Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (Mad Hatter bowling body language video sold separately):
THIS THING ISN'T OVER YET
Only two weekends remain to determine who will play for the national championship, and only three teams determine their own destiny. They play four games that could decide everything. Unless things get weird again – and after the last two Saturdays, who's going to rule that out?
The Dash is here to sort out the road to South Florida, outlining what needs to happen for the eight schools to reach the title game:
Notre Dame (1). This is the most clear-cut scenario of them all: Win one game Saturday against USC and the Irish are in. But anyone who knows the history of this rivalry isn't taking anything for granted in Los Angeles on Saturday – even with Matt Barkley reportedly out. Notre Dame knows heartbreak in the Coliseum.
In 1964, the Fighting Irish were undefeated and ranked No. 1, taking on an unranked USC team with three losses. Notre Dame led 17-0 at halftime but lost, 20-17, blowing the national title in the process.
In 1970, undefeated and second-ranked Notre Dame was upset in a downpour by an unranked, 5-4-1 USC team, 38-28.
In 1974, Notre Dame was 9-1 but still in the national championship picture when it played 8-1-1 USC. The Irish built a 24-0 lead and then completely collapsed, losing 55-24 in what remains The Dash's all-time greatest example of a complete momentum reversal.
That's why Notre Dame fans with long memories will be very nervous come Saturday in the Coliseum. Even with Lane Kiffin and a backup quarterback on the other sideline.
Alabama (2). Granted a divine bailout by the dual flops of Kansas State and Oregon, the Crimson Tide must win two games to play for the title. The first is Saturday against the worst Auburn team since 1950. The second would be the SEC championship game against Georgia. You must like their chances.
Georgia (3). If the Bulldogs beat 6-5 Georgia Tech on Saturday and Alabama in the SEC title game, they're in. The Dash doesn't see the 'Dogs beating 'Bama, but at least they don't need anyone else's help to play for all the marbles.
Those are the three teams in the Just Win Baby Dept. Five more need some help – ranging from a little to a lot:
Florida (4). The Gators are rooting for USC, Auburn and Georgia Tech this weekend. If the Trojans don't beat the Irish, they'll need both Alabama and Georgia to lose a game. Of course, if the Gators don't beat Florida State on Saturday in Tallahassee, none of this matters.
Oregon (5). The Ducks are rooting for USC, UCLA, Auburn, Georgia Tech and Florida State this weekend. They must beat rival Oregon State on Saturday, and if the Bruins can beat Stanford and get the Ducks into the Pac-12 title game that wouldn't hurt, either. Playing and beating UCLA for the Pac-12 title would boost the computer profile if it comes down to a beauty contest with other one-loss teams. But in simplest terms, the Ducks might need four teams to lose between now and Selection Sunday.
Kansas State (6). The Wildcats have an open date to plead for upsets from USC, Auburn, Georgia Tech and Oregon State, plus a Florida State victory over Florida. Then they must beat Texas Dec. 1. And then they would need voters to suspend the natural apprehension over granting a championship game berth to a team that lost by four touchdowns to 5-5 Baylor.
Florida State (7). Must beat Florida for starters, then win the ACC championship game. (The Seminoles, who are loathed by the computers, were done no favors in that matchup. Miami self-imposing a postseason ban opened the door for Georgia Tech, which is a lesser opponent. Miami's average computer rating is 55, while Georgia Tech's is 66.) They're otherwise rooting for everyone with one loss to lose again, and then hoping a victory over Florida boosts their computer stock enough to bypass the trio of two-loss teams currently ranked ahead of them (LSU, Stanford, Texas A&M).
Clemson (8). Needs to beat rival South Carolina – actually, demolishing South Carolina might be in order. Then the Tigers need to become the biggest Georgia Tech fans on Earth, hoping the Yellow Jackets beat both Georgia Saturday and Florida State in the ACC title game. Clemson would also need Georgia to beat Alabama in SEC title game, Florida State to beat Florida, Oregon State to beat Oregon and Texas to beat Kansas State. If all that lines up, Dabo Swinney might as well head to the high-stakes tables in Vegas.
Quick side note to ACC teams: Your league already is weak enough that you cannot afford to schedule weak FCS opponents – the computer hit is too great. Florida State is paying for games against Savannah State (No. 243 in the Sagarin Ratings) and Murray State (No. 136). Clemson blew it by playing Furman (No. 179).
