Forde-Yard Dash: Worst fears for this college football season

Pat Forde
Yahoo Sports

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (fire extinguishers sold separately in Morgantown):

Americans are a scared lot these days. Perhaps because it is Halloween Season. (Halloween used to be a day, or maybe a week, but now it’s a full-blown season, powered by six weeks of marketing and profiteering. Every town worth its Wal-Mart has at least one Industrial Terror Warehouse or Haunted Ghoul Forest charging $10 a head to frighten as many suckers as are willing to attend.) Or perhaps we’re scared because the media has found out how lucrative it is to strike fear in the hearts of its consumers (see: Ebola coverage and resulting hysteria).

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But hey, if fear-mongering is in vogue, then The Dash is not here to buck any trends. Let’s scare the college football fandom by offering up the most terrifying College Football Playoff nightmares:

FEAR OF AN SEC PLANET

The Southeastern Conference has four of the top five in this week’s AP poll. It has all of the top five in the Sagarin Ratings. Even for a league that is accustomed to domination, this is unprecedented. And for a weary nation that thought it had escaped SEC tyranny last year when Florida State won the national title, the horrifying question is this: how much of the four-team playoff is this league going to inhabit?

The Stephen King scenario is this: undefeated Mississippi (1) and undefeated Mississippi State (2) play an epic Egg Bowl on Nov. 29, with the winner advancing to meet 11-1 Georgia (3) in the SEC championship game Dec. 6. Georgia wins that in another classic, and the SEC is sitting there with three one-loss teams that all would at least theoretically be ranked in every top four heading into Selection Sunday.

Nick Chubb has 345 rushing yards in Georgia's last two games without Todd Gurley. (USA Today)
Nick Chubb has 345 rushing yards in Georgia's last two games without Todd Gurley. (USA Today)

How you like them apples, America Beyond the Mason-Dixon Line? You knew the SEC champion was going to be in the playoff. You’ve grudgingly started to deal with the concept of a second SEC team in the field. How does three-fourths of the bracket grab you? How much Paul Finebaum do you want in your life? How many Tennessee and Arkansas fans can you tolerate puffing out their chests like they’re studs by association?

Can you picture Kathy Bates taking a sledgehammer to your ankles right about now?

Unintended consequence: a lot of the people rooting against Florida State all season would suddenly reconsider, if the Seminoles were the only non-SEC team in the field.

Other unintended consequence: if the champions of the Pac-12, Big Ten and Big 12 all were left on the outside looking in, the clamor for an expansion of the playoff field to eight would be deafening. Which isn’t a bad thing in theory, but good luck getting that past the university presidents and chancellors.

Now here is your soothing reminder that nightmares are temporary: the Big Eight once finished the season ranked 1-2-3, in 1971. Nebraska was the 12-0 national champion; Oklahoma was the 11-1 runner-up that only lost to the Cornhuskers; and Colorado was the third-ranked team with its only two losses to Nebraska and Oklahoma. Yet the sport soldiered on. Even SEC ownership of the first playoff can be survived.

FEAR OF JAMEIS NEVER LOSING

Jameis Winston (4) is not terribly popular outside the Florida State fan base, but his detractors can’t just wish him away. After narrowly escaping against Notre Dame on Saturday for its 23rd consecutive victory, Florida State (5) doesn’t have a ranked opponent left on the schedule. In other words, it will take a fairly massive upset to stop the Jameis train from rolling into the playoff. Can you picture Linda Blair’s head turning backwards right about now?

The Winston backlash put a lot of Notre Dame haters in the uncomfortable position of choosing between the Fighting Irish and the Seminoles. There will be easier rooting choices for those people ahead – but worse teams to pull for.

Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher continues to handle all questions regarding Winston’s off-field situations as if they are ticking grenades and he is wearing oven mitts. In a Monday appearance at the Birmingham Quarterback Club, Fisher cut short a Q&A with three media members when the conversation veered in that direction. From Fisher up and down the food chain, the official Florida State stance now appears to be this: “Not only are we not going to do anything, we’re not going to say anything about not doing anything. We have no comment on anything that doesn’t relate to winning football games. The end. Go Noles. #FreeJameis.”

