Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (bedroom furniture sold separately – and at a discount, if you’re an All-American – in Tuscaloosa):
LIFE LESSONS FOR LAST WEEK’S LOSERS
There was a staggering amount of tomfoolery and ineptitude throughout the game last weekend. So much that The Dash could hardly keep track of it all. So much that The Dash feels obligated to help the unfortunate souls who got attention for all the wrong reasons.
Thus, the Advice Column.
In order to prevent a damaging shame cycle for those involved, The Dash is dispensing wisdom in the form of bromides, maxims and clichés tailored to each individual disaster. Like Lucy Van Pelt, The Dash will charge five cents per client. And in a display of extra effort on top of bottomless compassion, there is even some backup advice in each case.
Pac-12 officials (1). Advice: Seek professional help.
What happened: the officiating crew butchered the end of the Wisconsin-Arizona State game late Saturday night, treating a fairly urgent situation as if it were cocktail hour at Club Med. When Badgers quarterback Joel Stave quasi-downed the ball in curious fashion to set up a spike and potential winning field goal, the refs stood idly by and let the clock drain as the Sun Devils laid on the ball. Arizona State reacted as if this were a live ball and a fumble it recovered, but the refs never signaled change of possession. Yet as Wisconsin lined up in somewhat leisurely fashion, the refs prevented them from snapping the ball until it was too late. Game over. Arizona State wins. League rep loses. The conference announced Monday that the crew was reprimanded, but that doesn’t fix the bigger issue. Officiating snafus have been a recurring problem in the Pac-12, and it’s time for the conference to use all that new television money to hire and/or train better refs. The football is too good in the league right now to be undercut by sketchy officiating.
Backup advice: Grab some bench. That officiating crew should be suspended, and perhaps has been. The league release vaguely referred to “additional sanctions” without explanation.
Wisconsin (2). Advice: Don’t do anything halfway.
What happened: See above. But as much as the refs screwed up the situation, the Badgers added to their own demise in a number of ways. Stave’s warp-speed genuflection left plenty of doubt whether he actually took a knee on the play in question – get on the ground. Also, his leaving the ball on the ground was a mistake – hand it to the official after taking a knee so he can spot it quickly. Third, there was not a lot of urgency from the Badgers as time dwindled – Stave and the center needed to be demanding to snap the ball. Coach Gary Andersen said Monday that his team executed exactly as coached in that situation, but bigger picture, you can question why Wisconsin was getting so cute in that situation to begin with. You’ve got a 30-yard field goal from the hash with 18 seconds left; send your kicker out right there, then trust your special teams and defense not to give away the game in a fluke ending in the last dozen seconds.
Backup advice: Get over it. Wisconsin was not going to win the national title anyway, and this loss does not prevent them from winning the Big Ten title. Play on.
Jen Bielema (3). Advice: Keep it classy.
What happened: Shortly after the debacle in the desert, the wife of the coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks and former coach of the Badgers tweeted: “#karma”. As if Wisconsin somehow deserved this in relation to husband Bret leaving the school last winter. That would be an incredibly catty tweet even if the school had done the Bielemas wrong. But the fact is, Wisconsin gave him his first head-coaching job and plenty of support until he decided to leave for the bigger money and brighter lights of the SEC. Sure, some fans were less than kind after being jilted by their successful coach – but that’s to be expected and endured without being taken personally. A few Wisconsin fans may have their own “karma” tweets ready to go when Bielema loses his first game at Arkansas.
Backup advice: Nothing good happens on Twitter after midnight. So stay off it.
Michigan (4). Advice: All glory is fleeting.
What happened: The Wolverines were so pleased with themselves after beating Notre Dame on Sept. 7 that they opted not to show up the following Saturday to play Akron. It took a last-second goal-line stand and a questionable pass interference call before that for Michigan to stave off what would easily have been the worst loss in school history. (Yes, far worse than Appalachian State, which was an FCS power in 2007. Akron is 4-35 since 2010 and has not beaten a single FBS opponent since ’10.) Instead, the Wolverines earned the worst victory in school history. There is nothing to feel good about with this win, other than the fact that a loss would have felt much, much worse. Backup advice: Remember who you are. Michigan hasn’t won a Big Ten title since 2004 and shouldn’t overlook any opponent. Even Akron.
