Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (replacement goalposts sold separately in the slump-busting town of Lawrence, Kan.):
THE DYSFUNCTIONAL TEXAS TWO-STEP
What Texas (1) is doing to Charlie Strong (2) reveals the biggest flaw in what should be the perfect program: The school’s administrative leadership has little to no control over the money men behind the program. That is why you have two different messages and one awkward situation in Austin.
You have this, from the administration: Strong’s coaching fate will not be decided until after the Longhorns’ final game against TCU on Friday. And you have this, from sources with knowledge and influence: The decision is made and Strong is done.
Which leads to this: Strong taking the high road through a difficult news conference Monday. He said he believes his fate has not been decided, he quashed a report of a potential player boycott of the TCU game, he put the focus on his senior class and he generally handled a thankless situation with great poise.
A different coach might well have taken that media opportunity to tell the world how it feels to publicly walk across burning coals, or otherwise make his bosses and the school’s boosters look bad. Strong didn’t do that, which should be the final recommendation he needs for his next job.
That next landing spot will be a better place for Charlie Strong. The Dash said from the get-go that he was a bad fit at Texas, and that quickly proved to be the case.
The next coach of the Longhorns – and if it’s not Tom Herman (3), something went terribly wrong – will inherit the same dicey politics. President Greg Fenves has been on the job less than 18 months, athletic director Mike Perrin less than 15 months, and neither really has a background in athletic administration. They have had to deal with a free-wheeling, loose-lipped booster cadre that has little regard for university protocol.
The best thing that could happen to the new coach/Herman would for the industry speculation be true about Oliver Luck (4) leaving the NCAA and becoming the next Texas AD. Luck at least knows that job, having done it with distinction at West Virginia, and would seemingly have the clout to operate the department with less outside noise filtering in.
But that is a story for next week, or next month, or next year. Today the story is Charlie Strong being left to dangle during Thanksgiving week by a school that owns everything but an ounce of dignity.
LET THERE BE RIVALRY EPICNESS
This is the high holy week of the regular season: a time for ancient grudges to be settled, bragging rights to be bestowed, trash to be talked, shame to be walked and another layer of lore to be added to the rivalries that make this sport so much better than the NFL.
Michigan-Ohio State (5). Football is much more interesting when these two are simultaneously relevant, and when the game between them carries high stakes. Which means football is really damn interesting this week.
Where this year’s game ranks on a scale of 1 (heightened anxiety) to 5 (riding the jagged edge between sanity and insanity): 5.
If Michigan wins: It will be the Wolverines’ biggest victory in this series since 2003 and the program’s biggest win since the ’98 Rose Bowl.
If Ohio State wins: It will be the Buckeyes’ biggest victory in this series since 2006 and the program’s biggest win since Jan. 12, 2015.
If Jim Harbaugh (6) wins: They will name him emperor of Ann Arbor and he will star in more rap videos and eat even bigger steaks at Ruth’s Chris with even bigger glasses of whole milk.
If Urban Meyer (7) wins: The state of Michigan will be renamed Meyer’s Mitten, they will love him forever in State College, Pa., and the Dead Schembechlers will devote an entire tribute album to the man who would be 5-0 against That Team Up North.
What Ohio State fans say about J.T. Barrett (8): Consummate leader and winner. Should be the Heisman Trophy favorite.
What Michigan fans say about Barrett: Wildly overrated system guy who can’t throw a 10-yard pass if the wind is anything stronger than a mild breeze. Reputation enhanced by fawning media.
What Michigan fans say about Jabrill Peppers (9): Consummate football player who is the most versatile talent in the nation. Should be the Heisman Trophy favorite.
What Ohio State fans say about Peppers: Wildly overrated gimmick guy who is a jack of several trades and master of none. A poor man’s Charles Woodson, who never should have won the Heisman, either. Reputation enhanced by fawning media.
Playoff chances for the winner: Ohio State would be in and the Big Ten would have a decent shot at multiple berths; Michigan in all likelihood would be in but would still face potential double jeopardy against Wisconsin – a team it already defeated – in the Big Ten title game.
Playoff chances for the loser: Slim but still within the realm of possibility. Would require upsets elsewhere.
Series: Michigan leads 58-48-6, but the Buckeyes have won an astounding 11 of the past 12.
Dash prediction: Ohio State 16, Michigan 13.
Auburn-Alabama (10). This marks the ninth straight year that one of the Iron Bowl participants has been ranked No. 1 or 2 in the nation – an amazing stat. Eight of those years, that team has been Alabama – an even more amazing stat.
