Forde-Yard Dash: Can somebody dethrone Alabama? Can anybody?

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Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (engagement rings sold separately – and excellently – at Samford):

FEAR OF A ‘BAMA PLANET

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The following is the transcript of a phone call received Monday morning at the College Football Crisis Hotline:

Operator: May I help you?

Caller: Please, you’ve got to do something.

Operator: Stay calm, sir. Can I get your location?

Caller: Knoxville, Tennessee.

Operator: What’s the problem?

Caller: Somebody has to stop them. But I don’t know who. This is intolerable. It can’t keep happening.

Operator: Stop who, sir?

Caller: Alabama (1). The Tide is going to win it all again, aren’t they?

Operator: That remains to be seen, sir. But we have seen a spike in Alabama anxiety this week. We’ve had calls from Los Angeles, Norman, Austin, Tallahassee, Clemson, South Bend, Columbus, Ann Arbor and every town in the Southeastern Conference. Seems that 49-10 bludgeoning of Tennessee has struck a national nerve.

Caller: That’s because we can see it coming again, and America can’t take it anymore. Can’t take the winning, the houndstooth, the Rammer Jammer, the bragging and tea-bagging fans, the Finebaum freaks, the Kiffin troll game, the insane strength coach, the soulless Saban eyes when he looks at the camera instead of at the reporter during those interviews. We’ve had enough. We’re beaten down and desperate. The way they’re mauling everyone is just demoralizing. They’ve won four titles in seven years – isn’t that enough? Surely nobody has ever won five in eight, have they?

Will Nick Saban win his sixth national championship this season? The Tide appear unstoppable early. (AP)
Will Nick Saban win his sixth national championship this season? The Tide appear unstoppable early. (AP)

Operator: Well, Minnesota says it won five from 1934-41 via a variety of sources, but things were weird back then. Six other schools claim to have won titles that the Gophers also claim. The 1935 national championship allegedly was won by Minnesota, Princeton, SMU and TCU. So in modern terms you are correct: What Alabama is trying to do is unprecedented.

Caller: We have to stop it. Call in the National Guard. Do something.

Operator: Would you settle for the ROTC? Texas A&M (2) gets a shot at beating ‘Bama on Saturday.

Caller: Didn’t the Aggies lose to Alabama 59-0 last time they went to Tuscaloosa?

Operator: Well, yes. But this team is much better, especially defensively. Texas A&M is only surrendering 19.2 points per game, on pace to be its lowest in 15 years. And the Aggies have a quarterback who torched Alabama in the 2014 Sugar Bowl when he was at Oklahoma.

Caller: That was three lifetimes ago. And it’s far better to sneak up on ‘Bama than to have already beaten him. The Saban Revenge Machine will be engaged, and they’ll be all over Trevor Knight (3) the same way they destroyed Josh Dobbs (4) last week. You know it’s bad when the No. 6 team in the nation is a 17-point underdog, and that’s what A&M is this week.

Operator: Well, there’s always LSU in Baton Rouge on Nov. 5. And the Iron Bowl three weeks after that. But keep in mind: Alabama could lose a game and still wind up in the College Football Playoff, just like it did the past two seasons. The Tide has lost a game in three of their four championship seasons under Saban.

Caller: You’re spiking my anxiety again, not alleviating it.

Operator: Just trying to be truthful, sir. It is quite a run Alabama is on. People thought the quarterback change might derail this team, but it hasn’t – they’re starting a true freshman and about as explosive as ever. People thought losing the Heisman Trophy winner might trip them up, but it hasn’t. People thought losing the defensive coordinator and four of their top five tacklers might be the breaking point, but it hasn’t. Kirby Smart (5) misses Alabama a lot more than Alabama misses Kirby Smart right now.

Caller: Again, not helping. I had high hopes for Clemson, but the Tigers are in hangover mode just like Florida State in 2014 and Ohio State last year. Oklahoma, Florida State, Stanford, Notre Dame – all useless. Then my Volunteers got pummeled, and that’s when I smashed the panic button.

