Forde-Yard Dash: Which undefeated teams will survive October?

Pat Forde
Yahoo Sports

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (hazmat suits sold separately in Ann Arbor):

This week's Dash: Gauging unbeatens | Worst coaching hires | Michigan freefall | More

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NO TRESPASSING IN THE HORSESHOE

The Dash isn’t advocating violence, but Ohio State strength coach Anthony Schlegel (1) gets a helmet sticker for authoritatively dealing with the dolt who ran onto the field during the Buckeyes’ game against Cincinnati on Saturday night. If you are dumb enough to come out of the stands and onto the field, well, then you may get the body slam you deserve.

To date in 2014, the two best hits in the blighted Big Ten have been delivered by an offensive lineman on an interception return and a strength coach.

THE LAST OF THE UNBEATENS – AND WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO THEM IN OCTOBER

Of the 128 FBS teams in America, we have whittled the number of undefeated to 17. And that number is going to really get chopped down in the next month, with 13 of the current unbeatens playing at least one other current unbeaten. By kickoff Nov. 1, we may be counting the unblemished records on one hand.

To decipher who is going down and who will remain perfect, The Dash analyzed schedules and has ranked the 17 teams in order from least likely to most likely to still be unbeaten when Halloween arrives. The list:

Arizona (2). The record: 4-0. The ranking: Unranked in the AP and USA Today polls, No. 34 Sagarin. The schedule: at Oregon on Thursday, USC on Oct. 11, off, at Washington State on Oct. 25. For a team that needed a miracle rally to beat California at home, that’s a daunting stretch. Chances of being unbeaten by Halloween: zero.

Mississippi (3). The record: 4-0. The ranking: No. 11 in both AP and USA Today polls, No. 15 Sagarin. The schedule: Alabama on Saturday, at Texas A&M on Oct. 11, Tennessee on Oct. 18, at LSU on Oct. 25. That’s flat-out ridiculous. Chances of still being unbeaten by Halloween: Not going to happen. That doesn’t mean the Rebels are no good; it means the competition is brutal.

TCU (4). The record: 3-0. The ranking: No. 25 in both AP and USA Today polls, No. 27 Sagarin. The schedule: Oklahoma on Saturday, at Baylor on Oct. 11, Oklahoma State on Oct. 18, Texas Tech on Oct. 25. That’s three ranked teams in three weeks, two of them in the top 10. Chances of still being unbeaten by Halloween: The Dash doesn’t like the Horned Frogs’ chances to still be unbeaten by dinner time Saturday, much less Oct. 31. But Baylor hasn’t had it easy with TCU since the Frogs joined the Big 12.

Brian Kelly talks with his players during Notre Dame's win over Syracuse. (USA Today)
Brian Kelly talks with his players during Notre Dame's win over Syracuse. (USA Today)

Notre Dame (5). The record: 4-0. The ranking: No. 9 AP, No. 8 USA Today, No. 12 Sagarin. The schedule: Stanford on Saturday, North Carolina on Oct. 11, at Florida State on Oct. 18, off Oct. 25. Fighting Irish have lost four of the last five to the Cardinal, and the Tallahassee trip is a bear. Chances of still being unbeaten by Halloween: Very slim. The four Notre Dame victories to date are against teams that are winless against power-five competition, which is another way of saying the Irish haven’t beaten anyone yet.

Nebraska (6). The record: 5-0. The ranking: No. 19 AP, No. 17 USA Today, No. 27 Sagarin. The schedule: at Michigan State on Saturday, off Oct. 11, at Northwestern on Oct. 18, Rutgers on Oct. 25. The game in East Lansing looms rather large as a credibility test for the Cornhuskers. Chances of still being unbeaten by Halloween: Not good, but not impossible. Spartans have won 10 straight at home and have placed a strong hold on Best in the Big Ten status. We’ll see whether Nebraska’s explosive offense – which has had some success against the vaunted Michigan State D the last few years – can loosen that grip.

Georgia Tech (7). The record: 4-0. The ranking: Unranked in the human polls, No. 51 Sagarin. The schedule: Miami on Saturday, Duke on Oct. 11, at North Carolina on Oct. 18, at Pittsburgh on Oct. 25. Plenty of mediocrity in the Yellow Jackets’ path. Chances of being unbeaten by Halloween: Not likely to happen, even with the benefit of the two better opponents at home and two lesser on the road. Georgia Tech is every bit as mediocre as its ACC competition.

