CAPSULES Gateway Football Conference
Coach (year at school): Denver Johnson (second)
2000 record (Gateway finish): 7-4 overall, 4-2 Gateway (tied for second)
2001 predicted finish: fourth
Fast fact: The Redbirds finished the 2000 season with six straight wins to rank 24th nationally.
Coach's comment: "Our spirits are high, and the atmosphere is good around campus. We feel like we have a chance to have a good team again; we just hope we get a better start. Our early-season struggles kept us out of postseason competition."
Coach: Tim McGuire (fourth)
2000 record: 1-10, 1-5 (seventh)
2001 predicted finish: eighth
Fast fact: The Sycamores will change from a run-option offensive attack to one with more balance. Nine starters return on defense.
Coach's comment: "The first thing I wrote down about this season was 'patience.' We needed to decide what to do with the offense. Changing our offense helped our defense this spring -- they're seeing more multiplicity."
Coach: Mark Farley (first)
2000 record: 7-4, 3-3 (fourth)
2001 predicted finish: fifth
Fast fact: The Panthers recorded their 12th straight winning season in 2000 but narrowly missed the playoffs for the fourth straight time.
Coach's comment: "I've been here four months. The first thing we tried to do was evaluate. We still need to raise the bar of expectations; we have a good state to recruit from to get those [talented] players."
Coach: Jerry Kill (first)
2000 record: 3-8, 2-4 (tied for fifth)
2001 predicted finish: seventh
Fast fact: Kill will attempt to lead the Salukis to their first winning season since 1991, when they went 7-4.
Coach's comment: "The biggest challenge we have is to get the kids to believe in themselves. Usually when a team has struggled, [the problem] has been attitude. We had 55 to 60 players who stayed all summer to work in the weight room; that is encouraging."
SOUTHWEST MISSOURI STATE
Coach: Randy Ball (third)
2000 record: 5-6, 2-4 (tied for fifth)
2001 predicted finish: sixth
Fast fact: The Bears have eight starters back on offense. That should help them break a streak of four consecutive 5-6 seasons. Their last winning season came in 1996, when they went 7-4.
Coach's comment: "Offense is our strength going into the season. We're thin in some areas, so we've got to stay healthy. The key for those [defensive] guys is to learn to play together. We need every day we have left to get ready for the season."
Coach: Don Patterson (third)
2000 record: 9-3, 5-1 (first)
2001 predicted finish: third
Fast fact: The Leathernecks received four of the top five season-ending honors in the Gateway a year ago. Quarterback Sam Clemons should be one of the conference's best.
Coach's comment: "At the end of last season we had six first-team all-conference picks, and four graduated. The tradition of our program is that new guys step in and do the job."
Coach: Jack Harbaugh (13th)
2000 record: 11-2, 7-0 in the Ohio Valley Conference (first)
2001 predicted finish: first
Fast fact: The Hilltoppers return 20 starters, including six All-Americans, from a team that reached the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division I-AA playoffs.
Coach's comment: "You don't invite a new kid on the block without making him pay the price. The schedule comes out, and we're going to Western Illinois. They won the league last year, didn't they?"
Coach: Jon Heacock (first)
2000 record: 9-3, 4-2 (tied for second)
2001 predicted finish: second
Fast fact: The Penguins reached the 2000 playoffs after a supposed "rebuilding" year. They return 23 seniors for Heacock, who has been on the school's coaching staff in seven of the past 10 years.
Coach's comment: "I just need to be myself -- be patient, yet be demanding. I just need to be honest with myself, our staff and the kids. I need to make sure that I'm doing what I can to help the team win."
-- Brian Richesson