Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (tent stakes no longer available for sale in error-prone Ann Arbor):
CAMPAIGNING WITH THE COMMITTEE
Hello, College Football Playoff selection committee. Today is your day. After many months of us talking, it’s time to start doing. Time to reveal your first rankings, tonight on ESPN.
You are respected and successful figures in your chosen professions, and we’re all behind you 100 percent – right up until you do the first nonsensical thing. Then we’ll turn on you like a pack of ravenous hyena.
Which still isn’t as bad as a pack of Alabama fans if you leave the Crimson Tide outside the top four.
So, with that understood, have fun out there.
In an effort to help your little endeavor, and in the spirit of campaign season, The Dash has compiled some information for you. The top two are pretty clear at present: undefeated Mississippi State (1) and Florida State (2). It’s finding the next two among the glut of one-loss teams from the power-five conferences that figures to be the hard part. So The Dash has arranged airtime for ads on the one-loss contenders – campaign ads and attack ads for each. Let the 12 voters in Grapevine, Texas, decide.
Oregon (3). Campaign ad: Opens with video of Marcus Mariota firing tight spirals. Voice over: America’s most dynamic offense and greatest individual talent deserves a place in the playoff. The victories are too powerful to ignore: by 19 points over Michigan State; by 12 points at UCLA; by 18 over Cal in the Bay Area just this past week. (Cut to video of Ducks offensive linemen on sideline, out of uniform.) The only loss was to a quality opponent, with both offensive tackles injured. (Cut to video of Pacific Ocean waves lapping against the Oregon coastline.) Don’t succumb to SEC bias, committee members. Don’t leave the rigorous Pac-12 – which plays nine league games and has a conference title game – out of your bracket. (Cut to montage of smiling Ducks in dazzling Oregon uniform combinations.) Don’t invite an overrated team with ugly helmets and an inferior apparel contract. Invite the Ducks.
(Paid for by Nike, duh.)
Attack ad: Opens with video of Oregon missing tackles and opposing receivers running uncontested through the secondary. Voice over: They try to fool you at Oregon. They dazzle you with offensive numbers and fancy uniforms and ostentatious facilities. But here’s what they can’t hide from the American people (show graphic of NCAA defensive statistical rankings): the Ducks don’t play defense. Do you really want the 108th-ranked defense in the nation in the first College Football Playoff? Whatever happened to the bedrock American principle of slobberknocker tackling? (Cut to black-and-white still shot of Mark Helfrich looking distressed on the sideline.) He’s no Chip Kelly, committee. Don’t succumb to Pac-12 handouts and Nike lobbying pressure. Don’t invite the Ducks.
(Paid for by the adidas/Under Armour Alliance.)
Auburn (4). Campaign ad: Opens with video of CFP director Bill Hancock uttering the words, “Strength of schedule.” Cut to graphic of ranked teams already faced by the Tigers, and those to come. Voice over: America wants to see tested teams in the playoff, not products of an entitlement culture who shirked their responsibility to play quality opponents. Nobody has a stronger schedule than Auburn, and the results speak for themselves (cut to video of Auburn winning at Kansas State and mauling LSU). Even the loss was a good loss – at Mississippi State (cut to slow-motion, black-and-white video of Bulldogs fans screaming and clanging cowbells), in an atmosphere that violates SEC rules of fair play. But Gus Malzahn did not complain (cut to video of Gus striding purposefully forward, flanked by wife and children, symphony music playing), he rolled up his sleeves and went back to work building a playoff team. (Close with video of mascot eagle majestically circling Jordan-Hare Stadium.) Voice over: Liberty. Justice. War Eagle.
(Paid for by Lowder and Prouder PAC.)
Attack ad: Opens with black-and-white, slow-motion footage of Auburn’s awful start at Mississippi State. Voice over: Is this really the team you want to put in the playoff, committee members? One that was so shaken, in a mere 62,000-seat stadium, that it could barely function? (Cut to graphic showing headlines alleging Auburn stole signals against Florida State last year and Arkansas this year.) Auburn will complain about cowbells, but what is the Tigers’ commitment to sportsmanship? They stand accused of cheating to win. (Cut to video of South Carolina throwing five touchdowns Saturday.) Auburn was lucky last year, and lucky last week. Don’t confuse good fortune with good football. Keep the Tigers out of the playoff.
(Paid for by Harvey Updyke, with a check that bounced.)
