The NCAA rules committee has twice blessed Texas A & I. First, through Bylaw 5-1-(j), which specifies minimum academic performance, it kept Johnny Bailey—an A & I junior who has rushed for more yards in his first two seasons than anyone else in the history of college football—from playing in Division I. Second, it has expanded the Division IT playoffs from eight to 16 teams. This should assure a playoff berth for the Javelinas, a team named for the wild pigs that roam South Texas. Last season, A & I was 9-2, but because it lost its last regular-season game and was hobbled by some key injuries, the Division II Football Committee did not invite the Javelinas to participate in the playoffs.
Bailey is a 5'9", 180-pound tailback who has rushed for 3,609 yards in two seasons, an average of 7.4 yards per carry. Heath Sherman, the senior fullback, missed nearly three full games at the end of last season because of a knee injury. Two years ago Bailey and Sherman combined for 3,526 yards—an NCAA record for two players in one backfield. If Sherman can come back, the I of Texas will be in Kingsville.
Doubling the number of teams in the playoffs should encourage good teams to play other good teams outside their own conferences. Since most schedules are arranged two or three years in advance, the impact of the expansion won't be apparent for a while, but there will be a preview of good things to come in Portland, Ore., on Sept. 24.
That's the Saturday Texas A & I plays Portland State. The Vikings have 16 starters back from a team that lost the championship game last year in Florence, Ala., to Troy State 31-17. One of the Portland State starters is quarterback Chris Crawford, whom Viking coach Pokey Allen calls "the best quarterback in North America." Crawford completed 65% of his passes last season, breaking the school record set by Neil Lomax in 1980.
Division II champion Troy State, which has won the title twice in the last four years, will not only have to replace a coach and a quarterback this season, but also it will have to overcome two tragedies. Coach Rick Rhoades moved on to Division I-AA Southern Illinois, and Mike Turk, who directed the Trojan wishbone the last four years, is now the Troy State quarterback coach. Two days after the national championship game, Thomas Miller and his brother Sean, both projected to be starters at outside linebacker and offensive line, were killed in a car accident in Brewton, Ala. Then, in June, defensive tackle Mark Chipman was stabbed to death outside a bar in Arcadia, Fla. The task of pulling this team together has been given to Robert Maddox, who had been the Trojans' defensive coordinator for the last three seasons.
Another coach facing a challenge is Rocky Hager at North Dakota State. Last season was the first since 1980 in which the Bison did not receive a playoff bid. Unfortunately for Hager, it was also his first season as head coach. Bruce Saum, the offensive line coach, says, "There's definitely pressure on us to produce. The people in Fargo have come to expect a national contender." With 18 starters—and every player that touched the ball in the running game—returning from last season, Fargoans should see their team return to the top of the North Central Conference, the most competitive league in Division II. In fact, the biggest hurdle in North Dakota State's path to the playoffs will be an interconference game. If the Bison can get by Northern Michigan (9-1 last season) in their opener on Sept. 10, they should dominate the NCC again. Last year's conference champion, Mankato State, set school records for yards rushing and wins in a season. But those records are safe for now because the Mavericks' entire option backfield is gone.
For the 18th time in 18 seasons, the best team in the Northern California Athletic Conference is UC Davis. Last season, despite an 8-2 record, the Aggies missed the playoffs for the first time since 1981. Davis has experience at every position but quarterback, and although the Aggies may be a year away from returning to the playoffs, coach Jim Sochor, who has a 149-38-4 career record, says, "We could blossom early." The last time the Aggies missed the playoffs, they reached the championship game a year later.