DeAndre Washington (5). Advice: Finish what you started.
What happened: The Texas Tech running back became the latest player to prematurely leave a touchdown on the wrong side of the goal line. Washington’s check-my-swag move of dropping the football a step before entering the end zone against TCU last Thursday cost him six points and earned him a prominent spot on the Dumb Plays of 2013 list. What made it worse was the fact that Denver Broncos linebacker Danny Trevathan had done it just a week earlier in the first NFL game of the season, and one would assume that every football player in America took note of it. Repeating the gaffe in search of style points is a forehead smacker.
Backup advice: Don’t be known for the wrong reasons. Washington was unknown to 99 percent of America before that play. Better to remain anonymous than infamous.
Iowa State (6). Advice: Be a good host.
What happened: After Iowa’s 27-21 victory over the Cyclones in the garden spot of Ames, nine Hawkeyes players and coaches reported having money and phones stolen from the visitors locker room. It’s one thing to be bad at football, as this Iowa State team certainly appears to be; it’s another to have thieves in your stadium.
Backup advice: Hire good help. According to the Iowa Gazette, private security firm Contemporary Services Corporation handled security at the stadium Saturday night. Iowa State should seek an upgrade from the Barney Fifes who were assigned to watch the locker room.
Nebraska (7). Advice: Putting lipstick on a pig does not disguise the fact that it’s still a pig.
What happened: In concert with Adidas, the Cornhuskers were outfitted in black jerseys for their game Saturday against UCLA. Then they blasphemed program heritage with yet another pathetic defensive performance in a 41-21 loss to the Bruins. Nebraska’s great defenses of old were called the Blackshirts, because that’s the color of jerseys they wore in practice. Inviting comparison of those glory days with a unit that has been gutted repeatedly late last year and early this year was, shall we say, unwise. Now fans – including revered former quarterback Tommie Frazier – are killing Bo Pelini and his staff for utterly failing on that side of the ball. (Making it worse: Pelini is a defensive coach. That’s his area of, ahem, expertise.) The coach was asked about Frazier’s Twitter broadside and his response won’t win him any points at a school that is almost obsessed with its past: “Since I came back here, I’ve embraced the former players, and if he feels like that, so be it. We don’t need him.” That’s a step down the road toward Bill Callahanville, a place no Nebraska coach should ever visit. It actually got worse for Pelini later Monday, when someone leaked two-year-old audio of a private conversation after a game – the coach F-bombs Nebraska fans and the media, and suggests that he was getting ready to leave the school. Pelini may get his wish, but now he’ll be sent out of Lincoln on a rail. The audio release was a cheap shot at an opportune time from some element of a fan base that purports itself to be the most supportive and classy in the country.
Backup advice: Watch your language and watch your back. Someone may be taping you, and waiting for the perfect moment to bury you.
Mack Brown (8). Advice: There are no quick fixes.
What happened: After getting trampled by BYU, the Texas head coach fired defensive coordinator Manny Diaz and replaced him with a worse defensive coordinator, Greg Robinson. Result: the Longhorns were trampled by Mississippi on Saturday. They did surrender 230 fewer yards to the Rebels than the Cougars, but still were not close to playing high-level defense. There is no indication that scapegoating Diaz is going to turn around a season that appears to be speeding toward a bad ending between an accomplished coach and an accomplished program.
Backup advice: Beat Oklahoma. The Dash acknowledges that is easier said than done.
South Florida (9). Advice: Once you’ve hit rock bottom, the only way to go is up.
