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Conference previews

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 25, 2000

Big Ten

OUTLOOK: Can Drew Brees win the Heisman Trophy and lead Purdue to its first Rose Bowl appearance since the 1966 season? The Boilermakers first must prove they can get it done against the conference elite, which they have failed to do despite three solid seasons under Joe Tiller. Penn State's Joe Paterno needs seven victories to break Bear Bryant's record of 323 in Division I-A, but the talk of the season might be Paterno's decision to play QB Rashard Casey despite his legal problems. And Wisconsin attempts to make it three consecutive Rose Bowl triumphs despite the loss of Heisman Trophy workhorse Ron Dayne. The Badgers might get it done if they can beat Michigan in Ann Arbor for the second time since 1962, and if Michael Bennett does well as Dayne's replacement.

PROJECTED ORDER OF FINISH: 1. Wisconsin; 2. Michigan; 3. Penn State; 4. Purdue; 5. Michigan State; 6. Minnesota; 7. Illinois; 8. Ohio State; 9. Indiana; 10. Northwestern; 11. Iowa.

PRESEASON ALL-CONFERENCE OFFENSE: QB Drew Brees, Purdue; RB Anthony Thomas, Michigan; RB T.J. Duckett, Michigan State; WR David Terrell, Michigan; WR Vinny Sutherland, Purdue; C Ben Hamilton, Minnesota; OL Bill Ferrario, Wisconsin; OL Steve Hutchinson, Michigan; OL Kareem McKenzie, Penn State; OL Marques Sullivan, Illinois; TE Tim Stratton, Purdue; PK Vitaly Pisetsky, Wisconsin.

PRESEASON ALL-CONFERENCE DEFENSE: DL Wendell Bryant, Wisconsin; DL Justin Kurpeikis, Penn State; DL Karon Riley, Minnesota; DL Josh Shaw, Michigan State; LB T.J. Turner, Michigan State; LB Akin Ayodele, Purdue; LB Sean Hoffman, Minnesota; DB Jamar Fletcher, Wisconsin; DB Willie Middlebrooks, Minnesota; DB Renaldo Hill, Michigan State; DB Nate Clements, Ohio State; P Craig Jarrett, Michigan State.

RISING STAR: Purdue DE Shaun Phillips, a redshirt freshman, was impressive enough in spring practice that coach Joe Tiller moved second team All-Big Ten DE Ayodele to linebacker.

TOUGHEST SCHEDULE: Iowa. Rated toughest in the nation (.654 opponents' winning percentage last year), non-conference foes include Nebraska and Kansas State. The Hawkeyes later have a five-game stretch of Michigan State, Illinois, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State.

EASIEST SCHEDULE: Minnesota. Nobody has a cushy schedule in the Big Ten, but the Gophers don't play Michigan or Michigan State and have perhaps the lightest non-conference schedule.

QUICK FACTS: With Brees a Heisman favorite, the league has chance for a fourth Heisman winner in six years (Wisconsin's Ron Dayne in '99, Michigan's Charles Woodson in '97 and Ohio State's Eddie George in '95). ... Illinois broke a 97-year-old school mark by scoring 388 points. Ten starters return from that offense, including QB Kurt Kittner (2,702 yards, 24 TDs). ... The Badgers' No. 4 preseason rating is the highest in school history. ... Michigan QB Drew Henson gets his chance after waiting patiently for Tom Brady to leave. Henson has thrown for 800 yards, six TDs and three interceptions. ... Penn State will have nearly an all-new defense. Nine starters and a coordinator have been replaced. ... Minnesota went bowling for first time in 14 years but will have to rely on defense to make it back to the post-season. Only five starters return on offense, but eight return on a defense that allowed 16.3 ppg.

Big 12

OUTLOOK: With Tom Osborne on the campaign trail, Frank Solich's Cornhuskers are expected to challenge for the national championship. Kansas State's David Allen should keep breaking punt-return records and provide an offensive spark for the Wildcats. The Texas quarterback controversy will be livelier than the presidential campaigns this fall, but the real story could be Texas' talented defensive tackle tandem of Casey Hampton and Shaun Rogers. And Texas Tech QB Kliff Kingsbury could be one of the nation's biggest surprises.

PROJECTED ORDER OF FINISH: North: 1. Nebraska; 2. Kansas State; 3. Colorado; 4. Iowa State; 5. Missouri; 6. Kansas. South: 1. Texas; 2. Texas A&M; 3. Oklahoma; 4. Texas Tech; 5. Oklahoma State; 6. Baylor.

