Mark Cox, who was nationally ranked Annandale High School's starting quarterback for three years, finally will start for Virginia Tech Saturday. He says it's about time.

Cox, a sophomore who was The Washington Post's offensive player of the year in 1980, has played behind Todd Greenwood most of this year. Greenwood, a freshman, will miss the Appalachian State game because of a sprained foot.

"In the fall, I wasn't doing all that good in practice," Cox said. "For some reason he (Coach Bill Dooley) left Todd in there all the time and didn't give me the chance. Then the coach told me that I had to start working harder and change my attitude. I wasn't patting the players on the butt. That's what the coaches like to see. That's part of the reason I'm not starting. Todd did it.

"I'm just upset that I didn't beat him out and he (Greenwood) got hurt. I wanted to prove to the fans and me that I am better. Now, they won't really know if I'm the better player."

"I've said all along he's improved," Dooley said of Cox. "I said that the gap had narrowed. And I said I had confidence in Cox. He started getting the opportunity and then it leveled out. I don't determine who will be No. 1. The bottom line determines who is No. 1. I believe in both of them."

According to Cox, "Players would come up to me during the game and ask, 'Why don't you get in there and play?' I'd come back and say I'd like to, but I can't. It's up to him (Dooley), not me. I thought I should get a chance."

Starting tight end Mike Shaw supports Cox. "Mark won't try to run and get out of the pocket," Shaw said. "He'll sit there a little longer than Greenwood. I like Cox just because we have a real fine passing game. He really puts something behind the ball. Cox can handle the pressure, Greenwood can't. He's (Cox) been under pressure and knows how to handle it. He learned it from high school."

It is obvious that Dooley's preferences and Cox's style don't mix. Said Cox, "Dooley likes someone to roll out. I prefer setting up and dropping back. I don't mind getting hit, but you can't do what you want, you do what the coach tells you."

Cox believes he has improved enough since early September to start. "In the beginning of the season I didn't think I should start," Cox said. "But after the Duke game, I thought I had a good chance to at least come in earlier in the next game." He thought wrong.

Cox continued, "During the Duke game Dooley took me out in the fourth quarter and put Todd back in. I said I was tired but I still could have given 100 percent. He never told me why he took me out. Whatever the reason, I'm glad it worked out. He took me out of the West Virginia game on Saturday, too. I was upset. That showed me he must have more confidence in Todd than me."

Dooley says: "I want him (Cox) to think I didn't have confidence in him. That will make him work harder. I really think everyone's a little frustrated. We're really making a mountain out of a molehill."

Whether Cox starts or not, he does not plan to ride the bench for two more years.

"It's tough to sit there on the sideline and know you could go in there and help your team win," Cox said. "If I have to sit on the bench for the rest of my time here, I'll think about leaving. I'd already thought about it (transferring). Just thoughts. I hadn't really contacted anyone.

"People have come to talk to me, but I'd rather not name any schools. As of now, if I play good against Appalachian State, and they put Todd back in, then I'm going to have to start thinking about doing something, making a decision at the end of the season."

Said Dooley: "If he does well he'll start. That's what it all boils down to."