Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (white flags sold separately in Boulder):
Just three weeks into the season, The Dash has seen enough from America's field-goal kickers.
Enough snap hooks. Enough pushed fades. Enough low-trajectory blocks. Enough kicks that doink off uprights, or don't even reach them.
College football officially has a kicker crisis. There apparently are not enough scrawny kids with strong legs on campuses from sea to shining sea. Or at least not enough of them willing to join their football team.
The numbers don't lie. According to NCAA statistics, FBS kickers have made 67.8 percent of their field-goal attempts this season. That's on pace to be the lowest accuracy percentage since 2004, and the first time accuracy has slipped below 70 percent since 2006. It is 6 percent lower than the accuracy record set in 2010 and 2.6 percent lower than last year's number.
If that 2.6 percent decline holds up, it would be the biggest year-to-year drop in kicking accuracy since a 10.4 percent plummet in 1991, when the goal posts were narrowed nearly five feet. There was an excuse that year; what's the excuse now?
The Dash has seen Penn State lose a game because of four misses against Virginia. The Dash has seen Utah State lose a monumental upset bid at Wisconsin on a 37-yard miss in the final seconds. The Dash has seen BYU field-goal follies lead to end-game mayhem against Utah. (More on that later.)
There have been others. Plucky Louisiana-Monroe might be 2-0 against the SEC if it weren't 0-2 attempting field goals in an overtime loss to Auburn. California's go-ahead field goal attempt late in the fourth quarter at Ohio State was so wide left, it nearly landed in Dayton. Stanford would have beaten USC by double digits Saturday if it hadn't missed three field goals – but on the flip side, the Trojans passed on several makeable field goals because their starter is injured and apparently there is no capable backup.
Kicking has progressed light-years since the square-toe, straight-on days. As recently as 1977, more field goals were missed than made nationwide. But after decades of progress, this is a puzzling backslide.
Soccer has been the pipeline for a lot of kickers, and there are more kids playing soccer than ever. But maybe they're less interested than ever in crossing over or moonlighting in a pressure-packed, often thankless football position. Because frankly, nobody much cares who a team's kicker is until he blows a kick that loses a game.
Then everyone wants to know his name, his phone number and his Twitter handle. And, for the record, fans who text or tweet threats at kickers (or any other college athletes) after bad performances aren't passionate. They're losers.
The four teams struggling the most with place kicks (minimum of three attempts):
San Diego State (1). The Aztecs are 0 for 3 on the year, all from 40 yards or less.
Penn State (2). The Nittany Lions are 1-of-5 and have missed two extra points as well. They were dealt a major blow when star kicker Anthony Fera transferred just before the start of the season when the NCAA's crippling sanctions were handed down.
UTEP (3) is 1-of-5, too. The Miners have tried two different kickers with similarly disappointing results – they've missed two extra points as well.
Mississippi (4) also is 1-of-5. The Rebels have attempted low-percentage kicks of 56 and 58 yards, but also have misfired from 29 and 36.
And the four teams that are doing the best job splitting the uprights:
Northwestern (5). The Wildcats' Jeff Budzien is 8-of-8 on field goals and 9-of-9 on extra points, significant factors for a team that has won three games by a total of 20 points.
Boston College (6). The Eagles are perfect in seven field-goal attempts. But the fact that all are from 39 yards or shorter indicates that BC has had trouble converting red-zone possessions into touchdowns.
Texas-San Antonio (7). The BCS provisional-member Roadrunners have gotten perfection from kicker Sean Ianno, who is 7-for-7 on field goals and 11-for-11 on extra points. His long field goal this season is 51 yards.
Auburn (8). Where would the disappointing Tigers be without kicker Cody Parkey? The simple answer is 0-3. He's made all six of his field-goal attempts, including the overtime winner against Louisiana-Monroe.
Speaking of the kicking game: It took two missed field goals and three field stormings for Utah (9) to beat BYU (10) on Saturday night in the annual Holy War game. Combine sketchy officiating with some bizarre circumstances with an overly eager Utes student section and the result was chaos.
The game was thought to be over the first time when a pass by BYU's Riley Nelson fell incomplete and the Utah students swarmed. Then a second was put back on the clock.
