Two years ago as a freshman, quarterback Jeff Bentrim guided North Dakota State to the national title. Last season Bentrim led the division in scoring (9.3 points a game), finished seventh in rushing (109.9 yards per), passed for 12 TDs and took the Bison to the Palm Bowl again. Says new coach Earle Solomonson, "When Jeff runs, he's really a fullback." State's ground attack also features running backs Chad Stark and James Molstre, who combined for 2,015 yards and 21 TDs in '84.
Last year Troy (Ala.) State edged North Dakota State for the national championship on a last-second, 50-yard field goal. Troy's Pony Express backfield is back, although three of its members are actually Shetlands. Quarterback Mike Turk, the Gulf South Conference's top freshman in '84, is 5'7", 152 pounds, and halfbacks Jimmie Heywood and Greg Walls are 5'5", 170 and 5'9", 165, respectively.
The best defensive player in Division II may be tackle Earl Conway, who came to Mississippi College as an unheralded quarterback. Somewhere along the way Conway inflated to 6'4" and 270 pounds. In the meantime, he still gets to flaunt his arm in practice by launching 70-yard mortar rounds to simulate punts. The recipient of Earl's hurls is Michael Fields, who led the division in punt returns (21.2 yards a pop) last fall.
Returning kickoffs for South Dakota will be tailback Chul Schwanke and defensive back Mike Slaton, who are known around campus as the Orient Express because of their Asian heritage. Schwanke, who was born in Korea and adopted by a Hutchinson, Minn. couple, rushed for 989 yards last year. Slaton, a Nebraska native whose mother is Japanese, was first-team all—North Central Conference after leading South Dakota in tackles for the second straight season.
Northwest Missouri State features coach Vern Thomsen's son, Mark, passing to wideout Steve Hansley (57 catches, 1,123 yards, 11 TDs in '84). In contrast to Thomsen's Air Northwest attack, there's Willard Bailey's Virginia Crawl at Norfolk State. The Spartans, who run out of the old wing T, threw just 71 times last season. Defensively, they led the division against the rush (53.6 yards a game) and were second overall (182.5 per).
Even without its traditional strong-armed quarterback, UC-Davis should win its 15th straight Northern California Conference title to break the record for league domination set by Oklahoma from 1946 to '59. The Mustangs' best signal-caller this year will be on defense—sophomore free safety Larry Wear.
Washington Redskin G.M. Bobby Beathard offers the following assessment of two Towson (Md.) State talents. Quarterback: strong arm, tough for his size (5'9"), knack for getting his team into the end zone. Tailback: explosive start, good vision, best athlete in the family. Family? Senior quarterback Kurt and junior tailback Jeff are Beathard's sons. Last year Kurt threw for 2,063 yards, while Jeff ran for 400.
Two teams' fortunes will depend heavily on two players' recoveries. As a sophomore two years ago, fullback Mark Corbin of Central (Ohio) State ran for 1,701 yards and 13 touchdowns. Last season, cartilage damage to his left knee slowed him to a trot. Indiana of Pennsylvania quarterback Rich Ingold was leading the division in passing efficiency when, in the fifth game, two tacklers converged on his midsection. Although Ingold finished the game, five days later surgeons removed his spleen and part of his pancreas. Ingold says that he has gained back the 40 pounds he lost and is raring to air it out again.
Fields (left) and Conway pool their talents in an unusual fashion at Choctaw practices.
1. North Dakota State
2. Troy (Ala.) State
3. Northwest Missouri State
4. Norfolk State
5. South Dakota
6. Mississippi College
8. Towson (Md.) State
9. Indiana (Pa.)
10. Central (Ohio) State