PRESEASON ALL-CONFERENCE OFFENSE: QB Eric Crouch, Nebraska; RB Hodges Mitchell, Texas; RB Dan Alexander, Nebraska; WR Javon Green, Colorado; WR Quincy Morgan, Kansas State; TE Tracey Wistrom, Nebraska; C Dominic Raiola, Nebraska; OL Russ Hochstein, Nebraska; OL Leonard Davis, Texas; OL Josh Lind, Oklahoma State; OL Seth McKinney, Texas A&M; K Jamie Rheem, Kansas State.

PRESEASON ALL-CONFERENCE DEFENSE: DL Shaun Rogers, Texas; DL Casey Hampton, Texas; DL Mario Fatafehi, Kansas State; DL Justin Smith, Missouri; LB Rocky Calmus, Oklahoma; LB Jashon Sykes, Colorado; LB Carlos Polk, Nebraska; DB Jarrod Cooper, Kansas State; DB Carl Nesmith, Kansas; DB Keyuo Craver, Nebraska; DB Dyshod Carter, Kansas State; P Dan Hadenfeldt, Nebraska.

RISING STAR: In a pass-happy offense under new coach Mike Leach, look for Kingsbury to be among the league passing leaders. Texas Tech's weak early schedule won't hurt.

TOUGHEST SCHEDULE: The Buffaloes might have to be coaxed out of the locker room come October. In coach Gary Barnett's second season, Colorado opens against Colorado State (in Denver), at Southern Cal, Washington, Kansas State, at Texas A&M and Texas. The finale is at Nebraska.

EASIEST SCHEDULE: Kansas State. Another creampuff in the making with non-conference games against Iowa, Louisiana Tech, Ball State and North Texas.

QUICK FACTS: With 889 yards last season, Crouch became the first Nebraska QB to lead the team in rushing since 1955. ... Oklahoma QB Josh Heupel (3,460 yards, 30 TDs) is back after breaking nine school and six league records. ... Kansas State's Allen, with seven punt returns for TDs, needs one to break the NCAA record he shares with Oklahoma's Jack Mitchell and Nebraska's Johnny Rodgers. ... Texas QB Major Applewhite was the Big 12's offensive player of the year but could lose his job to sophomore whiz Chris Simms, son of former New York Giants QB Phil Simms. ... Kansas FB Moran Norris is a bull who last year wore offensive lineman's shoulder pads and can bench-press 500 pounds. ... WR Kyle Shanahan, whose father Mike won a Super Bowl as coach of the Denver Broncos, transferred from Duke to Texas and has three years of eligibility. ... Colorado is salivating over RB Marcus Houston, who is such a model citizen he was scheduled to take farm tools, books and educational materials to villages in Ghana this summer. ... Kansas quarterbacks assistant Jay Johnson has the unique distinction of having been the starting quarterback at Northern Iowa with Kurt Warner as his backup. Yep, that Kurt Warner, the NFL MVP last year for the Super Bowl champion St. Louis Rams.

Big West

OUTLOOK: What is almost certainly the weakest conference in the nation is dropping football at the end of the season, and only Idaho, Boise State and New Mexico State have a realistic shot at the final league title and a berth in the Humanitarian Bowl. There may be intrigue at Utah State, where former Montana coach Mick Dennehy becomes the third coach in the past four seasons. He takes over an Aggie team that will strain to find enough talent to adequately fill the roster.

PROJECTED ORDER OF FINISH: 1. Boise State; 2. New Mexico State; 3. Idaho; 4. Arkansas State; 5. North Texas; 6. Utah State.

PRESEASON ALL-CONFERENCE OFFENSE: QB Bart Hendricks, Boise State; RB Ja'Quay Wilburn, North Texas; RB Anthony Tenner, Idaho; WR Robert Kilow, Arkansas State; WR Jeb Putzier, Boise State; TE Mike Roberg, Idaho; C Matt Hancock, New Mexico State; OL Garry Johnson, Arkansas State; OL Tony Wragge, New Mexico State; OL Rick DeMulling, Idaho; OL Derek Olley, Boise State; PK Nick Calaycay, Boise State.

PRESEASON ALL-CONFERENCE DEFENSE: DE Ryan Knowles, Idaho; DT Wil Beck, Idaho; DT Oliver Soukup, New Mexico State; DE Zach Weber, Boise State; LB Kareem Williams, Boise State; LB Chris Nofoaiga, Idaho; LB Brent Passey, Utah State; DB Dempsey Dees, Boise State; DB Cleavon Bradshaw, Idaho; DB Donald Malloy, New Mexico State; DB Quintin Mikell, Boise State; P Steve Mullins, Utah State.

