Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (manufactured NCAA outrage sold separately in Miami (1) ):
After they have entered the 145,000-square foot Oregon Football Performance Center, walked across the Nepalese rugs, worked out on the Brazilian hardwood floors of the weight room and sank into the Italian leather couches in the players lounge, you wonder: do the Ducks know about the guys at Grambling? Have they heard about the Tigers' moldy locker room and the weight room with the damaged floors?
Before playing Washington State on Saturday, when they pulled on their seventh different uniform combination in seven games, did the Ducks consider the plight of the Grambling players? Could they possibly relate to the guys who were getting staph infections from wearing the same, unwashed uniforms over and over?
When they take their next chartered flight to a road game, will the Ducks sympathize with the Tigers who rode buses from Louisiana to Indianapolis for a game, and from Louisiana to Kansas City for another?
Oregon (2) and Grambling (3) both play college football, at least in name. The players are the same age. The rules of the game are the same. But beyond that they have nothing in common, as the obscenely bloated high end of the sport continues to lose touch with the paupers at the other end of the Division I spectrum.
The gulf between the Haves and Have-Nots is an American societal issue more than anything else – but this is the sporting manifestation of it, and this is a sports column. It took a player strike and a forfeited game at a traditionally proud football program for most of America to notice, but the Tigers have gotten our attention.
The sadness of their situation should at least cause a twinge of guilt among all those who bathe in excess at the elite level of college football. Yes, everyone.
The commissioners, university presidents and athletic directors who tore apart rivalries and regional sensibility to realign for more TV revenue. The TV execs who would schedule games at midnight on Mars if they could make a buck. The coaches who are making tens of thousands of dollars in bonus money for such lofty accomplishments as league victories, bowl eligibility and a decent team grade-point average. The players who complain about "exploitation" while pocketing money from agents and boosters behind the scenes. The fans who spend huge sums of money to support the football team but not the educational mission of their favorite school.
And the media members who complain when their free parking isn't close enough to the stadium, their free press-box meal isn't good enough or their luxury hotel at a BCS bowl is inconveniently located. The Dash included.
We've become desensitized to the silliness of conspicuous consumption in college football. Is there anything in athletics more nonsensical than buying foosball tables from Barcelona for the facility at Oregon? Do the chief tenants of the building, ages 18 to 22 and there to play football, notice or care where their play toys come from? Would it cost the Ducks a commitment from a foosball aficionado or an interior design major if the tables were from a local department store?
But because Oregon's facility is hailed as the latest and perhaps greatest recruiting advantage, others at the elite end of the spectrum will hustle to catch up. Alabama's facility has a waterfall now, and 10-foot tall replicas of the school's most recent championship rings. Tennessee's plans for a $45 million football facility were altered midstream by then-coach Derek Dooley to include $9 million in adjustments from another consultant. The reason, according to Dooley: "If (recruits) don't go wow, then we hadn't done our job."
Well, of course. Because there is no such thing as "enough." Our sense of proportion has been lost, or at least subverted by the notion that victory justifies everything. If ridiculous indulgence is a byproduct of winner-take-all competition, not many people seem to have a problem with that. More seem to celebrate it than question it.
It's not up to Oregon – or Alabama, or Tennessee – to fix what ails Grambling. (Though you wonder whether Ducks sugar daddy Phil Knight, who has done more than any man to ramp up the college sports arms race, could spare a dime to help the school with a set of uniforms.) But everyone at the affluent end of the sport should take note of what's happening at Grambling, and we should all feel a little bit dirty today.
GRAMBLING, PART II
Given the reported program negligence and sorry treatment of its players, the Grambling administration is justifiably on the griddle. (The entire athletic department is a wreck, with a winless football team and a men's basketball team that went 0-28 last year.) If any situation screams for the intervention of the National College Players Association (4) and its All Players United movement, it's the one at Grambling.
But NCPA head Ramogi Huma (5) told The Dash that he's in a more reactive than proactive stance.
"If they reached out to us, we would help out however we could," Huma said. "We want to have a positive impact."
