Rough Starts

Teams with tough early schedules risk a quick fall from Bowl Championship Series contention. Teams who face unimposing opponents early don't earn poll voters' respect or good strength-of-schedule ratings. At the extremes:

Too Tough:.

Michigan: May have the nation's toughest schedule. It starts by hosting Notre Dame on Saturday, then travels to Syracuse (Sept. 18) and Wisconsin (Sept. 25) before hosting Purdue Oct. 2. Michigan finishes with Penn State and Ohio State.

Washington: Opens with Brigham Young and Air Force before facing Colorado. A potentially tough Oregon team awaits Oct. 2.

Miami: After beating Ohio State, 23-12, on Sunday, the Hurricanes still have to host Penn State on Sept. 18 and visit Florida State Oct. 9.

Not Enough.

Kansas State: Hasn't learned anything from last year's BCS snub, which partly was due to a weak nonconfernce schedule. The Wildcats open with Temple and Texas-El Paso. Their other nonconference opponent is Utah State.

Wisconsin: Starting with Murray State, Ball State and Cincinnati should help Ron Dayne break Ricky Williams's Division I-A career rushing record. But things get tougher when the Badgers next face Michigan and Ohio State on consecutive weekends.

Virginia Tech: A sure-to-be heated game at Virginia on Oct. 2 could be the only test among the first five. The rest are against Division I-AA James Madison, Alabama-Birmingham, Clemson and Rutgers, which were a combined 15-29 last season.

Have We Met?

Rick Neuheisel left Colorado for Washington. Replacing Neuheisel at Colorado was Northwestern's Gary Barnett. Replacing Barnett at Northwestern was Miami (Ohio)'s Randy Walker. Walker and Neuheisel will see their former teams up close, as Northwestern hosts Miami Saturday, and Washington hosts Colorado on Sept. 25.

Meet the Mountain West

Brigham Young

Air Force

San Diego State

Wyoming

Colorado State

Utah

UNLV

New Mexico

Left in the WAC:

Fresno State

Rice

Texas Christian

SMU

San Jose State

Texas-El Paso

Tulsa

Hawaii

Would You Trust These Guys With One of the Nation's Top Quarterbacks?

You would if you were Purdue Coach Joe Tiller. From left, Brandon Gorin, Chukky Okobi, Jim Niedrach, Aaron Starnes and Matt Light formed the Boilermakers' starting offensive line last season, when then-sophomore Drew Brees set all kinds of passing records, and engineered a huge upset of Kansas State in the Alamo Bowl. Against Wisconsin, Brees set the NCAA single-game mark for completions (55) and tied the record for attempts (83). He also set Big Ten season records for completions (361), attempts (569), passing yards (3,983), TD passes (39) and total yards (4,176), although Purdue did not play Michigan or Ohio State. If he can cut down on interceptions (20 last season) and survive October, when Purdue faces Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State in a four-week span, he should be near the top of the Heisman Trophy voters' ballots in December.

Around the Nation.

Father vs. Son

The first father-son coaching matchup in NCAA history is set for Oct. 23, when Bobby Bowden and Florida State visit Tommy Bowden and Clemson.

Whoa, Nellie! Keith Jackson Is Back

He planned to retire after last season, but was coaxed back to the booth by ABC Sports President Howard Katz for Pac-10 games only.

Ivy League Team, Big-Time QBs

At Penn, an unusual battle is brewing at quarterback. All three candidates are transfers from Division I-A schools. Sophomore Ed Mebs came from Miami, where he was a walk-on, and junior Reed Werner from North Carolina (he also shared punting duties for the Quakers last season). But most interesting of all, there is Gavin Hoffman, who started at Northwestern last season. Naturally, they are seeking to replace Matt Rader, who transferred to Penn from Duke.

Army-Navy 100th

Army and Navy meet for the 100th time Dec. 4 at Veterans Stadium. Army leads the series, 48-44-7. In the series overall, Navy has scored 172 TDs, Army 169.