RISING STAR: Injuries kept Idaho QB John Welsh from blossoming after a solid sophomore year in '98.

TOUGHEST SCHEDULE: Arkansas State faces, oh, nobody in particular. Just Oklahoma, TCU, N.C. State and Ole Miss.

EASIEST SCHEDULE: New Mexico State. Though there's no such thing as an easy schedule in the Big West, given the need for big-money games, the Aggies have the least painful non-conference slate: South Carolina, New Mexico, Georgia, UTEP, Army and Tulsa.

QUICK FACTS: Defending league champion Boise State is fairly well stocked with Hendricks and 13 other returning starters. ... Idaho has 17 starters back for new coach Tom Cable, including QB John Welsh and Nofoaiga. ... New Mexico State has been rebuilding under coach Tony Samuel and could take another step toward respectability if the defense keeps improving. The Aggies won six games last season, the most in Las Cruces since 1992. ... Samuel and Arkansas State's Joe Hollis share the title of the Big West's dean of coaches, each heading into their fourth season. ... The top seven passers from last season all were underclassmen. ... Remember the name Brock Forsey. Boise State's sophomore running back emerged in the Humanitarian Bowl, setting a school record with 269 all-purpose yards (152 rushing) to earn MVP.

Conference USA

OUTLOOK: The 5-year-old conference is off to a good start. Its contract with Fox Sports is solid and provides weekly exposure. It has three bowl-tie-ins (Liberty, Mobile Alabama and and could sneak a fourth into the picture this season. And C-USA's upper-level teams are no pushovers for anybody, and they don't shy from playing the best, taking on the likes of Florida State, Alabama, Tennessee, Syracuse, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma State, Wisconsin, Indiana, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Air Force, Boston College, Kentucky, Texas and Louisiana State. At worst, C-USA is better than the WAC. And in a good year, its upper-level teams can push some of the teams from heavyweight conferences such as the Big East, ACC and Pac-10.

PROJECTED ORDER OF FINISH: 1. Southern Miss; 2. East Carolina; 3. Tulane; 4. Memphis; 5. Louisville; 6. Alabama-Birmingham; 7. Cincinnati; 8. Houston; 9. Army.

PRESEASON ALL-CONFERENCE OFFENSE: QB David Garrard, East Carolina; RB Derrick Nix, Southern Miss; RB Jamie Wilson, East Carolina; WR Arnold Jackson, Louisville; WR Adrian Burnett, Tulane; TE Billy Kendall, Memphis; OL Sherwin Lacewell, East Carolina; OL Doug Rosfeld, Cincinnati; OL Josh Lovelady, Houston; OL Artis Hicks, Memphis; OL Bernard Robertson, Tulane; PK Ryan White, Memphis.

PRESEASON ALL-CONFERENCE DEFENSE: DL Cedric Scott, Southern Miss; DL Mario Monds, Cincinnati; DL Marcus Bell, Memphis; DL Mbayo Ahmuda, East Carolina; LB Pernell Griffin, East Carolina; LB Kamal Shakir, Memphis; LB Wayne Rogers, Houston; DB Antonio Roundtree, Louisville; DB DeJaun Gossett, Cincinnati; DB Leo Barnes, Southern Miss; DB Idrees Bashir, Memphis; P Adam Wulfeck, Cincinnati.

RISING STAR: Memphis sophomore RB Jeff "Sugar" Sanders is expected to shake off injuries and finally deliver the sweetness expected of him.

TOUGHEST SCHEDULE: Southern Miss is on the road for its first three games, and their foes aren't exactly pushovers: Tennessee, Alabama and Oklahoma State.

EASIEST SCHEDULE: UAB doesn't play a non-conference opponent that had a winning record last season, including Division I-AA Chattanooga (5-6), Kansas (5-7), LSU (3-8), Louisiana-Lafayette (2-9) and Middle Tennessee (3-8).

QUICK FACTS: C-USA was the lone I-A conference to have every team average at least 20 points. ... Starting as a six-team aggregation, the league will grow to 11 members in three years. The WAC's Texas Christian will join C-USA for all sports next season, and South Florida, a founding member of the league in all sports but football, will become a player in that sport in 2003. East Carolina, which joined the league in 1997 as a football-only member, will begin play in all conference sports in the 2001-2002 season. ... At least five teams will use a one-back, three-receiver set this season: Southern Miss, Houston, Louisville, Army and Tulane. East Carolina accomplishes the same thing with H-backs. ... New coaches Dana Dimel at Houston and Todd Berry at Army plan to revitalize their programs with pass-oriented offenses. ... Speculation is that Cincinnati's Rick Minter is the coach with the least job security.

