Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football, where halftime is no time to be checking your Twitter account:
EXPIRATION NATION: WHEN THE UNBEATENS WILL LOSE
Five weeks into this season, The Dash (and others) have come to this realization: nobody is that good. Flaws abound. Fallibility is everywhere.
Which is actually kind of fun. What the 2015 season may lack in greatness it can make up for with the element of surprise. When The Dash has Utah No. 1 and Northwestern No. 2, there already have been plenty of unpredictable results.
It also may lead to this: a complete eradication of unbeaten teams. No one here gets out alive, or at least unscathed. There are 20 perfect records remaining, and The Dash has supplied the count down in order of undefeated shelf life – shortest to longest.
Record: 5-0,1-0 in Big Ten.
What’s gone well: The Wildcats are playing insane defense, leading the nation in fewest points allowed at seven per game. Three guys who committed within 30 days of each other in summer of 2012 are making a big impact on that unit: linebacker Anthony Walker leads the team in tackles (44) and tackles for loss (8.5); safety Godwin Igwebuike is third on the team in tackles (27) and tied for second in passes broken up (three); and cornerback Matthew Harris leads the team in interceptions (three) and passes broken up (six). Solid recruiting by Pat Fitzgerald coming to fruition.
What could be better: Northwestern is 5-0 despite being last in the Big Ten in passing yards per game at just 142.2. Redshirt freshman quarterback Clayton Thorson is being brought along cautiously, and with good reason – his 115.9 passer rating doesn’t rank in the top 100 nationally.
Expiration date: Oct. 10, at Michigan. Saturday the Wildcats play in the Big House, in front of roughly 75,000 more people than have seen them play at any point this season. First team to 10 may win this matchup of the best defenses in the conference – and that team will be the Wolverines.
Record: 5-0, 3-0 in Southeastern Conference.
What’s gone well: The defense has 11 takeaways, tied for the most in the SEC, and is allowing just 16.6 points per game. Under the tutelage of a competent offensive head coach, redshirt freshman quarterback Will Grier and his frightfully inexperienced offensive line are both rapidly maturing. Starting with the fourth-quarter comeback against Tennessee, Grier has completed 35 of his last 46 passes for 410 yards and six touchdowns, with no interceptions.
What could be better: The Gators aren’t running the ball with much authority or explosiveness, ranking 12th in the SEC in yards per game (140.6) and 11th in yards per carry (3.95). Florida is last in the league in runs of 10 yards or more (just 19) and in runs of 20 yards or more (just three).
Expiration date: Oct. 10, at Missouri. The Tigers might have found their quarterback (true freshman Drew Lock) just in time to beat the Gators in a low-scoring brawl. With three victories by a touchdown or less already, Florida is due to lose a close one.
Oklahoma State (3)
Record: 5-0, 2-0 in the Big 12.
What’s gone well: The Cowboys have found a way, rallying to win their last two games late against Texas and Kansas State. While they’ve gotten some lucky breaks to help win those games, at least they’ve shown some survival instinct. The Oklahoma State defense also leads the Big 12, surrendering just 310 yards per game.
What could be better: In a league full of high-powered offenses, the Cowboys are pretty medium-powered. They’re last in the Big 12 in rushing, tailing even Kansas and Iowa State.
Expiration date: Oct. 10, at West Virginia. The Mountaineers have inflicted some pain on the Pokes the past two seasons, winning by 24 last year in Stillwater and by nine the previous year in Morgantown as a 19-point underdog. Oklahoma State’s good fortune is due to even out a bit, too.
Record: 5-0, 2-0 in the Pac-12.
What’s gone well: Just about everything, since the Golden Bears haven’t been 5-0 since 2007. (After that 5-0 start the Jeff Tedford Era began its inexorable decline, never to return.) Cal is on pace for school records in total offense (528 yards per game) and passing offense (358 ypg), but more importantly the Bears are much improved defensively over the teams of recent years – they lead the nation in takeaways (18) and are in the top five in sacks (19).
What could be better: Cal trailed in the second half at home against Washington State on Saturday, which isn’t a great sign. The Bears’ last three victories have been by a combined 13 points, and the competition level is about to pick up precipitously.
