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NATIONAL INSIDER

SEC coaches seek pro-motion

September 22, 2007|Peter Yoon

The Southeastern Conference hierarchy has already turned a bit topsy-turvy and right in the middle of it all are three coaches who returned to college coaching after short-lived NFL careers.

This weekend, Steve Spurrier, Nick Saban and Rich Brooks have the opportunity to throw the conference out of whack as each leads up-and-coming teams in games that could boost them to the SEC's upper echelon.

Spurrier leads No. 12 South Carolina into a game at No. 2 Louisiana State, Saban and No. 16 Alabama play host to No. 22 Georgia, and Brooks and No. 21 Kentucky play at Arkansas, the defending SEC Western Division champion.

"This is an opportunity to move forward," said Brooks, whose team is in the top 25 for the first time since 1984. "We're pleased that we're ranked . . . but the hard thing is staying there, with the most difficult thing being there at the end of the year, and that's what we'd like to achieve."

Spurrier and Saban both said virtually the same thing this week, perhaps realizing that the road to the top in the SEC is a long one. Each knows from recent NFL experience that winning at the highest levels isn't easy.

Spurrier was 12-20 in two seasons with the Washington Redskins, Brooks was 13-19 in two seasons with the St. Louis Rams, and Saban was 15-17 in two seasons with the Miami Dolphins.

But three weeks into the season, each is looking at a possible conference title in what is arguably the toughest conference in the nation.

"I don't have to worry about that right now," Spurrier said. "If we [beat Louisiana State], then ask me about that, OK?

"There's a lot of ball left."

Spy games

Saban found out this week that there are pitfalls to having NFL experience.

Georgia Coach Mark Richt, for the first time in his seven years with the Bulldogs, completely closed practice in advance of the game against Alabama.

Saban, you see, was a defensive coordinator under Bill Belichick with the Cleveland Browns from 1991 to '94. Now that Belichick has been penalized for videotaping of an opponent, Richt wanted to eliminate the possibility of wrongdoing in case the apple didn't fall far from the tree.

"Things have changed in the last few years. It's not like it used to be. It's so easy for information to travel so fast," Richt said. "Maybe if we had an indoor facility where no one was walking around or looking in the window, we would all feel better. The reality is: What we do is big. People care. Winning and losing has a profound effect on people's careers."

Pity party

If not for Notre Dame's atrocious offense and 0-3 start, today's game against Michigan State might be causing a stir on each campus.

Remember last season's sideline skirmish in which Notre Dame Coach Charlie Weis said he was slapped and Michigan State Coach John L. Smith all but called him a liar?

Or two years ago, when Michigan State players planted a flag at the center of Notre Dame's field, signifying the Spartans' six-game win streak at Notre Dame Stadium?

Or when Weis pledged to an alumni group that he would never again lose to a Michigan State team?

Alas, most of the talk this week has centered on how Notre Dame has yet to score a touchdown, is last in the nation with minus-14 yards rushing, has given up a staggering 7.67 sacks a game and is trying to avoid becoming the first 0-4 team in 119 seasons of Fighting Irish football.

Cheesy nickname

The offensive line for No. 9 Wisconsin has been compared to road graders, steamrollers and various pieces of earth-moving equipment.

That's because they boast the biggest line in the state -- and that includes the Green Bay Packers.

The starting five of Marcus Coleman, Gabe Carimi, Kraig Urbik, Andy Kemp and Eric Vanden Heuvel average 6 feet 6 1/2 and 313 pounds.

Combined, they outweigh the Packers' starting five by 33 pounds and each is at least an inch taller than tackle Chad Clifton, the Packers' tallest lineman at 6-5.

"We like to run the ball, push people and be physical," said Coleman, the center. "That's what we do, that's what we work for, that's what we take pride in. I'd say the term 'road graders'. . . is probably the biggest compliment you can give us."

Tearing it down

Duke's victory over Northwestern last week was so big that students rushed the field at Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham, N.C., tore down the goal post and carried it across campus.

And the game was at Northwestern.

Duke lost its previous 22 games, so the victory ended the nation's longest losing streak.

-- Compiled by Peter Yoon

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