Texas A&M (8). The record: 5-0. The ranking: No. 6 AP, No. 7 USA Today, No. 5 Sagarin. The schedule: at Mississippi State on Saturday, home against Ole Miss on Oct. 11, at Alabama on Oct. 18, off Oct. 25. Three straight games against ranked teams, two of them on the road, the final one being Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Chances of still being unbeaten by Halloween: slim.

Mississippi State (9). The record: 4-0. The ranking: No. 12 AP, No. 14 USA Today, No. 24 Sagarin. The schedule: Texas A&M on Saturday, Auburn on Oct. 11, off week, at Kentucky on Oct. 25. Chances of still being unbeaten by Halloween: Unlikely, but at least the two powerhouse opponents both come to Starkville.

UCLA (10). The record: 4-0. The ranking: No. 8 AP, No. 9 USA Today, No. 6 Sagarin. The schedule: Utah on Saturday, Oregon on Oct. 11, at California on Oct. 18, at Colorado on Oct. 25. The Utes and Golden Bears are significantly improved from last year. Oregon is Oregon, which is a challenge. Colorado is Colorado, which is not a challenge unless the Bruins sleepwalk into Boulder. Chances of still being unbeaten by Halloween: About 40 percent. Showdown with the Ducks is the obvious key, but these Bruins have had to survive scares from a couple of inferior opponents already.

Auburn (11). The record: 4-0. The ranking: No. 5 in both AP and USA Today polls, No. 4 Sagarin. The schedule: LSU on Saturday, at Mississippi State on Oct. 11, off Oct. 18, South Carolina on Oct. 25. All three opponents are in the Sagarin top 25, and none has lost outside of SEC play. Chances of still being unbeaten by Halloween: Iffy. Tigers will have to play better than they did at Kansas State to win all three October games.

Oregon (12). The record: 4-0. The ranking: No. 2 AP, No. 4 USA Today, No. 3 Sagarin. The schedule: Arizona on Thursday, at UCLA on Oct. 11, Washington on Oct. 18, at California on Oct. 24. Two unbeatens and a pair of one-loss teams who are undefeated outside the league. Chances of still being unbeaten by Halloween: All depends what happens in the Rose Bowl on Oct. 11, and whether the Ducks can take their spectacular offensive production on the road with them. They’re averaging two touchdowns less per game away from Autzen Stadium under Mark Helfrich.

Either Nick Saban's Crimson Tide or Hugh Freeze's Rebels will fall from the unbeaten ranks Saturday. (AP)
Either Nick Saban's Crimson Tide or Hugh Freeze's Rebels will fall from the unbeaten ranks Saturday. (AP)

Alabama (13). The record: 4-0. The ranking: No. 3 AP, No. 1 USA Today, No. 1 Sagarin. The schedule: at Ole Miss on Saturday, at Arkansas on Oct. 11, Texas A&M on Oct. 18, at Tennessee on Oct. 25. That’s three road games, two ranked opponents, all currently in the Sagarin top 35. Chances of still being unbeaten by Halloween: Could happen, and perhaps even should happen. But it better, because November could be even tougher with LSU, Mississippi State and Auburn left on the schedule.

Baylor (14). The record: 4-0. The ranking: No. 7 AP, No. 6 USA Today, No. 8 Sagarin. The schedule: At Texas on Saturday, TCU on Oct. 11, at West Virginia on Oct. 18, off Oct. 25. Bears were unchallenged in September, but that figures to change in October. Chances of still being unbeaten by Halloween: Good. None of the next three games will be easy, but all are winnable. Bears benefit from having their toughest matchup at home.

Oklahoma (15). The record: 4-0. The ranking: No. 4 AP, No. 3 USA Today, No. 2 Sagarin. The schedule: at TCU on Saturday, Texas in Dallas on Oct. 11, Kansas State on Oct. 18, off Oct. 25. If last year is any indication, expect some tension: the Sooners were shocked by the Longhorns and struggled with both the Horned Frogs and Wildcats. But maybe it’s not any indication. Chances of still being unbeaten by Halloween: Good. The Sooners don’t present many weaknesses for their October opponents to exploit.