Black Colleges Rising

Three historically black colleges made the Division I-AA playoffs last season, and Florida A&M gave the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference its first playoff victory since 1982. This season, five black colleges are among the top 18 in the Division I-AA preseason rankings: No. 6 Florida A&M, No. 9 Hampton, No. 13 Tennessee State, No. 14 Southern and No. 18 Jackson State. Adding some spice to the picture, the Southwestern Athletic Conference has split into two divisions and will hold a conference championship game Dec. 11 in Birmingham.

Mighty Mount Union

Division III Mount Union begins the season with a 42-game winning streak, five shy of the all-time collegiate record set by Oklahoma from 1953 to 1957.

Top Players You Won't See on TV

Travis Prentice, RB, Miami (Ohio): He's 6 feet 2 and 228 pounds. And last season, behind a line that had four new starters, he averaged 162.5 rushing yards per game and scored 20 touchdowns. He has gone 684 consecutive carries without losing a fumble.

Pat Dennis, CB, Northeast Louisiana: As a sophomore last season, he led the nation with seven interceptions. Some dismiss this since the Indians are one of Division I-A's last independents, but they faced Arizona, Kansas State and Florida last season.

David Neill, QB, and Trevor Insley, WR, Nevada: Neill, a sophomore, didn't start until the third game of last season and missed another game due to suspension. He still threw for 29 touchdowns and finished with a 159.8 rating, fifth in the country. He also passed for 611 yards in one game, an NCAA freshman record. Insley is his favorite target in Nevada's four-receiver system and needs 1,574 yards to break Marcus Harris's all-time NCAA receiving yardage record.

It Takes Two

Two could be the magic number at quarterback for a number of teams, including Michigan, Syracuse, Ohio State, Oregon, Clemson and Maryland. Some coaches alternate a strong passer and an option-style player. Others can't decide between players of nearly equal talent.

A prime example is Arizona, which last season used roommates Keith Smith and Ortege Jenkins and finished 12-1. Their system? Whoever doesn't start plays the second quarter, and the better performer plays the second half. Smith is among the nation's more accurate passers, and Jenkins is a highlight-film staple.

Eyes on the Heisman

The 1999 Heisman Trophy race began in last season's Rose Bowl, when Wisconsin's 5-foot-10, 252-pound running back Ron Dayne punished UCLA for 246 yards rushing and four touchdowns.

Dayne needs 1,717 yards to break Ricky Williams's year-old Division I-A career rushing mark, which means he has to average 156.1 yards per game (his career average is 142.6). If Wisconsin discovers a passing game that can spread defenses just a little bit, it's almost assured that Dayne will break the record and win the Heisman.

If Dayne falters, watch for any of these players:

Joe Hamilton, QB, Georgia Tech: The nation's top multi-purpose QB.

Drew Brees, QB, Purdue: Set several Big Ten season passing records.

Ricky Williams, RB, Texas Tech: The "other" Ricky Williams rushed for 1,582 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. He also outrushed Texas's Ricky Williams, 148 yards to 141, in the Red Raiders' win over the Longhorns.

LaVar Arrington, OLB, Penn State: As a sophomore, he was the Big Ten defensive player of the year. Almost one-third of his 65 tackles were for lossses.

Chad Pennington, QB, Marshall: The sleeper candidate. Will get more attention as Marshall climbs the rankings.

Chris Redman, QB, Louisville: Threw for more than 300 yards in nine of 11 games.

Jamal Lewis, RB, Tennessee: Injured most of last season; averaged 114 rushing yards per game as a freshman in 1997.

Tee Martin, QB, Tennessee: Can he lead the Volunteers to their first win over Florida in Gainesville since 1971?

Peter Warrick, WR, Florida State: Averaging 18 yards per reception for his career; also a stellar kick returner.

Quincy Carter, QB, Georgia: He's done with baseball, which is bad news for Georgia's opponents.

Bowl Championship Series Gets a Tune-Up

Last year's national championship game between Tennessee and Florida State in the Fiesta Bowl fulfilled the Bowl Championship Series' main goal: A postseason matchup of the nation's two top teams. But many observers were unhappy with other BCS matchups. Kansas State was No. 3 in the final BCS rankings, but not selected for a BCS game because it lost to Texas A&M in the Big 12 title game. Meanwhile, Syracuse went to the Orange Bowl as the Big East champion despite being No. 15 in the final BCS rankings.