It was thought to be over a second time when BYU's subsequent field-goal attempt to tie was blocked and the Utah students swarmed. Then the Utes were flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct because of the field storming.
It finally was over a third time when Riley Stephenson's kick doinked off the upright and Utah won, 24-21. The students swarmed a third and final time. This one for real.
That was bad, but not nearly the worst of the field storming in college football history. The unholy trinity of poorly timed trespasses onto the gridiron:
Kentucky-LSU (11) in 2002. Kentucky fans were already on the goal posts and the field, and Wildcats coach Guy Morriss had already been doused with Gatorade when Tigers quarterback Marcus Randall uncorked a desperation pass deep downfield. The pass caromed off a couple of UK defensive backs and into the hands of LSU receiver Devery Henderson – in stride – on his way to the end zone for a 74-yard lightning bolt. The Tigers won, 33-30, which resulted in some of their own fans getting onto the field. Summing up the absurdity of the play, a man in a purple-and-yellow cow suit taunted dazed and forlorn Kentucky fans in the end zone. Why not.
Arizona-Oregon (12) in 2009. Another case of premature celebration from a fan base much more familiar with losing big games than winning them. With its first Rose Bowl bid on the line, Arizona led Oregon 31-24 with 30 seconds remaining when the students went over the railing and surrounded the field, waiting to engulf the Wildcats. But then the Ducks scored to force overtime, sending the ZonaZoo scurrying back into the stands to eventually watch Oregon win and ruin the party. The Arizona program has not been the same since letting that game get away.
Cal-Stanford (13) in 1982. Blame it on the band, not the fans. You know this one: As the Bears were executing the five-lateral miracle kickoff return on the final play, the Cardinal marching band skittered all over the field. The play ended with Kevin Moen scoring the winning touchdown and then flattening Stanford trombonist Gary Tyrrell in the end zone. The play remains the all-time fluke in big-time college football history.
Given the history of field-storming misfires, The Dash feels compelled to dish out some rules for doing it right:
• Wait until the game is actually over. This would seem elementary, but the above examples make clear that it's a harder concept to master than you'd expect.
• Do not taunt the losers. Anyone who comes onto the field and talks noise at a visiting player – who is probably much larger, faster, stronger, more sober and infinitely more angry – is an idiot. Stoic BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall was approached by one such idiot Saturday night, and Mendenhall nearly went out of character and went after the kid. A flying form tackle would be understandable in that circumstance.
• If your team is unranked, has a losing record or is otherwise unimpressive, do not shove an index finger in front of a camera and scream, "No. 1, baby!" Don't lie to yourself, or to America.
• If you're really trashed, make sure your mom is not watching at home. The camera may find you.
• If cops are surrounding the goal posts, don't go there. They will beat you down if you give them half a reason, and it would be a sizeable buzz kill if you end up in the infirmary instead of a party at a fraternity.
• Make sure the situation merits the effort. The Dash has covered this in years past with basketball court stormings, but it bears repeating. Some guidelines:
If your program doesn't reek of tradition and arrogance and you beat a top-five team, storm the field. (See: Oklahoma State vs. Iowa State last year.) If your program doesn't reek of tradition and arrogance and you beat your rival in dramatic fashion, storm the field. (See: Utah vs. BYU last week.) If your program doesn't reek of tradition and arrogance and you win a conference game against a superior opponent on a last-minute play, storm the field. (See: Oklahoma vs. Baylor last year.) If Dashette Nina Dobrev (14) is on the field and beckoning for you to join her, storm the field.
Otherwise, stay off the field.
Programs that reek of too much tradition and arrogance to storm the field under any circumstance: Alabama, Notre Dame, Michigan, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Texas, USC, Nebraska, Penn State. Everyone else can pick their spots.
THEY'RE BACK … OR NOT
Some traditional heavyweights coming off lean times are 3-0. But what does it mean, exactly? The Dash weighs the evidence.
