Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (coaching search firms sold separately):
Now that the problematic reality of a playoff-less postseason once again has outflanked the fractured logic of the BCS, we're left with an upcoming final weekend of games that is about as vital to the outcome of the season as spring practice. Way to go, BCS. You've found yet another creative way to dissatisfy the nation.
While waiting for the uninspiring final pre-bowl games to play out, it's time for some pre-bowl awards from The Dash. Some are national. Some are conference-by-conference. All are priceless rewards for players, coaches and teams.
The Honey Badger
The Dashies will come with a gift bag appropriate for the 2011 season: a Dr Pepper autographed by Pitbull; a signed band-aid from the Allstate "Mayhem" guy; a coupon for 100 percent off tattoos in Columbus, Ohio; a forwarding address in the joint for Nevin Shapiro (he's lonely); a DVD copy of the "Honey Badger" clip; a big red sucker with the word "Oklahoma"printed on it; a picture of Mike Slive in the Atlas pose, holding the world on his shoulders; the book "Realignment For Dummies,"detailing new 2012 conference affiliations; and (sigh) a copy of the Pennsylvania attorney general's report that took a lot of the fun out of the season.
All gift bags will be hand-delivered to winners by Dashette Kasia Gogolkiewicz (1). You're welcome.
Robert Griffin III
Player of the Year: QB Robert Griffin III (2), Baylor. Tough, tough call among as many as eight strong candidates: RGIII, Andrew Luck, Trent Richardson, Matt Barkley, Case Keenum, Montee Ball, Kellen Moore and Tyrann Mathieu. So why does Griffin win out? Three reasons:
Production: He's second in the nation in pass efficiency, barely behind Wisconsin's Russell Wilson. He's second in the nation in total offense at 390 yards per game, barely behind Houston's Keenum. He's second in the nation in yards per play at 8.7, also barely behind Keenum. And that's after missing a lot of what would have been a stat-friendly rout of Texas Tech on Saturday with a concussion.
Dramatics: Griffin captivated the nation Sept. 2 by shredding TCU early, then leading the winning drive late. He bookended that with another daring drive to beat Oklahoma on a touchdown pass with eight seconds left Nov. 19. Heisman voters tend to look for memorable performances, and both of those certainly qualify.
Transformative powers: Last season, Griffin led Baylor to its first bowl appearance since 1994. This season, he has led Baylor to its highest win total since 1991 – with two games left to play. If the Bears win one of them (against Texas on Saturday or their bowl game), they'll have 16 victories in two seasons – the most since 1985-86. In other words, Griffin has helped take Baylor to heights it has not seen in a long time.
Coach of the Year: Les Miles (3), LSU. These are words The Dash never dreamed of writing, but there is no denying the quality of work the occasionally wacky "Hat Man" has done this season. He spent most of August putting out fires and plugging holes – offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe had to relinquish play-calling duties because of Parkinson's, starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson was suspended after being arrested on assault charges and starting wide receiver Russell Shepard was suspended by the NCAA. The Tigers overcame it all with shocking ease, rolling through a rigorous September (three ranked opponents, all away from home), cruising through October, then winning the Game of the Year at Alabama (and all the rest of their games) in November. Damn strong coaching job.
Freshman of the Year: WR Sammy Watkins (4), Clemson. The physically and mentally mature Watkins is fourth nationally in all-purpose yardage, racking up 175 yards per game receiving, running and returning kicks. He became so important to Clemson's offense so quickly that when he was hurt at the end of the season, the Tigers bogged down. Watkins missed the game against North Carolina State, and Clemson scored just 13 points in an upset loss. He was not 100 percent against South Carolina on Saturday, and Clemson again scored 13 in another loss.
Defensive Player of the Year: CB Tyrann Mathieu (5), LSU. He's a Pocket Polamalu. He's Ed Reed with a little less speed. He's completely unimpressive physically at 5 feet 9 and 180 pounds – yet he's one of the most impactful defensive backs college football ever has seen. "The Honey Badger" is tied for second among all active players in forced fumbles, with 11 – and he's a sophomore who has played only 24 games. He's scored three touchdowns this season and ranks seventh nationally in punt returns. He leads a star-studded defense in tackles. He takes what he wants, and he's taken LSU to the verge of the BCS championship game.
