Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (where Boise State (1) is encouraged to spend a scholarship or two on a decent kicker for 2012):
The Dash is back after a week in State College, Pa., where the work volume and unprecedented grimness of the Jerry Sandusky scandal forced cancellation of last week’s column. There is a time and place for flipness, and that wasn’t it. This week The Dash is back, although work on the Penn State saga – and its fallout – continues.
Clearly, the wounds suffered by the children allegedly involved in the Sandusky molestation case far outweigh any other concern. Nobody would argue otherwise. But the reputation hit at Penn State (2) is massive, and the ripple effects destroyed the school’s leadership: Joe Paterno is gone, president Graham Spanier is gone, vice president Gary Schultz is gone, athletic director Tim Curley is on leave and unlikely to return, assistant coach Mike McQueary is in the same boat.
Jim Tressel (L) and Joe Paterno.
Well down the list of those damaged by this saga are the following:
• The Big Ten (3). Between Memorial Day and Veterans Day, the haughty conference saw its two most accomplished coaches forced out of their jobs amid scandal and shame. First it was Jim Tressel at Ohio State, now it is Paterno at Penn State. Both those men were in the new Leaders Division of the Big Ten, a pompous name in the beginning which now is a target of outright mockery. An abdication of leadership at both schools is what has led the Buckeyes into major rules violations and the Nittany Lions into a very serious criminal investigation. Oh, and fellow league linchpin Michigan is already on probation.
Despite the loss Saturday to Nebraska, Penn State still controls its own destiny in its division. On Monday, the Big Ten removed Paterno’s name from the trophy it will give to the winner of its first-ever championship game, Dec. 3. How would conference commissioner Jim Delany feel if he’s handing the Not Joe Paterno Trophy to JoePa’s interim successor? No novelist could invent a more bizarre and embarrassing moment.
• Stanford (4). Last week should have been a celebration of Cardinal virtues in college football. It should have centered on the remarkable rise of one of the nation’s elite academic institutions to football prominence, crossing the chasm characterized by the hyphen in the phrase, “student-athlete.” It should have been a salute to Andrew Luck, the remarkably well-rounded Cardinal quarterback who gifted college football with another season instead of entering the NFL draft. Stanford as an undefeated, top-five program playing the Game of the Week nationally isn’t the kind of story you find very often in college football. Unfortunately, it went under-reported.
The Dash isn’t naïve enough to believe Stanford football is the perfect embodiment of sporting virtue – after what we learned about Penn State last week, The Dash is not naïve about anything in college sports, period – but there many reasons to believe Stanford is doing its business the right way. That was going to be the national storyline last week. Until a far less palatable one took over.
• College football (5). Last year was supposed to be the nadir, right? It couldn’t get worse than a year in which a Heisman Trophy was stripped for the first time ever (Reggie Bush, USC) and the new Heisman winner was under NCAA investigation while leading his team to the national championship (Cam Newton, Auburn). It couldn’t get worse than a year riddled with agent issues and NCAA violations. Then Penn State re-set the bar. And not in a good way.
A question that was justifiably shoved into the background last week will loom larger and larger in the weeks to come: who replaces Joe Paterno? The Dash has a list:
Urban Meyer (6). Why it would work: Big-time winner with two national titles and Midwestern roots, plus he’s available. In pure football terms, this might be a better re-entry than Ohio State, where NCAA and self-imposed sanctions are likely in the near future. And it would be a clean break from the Paterno Era, which is no longer a sacrilegious think to say. Why it wouldn’t: Meyer can have whatever job he wants; does he want to take over at a place where the very name of the school currently produces outrage and anger across much of America? Would Penn State pay him enough? X Factor: Meyer promised his family he’d get out of coaching for a considerable period of time. Not everyone (including The Dash) believed him, but if he means it, one year out would be too soon.
Mark Dantonio (7). Why it would work: He’s pushed Michigan State back into Big Ten prominence, which is not as easy as it sounds. He knows the Big Ten block thoroughly, from his time as an assistant at Ohio State and in East Lansing. Also has no ties to Paterno and current staff. Why it wouldn’t: Might not want the mess, and might prefer Ohio State despite looming sanctions. (Then again: loyal former Tressel assistant might be reluctant to take job where they canned his mentor.) X Factor: How is his health, after heart attack last season?