Operator: In these dark times, try to keep this in mind – there might be an Urban or a Harbaugh waiting at the end of the line. If anybody can beat Saban, maybe it’s them.

Caller: And if not?

Operator: Sing Rammer Jammer with the Bammers and accept it.

COACHING CAROUSEL, THE LATEST

With the long-anticipated demise of Darrell Hazell at Purdue, The Dash checked in with some sources and has pieced together an updated look at the national landscape.

Jobs open:

LSU (6). Out: Les Miles. In: The wish list reasonably starts with Tom Herman and Jimbo Fisher. After that it gets complicated. Louisville is confident it will retain the services of Bobby Petrino, who once interviewed for the LSU job five days after receiving a contract extension and pledging loyalty to Louisville during his first stay at the school. He is considered wiser and more loyal these days. North Carolina’s Larry Fedora has been a rumored second-tier candidate. Could West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen parlay a big season into a Baton Rouge move? How good is the job: among the 10 best in the nation.

Several schools will be (or already are) pursuing Houston’s Tom Herman this year. (Getty)
Several schools will be (or already are) pursuing Houston’s Tom Herman this year. (Getty)

Baylor (7). Out: Jim Grobe, who isn’t technically out yet but is serving as the interim coach after the sexual assault scandal took down nearly the entire administration plus popular coach Art Briles. In: New Baylor athletic director Mack Rhoades would love to land the guy he hired at Houston, name of Herman, but the competition for him appears too steep. If Rhoades wants a guy who has recruited Texas and won in the Big 12 before, he might consider Les Miles – if the fan base can stomach the change in offense from Briles to Miles. Rhoades did have talks last year at Missouri with California’s Sonny Dykes, who is a Texas guy through-and-through, but his career head-coaching record is just 39-41. Some Baylor backers may champion former Baylor assistant Philip Montgomery, now doing good work in his second season at Tulsa. But his ties to Briles (12 years as an assistant to him) might be a deal breaker if the school wants a truly clean start after this messy bridge year with Grobe cohabitating with Briles’ staff. How good is the job: The school has made the commitment via facilities and salaries to be competitive in the cutthroat state of Texas. But how deeply has the scandal scarred the reputation of the school and program?

Purdue (8). Out: Darrell Hazell. In: A brave soul. Actually, the school has committed to improving its facilities and likely will be much more aggressive from a compensation standpoint under new athletic director Mike Bobinski. The red-hot Midwestern name is Western Michigan’s P.J. Fleck, who currently has the Broncos 7-0, but Purdue is still recovering from a failed Mid-American Conference hire and schools usually go opposite of what just failed. There has been opining that the Boilermakers should embrace a different approach like the option, which would make Air Force’s Troy Calhoun an ideal candidate. Former Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano, now orchestrating a formidable Ohio State defense, could be an attractive option. Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin might be able to hunt bigger game than this in his inevitable 2017 return to college head coaching, but would you blame Bobinski for going after him? How good is the job: among the bottom three in the Big Ten.

Florida International (9). Out: Ron Turner, a spectacularly bad hire who proved it by going 10-30 at a school that was 18-20 in the three seasons before he arrived. In: Ron Cooper, who has head-coaching experience from the 1990s at Eastern Michigan and Louisville, is the interim coach and is 3-0. Whether that should mean anything or not, who knows. Not exactly like the best and brightest will be flocking for this one.

Jobs that could very well open:

Texas (10). Chances that it happens: highly likely. If Charlie Strong is removed after three seasons, it opens up a dream job that also comes with a few pitfalls – the biggest being confusion over who is in charge and making decisions. President Greg Fenves isn’t a big sports guy. Athletic director Mike Perrin is just more than a year into the job, and although he played under legendary coach Darrell Royal at the school, he does not have a background in athletic administration. Then there is the booster dynamic – there are more than a few with big names and big bucks who like to make their voices heard. This would seem to be the landing spot for Tom Herman, but he’d have to be completely comfortable with the leadership structure first. If he’s not, there are other options.