Expiration date: Oct. 10, at Utah. It could get messy in the Muss. In a highly improbable marquee game, Cal’s offense will run into a defense capable of slowing it down.
Record: 4-0, 2-0 in the American Athletic Conference.
What’s gone well: Nothing fluky to this start – they’ve won every game by double digits. The Midshipmen are doing what they do offensively, ranking third nationally in rushing offense. The defense is where the major improvement has come – they’re allowing just 15 points per game, which would be the program’s lowest of the 21st century if it holds up.
What could be better: There will inevitably come the moment when Navy has to pass the ball to win a game. The Dash doesn’t like the chances of success in that situation for a team averaging the fewest pass attempts in the nation (seven per game) and second-fewest passing yards (66.3).
Expiration date: Oct. 10, vs. Notre Dame. The Middies have challenged the Irish the past two years before losing. They don’t seem to have the speed and size to get over the hump against a much more athletic opponent.
If you’re scoring at home, that’s five unbeatens going down this Saturday. The herd will be thinned to 15 heading into Oct. 17.
Record: 5-0, 1-0 in the Big Ten.
What’s gone well: A year after losing its last two Big Ten games by a combined five points, the Hawkeyes have won a couple close ones – by four at Wisconsin and by three over Pittsburgh. They’ve shown flashes of explosive offense behind the rejuvenated C.J. Beathard, and some opportunistic defense (four forced turnovers against the Badgers).
What could be better: In the first game against Big Ten competition, the offense went back to looking as pedestrian as it had in recent seasons (10 points scored, 221 total yards). In a very average offensive league, the Hawkeyes are among the most average teams.
Expiration date: Oct. 17, at Northwestern. Beathard’s production has been declining in Iowa’s last two real games (walloping awful North Texas doesn’t count), and the Wildcats have the defense to continue that trend.
Record: 5-0, 2-0 in the American.
What’s gone well: Quarterback Paxton Lynch is playing like a star, leading the nation’s No. 4 scoring offense and ranking fourth nationally in pass efficiency. The Tigers rallied to beat Bowling Green on the road and won a wild shootout with Cincinnati – finding ways to win is a new look for a program more familiar historically with finding ways to lose.
What could be better: Memphis’ defense lost a lot from last year, and it’s showed. Tigers are 100th nationally in yards allowed.
Expiration date: Oct. 17, vs. Mississippi. Hotly anticipated game in a city that has a lot of Ole Miss fans and alums. Don’t think the Tigers will like the way it turns out.
Michigan State (8)
Record: 5-0, 1-0 in the Big Ten.
What’s gone well: Best thing you can say is that the Spartans have avoided a loss, and this is the deepest they’ve gone into a season undefeated since 2010. LJ Scott is a blossoming star at running back. Connor Cook is leading and taking care of the ball. The defense is creating negative plays and takeaways.
What could be better: There has been no domination from the Spartans. They beat Western Michigan by 13; Georgia Southern beat Western Michigan by 26. They beat Oregon by three; Utah beat Oregon by 42. They beat Air Force by 14; Navy beat Air Force by 22. They beat Purdue by three; Virginia Tech beat Purdue by 27. Comparative scores suggest that there simply hasn’t been much to justify the high poll ranking.
Expiration date: Oct. 17, at Michigan. If this comes to pass, the Mitten may lose its mind. But which team is playing better football at the moment? The Wolverines.
Texas A&M (9)
Record: 5-0, 2-0 in the SEC.
What’s gone well: The schedule, for one thing – the Aggies have yet to leave Texas or play a true road game. A&M’s stellar recruiting is showing up on the field, with sophomore quarterback Kyle Allen and sophomore defensive end Myles Garrett becoming stars. The John Chavis hire at defensive coordinator has paid immediate benefits, with scoring and yards allowed appreciably down from the previous two years.
What could be better: Despite the defensive improvement, the Aggies could be more stout against the run. They’re giving up 183 yards per game on the ground and 4.6 yards per carry – and that’s despite a high sack total.
Expiration date: Oct. 17, vs. Alabama. If you can’t stop the run, you can’t stop the Crimson Tide.
Scoring at home: We’ll be down to 11 unbeatens after the 17th.