Al Golden (8). Why it would work: Has ties to Paterno that warm the hearts of alums. Did the impossible by making Temple relevant. And he might have a very easy out from his Miami contract after being trap-doored by the administration over the looming Nevin Shapiro scandal. Why it wouldn’t: Has ties to Paterno that might chill the blood of incoming administration. Even the Miami scandal looks fairly pedestrian to Penn State, so he might not want to switch headaches. Career record is 32-39, including .500 this year at Miami. Not much in the way of signature wins to date.
Greg Schiano (9). Why it would work: A lot of people believe this is the job the Rutgers coach has coveted for years, which led to him turning down Michigan when the school hired Rich Rodriguez. He’s taken the historically horrible Scarlet Knights to five of their six all-time bowl appearances. Knows the recruiting territory intimately. Why it wouldn’t: He’s never won a Big East title, despite the downturn in league fortunes in recent years. (That may change this season, since Rutgers is a half-game out of first at the moment.) Another guy who might not want to battle the stigma now attached to Penn State.
Nick Saban (10). Why it would work: Arguably the premier coach in college football. From nearby West Virginia, not a Southerner, and not a guy who has stayed in any job for longer than five years. (And this is Year Five at Alabama, a burnout job.) Why it wouldn’t work: It’s a long shot to begin with. Saban is wired to win titles, and that’s much easier done where he is now than anywhere in the Big Ten. Penn State might not be able to afford him.
Which jobs open next?
Already this season we’ve swept out Paterno, Mike Stoops (Arizona), Mike Locksley (New Mexico) and Bob Toledo (Tulane). Houston Nutt (Mississippi) and Howard Schnellenberger (Florida Atlantic) are gone at the end of the year.
There will be more. Five in particular who should be feeling insecure:
Ron Zook (11), Illinois. A four-game losing streak is bad. When it’s followed by the arrest of two players and shooting of a third, that’s even worse. That’s what The Zooker had to deal with Sunday morning, when linebacker Trulon Henry was shot in the finger and freshmen Jordan Frysinger and Kenneth Knight were arrested in a separate incident. Zooker declared, “This is the first issue we’ve had like this.” The Springfield Journal-Registered corrected the record by noting that linebacker Martez Wilson was stabbed in a bar fight in 2008. That 6-0 start seems like a long, long time ago.
Tom O’Brien (12), North Carolina State. O’Brien entered his fifth season in Raleigh at exactly .500 and without star quarterback Russell Wilson, whom the coach showed the door after the minor-league baseball player wouldn’t commit to spring practice. While Wilson has been tearing up the Big Ten, the Wolfpack have been going 5-5, with a discouraging loss to Boston College last Saturday. N.C. State has scored a total of 23 points its last three games.
Dennis Erickson (13), Arizona State. Much like The Zooker, this make-or-break season looked like a success for Erickson. Now, not so much. The Sun Devils are 1-4 on the road, with consecutive losses to UCLA and Washington State. They might yet win the Pac-12 South by closing with home victories over Arizona and California, but this season was supposed to be better than 8-4. Could be a close call on whether Erickson stays or goes.
Mike Price (14), UTEP. After going 16-8 his first two years with the Miners, Price is 13 games below .500 in the five years since. This season they’re 5-5, with narrow victories over Stony Brook and New Mexico State the only things keeping bowl hopes alive. If you can’t finish in the upper half of Conference USA consistently, you’re not good.
Larry Porter (15), Memphis. Speaking of not finishing in the upper half of C-USA: Porter is a disastrous 1-13 in that league. While less than two seasons isn’t much time to render a decision, this shouldn’t be hard to make. The Tigers are terrible, bottoming out Saturday by giving up 24 points in the fourth quarter to equally awful UAB and losing at home, 41-35. (UAB coach Neil Callaway should be a goner as well, despite the glory of retaining the “Battle for the Bones” trophy by beating Memphis. It’s a barbecue thing, but the metaphorical battle between two skeletal programs resonates on another level.)
Whittling down the title contenders
Last Saturday was moving day in the national championship chase. Stanford and Boise State played themselves out of it, thus creating opportunities for others to play their way in. Time to rank the six teams who still have a say in this thing in order of merit:
LSU (16). BCS rank: No. 1. At a powerful 10-0, the Tigers own the pole position. That shouldn’t change this weekend with a trip to Ole Miss. The key game will be the following week against Arkansas. If LSU keeps winning, it will play a de facto home game in the Superdome in January for the crystal football.