BYU (16). The record: 4-0. The ranking: No. 18 AP, No. 19 USA Today, No. 23 Sagarin. The schedule: Utah State on Friday, at UCF on Oct. 9, Nevada on Oct. 18, at Boise State on Oct. 24. The Cougars will be America’s weeknight entertainment for the next month, with two Friday games and one on Thursday. Chances of still being unbeaten by Halloween: Pretty good. The road games will be tricky – UCF has won 10 of its last 11 at home and Boise has won nine straight on the blue turf – but those teams are not what they have been in the recent past. Expect BYU to be favored by about a field goal in both those games.

Florida State (17). The record: 4-0. The ranking: No. 1 AP, No. 2 USA Today, No. 9 Sagarin. The schedule: Wake Forest on Saturday, at Syracuse on Oct. 11, Notre Dame on Oct. 18, off Oct. 25, at Louisville on Oct. 30. Zero difficulty in the first half of the month, then at least a couple of challenges. Chances of being unbeaten by Halloween: Excellent. Notre Dame is no cakewalk, but its resume is thin upon close inspection. Louisville’s offense is weak up front and uncertain at quarterback. It would require a significant fold-up by the Seminoles to lose any of these games.

Marshall (18). The record: 4-0. The ranking: Unranked in both AP and USA Today polls, No. 60 Sagarin. The schedule: at Old Dominion on Saturday, Middle Tennessee on Oct. 11, at Florida International on Oct. 18, Florida Atlantic on Oct. 25. That murderer’s row all ranks outside the Sagarin top 90 at present. Chances of still being unbeaten by Halloween: Book it. Matthew McConaughey could coach the Thundering Herd to four victories against that slate.

RIP, SCHEMATIC ADVANTAGE

With Kansas firing Charlie Weis (19) Sunday, the Jayhawks can now take their place very near the front of the line for Most Bungled Football Program of the 21st Century (So Far).

The Jayhawks fired Mark Mangino in 2009, in the wake of abusive coaching allegations. Turns out the only coach with a winning record at the school in the last 60 years – Mangino was a whopping 50-48 – wasn’t so easy to replace.

First crack went to Turner Gill, who lasted two years and went 5-19 before being fired. That was a bad hire, but still not as bad as what was to come.

Resolutely ignoring the fact that Weis couldn’t win big at Notre Dame with all the advantages that school has to offer, Kansas gave him a second chance to prove he’s not head-coaching material. Oh yeah, and it gave him a seven-year contract, at $2.5 million a year.

Charlie Weis was let go from Kansas on Sunday after a 2-2 start. (USA Today)
Charlie Weis was let go from Kansas on Sunday after a 2-2 start. (USA Today)

Result: 6-22, with half of those wins against FCS opponents, and just 1-18 in Big 12 play. Weis becomes the third Kansas coach fired in five years. Solid.

In two games this season against power-five opponents, the Jayhawks scored three points. Weis burned the redshirt on quarterback Montell Cozart at midseason last year, and turned the team over to him this year. In nine games against power-five competition, Cozart has thrown zero touchdown passes and eight interceptions.

Given the monetary investment in Weis based on almost nothing, he is on the short list of worst hires of the 21st century. Other worst hires, by conference:

American: Paul Pasqualoni (20), Connecticut. Tenure: 2011-13. Record: 10-18. After being out of college coaching for seven years, Pasqualoni was plucked from the retread bin to replace Randy Edsall after the Huskies went to the Fiesta Bowl. There were no more bowl games, but UConn did make headlines by losing to Towson, Buffalo and Western Michigan (twice) under Pasqualoni. He narrowly edges out Greg Robinson at Syracuse, Mike Haywood at Pittsburgh and Steve Kragthorpe at Louisville for worst 21st century hire of the Big East/American.

ACC: Frank Spaziani (21), Boston College. Tenure: 2009-2012. Record: 22-29. Handed a healthy program, the Eagles got worse every year: 8-5 to 7-6 to 4-8 to 2-10. Dishonorable mention: Butch Davis, North Carolina; Ted Roof, Duke; Mike London, Virginia; Chan Gailey, Georgia Tech (if only for going 0-6 against Georgia).

