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SATURDAY, JANUARY 1, 2005
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Sugar Bowl QBs earn their crowns

By Bradley Handwerger
DAILY Sports Writer

bhandwerger@decaturdaily.com 340-2462

NEW ORLEANS — During his early years at Auburn, Jason Campbell was more of a working-class citizen than royalty.

The Internet resonated with comments about how Campbell couldn't win the big game, how Campbell just wasn't a good quarterback, how Campbell was only an average-at-best signal-caller.

He had his good days. He had his bad days.

Now, in his fifth year on the Plains, the Mississippi native is living the American dream. He's gone from construction worker to king in less than a year.

And there is no one more familiar with his situation than Virginia Tech starting quarterback Bryan Randall.

On Monday, those two will get a chance to see each other in person as No. 3 Auburn (12-0) plays No. 9 Virginia Tech (10-2) in the Sugar Bowl at the Louisiana Superdome (7 p.m., WAAY-31).

"Last year, we had two good quarterbacks in Marcus Vick and him, and we got into a rotation a little bit," Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer said about Randall. "But it was never so much Bryan as much as what the other guy was doing, too. But I can say this year that Bryan has been tremendous."

Said Auburn offensive coordinator Al Borges about Campbell: "I think I've gotten credit for some of it (Campbell's development), but I don't think I deserve it. I think he has just after four years, matured as a football player. I think it's 99 percent Jason Campbell, 1 percent Al Borges. I think he came out and he was ready to play well."

Here's another similarity — both were voted as the player of the year in their respective conferences, Campbell in the Southeastern and Randall in the Atlantic Coast.

The numbers don't lie. Both quarterbacks are having career years.

Going into the bowl game, Campbell has thrown 2,511 yards, 250 more than in any previous season. He's thrown for 19 touchdowns, eight more than his previous career-high. And he's completing a career-best 69.7 percent of his passes.

Randall also has thrown for a career-high 19 touchdowns, four more than his previous best. And in three seasons as a starter, he's never thrown fewer interceptions than this season's seven.

But for both quarterbacks, this season has been a bright spot because of the sudden change of heart from fans.

"When people talked about Auburn, everyone talked about being good until they got to the part about me," Campbell said. "They tried to blame me for Auburn not succeeding. It wasn't something that I worried about because I knew what I was doing was what the coaches were asking of me and that was all I could do. I couldn't do any more."

It isn't only on the field where Campbell has gained respect.

It's the little things away from the practice field that go unnoticed by the masses, but not by his teammates.

Frosh memories

"I remember when I was a freshman, he would call me and I would go over to his place and hang out," Auburn sophomore receiver Courtney Taylor said. "He is a good person to know and I feel that speaks for the team, you always know he will look out for you and you can count on him."

After watching film of Auburn, Hokies offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring is ready to defend both quarterbacks.

"You're seeing two guys in Jason and Bryan that have suffered through the trials and tribulations of the quarterback position and both of them stand for something that I think is very important: that which doesn't break you only can make you stronger," Stinespring said.

"I couldn't be any prouder of what Bryan Randall has accomplished on the football field. He's been a great leader, a terrific football player."

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