Ivy League

OUTLOOK: With Brown, who shared first place with Yale in '99, ineligible for a conference title because of recruiting violations, the Bulldogs must fend off Cornell to repeat as champions. The Big Red lost just one starter on offense and four on defense, and junior QB Ricky Rahne shattered most of the school's single-season passing records. Coach Pete Mangurian feels both losses in a 5-2 Ivy League campaign were in winnable games. Yale returns 15 starters but has to replace QB Joe Walland, the most prolific offensive player in school history.

PROJECTED ORDER OF FINISH: 1. Cornell; 2. Yale; 3. Pennsylvania; 4. Brown; 5. Harvard; 6. Princeton; 7. Dartmouth; 8. Columbia.

PRESEASON ALL-CONFERENCE OFFENSE: QB Ricky Rahne, Cornell; RB Kris Ryan, Penn; RB Rashad Bartholomew, Yale; FB Jim Keppel, Yale; WR Stephen Campbell, Brown; WR Joe Splendorio, Cornell; TE Lee Roach, Dartmouth; OL Peter Calabrese, Brown; OL Mike Clare, Harvard; OL Drew Inzer, Brown; OL Caleb Moore, Dartmouth; OL Dennis Norman, Princeton; K Mike Murawczyk, Yale.

PRESEASON ALL-CONFERENCE DEFENSE: DL Jay Bolton, Cornell; DL Brian Person, Penn; DL Nathan Podsakoff, Princeton; LB Michael Higgins, Princeton; LB Peter Mazza, Yale; LB Matt Mercer, Dartmouth; LB Dan Morris, Penn; LB Dan Weyandt, Cornell; DB Joey Alofaituli, Penn; DB Than Merrill, Yale; DB Todd Tomich, Yale; DB Kunle Williams, Penn; P Eric Johnson, Yale.

RISING STAR: Penn QB Gavin Hoffman, a Northwestern transfer, started slowly but finished strong and set three school passing records. He'll benefit from a more experienced receiving corps.

TOUGHEST SCHEDULE: Penn is on the road for key games against Yale and Cornell and opens at Patriot League co-champion Lehigh.

EASIEST SCHEDULE: Hard to say, but Brown does get Cornell and Yale at home.

QUICK FACTS: Yale needs one victory to become the first school with 800 all-time. ... The pressure is on Yale QB Peter Lee, who steps in for Walland with most of an offense back that averaged 31.5 points last season. ... Ryan averaged just under 120 yards on 21 carries last season and might be asked to carry an even heavier load. ... Princeton has QB stability for the first time in a decade with junior Tom Crenshaw, who was 157-of-281 for 1,662 yards last season. ... Brown QB Eric Webber, injured last season, is the favorite to replace '99 Ivy Player of the Year James Perry. ... Harvard has serious questions in the backfield. Junior QB Neli Rose missed all of last season with a broken foot, and all-time leading rusher Chris Menick graduated.


OUTLOOK: During the past three seasons, Marshall has won 35 games, three MAC titles and two Motor City Bowls, capped by a 13-0 record and top-10 finish in 1999. This year, Akron and Toledo are challenging the Herd's supremacy after yet another big name, QB Chad Pennington, departed for the NFL. Akron won seven last year after going 12-32 the previous four, and any defensive improvement might be enough to propel the Zips into first in the East. Toledo gets 20 starters back from a team that won its last three and has had six straight winning seasons.

PROJECTED ORDER OF FINISH: East: 1. Marshall; 2. Akron; 3. Miami (Ohio); 4. Bowling Green; 5. Ohio; 6. Kent; 7. Buffalo. West: 1. Toledo; 2. Western Michigan; 3. Northern Illinois; 4. Central Michigan; 5. Ball State; 6. Eastern Michigan.

PRESEASON ALL-CONFERENCE OFFENSE: QB Mike Bath, Miami (Ohio); RB Chester Taylor, Toledo; RB William Andrews, Ball State; WR Nate Poole, Marshall; WR Steve Neal, Western Michigan; TE Gregg Kellett, Marshall; C Colin Greczek, Western Michigan; OL Jimmy Cabellos, Marshall; OL Ryan Diem, Northern Illinois; OL Eric Curl, Bowling Green; OL Craig Cipa, Eastern Michigan; PK Brad Selent, Western Michigan.

