IN LES WE TRUST?
You say you want a revolution, America? You want to overthrow the status quo? You want the giddy thrill of freedom that comes with a new beginning?
Then you want LSU (1) to beat Alabama (2) on Saturday in Baton Rouge. You want madcap Les Miles to de-process Nick Saban. You want the Southeastern Conference to continue eating its own.
An upset by the Tigers, a 10-point underdog, would greatly enhance the possibility of (dramatic pause) the first BCS Championship Game without an SEC team in seven years. Would we even know how to act?
If everyone in the nation’s most powerful league has one loss, two unbeatens from outside of Dixie would in all likelihood jump into the title game. And right now there are three other unbeatens in contention (sorry, Louisville), all with increasingly strong résumés.
Notre Dame (3) aided itself greatly Saturday by thumping Oklahoma on the road, 30-13. That boosted it to No. 1 or No. 2 in all six computer polls. Now the Fighting Irish enter a stretch in which the only team it needs to fear is itself. Pittsburgh, Boston College and Wake Forest cannot beat Notre Dame without Notre Dame’s consent – and coach Brian Kelly knows that.
“We’ll lose,” Kelly said, when asked about the increasingly clearer path to a title. “If we start listening to national championship and BCS (talk), we’ll lose a football game.”
Win those three, get to 11-0, and then we’d have the biggest USC-Notre Dame game since 1988. Win that one, and it’s hard to imagine the title game being played without the unbeaten Irish.
Oregon (4) has gutted everyone in its path, most recently the endlessly terrible Colorado Buffaloes. The Ducks have a difficult month ahead, though: three out of four games on the road, and three against ranked opponents. That starts with No. 17 USC on Saturday in Los Angeles, and then there are dates with No. 14 Stanford and No. 11 Oregon State. After that comes a Pac-12 title game, which could well be in Eugene.
If the Ducks run that table it will be difficult to keep them out of the BCS title game.
But the school with the clearest path to 12-0 is Kansas State (5), which is tied with Notre Dame for No. 1 with the BCS computers. Everyone left on the Wildcats’ schedule is good. No one left on the Wildcats’ schedule is great.
In order of opponent, Sagarin rates Oklahoma State 16th, TCU 30th, Baylor 37th and Texas 18th. The road games are against the Horned Frogs and Bears. And there is no conference championship game for K-State to worry about.
So the rooting interest of everyone outside the South is pretty simple: you want LSU to win Saturday, and you want two of the other three unbeatens to run the table.
That scenario has produced this delicious piece of irony: Mike Slive (6) is rooting for Lane Kiffin (7).
Like a trust-funder who wrecked his dad’s Ferrari, Kiffy has blown his own chance at a national title in 2012 with losses at Stanford and Arizona. But that doesn’t mean Kiffin’s Trojans won’t still have a major say in who does get a crack at it. The team that began the season ranked No. 1 in the AP poll can play spoiler to both Oregon and Notre Dame, and that could pave the way for a one-loss SEC team to play for the title.
This is awkward for the SEC commissioner. Slive thinks as highly of Kiffin as most of us do of robocalls from political candidates at dinnertime. Kiffin’s one year in the SEC, at Tennessee, included public reprimands from Slive. When Kiffin suddenly fled for USC the commissioner was downright gleeful, even taking an oblique shot at the coach at SEC media days the following July.
Now, Slive might be forced to become Kiffin’s biggest fan. The Dash cannot make this stuff up.
CAN LSU TRUST IN ZACH?
The biggest reason LSU is a double-digit home ‘dog to the Crimson Tide in the Game of the Year, Southern Version, is because the Tigers are flat-out failing as a passing team. That means there will be immense pressure on quarterback Zach Mettenberger (8) to play by far his best game of the season Saturday.
