Can Towson State record its first winning season in Division I-AA at the same time that its administration is taking the Tigers out of the scholarship football business?
Logic says no, but rookie head coach Gordy Combs, 16 returning starters and a few select newcomers with solid credentials say otherwise.
Towson State has won just five games in the past three years and this past season dipped to 1-10, the worst record since the university started playing the sport in 1969. Even though there are no new scholarships to award prospects who would deepen the roster, the Tigers believe they have enough resources to win against what is probably the toughest schedule the school has ever played.
"We had two respectable years in Division I-AA [1987 and '88], but that could have been misleading because we had David Meggett," said Combs, the replacement for Phil Albert, who resigned after 20 years and 117 wins with the Tigers. "People don't expect us to go to the NCAA tournament, but we're not a pushover either.
"The distance between us and the teams you see in the playoffs is not all that great. Our kids want to prove they can play in Division I-AA, and now's the time to do it. . . From here on, we're going to lose 15 scholarship players every year that we can't replace."
Towson State is funding the equivalent of 40 scholarships this year, but none went to the 11 true freshmen in camp. By 1995, the de-emphasis will have the Tigers playing in the Intercollegiate Football Conference sponsored by the Eastern College Athletic Conference. Members will be Division I-AA in name only, with no scholarships, no spring practice and only one full-time assistant coach.
This season the Tigers will play Liberty, James Madison, Rhode Island and Northeastern for the last time, and William & Mary for the first and only time. By 1994, the fare will include Frostburg State, Charleston Southern, Kutztown State and Buffalo. When it joins the ECAC group in 1995, the meat of the schedule will be provided by other Division I programs and an occasional Division II that wants football without scholarships.
"I wish we could keep on going after the tough teams the next two years too," said Dan Crowley, the second-year quarterback who was starting midway through 1991, which was supposed to be his redshirt year.
"We've got veterans, good people, in a lot of important positions, and we're thinking big."
Crowley and company have had that notion since they finished last season with a 27-17 loss to Youngstown State. The Penguins got their final touchdown in the last minute, then went on to win the Division I-AA title.
Crowley will be working behind an offensive line that includes three-year starters Greg Lohr, John Loch, Karl Nieberlein and Mike Gunthrop. Wide receiver Kevin Howard has caught 98 passes the past two years, and needs 56 more receptions to get the school's career record.
Brian McCarty rushed for nearly 500 yards as a freshman, but he was slowed by a shoulder injury in the spring at the same time transfer Tony Vinson was speeding up. A prep standout in the Virginia Tidewater region, Vinson got 16 starts and 290 yards in two years at Purdue, but the Tigers welcome his Big Ten talent.