For half a dozen years, the Pittsburg State (Kans.) Gorillas have treated their regular-season opponents like so many helpless Samsonite suitcases. They've slammed, bashed and thrown 55 straight foes to the ground without taking a single lick themselves. Still, Pitt State hasn't busted open the big prize, a national championship. A year ago, Pitt State's second season in Division II, the Gorillas advanced to the semifinals of the playoffs before bowing out to eventual champion North Dakota State 39-29. Pitt State led that game with just over five minutes remaining on the Thundering Herd's home field in Fargo, then began dragging its knuckles down the stretch. With eight starters returning on each side both offense and defense, including All-America receiver Ronnie West, who led the division in punt returns (16.9 yards per), this could be the year of the simian.
But as always, the road to the championship will go through Fargo, where North Dakota State has housed the trophy for five of the past eight years. Though coach Rocky Hager will have to replace his entire offensive backfield, the Bison defense, which allowed only 241 yards per game last year, welcomes back all of its linemen and linebackers.
If senior fullback Eric Lynch of Grand Valley State (Mich.) can score 16 touchdowns this fall (he has averaged 17 a season through his first three years), he'll become Division II's alltime touchdown leader, surpassing the record of 66, established by Texas A&I's Johnny Bailey in 1989. Lynch, who might as well call out to the defense that he's getting the ball inside the 20, says that his line (the Lynch Mob) deserves most of the credit. "They're beautiful," says Lynch. "I owe my life to them." The Lynch Mob is back in force, but the Lakers will have to adjust to a new coach, 29-year-old Brian Kelly, this fall. Their former mentor, Tom Beck, took a job with Lou Holtz at Notre Dame.
If and when Lynch does break Bailey's touchdown record, it should be good for, oh, about a year, because the next man in line for that mark is 5'8", 160-pound wishbone quarterback Shawn Graves of Wofford (S.C.), who is on an 82-touch-down career pace. Graves, a junior, rushed for a then NCAA quarterback record of 1,483 yards two seasons ago and followed up by rushing for 1,324 yards last year in leading the Terriers to their most successful season (9-3) in 20 years. Wofford may be a year away, though, because this year's team has only nine seniors. One of those seniors happens to be Division II's most versatile and entertaining performer. He's 320-pound offensive guard Tom Colter, who is a tuba player in the school's pep band, a member of the men's glee club and an actor in school plays. Just incidentally, he was also a second-team All-America last year.
At East Texas State, quarterback Bob Bounds led the Lions to a 10-3 record and a Lone Star Conference title, and he was a unanimous selection as the league's offensive back of the year. So why is Bounds so hot under the collar? Because fellow senior Mike Meador keeps breathing down his neck. On nine occasions last fall, Meador came on in relief of Bounds, including six games in which he took over for significant chunks of time. The two have battled for the starting spot since the fall of '87, when they were both redshirt freshmen, and coach Eddie Vowell insists there will be more competition for snaps in '91. "Why should it change now?" Vowell asks.
For a while this spring it looked as though Mississippi College was about to enter a theatrical competition instead of a football season. The school decided to designate Terry McMillan as the Choctaws' acting coach. McMillan, who had put in 19 years as an assistant in Clinton, was asked to replace, sort of, head man John Williams, who left last winter. Last month the school gave McMillan the full title. Either way, it won't make much difference to the Choctaws, who finished 11-2 and a game shy of the division finals last fall. McMillan, the offensive coordinator under Williams, won't change the system one iota, and he'll have seven starters back on either side of the ball.
SHAWN STEWART (51) AND TODD WASH WILL POWER A VETERAN BISON DEFENSE