Where this year’s game ranks on a scale of 1 (heightened anxiety) to 5 (riding the jagged edge between sanity and insanity): 3.5. Which by Iron Bowl standards is a 7 everywhere else. But beyond blood feud, there is not a lot on the line – Alabama has clinched the SEC West and could likely even withstand a loss without losing its national title aspirations.
If Auburn wins: It would be the Tigers’ biggest victory in this series since the Kick Six of 2013 – which is never to be topped, no matter how much longer these two play football. The chance to ruin Alabama’s quest for its first undefeated season since 2009 is enticing, but it still might not be enough to knock the Tide out of the College Football Playoff.
If Alabama wins: It will keep the Crimson Tide on its appointed path to being the prohibitive playoff favorite. And, believe it or not, it would mark Alabama’s first three-game Iron Bowl winning streak since 1990-92.
Series: Alabama leads 44-35-1, but the two teams have evenly split the past 24 meetings.
Dash prediction: Alabama 26, Auburn 10.
South Carolina-Clemson (11). The Gamecocks (6-5) start a quarterback (Jake Bentley) who didn’t throw his first collegiate pass until Oct. 22 of this year. The Tigers start a quarterback (Deshaun Watson) who has thrown 1,058 collegiate passes, dating back to August 2014. Still, every game South Carolina has played this season has been decided by two touchdowns or less – it does not get blown out, nor does it blow anyone out.
Where this year’s game ranks on a scale of 1 (heightened anxiety) to 5 (riding the jagged edge between sanity and insanity): 4. For the second straight year, the underdog Gamecocks are in position to ruin Clemson’s season – but this year they have a team (slightly) better equipped to do so. South Carolina comes in having won four of its past five games, whereas last year it staggered in on a four-game losing streak.
If South Carolina wins: The fan buy-in on Will Muschamp shoots through the roof. He would immediately elevate to a Spurrier-Holtz level of popularity – though he would have to do better than 7-5 in the future to sustain that.
If Clemson wins: The Tigers would be one game closer to locking up a playoff spot, needing only to win the ACC championship game Dec. 3 to make it official. It would also give them their first three-game winning streak in the series since 2002-04.
Series: Clemson leads 67-42-4, though South Carolina has won six of the past 10.
Dash prediction: Clemson 30, South Carolina 21.
Washington-Washington State (12). The Apple Cup combatants’ combined 18 victories at the time of the game are the most in the history of this rivalry, which dates back to 1900.
Where this year’s game ranks on a scale of 1 (heightened anxiety) to 5 (riding the jagged edge between sanity and insanity): 4.5. They don’t really do certifiable in the Pacific Northwest, at least not the way they do in, say, the state of Alabama. But this is as big as the Apple Cup has ever been.
If Washington wins: The Huskies seemingly would stand a great chance of moving into the CFP selection committee’s top four, with a Pac-12 championship game to come. Preventing the Cougars from making the Pac-12 title game would be enjoyable as well.
If Washington State wins: It would gut all of Washington’s title dreams – Pac-12 North, Pac-12 overall, and national. And it may gut the Pac-12’s playoff hopes for a second straight year. But it also would mark Wazzu’s greatest moment since making the 2003 Rose Bowl.
Series: Washington leads, 70-32-6, and has won six of the past seven.
Dash prediction: Washington State 31, Washington 28.
Those are the four rivalry games that matter most. Now the second tier, where championships or other significant accomplishments are part of the equation:
Minnesota-Wisconsin (13). If the 9-2 Badgers win, they take the Big Ten West and keep their CFP hopes alive. If the 8-3 Gophers win, and if Nebraska beat Iowa on Friday, the Cornhuskers take the West. If both the Badgers and Cornhuskers lose and there is an absurd four-way tie, Wisconsin wins the tiebreaker. So in terms of winning the West, the importance of this game will largely be decided by what happens the day before in Iowa City. But in terms of Wisconsin staying in the playoff race, it’s must-win.
Series: Minnesota leads 59-58-8, but Wisconsin has won the past 12. For the first time since 1901, when the series was tied at six wins apiece, the Badgers can climb onto historical even footing with the Gophers.
Dash pick: Wisconsin 24, Minnesota 19.
Nebraska-Iowa (14). See above. The Cornhuskers are still playing for a West title, and at 9-2 I suppose theoretically for a place in the CFP bracket. But with a 59-point loss on the ledger, that’s hard to foresee. Still: What happens in Iowa City will in some ways affect the totality of the stakes in Madison.
Series: Nebraska leads the nascent agrarian grudge match, 29-14-3. There were no meetings between 1946-79, 1982-99 and 2000-2011. But now they’re parked in the same Big Ten division, so it’s here to stay.