Record: 4-0, 1-0 in the American.
What’s gone well: Every conceivable thing. Beating Penn State by 17 to start the season was as good as it gets. Adding a win at Cincinnati and two more victories for the best start since 1974 is a nice follow-up. The Owls defense has piled up big plays, from sacks to scores to turnovers. The offense has been good enough. Everybody’s happy.
What could be better: Needing five points in the final 1:20 via a blocked PAT return and a field goal in the closing seconds to beat mighty Massachusetts – that was a pretty good indication that the Owls have not fully arrived.
Expiration date: Oct. 22, at East Carolina. Temple will get to 6-0 before a Thursday night in Greenville, against a team whose only two losses are against unbeatens.
Record: 4-0, 1-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
What’s gone well: New starters in the front seven on defense have played above expectations. Tigers have survived the injury loss of top wide receiver Mike Williams in the opener. Made enough big plays to hang on against Louisville and Notre Dame.
What could be better: Offensive gameplans, which have been very conservative. Shorter postgame commentary from Dabo to the field reporter. The Dash is by no means anti-celebration after a big victory, but you wonder whether Clemson overdid it following the thriller against the Fighting Irish. Saturday against Georgia Tech should provide the answer.
Expiration date: Oct. 24, at Miami. As long as the Hurricanes season hasn’t fallen apart by then, this feels like a trap game for the Tigers. It will be just their second road game of the year, and they nearly lost the first one at Louisville.
Record: 4-0, 1-0 in the Pac-12.
What’s gone well: Everything. The Utes have trailed for a total of 9 minutes and 49 seconds this season – all of it in the first quarter against Fresno State. They have been in control of every game. Utah has maximized a plus-seven turnover ratio, been physical defensively and efficient in the red zone offensively.
What could be better: The Utes rank just 76th nationally in total offense and 98th in passing yards per game. When they are inevitably challenged to produce in a late-game situation or make a comeback, do they have the playmakers to do it? Standout RB Devontae Booker’s average per carry has dipped from 5.18 last year to 4.18 this year.
Expiration date: Oct. 24, at USC. That’s a team that will force Utah to score. And the Utes won’t score enough.
Record: 4-0, 1-0 in the American.
What’s gone well: In the first year under Tom Herman, the Cougars have cranked the offense back up to Case Keenum levels. The Cougars are fourth nationally in yardage per game and sixth in points. Quarterback Greg Ward Jr., has been turned loose and is fifth nationally in total offense at 383 yards per game. Houston is third in turnover margin at plus-eight.
What could be better: The defense is 125th in passing yardage allowed per game. If the Cougars don’t intercept it (six picks), they may not stop it.
Expiration date: Oct. 31, vs. Vanderbilt. Houston can win this game, and perhaps will – but if any defense in the next six weeks is going to slow the Cougars’ offense, it’s probably the Commodores’.
Scoring at home: We enter November with seven unbeatens left.
Florida State (14)
Record: 4-0, 2-0 in the ACC.
What’s gone well: The Seminoles have just one turnover in four games. They’ve metamorphosed from a Jameis-based offense, now playing to their new strengths – running the ball and playing defense. FSU ranks in the national top 10 in scoring defense and pass defense – though playing Boston College and South Florida will help any defense look good. Running back Dalvin Cook, when healthy, has been an absolute beast. Everett Golson has given up turning the ball over.
What could be better: While Golson hasn’t made bad plays, he’s also not making a lot of big plays. His 7.42 yards per attempt is the lowest of his career, and he has a negative rushing total to date. Chemistry with the new wide receivers remains a work in progress.
Expiration date: Nov. 7, at Clemson. Eventually, the Seminoles will turn the ball over. And if that eventuality is in Death Valley, they’ll have their first regular-season loss since November 2012.
Record: 4-0, 2-0 in the SEC.
What’s gone well: Leonard Fournette, who keeps going and going and going well. The Tigers have just a single turnover on the season, and had none until last Saturday. Despite playing three Power 5 opponents and two road games, LSU hasn’t trailed for a second yet this season.
What could be better: Although the Tigers haven’t trailed, the only team they’ve dominated was Auburn. They let both Syracuse and Eastern Michigan hang around far too long. The LSU passing attack remains largely lousy, despite a lot of offseason promises of improvement.
