In its wisdom, the NCAA has scheduled this season's Division I-AA championship game in Statesboro, Ga., home of Georgia Southern. The Eagles have played in the final game three of the last four years, so the NCAA probably figured it was saving them travel expenses. Last year, Georgia Southern and Furman, two schools 180 miles apart, traveled to Pocatello, Idaho, to decide the championship, which was won by Furman 17-12.
During the off-season, Eagle coach Erk Russell turned down the head job at Georgia to remain in Statesboro. Russell has also decided to stay with the option offense, which makes good sense because junior quarterback Raymond Gross runs it efficiently. In 15 games last year, Gross rushed for 1,213 yards and passed for 1,203. Defensive end Giff Smith, who had 11 sacks, including five in one game, stands out on a deep defense.
Eastern Kentucky is another playoff perennial, but coach Roy Kidd will be without running back Elroy Harris, the division's leading rusher and scorer last season. Though he had a year of eligibility left, Harris decided to enter the NFL draft, and he was taken in the third round by Seattle. Kidd may fill the hole by having fullback Tim Lester take two steps back to the tailback spot.
For two other playoff contenders, a good offense begins with a good D, as in quarterbacks Matt DeGennaro of Connecticut and Frankie DeBusk of Furman. DeGennaro was the Yankee Conference Offensive Player of the Year, but his job will be tougher in '89, because the Huskies lost the division's leading receiver, Glenn Antrum. DeBusk took over as the Paladins' starting quarterback in the fourth game of the season and two weeks later threw four interceptions in a loss to Marshall. It was the Paladins' second and last defeat as they proceeded to win nine straight on their way to the title. DeBusk wound up passing for 1,562 yards. Tailback Dwight Sterling led the team in rushing and also led the offensive back-field in tackles (four) and sacks (one); he spells Furman defensive linemen as a pass rusher. Six starters are back from I-AA's stingiest scoring defense (9.7 points per game).
While the I-A ranks are thin at quarterback this season, I-AA is fairly bursting with strong arms. Besides watching Lafayette's Frank Baur (page 106), NFL scouts will be keeping a close eye on Idaho senior John (Deep) Friesz, who doesn't much care who he throws to; last year seven Vandal receivers had 18 or more catches. At Northwestern State (La.) coach Sam Goodwin will continue to run an option offense but says of his quarterback. Scott Stoker. "He thinks he's a drop-back passer." Maybe that's because the 5'7" and 157-pound Stoker is pocket-sized. Last season, Stoker broke the Demons' single-season record for passing yardage held by Bobby Hebert, who is now with the New Orleans Saints, as Northwestern State made its first I-AA playoff appearance.
Lafayette may have Baur, but Holy Cross will again rule the Colonial Conference. The Crusaders will be less Wiley (quarterback Jeff, who has graduated) but not less skillful; all other starting backs and receivers return. On the defensive side, cornerback Dave Murphy needs only two interceptions to break the I-AA career record of 24.
One doesn't usually look to the staid old Ivies for titillation and scandal, but during the off-season articles about the Ancient Eight read like Butterfield 8. Columbia coach Larry McElreavy quit after he was accused by an assistant coach of drinking heavily and having an extramarital affair, and Maxie Baughan of Cornell, which tied for the Ivy title, resigned after it was reported that he was having an affair with the wife of an assistant coach. Ed Zubrow of Penn, which shared the title with Cornell, redeemed the conference's sullied reputation by resigning in order to take a job with the Philadelphia school system to help in its fight against drugs and dropouts. Gary Steele, the Quakers' defensive coordinator last year, takes over for Zubrow, but the change won't prevent Penn from winning yet another Ivy crown.
Once upon a time, before the railroads, over 50 million bison thundered over the northern plains, trampling everything in their path. The Bison of North Dakota State have done much the same to Division II in recent years, having gone undefeated in 1988 en route to their seventh title game in the last eight seasons and their fourth national championship of the '80s. And, for '89, there is no Winchester-toting Buffalo hunter in sight to head off the herd.
While State has only four returning offensive starters, it won't have any trouble scoring touchdowns. In averaging almost 40 points a game last season, the Bison were paced by two sophomores, quarterback Chris Simdorn and running back Tony Satter. The two rushed for 2,655 yards and 42 touchdowns, 27 of them by Simdorn. The defense has tackle Phil Hansen, who led the team with 12 sacks, and cornerback Todd Zabel, who intercepted seven passes and broke up 19 more.