Oregon (11). Chances it happens: Mark Helfrich is likely coaching for his job the second half of this season. The Ducks are 2-4, 0-3 in the Pac-12, and on a four-game losing streak in which every performance has been worse than the previous one. Maybe a bye week straightened out a few things for the second half, which starts with winnable games at Cal on Saturday and home against Arizona State on Oct. 29. There are divergent opinions over how good this job is – facilities and Nike money for miles, but just about everyone has facilities now, and the vast majority of the recruiting must be done outside state lines. Some would undoubtedly love to see Chip Kelly come home after four years in the NFL, and he might be ready to do so if his first year in San Francisco continues its current trajectory.

Boston College (12). Chances it happens: Steve Addazio is another guy who may really need a good second half of the season. An 11-game Atlantic Coast Conference losing streak does not do much for job security, especially when the last two losses are by a combined 105-10. Since 2014, Addazio’s only wins are against Maine, Howard, Northern Illinois, Massachusetts, Wagner and Buffalo. That’s great for an FCS school. BC is not an FCS school. All that said, this is not a position that will have proven head coaches crawling to Chestnut Hill. Could be a tough sell on the job market.

Fresno State (13). Chances it happens: Foregone conclusion. After 20 wins his first two seasons, Tim DeRuyter’s program has plummeted. He’s 10-23 over the last 2½ seasons and 1-6 this year, with the lone victory over an FCS school. Don’t be shocked if the replacement is Fresno State alum and former Cal head coach Jeff Tedford, who currently is serving as an offensive consultant at Washington.

Rice (14). Chances it happens: Likely. David Bailiff is a good guy who has had some good years, and you have to respect the prestigious academic institution’s measured approach to gridiron glory. But he’s winless in Year 10, and the school’s attempt to get into the Big 12 indicates that there is some renewed desire to be a competitive football program. Could be a good spot for an FCS coach or a talented young assistant.

Northern Illinois (15). Chances it happens: Would not shock The Dash at all. Rod Carey inherited a consistent winner, kept it going for a while and now it has crashed. From 12-2 to 11-3 to 8-6 to 1-6, he’s bottomed out. And Carey’s personality has not won him many allies to rely on during times of trouble. If the job opens, there will be talented applicants – this is a top-of-the-MAC position.

Miami Ohio (16). Chances it happens: No definitive signals, but things are trending the wrong way for Chuck Martin. He’s only in his third year at a school that has lacked continuity for quite some time, and the former Notre Dame assistant is 6-25 overall and 1-6 this season. The RedHawks haven’t scored more than 24 points yet this season, and it’s been 16 straight games without breaking 30. This is traditionally a winning program, but those days seem like a long time ago after a tough decade.

Keep an eye on:

UCLA (17). It’s Year Five, and Bruins fans are still waiting for a breakthrough from Jim Mora. This year is more of a backslide – UCLA is 3-4, 1-3 in the Pac-12, and at the midpoint of what is widely expected to be the three-year Josh Rosen experience, the overall record is 11-9. At least Mora seems to be handling the stress with dignity and grace.

UCLA head coach Jim Mora was yelling early and often on Saturday. (AP)
UCLA head coach Jim Mora was yelling early and often on Saturday. (AP)

 

Texas Tech (18). In his fourth season, Kliff Kingsbury continues beating bad teams and losing to good ones – thus defining mediocrity. He’s 7-0 against Kansas and Iowa State, but 1-11 against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Baylor and TCU. Being drilled by 31 points at home against West Virginia on Saturday, after losing to Kansas State the week before, did him no favors with the fan base.

Coaches who could be looking for change of scenery: Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen, Holgorsen, Calhoun, Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez. All have experienced success at their current locations, and all have at least listened to other offers. Maybe they do more than listen this time.

Retirement possibilities: It could be time for Tommy Tuberville at Cincinnati and Bill Snyder at Kansas State. The Bearcats are last in their division of the American Athletic Conference. The Wildcats have reached stasis, and Snyder is a million years old – but he still wants to call his own shots on the end of his legendary career.

