Wild, Wild SEC West
The last time LSU beat Auburn, Tiger Stadium was shaken to its foundation. Literally. The crowd's roar following tailback Eddie Fuller's winning touchdown in that 1988 game was sufficient to activate a seismograph in the LSU geology department. That tremor was mild compared with the one that rippled through the SEC last Saturday after LSU stunned No. 5 Auburn 12-6. Combined with Arkansas's 20-19 win over No. 13 Alabama, the result put LSU and the Razorbacks atop the underdog-eat-dog world of the SEC's Western Division.
While Florida continues to stampede through the SEC East, Arkansas and Louisiana State have jolted the status quo that had existed in the SEC West since 1992, when the conference expanded to two divisions and 12 teams. Alabama and Auburn have the best records in the West since the expansion; in those three years neither LSU nor Arkansas has had a winning season.
This season Alabama had struggled to pull out fourth-quarter wins over mediocre Vanderbilt and Southern Miss teams. "Play with fire long enough," said Tide defensive tackle Shannon Brown after Saturday's loss, "and you'll get burned."
Expectations had been more lofty for Auburn, which some observers predicted was headed to the No. 1 vs. No. 2 Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 2. But coach Terry Bowden had urged caution. When an off-season visitor attempted to get him to talk about Auburn's much hyped Oct. 14 game with Florida, Bowden cut short the discussion. "I don't really want to talk about Florida now," he said. "There are too many good teams we have to face before then. Take LSU. It scares me to death."
Justifiably so. Last fall LSU's Tigers dominated Bowden's Tigers for three quarters before slipping to a 30-26 defeat that marked the beginning of the end for coach Curley Hallman. Enter former Vanderbilt coach Gerry DiNardo, who made it a priority to seek out quarterback Jamie Howard. A top pitching prospect in the Atlanta Brave organization, Howard had been under siege since his four-interception fourth-quarter meltdown against Auburn and was considering leaving Baton Rouge. "Before I said anything, Coach told me I fit into his plans," Howard said last week. "It was nice to feel needed."
Last Saturday against Auburn, Howard felt even better after completing 19 of 30 passes for 220 yards, with one harmless interception. "I didn't do anything spectacular," he said. "I just didn't throw six interceptions." All Howard did was help to establish a new order in the SEC.
Not So Fast
When Notre Dame's Lou Holtz underwent surgery last week for a bulging disk in his neck, his situation brought to mind the tribulations of another type A college coach: Duke basketball's Mike Krzyzewski. Though his ailment was a herniated disk in his lower back, Krzyzewski, like Holtz, suffered from compression of the spinal cord, which eventually sidelined him for most of last season.
Coach K said on Sunday that he would get in touch with Holtz this week to discuss the dilemmas he faced in recovery. Krzyzewski's doctors, like Holtz's, expected him to be out about a month. But within two weeks of his operation, Krzyzewski was running practices. "It proved to be a disastrous decision," Coach K said. "What I learned, and what I hope Lou knows, is that the people treating you understand your sense of competition and sense of duty to the team. They'll bring you back as quickly as possible."