And then there is the case of Ohio State (9). Watching one undefeated team after another lose, the 11-0 Buckeyes are left to ponder what might have been had they chosen to self-impose a bowl ban at 6-6 last season. Instead, they assumed the NCAA would go easy with its sanctions, only to be handed a 2012 postseason ban. Whoops.
Given the putrid nature of the Big Ten and Ohio State's weak non-conference schedule, The Dash wouldn't take an unbeaten Buckeyes team over a one-loss SEC champion – but it would have made for a lively debate. Instead, it's a non-story. All Ohio State can do now is try to go 12-0, root for a Notre Dame loss and then lobby as the lone unbeaten for an AP No. 1 and split national title.
Mostly, the Buckeyes can spend December regretting the decision they made last year.
RIVALRY WEEK PRIMER
Setting aside the championship implications, this is one of the best weekends of the season. Traditional rivalries play out from coast to coast, with varying stakes and passion levels. The Dash gives you the breakdown of each game, including a Heat Meter that is judged on the following scale:
1: Friendly banter between fans on game day.
2: Week-long semi-friendly banter leading up to the game.
3: Season-long semi-bitter banter.
4: Year-round bitter banter laced with stereotyped putdowns of the opposition's class, intelligence, integrity and looks. Message-board heroes spend inordinate amount of free time trying to uncover violations within rival program. Game-day skirmishes may occur.
5: Opposing fans brawl at dialysis center. Losing side poisons winning side's trees.
LSU-Arkansas (10). The battle for the Golden Boot, a cumbersome trophy depicting both states in what is indeed the shape of a boot.
Series: LSU leads 35-20-2, but Hogs have won three of the last five.
Heat Meter: 2. Arkansas took a lot of the heat out of this year's matchup by having a miserable season. The fact that this is John L. Smith's last game isn't likely to add much extra juice to the proceedings, since he's only been the head coach since the spring.
Dash Pick: LSU 26, Arkansas 23. Les Miles inexplicably calls for linebacker Kevin Minter to try a drop-kick field goal on final play of tie game. Naturally, it works. John L. slaps himself after postgame handshake with Miles, who tells media that the drop-kick idea came to him in a vision during mid-third quarter. Somewhere (hopefully not the press box) Bobby Hebert passes out.
Auburn-Alabama (11). The Iron Bowl. Working subtitle: Chizik's Last Stand.
Series: Alabama leads 41-34-1.
Heat meter: 4. Tigers' ineptitude should take the Updyke Factor out of this year's meeting. Not even the games' intangibles – Chizik trying to go out in a blaze of glory that would cost the Crimson Tide any chance at a repeat national title – seems strong enough to overcome the tangible fact that Auburn is terrible.
Dash Pick: Alabama 41, Auburn 3. No way the Tide blows its second chance at reaching the BCS title game – at least not this week. Next week could be another matter. Bobby Lowder sneaks into football offices and has Chizik's office all packed up by the time the Tigers return from Tuscaloosa. Nick Saban threatens to demote defensive coordinator Kirby Smart for allowing late field-goal drive that ruins shutout.
Mississippi State-Mississippi (12). The Egg Bowl. Also known as The Fiercest Rivalry That Never Means Anything.
Series: Ole Miss leads 60-42-6, but has lost three in a row, which is a big reason why Hugh Freeze is coaching the Rebels this year and Houston Nutt is not.
Heat meter: 3. Always plenty of hate here, but it would help if the teams were really good. Rebels need a win for their first bowl bid since 2009.
Dash Pick: Mississippi State 24, Mississippi 20. Disassociated State booster Denton Herring tries to get into the postgame locker room and make it rain $50 bills for victorious Bulldogs. Three weeks after trumpeting first-year coach Hugh Freeze for SEC Coach of the Year, Ole Miss fans put him on the hot seat while remaining in denial about the gaffe of firing David Cutcliffe eight years (and two winning seasons) ago.
Florida-Florida State (13). To the best of The Dash's knowledge, the game has no nickname or trophy. Perhaps the winning coach should get the right to call the state's top uncommitted recruit from the field right after the game.
Series: Florida leads 33-21-2, although the Seminoles have won the last two.
Heat meter: 4. With the two teams a combined 20-2, this is the biggest game in the series in quite a while.
Dash Pick: Florida State 21, Florida 13. Coach Boom tries to order up another game-winning blocked punt, the Seminoles don't fall for it. After victory, Jimbo Fisher has another BCS tantrum while glossing over the fact that his team did lose to 6-5 North Carolina State.