Mississippi (5). Campaign ad: Opens with video of the American flag flapping in the breeze, then dissolving into the red, white and blue uniforms of the Rebels. Voice over: Nobody espouses our great nation’s up-from-the-bootstraps values more than Ole Miss. A program that was down has been restored to greatness by Hugh Freeze. (Cut to video of Freeze sitting at a table, hands around a coffee mug, listening intently to a Common Man.) Ole Miss has beaten Alabama (cut to video of goalposts coming down), and didn’t need a 109-yard return to do it. The only loss was by three points, at LSU, when a daring last-minute drive went awry. (Cut to 2011 video of scoreboard that reads LSU 9, Alabama 6.) When established powers lose by three to LSU, their seasons are far from over. Don’t penalize the working-class Rebels for their rise; reward them for it.
(Paid for by Katy Perry.)
Attack ad: Opens with ominous background music and black-and-white still shot of Hugh Freeze, looking stricken on the sideline in Tiger Stadium. Voice over: The deception is over. America saw the real Mississippi Rebels on Saturday night. (Cut to video of failed quarterback sneak, official signaling delay of game, Bo Wallace throwing interception.) Can you trust this team to make a smart play in a close game? Can you trust this coach to make a smart decision? (Cut to slow-mo video of Bo Wallace leaving Tiger Stadium playing field before the game ended.) Don’t buy the sizzle of recruiting rankings, committee members. Look for substance. When a team cannot run consistently, and its star quarterback cuts and runs in the face of defeat, that’s not a playoff team. Keep Ole Miss out.
(Paid for by Cowbells Unlimited PAC.)
Alabama (6). Campaign ad: Opens with video montage of Nick Saban holding up BCS crystal football three different times. Voice over: If you want to know what a championship program looks like, Alabama will show you. Three national titles in the last five years show what this program is made of. (Cut to video of Crimson Tide trampling Texas A&M and Tennessee.) And the past two weeks have shown what this team is made of. After being defeated by only six points at Mississippi and doubted after beating Arkansas, Alabama has responded by playing better than anyone in the country, outscoring its last two opponents 93-20. While other SEC teams are losing their way, the Tide is hitting its stride. (Closes with tracking video of Alabama trophy case, with Nick Saban standing at one end of it, arms folded, death stare in place.) Voice over: Do you want to tell this man he’s not in the playoff?
(Paid for by the same boosters who paid off Nick Saban’s mortgage.)
Attack ad: Opens with video montage of angry Saban at various podiums during various press conferences. Voice over: He’s intimidated the press for years, to the point where they no longer will question him or his team. (Cut to video of Alabama flailing against Arkansas.) Unchecked, he distorted the truth – telling you that beating Arkansas by a point is a good win, and that losing to Mississippi is not a bad loss. (Cut to scoreboard shots of Ole Miss loss and last season's Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma.) Check the record, and you will see that Alabama has not beaten a top-20 team in nearly a year. (Cut to slow-mo video of Chris Davis running untouched 109 yards.) Committee members, heed what Auburn exposed last November: Alabama’s continued dominance is an outdated myth.
(Paid for by Auburn Tammy.)
TCU (7). Campaign ad: Opens with video of Gary Patterson standing in Amon Carter Stadium, hands on hips, gazing off like a visionary. Voice over: The winds of change have given us a new playoff system, and a new championship contender. (Cut to video of Trevone Boykin throwing touchdowns against Texas Tech, then the scoreboard shot showing 82 for TCU and accompanying fireworks explosions.) A fresh offensive attack, coupled with the same defensive tenacity, has made TCU football a powerful force. They won at Oklahoma and were robbed at Baylor, and nobody else has been even close. (Cut to video of a Big 12 flag flapping.) The Horned Frogs are in position to win the only true championship in a power-five conference – the only league where every team plays every other team. Reward a real regular-season champion. Reward TCU.
(Paid for by Friends of Sammy Baugh PAC, Dan Jenkins treasurer.)
Attack ad: Opens with still shot of scoreboard with TCU leading Baylor 58-37 in the fourth quarter. Voice over: TCU is hoping America forgets. (Cut to video of Baylor touchdown spree.) TCU is banking on you, the committee, not remembering that the Horned Frogs blew a late 21-point lead to a Baylor team that has since lost to West Virginia. America has always valued defense, and TCU is not strong on defense – not on the day it gave up 61 in regulation to the Bears, or the day it gave up 33 to Oklahoma. (Cut to graphic showing final score of Illinois-Minnesota.) The Frogs want you to believe that beating Minnesota was a big win. (Cut to graphic showing Oklahoma State ranked No. 44 in Sagarin Ratings.) The Frogs want you to believe beating Oklahoma State was a big win. (Cut to video of early-season empty seats.) TCU won’t fill its own stadium every game, much less the Superdome or Rose Bowl. Select a team with a following, not a mid-major in disguise.