PRESEASON ALL-CONFERENCE DEFENSE: DL Paul Toviessi, Marshall; DL Andy Aracri, Miami (Ohio); DL DeJuan Goulde, Toledo; LB Rashan Hall, Kent; LB Max Yates, Marshall; LB Mario Evans, Western Michigan; LB Kevin Rollins, Toledo; DB Danny Derricott, Marshall; DB Maurice Hines, Marshall; DB Donnie White, Ohio; DB Chad Long, Bowling Green; P Dave Zastudill, Ohio.

RISING STAR: Chester Taylor, RB, Toledo. Don't be surprised if the senior goes over 2,000 yards rushing in 2000.

TOUGHEST SCHEDULE: Bowling Green opens against Michigan and Pittsburgh and also faces league powers Akron, Toledo and Marshall.

EASIEST SCHEDULE: Eastern Michigan. All MAC schools play some tough opponents early, but the Eagles' set of South Carolina, Temple and Connecticut is relatively non-threatening.

QUICK FACTS: Toledo coach Gary Pinkel expressed concern last season that the MAC was overscheduling itself in non-conference games, and several teams again might have bitten off more than they can chew. Besides Bowling Green, Toledo opens at Penn State; Ball State plays at Florida and Kansas State in a three-week period; and Western Michigan opens at two-time defending Rose Bowl champion Wisconsin. ... Persistence paid off for Northern Illinois coach Joe Novak. After coaching the Huskies to a 3-30 record in his first three seasons, Novak led them to a 5-6 record (5-3 in the MAC) last season. That was good enough to earn him a five-year contract extension. ... Toledo's Taylor, who gained 1,176 yards in 1999 despite being hobbled by two sprained ankles, had a treatment called prolotherapy during the off-season to strengthen the ligaments in his right ankle. Calcium glutenate was injected into the ligaments to help them become stronger. ... Ball State broke ground in the spring on a 25,000-square foot training facility next to its stadium that will open next year. ... Central and Eastern Michigan both welcome former assistants as new head coaches. At Central Michigan, Mike DeBord comes on board after eight years as an assistant at Michigan. At Eastern Michigan, Jeff Woodruff takes over for Rick Rasnick. Woodruff was an assistant at Arizona and Washington.


OUTLOOK: It looks to be another good year for the MEAC after three teams reached the post-season. Florida A&M is ranked No. 8 and North Carolina A&T No. 15 in the Sports Network preseason poll, and Hampton, Howard and Bethune-Cookman all received votes.

PROJECTED ORDER OF FINISH: 1. Florida A&M; 2. North Carolina A&T; 3. Hampton; 4. Bethune-Cookman; 5. Howard; 6. South Carolina State; 7. Delaware State; 8. Norfolk State; 9. Morgan State.

PRESEASON ALL-CONFERENCE OFFENSE: QB Pa'tell Troutman, Bethune-Cookman; RB Montrell Coley, Hampton; RB Jermaine Hutchinson, Howard; WR Jacquay Nunnally, Florida A&M; WR Antonio Stanley, Bethune-Cookman; TE Arther Love, South Carolina State; OL Derrick Gay, Florida A&M; OL LaShaun Mack, Norfolk State; OL Victor Marte, North Carolina A&T; OL James McCall, Hampton; OL Freddie Moore, Florida A&M; K Danny Mathis, Bethune-Cookman.

PRESEASON ALL-CONFERENCE DEFENSE: DL Michael Bland, Hampton; DL Travoris Carnes, Norfolk State; DL Damion Cook, Bethune-Cookman; DL Jauron Dailey, Florida A&M; LB Patrick Burrows, Florida A&M; LB B.J. Little, North Carolina A&T; LB Ray Massey, North Carolina A&T; DB DeShane Dennis, Delaware State; DB Marcus Gray, Norfolk State; DB Vontrae Long, Howard; DB Darnell Vickers, Florida A&M; P Jason Walker, Howard.

RISING STAR: North Carolina A&T RB Adrian Parks. He needs to be with the departure of leading rusher Maurice Smith. He'll have the help of an experienced offensive line that boasts two all-MEAC selections.

TOUGHEST SCHEDULE: Morgan State opens with three tough ones on the road (FAMU, Towson, Howard). The Bears also travel to North Carolina A&T and preseason No. 23 Western Illinois.

EASIEST SCHEDULE: FAMU, with eight home games. There are few pushovers, but except for Southern in Week 10, the Rattlers face all their toughest foes at home.