Georgia Tech-Georgia (14). Also known as "Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate." There may be a Governor's Cup kind of trophy, which is suitably ambiguous because you can't really make a trophy symbolizing hate.
Series: Georgia leads 62-39-5 and have won 10 of the last 11. But six of the last eight have been one-score games.
Heat meter: 3. Tech has a chance to deal a brutal blow to its rival, which increases the stakes.
Dash Pick: Georgia 48, Georgia Tech 28. Tied at 14 at halftime, panicking Bulldogs fans resume calling for Mark Richt to be fired. But a Yellow Jackets defense that has surrendered 42 or more points four times this season is in over its head and collapses in the second half. Afterward, Georgia fans confidently predict victory over Alabama in the SEC title game and forget the fact that they've been itching to fire a coach who is now 21-5 over the past two seasons.
South Carolina-Clemson (15). The Battle of the Palmetto State. There is allegedly something called the Hardees Trophy. If it's a mounted Southwest Patty Melt presented by Kate Upton, The Dash approves.
Series: Clemson leads 65-40-4. But South Carolina has won three straight, none of them close.
Heat meter: 4. With Clemson No. 11 in the BCS Standings and South Carolina No. 12, this is one of the biggest meetings in the 105-game history of the rivalry.
Dash Pick: South Carolina 35, Clemson 28. Jadeveon Clowney gets three sacks. Dabo Swinney says he's a great player. Steve Spurrier, continuing his crabby-old-man season, takes shots at Swinney in response, says something snide to The State columnist Ron Morris and storms away from podium.
Kentucky-Tennessee (16). The Battle for the Barrel. More appropriate title for this year's meeting: The Unemployment Bowl, sponsored by CareerBuilder.com.
Series: Tennessee leads 74-24-9, but Kentucky broke a 26-year losing streak last season.
Heat meter: 1. And only because the Wildcats won last year. Otherwise, this rivalry is every bit as heated as bug vs. truck windshield.
Dash Pick: Tennessee 41, Kentucky 27. At home in Knoxville, Derek Dooley shoves a crutch through his TV screen watching his defense finally make key plays. Dooley's mom calls postgame radio show to rip Volunteers fans. UK athletic director Mitch Barnhart embraces Joker Phillips after his last game, runs away from reporters and continues stealthy pursuit of Bill Belichick as next coach of the Wildcats.
Michigan-Ohio State (17). Too big for a nickname or a trophy.
Series: Michigan leads 58-44-6, but had lost seven straight before last year's victory in the Big House.
Heat meter: 4. With Brady Hoke referring to the Buckeyes only as "Ohio" and Urban Meyer referring to the Wolverines only as "the school up north," that shouldn't change anytime soon.
Dash Pick: Ohio State 26, Michigan 17. Denard Robinson plays receiver, running back, cornerback and kick returner but throws key interception on his only play at quarterback. Meyer says Buckeyes deserve AP national title, glossing over the fact that his team didn't play a top-50 schedule according to Sagarin. Dead Schembechlers go on hunger strike until Ohio State is voted No. 1.
Illinois-Northwestern (18). Played for the Land of Lincoln Trophy, which is a stove-pipe hat mounted on a block of wood. If it were an actual stove-pipe hat that could be worn like the brass hat from the Oklahoma-Texas game, that would be better.
Series: Illinois leads 54-46-5, and has won the last two.
Heat meter: 1. This rivalry has never had much juice, and Illini fans have forgotten that football season is still going on.
Dash Pick: Northwestern 45, Illinois 17. Immediately after the loss, Illini coach Tim Beckman flies to State College, Pa., and stands outside Penn State players' dorm rooms some more.
Indiana-Purdue (19). The Old Oaken Bucket.
Series: Purdue leads 71-37-6 and has won three of the last four.
Heat meter: 1. Basketball is a 4. Football is a 1. Neither ever changes.
Dash Pick: Indiana 31, Purdue 30. Boilermakers thank Danny Hope for his service and go public with their coaching search. Hoosiers coach Kevin Wilson calls Jack Trudeau to say, "How you like me now?"
Nebraska-Iowa (20). Winner gets the Heroes Trophy, which replaced the weird bauble they originally came up with last year when the series was renewed.
Series: Nebraska leads 27-12-3 and has won the last four meetings.
Heat meter: 1. The Hawkeyes are terrible and this is a contrived rivalry that will take time to grow.
