They combined to throw 30 interceptions last season. One was benched for a game and was booed during the spring game at Miami. The other was chided by media, fans and even his Florida State team for erratic play and lack of leadership.
And neither of the two seniors, Miami's Brock Berlin nor Florida State's Chris Rix, is the league's most talented quarterback; that honor falls to Clemson's Charlie Whitehurst.
___College Football Preview '04___ • Adding Miami and Virginia Tech will help turn the ACC into a football powerhouse.
• Quarterbacks Brock Berlin (Miami) and Chris Rix (Florida State) will have a major impact on the ACC.
_____Area Colleges_____ • Place kicker Nick Novak, pictured, is the Terrapins' can't-miss kid.
• Tight end Heath Miller plays a pivotal role in Cavaliers' offensive attack.
• Hokies' linebacker Chad Cooper has battled back from illness.
• Fullback Kyle Eckel leads the Midshipmen's potent running game.
• A once-depleted backfield is now restored for the Bison.
• Hoyas' lineman Brandon Small shines on the field, and on stage.
_____Other Conferences_____ • Big East: Without Virginia Tech and Miami, West Virginia is the favorite.
• Big Ten: The conference decides to use instant replay for one year.
• Big 12: Kansas State running back Darren Sproles is a leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy.
• Pac-10: Despite some offseason snags, Southern Cal is expected to be a force again.
• SEC: Both quarterbacks return for Georgia, while three other powers have to replace their signal callers.
Yet no other ACC players will play more of a role in determining the league champion, as well as the national championship race, as Rix and Berlin, two players both vilified and vital.
"They are identical," Florida State Coach Bobby Bowden said. "Both have had great games. Both have had games where you wonder why they are out there."
Win or lose the season-opening Sept. 6 game at the Orange Bowl, a game many feel could determine the league champion, both will be "under the magnifying glass" all season, as Berlin said. Added Virginia Tech's Bryan Randall, another ACC senior quarterback, "There is no middle ground with fans."
At times Berlin has shined since transferring from Florida. He is the only Miami quarterback to ever beat Florida State twice in one season. He led a dramatic 23-point comeback against Florida in his first season in Coral Gables and set a school record for completions (37) against West Virginia.
Backlash started in November, though, when first a loss to Virginia Tech, then another to Tennessee cost the Hurricanes a third straight trip to the national title game. He was benched for the Syracuse game but returned to help get a victory against the Seminoles in the Orange Bowl.
It hardly mattered because of two losses. Berlin had followed a player, Ken Dorsey, who lost two games his entire career. It hardly mattered because of the numbers; Berlin finished with 17 interceptions and 12 touchdowns. Dorsey had set school records in career passing yardage (9,565) and touchdown passes (86).
Berlin also seemed frustrated with the offense. "We've got the athletes to let them go out and make plays," he said. "When you try to complicate things, you get in trouble."
This year Berlin's position coach, Dan Werner, is Miami's new offensive coordinator, and Coach Larry Coker said that Berlin has shown more self-confidence and teammates have fed off that.
The buzzword in Tallahassee, meantime, is leadership. Bowden wants Rix, entering his fourth season as Seminoles' starter, to avoid inopportune errors -- on and off the field.
Asked what advice he would give Rix, Bowden said, "Stay healthy, park your car in the right place and if any teacher dares mention a final exam, take it."
Rix was ticketed for illegally parking in a handicapped space last season and was suspended for the 2003 Sugar Bowl for missing an exam. He is a supreme athlete but has squandered many opportunities with mistakes -- four turnovers against Miami last season.
He has more losses in his career (10) than the previous four Seminoles quarterbacks had combined. A Florida State message board was even abuzz with criticism that his character was created too slow on a new football video game, according to the Tampa Tribune.
He has one final chance to thrive, and he'll steward a high-powered offense that resembles Florida State's Chris Weinke-Peter Warrick 1999 attack. Wide receiver Craphonso Thorpe has compared Rix's will to that of Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre, and said Rix has made improvements in accepting criticism.
"My pep talk to Chris," Bowden said, "is that 'this is your year. You've paid the price.' "