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Inside College Football | Chris Dufresne / ON COLLEGE

SEC: It's Some Exciting Conference

September 23, 2004|Chris Dufresne

The "Jerry Springer" show is more over-the-top than the Southeastern Conference, but not by much.

It is beyond doubt that the conference is, top to bottom, the nation's best, with five schools ranked 16th or higher in this week's Associated Press poll.

The problem -- if you could call it one -- is that the SEC takes its football so seriously that minor issues become major and major issues become rip-snorters.

This is a league in which member cities are apt to name institutions of learning after coaches instead of U.S. presidents, although what Tuscaloosa child wouldn't be proud to attend Paul W. Bryant High School?

Hurricane Ivan?

It was enough of a monster last week to cancel games in the South -- California at Southern Mississippi, for example.

But no Category 3 was going to shut down football in America's Conference.

The league issued a release late in the week that stated: All SEC football games on Saturday to be played as scheduled.

You got that right, brother.

The weekend after Sept. 11, 2001, the SEC wanted to play ball.

Roy Kramer, the commissioner at the time, said we can't sit around watching television all day until, late in the week, under enormous pressure, he reluctantly pulled the plug on all games.

The SEC means well, it really does.

It cared so much it created the bowl championship series.

Mike Slive, the current commissioner, has vowed he will have all schools off NCAA probation -- the SEC leads the nation in everything -- by 2008.

The standard reply from outsiders: "They'll cure cancer first."

It's always something with the SEC:

* Tennessee Coach Phil Fulmer conducted his SEC media day interview in July via teleconference from Knoxville because he feared being served a subpoena in Alabama as part of a lawsuit related to Fulmer's providing evidence to the NCAA that helped put Alabama on probation.

* A former Kentucky assistant coach this week filed a $50-million defamation lawsuit against the NCAA and others because, best we can read it, the NCAA had the gall to ban him for eight years and call him a "liar and a cheat" for his role in a recruiting scandal.

The nerve.

* The SEC this year hired its first African American coach, Sylvester Croom of Mississippi State. Last week, Croom's team lost a home game against I-AA Maine, playing a Division I-A opponent for the first time in more than a decade.

One can only imagine the conversations in Starkville diners that night.

* South Carolina Coach Lou Holtz announced he wants to give playing time to 39-year-old receiver Tim "Pops" Frisby if he is ruled eligible by the NCAA Clearinghouse.

We thought for sure Holtz would grayshirt Frisby and bring him back in 2005.

It gets even better in the SEC when they actually play games.

Last week, the conference boasted two knock-down, flag-out thrillers in Florida at Tennessee and Louisiana State at Auburn.

Tennessee eked out a two-point win on a 50-yard field goal with six seconds left. Florida later learned SEC game officials botched the clock on the final drive and gave Tennessee more time than it deserved.

They'll curse this for years in Gainesville and write songs about it in Knoxville.

LSU and Auburn were tied, 9-9, in the final minutes when Auburn kicker John Vaughn missed what would have been the go-ahead extra point.

Officials, though, called a penalty on LSU defensive back Ronnie Prude, who was trying to block the kick, for falling on the Auburn center.

There's a new rule this year saying you can't do that.

LSU Coach Nick Saban serves on the committee that enacted the rule.

Saban voted against it.

Given a second chance, the Auburn kicker made the extra point and Auburn won, 10-9.


So, Auburn is 3-0 under Coach Tommy Tuberville, who was so close to getting fired last year that the school president got on a private jet and secretly interviewed Louisville Coach Bobby Petrino for a job opening Auburn technically didn't have.

Alabama, meanwhile, is off to the most horrific 3-0 start in school history because second-year Coach Mike Shula let star quarterback Brodie Croyle start the third quarter against I-AA Western Carolina with Alabama comfortably ahead, 31-0.

On the drive, Croyle tore knee ligaments and is now sidelined for the season.

Shula knew the injury was bad because "it happened right in front of me."

This had to be followed by Shula's seeing his career flash right in front of his eyes.

This week, the big games are Alabama at Arkansas, Kentucky at Florida and Mississippi State at LSU.

Georgia has a week off.

Frankly, we can all use the rest.

A Must Win?

It's not a stretch to suggest that West Virginia's overtime win over Maryland last weekend might turn out to be one of the most important victories in Big East Conference history.

With Miami and Virginia Tech having defected to the Atlantic Coast Conference, and Boston College set to leave in 2005, the Big East is fighting to keep its status as one of the six BCS conferences.

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