(Paid for by Burnt Orange Bittermen PAC.)
Kansas State (8). Campaign ad: Opens with video of Bill Snyder standing amid amber waves of grain, dispensing wisdom to enthralled young people. Voice over: Simple Midwestern values. That’s the key to Kansas State’s remarkable success. (Cut to video of textbook tackling and blocking by the Wildcats.) Fundamentals are what matter to Bill Snyder. Not flash and sizzle. (Cut to graphic showing K-State among the national leaders in fewest penalty yards.) Snyder is tough on crime. His teams play by the letter of the NCAA law. (Cut to video of goal-line stand against Oklahoma, then scoreboard shot from shutout of Texas.) The Wildcats won’t beat themselves, and they will beat more talented teams. And with a better kicker, they’d be undefeated. Don’t be seduced by the sizzle of flashier teams, committee members. Support Midwestern values and select Kansas State.
(Paid for by Future Farmers of America.)
Attack ad: Opens with video montage of Kansas State errors against Auburn – dropped passes, turnovers, missed kicks. Voice over: They’re just not that good, committee members. Kansas State got its chance to beat a highly ranked team from the mighty SEC, at home, and couldn’t get it done. (Cut to video of Oklahoma missing chip-shot kicks.) The Wildcats couldn’t have beaten overrated Oklahoma if the Sooners didn’t beat themselves. (Cut to graphic of season results, highlighting narrow escape against Iowa State.) Outside of Auburn and Oklahoma – one a loss at home, the other a gift win over a program that no longer lives up to its prestigious rep – there is nothing on the K-State resume. (Cut to unflattering still shot of Snyder looking especially elderly.) Fundamentals are good. Talent is better. Reward talent, selection committee.
(Paid for by Citizens For Exciting Football PAC.)
Notre Dame (9). Campaign ad: Opens with fight song and Golden Dome, then dissolves into video of Touchdown Jesus. Voice over: What good is a pioneering playoff without the most magical name in college football history? (Cut to map showing concentration of highly ranked schools in the South.) This is a national playoff, not a regional one. Notre Dame is a national brand, and would enhance fan interest and TV ratings. (Cut to highlight montage against Stanford and Michigan.) But the Fighting Irish are not just a name; they’re a legitimate contender with a Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback, a solid defense and one of the best coaches in America. (Cut to still shot of penalty flag lying on grass at Florida State.) Don’t let one bad call keep Notre Dame from boosting playoff interest from coast to coast. Invite the Irish.
(Paid for by Regis Philbin and Dick Vitale.)
Attack ad: Opens with slow-motion video of purple-faced Brian Kelly screaming. Voice over: Don’t let this man’s bluster and blarney talk an overrated program into the playoff. (Cut to graphic of the Sagarin Ratings.) Where are the quality wins? Stanford has lost three times. North Carolina has lost four. Michigan has lost five. Notre Dame hasn’t beaten anybody. (Cut to slow-mo video highlighting the offensive pass interference against Florida State.) Don’t reward cheaters. A penalty is a penalty, a loss is a loss, and players are ineligible for a reason. Ignore the mystique and look at the facts. You will see that Notre Dame doesn’t belong.
(Paid for by commissioners of every conference but the ACC.)
Georgia (10). Campaign ad: Opens with video of Todd Gurley running rampant through various defenses. Voice over: They said Georgia couldn’t win without him. That the season was over. That life after Todd Gurley couldn’t go on. (Cut to video of Georgia mauling Missouri and Arkansas.) But look at what the Bulldogs have done in their past two games, routing SEC opponents on the road with Gurley out of the lineup. (Roll video of the Bulldogs taking the ball away from the Tigers and Razorbacks.) Georgia leads the nation in turnover margin and has committed the fewest turnovers. (Cut to video of Mark Richt shaking hands and kissing babies, as inspirational symphony music swells in the background.) Coached by a man of great integrity who never flinched without Gurley, Mark Richt’s Bulldogs have had only the slightest of hiccups – a three-point loss on the road in SEC play. With or without Todd Gurley, Georgia belongs.
