A to Z

THE BALTIMORE SUN

A is for Alabama. Ineligible for a bowl bid because of NCAA sanctions, the Crimson Tide has enough talent to improve on last year's 7-5 record, but the future otherwise looks bleak under coach Dennis Franchione.

B is for Boise State. The Broncos' first season in the Western Athletic Conference yielded an 8-4 record, a second-place finish and an entertaining, precise offense. Boise State returns seven offensive starters and looks poised to win the WAC.

C is for Casey Clausen. The Tennessee quarterback threw for 2,969 yards and completed 64 percent of his passes last season, and his 150.0 efficiency rating was second in the Southeastern Conference.

D is for diversity. In the Division I head coaching ranks, it remains only a feel-good concept. Only four black head coaches are employed among 117 Division I-A schools.

E is for Eli. As in Eli Manning (left), brother of Peyton, son of Archie and quarterback of Mississippi. After a fine sophomore year, during which he threw 31 touchdown passes, Manning has filled out to 212 pounds and should be throwing downfield much more.

F is for Florida State, which intends to rub out the stain of rare failure after losing four games for the first time in 15 seasons and finishing second in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Bobby Bowden's squad is loaded again, starting with probable Heisman candidate Chris Rix at quarterback.

G is for Grossman. Florida quarterback Rex Grossman is the early Heisman Trophy favorite. After shredding Maryland in the Orange Bowl, he flirted with the notion of leaving for the NFL. If he duplicates or surpasses his nation-leading 170.8 efficiency rating as a junior, he could be a top draft pick in April.

H is for Happy Valley, which will be anything but happy if Penn State fails to reach a bowl for the third straight season. Penn State had not had a two-year dry spell since 1965-1966, at the beginning of the Joe Paterno era.

I is for independent schools with no conference affiliation, led by Notre Dame. The Irish are trying to recapture some old glory under new coach Tyrone Willingham. Troy State, South Florida, Connecticut, Utah State and Navy round out this group.

J is for Jammal Lord, the next player to follow a Heisman winner. Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch is gone, leaving Lord to put his imprint on the Cornhuskers' offense. Lord looks like a typical Nebraska passer with good run-pass skills.

K is for Kansas State, which has slipped back into mediocrity after enjoying a resurgence in the late 1990s. The Wildcats fell to 6-6 last year, and their offense lacks experience and a proven passer to execute the pro-set system of coach Bill Snyder (left).

L is for losing streaks. Duke is still looking for its first victory of the century. The Blue Devils have lost 23 consecutive games, the longest slide in the nation. The record is 34, held by Northwestern (1979 to 1982).

M is for the Mid-American Conference, which is no longer a joke. Marshall is led by All-America candidate Byron Leftwich at quarterback, and Bowling Green and Toledo could secure bowl bids.

N is for Navy. The Mids bottomed out at 0-10 last season, costing coach Charlie Weatherbie his job. Navy turns to first-year coach Paul Johnson, who as Weatherbie's coordinator orchestrated the triple-option scheme that brought excitement to Annapolis.

O is for overrated, which fairly describes Texas quarterback Chris Simms. The son of former New York Giants star Phil Simms has great size, strength and tools, but he has failed to shine too often in big games.

P is for Pinnock, as in South Carolina fullback Andrew Pinnock. At 6 feet, 255 pounds, the senior is among the game's most bruising blockers. Barring injury, he should be the first fullback drafted by the NFL next spring.

Q is for quirks in the NCAA schedule. Because there are 14 Saturdays from Labor Day weekend to Nov. 30, every school was allowed to schedule 12 regular-season games for the first time. The same conditions occur next year and in 2008, 2013, 2014 and 2019.

R is for Rix. Florida State's sophomore quarterback, Chris Rix, joins Miami's Ken Dorsey and Florida's Rex Grossman to complete a trio of tremendous in-state talents behind center. Rix took his lumps as a freshman but still finished with a 156.6 efficiency rating.

S is for Stoops. In three years, Bob Stoops (right) has transformed Oklahoma by winning a national title and making fans recall the glory days of Barry Switzer. If quarterback Josh White stays healthy after knee surgery, the Sooners could win it all again.

T is for Tennessee, which should be in the thick of another tight SEC race. Coach Phillip Fulmer (94-20 in 10 years) might be the best in the conference now that Steve Spurrier is gone. Other than being a little green at wide receiver, the Vols look like certain Bowl Championship Series material.

U is for USC, which faces a nasty schedule as it tries to recapture a showing worthy of its tradition. Three of its first five dates are on the road against Colorado, Kansas State and Washington State.

V is for Vasher. Texas cornerback / kick returner Nathan Vasher might be the most exciting player in the country who never lines up on offense. He has moved from safety and should be equally effective fielding punts or kickoffs.

W is for Willing-ham. Tyrone Willingham (right) did not fulfill his high expectations at Stanford, and he was not the first choice to take over at Notre Dame. He will be among the most scrutinized coaches in the game this year.

X is for Xavier Beitia, a sophomore kicker, who should help keep Florida State's offense humming. Beitia missed only one of 14 field-goal attempts during the 2001 regular season.

Y is for yawners, that glut of lopsided games played during the first month of the season, when overmatched, undermanned schools travel to get creamed by nonconference foes in order to collect huge guaranteed payouts.

Z is for Zook. Somebody had to move into Steve Spurrier's office after he left Florida. The school hired Ron Zook, who had never been a head coach. Give Zook credit for jumping into the hot seat.

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