Game of the Year: Michigan-Notre Dame (6). There probably were better-played games this season, but none more entertaining and dramatic. The first night game in Michigan Stadium history ended with three touchdowns and three lead changes in the final 72 seconds, the last of which was the winner for the Wolverines with two seconds left. The Sept. 10 thriller would help define the arc of the season for both teams – Michigan on the way to 10 wins for the first time since 2006, Notre Dame on the way to an error-prone 8-4 disappointment.
Bust of the Year: Florida State (7). The Seminoles were another 8-4 disappointment, but it was worse for them. They entered the season in the top five in the polls (which never should have happened) and got everyone worked up for a September showdown with Oklahoma. FSU dropped that one 23-13 to a Sooners team that would end up a disappointment in its own right, then dropped its next two, to Clemson and Wake Forest. Even after snapping out of that tailspin, the 'Noles threw in a home loss late in the season to Virginia. They scored just six touchdowns in their final three games – only four of them by the offense.
Johnny Hekker punts against Wisconsin.
Special Teams Gaffe of the Year: Johnny Hekker (8) of Oregon State earned Dash immortality with a punt of minus-4 yards against Wisconsin. In 24 years of covering college football, The Dash never had seen a negative-yardage punt that wasn't blocked or altered by the defense. Hekker broke a barrier with that shank. But give Hekker credit for this: He didn't let the worst punt in college football history define his season; he averaged 44 yards per kick, ranking 14th nationally.
Collapse of the Year: Illinois (9). From 6-0 to 6-6. That's how coaches get fired, right Ron Zook? The first-half record was inflated by five consecutive home games to start the season, but that doesn't fully explain the atrocious offensive performance in the last six games. Illinois never scored more than 17 points in the second half of the season and averaged just 11 points per game in that losing streak.
Rally of the Year: Western Kentucky (10). The Hilltoppers began the season 0-4, including a 28-point loss to FCS member Indiana State. A program that had won a total of four games the previous three years appeared headed for another forgettable season. Then they won seven of their last eight (with the only loss to No. 1 LSU) and are eligible for the first bowl in program history.
Unwise Expenditure of the Year: Northwestern (11), which ambitiously shelled out for purple dumb bells to be sent to Heisman voters before the season to hype quarterback Dan Persa. Problem was, Persa's recovery from a 2010 Achilles tendon tear took longer than expected – he missed the Wildcats' first three games and the team lurched to a 2-5 start. On the bright side, Northwestern at least gave flabby sports writers nationwide an opportunity to tone up their biceps.
Theme: More of the same – and the same isn't good enough. The Florida schools that were supposed to turn this into a football league stumbled through another bad season, with Florida State and Miami combining to go 14-10. Clemson turned into a pumpkin after an 8-0 start, with the only victory in its last four games coming on a last-second field goal. Virginia Tech was gifted with its easiest schedule in years but still found a game it could lose (at home to Clemson, by 20) to knock itself out of the national title hunt. At least the Hokies and Tigers should put a rare good crowd in the stands at the ACC title game.
Player of the Year: TB David Wilson (12), Virginia Tech. He ranks fifth nationally in rushing and in all-purpose yardage, putting the spark in the Hokies' offense. Wilson has found the end zone just 10 times, but he's had 10 games with at least 120 rushing yards. He's been a consistent threat every time out.
Coach of the Year: Dabo Swinney (13), Clemson. Despite the staggering finish to the season, Swinney got the downtrodden Clemson faithful excited again in a season that looked questionable on paper coming in. A young team matured quickly and scored some big wins early. The hiring of offensive coordinator Chad Morris, who plugged first-year starting quarterback Tajh Boyd into a dynamic spread offense, paid big dividends.
Bust of the Year: Florida State. See above.