BEST JOB/WORST JOB BY CONFERENCE

With the firing of Hazell prompting discussion of exactly how low Purdue ranks on the Big Ten Dream Job list, The Dash enlisted a couple of ace reporters from Fox Sports for their opinions on the best and worst jobs in each Power Five league. Thanks to Bruce Feldman and Stewart Mandel for joining The Dash in voting:

Atlantic Coast Conference (19): Unanimous best job is Florida State, the only school in the league to win a national title in the last quarter century. Worst job is either Wake Forest (two votes) or Boston College (one vote). The Dash went with BC, which is at a disadvantage in terms of weather, geography and recruiting backyard.

Big 12 (20): Unanimous best job is Texas, which is overdue to start living up to that title. Worst job is either Kansas (two votes) or Iowa State (one vote), both of which are pretty close to hopeless.

Big Ten (21): Unanimous best job is Ohio State, which has tradition, facilities, fan passion and recruiting base in its favor. Worst job is either Rutgers (two votes) or Indiana (one). Rutgers is in talent-rich New Jersey – but try keeping Michigan, Penn State, Notre Dame and Ohio State from getting the best players. Indiana, like Rutgers, is in the brutal Eastern Division. Purdue at least benefits from being in the West.

Pac-12 (22): Unanimous best job is USC. Worst job is either Oregon State (two votes) or Washington State (one vote). The Beavers once went 34 years between bowl bids, and haven’t been to the Rose Bowl since 1965; Cougars once went 50 years between bowl bids.

SEC (23): Unanimous best job is Alabama – if you read the beginning of this column, you know why. Unanimous worst job is Vanderbilt, a charter league member dating back to 1933 that is still in search of its first SEC title.

IT’S MIDSEASON, WHERE DID ALL THE CONTENDERS GO?

Just 16 of the AP Top 25 teams have one or fewer losses. That is way down at this point in time from last year (23 of 25), and the lowest total in at least 11 years. The average number in that span is 21.

What exactly has happened? Tougher opening-week games might have something to do with the increased number of losses. There is a possibility that, in an era when teams are declared out of playoff contention after the first loss, tailspins are more likely to ensue. (There certainly have been a few of those this year – see Notre Dame, Oregon, Michigan State, Stanford and others) Or it could simply be a year when teams 10 through 30 or 40 are relatively indistinguishable and thus capable of constantly knocking each other off.

Ultimately, it means that either the playoff field has thinned itself quickly, or we are setting the stage for the first two-loss playoff team. Only time will tell. But given the current lay of the land, here are the seven games from the second half of the season that will mean the most:

Michigan at Ohio State (24), Nov. 26. If both teams take care of business between now and then, this will be one of the biggest games in a rivalry full of big games. A decade ago they met in an identical situation, and there were some epic Bo vs. Woody games in the 1970s – this would rank right there with them, and could herald another long run of showdowns between coaching giants. And who knows, they might be playing for two playoff berths.

Will Michigan and Ohio State both still be undefeated when they play each other in late November? (Getty)
Will Michigan and Ohio State both still be undefeated when they play each other in late November? (Getty)

Texas A&M at Alabama (25), Oct. 22. This is the other massive battle of unbeatens still on the docket. It will be up to the Aggies to prove they can hang with the rampaging Tide. Texas A&M does have the advantage in terms of rest and preparation, neither of which can be discounted with Alabama coming off consecutive SEC road games against ranked opponents. Winner gets leg up in SEC West, but both have challenging games yet to come.

Clemson at Florida State (26), Oct. 29. The Tigers have narrowly survived their past two games in Death Valley, while the Seminoles have gotten their leaky defense playing better the past two weeks. Clemson has won just once in its past 12 trips to Doak Campbell Stadium. Can a one-loss ACC champion make the playoff? Yes, but it may depend what happens elsewhere.

