NORTH DAKOTA STATE
After chasing San Diego State (which last summer was ruled a major school) for two years, North Dakota State finally edged the Aztecs as the top small college team in the country in 1968. The margin, however, was about as thin as a chin strap, for while Dakota was going unbeaten in 10 games—including a 23-14 win over Arkansas State in the Pecan Bowl—the Aztecs were stumbling ever so slightly (in a 13-13 tie with Tennessee State) to finish 9-0-1.
This year, without San Diego to contend with, it is unlikely that Dakota will fail to repeat as small college champion. The Bison are minus 18 lettermen from that bowl team, but this can hardly be termed disastrous when 31 are returning. Coach Ron Erhardt's only problem will be shoring up a defense that has lost several players, for the Bison attack should look like a stampede. Little All-America Halfback Paul Hatchett leads the way. In 1968 he raced for 1,213 yards and 19 touchdowns (including five in one game). Bruce Grasamke, the spunky leader who piled up 1,080 yards in total offense, returns at quarterback, and Halfback Tim Mjos (say Mewss) should be in for a big year. Split End Chuck Wald is the best wide receiver the Bison have ever had (he caught 47 passes for 561 yards and five TDs), and Tight End Les Nicholas is a devastating blocker.
Erhardt, who is 27-3 in three years at Fargo, is the cautious type. "We aren't talking about just replacing seniors," he argues. "We're talking about replacing outstanding seniors, six of whom signed with the pros." Look for the Bison to replace those seniors, just as they have done for the past three years, and win their second straight small college title.
INDIANA OF PENNSYLVANIA
It's getting so that Indiana University of Pennsylvania will soon have only itself to blame for occasionally being confused with that "other" Indiana you know, the one from the Big whatever it is. Last year—just one season after Johnny Pont's Hoosiers lost a toughie to O.J. in the Rose Bowl—here was IU of Pa. dropping a 31-24 heartbreaker to favored Delaware in Atlantic City's Boardwalk Bowl. Before that, the Big Indians had swept through a nine-game schedule without a loss, stretching Coach Chuck Klausing's five-year record to 39-5.
This year should be more good times. "True, we lost 20 players," Klausing says, "but if I had to handpick the seven or eight I need most, they're among those coming back—players like Dave Smith [flanker], Walter Blucas [quarterback] and Tom McCracken [fullback]."
Indeed, as long as Smith is sound—and Blucas has time to get the ball to him—IUP is going to score. "Smith is our superstar," says Klausing. "He can do anything." Apparently he can, too, for no sooner had the whistle blown in the tough loss to Delaware than Smith was in a car headed for Beaver Falls, Pa., where at 8:30 that night he was in IUP's basketball lineup against Geneva College.
Speaking of Beaver Falls, don't look for Blucas to be a Namath or a Hanratty. Still, he has shown he is a winner—a quality that may have nearby Pitt, a perennial loser, wishing it had grabbed Blucas when it had the chance.
NEW MEXICO HIGHLANDS
Even back in the 1800s things were rarely placid in and around Las Vegas, N. Mex. It seemed there was always something—from a shoot-out to a fistfight—to liven up the town. Just like its fabled namesake today, Las Vegas then was big-time when it came to local entertainment—from Black Jack Ketchum and Rattlesnake Sam to Little Jack the Cutter and not only one, but two Billy the Kids. Las Vegas' reputation for virility even reached Teddy Roosevelt, who recruited a few of its hardy souls for his Rough Rider regiment.
Now Las Vegas people have become more enchanted with football than they ever were with gunplay, for last year New Mexico Highlands—that unimposing little liberal arts school out on University Avenue—didn't lose a game all year and wound up fourth in the nation. To make things even more exciting, the Cowboys ran up 533 points to the opposition's 53.
This year Highlands should be just as good, although the margin of victory may be somewhat less until sophomore Quarterback Steve Pruitt gains some experience. "The defense gave us great field position last year," says Coach John Levra. "I expect it to do it again. We don't expect to win by quick-kicking."
The only player the Cowboys will really miss is Halfback Carl Garrett, who was drafted early by the Boston Patriots, but 23 lettermen—including six stars of that proud defense—are back. David Graham, a 260-pound tackle, is a definite pro prospect and he'll have a lot of help from Linebacker John (Pocahontas) Smith and Halfback McKinney Evans. All Pruitt has to do is throw the ball in the general direction of Larry Kelly, a speedy flanker who is as popular on campus as he is talented. "Yeah," says Levra, "Larry's a real Coke 'n' jokin' type."