FEAR OF THE FIGHTING IRISH OVERSTAYING THEIR WELCOME

If the offensive pass interference penalty hadn’t been called Saturday night at Doak Campbell Stadium, here’s the truly scary premise that would have resulted: Notre Dame (6) would be a major step closer to a playoff game against an SEC opponent.

Last time the Irish played an SEC team, the result was a hide-the-women-and-children thrashing: Alabama 42, Notre Dame 14, in the BCS Championship Game. It was far worse than the final score.

The previous meeting with an SEC team: LSU 41, Notre Dame 14, in the 2007 Sugar Bowl.

Even with the loss, the Irish are still in the playoff picture. If they win out, we could be in line for another test of Notre Dame’s ability to match up with the game’s biggest and fastest. Another letdown/beatdown game would not be welcome. Are you picturing Anthony Hopkins murmuring at Jodie Foster right about now?

FEAR OF THE LEFT COAST

With the power teams clustered in the South, there is a very high likelihood that the second-best team in the nation, at least in the eyes of the CFP selection committee, is going to be shipped thousands of miles for its playoff semifinal to greater Los Angeles (7). Swimmin’ pools, movie stars. While nobody would be disappointed with playing in the Rose Bowl, the idea of mass migration from, say, Starkville to the Southern California freeway system causes chills. Are you picturing Dennis Weaver being stalked by a killer semi right about now?

Brenda Schad doesn't scare anybody.
Brenda Schad doesn't scare anybody.

The Dash isn’t sure how anyone can fear an area that is home to Dashette Brenda Schad (8), but apparently it’s possible.

FEAR OF SPOILERS

For fan bases that are starting to get their College Football Playoff hopes up, there remains a host of dangers to deal with. Specifically, there are these teams who won’t make the Final Four unless something crazy happens, but have multiple opportunities to spoil the seasons of playoff contenders:

LSU (9). In the crosshairs: undefeated Mississippi on Saturday and one-loss Alabama on Nov. 8, both in Tiger Stadium. With a two-game SEC winning streak, LSU appears to be putting the pieces together – although it’s equally possible that young Kentucky just abjectly flopped Saturday and made LSU look better than it is. The Tigers still struggle to throw the ball and are heavily dependent upon receiver Travin Dural making big plays (he has seven of the team’s 13 touchdown receptions). But if they can establish a running game against two very tough defenses, and Tiger Stadium can do its thing at night, there is a solid chance LSU gets at least a split of the two games and Les Miles gets a chance to talk about “want” and “chest” and stuff only the Mad Hatter says.

West Virginia (10). In the crosshairs: TCU on Nov. 1 and Kansas State on Thursday, Nov. 20, both in Morgantown. Turns out nobody has had a more attractive season-ticket package than the Mountaineers, who conceivably could host four top-10 teams this season. They lost to then-No. 4 Oklahoma and beat then-No. 4 Baylor, with No. 10 TCU and No. 11 K-State still on the docket. West Virginia somehow is 5-2 despite a minus-11 turnover margin, thanks in large part to a defense that has forced just a single fumble this year – and failed to recover it. WVU benefitted from a ludicrous 215 yards in penalties from Baylor on Saturday, which certainly is not a number you can count on against the Horned Frogs and Wildcats (Kansas State is tied with Navy for the fewest penalties committed nationally with 22). But Dana Holgorsen’s team can score and will be dangerous. Of course, more upset West Virginia victories could spark Fear of More Morgantown Riots.

Michigan (11). In the crosshairs: Michigan State on Saturday and Ohio State on Nov. 29, both on the road. These are the longest of long shots, given how miserably the Wolverines have played this season. But The Dash remembers last year, when a bad Michigan team just about had undefeated Ohio State beaten in what would have been a stunning upset before a failed two-point conversion gave the Buckeyes a 42-41 escape. So there’s that, plus the belief that there is latent talent on the Michigan roster waiting to put things together. But there’s also this: the Wolverines haven’t won in East Lansing since 2007 and haven’t won in Columbus since 2000.