Notre Dame (15). Best win: at Michigan State, 20-3. The Fighting Irish are better defensively than they've been in ages. The offense is a work in progress but at least is not as self-destructive as last year's unit. This has a chance to be ND's best team since the early 1990s – better than Charlie Weis' first two years with Brady Quinn, or Ty Willingham's lightning-in-a-bottle debut season, or Bob Davie's 9-3 team in 2000. But the schedule will not make it easy. Six quality opponents remain: Michigan, Miami, Stanford, BYU, Oklahoma and USC. Splitting those could land Notre Dame in its first BCS bowl in six years.
Texas (16). Best win: at Mississippi, 66-31. After two years of floundering, the Longhorns look like the SEC team Mack Brown was longing to have. They are running the ball with authority, they're athletic and physical defensively, and they're getting steadily improving quarterback play from David Ash. They also haven't seen much in the way of competition. That will change starting Sept. 29, when Texas plays four straight against opponents that are a combined 8-1 at present. Last year the Horns were exposed in a blowout loss to Oklahoma, but this team looks much more balanced offensively. Texas could be back in the business of double-digit wins this fall.
Florida (17). Best win: at Tennessee, 37-20. The Gators have become cold-blooded closers. They scored the final 13 points of their opener against Bowling Green, the final 13 at Texas A&M and the final 24 at Tennessee. Two SEC road wins means Florida is underrated at No. 14 in both major polls, but it will have to figure out how to get out of the gate faster in the coming weeks. (Not this week against Kentucky; Florida could snooze through three quarters and still win easily for the 26th consecutive time against the Wildcats.) The Gators' four biggest remaining games are all in-state, and only one is a true road game: LSU on Oct. 6, South Carolina on Oct. 20, Georgia in Jacksonville on Oct. 27 and at Florida State on Nov. 24. Still, 2-2 looks like the best Florida can do in those games, with 1-3 or 0-4 more likely.
Florida State (18). Best win: home against Wake Forest, 52-0. Against two cadavers and a questionable Wake team, the Seminoles have allowed a total of three points. Their defense leads the nation in five major statistical categories, but the first real challenge comes Saturday from Clemson. If FSU keeps quarterback E.J. Manuel healthy all season and Jimbo Fisher coaches up to the hype that surrounded him since his hiring three years ago, it may have a say in who plays for the national championship. But the thought of the ACC champ taking on the SEC champ is not a pleasant one for fans of competitive title games.
Georgia (19). Best win: at Missouri, 41-20. According to Jeff Sagarin's computer, the Bulldogs have played the weakest schedule in the SEC so far, and just the 138th strongest in the nation. But they have the best quarterback in the league and a number of playmakers on both sides of the ball. Plus, they get an in-conference scheduling break by not facing Alabama or LSU, while Florida and South Carolina both must take on the Tigers. The Dash expects Georgia to be back in the SEC title game again this December.
UNDEFEATED BUT UNDEFINED
Ten teams that are 3-0, but it remains unclear how good they are. The Dash applies some definition:
UCLA (20). The offensively revived Bruins have the best victory of anyone on this list, over Nebraska in the Rose Bowl. And the schedule sets up well for more success: They could be favored in their next seven games before closing with USC and Stanford both at home. But allowing nearly 200 rushing yards per game indicates that there are still weaknesses here. Bottom line: Pac-12 contender.
Arizona (21). The work Rich Rodriguez has done rehabbing the offense and getting star-power play out of fifth-year senior quarterback Matt Scott is clear. What's underappreciated is the work defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel is doing with a unit that didn't stop anybody last season. That overachieving defense will be exposed in Eugene on Saturday as it returns to reality over the next six weeks. Bottom line: improved, but a Pac-12 pretender.
Louisville (22). The Cardinals have outscored three opponents 34-0 in the first quarter while racing out to three big leads, but their inexperience has shown finishing games. They nearly blew a 29-point lead against North Carolina on Saturday. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is a rising star and Louisville has developed a productive running game, which is a bit of a surprise. The problem is a defense that hasn't covered many receivers or sacked many quarterbacks. Still, Louisville may be favored in every game the rest of the way. Bottom line: Big East contender.