Dash pick: Nebraska 21, Iowa 16.
Utah-Colorado (15). Colorado can clinch the Pac-12 South and remain somewhere in the CFP discussion, depending on developments elsewhere. Mike MacIntyre could perhaps also lock up national Coach of the Year hardware in the process of finishing 10-2. The Buffaloes are undefeated at home in 2016.
Series: Colorado leads, 31-28-3. The Utes have won four straight. All five meetings since the two joined the Pac-12 have been decided by seven points or less.
Dash pick: Colorado 20, Utah 17.
Notre Dame-USC (16). A November game in this rivalry that will be played entirely in daylight (kickoff is 12:30 local time) is an indication that all did not go smoothly in 2016 for at least one of the participants. (Ahem, Notre Dame.) This is a game that should always end after dark. But there is still something on the line for the Trojans, who must win to keep slim CFP hopes alive, then root for a Colorado loss later Saturday that springs them into the Pac-12 title game – where USC undoubtedly would need another win to get to 10-3 and have a better argument for inclusion in the playoff.
Series: Notre Dame leads, 46-36-5, and has won three of the past four.
Dash pick: USC 45, Notre Dame 35.
Florida-Florida State (17). The 9-2 Gators’ arduous path to the College Football Playoff goes through Tallahassee, where they must win as 6½-point underdogs. Then they’d have to shock the world and Alabama in the SEC championship game – they’ll get that opportunity no matter what, but need this victory first to make a Crimson Tide upset something worthy of vaulting into the playoff bracket.
Series: Florida leads, 34-24-2, but the Seminoles have won five of the past six and the Gators have scored seven or fewer points in four of those six meetings.
Dash pick: Florida State 20, Florida 14.
Virginia-Virginia Tech (18). The Hokies need to win to clinch the ACC Coastal Division and a spot in the title game opposite Clemson. It’s been an adventure for the past month for Tech, which has won three road games by three points each and lost at home to Georgia Tech by 10. Virginia is the classic dangerous underdog rival in a spot where it has nothing to lose – but the Cavaliers have lost nine times in their first year under Bronco Mendenhall.
Series: Virginia Tech leads, 55-37-5 and has won 12 in a row. That applies some pressure to first-year Hokies coach Justin Fuente to keep the Beamer Streak alive.
Dash pick: Virginia Tech 28, Virginia 21.
North Carolina State-North Carolina (19). The Tar Heels play the Wolfpack on Friday and will hope to keep the pressure on Virginia Tech with a victory. If the Heels win and the Hokies lose, North Carolina will play Clemson in the ACC title game for the second straight year. But if they both win, Virginia Tech wins the tiebreaker for having endured Hurricane Matthew far better than North Carolina did when they met in Chapel Hill last month. But N.C. State has something to play for as well, needing the victory to gain bowl eligibility.
Series: North Carolina leads, 66-33-6, and has won three of the past four.
Dash pick: North Carolina State 25, North Carolina 24.
Kentucky-Louisville (20). What’s at stake here? Lamar Jackson’s stranglehold on the Heisman Trophy, that’s what. The Cardinals’ massive flop last week at Houston got a lot of media people scurrying around in search of the newest shiny object, even though Jackson was hardly Louisville’s biggest problem in a game where his offensive line completely broke down. But Jackson did not help himself, compiling a season-low 244 yards of total offense and contributing a critical red-zone fumble, and now he could use one more spectacular performance to remind voters of what he did all season. Fortunately for him, the Wildcats arrive in town packing the No. 82 defense and surrendering 550 yards per game against ranked opponents.
Series: Tied at 14, though Louisville has won the past five in a row and Bobby Petrino is 6-0 against Kentucky as coach of the Cardinals.
Dash pick: Louisville 56, Kentucky 24.
Central Florida-South Florida (21). “The War on I-4” has got some juice this year. Both teams have winning records – the Bulls are 9-2 and the Knights are 6-5 – something that last happened in 2010, and the schools didn’t even play each other then. USF also is playing to keep pressure on Temple in the American Athletic Conference East, where they are currently tied for the top at 6-1. (The Owls own the head-to-head tiebreaker.)
Series: USF leads the Sunshine State’s junior rivalry, 5-2.
Dash pick: South Florida 35, Central Florida 24.
The third tier, where pride and spite and low-level bowl eligibility are the foremost motivators:
Mississippi State-Mississippi (22). The Egg Bowl is undoubtedly America’s most vicious rivalry never to amount to much of anything. Yes, Ole Miss reached 10 victories last year, and State reached 10 in 2014 – but the Rebels have never advanced to the SEC championship game, and the Bulldogs haven’t gotten there since 1998. This year, the loser will finish last in the SEC West. But at least Ole Miss can go bowling with a win.
