back from last season are Fullback Lloyd Edwards, who gained 442 yards for a 6.2 average, and speedy Tailback Mac Dillingham, who gained 366 yards and scored 42 points. Another JC transfer, Dennis Shaw, could be the Aztecs' best quarterback, but Coryell still has Thom Williams, who completed 57% of his passes for 945 yards, and Joe Turpen, who scrambled for 11 touchdowns from the quarterback spot.
The middle of the Aztec offensive line is not overly impressive although Guard Paul Daniels offers a good anchor, and the defense will require some transfusions, but it has a sound nucleus in Linebackers Jeff Lancaster and Doug Fisher, Cornerback Nate Wright, Tackle Dick Weber and End Fred Dryer.
Already the talk on Montezuma Mesa is of another national title. If a championship is not forthcoming, the reason will probably be the Aztecs' schedule, which now includes three university-division teams, San Jose, Southern Mississippi and Utah State. San Diego may not emerge unbeaten from that competition, but it certainly won't wind up as a trampled scrap of Wistaria either.
A picturesque little Lutheran school set on an oval knoll in Springfield, Ohio, Wittenberg is so archetypical of the ideal small college that the USIA used it for a movie about American education. Certainly it has all the elements that Hollywood might demand for a scene of collegiate tradition—Gothic-Midwestern architecture, a Kissing Bridge, freshmen noses painted green each, fall, a surplus of yummy coeds and a perpetually cherished trophy, a stained Indian skull dug up from the football field of its oldest rival, Ohio Wesleyan. It even has a Mighty Mentor of Manly Sports in Bill Edwards, the only man to be twice awarded the title of Small College Coach of the Year.
However, even in such a set piece of Americana, things change. For instance, Bill Edwards began talking about retirement a couple of years ago but, as he puts it, "I bought a new car and I couldn't afford to quit then." Now rumors of Edwards' retirement are around again, but so are rumors that he has been seen at a local auto agency.
So powerful have Edwards' teams been in the 14-team Ohio Conference that only five conference members are willing to schedule Wittenberg. During the past eight years no one in college football has matched Edwards' 63-6-1 record, which included a 30-game winning streak between 1962 and 1965. To be sure, Wittenberg has its problems this year. The league's top quarterback is gone, along with a receiver known as the Living End and several fine backs. But Bill Edwards is all smiles.
Quarterback problems? Rocky Alt appeared only briefly last year, yet hit 17 of 33 passes for 303 yards and five touchdowns. Fine backs missing? In 1967 Fullback Jim Justice rushed for 438 yards, 300 of them in the last three games. No Living End? Maybe not, but Split End Ray Ward is far from dead. Beyond that, the offensive line will be the biggest in years (though averaging only 205 pounds). As for the defense, End Jim Feltz, Linebacker Bruce Borland and Middle Guard Tim Hunter are back from a unit that ranked ninth in the nation last year by holding its opponents to 166 yards per game.
"What is Eastern Kentucky?" Well, Eastern Kentucky is a 220-pound guard named Fred Troike who paints abstract art, sleeps on the floor and likes to report for practice wearing nothing but coveralls and a cowboy hat. Eastern Kentucky is Ron Reed, a 205-pound linebacker who has led the team in tackles for two years and, like 10 of the team's 22 best players, got his start by one day wandering into Coach Roy Kidd's office and politely asking permission to try out for football. Eastern Kentucky is Teddy Taylor, a 195-pound middle guard who once lived in cabins with dirt floors but now lives in enemy backfields. In last year's Grantland Rice Bowl game he stole a Ball State handoff and ran 39 yards for a touchdown. It is also a linebacker named Paul Hampton from Belfry, Ky., who leads a ringing locker-room chorus of Cabin on the Hill after every victory. And it is John (Twiggy) Tazel, a 6', 165-pound flanker who grabbed 11 passes in that Rice Bowl game.
But mostly, Eastern Kentucky is the arm of one Jim (Goose) Guice, an invaluable quarterback whom Colonel blockers protect with zeal. "Jim isn't the kind who throws every time, so he doesn't get as much recognition as some others," Coach Kidd apologizes. Who is Kidd kidding? The golden Guice has been honorable-mention Little All-America twice and he has passed for two miles at a completion rate of 54.2%.
Eastern Kentucky had not really heard of Guice until the first game of his first year. He was sent in as a fourth-quarter desperation substitution with Eastern trailing Austin Peay 21-7. In that one quarter he completed 10 passes for 162 yards, three touchdowns and a stimulating 35-30 Eastern Kentucky victory.
So that's what Eastern Kentucky is, a tatterdemalion of walk-ons and country boys who leaped from a 2-8 record in 1963 to 8-1-2 last year. It's nobody at all. Just a team that lost only three players from 1967. Just a team that the folks around Richmond, Ky. are betting on for a small college championship. Just a team that is silly as a Guice.
