North Dakota State meets North Dakota at Grand Forks on Oct. 22 in a game that should decide the North Central Conference championship and possibly clarify the national picture as well. State, unbeaten in 10 games, was the nation's No. 1 small-college team last year. The Bison seem to be missing too many all-conference players to match that performance, but who knows? Coach Ron Erhardt again has that crunching ground game which features the belts of Halfback Ken Rota, who carried for 857 yards last year, scored 16 touchdowns and was voted the best back in the Pecan Bowl. Split End Lowell Linderman was the best lineman in that game and he's still around, as is Defensive Tackle Walt Odegaard, and Bob and Dick Sciacca, one of the better sets of pulling guards in the country. Indeed, the only newcomer to crack the offensive line is Larry Anderson, a 220-pound junior. If the Bison have a visible weakness, it is in the defensive backfield, which lost two top linebackers.
That may be the only edge NORTH DAKOTA needs. Corey Colehour will be running the Sioux again this fall, and all he did last year was throw for 1,832 yards and 10 touchdowns as North Dakota won nine of 10. The loss? To State, of course. Pete Porinsh is probably the best back in the conference, and he'll run alongside another good one, Jerry Quaderer. Roger Bonk, 225 pounds, is back, and he was the team's best lineman last year. Colehour will miss his three favorite receivers, Dave Lince, Ron Green and Dennis Olson, but North Dakota is deep in likely replacements and Tackle Wayne Welter, 6 feet 2,235 pounds, is back to lead a rugged defensive unit that is largely intact.
The only possible conference threat to the northern Dakotas—and it is not a serious one—will come from SOUTH DAKOTA STATE. "We have a young squad, and it's eager and has a lot of enthusiasm," says SD State Coach Ralph McGinn. With only 11 lettermen, so does he.
Stan Sheriff has his youngest team in seven years at STATE COLLEGE OF IOWA. To make things worse, Little All-America Fullback Randy Schultz is gone. SCI will have to count more heavily than ever on Ray Pederson, who could be the best guard in the league, and Rick Price, the fine senior end.
St. John's of Minnesota, the maverick outfit that does everything wrong, or differently, and wins, must again be ranked as the favorite in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Conference. But close behind will be CONCORDIA, with End Paul Sannes, and ST. THOMAS.
Akron has the look of a football team that is finally ready, but, unfortunately, the Zips have no place to go. This year Akron decided to drop out of the Ohio Conference because the school has grown too big for it. In previous years the Zips came up with speedy backs and impressive linemen, but they always found a way to lose when they should not, rather like Purdue. Last season, for example, for the first time in seven years Akron defeated Wittenberg, the OC's perennial winner, and achieved this by holding the Tigers to a mere 34 yards on the ground, where Wittenberg has always been able to make yards. After that dreamy 17-0 victory, what looked like a big year became a nightmare the very next Saturday. The Zips failed to score from inside the 13-yard line three times and lost to Ball State 16-14. They had four plays from the six against Capital the following week, gained nothing and lost 15-6. As an afterthought, Akron won its last four in a row.
This year everything will be different, claim 29 lettermen. Quarterback Mike Martin, who ran and passed for 1,274 yards in 1965, can't wait for the opener against Northern Michigan and Fullback Ron Tyson, 6 feet 2, 205 pounds, who as a freshman wound up with 484 yards rushing (best on the team), is eager even for a sophomore. End Craig Hartz (26 passes for 241 yards) and Flanker Wayne Fox (17 passes for 278 yards) expect more of the same. In the line, knowledgeable every place but at center, there are no problems, offensively or defensively.
With Akron out of the way, look for WITTENBERG to be at the top of the Ohio Conference for the fourth time in five years. The Tigers feel they belong there, even though Coach Bill Edwards expects to field his smallest team in five years. Nineteen of 22 Tiger starters who won six of eight games are back again, including Quarterback Gene Laughman, who took over for Chuck Green, the Little All-America of two years ago, and threw for 1,083 yards. Halfback Bob Harvey carried for a 4.8 average, caught 23 passes and ran back punts and kickoffs, and Fullback Octavian Pechar led the team in scoring with 42 points. They return, too.
The offensive line could use a little work, but a gutty defensive team, which allowed only 58 points, recorded four shutouts and picked off 15 enemy passes, is just about intact.
Muskingum would like nothing better than to repeat as OC champ, but few think it can. Coach Ed Sherman has too much patching to do in the offensive line. Also, he must find a running mate for Rick Harbold who, after missing the first six games with an injury last season, scored seven touchdowns in the Muskies' last three. But Sherman is high on men like Carl Lambert, Mark DeVilling and Steve Aller, who led the league in interceptions. Though two all-conference selections have graduated, Muskingum's strength will be on defense.