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WILLIAMS, MCNOWN LEAD RUSH TO REPLACE DEPARTED STARS

With Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson, quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf and wide receiver Randy Moss now in the NFL, a slew of stars are ready to fill their cleats.

Start with Texas running back Ricky Williams and quarterback Cade McNown of UCLA.

Williams was more than qualified to enter the NFL draft last spring after leading the nation in rushing as a junior.

But the 6-foot, 225-pound Williams, who can bench press 402 pounds and has 4.39 speed in the 40, gives several reasons for turning down millions as a probable top-five pick in the draft to return to the Longhorns.

Williams needs 1,928 yards to break Tony Dorsett's NCAA Division I career rushing record and 20 rushing touchdowns to break Anthony Thompson's career record.

Then there's Earl Campbell's all-time rushing mark at Texas (289 yards to go), the Heisman Trophy and the chance to improve on the Longhorns' 4-7 record last year.

Those closest to Williams say he struggled with the decision but ultimately stayed simply because he wasn't ready to give up the fun he was having in college.

No player from the Pac-10 has won the Heisman since USC's Marcus Allen in 1981, but McNown could end that this year. He helped UCLA win its final 10 games last year by completing 143 of 235 passes for 2,459 yards and 22 touchdowns with only four interceptions. He finished last season with a school-record 3,116 yards passing, and his pass efficiency rating of 168.6 led the country, was the 12th highest in NCAA history and set a Pac-10 record.

McNown is aware of the early Heisman hype but tries not to buy into it too much. He's more interested in trying to lead the Bruins, ranked seventh in the Associated Press preseason poll, to a conference title.

"You ask any player if they want to win an award, you'd want it to be that one," the 6-1, 214-pound left-hander said. "I'm honored to be mentioned as a candidate. But you have to put it off to the side and concentrate on the team."

Other Heisman contenders are quarterbacks Tim Couch of Kentucky, Donovan McNabb of Syracuse and Daunte Culpepper of Central Florida; and running backs J.R. Redmond of Arizona State and Amos Zereoue of West Virginia. Others who could be in the hunt include: running back Ron Dayne of Wisconsin; running back Kevin Faulk of LSU; and quarterback Joe Germaine of Ohio State.

Couch faces an uphill battle because, although his numbers will be impressive, the Heisman Trophy winner usually comes from a winning team. And Kentucky is not expected to contend in a tough Southeastern Conference.

The 6-5 junior with a rifle right arm put up staggering numbers last season for the 5-6 Wildcats. He completed 363 of 547 passes for 3,884 yards and 37 touchdowns; all but the last of those numbers are SEC records.

McNabb, who may be one of the best athletes in the country, combines a strong arm with outstanding running ability. He threw for 2,488 yards and 20 TDs last season and rushed for 404 yards and six touchdowns. McNabb will attempt to become the first player to make first-team All-Big East four consecutive years.

Culpepper, a 6-4, 240-pound senior who has single-handedly put the Knights on the football map, is considered a top pro prospect. He was fourth in total offense last season with 320 yards per game and 15th in passing efficiency (238-of-381 for 3,086 yards, 25 touchdowns and 10 interceptions). Culpepper, who covers 40 yards in 4.6 seconds, also ran for 438 yards and five TDs.

Redmond finally has the tailback position to himself. In two years of sharing the job, he gained 1,166 yards (5.6 yards per carry). He also runs back kicks and will get a look at safety. Redmond enters his junior year as perhaps the most versatile player in college football.

Breakthrough seasons can come from almost anywhere, but keep an eye on quarterbacks Michael Bishop of OVER 18 LNsKansas State and Ryan Kealy of Arizona State, as well as running backs Jamal Lewis of Tennessee and Travis Minor of Florida State. Wideouts David Boston of Ohio State, Peter Warrick of Florida State and Terry Holt of North Carolina State are headed for huge seasons.

On defense, look for all-star performances from linebackers Andy Katzenmoyer of Ohio State, Jevon Kearse of Florida and Dat Nguyen of Texas A&M; cornerbacks Dre' Bly of North Carolina, Antoine Winfield of Ohio State and Champ Bailey of Georgia; and defensive ends Mike Rucker of Nebraska and Robaire Smith of Michigan State.

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