(Paid for by Bryan Allen, guilt-ridden autograph collector.)
Attack ad: Opens with earnest, salt-of-the Earth Southerner talking on camera. “Working-class people in the South know which division of the SEC is best, and it’s the West by a mile. We don’t want someone trying to take us for fools. I don’t understand why Georgia can’t tell the truth.” (Cut to Sagarin conference/divisional rankings showing the SEC East ranked fourth, with the SEC West first.) “Why is anyone supposed to be impressed by beating Tennessee and Vanderbilt? And why would a team that actually had Todd Gurley in the lineup lose to South Carolina, when South Carolina can’t beat anybody?” (Cut to grainy video of Gurley signing merchandise, with nefarious music in background.) “Don’t reward rule breakers, or champions of lesser divisions like the SEC East.”
(Paid for by SEC West Athletic Directors LLP.)
Arizona (11). Campaign ad: Opens with Rich Rodriguez striding purposefully through the desert, surrounded by family, as the sunrise bathes them in a virtuous light. Voice over: There is a new power rising in the West. A program capable of giving middle-class Americans the football thrills they deserve. (Cut to video of Anu Solomon throwing Hail Mary touchdown to beat California.) Arizona won’t just maintain the status quo and kowtow to the Pac-12 elite. The Wildcats have done what nobody else has accomplished in two years: they have won in Eugene. (Cut to video of Arizona celebrating in Autzen Stadium.) Michigan State certainly can’t say that. (Quick cut to video of the Spartans being diced by the Ducks.) When the only loss is by two points because your kicker had a bad night, you’re a quality team. So embrace change, selection committee. End the SEC gridlock. Select Arizona.
(Paid for by Bob Baffert Racing Stables.)
Attack ad: Opens with montage of ineptitude from UNLV, UT-San Antonio and Nevada. Voice over: The playoff selection committee was perfectly clear in specifying that strength of schedule matters. Yet Arizona played a non-conference schedule of nobodies, piling up wins and big statistics against outmanned teams instead of taking on legitimate competition. (Cut to black-and-white still frame of Rich Rodriguez with nefarious and unflattering look on his face.) Now the Wildcats are asking for special favors from the selection committee, expecting it to overlook cowardly scheduling while other teams took on real competition. (Cut to video of Arizona students prematurely massing to rush the field before losing to Oregon in 2009.) They’ve gotten ahead of themselves before in Tucson. Time for the committee to put Arizona back in its place.
(Paid for by Friends of Sparky PAC.)
Michigan State (12). Campaign ad: Opens with video of Spartans receiving Rose Bowl trophy amid confetti shower last January. Voice over: Michigan State entered the realm of the elite last season, and it’s there for good now. (Cut to montage of Connor Cook passes and Tony Lippett catches and Jeremy Langford runs.) The new Michigan State has an offense that matches the prowess of its vaunted defense – an offense ranked fifth in the nation in scoring. This is an exciting team that stands out as the clear class of the Big Ten. (Cut to footage of Michigan State taking a nine-point lead at Oregon.) Unlike some other teams in other leagues, the Spartans refused to take the easy road to the playoff. They scheduled the toughest of all non-conference games, and had the lead in the second half. (Cut to close-up of square-jawed and steely-eyed Mark Dantonio, looking especially square-jawed and steely-eyed.) The oldest of all conferences deserves representation in the playoff. Make room for Michigan State.
(Paid for by the owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers.)
Attack ad: Opens with video and audio of Dantonio talking about the “shove-it” touchdown Michigan State scored on Michigan, then cuts to slow-mo video of the late Langford TD run. Voice over: Michigan State unapologetically and shamelessly ran up the score Saturday, inflicting pain and suffering on an outmanned opponent. That’s not the kind of poor sportsmanship the playoff selection committee should be rewarding. (Cut to video of Oregon scoring touchdowns on the Spartans.) The Spartans are trying to divert attention from the fact that they lost handily to their only top-15 opponent. (Cut to video of scoreboard showing Michigan State 73, Eastern Michigan 14.) No amount of piling on against bad teams can erase that defeat at Oregon. (Cut to graphic showing the Big Ten’s modest standing in the Sagarin Ratings.) Don’t let Michigan State trick the committee into believing it belongs. Leave Sparty out of the bracket.
(Paid for by Citizens Against Big Ten Bailouts, Mike Slive treasurer.)
