Columbia no longer looks like a 150-pound football team: note Tackles Joe Wagner (276 pounds) and Sean Cannon (220), Guard Rich Splain (226) and Center Mark Walsh (219) on the offensive line. Dartmouth's Big Green has only five starters back from a team that lost three Ivy games by a total of 13 points. Coach Bob Blackman's return to the Ivy at Cornell—after six years at Illinois—netted only one victory last season. A good recruiting year promises some improvement, but not all that much.
Louisiana Tech is favored to repeat as conference champion because of the strong right arm of Keith Thibodeaux, who passed for 2,384 yards and nine touchdowns and ranked seventh nationally in total offense last season while leading the Bulldogs to a 9-1-2 record. But if Tech lives by the pass, it could die by it. Coach Maxie Lambright needs quick maturity from a rebuilt secondary if the Bulldogs expect to hold off Arkansas State, another aerial strike force. Dikki Dyson, a 195-pound end with fluid moves and 4.6 speed, is a longshot for selection as an All-America but a good bet to go high in the NFL draft. Kennon Taylor, Dyson's battery mate, passed for 1,404 yards and five touchdowns last year.
Texas- Arlington has 36 lettermen back but unfortunately not top rusher Derrick Jensen. Southwestern Louisiana is looking to sophomore David Guidry, who throws javelins in addition to footballs, to be more than a spear carrier. If the offense gets stalled, John Roveto steps in. Roveto kicked 19 field goals for the Ragin' Cajuns last season.
After a conference title and bowl appearance in 1976, McNeese State fell to a 5-5-1 record, but Coach Jack Doland has 34 lettermen to rebuild with, including an adept cornerback named Charles Jefferson. Lamar, with its strong defense but weak offense, appears destined to finish 2-9 for the third straight year.
Winning last year's conference title was a dubious achievement for West Texas State, the only Valley team with a record of .500 or better (6-4-1). Outside the league, Valley teams were a pathetic 9-29-1, and at one point the Buffaloes themselves were 0-4. They are favorites once again, thanks to Bo Robinson, the senior fullback who gained 1,399 yards and averaged seven yards a carry. He will team with Wingback Robert Mayberry, who led the Valley in rushing two years ago, and with a pair of part-time tail-backs, Kenny Davis and David Johnson, who combined for 852 yards in '77.
Wichita State has improved its record in each of Coach Jim Wright's four seasons. The fact that the Shockers were only 5-6 last year gives you an idea of how far they've had to come. Seven home games, plus the passing of Jim Andrus and the receiving of Bryan Hanning (50 catches for 767 yards), should keep them on the upslope.
After taking four straight conference titles, Tulsa slipped to fourth in '77. However, at midseason the Hurricanes unveiled a home run threat in Rickey Watts, who caught 40 passes for 639 yards. The Tulsa defense, which surrendered an eye-popping 53 touchdowns, just has to be better.
If the timid Bulldog offense doesn't acquire some bite, Drake's busiest player may again be Here Payton, the 200-pound linebacker who as a freshman led the team in tackles with 139. Southern Illinois, which scored two TDs in a game only twice last year, has 18 veteran starters. This could be a plus or a minus, depending on how you look at it.