QUICK FACTS: North Carolina A&T recorded its first 10-win regular season, went undefeated in the conference and beat top-seeded Tennessee State in the I-AA playoffs before falling in the quarterfinals. ... FAMU's Nunnally fell off from 1,316 yards and 12 TDs to 774 and seven, but that was more a product of spreading the wealth than any dip in performance. ... Howard returns the conference's top passer (Bobby Townsend) and scorer (Hutchinson). ... Though Norfolk State won only once in the conference, three of its losses were by a total of 11 points. The Spartans also return 14 starters. ... Morgan State plays three home games, a comparative blessing: Last season, thanks to stadium renovations, nine of its 10 regular-season games were on the road or at a neutral site.

Mountain West

OUTLOOK: What the second-year league lacks in star power, it figures to make up for in drama, with the race for the championship and two bowl berths likely to go down to the final weekend. Colorado State, Utah and BYU all appear capable of winning; they tied for the inaugural title at 8-3 overall and 5-2 in the league. The league is trying to make noise out of the conference, though, with an aggressive scheduling strategy designed to prove it can play with the big boys. The most eye-popping example is the season-opening Pigskin Classic that pits BYU against defending national champion Florida State, but six of the league's eight teams play at least two opponents from conferences affiliated with the BCS. Problem is, no Mountain West team should be considered for a Top 25 vote, and if a dominant team or two doesn't emerge, the conference's credibility will take a hit. BYU may get an emotional edge because of the impending retirement of longtime coach LaVell Edwards.

PROJECTED ORDER OF FINISH: 1. Utah; 2. Brigham Young; 3. Colorado State; 4. Wyoming; 5. New Mexico; 6. UNLV; 7. San Diego State; 8. Air Force.

PRESEASON ALL-CONFERENCE OFFENSE: QB Jason Thomas, UNLV; RB Larry Ned, San Diego State; RB Jeremi Rudolph, UNLV; WR Margin Hooks, BYU; WR Dallas Davis, Colorado State; TE Gary McNeill, San Diego State; OL Tim Stuber, Colorado State; OL Jon Samuelson, New Mexico; OL David Hildebrand, Air Force; OL Sam White, Utah; OL John Greer, UNLV; PK Owen Pochman, BYU.

PRESEASON ALL-CONFERENCE DEFENSE: DL Jeff Boyle, Wyoming; DL Jerome Haywood, San Diego State; DL Setema Gali, BYU; LB Rick Crowell, Colorado State; LB Justin Ena, BYU; LB Patrick Chukwurah, Wyoming; LB Kautai Olevao, Utah; DB Andre Dyson, Utah; DB Kevin Thomas, UNLV; DB Jared Lee, BYU; DB John Howell, Colorado State; P Ray Cheetany, UNLV.

RISING STAR: UNLV RB Kevin Brown was a 1,000-yard rusher at Washington State before transferring.

TOUGHEST SCHEDULE: BYU plays Florida State, Virginia, Mississippi State and Syracuse before Oct. 1.

EASIEST SCHEDULE: New Mexico, though the Lobos aren't really good enough to consider Boise State, New Mexico State and Northern Arizona patsies.

QUICK FACTS: Because of a new NCAA rule, BYU's home uniforms no longer will include the huge white "bib" on the front of the jersey. There was a concern visiting teams sometimes were confused by the amount of white, which extended below the numbers on the jerseys. The rule also spares fans from having to look at those awful uniforms. ... Air Force's offensive system wound up on the Internet. It was full of details, including diagrams and names of plays. ... Utah safety Brandon Dart was granted a seventh year of eligibility by the NCAA. ... UNLV installed grass at Sam Boyd Stadium last season. A year later, officials are considering going back to artificial turf in 2001. It's a new type of synthetic turf that feels more like grass than AstroTurf. Last year, after a soccer tournament during football season, the field was spotty, and Rudolph stepped in sand and injured his groin. He was never the same. ... BYU hasn't been shut out since September 1975 by Arizona State. The span of 312 games is an NCAA record. ... Break out the Geritol. Six of the conference's eight coaches are at least 60. ... BYU will be the league's traveling men as the Cougars will span 10,874 miles.


OUTLOOK: After posting a 20-18 nonconference record and a 1-4 mark in bowls, and with only two teams, No. 13 Washington and No. 15 Southern Cal, ranked among the preseason Top 25, the conference is mostly looking to regain some luster. The non-conference slate should be telling again. Southern Cal's first two games are against Penn State and Colorado; Washington has Miami and Colorado in its first three contests; UCLA has Michigan and Alabama; Oregon visits Wisconsin; Arizona has Ohio State; Stanford hosts Texas. If things don't go well, the top teams once again could end up barely sniffing the national polls.