Huma said he has heard from none of the Grambling players. Perhaps he should make the first call and offer his services. There may not be as much publicity at the FCS level, but if the point is championing players' rights and player safety, this is a prime situation to get involved.
The other question is whether the Grambling strike/forfeit is part of an ongoing trend of increasing players' rights, and where the movement might lead.
"At any school, players have a lot of leverage with their administration," Huma said, citing reports that Grambling officials originally were threatening to revoke scholarships of boycotting players. "It goes to show who really has the power. They can take scholarships from one, two, maybe five players. But you can't take all the scholarships or you won't have a team.
"The fact that they've come together is important. There's strength in numbers."
Rest assured, college administrators everywhere are keeping tabs on Grambling, and on players' rights issues everywhere. Whether these are isolated incidents or a real movement remains to be seen, but it's worth monitoring.
OPEN SEASON ON SEC QUARTERBACKS
No fewer than 10 teams in the SEC have had to deal with a significant injury at quarterback, which means a quality backup has never been more important at the game's most important position. A look at the injuries, who has replaced the starters and how they have fared:
Missouri (6): Starter James Franklin is out 3-5 weeks with a separation of his throwing shoulder. Backup: Maty Mauk. How's he done: Stellar in his one start, throwing for 295 yards Saturday in a rout of Florida. He'll have another big test this week against South Carolina.
Auburn (7): Starter Nick Marshall missed the Western Carolina game with a knee injury, but came back strong Saturday in the upset at Texas A&M. Backup: Jeremy Johnson. How's he done: Perfectly functional in a low-stress rout of Western Carolina.
Florida (8): Starter Jeff Driskel has missed the last five games after breaking his leg. He's out for the season. Backup: Tyler Murphy. How's he done: Not great, not terrible. The Gators' myriad offensive issues are far bigger than Murphy.
Arkansas (9): Starter Brandon Allen hurt his shoulder early against Southern Mississippi on Sept. 14 and then missed the game against Rutgers the next week. He's struggled ever since against rugged competition, completing just 40 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and six interceptions. Backup: AJ Derby. How's he done: Not well enough to convince everyone he's the answer at QB.
South Carolina (10): Starter Connor Shaw left the Gamecocks' loss to Tennessee with a sprained knee and is not expected to play Saturday at Missouri. He also missed most of the game against Central Florida earlier in the season. Backup: Dylan Thompson. How's he done: He's been very capable, and at times heroic: a 310-yard day in a victory over Clemson last year; the game-winning TD pass in the Outback Bowl against Michigan. But he's still not as good as Shaw.
Vanderbilt (11): Starter Austyn Carta-Samuels was on crutches and in tears at the end of the Commodores' upset of Georgia on Saturday. He could be lost for the season with a knee injury. Backup: Patton Robinette. How's he done: Freshman filled in adeptly for Samuels against the Bulldogs, leading a comeback victory.
Mississippi State (12): Starter Tyler Russell missed three games after being knocked out of the opener against Oklahoma State with a concussion. He's split time at QB the past two games. Backup: Dak Prescott. How's he done: Run with aplomb, passed with somewhat less aplomb.
Tennessee (13): Starter Justin Worley was benched at Florida, giving way to a Nathan Peterman start that was painful on multiple levels. Peterman played poorly and broke his hand, giving the job back to Worley.
Kentucky (14): Jalen Whitlow and Max Smith have taken turns being hurt, and taken turns being ineffective. Whitlow, the quarterback currently in favor with the coaching staff, is trying to come back from an ankle injury for the Wildcats' Thursday game against Mississippi State.
Texas A&M (15): We'll see whether there are any lingering effects of the right shoulder/arm injury suffered by Johnny Manziel against Auburn. Obviously, there is a wide chasm between the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner and backup Matt Joeckel.
GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN OVER; COLLEGE FOOTBALL SHUTDOWN TO COME?