Baylor at West Virginia (27), Dec. 3. If both Big 12 unbeatens remain that way until a de facto conference championship game – just what the league has been looking for! – this could be big. But the league still will need losses elsewhere to even have an argument for inclusion. These are the Big 12 non-conference victories: Louisiana-Monroe, South Dakota State, SMU, Northwestern State, SMU, Rice, Notre Dame, UTEP, Southeastern Louisiana, Pittsburgh, Florida Atlantic, Missouri State, Missouri, Youngstown State, BYU, Stephen F. Austin, Louisiana Tech, San Jose State and Rhode Island. There is maybe one quality win in there (Pitt). Among the losses: Ohio, Memphis, Northern Iowa and Central Michigan. It’s a bad league, and there is little reason to believe its champion will be one of the four best teams in the country.

Washington at Utah (28), Oct. 29. Undefeated Huskies go into a tough environment to play what at present is a one-loss home team. This also could be a preview of the league championship game. But the Pac-12 is not on rock-solid ground in terms of promoting its champion as a playoff cinch, either. This is another league that failed to distinguish itself in non-conference play, though there are a trio of Pac-12 over Big 12 results that could be trotted out if it comes to a comparison between the two champions: Cal over Texas, Stanford over Kansas State, Arizona State over Texas Tech.

Nebraska at Ohio State (29), Nov. 5. If the Cornhuskers can remain undefeated by beating Purdue and winning at Wisconsin in the next two weeks, this game becomes huge. That’s a fairly big if, but if Nebraska can get there it might be the program’s biggest game in 15 years. Regardless, it will be a vital hold-serve game for the Buckeyes as long as they don’t stumble this Saturday at Penn State. The Big Ten West is 5-4 at present against the East this season, but needs to put a big skin on the wall before anyone wants to declare the divisions anywhere close to even.

Louisville at Houston (30), Nov. 17. Two of the one-loss teams lurking on the outside of the playoff, hoping for carnage. If both still have one loss heading into this Thursday night game, the winner remains in the playoff hunt. The loser is done. This game could also have significant Heisman Trophy implications, with Lamar Jackson and Greg Ward among the most dynamic quarterbacks in the country.

THE REVIVED FIVE

We gave up on them early. They’ve come back. A quintet of teams that have a chance to salvage their seasons and also shake up the playoff race.

USC (31). The nadir: Started the season 1-3. Now: 4-3, with consecutive wins over Arizona State, Colorado and Arizona by a combined 59 points. What’s changed: Clay Helton went with redshirt freshman Sam Darnold at quarterback four games ago, and he’s responded with 11 touchdown passes and one interception during the current winning streak. And after surrendering more than 400 yards in each of the three losses, the USC defense hasn’t given up that much since. Playoff spoiler opportunity: at Washington, Nov. 12.

Clay Helton’s Trojans have turned things around after an ugly start to the season. (Getty)
Clay Helton’s Trojans have turned things around after an ugly start to the season. (Getty)

Auburn (32). The nadir: Started the season 1-2. Now: 4-2, with wins over LSU and Mississippi State. The Tigers finally found some offensive balance against the Bulldogs, rushing and passing for more than 200 yards – the first time they’ve done that since Nov. 8, 2014. Auburn has a pair of productive running backs in Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson, and quarterback Sean White seems to be improving weekly. If this turnaround continues, Gus Malzahn should keep a job that seemed very much in jeopardy a month ago. Playoff spoiler opportunity: at Alabama, Nov. 26.

Washington State (33). The nadir: Started 0-2, including a loss to FCS Eastern Washington, leading coach Mike Leach to rip his team for being soft. Now: 4-2, including successive Pac-12 wins over Oregon, Stanford and UCLA. This could be Leach’s best defense since he arrived in Pullman, and the offense has been just balanced enough to keep quarterback Luke Falk from throwing his arm out. Falk’s average pass attempts in the two losses: 61. In the four wins: 43. Playoff spoiler opportunity: home against Washington, Nov .25.

Oklahoma (34).  The nadir: Started 1-2, after beginning the season ranked in the top five. Now: 4-2, with Big 12 victories over TCU, Texas and Kansas State. The Sooners averaged 398 yards in their two losses, 589 in their wins. Baker Mayfield is developing a throw-and-catch bond with Dede Westbrook comparable to what he had with Sterling Shepard – Westbrook has 26 catches for nearly 600 yards and eight touchdowns in the three-game winning streak. Playoff spoiler opportunities: home against Baylor on Nov. 12; at West Virginia on Nov. 19.