What happened: Twenty-seven games ago, the Bulls went into historic Notre Dame Stadium and shocked the Fighting Irish. Saturday, they lost to a Florida Atlantic program that had never in its history beaten a big-six conference opponent on the road. That makes USF 0-3 under heralded first-year coach Willie Taggart, and it makes the program 4-19 since the first month of the 2011 season. They’re shockingly bad, shockingly fast.
Backup advice: If you screw up, try extra hard to make up for it. Because there is a lot of screwing up going on in Tampa: the Bulls have given up five touchdowns this season on interception or fumble returns.
Oklahoma State (10). Advice: When you’re wrong, admit it and do something about it.
What happened: Sports Illustrated has published a five-part series detailing a broad spectrum of misdeeds within the Cowboys program, ranging from players being paid to grades being fixed to drug tests being finagled to recruiting hostesses serving the program in a rather salacious capacity. While it’s natural to react defensively to such serious criticism, the school’s response has been more focused on killing the messenger than addressing the message. The most egregious and cowardly manifestation of that was posting a thoroughly unprofessional Twitter attack by ESPN’s Jason Whitlock on an official university webpage response to the SI story – suggesting that the SI series is all the result of a reporter’s alleged allegiance to rival Oklahoma. While the SI series is far from perfect – too anecdotal and lacking in documentation – the university should devote most of its energy to its originally stated intention of seriously investigating what is being alleged.
Backup advice: Do your own dirty work. If Oklahoma State wants to call out a reporter, have the stones to say it yourself instead of farming the work out behind the scenes to other media.
CONFERENCE CALL: WEST IS SECOND-BEST; MIDWEST FLUNKS TEST
Three weeks into the season, The Dash’s conference rankings:
1. Southeastern (11). No surprise here. While the other conferences have two or maybe three heavyweights, the SEC brings five to the conversation. They’ll beat each other up in the coming weeks, but the league seems primed to put at least one team in the BCS Championship Game – and win the thing – for the eighth straight year.
Skins on the wall: Virginia Tech, TCU, North Carolina, Texas.
Elite teams: Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Texas A&M, South Carolina.
Second tier: Mississippi, Auburn, Florida.
Best of the rest: Arkansas, Missouri, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State.
Bottom of the barrel: Tennessee, Kentucky.
2. Pac-12 (12). The North Division rivals the SEC West for best division in America, and may well produce the prime challenger to the SEC’s reign. And if USC gets its dysfunctional act together, the South will be a grind as well.
Skins on the wall: Boise State, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Illinois.
Elite teams: Oregon, Stanford, maybe Washington and UCLA.
Second tier: Arizona State, Arizona.
Best of the rest: Washington State, USC, Oregon State, Utah.
Bottom of the barrel: Colorado, California.
3. Atlantic Coast (13). A bit top-heavy and still burdened with a sprawling middle class, but the best teams in the league look better than they have in quite some time. Now can they avoid pratfalls that take them out of the national title hunt?
Skins on the wall: Georgia, Florida, BYU.
Elite teams: Clemson, Florida State, maybe Miami.
Second tier: Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, North Carolina.
Best of the rest: Maryland, North Carolina State, Virginia, Duke, Pittsburgh.
Bottom of the barrel: Boston College, Syracuse, Wake Forest.
4. Big 12 (14). There isn’t much power in this power conference, especially with Texas off to a bust-of-the-year start. But maybe a national title contender will develop in the coming weeks.
Skins on the wall: Mississippi State.
Elite teams: Maybe Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Baylor – but maybe not.
Second tier: Texas Tech, West Virginia, TCU.
Best of the rest: Kansas State, Texas.
Bottom of the barrel: Iowa State, Kansas.
5. Big Ten (15). Once again, it looks like Buckeyes or Bust in terms of national title contention – and Ohio State certainly has not been a dominant force even against soft competition. Losing three of four meeting with the Pac-12 over the weekend certainly didn’t help perception.
Skins on the wall: Notre Dame, Cincinnati.
Elite teams: Ohio State.