Last year heading into the Alabama game, LSU wasn’t throwing for a ton of yards (183 per game) but was throwing efficiently (eighth in the nation with a rating of 162.4). Jarrett Lee and perennial knucklehead Jordan Jefferson had combined to complete 104 of 165 passes (63 percent), with 15 touchdowns and one interception.
This year heading into the Alabama game, LSU isn’t throwing for a ton of yards (177 per game) and is highly inefficient (88th nationally with a rating of 123.2). The much-hyped Mettenberger is completing 57 percent of his passes, with seven touchdowns and four interceptions. And in his last three games against ranked SEC opponents, Mettenberger is completing just 43 percent of his passes, with a single touchdown and two picks. (This just in: Alabama is a ranked team. And it leads the nation in pass defense.)
Then there is the mobility issue. Heading into ‘Bama, Lee and Jefferson had combined to rush for 81 yards. Mettenberger has been dropped for 109 yards in losses.
Alabama, by comparison, is getting even better quarterback play now than it was a year ago. A.J. McCarron (9) was playing pretty well then. He’s playing extremely well now. McCarron still leads the nation in pass efficiency after a typical performance against Mississippi State: 16 of 23 for 208 yards, two touchdowns and still no interceptions. (See Last Interception Pool below.) He’s come a long way since throwing a red-zone pick and otherwise appearing shaky against LSU in Tuscaloosa a year ago.
Basically, LSU needs Mettenberger to have the kind of night Notre Dame’s Everett Golson had against Oklahoma. But Golson made as many plays with his legs as with his arm in that game, and Mettenberger doesn’t have that in his repertoire. So freshman Jeremy Hill and LSU’s other 23 running backs will have to carry the day if the Tigers have any shot.
Dash pick: The Tigers have only a very slim shot. It may take some Hat Magic to pull this one off, and The Dash suspects Saban will be prepared for the unpredictable. Alabama 16, LSU 7.
CAN USC TRUST IN KIFFIN?
The Game of the Year, West Coast Version, took a cactus to the backside when Arizona outscored the Trojans on Saturday in Tucson. With two losses, USC’s Unfinished Business Tour is finished well short of the national championship goal. Now it is simply trying to stay in the muddled mix to win the Pac-12 South.
Oh, and Kiffin is coaching for his credibility.
In three-plus years as a college head coach, he’s 3-7 against ranked opponents. He’s 8-8 in conference road games. His current team is the most-penalized in the nation, both in number of infractions and penalty yards per game.
And current USC athletic director Pat Haden didn’t hire him.
Fortunately for Kiffin, he can point to USC’s ongoing recruiting onslaught and insist that the future will be bigger and better. But it would be nice to prove something here in the present, and that means Saturday when Oregon comes to the Coliseum.
USC upset the Ducks last year in Eugene but this Oregon team looks better than that Oregon team, particularly on defense, and even more specifically defending the pass. That will come in handy against the Trojans and their NFL receivers, most notably the remarkable Marqise Lee (10).
The Ducks have played three proficient passing teams – Washington State, Arizona and Arizona State. They have eight interceptions in those three games, and only the Cougars managed to throw for big yardage.
USC quarterback Matt Barkley (11) has been taking more hits this year than last year, too. Oregon is good at getting in the backfield, and if the Ducks can even approximate the pressure Stanford put on Barkley then he will be in for a long night.
Finally, Oregon should be primed to put on a show in a game where it doesn’t have to pull its starters by halftime. Watching one team after another move in front of the Ducks in the BCS rankings is great motivational material, so The Dash would be surprised if we don’t see four quarters of fury from Team Swoosh. And if it is close in the second half, USC may well wear down – it has been outscored 40-15 after halftime in its two losses.
Dash pick: The Kiffin questions will keep coming after this one. Oregon 42, USC 34.
FORGET TRUST. WHO’S A BUST?
We spend most of our time talking about the big winners in college football. The best teams. But after a while that becomes trite. So The Dash is going counter-culture and shining a light on the losers.