When the Wilkes College Colonels of Wilkes-Barre, Pa. trot onto the field against Lycoming on Sept. 27, they will be putting the nation's longest winning streak on the line. Since 1965 the Colonels have won 29 straight games. Last year they once again won the Lambert Bowl, which is given annually to the best small college team in the East.
Defense is the secret at Wilkes (the Colonels have posted 10 shutouts and given up seven points only 11 times during the streak), and this year, with eight back on the platoon, look for more of the same. The attack? Well, nobody can be sure about the attack.
Quarterback Joe Zakowski has become famous for his unpredictability. A left-handed passer, he is a gambler somewhat reminiscent of the old Johnny Unitas. "Joe's just not normal," says Ed (Bucko) Burke, a starting tackle. "He's the kind who on third down and 15 will run a quarterback sneak [even Unitas wouldn't do that] and make 16 yards. We're always confused by what Joe does—but he's a winner."
"When Joe was born, the doctor tried to make him a righthander," says Mrs. Zakowski, "but it didn't work and I'm glad it didn't. He's just fine as he is. You should see how neat he prints."
The Colonels, who will be defending their fourth straight Middle Atlantic Conference championship, are a proud group. "We have a good bunch of guys," says Center George (Deacon) Conway. "We've got a few guys with long hair, like Zakowski, but the guys seem to realize you can't keep long hair and still win. So most of us cut our hair short in the football season." Mrs. Zakowski agrees. "Just a few of them even wear sideburns," she says. "But even when they do, they aren't hunkie-looking."
"We should go 8-0 again," predicts Zakowski. "Coach Schmidt never yells at us and we never practice very hard. We just expect to win."
Until four years ago the University of Puget Sound hadn't made much noise on the football field. But then Bob Ryan quit coaching at nearby Puyallup High to take over at UPS, and the Northwest has been aware of the Loggers ever since.
Last year Puget Sound won eight of 10 games—both losses coming in the final minutes. Now, with 27 lettermen returning, season ticket sales have tripled, and the 3,300-seat Baker Stadium has been expanded to accommodate more than 6,000. "I can remember when you could rattle around in our stadium, take almost any seat in the house," says Ryan. "Now things get pretty crowded."
Ryan can hardly wait for the opening kick-off against Pomona. "If coaches were permitted to be optimistic, I'd be that way this year," he admits. Two reasons line up behind the center. "Instead of having just one good quarterback, I've got two," Ryan says, "and last year, when one seemed to be a bit off the other was always on." Bob Botley, however, is rarely "off." In three years he has thrown 21 touchdown passes, scored nine TDs himself and gained a total of 2,316 yards. Behind him is Bob Cason, a tall, skinny sophomore who throws as well as Botley runs. "Cason's one of those scramblers," winces Ryan. "I mean, he drives us nuts. But he's got some arm." The preferred target of both quarterbacks is Dan Thurston, who last season caught 11 touchdown passes.
"Thing is, we scored so much people forgot we really emphasize defense around here," says Ryan. The Puget Sound defense does indeed resemble a logjam now and then (UPS held the opposition to 141 points last year, while scoring 288).
And—just like some big-time schools—Puget Sound has a soccer-style kicker. Few, however, are quite as small or as gutty as Clint Scott, a 5'6", 145-pound senior from South Africa. Scott, who holds 17 school records, booted a pair of 42-yard field goals last season and hit the upright from 52 yards. "He's so little, we try our best to keep him away from contact," sighs Ryan, "but it seems like he's always popping up in the game films making the tackle on the kickoff."
South Dakota could put itself in the running for the national championship if it can upset North Dakota State on Oct. 4, for Quarterback Jim Foster is one of the best to be found anywhere. However, the Coyotes' problem is that the game will be played in Fargo, where NDSU has yet to lose since Erhardt became coach.
A few teams that are usually pushing for the top could be in for trouble this year. Among them are Grambling, which still can't get used to taking the field without Little All-America Quarterback James Harris, and Wittenberg, whose coach, Bill Edwards, moved up to athletic director after 14 straight winning seasons.