Second tier: Northwestern, Michigan, Wisconsin.
Best of the rest: Michigan State, Nebraska, Illinois, Penn State, Minnesota, Iowa, Indiana.
Bottom of the barrel: Purdue.
6. American Athletic (16). Commissioner Mike Aresco should be shining Central Florida coach George O’Leary’s shoes for giving the league something to be excited about beyond short-timer Louisville. The lower level of this conference is just dreadful.
Skins on the wall: Penn State.
Elite teams: Louisville.
Second tier: UCF, Cincinnati, Rutgers.
Best of the rest: Houston, SMU.
Bottom of the barrel: Connecticut, Memphis, Temple, South Florida.
7. Mountain West (17). Newly expanded league is blowing its chance to leapfrog ahead of the AAC, thanks to a brutal start.
Skins on the wall: Rutgers.
Elite teams: None.
Second tier: Fresno State, Boise State.
Best of the rest: Utah State, Wyoming, San Jose State, Nevada.
Bottom of the barrel: Air Force, San Diego State, Hawaii, Colorado State, New Mexico, UNLV.
8. Mid-American (18). As usual, the MAC has recorded a couple of upsets and a couple of near-misses among the usual losses to teams from power conferences. There are a couple dangerous teams here and a lot of weak ones.
Skins on the wall: Iowa.
Elite teams: None.
Second tier: Northern Illinois.
Best of the rest: Ohio, Bowling Green, Toledo, Ball State, Kent State, Akron.
Bottom of the barrel: Buffalo, Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Western Michigan, Miami (Ohio), Massachusetts.
9. Conference USA (19). Was raided in realignment and it shows. Nobody has shown signs of being the league’s new lead dog.
Skins on the wall: None.
Elite teams: None.
Second tier: None.
Best of the rest: East Carolina, Rice, Middle Tennessee, North Texas, Marshall, Tulsa.
Bottom of the barrel: Tulane, Florida Atlantic, Louisiana Tech, UTEP, UTSA, UAB, Florida International, Southern Mississippi.
10. Sun Belt (20). League has had some decent wins, but all of them against the dregs of higher conferences. Still not much meat on the Sun Belt bone.
Skins on the wall: None.
Elite teams: None.
Second tier: None.
Best of the rest: Louisiana-Monroe, South Alabama, Arkansas State, Western Kentucky.
Bottom of the barrel: Texas State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Troy, Georgia State.
SEC SCORING SPLURGE, CONT.
The Dash has mined more data to support the Saturday column contention that America’s best league is transforming itself from all about defense to free-wheeling offense. Looking at scoring totals for league games from the first three weeks over the last eight years – the run of title-winning dominance, plus the 2013 season – this is by far the SEC’s highest-scoring start in that time.
One interesting statistical note in the league: early-season scoring in even-numbered years has tended to be significantly lower than odd-numbered years. But both cycles are trending up consistently. From 2006-12, even-year total points rose from 28.3 to 36.1 to 37.8 to 45.8 – an increase of 62 percent. From 2007-13, odd-year total points rose from 49.1 to 55 to 56 to 68 – and increase of 59 percent. And from 2006 to ’13, the percentage jump is a whopping 140 percent.
Understand, this is a conference that has had a team lead the nation in scoring defense 21 times in its history, and just twice in scoring offense – Georgia in 1946 and Florida in 1996. So there is some serious re-wiring going on here. A year-by-year look:
2006 (21): Eight games. Average total: 28.3 points. Winning score: 20. Losing score: 8.3. Three losing teams (Mississippi State twice and South Carolina) were shut out, and a fourth (LSU) was held to a field goal. Only two winning teams scored more than 21 points. National titlist: Florida. League rank in scoring defense: first (13.5 ppg). League rank in scoring offense: second (29.7 ppg).
