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16 Alabama With a one-two punch at quarterback and running back, the Tide should be up

When Andrew Zow finds himself on the bench this fall--and make
no mistake about it, Alabama's stellar sophomore signal-caller
will see his share of pine time--he will have no one to blame
but himself. Zow entered last season as the backup to senior
John David Phillips. For the first three games, Zow performed
the perfunctory duties of a backup: wearing a baseball cap,
carrying a clipboard and seeing a little action during mop-up
time. Then in the Crimson Tide's fourth game, a 16-10 loss to
Florida, Phillips led 'Bama backward on each of its first three
possessions, so coach Mike DuBose called on Zow. Much to his
coach's surprise, the kid moved the Tide offense up the field.
"In practice he didn't look like he was ready," says DuBose.
"But he taught me a lesson: You have to let the backup
quarterback play."

So from time to time this season Zow, who took 484 of 487 snaps
after the Florida game, will watch highly touted freshman Tyler
Watts direct the offense--all because Zow was so effective last
year. It won't be easy for Watts to unseat the incumbent,
though. In seven starts last year Zow completed 57.3% of his
passes and threw for 253.7 yards per game.

That Zow threw for 253.7 yards a game for anybody came as a
shock to a fair number of college coaches. An option quarterback
at Union County High in Lake Butler, Fla., Zow saw his chances
of playing quarterback in college all but disappear when he tore
the ACL in his left knee the spring before his senior season.
DuBose was one of the few coaches who wasn't dead set on turning
the 6'2", 217-pounder into a linebacker or a safety, so Zow
backed out of an oral commitment to Auburn and headed to Alabama.

Zow's emergence last fall couldn't have come at a better time
for DuBose, who had incurred the wrath of 'Bama's notoriously
impatient fans by going 4-7 in 1997, his first year on the job.
This year DuBose again finds himself at the center of a storm.
In early August the school lopped two years off his contract and
docked him $360,000 after settling a sexual harassment complaint
filed against DuBose by a university employee. DuBose admitted
that he had misled the public by angrily denying rumors that he
had an improper relationship with the employee.

One player who could help take the heat off DuBose is tailback
Shaun Alexander, who last year ran for 1,178 yards and scored 17
touchdowns. Although he finished his degree last spring,
Alexander decided to return for his senior season and is a
candidate to win the school's first Heisman Trophy. He is also
the team's leading returning receiver, which, while it says a
lot about Alexander's well-roundedness, doesn't say much for the
Tide's receiving corps.

Alabama has plenty of talent on D. The line, anchored by
All-America defensive tackle candidate Cornelius Griffith, is
extremely deep, which DuBose sees as a sign that Alabama has
recovered from the NCAA sanctions that stripped it of 32
scholarships in '95 and '96. "We're still a young team because
of that," he says. But it's now a much better one.

--Mark Bechtel

COLOR PHOTO: NEIL BRAKE/TUSCALOOSA NEWS He's Baack Alexander passed on the NFL to make a run at 'Bama's first Heisman.

Fast Facts

1998 record: 7-4 (4-4, 3rd in SEC West)
Final ranking: unranked

1998 Averages Scoring Rushing Passing Total
Yards Yards Yards

OFFENSE 22.2 115.6 221.4 337.0
DEFENSE 22.6 147.7 221.3 369.0

Key Games
Schedule strength: 5th of 114

Sept. 25 vs. Arkansas
Showdown for the SEC West title? The Crimson Tide has plenty to
prove after last year's 42-6 shellacking.

Oct. 2 at Florida
The Gators haven't lost at the Swamp in 27 games, but they
haven't had a visit from Alabama since 1986.

The Bottom Line

The Crimson Tide might win the SEC West crown but won't get past
the SEC East winner in the conference championship game.