Utah (13). Campaign ad: Opens with video of quarterback Travis Wilson’s leaping attempt to score in the final minute against USC on Saturday. Voice over: A team that embodies the middle-class work ethic that made America great is taking a great leap forward this football season. (Cut to montage of celebration shots after victories over UCLA and USC.) A team without household names, using chemistry and cohesion and guts to beat more famous programs in thrilling fashion. (Cut to video of Kyle Whittingham in jeans and a work shirt, feigning bonhomie with blue-collar men and women at a Salt Lake City factory.) Everyday Americans can relate to Utah. They can root for the Utes. Send them to the playoff, selection committee.
(Paid for by Jon Huntsman, out of leftover funds from his brief 2012 presidential run.)
Attack ad: Opens with video of the selection committee members when they were announced last year. Voice over: These men and women were entrusted with the most important task in college football – to select the four best teams for the College Football Playoff. (Cut to video of Utah fans and players agonizing after a loss to Washington State.) They will take that job seriously, which is why they will never select a team that lost at home to a 2-6 opponent. (Cut to video of Cougars scoring winning touchdown on the Utes.) Utah is hoping that the committee will look at the won-lost record without examining the loss. Don’t let that happen, ladies and gentlemen of the committee. Vote no on the Utes.
(Paid for by Marc Wilson, Gifford Nielsen, Jim McMahon, Steve Young, Robbie Bosco, Ty Detmer, et. al.)
Nebraska (14). Campaign ad: Opens with video of a cornfield, because it’s the Heartland. Then a hero shot of far-off-gazing Tom Osborne, because he’s Tom Osborne. Voice over from Osborne: I know what a great team looks like. (Cut to video of Ameer Abdullah running all over the place.) This is a great team. (Cut to video of Nebraska thrashing Miami.) This Nebraska team can score with the best of them, and has a running back who should be strongly considered for the Heisman. (Cut to video of Abdullah’s game-winning catch-and-run against McNeese State.) This Nebraska team’s only loss was on the road, against a top-10 team, and only because the clock ran out on a fourth-quarter rally. (Cut to video of Tom Osborne looking presidential.) The good people of the Heartland are counting on their voices being heard. Put Nebraska in the playoff.
(Paid for by Faux Pelini.)
Attack ad: Opens with grainy, black-and-white footage of unsmiling Bo Pelini looking even less friendly than usual. Voice over: This man will have you believe his team has accomplished enough to be in the playoff hunt. We’re here to set the record straight. (Cut to graphic of Sagarin Ratings.) Nebraska’s seven wins have come against teams with an average Sagarin rank of 83. Only one victory has come over a team currently in the top 55. (Cut to McNeese State scoring on Nebraska.) And one of those victories was in the last minute against an FCS opponent that is No. 110 nationally. (Cut to slow-mo 2013 video of Pelini snarling at officials.) Bo Pelini wouldn’t enjoy the invitation anyway, so don’t extend it. Keep the Cornhuskers out of the playoff.
(Paid for by Barry Switzer.)
Baylor (15). Campaign ad: Opens with video of the Bears’ prolific offense, doing what it does. Voice over: For the fourth straight year, the Baylor Bears are the most exciting offensive team in college football. (Quick cut to officials throwing penalty flags, and a screen shot of Baylor fan outrage on Twitter.) Averaging 49 points per game, only the cheating refs in Morgantown have been able to slow down the Bears in 2014. (Cut to Bryce Petty leading comeback to beat TCU.) In what has been the Game of the Year in the Big 12, Baylor rallied from down three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to hand TCU its only defeat – a signature victory. (Cut to old, black-and-white video of plodding, dull offense.) Fans don’t want to see that kind of football anymore. They want to see fast tempo, lots of points and lots of uniform combinations. (Cut to Baylor looking especially shiny.) They want to see Baylor in the playoff.
(Paid for by Dr Pepper.)
Attack ad: Opens with slow-mo video of officials calling pass interference, personal fouls, holding. Voice over: Baylor football is being exposed. The Bears want you to believe they’re playoff caliber, but their lack of discipline is catching up with them. (More video of officials throwing flags, then Art Briles looking chagrined.) They lead the nation in penalties by a mile – more than 100 yards a game. Their defense gives up 130 more yards on the road than at home. (Cut to graphic of the schedule, highlighting September.) And then there is the non-conference schedule: SMU, Northwestern State and Buffalo. Average Sagarin rank: 160. (Cut back to video of officials throwing flags.) Throw the flag on cowardly scheduling, selection committee. Keep Baylor out.