We survived the shutdown, but it got The Dash thinking of people or things in college football that need to be shut down. It's a fun sport, full of all kinds of great things, but there are a few strong shutdown candidates:
The Bathroom Comedian (16). There's one in every stadium bathroom line, every game. All you want to do is take care of your urinary business, but the BHC will have none of that. He's the guy who thinks he's hilarious and wants the captive audience to know how funny he is, trotting out one joke or wisecrack after another. He is invariably not funny, and invariably drunk.
The Process (17). Blame it on Nick Saban. He wins a few national titles and now every coach mimics the Alabama coach's endless repetition of that phrase to describe his team's progress during the season. College football is now more processed than Cheez Whiz.
Angry Twitter Guy (18). Almost always nameless and faceless, with a following of 200 or fewer (not counting porn bots). Avatar is an egg, or his favorite team's logo. Twitter handle is often something aggressively related to his favorite team's nickname, like "@IrishAvenger" or "@TrojanDominance." Timeline is a steady stream of vitriolic responses to tweets by rival fans, players and coaches – unless it is a steady stream of vitriolic responses aimed at media people for insufficient fawning upon ATG's favorite team. Usually has three or four nameless, faceless fanboy friends who congratulate him on his wit, wisdom and fearlessness.
Alternate uniforms (19). Jumped the shark a couple of years ago. Now circling back to be devoured by the shark. Enough. Football teams with more wardrobe changes than Paris runway models are wasting money that could go elsewhere (see top of this column).
The NCAA Enforcement Basher (20). The NCAA nailed his school years ago, and every penalty since then has been a weak slap on the wrist to a program that has done far worse than his school. Even when the cases are completely dissimilar, he makes the comparison and decries the bias and corruption that went into the penalties. Why? Because the NCAA is out to get his school. And why is the NCAA out to get his school? Because it is jealous of his school's success. And because it just is. And if you can't see that, then you're corrupt and biased, too. (Get ready for NCAA Enforcement Basher to be out in force Tuesday, once the Miami penalties are announced.)
"We're moving forward" (21). Losing teams have found their default postgame mechanism to change the subject from the stinker they just laid on the field. Questions about what happened are met with a cursory response and then, "We're moving forward." Games that were anticipated for weeks or months are swept aside in record time, in order to move forward and prepare for Directional Tech.
SEC Guy (22). Insufferably arrogant blowhard who insists that undefeated teams from outside his league would be middle-of-the-pack scrappers in the SEC. Says nobody plays defense anywhere near like an SEC team – except in years when the defense is porous, and then nobody has offensive firepower anywhere near like an SEC team. Never misses an opportunity to proclaim the league's superiority – signing day, draft day, Arbor Day, they're all a chance to tout the SEC. Significant percentage of SEC Guys are fans of programs that win nothing, but need the reflected glory from the programs who win national titles and BCS bowls.
Anti-SEC Guy (23). Endless whiner who finds that bashing the SEC is easier than acknowledging the flaws in his own league. Can find dozens of reasons to dismiss this absurd notion of SEC dominance – as if seven straight national titles mean anything. Has convinced himself that over-signing explains everything, and virtuous schools that don't over-sign might as well be fighting the Chinese Army with rubber bands and squirt guns. Dominant SEC bowl performances are written off as unfavorable matchups played in geographically disadvantageous, warm-weather locales. Oh, and Gary Danielson is the devil.
Coaches on the field (24). Every school has a "get-back coach," a guy assigned to keep players and assistants from trespassing from the sidelines onto the field of play and being penalized. But where is the get-back coach for the head coach? The guys in charge are getting as bad as college basketball coaches at trespassing and making themselves even more conspicuous. They're routinely out near the numbers to yell at players, yell at officials, celebrate touchdowns – and The Dash's favorite: sprint down the sideline to call a grandstand timeout. Don't worry, guys. The TV cameras will still find you if you stay on the sidelines.
The no shows (25). Those empty seats in the student section? Even at schools with good teams playing big games? The Dash doesn't get it. Times apparently have changed, but student willingness to disengage from one of the most fun experiences of college life is perplexing. What is more fun than a home college football game, either for cheap or for free? Try it, you may like it. You may even like it enough to keep coming back.
