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NORTH DAKOTA STATE
After chasing San Diego State (which last summer was ruled a major school) for two years, North Dakota State finally edged the Aztecs as the top small college team in the country in 1968. The margin, however, was about as thin as a chin strap, for while Dakota was going unbeaten in 10 games—including a 23-14 win over Arkansas State in the Pecan Bowl—the Aztecs were stumbling ever so slightly (in a 13-13 tie with Tennessee State) to finish 9-0-1.
This year, without San Diego to contend with, it is unlikely that Dakota will fail to repeat as small college champion. The Bison are minus 18 lettermen from that bowl team, but this can hardly be termed disastrous when 31 are returning. Coach Ron Erhardt's only problem will be shoring up a defense that has lost several players, for the Bison attack should look like a stampede. Little All-America Halfback Paul Hatchett leads the way. In 1968 he raced for 1,213 yards and 19 touchdowns (including five in one game). Bruce Grasamke, the spunky leader who piled up 1,080 yards in total offense, returns at quarterback, and Halfback Tim Mjos (say Mewss) should be in for a big year. Split End Chuck Wald is the best wide receiver the Bison have ever had (he caught 47 passes for 561 yards and five TDs), and Tight End Les Nicholas is a devastating blocker.
Erhardt, who is 27-3 in three years at Fargo, is the cautious type. "We aren't talking about just replacing seniors," he argues. "We're talking about replacing outstanding seniors, six of whom signed with the pros." Look for the Bison to replace those seniors, just as they have done for the past three years, and win their second straight small college title.
INDIANA OF PENNSYLVANIA
It's getting so that Indiana University of Pennsylvania will soon have only itself to blame for occasionally being confused with that "other" Indiana you know, the one from the Big whatever it is. Last year—just one season after Johnny Pont's Hoosiers lost a toughie to O.J. in the Rose Bowl—here was IU of Pa. dropping a 31-24 heartbreaker to favored Delaware in Atlantic City's Boardwalk Bowl. Before that, the Big Indians had swept through a nine-game schedule without a loss, stretching Coach Chuck Klausing's five-year record to 39-5.
This year should be more good times. "True, we lost 20 players," Klausing says, "but if I had to handpick the seven or eight I need most, they're among those coming back—players like Dave Smith [flanker], Walter Blucas [quarterback] and Tom McCracken [fullback]."
Indeed, as long as Smith is sound—and Blucas has time to get the ball to him—IUP is going to score. "Smith is our superstar," says Klausing. "He can do anything." Apparently he can, too, for no sooner had the whistle blown in the tough loss to Delaware than Smith was in a car headed for Beaver Falls, Pa., where at 8:30 that night he was in IUP's basketball lineup against Geneva College.
Speaking of Beaver Falls, don't look for Blucas to be a Namath or a Hanratty. Still, he has shown he is a winner—a quality that may have nearby Pitt, a perennial loser, wishing it had grabbed Blucas when it had the chance.
NEW MEXICO HIGHLANDS