Northwestern (35).  The nadir: Started 0-2 and scored seven points in a home loss to FCS Illinois State. Now: 3-3, with consecutive Big Ten road wins over Iowa and Michigan State. The Wildcats hadn’t scored 38 or more points against an FBS opponent since 2014, and now they’ve done it in consecutive games. There isn’t a lot of offensive diversity – Justin Jackson runs it and Austin Carr catches it – but it’s working. If quarterback Clayton Thorson avoids mistakes, Northwestern might have found a fully functional offensive formula. Playoff spoiler opportunity: at Ohio State, Oct. 29.

YOU’RE NOT A BLOCKHEAD, KYLE BAMBARD

The Dash passes along this important announcement: This is the 50th anniversary of a television masterpiece: “It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.”

In addition to introducing the world to the glories of the Great Pumpkin, this also was the first TV moment when Lucy yanked the football away from Charlie Brown.

Kyle Bambard (36) of North Carolina State can only wish his holder was Lucy on Saturday at Clemson. It would have been embarrassing, but not as bad as what actually transpired.

Bambard was 1-of-4 kicking field goals against Clemson, with one blocked. The most notable miss, of course, came on the final play of regulation, when Bambard pushed a 33-yarder wide right with a chance to beat the Tigers and score North Carolina State’s biggest win in years – certainly the biggest of the four-year Dave Doeren Era.

Bambard was bombarded by idiotic fan hatred after the game, which is unfortunate but predictable. Hopefully nobody gives the guy a rock for a Halloween treat.

LAST INTERCEPTION POOL – WE HAVE A WINNER

Hear ye, hear ye. All rise in salute to Zach Terrell (37) of Western Michigan, winner of this year’s Dash Last Interception Pool. Terrell now has made it through seven games and 174 passes this season without throwing the ball to the other team.

Terrell won the contest Saturday when Ryan Finley of N.C. State threw two picks in the above-mentioned heartbreaking loss to Clemson, including the game-ender in overtime.

Western Michigan is undefeated at 7-0 thanks in part to QB Zach Terrell, who has yet to throw an interception. (Getty)
Western Michigan is undefeated at 7-0 thanks in part to QB Zach Terrell, who has yet to throw an interception. (Getty)

Terrell wins this year’s LIP Pool prize: a gently used 2011 Sun Belt Conference media guide, plus a week’s supply of convenience-store hot dogs. Live it up, Zach.

COACH WHO EARNED HIS COMP CAR THIS WEEK

Willie Taggart (38), South Florida. He’s certainly a name to watch on the coaching carousel after breathing life back into the Bulls. They’re 6-1 this season, 3-0 in the American Athletic Conference, and now have won 13 of their past 16 games after hitting their stride at the midpoint of last season. Taggart got this job after doing similarly good work at his alma mater, Western Kentucky. (Worth noting that Taggart’s quarterback coach this year is former NFL QB and Yahoo Sports analyst Shaun King. Salute to Shaun in his first year of coaching.)

COACH WHO SHOULD TAKE THE BUS TO WORK

Mark Dantonio (39), Michigan State. It has come to this for the spiraling Spartans: They gave up the most points at home in school history when Northwestern scored 54 Saturday. And school history dials back to the 1880s. And Northwestern scored seven points in a game earlier this season against an FCS opponent. For a team that was in the College Football Playoff last year, this is a stupefying collapse, perhaps surpassing even Oregon and Notre Dame on the Stupefying Collapse Scale. It’s that bad.

POINT AFTER

When hungry and thirsty in the great college town of Madison, The Dash recommends a visit to the redoubtable Great Dane (40). Go full ‘Sconnie with the cheese curds and sausage plate, have one (or two) of The Dane’s own Imperial IPAs to accompany the meal, and thank The Dash later.

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