Theme: Transition game. Two schools left last year, reducing the league to 10 and eliminating a championship game. Then two more announced their departure during this season, sending the league into a panic. In the meantime, the state of Oklahoma has seen Little Brother (Oklahoma State) rise up for a chance to win an outright conference title for the first time since 1948 – but it will have to beat disappointing Big Brother on Saturday to do it.
Player of the Year: QB Robert Griffin III, Baylor. See above.
Coach of the Year: Bill Snyder (14), Kansas State. The Dash admits rampant skepticism when Snyder came out of retirement at age 104 in 2009. The Dash was wrong. Snyder has continued an outstanding career in Manhattan with one of his best seasons yet. A team nobody was talking about in August is 9-2 and playing Iowa State on Saturday.
Bust of the Year: Texas A&M (15). The Aggies got serious consideration for the national Bust of the Year when a promising season dissolved into a 6-6 debacle. They turned blown leads into an art form, coming from ahead to lose on a regular basis. Indications are that Mike Sherman will keep his job, which is a risky leap of faith heading into the SEC.
Theme: Last one out, turn off the lights. The season has been overshadowed by the announced defections of Pittsburgh, Syracuse, TCU (before it even got there) and West Virginia. Meanwhile, the Big East has spent the fall rummaging through the remainder bin trying to restock its membership. The good news is that all the off-field drama took attention away from another uninspiring season on the field.
Player of the Year: QB Geno Smith (16), West Virginia. The Dash was tempted to go with Rutgers wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, but he hasn't been in the end zone since October. So the choice is Smith, who ranks ninth nationally in total offense and 18th in pass efficiency. He has fit fabulously in Dana Holgorsen's wide-open offense.
Coach of the Year: Charlie Strong (17), Louisville. The Cardinals returned three starters on offense, just one of them along the line. They switched starting quarterbacks – and offensive coordinators – during the season. Yet a team that has started freshmen all over the field has clinched at least a tie for the Big East title in Strong's second season. Look out for these guys next year.
Bust of the Year: USF. The season looked so full of promise in September, when the Bulls were 4-0 and shocked Notre Dame in South Bend to start the season. But they've seen this movie before in Tampa, where fast starts often fizzle. USF now is 5-6 overall and 1-5 in the league, and must upset West Virginia on Thursday just to reach bowl eligibility.
Theme: Big additions, bigger subtractions. The Big Ten joined the modern world with 12 teams, two divisions and a championship game. But it lost a massive amount of prestige when coaching giants Jim Tressel and Joe Paterno were forced out of their jobs amid scandal and shame. The product on the field hasn't been good enough to offset those terrible developments.
Player of the Year: RB Montee Ball, Wisconsin. With two games to play, Ball has a shot at Barry Sanders' single-season touchdown record of 39. Ball has 34, having improved his quickness and stamina by losing weight during the offseason. He's been good enough to steal the spotlight from teammate Russell Wilson, who merely leads the nation in pass efficiency.
Coach of the Year: Brady Hoke (18), Michigan. The Wolverines are on their way back under Hoke, who did a nice job in his first season in Ann Arbor. He and coordinator Greg Mattison dramatically upgraded the defense, and offensive coordinator Al Borges was wise enough to tailor his scheme around the talents of quarterback Denard Robinson. With Urban Meyer headed to Columbus and Hoke recruiting like gangbusters, this could be the advent of another Golden Era in the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry.
Bust of the Year: Nebraska (19). A lot of people – The Dash included – expected the Huskers to win whichever pompously named division they're in. They didn't come close, losing three league games – two of them blowouts (to Michigan and Wisconsin) and the third a stunning home upset against Northwestern. Bo Pelini still has plenty of proving to do in Lincoln.
Theme: Houston, we have a contender. The undefeated Cougars are the best team out of C-USA since Louisville went 11-1 in 2004. In a league burdened by a vast and apathetic lower class, it's good to have someone at the other end of the spectrum bringing in some positive attention.
Player of the Year: QB Case Keenum (20), Houston. You know about all the individual stats – the all-time leader in passing yards, completions, touchdowns, etc. But don't forget this stat: With Keenum at quarterback in the last five-plus seasons, the Cougars are 40-15. When he was injured, they were 3-6. Above all, he's a winner.