Just as the scramble for first in each league is taking shape, so is the battle for the basement. The Dash identifies the worst team in each Big Six league:
SEC: Auburn (12). Sure, you could make an argument for 1-8 Kentucky here – a strong argument, after the ‘Cats lost by 23 points to a Missouri team that was previously winless in the league. But there are a couple factors that made Auburn the more compelling choice for Dog of Dixie: UK has been riddled with quarterback injuries, whereas the Tigers have been riddled only with quarterback ineptitude; UK’s lone win over a quality low-major program was more impressive (47-14 over 7-1 Kent State, vs. Auburn 31, Louisiana-Monroe 28 in overtime); and then there is the complete surrender by the Tigers on Saturday against Texas A&M. When the score is 28-0 before you even get a first down, you’re awful. Welcome to 14th out of 14, Auburn. War Eagle.
(Missouri deserves special mention – and derision – for selling a T-shirt to commemorate its victory over Kentucky. Yeah, it was the first SEC win in school history. And yeah, it was homecoming. Still no excuse. If anyone is seen on Mizzou’s campus wearing said T-shirt, The Dash authorizes students to tear it off the wearer’s body on sight.)
Big Ten: Illinois (13). This is not even debatable, unless the Illini beat Purdue on Nov. 17. For now, Tim Beckman’s debut season is a 2-6 debacle, with the only victories coming over Western Michigan and Charleston Southern, and with every defeat coming by 14 points or more. And losing by two touchdowns to Indiana is not good.
Big 12: Kansas (14). Nine teams in this 10-member league are at least pretty good. And then there are the Jayhawks, whose lone victory in the last 18 games was against South Dakota State. From Turner Gill to Charlie Weis, the beatings have continued. Yeah, Kansas at least pushed Texas down to the wire on Saturday before submitting, but moral victories are for last-place teams. Own that, Kansas.
ACC: Virginia (15). The Cavaliers have lost six straight games. That includes all four in league play, and that includes consecutive home losses to lightweights Maryland and Wake Forest. They may be double-digit underdogs in all four remaining games. Ranking last in the nation in turnover margin at minus-16 explains a lot.
Pac-12: Colorado (16). This is the worst team in any Big Six conference. By a mile. The Buffaloes are so spectacularly awful that they twice have given up more than 50 points in the first half – once to Oregon, which makes some sense, and once to Fresno State, which is simply unfathomable. Their pass defense is so lax that 11 percent of opponents’ throws are for touchdowns (29 total). That’s 2 percent more than the second-worst team in America (Army). That’s atrocious. (And yes, Washington State, you must wear the shame of losing, at home, to the Buffs.)
Big East: Connecticut (17). There is competition for least of the East, namely from South Florida and Temple. But the Owls beat UConn head-to-head, and the Bulls have lost their last two games by a combined three points. The Huskies, on the other hand, were pulverized by Syracuse 40-10 in their last outing and have scored a total of 27 points in three league games.
MACTION: IT’S FANTASTIC
The Mid-American Conference has had its share of lean times in recent years, serving mostly as cannon fodder for big-shot leagues that offer big checks in exchange for lopsided losses. But this season the MAC has had a resurgence at the top, with several teams scoring major upsets and compiling quality résumés. It should actually be fun watching the stretch drive and MAC championship game, which is certainly not something The Dash says every year. The league brag list:
Kent State (18). Record: 7-1. Big victory: 35-23 on Saturday over then-ranked and undefeated Rutgers. Sagarin Rating: 64th. Player you need to know: Dri Archer, a 5-foot-8, 164-pound sprite from Laurel, Fla., who ranks second in the nation in all-purpose running at 204 yards per game. Archer has scored nine touchdowns rushing, three receiving, three on kickoff returns and has thrown for a TD.
