Howard University, which completed the football season with a better record than every Division I-AA team except top-ranked Holy Cross, was not invited to the 16-team NCAA I-AA postseason playoffs that begin next weekend.

The Bison, who defeated 14th-ranked Delaware State, 12-7, Saturday to finish at 9-1 and win their first Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship, were ranked No. 18 yesterday in a six-hour conference call in which rankings and tournament pairings were decided. The only school in the top 17 that will not go to the playoffs is Holy Cross, which declined to participate because of academic considerations.

The weekend ended on opposite notes for two other area teams. Virginia (7-4) defeated North Carolina State, 34-31, for its fourth consecutive victory and polished its credentials for its Dec. 22 All American Bowl date in Birmingham against Brigham Young.

Maryland was defeated by Vanderbilt, 34-24, to finish at 4-7, its worst record since 1971.

After winning 16 of its last 17 games, Howard had thought a victory over Delaware State would convince the NCAA poll and tournament committee, which had ranked Howard No. 20 for the last three weeks despite three victories by a combined score of 149-10. Howard's only loss this season was to Towson State.

"When I woke up this morning I thought there was a 99-percent chance we would make it," said Howard Coach Willie Jeffries. "I don't see how they can leave us out when we are 9-1 and set the offensive records we have set. I just think they {the NCAA committee} set up the machinery so that we were never going to get in and I don't think Delaware State losing the week before made any difference at all.

"I don't think it's fair. I think we know how good we are; we just will never get a chance to prove it to the rest of the nation."

"It's a shock," said junior quarterback Lee DeBose. "I feel like crying a bit. I have spent the past few minutes thinking about what we could have done to make them think differently. Did we have to beat Delaware State, 60-6? I think we could have gone 10-0 and we still would have gotten the ax. The feeling right now is that I would like to just go outside and scream."

Apparently, the committee's decision was based less on Howard's record than on its opponents. Howard played four of its 10 games against Division II or NAIA competition. The final blow might have come nine days ago when Delaware State, which was ranked No. 7 at the time, lost to NAIA Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 22-20, thereby diminishing the impact of Howard's victory over the Hornets.

"The big thing with Howard was the strength of its schedule," said Indiana State Athletic Director Beanie Cooper, head of the four-man NCAA I-AA football committee. "There were five to six teams vying for the final three positions. Delaware State's failure the previous week against that NAIA school definitely hurt Howard's case."

The Bison coaches met with the players last night in what was originally hoped to be preparation for this week's practice. Instead, the coaches used the meeting to keep the weekend's events in perspective.

"I called everybody this morning and told them that we had won and if we were playing a team down south {in the playoffs}, maybe they could drive to the game," said DeBose, who is from Gainesville, Fla. "I guess I'll have to call them all back tonight and tell them to forget it."