Big 12: Weis. See above. Dishonorable mention: Turner Gill, Kansas; Bill Callahan, Nebraska; Dan Hawkins, Colorado; Ron Prince, Kansas State; Dennis Franchione, Texas A&M; Mike Sherman, Texas A&M; Guy Morriss, Baylor.

Big Ten: Danny Hope (22), Purdue. Tenure: 2009-2012. Record: 22-27. Despite a fairly pedestrian record at FCS Eastern Kentucky, Hope was chosen as coach-in-waiting behind the successful Joe Tiller. After a season as an assistant, Hope started his Purdue tenure 1-5 and never really dug out from there. Dishonorable mention: Everyone at Michigan; John L. Smith at Michigan State; Bill Callahan at Nebraska; Tim Brewster at Minnesota; Tim Beckman at Illinois.

Conference USA: Ellis Johnson (23), Southern Mississippi. Tenure: 2012. Record: 0-12. Took over a perennial winner and failed to win even once, as the program plummeted from 10 victories the previous season under Larry Fedora to 0 over the next 23 games under two head coaches. Easy to see why Southern Miss hired Johnson, given his 17-28 record as a head coach at Gardner-Webb and The Citadel. Dishonorable mention: Neil Callaway, UAB; Garrick McGee, UAB; Larry Porter, Memphis;

Mid-American: Stan Parrish (24), Ball State. Tenure: 2008-2010. Record: 6-19. Parrish was elevated from offensive coordinator to succeed Brady Hoke after the Cardinals went 12-1 in 2008. He promptly lost the bowl game that year, then went 2-10 and 4-8 the next two seasons. Combined with his disastrous tenure at Kansas State in the 1980s, Parrish actually put together a 0-34-1 streak as a college head coach. Not easy to do. Dishonorable mention: Rob Ianello, Akron; Charley Molnar, Massachusetts; Shane Montgomery, Miami (Ohio); Don Treadwell, Miami (Ohio); Jim Hofher, Buffalo.

Mountain West: Mike Locksley (25), New Mexico. Tenure: 2009-2011. Record: 2-26. The Lobos fired reliable Rocky Long and replaced him with a spectacularly bad fit in Locksley. A hotshot recruiter with no head-coaching experience and little familiarity with anything west of the Mississippi River, Locksley bombed in epic fashion. Dishonorable mention: Vic Koenning, Wyoming; Mike Sanford, UNLV; Bobby Hauck, UNLV; Steve Fairchild, Colorado State.

Pac-12: Jon Embree (26), Colorado. Tenure: 2011-2012. Record: 4-21. Did not inherit a healthy program from Dan Hawkins, but it then got worse in an astonishing hurry under Embree. Nostalgia-addicted alums ignored the fact that former Buffalo Embree had never even been a coordinator, much less a head coach. Colorado gave up a staggering 552 points his second and final season. Dishonorable mention: Paul Wulff, Washington State; Ty Willingham, Washington; Buddy Teevens, Stanford; Walt Harris, Stanford; Karl Dorrell, UCLA.

SEC: Derek Dooley (27), Tennessee. Tenure: 2010-2012. Record: 15-21. His .417 winning percentage is merely the lowest at Tennessee since 1910. That’s all. Hired after a dazzling 17-20 tenure at Louisiana Tech, Dooley went 0-15 against Florida, Georgia, Alabama and LSU, and managed to lose to perennial punching bags Kentucky and Vanderbilt once apiece as well. Dishonorable mention: Mike Price, Alabama; Lane Kiffin, Tennessee; Ed Orgeron, Mississippi; Ron Zook, Florida; John L. Smith, Arkansas; Joker Phillips, Kentucky; Robbie Caldwell, Vanderbilt.

Sun Belt: Carl Pelini (28), Florida Atlantic. Tenure: 2012-13. Record: 5-15. In one of the most bizarrely twisted stories of last year, Pelini resigned/was fired/both – it’s complicated – after being accused of illegal drug use. Pelini has vigorously denied the charges and attempted to clear his name. He has not denied going 5-15. Dishonorable mention: Todd Dodge, North Texas; Ron Turner, Florida International.

