I-AA Towson is best of poor lot of state football teams

September 15, 1994|By BILL TANTON

When it comes to producing college football teams, no one is going to confuse our state with Florida.

The Sunshine State has three of the top five teams in the nation in this week's Associated Press poll -- No. 1 Florida, No. 3 Florida State and No. 5 Miami.

Maryland? Ho, boy -- we had to ask.

Maryland is a wasteland, particularly in the NCAA's Division I.

The University of Maryland is 0-2 with the worst defense in the country (please do not be shocked if the 14-point underdog Terps win at West Virginia Saturday).

Navy is 0-2 and not showing much defensively or offensively. The Middies play at Bowling Green this week.

Morgan State (0-1) lost its opener last week to Bethune-Cookman, 41-0, which was hardly the way to entice ticket buyers to Memorial Stadium to see Morgan play Grambling Saturday night.

The only state Division I bright spot is Towson State (I-AA), which opened with a 32-16 win over Buffalo last week.

Still, that has to be a low wattage bulb illuminating Towson. The Tigers are ranked No. 38 in this week's Sports Network I-AA poll.

One fascinating thing about that poll is the schools' nicknames. No. 1 in the country is the Marshall Thundering Herd. The Montana Grizzlies are No. 3, the Youngstown Penguins No. 4. The Idaho Vandals are No. 6, the Western Carolina Catamounts No. 17.

Down there in the "others receiving votes" category in 38th place with 30 votes are our own Towson State Tigers (maybe the new A.D. will come up with a more imaginative nickname). Marshall received 1,627 votes.

Don't worry about Towson being No. 38. This team is a lot better than that.

The Tigers intend to prove that on the field, which means winning this Saturday over Delaware State in Wilmington -- and continuing to win every Saturday thereafter.

Towson State still bristles at being passed over last year for the I-AA playoffs despite its 8-2 record.

Towson, which has only played football for 26 years, has played in the Division III and Division II playoffs. No school has participated in playoffs in all three divisions.

The Tigers thought last year's record, which included wins over such teams as Delaware (32-30), Delaware State (31-14) and Connecticut (28-27), plus the presence in their lineup of running back Tony Vinson, who set 11 NCAA records, would get them into postseason play.

It didn't, so this year Gordy Combs has come up with a new game plan.

"We have to go undefeated," says Towson's third-year coach. "That's why this game with Delaware State is important.

"Delaware State usually wins seven or eight games. They have great size and a lot of speed. But our feeling is we have to win 'em all if we're going to make the playoffs."

Towson is capable of beating every team on its schedule. After this week the opponents are Charleston Southern, Howard, Bucknell, American International, Hofstra, Kutztown, Southern Connecticut and Morgan State.

But football is seldom that predictable.

Last year the Tigers felt they were capable of beating Hofstra. They didn't. They lost, 40-12. Their other loss was to Howard, 44-41.

The big change this season is that Vinson is now in the NFL. He's with coach Bobby Ross' San Diego Chargers as a member of the development squad, being paid $65,000 just to practice and be ready to be activated when needed.

At Towson, this season marks the end of an era. This is the last year for football scholarship players, although a handful of stragglers -- redshirts, five-year guys -- will still be around next year.

Towson has always made do with fewer scholarships than most of its opponents. The present Tigers team has eight players on full scholarships, 11 on partials. Buffalo, last week's opponent, had 40 fulls. Delaware State has 50. The Division II limit is 63.

Towson still has excellent talent at key positions.

Senior wide receiver Mark Orlando, who is eliciting NFL interest, caught nine passes last week for a school-record 238 yards and two touchdowns. He'll leave Towson as the school's all-time leader in several receiving categories.

Throwing to Orlando for the fourth year is quarterback Dan Crowley. By season's end, he should own every Towson passing record. (At 6 feet, 177 pounds, Crowley is not eliciting NFL interest.)

Senior co-captain Brian McCarty is the main man in the running game. When Towson went to Delaware State two years ago (and lost, 27-13), McCarty gained more yardage than Vinson.

This should be an interesting season at Towson, maybe the last one in which the school can operate at this level.

Unless, that is, the athletic director who will be selected to succeed Billy Hunter next summer can sell the university on a return to scholarship football.

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