(Paid for by Gary Patterson His Own Angry Self.)
Arizona State (16). Campaign ad: Opens with panoramic, time-lapse view of Tempe/Phoenix as the sun rises. Voice over: It’s a new era in college football, and a new day in the West. Arizona State is rising to join the nation’s elite programs. (Cut to video of both Taylor Kelly and Mike Berkovici throwing touchdowns.) No other playoff contender has had to deal with losing its starting quarterback during the season for three full games – but the Sun Devils rolled on. (Cut to video of defense mauling Stanford and Washington.) No other playoff contender had to replace nine starters on defense – but the Devils have done it and are getting better weekly on that side of the ball. (Cut to video of Todd Graham and his annoying micro-headset.) Don’t limit your thinking to brand names; include Arizona State in the bracket.
(Paid for by elderly snowbirds who weren’t completely sure what they were contributing to.)
Attack ad: Opens with highlights of UCLA scoring touchdown after touchdown in Tempe. Voice over: Only one alleged playoff contender is asking the committee to excuse a 35-point beating – on its home field. That contender is actually a pretender. And that pretender is Arizona State. (Roll more video of more UCLA touchdowns.) If a team gives up 62 points – on its home field – to the biggest underachiever in the country, how can it be considered one of the four best in America? (Full-screen graphic of Arizona State’s schedule.) The six teams ASU has beaten have a combined record of 19-25. (Cut to still shot of angry Todd Graham.) What’s to like about Arizona State? Not enough.
(Paid for by Bear Down PAC.)
Ohio State (17). Campaign ad: Opens with sad shot of Braxton Miller on sideline and not in pads. Voice over: What if your program lost its best player just days before the start of the season? How would it respond? (Cut to video of J.T. Barrett running and throwing and being generally excellent.) Ohio State has responded like a champion, winning six of seven games – most of them in dominant fashion. There was one blip, as freshman J.T. Barrett was adjusting to being a college starter, but that’s it. (Cut to video of Joey Bosa dump-trucking Akeel Lynch into Christian Hackenberg for the walk-off sack at Penn State.) The defense is rising to the occasion, too. (Cut to Urban Meyer singing “Carmen Ohio.”) It would be a crime to hold one bad game against THE Ohio State University. Put the Buckeyes in the bracket.
(Paid for by the Dead Schembechlers.)
Attack ad: Opens with montage of Barrett sacks and interceptions against Virginia Tech. Voice over: They’ll tell you it was just one bad game, for a team in transition. But here’s what Ohio State won’t tell you: the two-touchdown loss to Virginia Tech at home ranks as by far the worst defeat of any one-loss team. The Hokies are ranked 42nd by Sagarin, 4-4 overall and last in the ACC Coastal. (Cut to inept clips of Penn State, Rutgers and Cincinnati.) The truth is, Ohio State has no quality wins, either. It has not beaten a single team in the Sagarin top 40. (Cut to video of play clock hitting zero at Penn State, and slow-mo of Vonn Bell’s non-interception.) The Luckeyes are relying on name recognition – not body of work, not passing the eye test. Don’t reward the entitlement culture. Don’t put Ohio State in the playoff.
(Paid for by That School Up North PAC.)
Duke (18). Campaign ad: Opens with video of David Cutcliffe X-and-O-ing on a whiteboard. Voice over: He’s been called a genius. A miracle worker. He’s been named national Coach of the Year. (Cut to video of Duke doing good things on the field.) And this may be his best job yet. A year after winning 10 games, the Blue Devils are back. They’re 6-1 and leading the ACC Coastal Division. (Cut to video of Duke beating Georgia Tech.) They handed Georgia Tech its first loss of the season on Oct. 11, and their only loss was on the road in a downpour at Miami. (Cut back to video of Cutcliffe working at his desk.) No coach is classier or doing better work than David Cutcliffe. Reward him with a place in the playoff.
(Paid for with the change in Mike Krzyzewski’s car seats.)
Attack ad: Opens with audio of Duke fight song and a screen shot of Wallace Wade Stadium. Cuts to Kanye West, who reads Duke’s non-conference schedule: “Elon, Troy, Kansas, Tulane.” Drops mic, exits stage left. Fade to black.
(Paid for by Change The Subject PAC, Bubba Cunningham treasurer.)