Expiration date: Nov. 7, at Alabama. The Crimson Tide neutralized Nick Chubb until the game was out of hand last Saturday, and the Georgia quarterbacks folded with the game on their shoulders. Could be a repeat of that in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Scoring at home: five unbeatens left after Nov. 7.
Record: 4-0, 1-0 in the Big 12.
What’s gone well: Sooners have been closers, outscoring opponents 34-7 in the fourth quarter. That included a great escape at Tennessee, when Oklahoma was squarely backed against the wall. Baker Mayfield has been excellent as the new starting quarterback, ranking fifth nationally in efficiency.
What could be better: Oklahoma did not dispatch Tennessee, Tulsa or West Virginia with ease. Despite the presence of two talented backs in Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon, the running game has been pedestrian. The defense has been average – with a lot of high-powered offenses to come.
Expiration date: Nov. 14, at Baylor. The highest-powered offense will be ready to run roughshod on Oklahoma for a third straight season.
Scoring at home: down to the final four.
Record: 4-0, 1-0 in the Mid-American Conference.
What’s gone well: The Rockets have beaten two Power 5 opponents in the same season for the first time in school history, so that’s a pretty good start. They’ve given up just 52 points all year, and have allowed the lowest touchdown percentage in the red zone of any team in America (7.7 percent, just one TD in 13 trips). Toledo hasn’t lost a fumble yet this year.
What could be better: The passing game is sketchy, with the Rockets ranking 115th nationally in efficiency.
Expiration date: Nov. 17, at Bowling Green. Weeknight MACtion climaxes its usual November thrill ride with the Falcons upsetting the 10-0 Rockets.
Record: 5-0, 1-0 in the Big 12.
What’s gone well: The Horned Frogs have hung 50 or more on four straight opponents. Trevone Boykin to Josh Doctson might be the best pass-catch combination in college football. Aaron Green was in the right place at the right time. An injury-riddled defense has bent on occasion – OK, a lot in Lubbock – but not yet broken.
What could be better: That injury-riddled defense still has several high-powered offenses to face, and it took a miracle catch to escape against Texas Tech. Frogs allowing 387 yards per game, on pace to be the most since 2004.
Expiration date: Nov. 21, at Oklahoma. The Sooners still remember the upset loss to the Frogs last year in Fort Worth. They’ll be ready for revenge.
Scoring at home: We head into the last weekend of the regular season with two unbeatens.
Record: 4-0, 1-0 in the Big 12.
What’s gone well: The offensive orgy continues unabated. The Bears lead the nation in scoring by 13 points a game and in total offense by 115 yards per game. They’re averaging a staggering 9.4 yards per play. Running, passing – it’s all working.
What could be better: The schedule.
Expiration date: Nov. 27, at TCU. Speaking of payback games, the Horned Frogs are still stewing on the blown lead and late three-point loss last year to Baylor that cost them a spot in the playoff. They’ll be on a mission.
Ohio State (20)
Record: 5-0, 1-0 in the Big Ten.
What’s gone well: Ezekiel Elliott got back to looking like the guy who dominated the postseason last Saturday at Indiana, busting three long runs and going for 274 yards against the Hoosiers. That, and the Buckeyes are still winning.
What could be better: The Buckeyes have somehow gone from too many quality QBs to not enough – Cardale Jones has been average at best, J.T. Barrett hasn’t done enough to unseat him, and former QB Braxton Miller has been silenced since those huge plays in the opener against Virginia Tech. Only nine teams have committed more than Ohio State’s 13 turnovers. The championship mettle of last season has not yet materialized this season.
Expiration date: Nov. 28, at Michigan. And if it comes to this, Lord have mercy on the scarlet and gray.
Scoring at home: Nobody's perfect.
AND NOW, THE HARBAUGH ARMAGEDDON SCENARIO
One-loss teams that could circle around and be in playoff contention:
Michigan (21). Three games in the Big House against current unbeaten Big Ten teams – what if the Wolverines win them all? Looking back, the opening loss at undefeated and impressive Utah wasn’t bad at all. And everything Michigan has done since then indicates a team assuming the Jim Harbaugh mentality: tough, physical and relentless.
