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NE LOUISIANA RUNS GANTLET TO GET TO COUGAR STADIUM

Tucked amid BYU's usual assortment of WAC and non-league opponents this year is little-known Northeast Louisiana. Though BYU is likely to be more than NLU can handle, the Cougars are just one of several big-name opponents the Indians will be facing.

Playing in Division I-A for the first time in its history, NLU isn't breaking in gradually. It has what The Sporting News rates the toughest I-A schedule in the nation.NLU began the year with a 48-13 loss to No. 7 Colorado on Sept. 3 and followed with a 44-12 loss Saturday last to No. 11 Auburn. Georgia is up next. Other opponents include Kentucky, Wyoming and BYU - all of whom went to bowls last year.

This year's media guide says, "THE BIG TIME IS HERE!"

Indeed it is. Said head coach Ed Zaunbrecher, "Our players are excited, but I'm not sure if they know what they're getting into."

But after losing by a cumulative score of 92-25 in the first two games, the Indians are probably getting the idea quickly.

SHOO-IN? Los Angeles Times writer Randy Harvey says Salt Lake City is dealing from a position of power when it comes to gaining the 2002 Winter Olympics. Nevertheless, the bid committee from Utah it isn't getting overconfident.

"If the IOC's evaluation commission were asked to name its final four candidates for the 2002 Winter Olympics today instead of next January, insiders say that the survivors would be Salt Lake City, Ostersund, Sweden, Sion, Switzerland and Graz, Austria. And if the final vote by the IOC were today instead of next June, they say that the clear winner would be Salt Lake City. So, naturally, the most nervous of the nine bid committees formally presenting their candidacies before the start of last week's IOC Congress in Paris was the one from Salt Lake City," he wrote.

Harvey, though, cautioned that "the IOC tends to get bored with favorites."

Harvey points out that Lillehammer, Norway produced a $58 million surplus by hosting the 1994 Winter Games, added 500 new jobs and drew enough publicity to break all its tourism records this summer.

NOT IMPRESSED: Jerry Rice broke the NFL record for touchdowns last Monday night, but don't expect the former record-holder, Jim Brown, to be impressed.

"I'll congratulate Jerry if I see him," said Brown to the San FrancChronicle, "but I don't know that we'd have anything more to talk about right now. He's still the same guy he was before he got the record, and if he had broken his leg and never played again, he would still be the same Jerry Rice in my eyes."

Brown went on to say Rice's record "doesn't have much to do with my record. The way I look at it, I didn't have a record. I don't remember anybody who had a record before me, and neither do you."

OK, MAYBE A LITTLE IMPRESSED: Brown went on to say, however, that he is big on Niners quarterback Steve Young.

"I want you to make a special note of this: I'm a true fan of Steve Young. Young is a great quarterback who doesn't get the credit he deserves. That quarterback has endured a lot of things that had nothing to do with him."

ONE TIME ONLY: Athletic officials at Weber State are optimistic about the future of the football program, but nothing has been decided yet.

The Wildcats averaged 12,361 fans for their first two games. Though that is more than double what they averaged last season, their goal was to average 14,000 per game in order to ensure the life of the football team beyond this season.

Amid all the save-the-football-team hype is the lurking question of whether the Wildcats will need to do the same thing every year. Long Beach State went through a similar crisis and saved its football program, but for only one year. The next season football was discontinued.

Weber athletic director Tom Stewart argues if football proves itself this year, it should only have to do so once.

"I don't see it coming up every year," he said. "I don't see us coming back to the table again every year. We just have to prove we can do it. Then the administration needs to get behind us. Once we've proven we're a viable product, then we need to just get on with it."

QUOTEFILE: Golden State coach Don Nelson: "I'm the biggest fan of the NBA, but I couldn't stand to watch some of that New York-Houston (NBA Finals) series. I just decided to go out and play golf. And if I was feeling that way, what were others thinking?"