Oregon State (12). In the crosshairs: Arizona State on Nov. 15 and Oregon on Nov. 29, both in Corvallis. The Beavers have been far better at home than on the road, and four of their final five games are in Reser Stadium. That includes shots at both the Sun Devils and Ducks, in games that could influence both the playoff picture and both divisional races in the Pac-12. Oregon State has lost seven straight games against ranked opponents, however, and quarterback Sean Mannion will have to play more like the 2013 version of himself (when he had Brandin Cooks at wideout) than the 2014 version to date.

Louisville (13). In the crosshairs: Florida State on Oct. 30 and Notre Dame on Nov. 22, the former at home on a Thursday night and the latter on the road. In the first year of Bobby Petrino’s second act as head coach, the Cardinals have been surprisingly impotent offensively (97th in total offense, 109th in yards per play). Offensive line and quarterback play have been issues, but Louisville got a boost in the playmaker department Saturday with the 2014 debut of star receiver DeVante Parker (nine catches, 132 yards) and the resurrection of running back Michael Dyer (173 yards and a touchdown). Petrino now has more than a week to tinker in preparation for the Seminoles, who also will have to deal with Louisville’s No. 1-ranked total defense.

THAT ONE HAUNTING LOSS

There is a helpless feeling that comes with being unable to control your destiny. For one-loss teams in need of help getting into the playoff picture, it’s hard not to what-if about the Game That Got Away and left them in their current predicament. Five examples:

Washington State over Utah (14), Sept. 27. The 5-1 Utes led by 21 in the middle of the second quarter and by 13 in the fourth quarter. They lost by one. To a 2-5 team. At home.

Urban Meyer's Buckeyes only have one loss, but they are presently off the radar in CFP discussions. (USAT)
Urban Meyer's Buckeyes only have one loss, but they are presently off the radar in CFP discussions. (USAT)

Virginia Tech over Ohio State (15), Sept. 6. Redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett was making his second start after replacing injured All-Big Ten quarterback Braxton Miller. He and the rest of the Buckeyes weren’t ready for what Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster threw at them. Result: Barrett was sacked seven times and completed just 9-of-29 passes with three interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown. Since then, Barrett has thrown 17 touchdown passes and just one interception – but that two-touchdown defeat at home can’t be erased from the record.

South Carolina over Georgia (16), Sept. 13. Back then, the Bulldogs had Todd Gurley in the backfield – and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo still didn’t use him on first-and-goal from the Gamecocks 4-yard line with five minutes left and Georgia trailing 38-35. Instead, Hutson Mason was called for intentional grounding on first down, pushing Georgia back to the 14, and the Bulldogs ultimately settled for a 28-yard field goal – which reliable kicker Marshall Morgan missed. South Carolina – now a three-loss team – held on for the victory.

USC over Arizona (17), Oct. 11. The Wildcats lost by two in a game where Trojans coach Steve Sarkisian successfully iced kicker Casey Skowron twice. At the end of the first half, Sark snuck in a timeout call right before Skowron attempted a 34-yard field goal. After the timeout it was blocked. At the end of the game, Sark did it again and Skowron missed a 36-yarder for the win. Ouch.

Baylor over TCU (18), Oct. 11. With 11 minutes to play, the Horned Frogs led 58-37. Less than seven minutes later, the game was tied at 58. Then Gary Patterson went for a fourth-and-3 from the Baylor 45 and failed, giving the Bears a short field to traverse in order to make the winning field goal with no time left – aided by a controversial, third-and-10 pass interference penalty.