Oklahoma State (17). BCS rank: No. 2. Now that other contenders have lost, the situation is equally clear for the Cowboys: keep winning and you’re in the title game. Thus we could have a second consecutive championship showdown between an SEC powerhouse and a pyrotechnic, hurry-up offense from a program in garish uniforms that is the wholly owned subsidiary of a tycoon booster. If it works out, great. Not a bad storyline. But if the Cowboys lose (say, Dec. 3 to Oklahoma), then it gets murky.
Alabama (18). BCS rank: No. 3. The Crimson Tide would be the most deserving one-loss team to play for the title. For everyone whining about the possibility of replaying a 9-6 slogfest, stop it. This isn’t Madden ’12, it’s real football, and sometimes in real football the defenses dominate. Deal with it. And for everyone whining about how you should not be allowed to play for a national title if you don’t win your conference, free your arbitrarily rigid mind – what if the two best teams in the country just happen to play in the same league? Because of geography and affiliation, that disqualifies them from playing each other in the postseason? In basketball terms, should that nonsense have kept Indiana from playing Michigan for the 1976 national title? Or Georgetown vs. Villanova in 1985? Or Kansas vs. Oklahoma in 1988? No. Bad argument.
Oregon (19). BCS rank: No. 4. Ducks fans are suddenly adamant that their team would be the most deserving one-loss team to play LSU for the title. Baloney. Oregon lost by 13 to LSU in Dallas to open the season, and it was a 20-point margin until a cosmetic score in the final minute. You want to blame it on a road environment? Hey, Dallas sold tickets to both schools – bring some fans next time. You want to talk about how much better your team is now than then? When you have 12 games to decide everything, you must be ready right away. The first game counts as much as the rest of them. And if Oregon is better now, what about an LSU team that didn’t have its best quarterback (Jordan Jefferson) or a key playmaker (Russell Shepard)? That’s why the Ducks are behind the Tide, but ahead of …
Oklahoma (20). BCS rank: No. 5. If the Sooners win out and so does LSU, they will have the best victory of all the one-loss teams by beating the Cowboys in Stillwater. But they’d also have by far the worst defeat. How in the world Oklahoma managed to lose at home to Texas Tech is more baffling than a Les Miles press conference.
(Look at what Texas Tech (21) has done since that game: blown out by Iowa State, blown out by Texas, blown out by Oklahoma State. Combined margin of defeat: 159-33. In fact, the Red Raiders lost their two games before playing Oklahoma as well. In the midst of an otherwise horrific six weeks, they found a miracle 60 minutes in Norman that could well keep the Sooners out of the national title game.)
Arkansas (22). BCS rank: No. 6. If the Razorbacks beat Mississippi State on Saturday, they set themselves up to play King Spoiler in this entire thing. If they can upset LSU in Baton Rouge Nov. 25, (they) would have the best victory of any one-loss team. Their lone loss would be on the road to Alabama (an ugly one, 38-14). The SEC West could wind up a three-way tie and chaos would reign. And as a BCS hater, that would be just fine with The Dash.
What about Houston?
There is, of course, one other unbeaten team out there. One other team yearning to be recognized as a contender. One other team seeking entry into the BCS debate.
Case Keeum (7) celebrates after defeating Rice to regain the 'Bayou Bucket'.
That would be Houston (23). The Cougars have some glam – they lead the nation in passing offense, total offense and scoring offense, and quarterback Case Keenum (24) is now the all-time FBS leader in passing yards. ESPN’s “College Gameday” bestows a legitimizing visit on the program Saturday leading up to the Cougars’ home game against SMU.
So what’s holding Houston back?
Simple. Schedule. If you thought Boise’s was bad, take a look at this collection of rummies.
There are 120 teams in FBS. Houston has not yet played a single team in the top half, according to Jeff Sagarin’s computer ratings. Its signature win is over UCLA (5-5 overall, No. 61 in the Sagarin Ratings). The remaining games will change that: SMU is No. 57, Nov. 25 opponent Tulsa is No. 27, and potential C-USA championship game opponent Southern Mississippi is No. 29.
