NCAA member Jackson State has a running back it wouldn't let go for all the Wilbert Montgomerys and Archie Griffins in the world. In fact, the Mississippi school is pushing Walter Payton for nothing less than the Heisman Trophy. With more five-touchdown days like the one Payton had against Morris Brown last year he might rate consideration. Certainly, Payton is interested, but there is a little George C. Scott in him. "Yeah, I would like to win it," he says, "but if I did I'd give it back as a gesture to show how small schools have been slighted over the years."
Payton led the NCAA smalls in scoring last season with 24 touchdowns, 13 extra points and one 25-yard field goal. An All-America, he averaged 104 yards per game rushing as the Tigers finished 9-2 and tied for first in the Southwestern Athletic Conference. Unfortunately, not too many Mississippians knew about all this until Governor William Waller stood up and told everyone what a fine job Payton and his teammates had done.
Also back are the leading SWAC passer, Jimmy Lewis, and the top receiver, Rodney Phillips. Tackle Jackie Slater heads a veteran line, but the defense needs rebuilding.
McNeese State goes into a potentially murderous regular-season schedule with aplomb. The Cowboys face the winners of the last four national championships. Southland Conference neighbors Louisiana Tech (1973) and Arkansas State (1970) and Eastern independent Delaware (1971 and '72). McNeese lost only three games last year, two by three points and another by two points.
Thirty-seven lettermen return, including Quarterbacks Johnnie Thibodeaux and Glen Moreau, who combined for 1,428 yards and 13 touchdowns. The top receiver is Gary Broussard, and the Cowboys have a fine tailback in Marshall Higginbotham, but Coach Jack Doland is banking most on Tackle James Files. Key defensive personnel include Linebacker Mike Ratcliff, End Eddie Riley and Tackle Chester Clark.
Like McNeese State, Big Sky champion Boise State is still smarting from a narrow loss to Louisiana Tech. The Broncos met up with the Bulldogs in the Division II semifinals and lost 38-34 in the last 12 seconds of play.
Quarterback Jim McMillan once again directs the crushing attack, which averaged 36 points per game and led Division II teams in total offense. McMillan passed for 1,525 yards and 17 touchdowns last season, completing 62% of his tosses. The air game will be helped by the return of top rushers John Smith and Chester Grey. Terry Hutt replaces his All-America brother Don at wide receiver, and the defense is well-stocked in the line and at linebacker.
Though only a Division III team, Wittenberg placed fourth among all small colleges in the final Associated Press poll last year, and Dave Maurer won a Coach of the Year award. Maurer, who has turned out two national champions and three unbeaten teams in his five seasons with the Tigers, should have another powerhouse.
Thirteen starters are back, including 5'5" Tailback Glenn Hendrix, who gained 1,124 yards, and Halfback Bill Reid, who scored 13 touchdowns. Vacancies remain at quarterback and in the offensive line, but at Wittenberg it's the defense that counts.
While compiling 19 consecutive winning seasons—10 of them good enough to capture the Ohio Conference championship—the Tigers have shut out nearly one-fourth of their opponents. All-League selections Antone Strothers (tackle). Rod Ridgeway (end) and Art Thomas (linebacker) will do their best to continue the tradition.