James Madison University first played varsity football in 1974, has never had a losing season and last season finished with the No. 9 national ranking among Division III schools.
Next season will see the Harrisonburg, Va., school take a giant step upward, all the way to Division I, without stopping at "Go" to collect any of the additional funds JMU will need for all those athletic scholarships.
Coach Challace McMillin recruited his first team from the fall registration line seven years ago as JMU was piecing together a junior varsity squad that would eventually fail to score a point in five games that first year of full-ride scholarship recruiting.
With a schedule that includes Virginia, William and Mary, Austin Peay, Morehead State and East Tennessee State as Division I opponents, the Dukes will be hard-pressed to duplicate last season's 802 mark.
"It's no secret that our 1979 schedule will be the toughest we've played," McMillin said. "We're playing some established scholarship programs that have been around a long time and we have to be realistic."
McMillin's first and foremost chore is finding a replacement for graduated quarterback John Bowers, who holds or shares 14 JMU passing records. Junior Todd East and sophomores Mike Dudzik and Tom Stallings -- sidelined last season with an injury -- all will get a chance.
The next problem for JMU is replacing five or six starters in the offensive line, including an all-America guard and tackle. Senior tackles Larry Barker, 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, and Ed Dike (6-5 and 245), who was moved over from the defensive line, will anchor the front six.
JMU'S top five rushers from 1978 return and the Dukes are also deep at wide receiver.
Three of the Dukes' six-man defensive line return and five other lettermen are available. The line will not lack size in the middle, with 240-pound guards Dan Cullen and Clyde Hoy.
The linebackers are experienced, the defensive backfield stays intact, and even the Madison Stadium vendors have not made many changes.
When last seen, the University of Virginia was on the verge of wrapping up its season with an upset of bowl-bound North Carolina State before a 50-yard punt return in the games's waning moments doomed the Cavaliers to a 2-9 campaign. Only once in the last 25 years (1968) have the Cavs fielded a winning team.
Virginia was unable to make key plays in several games last season. The Cavaliers stayed close in all but three losses.
"It's just a matter of having good things happen to us early," said Coach Dick Bestwick. "We've never really gotten over the hump."
One good thing that happened toward the end of the season was the blooming of quarterback Todd Kirtley, a Robinson High product. As a sophomore, Kirtley connected on 26 of 42 passes for four touchdowns, including a 74-yard bomb. With an outstanding spring, he has worked himself into the No. 1 position.
Kirtley will be backed by seven returning offensive starters, but only two linemen are included in that number. If Bestwick can find some more big men to open holes, senior running backs Greg Taylor and Tommy Vigorito (4.8 yards per carry) could improve on their combined total of 1,350 yards.
Strong safety Tony Blount is coming back from winter knee surgery to join eight other returning defensive starters.
The Cavaliers have a slightly easier schedule: Richmond, Virginia Military, James Madison and Virginia Tech all play in Charlottesville. But, in addition to regular Atlantic Coast Conference opposition, UVa faces tough midseason excursions to Georgia and Navy.
Virginia Tech was 4-7 last season and brings back half its starters. The Hokies do not have to face Auburn and Kentucky this season, and retain games against ACC champion Clemson, Sugar Bowl champ Alabama and Florida State, which throttled VPI by a combined score of 97-21 in 1978.
Tailback Kenny Lewis, a 1,020-yard rusher (5.5 avg) last season, is Tech's biggest plus.
Richmond boasts one of the fastest offensive backfields in the nation with junior tailback Jesse Williams (4.3 in the 40, 9.3 in the 100). He averaged 5.5 yards per carry and was seventh nationally in kickoff returns with a 26.7-yard standard. Three other running backs and two quarterbacks all can cover 40 yards in 4.6 seconds or less.
The principal Spider problem will be replacing six lost defensive regulars, including three linemen.
Virginia Military kicker Craig Jones is back from an all-Southern Conference junior year. Jones has connected on 70 percent of his career field-goal tries and is 10th on the NCAA all-time list with 42 three-pointers.
The Keydets scored only 37 points in losing their final five games after a 3-3 start and are weak this year at quarterback, so Jones may be needed even more.
Eight defensive regulars are back, but VMI lacks depth at linebacker.
William and Mary yielded just under 15 points per game last season -- a feat that may be tough to duplicate with the loss of all but two defensive starters. The top three running backs returned, but a lack of offensive line experience may make it tough for the Indians to equal a paltry 15-point-plus average output.