Toledo (19). Record: 8-1. Big victory: 29-23 over then-ranked and undefeated Cincinnati on Oct. 20. Sagarin Rating: 67th. Player you need to know: Running back David Fluellen, who is sixth nationally in rushing at 131 yards per game. Fluellen had his second 200-yard rushing game of the season Saturday in a victory over Buffalo. It was the Rockets’ eighth straight win after a season-opening overtime loss at Arizona.
Ohio (20). Record: 7-1. Big victory: 24-14 season opener over Penn State. Sagarin Rating: 95th. Player you need to know: Running back Beau Blankenship is eighth nationally in rushing at 128 yards per game. (After the big start to the season, the Bobcats have been shaky since Sept. 29, beating Massachusetts, Buffalo and Akron by a combined 16 points to reach 7-0. Their luck ran out Saturday in a 23-20 loss to Miami of Ohio.)
Northern Illinois (21). Record: 8-1. Big victory: 30-23 over Kansas on Sept. 22, although beating Ball State in a league game two weeks later was probably bigger. Sagarin Rating: 39th. Player you need to know: Quarterback Jordan Lynch, who is fifth nationally in rushing, sixth in total offense and 23rd in pass efficiency. Lynch has accounted for 32 touchdowns – 17 passing and 15 running.
And in keeping with the MAC theme, how about some props for Dashette Barbara Alyn Woods (22), who attended Northern Illinois and is undoubtedly ready to buy tickets to the Huskies’ bowl game.
The MAC isn’t the only underappreciated group out there. Amid all the talk about how offense is taking over college football – or maybe that was just September talk – it has been a spectacular year for inside linebackers. A certain guy wearing a gold helmet and No. 5 jersey you know about, but he has a lot of company. With Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher getting older, these college stars look ready to become the next generation of big-time tacklers in the NFL:
Manti Te’o (23), Notre Dame. So good that he’s done the linebacker impossible – become a prime Heisman Trophy candidate. Te’o is tied for 19th nationally in total tackles, averaging 10 per game. But he’s also the primary playmaker on a stellar defense, with five interceptions (tied for fourth nationally) and two fumble recoveries. He doesn’t play in a heavy blitzing scheme, but still added his first sack of the season Saturday in the huge win at Oklahoma. And his intangibles in terms of leadership and character are off the charts. Total package.
Jarvis Jones (24), Georgia. The only thing keeping Jones from being on the same level with Te’o in terms of impact is the fact that he’s missed two of the Bulldogs’ eight games. But when he’s played, he’s been unblockable. Jones leads the nation in forced fumbles (five) and also has 8.5 sacks and 12 tackles for loss. Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel is still seeing Jones in his sleep after the trauma the linebacker inflicted Saturday in Jacksonville.
Arthur Brown (25), Kansas State. Talk about being overshadowed. Brown is second fiddle on his team to quarterback Collin Klein and second fiddle in his family to brother and Philadelphia Eagles running back Bryce Brown. But the athletic playmaker is making a name for himself now, having returned an interception for a touchdown Saturday against Texas Tech and averaging 7.5 tackles per game. The more the Wildcats win, the more we’ll hear about the star of their defense.
Kevin Minter (26), LSU. He’s had some quiet games amid all the studs on the LSU defense, but also a couple of games where he seemingly made every play. One was at Florida, where Minter had a staggering 20 tackles, including two sacks, and forced a fumble. The other was against Texas A&M, when Minter had 12 tackles, an interception, a sack and two quarterback hurries. He’ll most likely be marking Alabama running backs Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon all night Saturday.
Michael Mauti (27), Penn State. He’s Manti Lite. Mauti is averaging 9.8 tackles per game, with three interceptions, two forced fumbles and 2.5 sacks. Like Te’o, he’s also been the inspirational leader of an overachieving team, helping circle the wagons in State College after crippling NCAA sanctions came down during the summer.
THE LEGENDARILY BAD HIRE
Last week The Dash exposed the junk wins hidden in the closets of every major program, propping up their all-time winning percentage and victory totals. This week The Dash looks at the rare times when those power programs hired the wrong guy as coach.
