21 HURRICANE WARNING: MIAMI STILL UNBEATEN
The Hurricanes got too much attention for being college football's bad boys during the '80s and '90s; this season Miami got too little for a run-the-table performance that extended its winning streak to an astounding 34 games. Coach Larry Coker (could you pick him out of a crowd?) has now won all 24 of his games. He and quarterback Ken Dorsey (a shunned fifth in the Heisman voting) will lead Miami into the BCS national title game against Ohio State on Jan. 3, looking for some props.
22 LEBRON LENDS NEW MEANING ZXA TO I CAN'T AFFORD COLLEGE'
The monumental publicity about Ohio schoolboy basketball sensation LeBron James has crystallized the debate over Too Much, Too Soon. But in between an SI cover in February and a nationally televised game in December, the 6'7", 225-pound 18-year-old James did nothing but get better, and he will almost certainly be the first pick if—as everyone expects—he eschews college for the NBA.
23 TONY AWARD: NASCAR'S BAD BOY MAKES GOOD
A quick glance at Tony Stewart's year reveals a last-place finish at Daytona and a set-to with a pitside photographer that earned him a NASCAR probation for the second year in a row. Sounds bad, huh? But Stewart, never a favorite of the authorities, thrives on adversity and used three wins and 12 other top five finishes to win the Winston Cup, stock car racing's top prize.
24 TERRAPINS CLIMB BACK SLOWLY AND WIN THE RACE
It hasn't been easy for Maryland fans to watch Gary Williams agonize on the sideline for so many years. But the coach who wears everything on his sleeve finally won the big one in April, routing a surprise (Knightless) Indiana team 64-52 in the NCAA final. That completed the return to prominence of a Terrapins program that had languished after the drug-related death of Len Bias in 1986, and later probation, neither of which occurred under Williams's watch.
25 PETE SAYS NO MOSS AND WHIPS AGASSI IN THE OPEN
Most of the talk about Pete Sampras in '02 was to say he should hang it up, so desultory was his performance in the first eight months of the year. But Sampras conjured up his old power game at the U.S. Open and beat Andre Agassi 6-3, 6-4,5-7, 6-4 in a memorable final that broke a two-year win-less drought and added to his record number of Grand Slam titles, now 14.