At No. 11 in the BCS standings, the Cougars are in position to crash a BCS bowl if they win out. But a defense that has surrendered 42 points to UTEP and 34 points to UCLA, Louisiana Tech and Rice might not be up to the challenge on such a stage. It would be like throwing an average woman off the street onto a fashion runway alongside Dashette Leticia Berkheuer (25).
The Big East is a big mess
Putting aside the fact that the league is hemorrhaging bedrock programs and becoming a geographical joke, there is the problem of the present-tense football situation.
All of the league’s eight teams may gain bowl eligibility. That would be a nice thing to say – except for the fact that none of them are very good. None are currently ranked in the BCS or AP Top 25. Whoever wins the league figures to be a sacrificial BCS bowl entrant, much the way Connecticut was last year and Cincinnati the year before that.
By The Dash’s estimation, five teams will finish between 6-6 and 4-8, with the league owing thank-you notes to the likes of Murray State, Maine and Florida A&M for helping the league’s middle tier creep to bowl eligibility. The fine folks at the Beef O’Brady’s, BBVA Compass and Belk Bowls appreciate it.
The three that will finish above the fray are:
The Mountaineer mascot leads the charge out of the tunnel in Morgantown.
West Virginia (26). Projected final record: 9-3, 5-2 in the Big East. That should be good enough to win the league title via tiebreaker, which means the Mountaineers’ highly erratic team will get the chance to be beheaded by, say, Clemson in the Orange Bowl.
Cincinnati (27). Projected final record: 9-3 overall, 5-2 in the Big East. Bearcats would lose the league tiebreaker to West Virginia after losing starting quarterback Zach Collaros in that game with a broken ankle. Tough break for Cincy, but it did give substantial playing time to best-named quarterback in America, Munchie Legaux. Maybe Munchie can throw his first career touchdown pass this week.
Rutgers (28). Projected final record: 8-4 overall, 4-3 in the Big East. The Scarlet Knights are like most teams in this league: a play or two away from flipping their record completely. They’ve played five games decided by a field goal or less (record in those games: 3-2). Their reward for scraping just above the mass of mediocrity could well be a semi-home game in the Pinstripe Bowl.
With contenders losing games left and right in recent weeks, the race is as wide open as it’s ever been on this late date. As Heisman ballots are mailed out this week, The Dash has identified no fewer than eight reasonable candidates still in the running:
Andrew Luck (29), Stanford. Lost his hammerlock on the award with a three-turnover performance in defeat against Oregon. One interception (a pick-six) was not at all Luck’s fault, caroming off the hands of one of his receivers. And frankly, he made a number of heroic plays just to keep Stanford in contention. He’s still atop The Dash’s ballot, but with this award trending more toward players on undefeated teams the loss will hurt him with many voters.
Kellen Moore has passed for 31 touchdowns and five interceptions.
Kellen Moore (30), Boise State. See above. Moore is the biggest winner in college football history, but the Broncos’ loss to TCU Saturday on the blue turf will be used against him. Never mind the two touchdowns and zero interceptions in that game (or the 31 and 5 on the season). Never mind that Boise’s kicker badly missed a game-winning field goal on the final play (for the second year in a row). Never mind that backup running back Drew Wright fumbled the ball to TCU with 2:26 remaining, or that Boise defensive backs somehow missed making fairly easy plays on the Horned Frogs’ final touchdown and winning two-point conversion. Moore will be penalized for those things. Which makes no sense at all.
Trent Richardson (31), Alabama. A week after being kept out of the end zone and to less than 100 rushing yards by LSU, Richardson racked up 127 yards and a touchdown against Mississippi State. Richardson has 19 touchdowns and more than 1,500 yards from scrimmage, but might need a strong finish to beat out the multitude of quarterbacks in contention. He may not get many carries Saturday against Georgia Southern if Nick Saban decides to rest him for the Iron Bowl grudge match with Auburn.
Russell Wilson (32), Wisconsin. Another quarterback whose candidacy has been hindered by factors beyond his control – namely, two last-minute bombs that turned into game-winning touchdowns for Michigan State and Ohio State. Otherwise, Wilson has continued to excel. He scorched Minnesota on Saturday, completing 16 of 17 passes for 178 yards and four touchdowns, earning a 259.7 passer rating. Wilson has 25 touchdown passes and just three interceptions on the season but will take on two stout defenses in his final regular-season games against Illinois and Penn State. Good numbers against those units could go a long way toward getting him in the forefront of the race.
