The day of reckoning for the Rattlers of Florida A & M is Oct. 23 in Orangeburg, S.C., when they meet the Bulldogs of South Carolina State, the defending conference champ. SCS made it to the I-AA playoffs largely on the strength of a stout defense that gave up only 1.7 yards per rush. What's more, sophomore Defensive Back Barney Bussey topped the division in punt returning with an average of 18.2 yards.
But Florida A & M, which went 12-1 as a non-conference team in 1978, had lost to SCS by a single point, 16-15. That was despite Noseguard R.C. Eason's two fumble recoveries and five sacks, one for a safety. A & M was right behind the Bulldogs in rushing defense (2.1 yards a carry) and just a point—a single point again—back in scoring defense. (The Rattlers allowed 10.6 a game, the Bulldogs 9.6.) In all, nine of the Rattlers' defensive starters return. Which defense is more stalwart will determine this year's conference title.
WHITE SHADOW: Two years ago Delaware State lost to Portland State 105-0. The Hornets are improving quickly under Joe Purzycki, who became the first white head coach at a historically black college when he was appointed in 1981. At the time 17 players quit the team, "but now," he says, "I'm accepted just as a football coach." And a bright one...Portland State is no longer on the Hornets' schedule.
Forgive Drake Linebacker Dave Loring for being a bit touchy in last year's Southern Illinois game. After all, the Bulldogs' 7-0 record had been tarnished the week before by Tulsa (59-6). As Southern Illinois lined up for a punt, one of its Saluki mascots (a real dog) got loose from its trainer and ran up to Loring in the huddle. Startled, Loring took a poke at the pup and sent her scampering to the sidelines. Drake went on to win 22-17. Led by Fullback Amero Ware's 1,353 yards rushing, the Bulldogs finished out the year 10-1 and tied with Tulsa for the conference championship.
Tulsa lost two quarterbacks, but Skip Ast, says Coach John Cooper, "is the best leader type we've had here since Dave Rader." Cooper is also bullish about Cornerback Brent Dennis, a business major with a 3.3 grade-point average, who intercepted three passes in 1981.
The best player in the conference may be Wichita State Quarterback Prince McJunkins III. He threw for 1,725 yards and ran for 765 more out of the Shockers' option I in '81.
ONE FLEW OVER: Illinois State Coach Bob Otolski is a devotee of visualization and the power of positive thinking. As a result, Dr. Joseph Tursini, a psychologist from Phoenix, occasionally meets with the Redbirds. Illinois State is, of course, situated in the town of Normal.
For the third year in a row, Eastern Kentucky made it to the Division I-AA national championship game, where last year it lost to Idaho State 34-23. Most of the EKU team returns, including the tailback, Terence Thompson, who ran for 1,237 yards. Tennessee Tech Coach Don Wade says of EKU's stockpile of talent. "The Humane Society should intervene to stop the slaughter!"