THE DEFINING GAMES OF NOVEMBER
We are verging on a month that is always good in college football, but is especially good this year. The playoff and parity have enhanced the stakes and enlarged the pool of contenders – and now we’ll start thinning the herd in earnest. The games most likely to set the course between now and December:
Nov. 1 (19): Auburn at Mississippi – a potential elimination game matching one-loss teams in the SEC West. Utah at Arizona State – another elimination game, this time in the Pac-12 South. Trap game: TCU at West Virginia.
Nov. 8 (20): The best day of the season, a cornucopia of huge contests. There are six games matching currently ranked teams: Ohio State at Michigan State in a Big Ten East elimination game. Kansas State at TCU in a potential Big 12 eliminator. Notre Dame at Arizona State in a non-conference potential elimination game. Oregon at Utah, as the Utes continue to face every heavy in the Pac-12. Alabama at LSU, often a national Highlight of the Year-type game but this season just another SEC West showdown. Baylor at Oklahoma, in a game that has improbably become the undercard to the Wildcats and Horned Frogs. Trap game: Georgia at Kentucky.
Nov. 15 (21): The ultimate test of nouveau riche Mississippi State, at establishment Alabama. Also: Auburn at Georgia in a rematch of last year’s miraculous, tipped-ball victory for the Tigers. Trap game: Rice at Marshall.
Nov. 22 (22): Arizona at Utah – and if either or both of these teams is still standing with only one loss, it will be one of the most improbable huge games in many years. Trap game: Mississippi at Arkansas.
Nov. 28 (23): The day after Thanksgiving features potentially the biggest meeting ever in the history of the Territorial Cup: Arizona State at Arizona. Also: Western Kentucky at Marshall, as the Thundering Herd tries to finish the regular season undefeated and unloved.
Nov. 29 (24): All those rivalry games. And for once, the Egg Bowl in Oxford may be the biggest of them all. Not to be forgotten: an Iron Bowl meeting in Tuscaloosa that could have some import and will recall a 2013 matchup that was slightly memorable; the Civil War in Corvallis; Florida at Florida State, as the Seminoles try for 12-0 and the Gators potentially try to salvage something for Will Muschamp; Michigan at Ohio State, with Brady Hoke in the Muschamp role; Notre Dame at USC; and many others. Trap game: Utah at Colorado.
Start lining up excuses with your spouse now. You’re going to be busy all month.
DRIVING A STAKE THROUGH THE BRADY HOKE ERA
As if there hadn’t been enough to apologize for this season, there was Brady Hoke (25) offering up one more “I’m sorry” on Monday.
This time it was directed to Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio (26) and the rest of the Spartans because a Michigan player drove a stake into the turf at Spartan Stadium before the Wolverines were predictably throttled, 35-11.
The umbrage taken by Dantonio and the Spartans was exaggerated, but that’s par for the course in a heated rivalry. Small slights become big slights, and grudges are hardened into hatred. It’s all a little bit silly, given the stuff some teams once toted with them onto the sidelines at games. (Western Kentucky, during the Jack Harbaugh Era, used to bring a sledgehammer to the field – which was asking for trouble, and trouble found the Hilltoppers. One player wielded it during a brawl with Western Illinois during the 2002 I-AA playoffs. The player was dismissed from the team.)
The problem with Michigan’s stake ploy is that it was fake juice. Empty swag. Sound and fury signifying nothing.
The Wolverines aren’t good enough to pull stuff like that. They have no ability to back it up against a top-10 team in the actual playing of football. Which is why it was a perceived insult that gave Dantonio the latitude to run up the score without apology.
Hoke said he was unaware that one of his players would bring the stake to the field. If you recall, he also was unaware that quarterback Shane Morris was knocked silly against Minnesota. Lack of awareness, coupled with a lack of victories, will prove costly in a few more weeks.
HOW THE POWERFUL HAVE PLUNGED
Coming into the season, Michigan (27) ranked No. 1 all-time in victories. Texas (28) was tied for second. And Florida (29) was No. 22, which isn’t bad for a school that was a non-factor before Steve Spurrier enrolled and ultimately coached there.
But now three of the true power programs in the game are in danger of finishing the year with losing records. Last time that happened in the same season? Try 1936.
Each of the three has a key game it almost certainly must win to avoid the ignominy of a losing season. The breakdown:
For 3-5 Michigan, the must-win game is Saturday at home against Indiana (30). It is mandatory not only because it’s the next one, but because it’s probably the easiest game left – if the Wolverines don’t win this game, they may not win again until 2015. The rest of the schedule following Indiana: at Northwestern, home against Maryland and at Ohio State. Figuring the Buckeyes for a certain loss, Michigan must win the three others to go .500. The Hoosiers lost quarterback Nate Sudfeld for the season to injury, so they are highly vulnerable. Of course, so are the Wolverines.