Series: Mississippi leads, 63-43-6, and has won three of the past four, all by double digits.
Dash pick: Mississippi 49, Mississippi State 42.
Purdue-Indiana (23). If you ever heard the Bob Knight audio tape about being sick and bleeping tired of losing to bleeping Purdue, you know how heated this rivalry can be – in basketball. Football, eh. But the Hoosiers need to win to reach bowl eligibility for the second straight year, something they haven’t done since 1990 and ’91.
Series: Purdue leads, 72-42-6, but Indiana has won three in a row. Kevin Wilson is trying to become the first Hoosiers coach to beat the Boilermakers four straight years since Bo McMillin from 1944-47.
Dash pick: Indiana 47, Purdue 28.
Illinois-Northwestern (24). The 5-6 Wildcats are trying to end an up-and-down season on a winning note that sends them to a bowl game. Northwestern started 1-3, then won three straight, then went through another 1-3 stretch. Illinois (3-8) has been consistently bad, scoring a total of three points in its past two games.
Series: Illinois leads, 55-49-5, but Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald has won six out of 10.
Dash pick: Northwestern 23, Illinois 13.
Oregon-Oregon State (25). The Civil War has seen better days. The Ducks are 4-7, the Beavers are 3-8, and the state of Washington has stolen all the Pacific Northwest thunder. This is the first time since 1993 both teams have losing records. Oregon would seem to have more to play for in what has all the makings of Mark Helfrich’s final game as head coach.
Series: Oregon leads, 63-46-10, and has won eight in a row.
Dash pick: Oregon 46, Oregon State 31.
Arizona State-Arizona (26). Speaking of Pac-12 rivalries that have hit the skids: The Sun Devils are 5-6 and on a five-game losing streak; the Wildcats are 2-9 and on an eight-game losing streak. At least ASU is competing to play another day in a bowl game. Arizona has lost its past five games by an average of 34 points.
Series: Arizona leads, 48-40-1, but ASU has won three of the past four.
Dash pick: Arizona State 51, Arizona 28.
Kansas-Kansas State (27). The 6-4 Wildcats are bowl-eligible but still have another game remaining after this. The 2-9 Jayhawks are flush with the afterglow of shocking victory, having chased Charlie Strong to the brink of a firing Saturday night in Lawrence. Both teams enter this game off a win, something that last happened in 2007.
Series: Kansas leads, 64-44-5, which hints at how god-awful Kansas State’s football program was pre-Bill Snyder.
Dash pick: Kansas State 27, Kansas 13.
Georgia Tech-Georgia (28). Both teams have muddled their way to seven wins, and The Dash supposes that an eighth victory might allow the winner to actually feel good about itself going into next season. But there haven’t been a lot of signature moments on either side.
Series: Georgia leads, 65-40-5, and has won 13 of the past 15.
Dash pick: Georgia 24, Georgia Tech 20.
Nevada-UNLV (29). This is the rare rivalry game that is played for the possession of artillery: The Fremont Cannon goes to the victor. Both teams are 4-7, which represents moderate progress for UNLV and a disappointing backslide for Nevada.
Series: Nevada leads, 24-17, but has lost two of the past three meetings – one more reason why coach Brian Polian should be feeling some anxiety.
Dash pick: UNLV 37, Nevada 35.
NON-RIVALRY GAMES THAT WILL DECIDE STUFF
Not every important game this week is steeped in regional lore and bad blood. Some are juicy for other reasons. The Dash has the list:
Michigan State-Penn State (30). The Nittany Lions will kick off this game at 3:30 ET, which is about the time Michigan-Ohio State ends, and that will have a direct impact on the import of this one. If Ohio State wins, Penn State will be playing for the Big Ten East title and a spot in the league championship game. If Michigan wins, all that evaporates – probably taking any shot at the College Football Playoff with it.
Dash pick: Penn State 27, Michigan State 21.
Toledo-Western Michigan (31). The Broncos are 11-0 and still haven’t even clinched their division yet, because the 9-2 Rockets have remained in dogged pursuit. Winner takes the MAC West and advances to the league title game, and with a victory WMU would remain very much in the hunt for a New Year’s Six bowl bid – likely the Cotton Bowl. This also is a matchup of the No. 2 quarterback in the nation in efficiency (Toledo’s Logan Woodside) against the No. 3 QB (Western Michigan’s Zach Terrell).
Dash pick: Western Michigan 41, Toledo 35.