Rutgers (23). The Scarlet Knights haven't been much to look at offensively, but their defense and kickoff returns have keyed three workmanlike victories. The win at South Florida last week could have long-lasting implications in the Big East race, and they catch reeling Arkansas at the right time Saturday. If sophomore QB Gary Nova continues growing into the job, Rutgers-Louisville on Nov. 29 could decide the league title. (Though Cincinnati will have something to say about that.) Bottom line: Big East contender.
Iowa State (24). The Dash remains a fan of Cyclones coach Paul Rhoads, who finds ways to win big games. Latest evidence, the 9-6 victory over rival Iowa on the road Sept. 8. If Iowa State can eliminate turnovers – the Cyclones are minus-15 over their last 16 games – they'll put some other big skins on their wall this season. But the weekly competition is tough enough in the Big 12 that getting much above .500 remains elusive. Bottom line: Big 12 pretender.
Texas Tech (25). The Red Raiders have piled up a lot of fancy statistics against absolutely nobody. Their game in Ames Sept. 29 will start to deliver answers about both teams, but for right now there is not enough reason to buy into Texas Tech. Bottom line: improved, but a Big 12 pretender.
Minnesota (26). The Gophers are throwing the ball better this year, currently ranking seventh nationally in passing efficiency. And by this time the past two years they had lost to New Mexico State (2011) and South Dakota (2010). So there's progress. But they've eked out victories over winless UNLV and Western Michigan, so there's not much to get excited about. Bottom line: Big Ten pretender, in a league full of them.
Northwestern. The Wildcats have won three games against teams from big-six conferences so far. And while nobody is dazzled by Syracuse, Vanderbilt or Boston College, that's at least saying something. The Wildcats have a valuable multi-purpose back in Venric Mark, two competent quarterbacks – and a horrifying secondary. They also have a user-friendly schedule and a chance to be 7-0 when Nebraska visits Evanston Oct. 20. Bottom line: Big Ten contender.
Mississippi State (27). Quarterback Tyler Russell is having an excellent junior season, throwing eight touchdowns and no interceptions to date. That feeds into the Bulldogs living off turnovers – they lead the nation in turnover margin to date. The question is, what happens when the other team stops giving them the ball? If State can beat visiting Tennessee Oct. 13, it could easily be 7-0 when making the short commute to Tuscaloosa. Then reality arrives. Bottom line: a contender in a lot of leagues, but not in the SEC West.
Ohio (28). The tough-minded Bobcats have rallied twice to win on the road, first at Penn State and then at Marshall. Now comes a stretch of schedule so soft, it would be a shock if Frank Solich's team isn't 10-0 going into season-ending road games at Ball State and Kent State. Bottom line: class of the Mid-American Conference, but not worthy of a BCS bowl even if 13-0 at season's end.
The Big Ten (29). It was bad when Michigan bombed on the big stage against Alabama and Penn State folded against Ohio in week one. It was worse when Wisconsin, Nebraska and Illinois were beaten on the road by unranked Pac-12 teams – and Iowa lost to Iowa State, and Penn State lost to Virginia in week two. But then week three arrived, and suddenly the once-proud league was fresh out of national title contenders after Michigan State failed to score a touchdown at home against Notre Dame – oh, and Indiana lost to Ball State (again), and Ohio State was lucky to beat California, and Wisconsin was lucky to beat Utah State. The pollsters hate the Big Ten, ranking nobody higher than 16th. The computers hate the Big Ten, too, with Sagarin putting the top bowl-eligible team 23rd (Nebraska). At least they have the Rose Bowl – where the league champ will get killed by a quality Pac-12 opponent.
Arkansas (30). Since the Razorbacks last scored a touchdown (in the third quarter of the second game of the season), the following indignities have occurred: Louisiana-Monroe outscored them 27-3, Alabama outscored them 52-0, and injured starting quarterback Tyler Wilson publicly called out some of his teammates for quitting. And so a promising season has veered into a ditch, not unlike a certain Harley-Davidson last April. Neck braces all around in Fayetteville, please.