PROJECTED ORDER OF FINISH: 1. Washington; 2. Southern Cal; 3. Oregon; 4. Stanford; 5. UCLA; 6. Arizona; 7. Oregon State; 8. Arizona State; 9. California; 10. Washington State.

PRESEASON ALL-CONFERENCE OFFENSE: QB Marques Tuiasosopo, Washington; RB DeShaun Foster, UCLA; RB Ken Simonton, Oregon State; WR Kareem Kelly, Southern Cal; WR Brian Poli-Dixon, UCLA; TE Todd Heap, Arizona State; C Bruce Wiggins, Arizona; OL Steven Grace, Arizona; OL Victor Leyva, Arizona State; OL Brian Polak, UCLA; OL Chad Ward, Washington; PK Mike Biselli, Stanford.

PRESEASON ALL-CONFERENCE DEFENSE: DL Andre Carter, California; DL Ennis Davis, Southern Cal; DL Willie Howard, Stanford; DL Larry Triplett, Washington; LB Adam Archuelta, Arizona State; LB Zeke Moreno, Southern Cal; LB Markus Steele, Southern Cal; DB Hakim Akbar, Washington; DB Rashad Bauman, Oregon; DB Lamont Thompson, Washington State; DB Dennis Weathersby, Oregon State; P Nick Harris, California.

RISING STAR: Oregon RB Maurice Morris, a top JUCO back, should do a nice job filling Reuben Droughns' cleats.

TOUGHEST SCHEDULE: UCLA. Ridiculous. Trying to rebound from a 4-7 season, the Bruins play eight bowl teams, including non-league games against Alabama and Michigan.

EASIEST SCHEDULE: Oregon State opens with Eastern Washington, New Mexico and San Diego State, faces Southern Cal, Stanford and Oregon at home and misses Arizona State.

QUICK FACTS: Washington WR Ja'Warren Hooker is on the U.S. Olympic 4x400-meter team and probably won't play this season, coach Rick Neuheisel says. ... USC senior CB Antuan Simmons will redshirt after surgery in May to remove a non-cancerous abdominal tumor. ... Washington's conference title hopes rest with Tuiasosopo, who had 2,762 yards in total offense. ... Defending league champ Stanford lost four all-league players on offense: QB Todd Husak, WR Troy Walters and OLs Mike McLaughlin and Jeff Cronshagen. ... Arizona State QB Ryan Kealy is coming off his fifth knee operation. John Leonard waits in the wings. ... Oregon State gets back Simonton, QB Jonathan Smith and most of a solid defense as it tries to produce back-to-back winning seasons under Dennis Erickson.


OUTLOOK: TCU could become this season's Marshall/Tulane, i.e. undefeated, as LaDainian Tomlinson bulls his way into Heisman contention. New Fresno State quarterback David Carr recalls that it's more fun to play football than watching it with the coaches in the press box like last year. New coach Gary Nord will try to push Texas-El Paso into bowl contention with one of the nation's most underrated offenses.

PROJECTED ORDER OF FINISH: 1. Texas Christian; 2. Fresno State; 3. Rice; 4. Hawaii; 5. Texas El-Paso; 6. SMU; 7. San Jose State; 8. Tulsa; 9. Nevada.

PRESEASON ALL-CONFERENCE OFFENSE: QB David Neill, Nevada; RB LaDainian Tomlinson, TCU; RB Paris Gaines, Fresno State; WR Rodney Wright, Fresno State; WR Ashley Lelie, Hawaii; TE Brian Natkin, UTEP; C Casey Clayton, UTEP; OL David Bobo, TCU; OL Chris Fe'esago, San Jose State; OL Manly Kanoa, Hawaii; OL Jeff Millican, TCU; PK Ricky Bishop, UTEP.

PRESEASON ALL-CONFERENCE DEFENSE: DL Doug Sims, Hawaii; DL Shawn Worthen, TCU; DL Alan Harper, Fresno State; DL Aaron Schobel, TCU; LB Orlando Huff, Fresno State; LB Shannon Brazzell, TCU; LB Ashon Farley, Tulsa; DB Dee Miller, Hawaii; DB Curtis Fuller, TCU; DB Derek Walker, UTEP; DB Anthony Limbrick, Fresno State; P Colin Vadheim, SMU.

RISING STAR: Tulsa QB Josh Blankenship has shown big-play ability, and another year of experience should help him cut down on his interceptions.

