Hicks had been raring to go a day early. In a team meeting last Friday, the usually laid-back Hicks made a speech so fiery that sophomore defensive end Travor Turner threw up. "Right out there in the middle of everything," says Toledo, obviously impressed.
After the Bruins' performance against Washington, no one is questioning whether UCLA has the stomach for big games.
Life after Death
In the year 9 A.D. (After Death), football at Southern Methodist is once again alive and well. Last Saturday, Tulsa botched an extra-point attempt with 18 seconds left, preserving a 42-41 Mustangs win and assuring SMU of its first .500-plus season since the NCAA imposed the death penalty on the team after the 1986 season. Although NCAA sanctions called for the program to be shut down for one year, the violations by boosters were so widespread that Southern Methodist voluntarily suspended the program for a second year. The Mustangs returned to action in '89, went 2-9 that year and didn't finish better than 5-6 in any of the ensuing seven seasons. Now SMU is 6-4, including 5-2 in the WAC Mountain Division. The Mustangs will reach the WAC championship game if they beat Texas Christian on Thursday night and co-division leader New Mexico loses to Tulsa on Saturday.
First-year coach Mike Cavan, who played quarterback at Georgia from 1968 to 70, tossed out the Mustangs' inconsistent run-and-shoot offense to better abide by the tenets of football as he learned them in the SEC. Those tenets, according to Cavan, are to "play solid defense, establish a running game, have good special teams, have kids committed to the program. It's really kind of simple, but the simple things are hard to do."
The SMU defense, led by senior All-WAC linebacker Chris Bordano, is allowing 327.4 yards per game, nearly 60 per game fewer than the Mustangs permitted in their best defensive season since resuming play in '89. The ground game has been strong, too; SMU rushed for 391 yards against Tulsa. The Mustangs have committed only 1.2 turnovers per game, and at that pace they'll finish with the fewest for an SMU team in more than 40 years.
Senior quarterback Ramon Flanigan, the starter in three of the past four years (he missed '95 because of a dislocated left hip), is splitting time with redshirt freshman Chris Sanders, but winning soothes any disappointment he feels about having to share the job. "I was at a sports store the other day, and all the SMU hats were sold out," Flanigan says. "There was a time when no one even carried SMU hats."
"I think we're the best team in the state," says linebacker Chris Gedwed. In Texas this year, that might not be saying much. But no matter. SMU has found not only life after death but also a winning season.
It doesn't qualify as a miracle, but Notre Dame (5-5) has won three straight, including an impressive 24-6 win at No. 11 Louisiana State last Saturday, to keep alive its postseason hopes. In the defeat of the Tigers, the Irish punted just once, did not commit a turnover and played a penalty-free 60 minutes for the first time since 1981. "We got our butts kicked," LSU coach Gerry DiNardo said.