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Occasionally, from his vantage point in Row ZZ about 12 blocks up, and away from the distant field, the average fan of a major university team will lower his binoculars to rest his eyes. Encompassing him will be the thunder of a crowd that is only half the size of the population of Monaco and stretches around a stadium that cost twice as much as the gross national products of Ethiopia, Ghana and Nicaragua combined. Although he is proud of the prosperous industry that football has become at his university, the fan may allow himself a momentary daydream. The place of his dream is named something gentle like Wistaria College, and it sits at the edge of a village hemmed by corn and oats. There, the quarterback greets even homely girls by name, the coach runs a root-beer stand in the summer and the split end is the janitor's son. Ah, Wistaria, where simplicity reigns and serenity is the scene.
There is still a trace of Wistaria football to be found in America, and if there is none of it in such technically "small college" giants as San Diego State, read on anyway to discover Goose Guice and to check the prospects of some teams that at least offer the illusion of sport at pasture's edge.
SAN DIEGO STATE
Here is what can happen when a sprig of shy Wistaria is transplanted to the fecund climate of California. When San Diego State first took seed in 1897 there were 115 students on a cozy, sunny little campus up on Montezuma Mesa. The sun is there still, but the coziness is gone, for SDS has exploded into a sprawling urban scene. It has 21,000 students, 1,600 faculty members, the football team plays in 52,000-seat San Diego Stadium and seldom do fewer than 40,000 attend the games. Indeed, San Diego State is on the brink of declaring to the NCAA that it wants a major-league university-division standing. And it's about time the NCAA said yes, for finding San Diego listed in the NCAA Guide back there with Sul Ross State and Ouachita Baptist is humiliating for all.
Although SDS had its 25-game victory streak broken last year in a 31-25 loss to big-time Utah State, it consistently grinds to shreds some of the country's good little teams. For the last two years it has won the national small-college championship, and this year may be more of the same, because San Diego has an excellent team again. For one thing, Coach Don Coryell has come up with an outstanding junior-college transfer, Halfback Harry Benjamin, who last year broke O. J. Simpson's JC rushing record with 1,372 yards in 204 carries. Back from last season are Fullback Lloyd Edwards, who gained 442 yards for a 6.2 average, and speedy Tailback Mac Dillingham, who gained 366 yards and scored 42 points. Another JC transfer, Dennis Shaw, could be the Aztecs' best quarterback, but Coryell still has Thom Williams, who completed 57% of his passes for 945 yards, and Joe Turpen, who scrambled for 11 touchdowns from the quarterback spot.
The middle of the Aztec offensive line is not overly impressive although Guard Paul Daniels offers a good anchor, and the defense will require some transfusions, but it has a sound nucleus in Linebackers Jeff Lancaster and Doug Fisher, Cornerback Nate Wright, Tackle Dick Weber and End Fred Dryer.
Already the talk on Montezuma Mesa is of another national title. If a championship is not forthcoming, the reason will probably be the Aztecs' schedule, which now includes three university-division teams, San Jose, Southern Mississippi and Utah State. San Diego may not emerge unbeaten from that competition, but it certainly won't wind up as a trampled scrap of Wistaria either.
A picturesque little Lutheran school set on an oval knoll in Springfield, Ohio, Wittenberg is so archetypical of the ideal small college that the USIA used it for a movie about American education. Certainly it has all the elements that Hollywood might demand for a scene of collegiate tradition—Gothic-Midwestern architecture, a Kissing Bridge, freshmen noses painted green each, fall, a surplus of yummy coeds and a perpetually cherished trophy, a stained Indian skull dug up from the football field of its oldest rival, Ohio Wesleyan. It even has a Mighty Mentor of Manly Sports in Bill Edwards, the only man to be twice awarded the title of Small College Coach of the Year.
However, even in such a set piece of Americana, things change. For instance, Bill Edwards began talking about retirement a couple of years ago but, as he puts it, "I bought a new car and I couldn't afford to quit then." Now rumors of Edwards' retirement are around again, but so are rumors that he has been seen at a local auto agency.