2007 (22): Seven games. Average total: 49.1 points. Winning score: 33.3. Losing score: 15.8. There was one shootout (Alabama 41, Arkansas 38), two routs (LSU over Mississippi State and Florida over Tennessee), and a couple of slugfests. National titlist: LSU. League rank in scoring defense: second (19.9 ppg). League rank in scoring offense: second (38.6 ppg).
2008 (23)*: Seven games. Average total: 36.1. Winning score: 24.1. Losing score: 12. This was the year of the infamous game: Auburn 3, Mississippi State 2. Highest losing score was 21 points by Auburn against LSU. National titlist: Florida. League rank in scoring defense: first (12.9 ppg). League rank in scoring offense: first (43.6 ppg).
2009 (24): Six games. Average total: 55. Winning score: 33.8. Losing score: 21.2. Georgia played a couple of early shootout games, but they were counterbalanced by Mississippi State 15, Vanderbilt 3; and LSU 23, Vandy 9. National titlist: Alabama. League rank in scoring defense: first (11.7 ppg). League rank in scoring offense: fourth (32.1 ppg).
2010 (25): Seven games. Average total: 37.8. Winning score: 25.7. Losing score: 12.1. The Cam Newton show didn’t get cranked up right away – Auburn scored just 17 points in its SEC opener and barely beat Mississippi State, 17-14. South Carolina muddled past Georgia 17-6 and LSU suffocated Vanderbilt and Mississippi State. National titlist: Auburn. League rank in scoring defense: seventh (24.1 ppg). League rank in scoring offense: first (41.2 ppg).
2011 (26): Five games. Average total: 56. Winning score: 33.6. Losing score: 22.4. Four of the five winners scored at least 30 points, and two scored more than 40 (Auburn and South Carolina). But there also was a 19-6 LSU victory over Mississippi State to pull down the average. National titlist: Alabama. League rank in scoring defense: first (8.2 ppg). League rank in scoring offense: third (34.9 ppg).
2012 (27): Six games. Average total: 45.8. Winning score: 32.5. Losing score: 13.3. No losing team scored more than 20 points, and two of the winners scored that much or fewer as well. But Georgia, Alabama and Florida put up big numbers in lopsided victories. National titlist: Alabama. League rank in scoring defense: first (10.9 ppg). League rank in scoring offense: second (38.7 ppg).
2013 (28): Five games. Average total: 68. Winning score: 37.6. Losing score: 30.4. So far this season, 10 of the league’s 14 schools rank higher in scoring offense than scoring defense. The exceptions: Arkansas, Kentucky, Florida and Auburn – none of whom are expected to contend for the league title.
(*The Dash used the first four weeks of the 2008 season due to sample size.)
A few players who have gotten The Dash’s attention with their fast start this season:
Alex Collins (29), Arkansas. The true freshman running back is the first player in SEC history to rush for more than 100 yards in each of his first three college games – no, not even Herschel Walker did that. He’s also the first FBS back to pull that off since Adrian Peterson in 2004. So the Miami product was worth the signing-day hassle created when his mother refused to sign his letter-of-intent to attend Arkansas, and even hired a law firm at one point in the dispute. Next up for Collins: At Rutgers.
Blake Bortles (30), UCF. The junior quarterback has had plenty of playing time in his career, and was quite productive last year. But he’s taken it up a notch this year, currently ranking fifth nationally in pass efficiency. Bortles was at his best in the 3-0 Golden Knights’ upset win at Penn State on Saturday, completing 20 of 27 passes for 288 yards and three touchdowns. Next up for Bortles: bye week, followed by South Carolina on Sept. 28.
Zach Mettenberger (31), LSU. Has any player improved as much year-over-year as Mettenberger? The touted junior-college transfer was far more the problem than the solution at quarterback for the Tigers in 2012, completing just 59 percent of his passes with 12 touchdowns, seven interceptions and taking 32 sacks. Under new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, Mettenberger is starting to deliver on the hype: he is third nationally in efficiency, completing 65 percent with nine touchdowns and zero interceptions. Next up for Mettenberger: home against Auburn in one of the more interesting games of the week.