Coach of the Year: Kevin Sumlin, Houston. Easy choice for this award. Problem is, he's also an easy candidate for the multitude of jobs that are opening up across the nation.
Bust of the Year: UCF (21). The Knights are 5-7 and under NCAA investigation. That's a bad fall. And, frankly, The Dash doesn't see the allure of coach George O'Leary, who has a losing record through eight seasons at UCF.
Theme: Offense wins. The five teams with winning records in the league also happen to be the five teams at the top of the MAC in scoring. Toledo (42.3 points per game) is 8-4. Northern Illinois (39.6) is 9-3. Western Michigan (35.6) is 7-5. Ohio (31.9) is 9-3. Temple (30.1) is 8-4. So that stuff about defensive winning championships? It may apply in the SEC but not in the mighty MAC.
Player of the Year: WR Jordan White (22), Western Michigan. He leads the nation in receptions (113) and receiving yards (1,646). He's also scored 16 touchdowns. That includes 38 catches for 424 yards and three touchdowns against Big Six opponents Michigan, Illinois and Connecticut. Tough choice over Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish, but a national leader in the MAC deserves some love.
Coach of the Year: Dave Doeren (23), Northern Illinois. The rookie head coach has maintained the momentum built by Jerry Kill. The Huskies are 9-3, won the MAC West and haven't lost since Oct. 1. If Doeren can sustain success after Harnish leaves, he'll be a candidate for other jobs in the near future.
Bust of the Year: Central Michigan. The Chippewas had five consecutive winning seasons from 2005-09. Since then, they're 6-18 in two seasons under Dan Enos. This season, CMU finished last in the MAC West, which simply shouldn't happen.
Theme: A lovely parting gift. On its way out of the league, TCU won it thanks to a missed Boise State field goal at the gun. That's despite the league changing the game to Boise when it originally was scheduled to be in Fort Worth. That definitely cost the Broncos an undefeated season, and it might have cost them a shot at the BCS championship game.
Player of the Year: QB Kellen Moore (24), Boise State. One of the greatest players in college football history. That's not hyperbole, that's fact. He's lost three games as a starter in four seasons and is on pace to set the NCAA record for career pass efficiency. The question of whether Boise can remain a national power after Moore is as legitimate as the Stanford-Luck question.
Coach of the Year: Dave Christensen, Wyoming. Tempting to go with TCU's Gary Patterson, but Christensen has led a strong bounce-back from last season's 3-9 disappointment. Three of the Cowboys' four losses are against ranked opponents, and their victories over San Diego State and Air Force established them as the third-best team in a top-heavy league.
Bust of the Year: Colorado State (25). The Rams started 3-1 but have been miserably winless ever since heading into Saturday's finale against rival Wyoming. A third consecutive three-win season might spell doom for coach Steve Fairchild.
Theme: Feast or famine. It was a great season for USC, Oregon and Stanford. It was a fire-your-coach season for UCLA, Arizona, Arizona State and possibly Washington State. (Nothing, apparently, happens quickly on the Palouse.) The end result is a feast-or-famine championship game matching the Ducks against the Bruins, who announced Monday that they're firing Rick Neuheisel. It'll be a terrible game.
Player of the Year: QB Andrew Luck (26), Stanford. What Griffin has done for Baylor, Luck has done for Stanford. He's a transformative player. He'll be a transformative player in the NFL as well. And in a fairly dark time in college football, Luck has been a shining light of positive news.
Coach of the Year: Lane Kiffin (27), USC. The Dash hasn't been a fan of Kiffy, but it's time to give him his due. He's done great work with the Trojans this season, especially since being dump-trucked at Arizona State in September. (If USC had handled its NCAA purgatory smartly, instead of fighting every inch of the way, it would have self-imposed a postseason ban in 2009, missed the Emerald Bowl and probably been eligible to play in this postseason. Thus, we would have had an Oregon-USC showdown for the Rose Bowl. Watching 6-6 UCLA instead is one last gift to Troy from the Mike Garrett era.)