THE POOL GETS SHALLOWER

The playoff herd (19) is thinning. Last week there were 26 teams with zero or one loss in the power-five conferences; this week that number is 18. Last week the maximum number of teams with one loss or fewer come Dec. 7 was 12; this week that number is 10. The max pool of teams from power-five conferences that could end the season with one or fewer losses now looks like this: two from the ACC (Florida State and Duke); two from the Big 12 (either Baylor and TCU, or just one of Kansas State, Baylor and TCU); one from the Big Ten (Michigan State, Ohio State, Nebraska, Minnesota); one from the Pac-12 (Oregon, Arizona, Arizona State, Utah); three from the SEC (from a group of Mississippi State, Mississippi, Alabama, Auburn and Georgia); and Notre Dame.

There are no elimination games this week, but somebody is going down – probably more than one somebody. Seven of the 18 unbeaten/one-loss teams are on the road: Oregon at California on Friday; Mississippi State at Kentucky; Mississippi at LSU; Alabama at Tennessee; Ohio State at Penn State; Arizona State at Washington; Arizona at Washington State. Beware.

WHO IS COMMISSIONER MATERIAL?

With the news last week that Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive is retiring in July 2015, it began what should be a gradual changing of the guard in the commissioner oligarchy that runs major college sports to a large degree. After consulting with administrators, coaches, media members and others, The Dash has compiled a glance at who the next generation of power-five commissioners might be:

SEC (20): The 74-year-old Slive is stepping down in 2015 after 13 years on the job. Potential Slive replacement list: executive association commissioner Greg Sankey is the prohibitive favorite after serving as Slive’s personally appointed right-hand man; Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long, Florida AD Jeremy Foley and former Mississippi State AD Greg Byrne (now at Arizona) could surface as candidates if for some reason Sankey is not the choice. Whoever is the next SEC commish, he should retain Slive confidante Chuck Gerber as media rights consultant.

SEC commissioner Mike Slive will leave a lasting legacy after his role in disposing the BCS. (AP)
SEC commissioner Mike Slive will leave a lasting legacy after his role in disposing the BCS. (AP)

Big Ten (21): Jim Delany has led the league since 1989. Age: 66. The most entrenched of all commissioners would not appear to be going anywhere anytime soon. Potential Delany replacement list: Michigan State AD Mark Hollis; Ohio State AD Gene Smith; Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez; Big Ten deputy commissioner Diane Dietz;

Atlantic Coast (22): John Swofford has been commissioner since 1997. Age: 65. Popularity seems to be at an all-time high within the conference; can likely stay as long as he wants. Potential Swofford successor list: athletic directors Kevin White of Duke; Jack Swarbrick of Notre Dame; Debbie Yow of North Carolina State; Craig Littlepage of Virginia; Tom Jurich of Louisville.

Big 12 (23): Bob Bowlsby has been the boss of the Big 12 since 2012. Age: 62. Has been well-received and stabilized a fractious conference after the ouster of Dan Beebe, but some wonder whether he might ultimately be Mark Emmert’s successor as president of the NCAA. Potential Bowlsby successor list: athletic directors Joe Castiglione of Oklahoma; John Currie of Kansas State; Oliver Luck of West Virginia.

Pac-12 (24): Larry Scott has led the league since 2009. Age: 49. He’s modernized the league and launched a TV network, but the league office is also spending money like drunken sailors on shore leave. Probably at least one more career move ahead for Scott, but no signs where or when. Potential Scott successor list: Byrne; UCLA AD Dan Guerrero; Stanford AD Bernard Muir; deputy commissioner Jamie Zaninovich.

Plus 10 more movers and shakers who could be attractive candidates: Dan Gavitt, NCAA vice president of men’s basketball; Nick Carparelli, Under Armour senior director of college sports and former associate commissioner of the Big East; Greg Shaheen, former vice president of the NCAA and czar of the men’s basketball tournament, now a consultant to a variety of conferences and sports leagues; Craig Thompson, commissioner of the Mountain West Conference; Julie Roe Lach, deputy commissioner of the Horizon League and former Vice President of Enforcement at the NCAA; Mack Brown, former Texas football coach; Jay Bilas, ESPN basketball analyst; Burke Magnus, senior vice president, programming acquisitions at ESPN; Bernadette McGlade, Atlantic-10 commissioner; Mike Glazier, attorney specializing in NCAA compliance cases for Bond, Schoeneck and King.

