The Division I-AA playoffs, for schools one step down from the major-college ranks, start this week for 16 teams, but not for 11-0 Holy Cross, which was top-ranked throughout the season. The Crusaders are staying home in Worcester, Mass, because the Colonial League, of which they are members, emulates the Ivy League with its decision to pass up postseason competition. Despite how the playoffs unfold, therefore, Holy Cross is for all intents and purposes already this season's de facto I-AA champion. That's the bad news for those who wish the current top banana was in the running. The good news is that two-time defending champion Georgia Southern is in the hunt, a fact that should heighten interest. In Erk Russell after all, the Eagles have one of the most colorful coaches in the country. Russell, who began shaving his head in the '50s when the cost of haircuts went up a dollar, has built a powerhouse from scratch in Statesboro, Ga.
An assistant coach and defensive mastermind at the University of Georgia for 17 years, Russell arrived at Southern in 1981 to revive a program that had last fielded a team in 1940. He and his players have had fun ever since, winning regularly and adding to the mystical lore of a mosquito-infested drainage ditch that runs alongside the team's practice field and that Russell calls Beautiful Eagle Creek.
On Saturday, Georgia Southern (8-3) takes on Maine, which is making its first post-season appearance since playing in the 1965 Tangerine Bowl. ``I don't know anything about Maine. Tell me about them,'' says Russell somewhat facetiously. One thing he doesn't have to be told is that Dale Lick, Maine's president, is the man who lured him to Georgia Southern when Lick was at that school. Pittsburgh's pile driver
One name that somehow keeps receiving short shrift for the Heisman Trophy is Craig Heyward. Maybe it's because Pittsburgh's star running back is a junior, and Heisman voters historically are very senior-oriented. Or maybe it's because at a hefty 260 pounds (275, some say) he doesn't conform to the standard image of what a tailback should look like.
Be that as it may, Heyward has the one credential that most often swings these annual ``best player'' elections: He is the national rushing leader with 150.45 yards a game, which puts him statistically ahead of UCLA's Gaston Green and Michigan State's Lorenzo White, two more frequently mentioned running back candidates. Green and White had better per-carry averages, but Heyward, nicknamed ``Ironhead'' because of his childhood obstinance, was an exceptionally consistent workhorse. Even though opponents knew he would carry the ball 30 to 40 or more times a game, no one, not Syracuse, Notre Dame, or Penn State, could stop him from gaining at least 100 yards. The last player to do that over an 11-game season was Heisman winner Mike Rozier of Nebraska in 1983.
White and Heyward have been invited to attend the Heisman presentation in New York on Dec. 5. The others are Tim Brown of Notre Dame, Don McPherson of Syracuse, and Gordie Lockbaum of Holy Cross. Columbia provides inspiration in adversity
Columbia's football team, with its 41 consecutive losses, may be the focus of ridicule in some quarters, but the players, especially the seniors who never experienced a varsity win, are to be admired for sticking it out. It must have been tempting to quit, but these young men played through one of the most embarrassing times in any college's sports history and were still giving their all as the curtain closed on another heartbreaking season last Saturday. And, oh, what a wrenching defeat it was, with victory and a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead snatched away by Brown, which retained possession on a disputed fumble ruling and then converted on a fourth-and-two situation with a game-winning, 9-yard touchdown run in the last minutes Final score: Brown 19, Columbia 16. Two weeks earlier, the Lions fell to Dartmouth, 12-10, on a 32-yard field goal with 1:45 remaining.
These efforts, along with a respectable 31-20 loss to Cornell in the season's next-to-last game, provide a light at the end of Columbia's long tunnel of despair. When the members of this year's undefeated freshman team (6-0) join the varsity, and slightly relaxed academic requirements take hold, the football team should show continued signs of improvement, and possibly some ``Ws.'' Some observers, however, feel Columbia will simply relinquish the national attention brought on by its current woes and sink back into the woodwork with a succession of 2-8 or 3-7 type teams. Briefly speaking
In last Saturday's Old Oaken Bucket Game, Purdue outgained Indiana both rushing and passing by wide margins and controlled the football nearly nine minutes longer. Indiana, however, won 35-14. Where the Hoosiers excelled was in capitalizing on opponent errors, scoring five times after Purdue turnovers.
Earle Bruce, whose firing as Ohio State's coach is threatening to turn into a protracted battle, claims the school has sold the senior players down the river by declining an invitation to the Sun Bowl. The bowl trip, in a sense, is the sacrificial lamb in this controversy, an event that only would focus more attention on an awkward situation. Bruce has a lot working in his favor. His players, who wore ``Earle'' headbands last Saturday in a show of support, went out and beat Michigan, 23-20, giving the Bruce-led Buckeyes a 5-4 mark over the school's chief rival. Then, too, Bruce demonstrated his loyalty last year when he passed up an offer from Arizona to stay in Columbus ``where my heart is.'' And this week reports have circulated that the deposed coach received high marks in the athletic department's most recent personnel evaluation.