TOUGHEST SCHEDULE: Non-conference tussles at Ohio State and UCLA should prepare Fresno State for tough conference games at Texas-El Paso, Rice and TCU.

EASIEST SCHEDULE: TCU. Talk of an undefeated season isn't far-fetched considering the Horned Frogs' non-conference games against Northwestern, Arkansas State and Navy.

QUICK FACTS: Tulsa has installed a new rubber-and-sand type surface called Fieldturf at Skelly Stadium. ... Future WAC member Louisiana Tech plays Hawaii and Tulsa this season. ... As part of TCU's Heisman campaign, Tomlinson has his own Web site, ... Tomlinson should be licking his chops. Seven of TCU's 11 opponents finished 91st or worse in rush defense last season. ... UTEP regained the attendance record in its own stadium last season when 52,247 showed up for a showdown with rival New Mexico State. Before that, the largest crowd in the Sun Bowl was 51,126 for a Dallas Cowboys-Houston Oilers exhibition in 1996. ... Of the 15 seniors on the Honolulu Advertiser's All-State football team, Hawaii signed 11. ... In March, new Tulsa coach Keith Burns had his team take part in the school's sendoff for the basketball team, which was headed to Austin for the NCAA Regionals. "I wanted you fellas to see the things that come with winning: large crowds to send you off, media and radio, nice buses, police escorts," he said.


OUTLOOK: Can Notre Dame go a whole season without breaking into the Top 25? The pollsters' habit of ranking the Irish several spots higher than they deserve to be won't come into play if they start 0-4, a distinct possibility. That probably precludes any independent from reaching the post-season. Central Florida plays I-AA teams for the last time and loaded up its schedule with three, which could damage the Knights' bowl chances. Explosive Louisiana Tech, which joins the WAC in 2001, went the opposite route: The Bulldogs visit Penn State, Kansas State, Auburn and Miami. It'll be a challenge just to finish 7-4. At the other end, new 1-A entry Connecticut is probably over its head and may challenge for worst team in the nation.

PROJECTED ORDER OF FINISH: Central Florida, Louisiana Tech, Navy, Notre Dame, Middle Tennessee State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe, Connecticut.

OFFENSIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Vic Penn, UCF; RB Tony Fisher, Notre Dame; RB Julius Jones, Notre Dame; WR Sean Cangelosi, Louisiana Tech; WR James Jordan, Colorado State; TE Jabari Holloway, Notre Dame; C Chris Lorenti, UCF; OL Jeff Faine, Notre Dame; OL David Gaar, Louisiana-Lafayette; OL Mike Gandy, Notre Dame; OL Hoot Stahl, Navy; PK Nick Setta, Notre Dame.

DEFENSIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH: DL Grant Irons, Notre Dame; DL Josh McKibben, UCF; DL Tony Weaver, Notre Dame; DL Brad Wismatt, Navy; LB Anthony Denman, Notre Dame; LB Shaka Martin, Navy; LB Travis Schwartz, Louisiana-Lafayette; DB Damian Demps, UCF; DB Chris Lepore, Navy; DB Cedric Robinson, Louisiana-Monroe; DB Brock Williams, Notre Dame; P Javier Beorlegui, UCF.

RISING STAR: Connecticut QB Ryan Tracey, a signee from Citrus (Calif.) Community College, moved to No. 1 on the depth chart in the spring and might surprise.

TOUGHEST SCHEDULE: The Irish open against Texas A&M, Nebraska and Purdue at home before traveling to Michigan State. Also on the schedule are Stanford, Navy, West Virginia, Air Force, Boston College, Rutgers and Southern Cal. Not even the standard Notre Dame poll inflation may be enough to break this team into the Top 25.

EASIEST SCHEDULE: Louisiana-Monroe does travel to Tennessee, but the rest of its schedule is dotted with the likes of Nicholls State, Southwest Texas and Wofford.

QUICK FACTS: The independent ranks will thin to three next year when the Sun Belt enters I-A, combining Middle Tennessee State, Louisiana-Lafayette and Louisiana-Monroe with Big West members Arkansas State, New Mexico State, North Texas and Idaho. ... The Sun Belt has seven teams but it does have a bowl affiliation. An unnamed post-season contest will be played before Christmas in New Orleans and feature the conference champ. ... Connecticut received a waiver from the NCAA so that it won't have to expand Memorial Stadium (capacity: 16,200) to join the I-A ranks this season. The Huskies expect a 40,000-seat stadium to be ready in East Hartford (about 25 minutes from campus) in 2003.

- Compiled from Times wires

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