Bust of the Year: Arizona State. The Sun Devils tanked disgracefully, losing their last four games against soft competition to earn Dennis Erickson a well-deserved pink slip. This was a team that played too often without discipline, enabling punkish behavior by star linebacker Vontaze Burfict. The Dash listened to ASU radio analyst and former Sun Devils quarterback Jeff Van Raaphorst unapologetically ripping Burfict for his non-effort against California; when the team radio guy is going after a player like that, you know he's a bad egg.
Trent Richardson celebrates with Big Al.
Theme: The West is the best. As in, best ever. There's never been a division like the SEC West, with LSU, Alabama and Arkansas having outstanding seasons. Only once has an entire conference had this much power at the top (the Big Eight in 1971 had Nebraska, Oklahoma and Colorado ranked Nos. 1, 2 and 3). That's why the SEC will have the BCS championship game market cornered. (Don't ask about the SEC East, which has fallen and cannot get up.)
Player of the Year: RB Trent Richardson, Alabama. Close call between Richardson and Mathieu. Last Friday, The Dash was ready to give it to Mathieu. By Saturday, when Richardson had steamrolled Auburn for a career-high 203 yards, it was time to reverse course. Richardson does most of his work between the tackles in the toughest defensive league in the nation, yet still averages a bit more than 6.0 yards per carry. In a conference full of tough guys, he might be the toughest.
Coach of the Year: Les Miles (28), LSU. See above.
Bust of the Year: Florida (29). Expectations probably were too high for a team coming off an 8-5 season and with a rookie coach, but the Gators came close to a worst-case-scenario season. They finished with a losing record in SEC play for the first time since 1986. (You may notice a trend among the Busts of the Year: Florida State, USF, UCF, Florida. Nice season in the Sunshine State.)
Theme: New blood wins big. The top three teams in the league were Arkansas State, Western Kentucky and Louisiana-Lafayette. Their combined league record: 20-3. The combined years of FBS head-coaching experience for those three schools coming into the season: one. Congratulations to those schools for making astute hires in Hugh Freeze (Arkansas State), Willie Taggart (WKU) and Mark Hudspeth (ULL). Change – intelligent change – is good.
Player of the Year: TB Bobby Rainey (30), Western Kentucky. In a time when running backs are considered dainty, Rainey ran like an old-school workhorse. He leads the FBS with a whopping 362 carries for a nation-leading 1,695 yards. He carried the Hilltoppers to new heights.
Coach of the Year: Hugh Freeze (31), Arkansas State. At 9-2, the Red Wolves have their first winning season since 1995 (when they were an FCS program) and their most victories in a season since 1986. Give a ton of credit to Freeze, who has enlivened a traditionally punchless offense and will hear his phone ringing from schools looking for a new coach.
Bust of the Year: Troy. The Trojans had won or shared the previous five Sun Belt titles. This season, the thing has unraveled into a 3-8 debacle that nobody saw coming.
Theme: Post-Boise blues. With the Broncos gone to the Mountain West, there was little reason to pay attention to this league. That never changed all season.
Player of the Year: TB Robert Turbin, Utah State. He wins by a smidge over an undistinguished lot. He's fifth nationally in scoring and 10th in rushing for an Aggies team that won six games for the first time since 1997.
Coach of the Year: Sonny Dykes (32), Louisiana Tech. On Oct. 2, the Bulldogs were 1-4. Today they're 8-4 and league champions, with a chance to win nine games for the first time since '97. Dykes started the season with 17-year-old freshman Nick Isham at quarterback but replaced him with junior Colby Cameron and got results. Cameron is undefeated this season as Tech's starter.
Bust of the Year: Hawaii (33). When you have a losing record in the WAC, have lost three of your past four and are the subject of point-shaving rumors that hit the papers, you've had a bad season.
How attractive is your job?