The Wolverines have allowed 14 points in the last four games, and if they win what could be a three-and-out-a-thon against Northwestern on Saturday, they will likely come into Oct. 17 against Michigan State playing better than the Spartans. Win that game, and Michigan State will taste a defeat most bitter at a time when it assumed it had the upper hand in the state. Keep winning from there, and Harbaugh-Urban I could be the stuff of legend. The Michigan man-crush hero worship already in full effect over Harbaugh would reach screaming-teenage-girls-over-One-Direction levels. It would rival the Saban idolatry in Alabama, perhaps even exceed it.
Hey, it’s a lot less crazy a scenario now than it was a month ago.
Alabama (22). Nick Saban went into Scold Mode on Monday, chastising the media for burying the Crimson Tide after their home loss to Mississippi. (The Dash may have been among the guilty parties.) 'Bama rebounded with a fury against Georgia, and has the chance to chop down two more unbeatens in the next few weeks in Texas A&M (road) and LSU (home). Get past the Tigers and the schedule opens up considerably, unless Auburn resurrects its horrid season. If Alabama can get some help from someone in beating Ole Miss, it could easily win the West again, presumably win the SEC championship game easily and swagger back into the playoff. And Saban can scold everyone weekly along the way if he so desires.
Stanford (23). Like Michigan, that opening-week loss sure doesn’t look so bad anymore. It came against Northwestern in a game that kicked off at 9 a.m. Pacific Time, and neither team has lost since. The Cardinal has walloped three straight Pac-12 opponents, with the big win coming at USC. They should be heavily favored in the next three games before closing with Oregon, Cal and Notre Dame all at home.
If Notre Dame (24) still has just one loss – by two points, in a deluge, on the road against an unbeaten team – by the time it plays Stanford, then that means the Fighting Irish probably eliminated USC (25) from playoff contention on Oct. 17. And if Notre Dame finishes 11-1, good luck keeping them out of the playoff. Brian Kelly will go back to being a genius for getting there with basically his third-string QB – Urban 2.0 – instead of the guy who screwed up the two-point scenarios at Clemson.
But if the Trojans win in South Bend, then they could remain on the playoff path well into the season’s second half. However, the going is much tougher for USC than Notre Dame, with games remaining against Utah, Cal, Oregon and UCLA – three of those on the road. If USC can run that table and win the Pac-12 title game, it assuredly would have a playoff berth. And the Sark After Dark jokes will have to be shelved.
DUMPSTER FIRES: THE WEEK THAT WAS
The Dash keeps you informed with up-to-the-minute updates on the most dysfunctional and disappointing programs in the land. The damage report:
Kansas (26) lost its last winnable game by 25 points, at Iowa State. Understand, the Cyclones don’t beat many Power 5 teams by 25 points. In fact, the only one they have beaten by that many points in the last three-plus seasons is, um, Kansas: 34-0 in 2013, and 51-23 in 2012. Yeah, there is a chance the Jayhawks surprise Texas Tech in Lawrence on Oct. 17, or catch Texas (see below dumpster fire) in full revolt in Austin on Nov. 7. But The Dash says no – this was Kansas’ last chance to win a game in 2015, and it didn’t come close. Basketball season is coming, Jayhawks fans.
Texas (27) has become the worst thing to happen to Twitter since the WhatsApp spambots started proliferating. Not only are the Longhorns awful – they dropped to 1-4 in a humiliating, 50-7 loss to TCU – but the apparent team turmoil is playing itself out on social media for all to see.
First, freshman Kris Boyd had the brilliant idea to A) check his phone at halftime of the TCU game, and B) retweet a Texas A&M fan suggesting that unhappy Longhorns may be ready to transfer. That, of course, required an apology.
Then there was the Texas Rangers employee who tweeted during the TCU debacle that Charlie Strong should be fired. That required a firing.
And on Monday there were veteran Longhorns and freshman Longhorns taking shots at each other via Twitter, on the very day when Strong tried to douse the social media fire.
Kill your phones, 'Horns. Before you kill each other.
