From the Sidelines

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 27, 1999

MICHAEL KIRAL / L’Observateur / September 27, 1999

What to do this weekend? The Saints, off. LSU, off. Tulane, off. When was the last time thathappened? Well, I guess I can work on my golf game before I go up to Virginia next month. Or watch the Ryder Cup matches. And of course, there is the SmallDaily and Weekly Conference we have to attend today in Baton Rouge (probably the only time this season I would like to trade places with Gerry DiNardo).

For DiNardo, Mike Ditka and Chris Scelfo, however, the week off gives them time to reflect on what will may be their team’s most important games in a long time.

DiNardo’s Tigers are coming off a 41-7 loss to Auburn, the second-worst defeat in the DiNardo era and the most embarrassing. How the teambounces back against Georgia next Saturday in Athens will probably determine not only the future of the team this season but the future of the program under DiNardo.

Will the defeat have the effect that losses to Auburn did in 1992 and 1994 when Curley Hallman was the coach? In 1992, the Tigers went on to lose six straight on their way to a 2-9 finish. Two years later, the Tigers couldnot overcome the devastation of having three interceptions returned for touchdowns in the fourth quarter, dropping five of the next sixth to finish 4-7, costing Hallman his job.

Or will they rebound like they did in DiNardo’s first three years? In 1995, the Tigers came back from a 10-3 loss to Alabama to win their final two games and clinch a bowl bid. A year later, they did it twice, winning twiceafter a 56-13 loss at Florida and ending the season with three straight wins after a 26-0 loss to Alabama to advance to another bowl. And in1997, the Tigers rallied from a 31-28 loss to Auburn to win three straight, including a win over No. 1 Florida.DiNardo and the Tigers are facing their biggest challenge since ending the school’s streak of six-straight losing seasons. A win Saturday could go along way to making sure that a similar streak is not started.

Tulane, on the other hand, does not having to worry about breaking any losing streaks. The Green Wave have won two in a row and 15 of their last16 games. But what Saturday’s game against Syracuse could determine isthe Green Wave’s place in the college football world.

A year ago, Tulane went 12-0 but defeated only one team, Southern Miss, that was ranked in the Top 25 during the season. A win at Syracuse, ranked26th in both polls this week, will show how far the Green Wave have come in the past three years and could serve as a springboard for another bowl appearance this season.

The Saints can also show how far they have come in Ditka’s three years, ironically against his old team, Chicago, next week. The Saints gave SanFrancisco all it could handle last week but could not put the 49ers away late.

The Saints have looked good, even very good, at times this season. But likewhat has been all too common in the past, they lack the killer instinct when they get a team on the ropes. A victory over the Bears would be a biguplift with a key NFC West game against struggling Atlanta the following week.

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