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A TALE OF TWO GENIUSES

They are national championship coaches, innovators on each side of the ball who have excelled in perhaps the country's most difficult conference. In 12 seasons with Florida, Steve Spurrier dominated the SEC with a wide-open passing game. His Fun 'n'Gun was like nothing SEC defenses had dealt with before. As LSU's coach from 2000-04, Nick Saban had his defenses lock down opponents with unrelenting pressure. Both coaches left the SEC for the NFL, only to return having realized college football is more their speed. In their second SEC jobs, South Carolina's Spurrier and Alabama's Saban face each other for the third time in their careers when the second-ranked Crimson Tide (6-0, 3-0) takes on the No. 22 Gamecocks (5-1, 2-1) tonight. The first two meetings of two of the most astute minds in college football resulted in Spurrier-style blowouts, with Florida beating LSU 41-9 in 2000 and44-15 in 2001. As different publicly as the two appear - Spurrier, 64, with his wisecracking bite, Saban, 57, with his stoic, plainspoken edge - they share a friendship and respect, so much so that Spurrier once hitched a ride with Saban on the LSU plane after they coached together in the East-West Shrine Game nine years ago. "How about that?" Spurrier said this week, chuckling. Saban joked that LSU fans about "blew up the Gator plane up in Baton Rouge when it was waiting there to pick (Spurrier) up and take him home."

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To goatee or not to goatee

USC coach Pete Carroll took to Twitter to campaign this week.

No, he wasn't looking for poll votes or drumming up Heisman hype for one of his players. That's not Carroll's style.

He was campaigning for votes to resolve something that has been pestering all of Troy this season: Should Tommy Trojan have a goatee?

Kenny Morris is the drum major of the Trojan Marching Band, the guy who gets the role of Tommy Trojan. He has facial hair.

Morris says he has gotten comments both ways about whether the iconic Tommy should be clean- shaven. So he has taken the issue to fans, via the blog on USC's athletics Web site.

The results of the vote will be obvious today when the Trojans visit Notre Dame.

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By the numbers

0-7 Record of Cal coach Jeff Tedford, right, against UCLA and USC in Southern California.

6 Points, total victory margin in three of Iowa's four home wins.

15 Consecutive wins by Florida.

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Notre Dame: Do you believe?

This is the fourth time in coach Charlie Weis' five seasons that Notre Dame has been 4-1. The first two, the Irish made it to a BCS bowl, only to be exposed as fraudulent. Still, it was the best two-year showing since Lou Holtz departed. Last season things deteriorated into 7-6. But the Irish did win a bowl for the first time since, well, Holtz said goodbye.

Now they're facing their biggest game since Weis' signature moral victory, a 34-31 home loss to USC in 2005 in which he impressively matched wits with Pete Carroll. Once again, No. 6 USC (4-1) - which lost at Washington without starting QB Matt Barkley - is the roadblock in South Bend. Both teams had a week off to get ready.

USC still thinks it can get to the national title game, and maybe it can.Notre Dame can still have a successful season even if it loses, though another crash-and-burn wouldn't be advisable. But a win would go a long way toward closing its credibility gaps. And perceptions do matter.

USC has rarely appeared more gettable.

"This is really about the team, not me," Weis said. "I don't think their expectations could be any higher than they are right now."

Weis' future could depend on it. Ditto Irish QB Jimmy Clausen's Heisman Trophy candidacy. When the Irish are tied or trailing this year, he has thrown for eight touchdowns and no interceptions. That's poselike stuff.

* * *

Sooners hope to salvage season in Red River Shootout

An injured Heisman Trophy winner and a pair of one-point losses have made the first half of Oklahoma's season a real downer.

Next up for the Sooners, a chance to turn the season around. No. 20 Oklahoma meets No. 3 Texas today in Dallas.

The intensity of the Red River Shootout reached new heights last season, when Colt McCoy and the Longhorns won 45-35 in Cotton Bowl Stadium but the Sooners - by virtue of a three-way tiebreaker - went on to play in the Big 12 and national championship games.

Longhorns fans might never get over that.

Texas coach Mack Brown takes a more diplomatic approach to last year's controversy.

"Our kids lost one game, their kids lost one game, and it came down to outside sources that made that decision, not the two teams, the two schools or the two coaches," Brown said this week. "That shouldn't have anything to do with us at all, and even if it was, we've talked about revenge a lot. What you want to do is get excited about playing in this game. You don't have to be mad."

Texas and Oklahoma expected to have national title hopes entering this year's game, too. But Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford injured his shoulder the first week of the season, and the Sooners have lost twice by one point with him on the sideline, to BYU and Miami.

The Sooners can probably forget about the national title, and it'd be tough for Bradford to win another Heisman after missing 3-1/2 games. But a fourth consecutive Big 12 championship is still very much in reach. Beating Texas would go a long way toward that.

Information from the Associated Press and Philadelphia Daily News was used in this report.

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