Tragedy overshadows Ky.-Tenn. showdown 'Cats shaken by fatalities

Fla.-FSU head Rivalry Day

November 21, 1998|By FORT WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Bobby Bowden wishes he could be a fan.

"If I wasn't coaching the dadgum Florida-Florida State game, I could look around and get excited about all those big games," the Florida State coach said. "What would be exciting to me would be for everybody else to lose and us win."

The third Saturday in November is Rivalry Day in college football. Today, some of the traditional games include added burdens of various weights. Kentucky-No. 1 Tennessee, Southern California-No. 3 UCLA, No. 2 Kansas State-No. 19 Missouri and No. 4 Florida-No. 5 Florida State are rivalry games of national significance.

The Volunteers survived Arkansas' upset bid last week, their first as the top team in the Bowl Championship Series rankings. Kentucky visits today, and quarterback Tim Couch has a tragic incentive.

Early Sunday morning, Wildcats center Jason Watts wrecked his pickup on the way to hunt deer, killing Artie Steinmetz, a redshirt defensive tackle, and Eastern Kentucky student Scott Brock. Watts was charged with second-degree manslaughter.

Brock and Couch were best friends.

"Being a football player, you think you've been through a lot of tough things, losing games in the last seconds, taking big hits," Couch said through sobs earlier this week. "You think you're a tough person until you have to deal with going in and seeing your best friend's parents after he's just passed away."

Brock persuaded Couch to choose Kentucky instead of Tennessee. Couch acknowledges that thinking about playing a crucial football game -- any football game -- seems insignificant, but that he'll have a special incentive against Tennessee.

"Scott would want me to beat Tennessee more than anything," said Couch, who passed for 476 yards and two touchdowns against the Volunteers last year.

"I really don't know how the guys are going to react," said Kentucky coach Hal Mumme, whose players attended funerals for Steinmetz and Brock on Thursday. "We had a great practice Tuesday. What I'm most worried about is I don't know if we'll be emotionally charged or emotionally drained."

The importance of the other big games withers when compared to the grief Kentucky has faced.

In the Rose Bowl, UCLA will try to extend its 19-game winning streak by beating USC for the eighth consecutive time.

"It's incomprehensible to me that we've lost seven straight years. Just shocking," Trojans coach Paul Hackett said. "Nothing is more important than beating UCLA."

UCLA is No. 2 behind Tennessee in the Bowl Championship Series rankings. Kansas State is No. 3 and hopes it continues to gain ground with a victory in Columbia, Mo. However, the Wildcats are coming off the biggest victory in school history, last week's 40-30 defeat of Nebraska.

Can you say "letdown?"

"There are some concerns in that regard," Wildcats coach Bill Snyder said.

Missouri's three losses have come to ranked teams (Ohio State, Nebraska and Texas A&M), and all of those games were decided in the second half.

"If we could win one game all season it would be K-State," Missouri defensive lineman Justin Wyatt said.

In Tallahassee, Florida plays Florida State. The Gators are No. 4 in the Bowl Series rankings; the Seminoles are No. 5. Both teams have one loss. The team that wins knows what else needs to happen.

"Those three undefeated teams -- Tennessee, UCLA and Kansas State -- just seem to be barely getting by every week," Florida coach Steve Spurrier said. "They have to win them all. We have to win this one and wait and see what happens."

Said Bowden: "It is a darn big game. For our boosters and alumni, it's their No. 1 game."

Pub Date: 11/21/98

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