For 3-5 Texas, the key game is at home Nov. 8 against West Virginia (31). The Longhorns are bad, but they should beat a Texas Tech team Saturday that is even worse. (The Red Raiders are No. 126 nationally in scoring defense, giving up 42.5 points per game. Why, exactly, were we supposed to be sold on Kliff Kingsbury? Because he’s handsome? Got it.) So if Texas beats Tech and can take down the Mountaineers in Austin, that evens their record heading to Oklahoma State for what could be a bowl eligibility-clinching game Nov. 15. Stay tuned.
For 3-3 Florida, it’s all about South Carolina (32) on Nov. 15. That’s the swing game for the Gators – who will only play 11 games after not rescheduling the season opener against Idaho after it was called due to storms. Pencil them in for losses to Georgia on Saturday and Florida State on Nov. 29, with victories over Vanderbilt on Nov. 8 and Eastern Kentucky on Nov. 22. Spurrier looks like the ironic roadblock to bowl eligibility.
LIP UPDATE: WE HAVE A WINNER
When Marcus Mariota (33) of Oregon threw his first pick of the year against California on Friday night, the Last Interception Pool championship belt went to Utah’s Travis Wilson (34). After threatening to win the title through the backdoor by splitting time with Kendal Thompson the previous two games and rarely throwing, Wilson went the distance against USC on Saturday and fired 32 passes without an oskie. Not only that, he led the winning drive in the final minute, scrambling 19 yards to the 1-yard line and then throwing the winning touchdown pass with eight seconds remaining. Wilson is without an interception in 143 throws this season – and counting. Congrats, Travis. Dashette Adriana Karembeu (35) will deliver your gift basket in the near future.
(Runner-up Mariota certainly deserves some love as well. He’s thrown 75 more passes than Wilson, and despite the pick against the Golden Bears he leads the nation in pass efficiency by a comfortable margin.)
COACH WHO EARNED HIS COMP CAR THIS WEEK
Bret Bielema (36), Arkansas. The fat man love was abundant in Fayetteville on Saturday as the Razorbacks mauled UAB, 45-17. Bielema, who is not exactly svelte himself, called the trick play to shut down all trick plays in the second quarter: a pass from 350-pound offensive lineman Sebastian Tretola, who motioned into the backfield at quarterback, to long snapper Alan D’Appollonio – who snapped the ball on the play. As Bielema said in his halftime interview coming off the field, “Coming to Arkansas, if you’re an O-lineman, we’ll make you famous.” Bravo, big men. Bravo.
COACH WHO SHOULD TAKE THE BUS TO WORK
Hugh Freeze (37), Mississippi. How did he butcher the end of the Rebels’ 10-7 loss to LSU? Let The Dash count the ways. One, his hurry-up sneak on fourth-and-1 with less than two minutes remaining was a dud; LSU was more than ready. Two, the delay in getting the field-goal unit on the field for a 43-yard attempt with nine seconds left led to a killer delay of game. Three, the decision after that penalty to remove the kicking team and run another play proved catastrophic, as quarterback Bo Wallace went off script and threw deep downfield for a stupefying, game-sealing interception. Not your best work, Hugh.
Dishonorable mention to another coach in Mississippi, Mr. Hal Mumme (38) of Belhaven University. The guy who has been assigned excessive credit for revolutionizing the passing game in college football (LaVell Edwards did it first and Steve Spurrier did it both earlier and better) is no longer much of a coaching genius. After having been run out of the SEC due to cheating at Kentucky, Mumme has bounced around every run of the game before landing at Belhaven – a small NAIA school in Jackson, Miss. – this year. Things are not proceeding terribly well for Mumme: his team is 2-6 and has lost six in a row, the most recent being a 91-14 (not a misprint) emasculation against Lindsey Wilson (Ky.) College.
When thirsty in Lexington, Ky., The Dash offers highest recommendation to The Beer Trappe (39), a craft beer lover’s paradise. It’s an unpretentious joint with eight rotating taps and about 60 brands of bottled beer at any one time. Since it’s currently autumn, try a spicy, dark, pumpkin-tinged Flesh Gourd’in Ale from Louisville’s Against The Grain Brewery (40) and thank The Dash later.