The bad fit. The in-over-his-head career assistant. The ace recruiter who couldn’t lead. The mid-major guy who couldn’t handle the high-major heat. We’ve seen them all, and every school has had at least one major mistake. The coaches who couldn’t win at the biggest winners:
Michigan (28). The bad hire: Rich Rodriguez, 2008-10. Only one Michigan coach since 1892 had a losing record, and that’s RichRod. Program outsider at an insular place went 15-22 in three tumultuous seasons, not just losing games but also landing the Wolverines on probation. Rodriguez won big previously at West Virginia and appears well on his way to winning big at Arizona, but ironically his one stop where winning should have been easiest was a disaster.
Texas (29). The bad hire: Back-to-back Macs. First it was David McWilliams (31-26 from 1987-91, with three losing seasons), then it was John Mackovic (41-28-2 from 1992-97, with three seasons of six or fewer wins). Sandwiched between 30 years of Darrell Royal and Fred Akers on the front end (a combined 253-88-7) and Mack Brown on the back end (147-41), those were some very ordinary years for the Longhorns.
Nebraska (30). The bad hire: Bill Callahan, 2004-07. He followed Frank Solich (.753 winning percentage), who followed Tom Osborne (.835), who followed Bob Devaney (.829). Callahan won just 55 percent of his games, taking a program on autopilot for four decades and crashing it into a cornfield. Callahan not only didn’t win, he alienated a change-averse fan base by diminishing the program’s famed walk-on program and tilted toward a finesse offense. Bad mistakes. Eventually fireable mistakes. Bo Pelini (.714) has been in charge of cleaning up the mess since then.
Notre Dame. The bad hire: Joe Kuharich, 1959-62. Charlie Weis was lousy, but he didn’t have a losing record at Notre Dame. Ty Willingham was no good, but he didn’t have a losing record at Notre Dame. So were Bob Davie and Gerry Faust, but they didn’t have a losing record at Notre Dame, either. Only one coach in the history of the program has a losing record, and that’s Kuharich (17-23). That’s a big historical burden to bear.
Ohio State (31). The bad hire: David F. Edwards, 1897. You have to hunt to find a coach who didn’t work out in Columbus. Yeah, you could point at Luke Fickell, who went 6-7 last year, but he was an interim guy coaching without a quarterback and under an NCAA cloud. Beyond that, you have to dial back to the 19th century to find a guy with a losing record. That would be Edwards, who went 1-7-1 in his lone season as coach. The poor guy won his first game, against Ohio Medical (Junk Win), then never won again. That included a loss to Columbus Barracks and a six-game streak without scoring a point. Somehow, the program got back on track after Edwards’ sad season.
Oklahoma (32). The bad hire: John Blake, 1996-98. Blake was the third, last and worst in a string of uninspiring coaches between Barry Switzer and Bob Stoops. Gary Gibbs was just OK, then Howard Schnellenberger had one bad year and was gone, then the program hit rock bottom under Blake. He lost his first four games (against the lightweight likes of TCU, San Diego State, Tulsa and Kansas) and never really recovered. After a 12-22 run, everyone was ready to move on.
Alabama. The bad hire: Mike DuBose, 1997-2000. In terms of pure winning percentage, the choice is J.B. “Ears” Whitworth, who went a horrendous 4-24-2 from 1955-57. But at least Ears didn’t otherwise embarrass the program (that we know of). DuBose hit for the cycle: he didn’t win enough (24-23), his program landed on major NCAA probation (Albert Means) and he had a messy situation with a secretary. The probation helped saddle the next two guys, Dennis Franchione and Mike Shula, with a lousy situation. It took Saban to finally dig Alabama out of its DuBose crater.