Dash Pick: Nebraska 31, Iowa 14. Despite the easy victory, Bo Pelini snaps a yard marker in two over a borderline pass interference call and bites one of his players on the leg after a dropped pass. Kirk Ferentz continues cashing large checks.
Oklahoma State-Oklahoma (21). The Bedlam Series, which comes complete with the Bedlam Bell for the winners.
Series: Oklahoma leads 81-18-7.
Heat meter: 3. Cowboys’ perennial contender status under Mike Gundy has added annual oomph to the rivalry. And Oklahoma is pretty fallible these days.
Dash Pick: Oklahoma 34, Oklahoma State 28. Sooners aren’t quite fallible enough to lose a third game at home in a single season. After loss, Mike Gundy finds another female reporter to snap at.
TCU-Texas (22). They’re trying to market this renewal of the old Southwest Conference series an “Instant Classic.” Except there’s nothing classic about it.
Series: Texas leads 61-20-1 and has won 27 of the last 28 meetings.
Heat meter: 1. They’ve played once since 1995, and it was a mismatch rivalry even when the teams did play each other. If this were a vintage TCU Gary Patterson team we might have something here, but it’s not.
Dash Pick: Texas 28, TCU 13. Longhorns fans who were calling for Mack Brown to retire last month give him standing ovation as team improves to 9-2. Patterson even more miserable than usual.
Virginia-Virginia Tech (23). Otherwise known as the Commonwealth Cup.
Series: Hokies lead 51-37-5 and have won 12 of the last 13.
Heat meter: 2. One of the most glum meetings in many years, with both teams sporting losing records. Tech needs a victory to gain bowl eligibility
Dash Pick: Virginia Tech 28, Virginia 21. Still unable to choose a quarterback and stick with him, Virginia coach Mike London chooses a last-minute fourth down in the redzone to send both Michael Rocco and Phillip Sims into the huddle and simply have them fight it out among themselves. Cavaliers penalized for 12 men on the field, lose game.
Notre Dame-USC (24). Winner gets the Jeweled Shillelagh, which has been around since 1952 without a single soul knowing about it.
Series: Notre Dame leads 43-35-5, despite just one win in the last 10 meetings.
Heat meter: 4. See above history and stakes.
Dash Pick: Notre Dame 19, USC 10. Lane Kiffin tries deflating the USC footballs, greasing the Notre Dame footballs, paying off the refs and sneaking Carson Palmer into uniform. Nothing works, but athletic director Pat Haden stands by his coach. Because how could a fixer-upper program like USC replace a certified genius like Lane?
Arizona State-Arizona (25). The “Duel in the Desert” is played for the Territorial Cup. Though we’re just a little bit past the territory stage in Arizona.
Series: Arizona leads 47-37-1.
Heat meter: 3. It’s always hot in Arizona, right? That’s desert humor for you. But both have winning records (Wildcats 7-4, Sun Devils 6-5), which doesn’t happen every year.
Dash Pick: Arizona 41, Arizona State 38. After the game Sun Devils administration places home-incarceration ankle bracelet on coach Todd Graham to make sure he doesn’t take his “dream job” at California.
Oregon-Oregon State (26). The Civil War is played for the most excellent Platypus Trophy, a spectacularly ugly trinket that has a vivid history. It was stolen in the 1960s and then went missing for decades before being discovered in a closet at Oregon’s MacArthur Court.
Series: Oregon leads 59-46-10, which is a lot of ties for fans to have to sit through.
Heat meter: 4. Both teams are really good, and there are division title implications on the line. This is one of the most enticing meetings in the history of the series.
Dash Pick: Oregon 42, Oregon State 27. Ducks don’t leave it to their kicker like they did last week, galloping through the Beavers with customary speed and sizzle. But when Stanford beats UCLA, Oregon is left out of the Rose Bowl. The NFL calls again, and this time Chip Kelly answers.
Washington-Washington State (27). The Apple Cup has an attendant trophy that lacks apples or any other distinctive feature.
Series: Washington leads 67-31-6.
Heat meter: 2. Any rivalry game that involves Mike Leach is going to have a little bit of sass, but beating his Cougars hasn’t been much of an achievement this season.
Dash Pick: Washington 41, Washington State 24. Watching from an undisclosed location, Marquess Wilson smiles. Watching from the sidelines as his debut season at Wazzu ends 2-10, Leach does not smile.