THE MICHIGAN MELTDOWN

Dash colleague Dan Wetzel skillfully covered the latest problem for Michigan coach Brady Hoke (29) with this column Monday. It used to be that Wolverines fans could only indict Hoke for being an inept coach; now he’s alleged to be callously indifferent to the health and well-being of his players, too? That’s a bad combination, and a tough one to overcome.

Brady Hoke is under fire for several different reasons after Michigan's loss to Minnesota on Saturday. (AP)
Brady Hoke is under fire for several different reasons after Michigan's loss to Minnesota on Saturday. (AP)

The collateral damage from the losing and the controversy could be felt for the next couple of months. It picked up Monday, when four-star defensive tackle recruit Darian Roseboro announced that he was de-committing from the Wolverines.

On the field, the Michigan offense is the understandable focus of the most outrage. That’s what happens when you score two offensive touchdowns in three games against power-five competition, and cannot stop screwing up. Michigan now is a minus-12 turnover margin, worst in America.

But there is defensive culpability as well. The Wolverines are tied for last in the nation (with winless Massachusetts and winless Troy) with one forced fumble in five games. And they didn’t recover that fumble, leaving the Michigan defense one of eight in the nation without one.

It is a full-system failure, and at this point there is no reason to believe Hoke will survive past this season. So speculation will turn to who is next, centering on two other Michigan Men who have won big elsewhere.

The clear people’s choice is Jim Harbaugh – former Michigan quarterback who revived Stanford and the San Francisco 49ers with remarkable speed. He is a Bo guy, which counts for something (too much, probably). Harbaugh may not be the easiest guy to work with, which means he theoretically could be ready for a change. But there are some fences that will need to be mended, dating back to when Harbaugh made unflattering comparisons between the academic rigor and commitment at Stanford and Michigan. Harbaugh took a lot of blowback for that; is everyone willing to forgive and forget?

The other name that would get some run is LSU coach and former Bo player and assistant Les Miles – the favorite for the job in 2007 before everything fell apart and he stayed in Baton Rouge, leaving Michigan with the Rich Rodriguez bad marriage. Seven years later, Miles is in an SEC West division that has only gotten tougher. Might it be easier to try the Big Ten than bang heads with Nick Saban, Gus Malzahn and Kevin Sumlin for the foreseeable future? But Miles sits on America’s per-capita richest recruiting soil in Louisiana, and most of the studs still love to stay home and play for the Tigers.

If it gets past those two names, it gets really interesting. Athletic director Dave Brandon (himself under plenty of fire) may have to sell a diminished job to someone who has no emotional attachment to the school. That might be harder than the Michigan fan who remembers the glory days could have imagined.

CONSISTENTLY INCONSISTENT

The week-to-week highs and lows seem as pronounced as ever in the college football middle class. One week people are touting Paul Chryst for turning around Pittsburgh, and two weeks later fans are furious because he’s lost consecutive home games – the last one to Akron. Utah surges to a 3-0 start and a three-touchdown lead in its fourth game, at home against Washington State, then blows it. Northwestern looks lost, and now perhaps Northwestern is found. And so on.

But the three programs that have confounded The Dash the most this season are these:

Indiana (30). Sept. 13: Hoosiers surrender 45 points to Bowling Green and lose at home, causing fans to wonder if that elusive corner can ever be turned. Sept. 20: Hoosiers stun ranked Missouri on the road, prompting giddy declarations that the corner has been cleared. Sept. 27: Hoosiers get absolutely thumped at home by Maryland, backpedaling to the wrong side of the corner once more.

Boston College (31). Sept. 5: Eagles begin a four-game home stand with a dispiriting ACC loss to Pittsburgh, 30-20, and everyone figures it will be a long season in Chestnut Hill. Sept. 13: Eagles stunningly trample top-10 USC on the ground, scoring their biggest victory in years and spurring talk that BC is back to above-average status after a four-year malaise. Sept. 27: Eagles bookend four-game home stand with another dispiriting loss, this time losing a 14-point lead and the game to Colorado State.