Tennessee (33). The bad hire: Kiffin, 2009. By record alone, current coach (for now) Derek Dooley has been worse than Kiffin. But Lane helped set the stage for Dooley’s struggles by cutting and running after one unsuccessful season, keeping the program in a state of flux in the post-Phil Fulmer transition period. Kiffin was a bad fit in the SEC, a bad fit at Tennessee and not invested in the long-term future of the program. Bad hire.
USC. The bad hire: Paul Hackett, 1998-2000. Really, what wasn’t to love about this choice by Mike Garrett? Maybe Hackett’s 13-20-1 record at Pittsburgh in the early ‘90s? Yeah, maybe that. Hackett lived down to pessimistic expectations by going 20-17, then went back to offensive coordinator work elsewhere while Pete Carroll revived the program.
Georgia (34). The bad hire: Ray Goff, 1989-95. There were worse hires in terms of winning percentage, particularly Johnny Griffith, who had three bad years between Wally Butts and Vince Dooley. But Goff gets the prize because the school stood by him for seven slipshod seasons. Goff’s 10-win season in year four earned him the right to go 17-16-1 over the next three years, and he was a combined 3-15-1 against primary SEC rivals Florida, Tennessee and Auburn. Georgia’s patience with Goff was not rewarded.
Special Dash mention for making a career out of being a bad hire: Buddy Teevens (35). He keeps coaching. And keeps losing. Teevens’ .400 winning percentage at Dartmouth is the lowest of any coach in school history who was there more than one season. His .196 winning percentage at Tulane is the second-lowest of any coach in school history who was there more than one season. And his .303 winning percentage at Stanford is the third-lowest of any coach in school history who was there more than one season. He’s in his 23rd year as a head coach right now, and eighth in his second stint at Dartmouth.
LAST INTERCEPTION POOL UPATE
The battle continues between Colby Cameron (36) and A.J. McCarron. Both made it through another pick-less Saturday last week. Cameron is now up to a record 319 attempts without an interception, while McCarron sits at 177.
This Saturday, Cameron takes on FBS transitional member UT-San Antonio, which won its first five games of the year but has lost three straight since then. While UTSA might be a major underdog, it does have a defense that has picked off 11 passes this season.
Under any circumstance, McCarron is facing the much tougher defense in LSU. The Tigers are second nationally in pass-efficiency defense and have 13 interceptions on the year.
COACH WHO EARNED HIS COMP CAR THIS WEEK
Darrell Hazell (37), Kent State. The second-year head coach has the Golden Flashes sitting at 7-1 – the most victories for the program since they went 7-4 under Glen Mason in 1987. The Flashes should be on their way to the second bowl game in school history, 40 years after the last one – a 21-18 loss in the Tangerine Bowl to Tampa.
COACH WHO SHOULD TAKE THE BUS TO WORK
Brady Hoke (38), Michigan. The Wolverines have not scored a touchdown in their past two games. Four field goals was enough to beat offensively inept Michigan State on Oct. 20, but three field goals was nowhere near enough to beat Nebraska on Oct. 27th. The Wolverines also failed to reach the end zone in a 13-6 loss to Notre Dame, and didn’t score against Alabama in the season opener until they were down 31. Against good defenses, Hoke’s offense has been overmatched.
PUTTING OUT AN APB FOR …
… Former Alabama placekicker Alan McElroy (39). If you thought last November’s LSU-Alabama football game was low scoring, you should have seen the 1979 version. The Crimson Tide, No. 1 then as they are now, won that one 3-0 in a driving rain on a McElroy field goal. That was Alabama’s closest call on the way to its last national title under Bear Bryant.
Meanwhile, The Dash got no reliable information on the whereabouts of last week’s APB subject, former Iowa State running back Troy Davis. If anyone has the 411 on Davis, please apprise.
When thirsty in Norman, Okla., The Dash recommends a stop at Blackbird Gastropub (40) at Campus Corner, which is where just about everything happens in town. They’re big on whiskey at Blackbird, but the beer selection is dive. Try a couple and thank The Dash later.
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