East Carolina-Temple (32). The Owls are on the verge of a second straight American Athletic Conference East title, needing only to take out the 3-8 Pirates. Shouldn’t Matt Rhule, who has gone 19-6 the past two seasons, be getting more buzz for a Power Five coaching job?
Dash pick: Temple 47, East Carolina 14.
LSU-Texas A&M (33). At stake: Kevin Sumlin’s peace of mind at A&M, and whatever miniscule chance Ed Orgeron has left to become the full-time coach at LSU. With a loss, Sumlin could be reliant on his prohibitive buyout keeping him employed – this would be a fourth straight season of seven or eight regular-season wins, and a third straight season that ended with a late slide. Even with a win, Orgeron would have to convince LSU leadership that a guy who couldn’t beat the SEC East or West champions at home deserves another shot, at a school that expects to win its share of those championships.
Dash pick: Texas A&M 22, LSU 21.
Wyoming-New Mexico and Boise State-Air Force (34). These games will decide the Mountain West Conference Mountain Division, and the right to play San Diego State for the league title next week. If the Broncos beat the Falcons on Friday afternoon, it would force Wyoming to win in Albuquerque on Saturday night to take the division title. If Boise wins and Wyoming loses, the Broncos win the division. If both Boise and Wyoming lose, Wyoming wins the divisional tiebreaker.
Dash picks: Take the home underdogs, Air Force and New Mexico, resulting in the Cowboys backing into the division title.
Ohio-Akron and Ball State-Miami Ohio (35). These games will decide the MAC East title, and the right to lose convincingly to the West champion in the league title game. Miami has become one of the better in-season stories in the nation, rocketing from 0-6 to 5-6 since quarterback Gus Ragland returned in mid-October from a spring ACL tear – Ragland is undefeated and has yet to throw an interception. But the RedHawks still need Ohio to lose to win the division.
Dash picks: Both Ohio and Miami win, sending the Bobcats to the title game at 8-4.
Western Kentucky-Marshall and FIU-Old Dominion (36). These games will decide the Conference USA West, with the Hilltoppers and Monarchs currently tied atop it at 8-3 overall and 6-1 in the league. (The juicy sidebar is that the two teams engaged in a wild melee near the end of Western Kentucky’s 59-24 win on Oct. 22.) WKU’s Jeff Brohm could be ticketed for an upgrade to a bigger job, and ODU’s Bobby Wilder has done laudatory work since the program moved to the FBS level in 2013.
Dash picks: Both WKU and ODU win, sending Western Kentucky to the C-USA title game for the second straight season.
COACH WHO EARNED HIS COMP CAR THIS WEEK
David Beaty (37), Kansas. He had suffered enough. Beaty lost his first 12 games as a head coach, and his first 16 Big 12 games. Finally, after showing signs of a breakthrough earlier in the year against Texas Tech, TCU and Iowa State, the Jayhawks did it Saturday – with an assist from toweringly inept Texas and its six turnovers. Bring on ‘Bama.
COACH(ES) WHO SHOULD TAKE THE BUS TO WORK
Sometimes, more than one coach performs poorly enough that The Dash has to buy bus fare for two of them. This is one of those times.
Brian Kelly (38), Notre Dame. There’s been no end to the ways Kelly’s team has blown games this season. They’ve lost seven of them, all by eight points or less, with offensive meltdowns and defensive breakdowns, terrible starts and lousy finishes, bad decisions and bad execution. The latest was a Senior Day fiasco against Virginia Tech, when Notre Dame blew a 24-7 lead and lost 34-31. The Irish were outscored 13-0 in the fourth quarter, slinking out of Notre Dame Stadium with full knowledge that the next time they play there, in the 2017 season, Kelly will be coaching for his job.
Kliff Kingsbury (39), Texas Tech. As bad as Kelly has been, what Kingbury’s team did Saturday was worse. It was unfathomably bad. Somehow, the Red Raiders gave up 66 points to 3-8 Iowa State – the Cyclones’ most points in 36 years. Tech surrendered 45 of those points in the first half, to a team that hadn’t scored 45 points in an entire game since mid-2014. Texas Tech now is 4-7, securing Kingsbury’s second losing season in four years on the job, and his overall record now is 23-26, just 12-23 in Big 12 play. If he sees a fifth season in Lubbock, it will be thanks to a reported $9.4 million buyout.
When thirsty in Indianapolis – as many football fans assuredly will be on Dec. 3 – The Dash recommends grabbing a draft mug of Dragonfly IPA (40), made by Bloomington-based Upland Brewing Co. They’ll sell you one at High Velocity Sports Bar in the JW Marriott downtown, an excellent locale to watch games while waiting for the Big Ten championship game to commence. Thank The Dash later.