Boise State (32). Aug. 28: Broncos look lost in first game of the post-Petersen Era, losing 35-13 to Mississippi in Atlanta. Sept. 6 through 20: Broncos regroup and win three straight over Colorado State, Connecticut and Louisiana-Lafayette. Season opener starts to look like a season-opening aberration. Sept. 27: Broncos commit seven turnovers and are routed by an Air Force program that had won only five of its previous 20 games.

Dashette Linda Chiriac (33) has no consistency issues.

UNFIT UNITS

Four programs that are accustomed to winning, but won’t threaten to win their division unless they can fix one glaring issue:

Penn State's Brian Gaia blocks teammate Andrew Nelson during PSU's loss to Northwestern. 
Penn State's Brian Gaia blocks teammate Andrew Nelson during PSU's loss to Northwestern. 

Penn State running game (34). In the miserable loss to Northwestern, the Nittany Lions continued a disturbing trend in college football: offensive linemen blocking each other instead of the opponent. Last year it was Florida. Now it’s Penn State. Blame this instance on youth: that’s a sophomore (guard Brian Gaia, No. 72) blocking a freshman (Andrew Nelson, No. 59). By the time they’re upperclassmen, they will have figured out how to identify – and block – the opposition. But in the meantime, Penn State must figure out how to punch out more than 101 yards per game on the ground (115th nationally) and more than 3.12 yards per carry (111th).

Wisconsin passing game (35). Bad enough that the Badgers are 115th nationally in passing yards per game – but if you sub out the 289 yards against FCS Western Illinois, the numbers really get ugly. Wisconsin has thrown for only 107 yards per game against FBS competition. If the Badgers run the way they’re capable of running, that isn’t as big an issue. But eventually a quality opponent is going to force Wisconsin to make big plays through the air, and so far this is a team with zero pass plays of 40 yards or more. Coach Gary Andersen said Monday that 2013 starting quarterback Joel Stave – whose “inactive” status has been among the strangest stories of the season – is ready to get back involved with team reps this week. That doesn’t mean Tanner McEvoy is being demoted, but it raises the possibility of a change down the road if the passing game remains low-octane.

North Carolina pass defense (36). Under Larry Fedora, the Tar Heels have had some flashy offenses and some pitiful defenses. The trend continues, with North Carolina having surrendered 120 points and 882 passing yards in its last two games. North Carolina is second-to-last nationally in passing yards allowed, with even Liberty and San Diego State making hay. There aren’t many great passing offenses on the rest of the North Carolina schedule – but an average unit can look a lot better against what was supposed to be a significantly improved unit.

Arizona State run defense (37). All three FBS teams the Sun Devils have played have creased them for more than 200 yards on the ground. And even FCS Weber State ran for more than 150 on ASU. The defense was a complete rebuild after last year, and clearly there is a lot of work left to do. Opponent scoring totals in Arizona State’s last nine losses under Todd Graham: 62, 37, 38, 37, 42, 38, 36, 45, 43.

COACH WHO EARNED HIS COMP CAR THIS WEEK

Pat Fitzgerald (38), Northwestern. After a collapse to end 2013, a turbulent offseason and an abysmal 0-2 start to 2014, the Wildcats finally showed something. After beating Western Illinois on Sept. 20, Northwestern went to Penn State and surprisingly routed the home team, 29-6. Northwestern played some of the tough-minded football it had not displayed in about a year. Fitzgerald is too good a coach and too fierce a competitor to let the slide go on indefinitely.

COACH WHO SHOULD TAKE THE BUS TO WORK

Steve Spurrier (39), South Carolina. When the Gamecocks scored to go ahead of Missouri 19-7 in the second half Saturday night, popular math said it was time to go for a two-point conversion and prevent being beaten by a two-touchdown Missouri rally. Instead the Gamecocks kicked the extra point, and the Head Ball Coach was left to answer for that bad decision when the Tigers stormed back to shockingly pull out the game. “For some reason, not one of us was thinking, ‘Go for two,’" Spurrier said. That’s a visor-throwing error right there.

POINT AFTER

When thirsty and in need of football viewing in Nashville, The Dash strongly suggests Jed’s (40), near the Vanderbilt campus. The multi-level place has tons of TVs indoors and outdoors, and a great beer selection. Stop in on a college football Saturday and thank The Dash later.



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