AND THE DEARLY DEPARTED RIVALRIES THAT AREN’T BEING PLAYED – THIS WEEK OR EVER
Missouri-Kansas (28). The Border War went by the wayside when the Tigers fled for the SEC. The Dash doesn’t blame the Jayhawks for having no interest in a non-conference series. If Mizzou wanted to leave, it knew what the collateral damage could and would be.
Texas A&M-Texas (29). A Thanksgiving staple that evaporated when the Aggies went to the SEC. What The Dash said above about Kansas and its attitude toward Missouri applies equally to Texas’ thoughts toward Texas A&M. Don’t bother asking about a reunion.
West Virginia-Pittsburgh (30). With both teams being Big East deserters as of next year, maybe they can get together again without excessive hurt feelings on either side. Get it done, guys.
Meanwhile, Dashette Padma Lakshmi (31) remains unrivaled.
NATIONAL COACH OF THE YEAR, REVISITED
The Dash’s top five candidates this week:
Bill Snyder (32), Kansas State. Maybe no longer a mortal lock after his team turned in a dreadful, title-wrecking performance at Baylor. An 11-1 season would still be amazing, since it would be built more on avoiding mistakes (that’s good coaching) than on overwhelming talent.
Brian Kelly (33), Notre Dame. Before the season, the common school of thought was that the Fighting Irish could improve from last year’s 8-5 record and it wouldn’t show because the schedule was so difficult. But lo and behold, here they are 11-0 and 60 minutes from playing for the national title for the first time since 1988. The Dash wrote three years ago that the only thing wrong with Notre Dame was a series of bad coaching hires, not anything inherently flawed in the institution. Kelly is proving that now.
David Shaw (34), Stanford. He replaced Jim Harbaugh last year, and a lot of people thought the sustained success was simply a product of having Andrew Luck. This year Shaw didn’t have Luck, but he does have nine victories in 11 games – including that landmark upset of Oregon in Eugene. And the two losses came by a combined 10 points in games the Cardinal very nearly won. Now they’re one game away from hosting the Pac-12 championship game. Strong.
[Also: Tim Tebow likes Johnny Football's 'swag']
Jim Mora (35), UCLA. After four losing seasons in the past five years, Mora has transformed the Bruins into a nine-win team that could end up with 11 or more victories – and that would be a first in school history. Beating up USC on Saturday might have been a major statement about the direction of the program going forward.
Kevin Sumlin (36), Texas A&M. Architect of the single most impressive victory of the season, in which the Aggies scored more points (29) than any visitor to Alabama in the last five years. His offense and freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel have been a perfect marriage, with a 9-2 record the result. The Aggies haven’t had double-digit victories since 1998.
Others you can make an argument for: Gary Andersen, Utah State; Kyle Flood, Rutgers; James Franklin, Vanderbilt; Darrell Hazell, Kent State; Mike MacIntyre, San Jose State; Urban Meyer, Ohio State; Bill O’Brien, Penn State.
COACH WHO EARNED HIS COMP CAR THIS WEEK
Les Miles (37), LSU. For giving a postgame opening statement that makes you wonder where the man’s mind goes during games, but also makes you thankful to have him in college football. Nobody else … nobody … gets behind a microphone and comes up with, well, whatever that was Saturday after beating Ole Miss. Somebody kiss that man on the mouth.
COACH WHO SHOULD TAKE THE BUS TO WORK
Jeff Tedford (38), Cal. A season-ending five-game losing streak has cost Tedford his job. The last effort was the weakest, a 48-point beating in the rain at Oregon State. Tedford came into the season on the hot seat and it only got hotter as the losses piled up. At 3-9, this was Cal’s worst season since 2001 – the year before Tedford arrived.
PUTTING OUT AN APB FOR …
… Former Michigan quarterback Rick Leach (39), who 34 years ago led the Wolverines to a 14-3 victory over Ohio State in what would be the final installment of the “Ten-Year War” between Bo Schembechler and Woody Hayes. Michigan went on to the Rose Bowl, and Hayes went on to career suicide in the Gator Bowl by punching Clemson’s Charlie Baumann. Anyone with information on the whereabouts of lefty Leach, please apprise The Dash.
When hungry in Eugene, The Dash recommends dinner at Ambrosia (40), where the menu is overrun with good stuff ranging from prime rib to shrimp to pasta dishes. And in a state loaded with great beer choices, The Dash suggests a Deschutes Mirror Pond Pale Ale. Thank The Dash later.
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