The Dash has detected some wide variances in performance at a few schools, based on opponent and location:
Arizona State (26) home/road record. The Sun Devils are 5-0 at home this year, with an average winning margin of 29.8 points. A rout of USC got Lane Kiffin fired, and a rout of Washington nudged Steve Sarkisian back onto the hot seat. But the Sun Devils are 0-2 away from Tempe, and never led in the second half of either loss. Rest of the way: three on the road (Washington State on Oct. 31, Utah on Nov. 9, UCLA on Nov. 23) and two at home (Oregon State on Nov. 16, Arizona on Nov. 30).
Tennessee (27) home/road record. The Volunteers are 4-1 at home and mere inches from being 5-0, if Pig Howard hadn't fumbled through the end zone in the valiant loss to Georgia on Oct. 5. The highlight was Saturday, when Tennessee upset South Carolina. But the Vols are 0-2 on the road, losing by two touchdowns to Florida and by 45 to Oregon. Rest of the way: at Alabama, Missouri and Kentucky, home against Auburn and Vanderbilt.
Mississippi State (28) vs. quality/non-quality competition. This has been a 2 ½-year trend under Dan Mullen. The Bulldogs' last 18 victories have come against Memphis, Louisiana Tech, UAB, Kentucky (twice), Tennessee-Martin, Wake Forest, Mississippi 2011, Jackson State, Auburn 2012, Troy (twice), South Alabama, Tennessee 2012, Middle Tennessee, Arkansas 2012, Alcorn State and Bowling Green. Of the six SEC wins in that stretch, zero came against teams that finished the year with winning records (their SEC records were a combined 5-43).
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs' last 14 losses all have come against teams that finished the year with winning records: Auburn 2011 and '13, LSU (three times), Georgia 2011, South Carolina 2011, Alabama (twice), Arkansas 2011, Texas A&M 2012, Mississippi 2012, Northwestern 2012 and Oklahoma State this year. So you can look at it one of two ways: Mullen's teams don't lose to teams they should beat, but they don't have any quality wins since 2010, either.
Rest of the way: Kentucky on Thursday, at South Carolina, at Texas A&M, Alabama, at Arkansas, Ole Miss.
PAC-12 COACHING CROSSFIRE, CONT.
The football is great out West. So is the infighting among the guys wearing headsets.
Two weeks ago we had Washington's Steve Sarkisian (29) and Stanford's David Shaw (30) trading accusations and furious responses about whether Cardinal defensive players faked injuries to slow the Huskies' no-huddle offense. That was pretty wild. But it pales in comparison to what happened this week.
After watching Washington State quarterback throw an NCAA-record 89 passes in a futile comeback attempt, Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti (31) lit up Cougars boss Mike Leach (32).
According to the Oregonian, this was the Aliotti broadside: "That's total (B.S.) that he threw the ball at the end of the game like he did. And you can print that and you can send it to him, and he can comment, too. I think it's low class and it's (B.S.) to throw the ball when the game is completely over against our kids that are basically our scout team.
"Make sure he knows that,'' Aliotti added. "Because I don't really care.''
The Pac-12 cared. The league reprimanded Aliotti Monday and fined him $5,000. Aliotti apologized to Leach and Washington State earlier in the day Monday in a statement released by Oregon.
Here's what The Dash doesn't get: why is it wrong for the trailing team to still try to score? Especially by running its offense? Granted, 89 passes is nobody's normal offense, but this is Mike Leach – he's always thrown the ball more than just about anyone.
If Aliotti was sufficiently bothered, he had the option of putting his starters back in the game and blitzing the bejesus out of Halliday. The guess here is that Aliotti didn't like seeing Washington State's garbage yardage and points inflating his defensive statistics. To which The Dash says, get over it.
Also: Chippy Pac-12 coaches have tended to have a karmic comeuppance. Sarkisian is 0-2 since his shot at Stanford. Shaw's team was upset at Utah in its next game after he ripped Sark. And we all know what happened to frequent pot-shot artist Lane Kiffin.
