Cleaning out the notebook from Southeastern Conference Media Days in Birmingham. Ala.:
Jim Donnan has never been one to identify with hated rivals Florida or Tennessee, but Georgia's fifth-year coach said he understands how the conference dominators of the 1990s might feel when seeing the Bulldogs being picked above them in the SEC's Eastern Division.
Donnan remembers when he was offensive coordinator at Oklahoma in 1986 and the Sooners, fresh off a national championship in 1985, weren't too pleased at what they read in the preseason magazines.
"Everybody was picking Nebraska to maybe challenge us again, and our players really got mad about it," said Donnan, who is 1-7 against the Volunteers and Gators. "I'm sure Tennessee and Florida didn't like the fact that a team that hasn't beaten them is being picked so much."
As it turned out, neither the Sooners nor Cornhuskers figured into the title picture back in 1986. Miami (Fla.) ran roughshod over Oklahoma in an early-season showdown, then Penn State upset the top-ranked Hurricanes in the Fiesta Bowl to claim the championship.
Charles Grant made a name for himself in 1999 by playing both offense and defense, but Donnan said the running back/defensive end will spend more time with the latter in 2000.
As a freshman last season, the 6-foot-3, 265-pounder started four games led the team with seven sacks. Grant rushed for 79 yards as a short-yardage back, including a 44-yard effort on three carries against Kentucky, but he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee on a fourth-down carry in Georgia's 51-48 loss at Georgia Tech.
"Right now, the major focus is going to be him getting rehabbed to play defensive end, but we're not going to close the door on him playing offense," Donnan said.
The Bulldogs' fifth-year coach said the circumstances had little to do with Grant's injury.
"He could've gotten hurt getting off the bus against Georgia Tech," Donnan said. "It wasn't because he was playing running back. When you get hurt, you get hurt."
South Carolina coach Lou Holtz said he has succeeded in helping his team develop good work habits. But building unity has been another matter.
"Developing the players' trust has been a little bit difficult, but developing a team feeling has been very, very difficult," said Holtz, whose team will enter 2000 saddled by a 21-game losing streak. "Far more difficult than anything I've ever encountered in my entire life is the team feeling, the comaraderie and the obligation to each other."
UNCERTAIN UNDER CENTER:
Florida coach Steve Spurrier said preseason practice will be more heated as he tries to find out who will be the Gators' starting quarterback
"Jesse Palmer will get the first crack," Spurrier said of the senior. "But we've got a couple of freshmen, Rex Grossman and Brock Berlin, who may end up being our best players. I don't know. I really don't know. I'd love to stand here and tell you we've got a guy who's ready to go this season, but so far I can't say that.
"We're going to try and find out who the best quarterback is. That's our plan. Preseason practice will be a lot more intense this year. Most coaches would like to have one quarterback who is clearly the best. But when you get in a situation where both are about equal, maybe you have to play both."
Arkansas coach Houston Nutt is searching for a capable quarterback to replace the departed Clint Stoerner, and he said the answer might rest in the hands of two signal-callers.
Nutt said he wouldn't be against alternating sophomore Robby Hampton and Gary Brashears.
"Both those guys are going to play until one of them decides, `Hey coach, I'm the guy,' until one of them convinces us `Hey, I'm the guy that can lead this team,' " Nutt said. "It might take one game, it might take two of playing both, it might take three. I don't know."
The NCAA is considering requiring schools to have an average home football attendance of 17,000 for Division I-A eligibility, but Alabama would meet that stipulation for some of its road games.
The Crimson Tide has sold 17,000 tickets for its season opener at UCLA in Pasadena, Calif. Alabama has a large alumni contingent in Southern California and expects to attract more than 20,000 fans at the game.
Tide coach Mike DuBose admits he wasn't the shrewdest evaluator of talent when it came to center Paul Hogan.
"When I got the job at Alabama in '97, I made the statement that I thought Paul Hogan would be a good backup center for us," DuBose said. "I thought for us to win the SEC, we would need to find a bigger, stronger and faster center. But (linebackers coach) Jeff Rouzie told me I was wrong, that Paul had something inside him.
"Now, I think Paul Hogan is the best center in college football. He gives you everything he's got every single play."
Hogan, a product of the Valdosta (Ga.) High School factory, played defensive end in high school but adjusted quite nicely to his new role; he was first-team All-SEC in 1999, and the media voted him to preseason All-SEC this season.
"All of that doubt just fueled me," Hogan said. "I still think I'm the same guy I used to be. I just happened to make some big blocks on national TV last year and I got the hype."
Holtz's first victory as a coach at Arkansas was against New Mexico State, which just happens to be South Carolina's opening-game opponent ... Donnan said Cory Phillips is entrenched as the Bulldogs' backup quarterback despite the addition of three talented freshmen. "A guy will have to be pretty good to unseat him, because Cory's got a good arm and can run the team and knows the system," Donnan said. ... Vanderbilt coach Woody Widenhofer, 57, was married July 22 to a marketing director of a golf course ... Holtz said there were 48 missed assignments per game during the Gamecocks 0-11 season in 1999, and that his offense lost yards on one of every three plays. ... After sitting out a year in accordance with the NCAA's transfer rule, former Florida quarterback Tim Olmstead is eligible to play at Vanderbilt.
THE LAST WORD:
"I generally go down the hall about once a week and have a cup of coffee with them." -- Kentucky coach Hal Mumme, a noted offensive mind, on his involvement with the Wildcats defense.
THE LAST WORD II:
"We don't even hardly score 50 anymore in a conference game. We used to ring up 50 against a lot of conference teams, and it's been a struggle lately." -- Spurrier, on his Gators' plight against SEC opponents.
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