THE FLORIDA FIASCO

Athletic director Jeremy Foley isn’t going to do to Will Muschamp (25) what he did to Ron Zook. At least not yet.

Foley reiterated Monday that he is evaluating his flailing football coach and is not ready to make a change in command. That’s a departure from the last time Foley had to can a football coach he hired with no previous head-coaching experience – The Zooker, who was informed mid-season that his tenure would end following the regular season.

But make no mistake, Muschamp is all but done at Florida. He’s 3-3 this year with a second-straight losing season a real possibility – something Florida hasn't endured since 1978-79. The 42-13 humiliation against Missouri at home Saturday rivals even the Georgia Southern loss of last November for rock bottom.

Will Muschamp's Gators are 2-3 in conference play and still must face SEC East division leader Georgia. (AP)
Will Muschamp's Gators are 2-3 in conference play and still must face SEC East division leader Georgia. (AP)

In an era where offense matters more than ever, Florida is worse than ever at it. Muschamp, whose pedigree is defense, is on his third offensive coordinator in three years – and former Duke assistant Kurt Roper (26) isn't the answer, either. Massively maligned quarterback Jeff Driskel (27) has been so bad that scantly accomplished backup Treon Harris (28) was elevated to savior status – except that didn't work out, either, against Missouri.

The Gators' pass-efficiency ranking is 119th nationally. That's well down from even the poor production of the previous three years, when Florida ranked 78th in 2013, 69th in 2012 and 71st in 2011.

So there will be change. Replacement speculation centers on Dan Mullen (29), the former Urban Meyer assistant now dazzling the world at Mississippi State, but keep an eye on Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez (30), too. Foley is a respected AD with two grand-slam revenue-sport hires on his resume in Meyer and Billy Donovan. But Zook and Muschamp are two strikeouts in the most important sport for Florida fans.

KIFFY AS A POLITICAL FOOTBALL

A Republican candidate for the Tennessee House of Representatives has gotten as low-down-dirty as it gets in the Volunteer State: he has compared his Democratic incumbent opponent to Lane Kiffin (31). A new political mailing from Eddie Smith alleges that 13th District Rep. Gloria Johnson's actions bear a suspicious resemblance to those of notorious former Volunteers coach Kiffin, who came and went in a single year with howls of outrage following him out of town.

From the Knoxville News-Sentinel: "Among other comparisons, the ad says, 'Like Lane Kiffin, who made a lot of big promises to Tennesseans, Gloria Johnson went to Nashville claiming she was going to reform health care and create jobs. And like Lane Kiffin, Gloria Johnson didn’t live up to her word.'

"The ad also says, 'It’s time to show big talkers like Lane Kiffin and Gloria Johnson we mean business.' "

In what The Dash is sure is coincidental timing, Kiffin returns to Rocky Top on Saturday as offensive coordinator at Alabama.

Red State Republican politicians are busy trying to link Democrats to Barack Obama as a means of swaying voters. Linking one to Kiffin? That's just mean.

DEAR WHATABURGER: SPEED UP YOUR SERVICE AND NOBODY GETS HURT

Oklahoma State players Jhajuan Seales (32) and Juwan Offray (33) were arrested on public intoxication complaints Sunday in Stillwater for allegedly falling asleep in a running car in the drive-thru at Whataburger at 4 a.m. Seales was allegedly asleep at the wheel with his foot on the brake. Seales is the team's fifth-leading wide receiver, while Offray is a backup cornerback.

This clearly shows that Whataburger is not working hard enough to cater to hungry football players in the wee hours of the morning. It also continues a college football wide receiver tradition of falling asleep at the drive-thru while perhaps not completely sober -- something Josh Gordon and Willie Jefferson accomplished at Baylor in 2010 and Preston Parker did at Florida State in 2009. (And you thought Gordon's sobriety issues started in the NFL.)