HLA: THE RULES
If you follow The Dash on Twitter (@YahooForde), you probably have seen the three letters pop up on any given Saturday: HLA. They stand for Horrible Loss Alert, and are invoked to alert fans when a team is headed toward a truly disastrous defeat.
The origin dates to basketball, when bubble teams were losing games that could doom them to the NIT. But it works in football as well.
At the request of some readers, The Dash has put together some ground rules for when an HLA can be invoked. To whit:
A season-ruining defeat (33) is in the offing. Examples: a national title contender being upset by an unranked team or significant underdog; a team blowing a conference championship with a bad loss; a team losing a BCS bowl bid against a team it should beat easily.
A fireable offense (34): USC's blowout loss to Arizona State was worth an HLA. If Mack Brown had been blown out again by Oklahoma, that would have been an HLA. We'll see who else may be in a similar situation in the coming weeks.
A flat-out embarrassing (35) loss: Michigan was never going to win the national title, and a defeat against Akron would not have factored into the Big Ten race. But trailing the awful Zips absolutely constituted an HLA. Same with schools from FBS power leagues losing to FCS members.
The other question is when during a game the HLA tag can be applied. For a national title aspirant against an unranked opponent, any double-digit deficit is sufficient cause (Boston College jumped out to those leads against both Florida State and Clemson). For a national title aspirant playing a significant underdog from its own league, a second-half deficit will do (Ohio State-Iowa on Saturday). When a traditional power like Texas is scoreless in the second quarter against truly woeful New Mexico State in the season opener, that's an HLA, too. (Or an HTA, if you will. Horrible Tie Alert.)
This much as assured: if your team is good, you don't want to suffer through an HLA Saturday.
LAST INTERCEPTION POOL: WE HAVE A WINNER
Dashette Morena Baccarin (36) has been flown in to bestow prizes on the 2013 LIP winner. Take a bow, Marcus Mariota (37) of Oregon, the last full-time FBS quarterback without an interception on his record. He took the title when South Carolina's Connor Shaw threw his first pick of the year Saturday against Tennessee. Mariota's streak of pick-less passes this season is now at 197, and still going as the Ducks host UCLA Saturday. Congrats to the fastidious Marcus.
COACH WHO EARNED HIS COMP CAR THIS WEEK
Gus Malzahn (38), Auburn. In his first season as head coach of the Tigers, Malzahn has completely reversed the negative momentum of the final two years under Gene Chizik. After a 3-9 debacle in 2011, Malzahn has immediately upgraded an inept offense and gotten Auburn off to a roaring 6-1 start. The highlight to date came Saturday, when Auburn went into College Station and upset Texas A&M. Now we cast an eye at a manageable segment of games (Florida Atlantic, Arkansas, Tennessee) that could have the Tigers positioned as unlikely SEC West and national title contenders heading down the stretch.
COACH WHO SHOULD TAKE THE BUS TO WORK
Steve Spurrier (39), South Carolina. After spending a lot of time mismanaging star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney's health status, Spurrier got back to more comfortable ground last week: jabbing at SEC rivals. Spurrier noted that the Gamecocks' visit to Tennessee would be his 14th game at Neyland Stadium – more games than some Tennessee coaches have had in that building. Then Spurrier's team laid a colossal egg, losing to the Vols as the Head Ball Coach mismanaged his timeouts late in the game. A season that began with national title aspirations in Columbia has now crossed over to disappointment territory, a place Gamecocks fans know all too well.
When hungry and thirsty in Clemson, S.C., The Dash recommends a visit to the famous Esso Club (40). Clemson folks have been drinking beer there since 1933. It's a former gas station that also served beer and is now an esteemed landmark within sight of Death Valley. Order some "Famous Wangs" (as it's spelled on the menu) and wash them down with something cheap and domestic. (This is the kind of place where it feels right just to drink mediocre beer.) The fact that there is wine on the menu is mildly disappointing.