NORTH DAKOTA STATE
There is nothing out-of-date in Fargo these days, at least not on the campus of North Dakota State. The girls have no dormitory curfews, and there are plenty of antiwar protests to make headlines in the Fargo Forum. No, no one is far ahead of North Dakota State except in one way. The school has been outprogressed by that celebrated non-small college, San Diego State. In 1966, the Bison of NDS were unbeaten until they played the Aztecs and were ritually slaughtered 36-0. Last year they wisely did not schedule SDS. They outscored their opposition 353-98, led the nation in rushing with 299.6 yards a game, wound up 9-0 for the season and still finished second to San Diego in the rankings.
But now NDS has a chance for a timely move. Again it does not play San Diego, and, given the toughness of the Aztecs' schedule, there are hopes for No. 1 in North Dakota. Back from '67 is a splendid crew of veterans. On offense is Halfback Tim Mjos (pronounced Muss), who rushed for 945 yards and 13 touchdowns, Fullback Jack Hagen, who picked up 553 yards in total offense, and Halfback Paul Hatchett, who averaged 6.3 yards for 46 carries. Quarterback Terry Hanson is gone, but Bison Coach Ron Erhardt feels either Bruce Grasamke or Joe Cichy will do. The defense is wicked-looking, too, particularly with gigantic Mike Berdis, 6'5", 290 pounds, and Terry Nowinsky, 235, at the tackles. Safety Del Gehrett, who intercepted five passes and returned three for touchdowns, also returns. And best of them all will be 235-pound Jim Ferge, who might make Little All-America at defensive end, or middle guard, or linebacker, or...well, anywhere, that might raise NDS over SDS.
Out in the powdered clay dust of north central Louisiana, in one of the three all-Negro towns in America, Coach Eddie G. Robinson of Grambling College is at work, as usual, building professional football players. Already he has sent nearly 50 men into the armies of the AFL and NFL, but this year he may have something new to offer—the first really for-sure Negro pro quarterback. His name is James Harris. He stands 6'4", weighs 210 pounds and passed last season for 1,346 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Grambling has the talent to match last season's 9-1 effort. Flanker Charlie Joiner, who caught 36 Harris passes, is back, along with Fullback Henry Jones and Tackle Richard Lee, who is a mere 6'4" and 265 pounds, which is not outsize for Grambling linemen. Eddie Robinson has always joked that he does not have uniforms to fit men under 250. Some joke. Grambling's best defensive guard this year is John Gee at 265, and the tackles are Clifford Gasper, a 285-pounder, and a still-growing sophomore named Bennie Taylor who is 6'8" and tips—or crushes—the scales at 325. George Muse, a 220-pound linebacker, is a comparative midget, but he may be the best.
In an average year Grambling competes before a total of 75,000 fans. But on September 28 it will nearly equal a whole season's draw when it meets Morgan State, which is defending a 26-game win streak, in 67,000-seat Yankee Stadium. That day alone will make this a big year for Grambling.
...AND THE REST
When some 500 small colleges play in 66 leagues of widely divergent strength, there is little basis for real comparison—even after a season. But here are a few that should rate among the best come December.
Morgan State, with its big date in Yankee Stadium, will defend its undefeated streak with veteran Halfback John Fuqua—one of the CIAA's finest—and untested Quarterback Charles Harrison. Texas at Arlington, which was 10-1 in '67, has 15 starters back, including Quarterback Mike Baylor, who gained 1,561 yards. Northeast Louisiana's Coach Dixie White used to say, "We'll be gracious in defeat and humble in victory. We have been gracious." After two 7-3 seasons, Dixie expects a real humbling year. Ball State of Indiana will again be led by Halfback Amos VanPelt, who got 1,638 yards and 116 points in two years, and that alone is enough to make the Cardinals dangerous. Lamar Tech, Tennessee State, North Dakota University and Prairie View also warrant attention.
Tiny Fairmont State, deep in the West Virginia hills, Waynesburg College, a Presbyterian school in Pennsylvania's mining country, and Eastern Washington are the best of the NAIA, which is made up of schools that play football consistently in the Wistaria mold. Fairmont's excellent quarterback offense could give Harold Duvall an unbeaten season. The major obstacle is Waynesburg, which has Joe Righetti, a 270-lb. All-NAIA middle guard. Eastern Washington's star is Quarterback Bill Diedrick, who has thrown for 1,995 yards and 25 touchdowns. Diedrick symbolizes the heroes of Wistarias everywhere. Says Coach Brent Wooten: "When scouts ask about Bill, and a lot have, we tell them he's the best 5'7" prospect in the world." And he is.