Case Keenum, Houston. You cannot argue against his production: 3,951 passing yards, 37 touchdowns, three interceptions, a 10-0 record. You can argue against his competition (see above). You can also argue that a Houston offense that throws 45 times a game does for Keenum what Mike Leach’s offense traditionally did at Texas Tech for his quarterbacks – artificially inflate their numbers. More people are paying attention to Keenum now, and the competition gets at least a little better. If he plays well from here on out, he could back-door his way to New York.
Brandon Weeden (33), Oklahoma State. He’s Keenum in a better conference. Oklahoma State throws it 46 times a game, with pinball stats to show for it (Weeden has thrown for 3,635 yards, 31 touchdown and nine interceptions). Here is the big question: Is he the best player on his own team? Wide receiver Justin Blackmon might have something to say about that. Oh, and here is the second big question: Can he light up Oklahoma with a BCS Championship Game potentially berth on the line Dec. 3? Expect voters to put huge stock on that performance.
David Wilson (34), Virginia Tech. Making a late-season charge, thanks to some prodigious rushing totals and a five-game Hokies winning streak. He ran for a season-high 175 yards Saturday against Georgia Tech and has had at least one run of 39 yards or longer in each of the last four games. One drawback: he doesn’t get in the end zone. Wilson has just eight touchdowns on the year, and three of those were in the season opener against Appalachian State.
LaMichael James (35), Oregon. When healthy, he’s been as good as last year. James went for more than 200 yards in three straight games, then missed more than two games with a dislocated elbow. The past two games he’s produced more than 300 yards and four touchdowns. But durability is part of the deal, and James hasn’t held up for the full season. He still has some catching up to do.
Coach who earned his comp car this week
Dale Carson (36), Valparaiso. (If the coach at Valpo gets a comp car. Big if.) Valpo broke a 29-game losing streak by defeating Campbell 34-31 last Saturday, on a 9-yard touchdown pass from Eric Hoffman to Gabe Ali-El with 3:09 to play. It was the Crusaders’ first victory since Sept. 2009, and the first at the school for Carlson, who came aboard in 2010. Only once during the losing streak did Valpo come within a touchdown of winning.
Things were so bleak going into this season that the second paragraph of the school’s online bio on Carlson reads as follows: “In his first season at the helm of the Brown and Gold, Carlson guided a First Team All-Pioneer Football League punter, and had seven other players earn Honorable Mention All-PFL accolades. His punter set a new school record for average yards per punt by more than a yard-and-a-half.”
They can brag about more than their punter today at Valpo. They can brag about a victory.
Coach who should take the bus to work
George O’Leary (37), Central Florida. His program was hit with NCAA allegations last week of major violations. That’s in addition to 2010 violations for improper contacts with recruits. Staff members have lost jobs in both cases. In addition, the school lost a multimillion-dollar wrongful death suit during this past summer (though the Ereck Plancher family was not awarded punitive damages). Without even getting to the Knights’ disappointing, 4-6 record this year, there is plenty of reason to wonder how much longer O’Leary will be employed.
Putting out an APB for …
… Former SMU tailback Reggie Dupard (38). While everyone knows about the Pony Express backfield of Eric Dickerson and Craig James, the next guy to start at running back for the Mustangs is the only guy to have three straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons at the school. That’s Dupard, still the school’s No. 2 all-time rusher, and a first-round NFL pick in 1986. Dupard got out while the getting was good, just before the Death Penalty hit the program. Anyone with information on Dupard’s whereabouts, please apprise The Dash.
Meanwhile, The Dash is still seeking information on its most recent APB, former LSU running back Charles Alexander. If anyone has current info on Alexander The Great, please apprise The Dash.
After a week in State College, The Dash has a few solid recommendations for future visitors.
When in search of a high-quality meal, The Dash suggests a visit to The Tavern (39), an old-school institution downtown where the prime rib is stellar and you get all-you-can-eat side items.
After dinner head over to Bill Pickle’s (40) for drinks and all the sports viewing you’ll need. Grab a Dogfish Head Pale Ale and thank The Dash later.