If any team can upset the Bison, it will be Texas A & I. All tailback Johnny Bailey did last season was break the Division II career rushing record as a junior and win his second Harlon Hill Trophy (Division II's Heisman). His 5,051 career yards place him eighth on the NCAA alltime rushing list, a mere 1,031 yards behind leader Tony Dorsett. The Javelinas face Portland State, the team that knocked them off in the semifinals of the '88 playoffs, on Sept. 23.
In the Gulf South Conference, Jacksonville State has 17 starters returning from a team that finished 10-2 last season and made it to the quarterfinals of the playoffs. All-America candidates will lead the Gamecocks on both sides of the ball: junior David Gulledge at quarterback and defensive tackle Orlando (Cheeseburger) Adams. In 1988 Portland State lost in the title game for the second straight year. This fall, the hopes of the Vikings rest on the 5'5", 170-pound frame of running back Curtis Delgardo, who picked up 2,706 total yards in '88 on his way to being selected the Western Conference Player of the Year. At Sacramento State, quarterback Drew Wyant will take over the division's top-ranked offense.
Last season, in its first appearance in the playoffs, Millersville borrowed 60 pairs of turf shoes from intrastate neighbor Penn State, then went out and played like the Nittany Lions for three quarters. Unfortunately, in the fourth, North Dakota State stormed back to win 36-26. The Marauders will ask placekicker Luke Hadfield, tailback Scott Highley and cornerback Darren Ryals to repeat the glory of '88. Mississippi College's strength is on defense, in which the Choctaws are led by All-America tackle Terry Fleming. One of the best hitters at any level, Fleming finished last season with 102 tackles and 10 sacks.
Division III is a little like Rocky III—not quite as good as I or II, but with enough crusty old coaches and plot twists to keep things entertaining. In 23 seasons at Ithaca, coach Jim Butterfield has taken the Bombers to a record six Stagg Bowls, winning his second title last season. Ithaca runs an option, in which the pitch-faker takes a pounding, so Butterfield goes with a tag team at quarterback. Last season's pair, Mike Pasquale and Todd Wilkowski, return this fall. The best backfield—and player—in Division III is at Ferrum (Va.), where Chris Warren averaged 8.7 yards per carry while rushing for 1,443 yards and 17 touchdowns in '88. His 5'4" backfield mate, Freddie Stovall, gained 1,200 yards and scored 13 TDs. Perennial power Dayton always starts with defense, and this season will be no different. Tackle Lou Loncar and free safety Sean Keneally return to a unit that held opponents to 12 or fewer points in the Flyers' nine wins last fall.
Augustana, which is historically the division's most dominant team, has the land's most versatile kicker. Barry Reade, one of coach Bob Reade's 11 children, nailed 36 consecutive extra points last season and is now competing with roommate Brian Pottinger to run the offense as well. The Vikings are bent on erasing the shame of last year's 10-2 record, which saw Reade's 10-year mark fairly shrivel to 101-11-1. His solace: That .894 winning percentage is college football's best, ahead of Knute Rockne's .881.
The Rock would be touched to hear that at Central of Iowa, the division runner-up, the rallying cry is Win One for the Schipper. Ron Schipper became coach at the school in Pella (pop. 8,349) in 1961 and hasn't had a losing season since—the longest active streak in any division. Yet, he has never won it all. But pressure on the Flying Dutchmen won't come from their coach. "We have a friendly college atmosphere." says Schipper. Though Wagner swears this will be a rebuilding season on Staten Island, its opponents—five of whom squirmed out of their scheduled dates with the Seahawks—seem unwilling to believe that. Sure, tailback Terry Underwood and quarterback Greg Kovar have graduated. But coach Walt Hameline is ready and able to reconstruct this juggernaut.
STERLING (34) CARRIED THE BALL FOR FURMAN AND HELPED ON DEFENSE
BAILEY (LEFT) IS ABOUT TO BECOME THE LEADING RUSHER IN NCAA HISTORY
DIRECTING THE ITHACA OPTION MEANS A BRUISING FOR WILKOWSKI (1)