Blake Bell (32), Oklahoma. Everyone was curious whether the massive Belldozer could be more than just a novelty, short-yardage quarterback – could he actually throw the ball up to lofty Sooners QBs standards? When Bob Stoops gave the starting job to Trevor Knight for two weeks, we still didn’t know. But after that move flopped, Bell took over against Tulsa and was spectacular in a 51-20 win: 413 passing yards and four touchdowns, no interceptions. Next up for Bell: a bye week to get ready for a trip to Notre Dame.
Bishop Sankey (33), Washington. The running back was hardly an unknown after rushing for 1,439 yards and 16 touchdowns last year – but without accompanying team success that production went largely unnoticed outside the West Coast. Now he’s gone nationwide, after the Huskies opened with victories over Boise State and Illinois. Sankey leads the nation in rushing yards per game (184.5) and is second in all-purpose yardage (222 per game). Next up for Sankey: home against Idaho State.
Dashette Jelena Ristic (34). Yeah, she’s Novak Djokovic’s girlfriend, but now that the tennis grand slam events are done for the year she needs some more exciting sporting events to hang out at. College football will gladly welcome her in.
Three guys who got a ton of preseason attention but are hard to find now:
Marqise Lee (35), USC. Through three games, Lee’s biggest impact on the season was saying three words: “Kiffin don’t know.” That was Lee referring to whether there was a players-only meeting after the ugly loss to Washington State, but it might also have been an answer to whether head coach Lane Kiffin knows how to utilize his best weapon. Lee is shackled by inexperienced quarterbacks, conservative play-calling and relentless double-teaming by defenses, which explains why it took him three games to score a touchdown. That was an 80-yarder against Boston College – but it was one of only two touches from scrimmage all game. As Cody Kessler grows into the QB job, Lee should become a more prominent weapon once again.
Braxton Miller (36), Ohio State. The quarterback was considered a prime Heisman Trophy candidate, but he’s been a bit fragile this year – and his backup has been on fire in his absence. Miller got hurt early in the second game of the season, missing the rest of that game and all of the third. Meanwhile, Kenny Guiton has orchestrated Urban Meyer’s offense so superbly that some are wondering if he should be the starter. That isn’t likely, and Miller is probable to play this week against Florida A&M. But if Miller doesn’t move the team, he might be looking over his shoulder.
Logan Thomas (37), Virginia Tech. Lots of potential, not much positive production. That has summed up the huge senior quarterback for the past 16 games – all of last season and the start of 2013. In 2012, Thomas completed just 51 percent of his throws with 18 touchdowns and 16 interceptions as the Hokies stumbled through a 7-6 season. Thomas vowed to cut down on the errors, but so far his completion percentage is down to 46.2 percent with three TDs and four picks. Oh, and he’s no longer a threat to run the football, rushing for 11 yards on the year after 524 last year. In fairness, it should be noted that Thomas is saddled with young receivers who have dropped plenty of balls, hurting his completion percentage.
COACH WHO EARNED HIS COMP CAR THIS WEEK
Kliff Kingsbury (38), Texas Tech. It’s one thing to be undefeated in his first three games as a head coach, capped off by a Big 12-opening triumph over TCU. It’s another thing to look like Ryan Gosling. But what won this for Kingsbury was his other-worldly calm when running back DeAnthony Washington literally dropped six points at the goal line in a close game (see above). Kingsbury never appeared to lose his cool, suppressing any and all homicidal instincts. That was impressive.
COACH WHO SHOULD TAKE THE BUS TO WORK
Bo Pelini (39), Nebraska. See above. The man had a very bad Saturday, and it only got worse on Monday. A lot worse. So bad that a disguise might be needed before boarding the bus.
When thirsty in Los Angeles, The Dash recommends a visit to Father’s Office (40), an understatedly cool gastropub in Santa Monica. Have a Pliny the Elder double India pale ale, from Russian River Brewing Co., and thank The Dash later. What the heck, have two.