Seales and Offray have their work cut out for them to match the rap sheet of another Mike Gundy-Era Cowboys football alum and wide receiver, Justin Blackmon, who has, sadly, all but substance-abused his way out of the NFL after being a top-10 pick. Another former Poke, Dallas Cowboys running back Joseph Randle, shined more negative light on the alma mater last week after being busted for shoplifting underwear and cologne. He did, however, land an underwear endorsement deal from the incident, so there's that. Randle is making about half a million dollars this year as an NFL rookie.

USC SIDELINE ANTICS, PART II

In addition to some pretty good football, this has been a season of idiocy at Southern California. It shows no sign of relenting.

Before the opener, defensive back Josh Shaw made up that whopper of a story about saving his drowning nephew – which turned out to be a complete fabrication. Then two weeks in, athletic director Pat Haden (34) made a fool of himself by going to the sideline at Stanford to get in the ear of the officials over some penalties the coaching staff didn't like.

Now it's Trojan-on-Trojan fragging in the Coliseum.

Former USC running back great LenDale White (35) says that, after an argument with Haden on the sideline during the Trojans' rout of Colorado on Saturday, Haden had him ejected. The AD disputed that through sports information director Tim Tessalone. White has insisted via Twitter that he was booted by Haden. The week before on Twitter, White was ripping the USC coaching staff.

What next? O.J. gets sprung from the lockup and makes a sideline appearance in an orange jumpsuit?

LIP UPDATE

The Last Interception Pool has been narrowed to two, thanks to Washington quarterback Cyler Miles’ pick against Oregon on Saturday. The remaining QBs who have yet to throw the ball to the wrong team this season:

Will Marcus Mariota's interception-less streak last this whole season? (USAT)
Will Marcus Mariota's interception-less streak last this whole season? (USAT)

Marcus Mariota (36), Oregon. Threw 33 passes without a pick in a victory over the Huskies. He's now thrown 188 passes on the season without an oskie. With 19 touchdowns and zero interceptions, Mariota’s current passer rating of 191.00 threatens the FBS single-season pass-efficiency record of 191.78 set by Russell Wilson at Wisconsin in 2011.

Travis Wilson (37), Utah. Zero interceptions in 111 attempts. Wilson is still in it, but more by technicality than anything at this point. Wilson has only thrown 15 passes the last two games while ceding much of the playing time to former backup Kendal Thompson. If he falls out of the NCAA top 100 statistical leaders before throwing a pick, Mariota will win by default.

COACH WHO EARNED HIS COMP CAR THIS WEEK

Mark Richt (38), Georgia. When star running back Todd Gurley was suspended indefinitely, it was supposed to be the end of the Bulldogs' season. Instead, Georgia has taken its performance up another level in road routs of Missouri and Arkansas. Backup Nick Chubb has played great, but the biggest key has been turnover margin – Georgia is plus-nine the last two games. The Dawgs have not turned the ball over yet without Gurley.

COACH WHO SHOULD TAKE THE BUS TO WORK

Kevin Sumlin (39), Texas A&M. He was crowing pretty loudly after the season-opening rout of South Carolina, about the "chip on the shoulder" he and some members of his coaching staff had when media members wondered whether the Aggies could still win without Johnny Manziel. The crowing was convincing then; less so now. Texas A&M has been routed three straight times – first by Mississippi State, then by Mississippi, and then a gruesome 59-0 mauling from Alabama. Sumlin has recruited well enough that it will turn back around, but not before a dose of humility has been administered in 2014.

POINT AFTER

You want the truth? The truth about life on the road covering college football? Sometimes it’s not glamorous. Sometimes the schedule interferes, and instead of a luxurious meal and craft beer you wind up hunting for a quick lunch near an exit ramp off I-10 in north Florida on your way to Tallahassee. However, at times like this you can also find a hidden gem, and The Dash did in Mr. Chubby’s Wings (40) west of Jacksonville. It’s located in a nondescript strip mall, but don’t let that fool you. The wings were grilled and they were great, with a unique, house-made seasoning. Service was excellent. Good TV setup for watching several games at once. The Dash did not sample the beer products, but they appeared to be plentiful. Stop by if you’re in the neighborhood and thank The Dash later.

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