Rating the open jobs, from best to worst:
A-List Jobs (34)
Penn State. Consider it open, because there's no way they're keeping Tom Bradley. This A-rating takes the optimistic view that the football program – and entire university – will be able to endure the horrific Jerry Sandusky scandal without lasting damage. Whoever Penn State hires must bring impeccable character credentials with him. But given the fan base and the recruiting base, Penn State shouldn't fall off the map.
B-List Jobs (35)
UCLA. Sits on great recruiting soil, but the school doesn't care as much about football as crosstown rival USC and has fired its past three coaches.
Illinois. Perennial underachiever program that hasn't had consecutive winning seasons since 1989-90. Think about that. It's pathetic.
Arizona State. Better-than-average program over the long haul, but hasn't had a standout coach since John Cooper won the Rose Bowl in 1987. Fickle fan base and aging stadium don't help.
Mississippi. Plentiful local talent is a double-edged sword. It's right there in the backyard, but also close enough for all the power programs in the SEC to poach. Racial heritage of the school remains a recruiting issue, according to outgoing coach Houston Nutt and others.
C-List Jobs (36)
Kansas. In a power conference, but historically powerless. This is a basketball-first, basketball-second, basketball-third school that needs to recruit well in Texas and Kansas City to compete.
Memphis. Should be able to compete in Conference USA, and the chances of that are much better now that the school has forced out empty-suit athletic director R.C. Johnson. This is a basketball school, too, but there is talent available in the area.
Florida Atlantic. South Florida is flush with football players. Unfortunately, most want nothing to do with FAU. But a few good second-tier guys could go a long way in the Sun Belt. Nice new on-campus stadium should help recruiting.
UAB. Board of Trustees oversees the entire University of Alabama system and has done UAB no favors over the years. Maybe now they'll help the Blazers hire a competent coach. Next up, the school has to do something with dilapidated Legion Field – fix it up or move out.
Tulane. Similar situation to FAU – school is in a hotbed of talent that wants very little to do with the Green Wave. Add in high academic standards, and this is a brutal job.
Akron. Coach Rob Ianello was fired last week, reportedly by phone while driving to his mother's funeral. You want to work for those guys?
Coach who earned his comp car this week
Howard Schnellenberger (37), Florida Atlantic. The last winless team finally got off the schneid Saturday when Schnellenberger's Owls defeated UAB in the penultimate game of a great but star-crossed career. It would have been wrong for the man who legitimized three programs – Miami, Louisville and Florida Atlantic – to end his career with a winless season. Thankfully it didn't come to that.
Coach who should take the bus to work
LSU coach Les Miles (R) pulls on the arm of Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino as Petrino pulls away after LSU won 41-17.
Bobby Petrino (38), Arkansas. He's a great coach but a perpetually chippy guy, and it showed when he appeared to be F-bombing Les Miles from across the field late in LSU's beatdown of the Razorbacks. Then Petrino gave Miles a blow-off postgame handshake. At apparent issue was an LSU field goal with about five minutes to play that made the final score 41-17 – nothing at all egregious for a team trying to lock up a spot in the national championship. The Dash remembers watching Petrino hang 70 on Cincinnati, 69 on North Carolina, 65 on Houston, 63 on Oregon State and 61 on Florida Atlantic. Now that same guy is mad about a field goal being kicked on his third-ranked team? Have a hankie, Bobby.
Putting out an APB for ...
… Napoleon McCallum (39). Anyone with information on the whereabouts of the former Navy and Oakland Raiders running back who endured one of the most ghastly televised injuries ever, please apprise The Dash.
Meanwhile, The Dash is pleased to report that last week's APB subject, former Arkansas quarterback Clint Stoerner, is alive and well and selling insurance in the Little Rock area. Thanks to all Dash spies for their information.
Walk-On's (40) in Baton Rouge, stumbling distance to Tiger Stadium. The owners are former LSU basketball walk-ons who appear to be much better restaurateurs than hoopers. The appetizers alone are worth it, from crawfish quesadillas to boudin balls to Louisiana alligator, but also try the Catfish Acadiana for a main course. There are plenty of TVs and liquid refreshments to complete the experience for college football fans.
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