As a result, BCS officials decided to adjust their rules, adding five more computer polls to its already complicated formula and putting more pressure on the teams from the Big East to succeed nationally over a longer period of time.

Last season, the BCS formula involved the Associated Press media and ESPN/USA Today coaches polls; the New York Times, Seattle Times/Anderson & Hester and Jeff Sagarin/USA Today computer rankings; teams' strength of schedule and teams' won-lost records. This season, the rankings will also include the computer rankings of Richard Billingsley, the Dunkel Index, Kenneth Massey, David Rothman and Scripps Howard/ Matthews. A team's lowest computer ranking will be thrown out.

Meanwhile, file this for the future: A conference can be stripped of its automatic bid if its champions fail to average at least a No. 12 ranking in the final BCS rankings over a four-year period that begins this season. For now, the Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC, ACC and Pac-10 have automatic bids; then two at-large teams are added.

Bowl Schedule.

Las Vegas Bowl

Dec. 18, Las Vegas

TV: ESPN

WAC champion vs. Mountain West No. 2

Mobile Alabama Bowl

Dec. 22, Mobile, Ala.

TV: ESPN

Conference USA No. 2 vs. WAC No. 2

Aloha Bowl

Dec. 25, Honolulu

TV: WJLA-7, WMAR-2

Pac-10 No. 4 or 5 vs. ACC No. 5 or at-large

Oahu Bowl

Dec. 25, Honolulu

TV: WJLA-7, WMAR-2.

Pac-10 No. 4 or 5 vs. ACC No. 5 or at-large

Motor City Bowl

Dec. 27, Pontiac, Mich.

TV: ESPN2.

MAC champion vs. at-large

Alamo Bowl

Dec. 28, San Antonio

TV: ESPN

Big Ten No. 4 vs. Big 12 No. 4

Music City Bowl

Dec. 29, Nashville

TV: ESPN

SEC team vs. Big East No. 4 or Notre Dame

Holiday Bowl

Dec. 30, San Diego

TV: ESPN

Pac-10 No. 2 vs. Big 12 No. 3

Humanitarian Bowl

Dec. 30, Boise, Idaho

TV: ESPN2.

Big West champion vs. Conference USA No. 3

Micron PC Bowl

Dec. 30, Miami

TV: TBS

Big Ten No. 6 vs. ACC No. 4

Peach Bowl

Dec. 30, Atlanta

TV: ESPN

ACC No. 3 vs. SEC team

Insight.com Bowl

Dec. 31, Tucson

TV: ESPN

Big East No. 3 or Notre Dame vs. Big 12 No. 5

Independence Bowl

Dec. 31, Shreveport, La.

TV: ESPN

Big 12 No. 6 vs. SEC team

Liberty Bowl

Dec. 31, Memphis

TV: ESPN

Conference USA champion vs. Mtn. West champion.

Sun Bowl

Dec. 31, El Paso, Texas

TV: WUSA-9, WJZ-13

Pac-10 No. 3 vs. Big Ten No. 5

Citrus Bowl

Jan. 1, Orlando

TV: WJLA-7, WMAR-2

Big Ten No. 2 vs. SEC No. 2.

Cotton Bowl

Jan. 1, Dallas

TV: WTTG-5, WBFF-45

Big 12 No. 2 vs. SEC team.

Gator Bowl

Jan. 1, Jacksonville, Fla.

TV: WRC-4, WBAL-11

ACC No. 2 vs. Big East No. 2 or Notre Dame

Outback Bowl

Jan. 1, Tampa

TV: ESPN

SEC No. 3 vs. Big Ten No. 3

Orange Bowl

Jan. 1, Miami

TV: WJLA-7, WMAR-2

BCS teams

Rose Bowl

Jan. 1, Pasadena, Calif.

TV: WJLA-7, WMAR-2

BCS teams

Fiesta Bowl

Jan. 2, Tempe, Ariz.

TV: WJLA-7, WMAR-2

BCS teams

Sugar Bowl

Jan. 4, New Orleans

TV: WJLA-7, WMAR-2

BCS No. 1 vs. BCS No. 2