Colorado (31). Eleven years ago, the Buffaloes won 10 games, the Big 12 title and played in the Fiesta Bowl. Today, they look like a mortal lock to go 0-12 and perhaps fire coach Jon Embree after just two seasons. The nadir was thought to arrive in week two, when Colorado lost to FCS Sacramento State, but then it got worse. Saturday the Buffs were humiliated 69-14 by Fresno State – falling behind 35-0 in the first quarter and 55-7 at halftime. Embree was myopically hired because of his connections to the Bill McCartney glory days as a player, ignoring the fact that he'd never been so much as a coordinator before, much less a head coach. Obviously in over his head and working with scant talent, this has become the biggest disaster anywhere among the big-six conferences.
North Carolina (32). The Tar Heels were blessed by the ACC schedule maker, given a slate without Florida State or Clemson and catching Coastal Division rivals Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech at home. They were enthused about the arrival of new coach Larry Fedora and his up-tempo offense. They were emboldened by their 62-0 opening rout of Elon. … And then reality arrived. Carolina was upset by Wake Forest, then played a miserable first half in falling behind 36-7 to Louisville. A comeback to nearly win shows that all isn't lost – but the notion that this team could win the Coastal now looks rather far-fetched.
Houston (33). It took one game to force out offensive coordinator Matt Nesbitt, but it will take considerably longer to change the course of this season – even playing in bleak Conference USA. The winless Cougars rank 90th or lower nationally in 10 major statistical categories, across all facets of the game. The debut season of head coach Tony Levine is not going well.
TWO-PLATOON FOOTBALL IS FOR WIMPS
The Dash doesn't do a lot of FCS coverage, but you have to love Holy Cross senior Jack Maliska (34). He's believed to be the only two-way lineman in college football. Because of injuries, the star defensive tackle was called upon to also play offensive guard for the Crusaders last Saturday against Brown. Maliska played 30 snaps on defense and made one tackle, took 36 snaps on offense (including being part of two touchdown drives) and also had six plays on special teams. This Saturday against Dartmouth, Maliska is expected to start on both sides of the ball. Chuck Bednarik and The Dash salute you, Jack.
Southern Living tailgate cookbook (35)
COACH WHO EARNED HIS COMP CAR THIS WEEK
Willie Taggart (36), Western Kentucky. He's brought the Hilltoppers back to respectability, but that's not all. He led WKU's first-ever victory over in-state big brother Kentucky, but that's not all. What clinches the comp car for Taggart was his gangster call in overtime of a game Western tried to give away to the Wildcats Saturday night. Down 31-30 in OT, Taggart opted to go for two and the win – then went Boise State-sandlot with the play call. Quarterback Kawaun Jakes threw a lateral to running back Antonio Andrews, who threw a pass back to Jakes, who caught it off his shoe tops for the victory.
"WKU red is the new blue," Taggart chirped afterward.
At least until basketball season, coach.
COACH WHO SHOULD TAKE THE BUS TO WORK
Justin Fuente (37), Memphis. It's not his fault. Really, it's not. If longtime athletic director R.C. Johnson had cared even a little about football, the Memphis program would not be the worst among 120 full-time FBS schools. But after atrophy under Tommy West and two terrible years under Larry Porter, it's bottoming out on first-year head coach Fuente's watch. The Tigers are 0-3 despite playing one team from the FCS level (Tennessee-Martin) and two from the Sun Belt (Arkansas State and Middle Tennessee State). Memphis has yet to record a sack in 2012.
PUTTING OUT AN APB FOR …
… Former Ohio State quarterback Joe Germaine (38). The hero of the 1997 Rose Bowl had a productive career in Arena Ball. Anyone with information on the Buckeyes' third-leading career passer, please apprise The Dash.
Meanwhile, The Dash is pleased to report that last week's APB subject, former Florida State defensive lineman Ron Simmons, is alive and well and still working behind the scenes in pro wrestling, after a colorful career in the ring. Simmons and his trademark "DAMN!" still occasionally get on-screen, according to The Dash's spies.
When hungry and thirsty in Palo Alto, The Dash recommends a visit to Stanford landmark the Dutch Goose (39). Have the trademark spicy deviled egg and a Brew Free! Or Die IPA from San Francisco's 21st Amendment Brewery (40). It was a surprisingly mellow vibe at the Goose after the Cardinal's upset of USC Saturday night, but that was probably attributable to the fact that school hadn't started yet on The Farm.
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