Tennessee (28) lost its third of three games to date against a real opponent, this time proving it could out-reel reeling Arkansas. With the loss to the Razorbacks, Butch Jones drops to 2-7 in SEC games in Neyland Stadium. But he has beaten Austin Peay, Western Kentucky, South Alabama, Utah State, Arkansas State, Chattanooga and Western Carolina in Knoxville. So there’s something to hang your hat on.
Central Florida (29) is far worse than either Texas or Tennessee. And that’s saying something. The latest low for the winless Knights: they were routed by Tulane. UCF scored two touchdowns in the last 6 ½ minutes to only lose by 14, after trailing by 28. The list of FBS teams that have trailed Tulane by 28 points at any moment in a game in the last decade is rather brief. UCF now joins that motley company.
The O.G. of dumpster fires, Rutgers (30), had a second straight good weekend. First it played Kansas on Sept. 26, then it played no one Oct. 3. Congrats, Scarlet Knights, you’re on a roll.
LAST INTERCEPTION POOL
The annual Dash staple is back: we count down the last FBS quarterbacks to throw the ball to the wrong team. We are down to six QBs among the top 100 in the national pass efficiency rankings. Here are your finalists:
Dak Prescott (31), Mississippi State. Zero picks in 176 attempts. Next up: Troy, which has intercepted just one of its opponents’ 93 passes to date (1.1 percent). That makes Prescott a strong contender to stay oski-less into next week.
Paxton Lynch (32), Memphis. Zero picks in 146 attempts. Next up: Lynch is the lone sure thing to advance to next week, because the Tigers have a bye.
Jacoby Brissett (33), North Carolina State. Zero picks in 123 attempts. Next up: Virginia Tech, which has intercepted six of its opponents’ 116 passes (5.2 percent). With the Wolfpack playing Friday night, the calendar says Brissett is most at-risk.
Riley Neal (34), Ball State. Zero picks in 119 attempts. Next up: Northern Illinois, which has intercepted nine of opponents’ 164 passes (5.5 percent). Neal has been remarkably fastidious with the football for a true freshman. Can he keep it going another week?
Anu Solomon (35), Arizona. Zero picks in 115 attempts, a streak that was aided by sitting out the Stanford blowout last week. Next up, if he’s cleared to play: Oregon State, which has intercepted five of its opponents’ 109 passes (4.6 percent).
Everett Golson (36), Florida State. Zero picks in 106 attempts. Next up: Miami, which has intercepted eight of its opponents’ 123 attempts (6.5 percent). This is a high-risk game against an opportunistic defense.
Winner of the annual LIP gets some stadium popcorn, a souvenir program from the inaugural Popeyes Bahamas Bowl and the chance to take a selfie with Dashette Tulisa Contostavlos (37).
COACH WHO EARNED HIS COMP CAR THIS WEEK
Jim McElwain (38), Florida. He wasn’t wildly received by a fan base that thought it needed a big name, but nobody is complaining now. At 5-0 after ripping Ole Miss, McElwain is off to the best start for a first-year Florida coach since Steve Spurrier His Own Self in 1990. Spurrier didn’t make it to 6-0; we’ll see whether McElwain outdoes him.
(Say this about the team the Gators beat Saturday: When Ole Miss goes down, it goes down hard. Last three losses for the Rebels: by 28 points to Florida, by 39 to TCU, and by 30 to Arkansas. Georgia isn’t the only SEC program that can turn in a massively dysfunctional flop from time to time.)
COACH WHO SHOULD TAKE THE BUS TO WORK
Mike Riley (39), Nebraska. He’s 2-3 at Nebraska, and that’s never a good thing. It’s worse when every loss has come in agonizing fashion: on a Hail Mary to BYU; in overtime to Miami after rallying furiously to tie the game; and blowing a 13-0 lead in the fourth quarter to Illinois. The Cornhuskers haven’t had much luck, but neither have they had much close-game execution. Riley was an eyebrow-raising hire, and the Corn People’s eyebrows remain raised five games into his tenure.
When thirsty in Georgia like the legions of Bulldogs fans aggressively drowning their sorrows Saturday, The Dash recommends one of the many quality local brews. Try a Hoplanta IPA (40) from Red Brick Brewery in Atlanta and thank The Dash later.