Revenge of the (quarterback) nerds

Friday night, on television or from the 50-yard line, they will look perfectly normal.

When college football's championship kicks off at the Fiesta Bowl here in Arizona, Craig Krenzel will not have the human genetic code painted on the side of his helmet. On the other sideline, Ken Dorsey will not be dressed like SpongeBob SquarePants.

On the field, these two quarterbacks from Ohio State and Miami stand out only because of their quick minds and accurate arms. Off the field, however, is a different matter.

Krenzel is a molecular studies major at Ohio State who has designs on becoming a doctor. Dorsey loves the Cartoon Network, and was happy when his mother moved across the country to Miami to be near him.

Broadway Joe Namath, they are not.

Instead, to jesting teammates, these Fiesta Bowl foes are the "geeks" or "brainiacs" of the fraternity of elite quarterbacks. They are the flip side of football fame: Two passers with much of the on-field substance but little of the off-field style that has carved into legend Namath's fur coats and finger wagging, the California smile of John Elway, or the 60-grit stubble of Brett Favre's iron jaw.

They are simply students of the game, who speak softly - if at all - and carry a big playbook.

"These are two guys who are refreshing," says Terry Copacia, Krenzel's high school coach and head of a national quarterback camp. "They're not out there beating their chests."

They shouldn't have to.

Since becoming the starter at Miami, Dorsey has led the Hurricanes to 39 wins and one loss. The team's current 34-game winning streak is the second-longest for a major college since World War I. Along the way, Dorsey has broken almost every passing record at the school, which has perhaps the richest quarterback tradition in the country.

Krenzel's achievements have been less impressive but more surprising.

Last year, Ohio State's head coach allowed Krenzel to skip a game for his sister's wedding because he thought there was no chance Krenzel would play. Now, he's built a 14-1 record as a starter and has beaten arch-rival Michigan twice.

There's no secret to their success: an understanding of football's underlying geometry. Neither has a particularly strong arm or nimble feet, but their ability to step over center and see patterns where others would see only a jumble of blitzing linebackers or two-deep zones is almost Euclidean.

Not that Krenzel diagrams plays with a protractor. Teammates say he's just a normal guy in the huddle, and his roommate claims rarely to have seen him studying. Still, Krenzel carries a 3.72 grade-point average in a major that calls for courses in analytic geometry as well evolutionary ecology and physics.

"I am fortunate to pick things up relatively quickly - read it once, remember it kind of thing," says Krenzel, wearing sandals and his Ohio State jersey at media day here.

That comes as no surprise to coach Copacia. He recalls Krenzel's first game for the varsity at Utica Ford High School near Detroit. As a 15-year-old late-game replacement for the starter, he looked over the opposing team and began suggesting certain play calls.

"He was a little different," says Copacia. "It's unusual to see a 15-year-old making suggestions."

The story could as easily be about Dorsey, it seems. From his time at Miramonte High School in Orinda, Calif., to today, Dorsey has been a disciple of the game.

Each week, he watches nearly 30 hours of game film - more than most pros.

"He's usually out of the house by 6:30 a.m. watching films," says roommate Brett Romberg, a meaty slab of an offensive lineman. In the evenings, when friends sometimes head out to Miami Beach for bar-hopping, he's cloistered in his Joe Montana-postered room with more game tape.

"He's a total drag," laughs Romberg. "Honestly, there's not a day that I wake up and see five girls sitting on the couch. Nothing like that. I'll wake up and he's eating scrambled eggs on the couch, with his cat sitting next to him, watching SportsCenter. That's all he does."

That sounds about right to Floyd Burnsed, Dorsey's high school coach in Orinda. Almost everything about this Bay Area suburb enfolded by the Coast Ranges is quiet, like Dorsey.

Burnsed tells of how last year, after winning the national championship at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., Dorsey returned to his hotel room, ordered room service, talked with a few friends, then went to sleep, while teammates partied in the lobby.

As on the field, his play calls in life are steady and studied. And like his opposite number on the field tonight, he usually leaves the glitz to someone else.

"In the huddle he's serious, and at home he's usually serious," grins Romberg. "He doesn't say much, to tell you the truth, and if he does try to throw a funny comment out there, it's usually not that funny."

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