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COLLEGE STARS STAY IN SCHOOL, LEAVING SHALLOW DRAFT POOL

There is no reason to doubt Tom Donahoe's contention that the Bills' new starting quarterback, J.P. Losman, might have been the first man drafted at his position in next weekend's draft, nor even that Losman might have been the first overall selection.

There are always good football players, maybe excellent ones, in any draft, but by the standards of most years, particularly last year's crop, this draft is undistinguished. Donahoe's point about teams attempting to trade their way out of the first round is well taken.

If you are a fan of college football, this is good news. The stars who will line up for defending national champion Southern California alone might have taken up almost half the top 10 in the first round if they had been in this draft. It would not have been shocking to watch Trojans quarterback Matt Leinart, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, and his game-breaking backfield mate, Reggie Bush, selected one-two Saturday.

Power back LenDale White, like Bush a mere junior, scored 28 touchdowns in his first two seasons. Steve Smith caught three touchdown passes from Leinart in the 55-19 rout of Oklahoma that decided the national championship. Freshman Dwayne Jarrett is bigger and better than Smith.

Virginia's D'Brickashaw Ferguson would have been the first offensive lineman drafted Saturday had he declared for the draft. Instead he'll be blocking for one of the nation's best running backs, Wali Lundy. The No. 1 running back is Adrian Peterson of Oklahoma, who was an All-American as a freshman and, like Bush, a Heisman Trophy finalist. The Sooners will be doing a lot more running in 2005.

There are three terrific linebackers in the Big Ten, A.J. Hawk of Ohio State and Chad Greenway of Iowa, both seniors, and Penn State's Dan Connor, a sophomore. Boston College has the most intriguing defensive end, 6-foot-7 Mathias Kiwanuka.

Leinart is the only pro-ready quarterback electing to stay in college, but there are a bunch of good quarterbacks in the development stage. The most notable may be Vince Young, the big guy from Texas who destroyed Michigan in the Rose Bowl. At 6-5, Young is a taller version of Michael Vick, at least when he runs with the ball. But he has two years of college eligibility left and he'd be wise to use them to develop his passing.

With Urban Meyer, the ex-Utah coach who passed up Notre Dame, now running things at Florida, Gators fans are predicting their quarterback, Chris Leak, will be a Southeast version of the Utes' Alex Smith, who could be the NFL's top pick Saturday.

There are a number of college experts who think at least one of three sophomore quarterbacks will make a bigger hit than Leak. They are Chad Henne of Michigan, Erik Ainge of Tennessee and Brian Brohm of Louisville, whom Paul Hornung predicted would "win three Heismans" if he enrolled at Notre Dame. Instead, Brohm stayed in his home city, where Hornung also lives.

Henne will team with fellow sophomore Mike Hart, the powerful little running back from the Syracuse area, to give Michigan another shot at the national championship. The Big Ten is awash with young quarterbacks. Iowa's Drew Tate has big Clinton Solomon as a pass-catching collaborator and Michigan State's Drew Stanton can rely on power back Jehuu Caulcrick, the former All-Western New York star from Clymer.

The Big Ten version of Reggie Bush is Ohio State wide receiver/kick returner Ted Ginn.

The Mid-American Conference, the University at Buffalo's league, boasts Western Michigan tight end Tony Scheffler and Miami (Ohio) wide receiver Martin Nance, plus two good quarterbacks, Bruce Gradkowski of Toledo and Omar Jacobs of Bowling Green.
Larry Felser, former News columnist, appears in Sunday's editions.