Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (lower-tier bowl tickets sold separately in Austin):
I’M THE DASH AND I APPROVE THIS MESSAGE
It’s campaign season in America, and you know what that means: The air is full of negative, mud-slinging denigrations from one contender toward another.
Oh, and there’s a presidential race going on as well.
The Dash is referring to the fan bases who have begun the annual autumnal rite of bashing their competitors’ ranking in the BCS standings. Just in case the poll voters are listening and can be swayed.
If the voters do listen to enough voices, they’ll be shocked to learn that everyone is overrated and nobody has any quality wins – and if they do, the refs probably handed the game to them. (Ask Notre Dame fans if they’ve heard all of the above since Saturday night’s win over Stanford.)
For those with a loss, the justifications are flowing freely: a key injury, a bad day, a series of criminally overlooked holding calls that jobbed our virtuous program. Or, if you’re LSU, it was too humid to win in Florida. Sniff.
But the negative campaigning is just getting started. The Dash has acquired a video stash of attack ads top BCS programs are planning to unveil in the coming days against one another:
Alabama (1): Ad opens with montage of horrendous passes by Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson. Then cuts to black-and-white still shot of Arkansas coach John L. Smith with his hand over his eyes. Ominous-sounding voice-over: “You’ve been fooled, America. Fooled into believing Alabama football has accomplished something in the first half of the season. Here are the facts.” Graphic shows cumulative record of Alabama’s opponents to date (19-20) and their average Sagarin rating (40th). Ominous voice-over: “The truth is, Alabama has not beaten a quality opponent. Should the nation’s No. 1 team be padding its record with two opponents from the Sun Belt? What is the Crimson Tide trying to hide? Could it be that voters have been overly impressed by beating disappointing teams and are rewarding Alabama based on last year, not this year?” Cut to unflattering still shot of Nick Saban glaring from behind a podium. “Don’t let their powerful coach bully his way into the BCS Championship Game again. Vote for teams who are proving it on the field.”
Paid for by Stop the SEC PAC, Jim Delany treasurer.
Florida (2): Ad opens with video of shadowed figure typing on a glowing computer screen. Ominous-sounding voice-over: “Do you know what data is being put into the BCS computers? Do any hard-working Americans know?” Cut to grainy, unsmiling, black-and-white still shot of BCS executive director Bill Hancock. “Or has the public been duped by powerful members of the BCS cartel into trusting computer formulas that have never been explained?” Cut to video of quarterback Jeff Driskel being sacked. “The computers say the Florida Gators are the best team in America. But how can we believe in a team that struggled with Bowling Green and hasn’t yet scored 40 points in a game? The Internet is full of inaccurate information and commonly accepted mythology, and that includes the computer rankings that put Florida at No. 1. Don’t believe the computers until the computers are explained.”
Paid for by Citizens for Duck Justice, Phil Knight treasurer.
Oregon (3): Ad opens with grainy, black-and-white photo of Autzen Stadium. Ominous-sounding voice-over: “This is one of the toughest places to play in America. Maybe that’s why the Oregon Ducks so rarely leave it. They’ve played six games, and only one has been away from home. That was against Washington State in Seattle, which is actually closer to Eugene than to Pullman.” Cut to graphic showing number of road games and miles traveled by top SEC teams. “Is Oregon trying to hide something by never leaving home? Why is it avoiding the tough issues by playing Arkansas State, Fresno State and Tennessee Tech in non-conference games?” Cut to video of Duck mascot doing Gangnam-style video. “Don’t be fooled by sizzle, demand substance. Make Oregon win on the road before rewarding it in the rankings.”
Paid for by Citizens for Southern Sovereignty, Paul Finebaum treasurer.
Kansas State (4): Ad opens with video of generic, cheering fans. Voice-over: “These are college football fans.” Cut to video of listless, unenthusiastic fans. “These are college football fans watching Kansas State.” Cut to grainy, black-and-white video of Bill Snyder on the sidelines, then slow-motion shot of tumbleweeds rolling along the prairie. “The Wildcats take after their 72-year-old coach, who is every bit as boring as the topography around Manhattan, Kansas.” Cut to video of LSU’s ineptitude in the 2011 BCS Championship Game, then a video of quarterback Collin Klein overthrowing a receiver. “Wasn’t last year’s title game boring enough? Do we really want more of the same? Working-class Americans pay too much for cable and satellite TV to see Kansas State play for the national title. Take a stand and say no to the Wildcats.”
Paid for by Knights of Columbus GridPAC, Rudy Ruettiger treasurer.
Notre Dame (5): Ad opens with unflattering, slo-mo video of purple-faced Brian Kelly from 2010. “This man wants you to believe that Notre Dame is back as a national title contender.” Cut to quick montage of Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue all turning the ball over against Notre Dame. “The fact is, the Fighting Irish have built their record by beating teams from the worst Big Ten Conference ever. Those September victories have all been devalued. Without them, Notre Dame’s resume is full of holes.” Cut to slow-motion video loop of Stanford’s Stepfan Taylor squirming toward the goal line Saturday night, over and over. “And if it weren’t for the officials, Notre Dame would have a loss by now.” Cut to video of the Irish being strafed by JaMarcus Russell and Troy Smith in BCS bowl games past. “We’ve seen the devastating results of BCS favoritism for Notre Dame in the past. Don’t let a mismatch happen again.”
Paid for by Domer Doubters International, Mark May treasurer.
We are more or less halfway through the season, which means it is the media’s sworn duty to hand out awards that will prove to be outdated – if not outright dumb – by early December. But who is The Dash to buck tradition? Here is your half-hearted, halfway hardware:
Coach of the Midyear, Veteran Division
Mike Riley (6), Oregon State. Riley’s unranked Beavers began the season with consecutive upsets of ranked teams: first Wisconsin, then UCLA on the road. They followed that up with victories over Arizona and Washington State – but lost quarterback Sean Mannion to a knee injury against the Cougars. No matter. Backup Cody Vaz played superbly at BYU in his first game action in two years, and now a program coming off a 3-9 season is the unlikeliest team in the BCS Top 10.
Runner-up: Bill Snyder (7), Kansas State. Job one in winning football games is to avoid beating yourself, and nobody has had fewer self-inflicted wounds than Snyder’s Wildcats. They’ve had just four turnovers for the year and committed only nine penalties through their first five games. (They doubled that season penalty total in game six, at Iowa State on Saturday, but still won.) With a win at Oklahoma, K-State may have its toughest test already out of the way in its quest to win the Big 12 and possibly play for the big prize in January.
Not Coach of the Midyear, Veteran Division
Gene Chizik (8), Auburn. Arkansas was on a four-game losing streak and in an epic tailspin – until it went to Auburn and beat the Tigers by 17 points. Mississippi had lost 16 straight SEC games – until it thrashed Auburn by 21. Auburn is 1-4, but could well be winless if Louisiana-Monroe had a better kicker. It’s hard to go from holding aloft the crystal football to the hot seat in 18 games, but Chizik has done it.
Runner-up: John L. Smith (9), Arkansas. Stopgap spring hire has stopped the bleeding with two straight victories, but that qualifies as far too little and far too late. It doesn’t outweigh the four bad losses, or all the bad headlines about Smith’s financial ruin.
Coach of the Midyear, Rookie Division
Bill O’Brien (10), Penn State. Walked into a tough situation, then watched it turn impossible right before the season began. But after an 0-2 start, O’Brien has rallied the team and the fan base with four straight victories. Along the way O’Brien has gotten more out of senior quarterback Matt McGloin than ever thought possible. The Nittany Lions aren’t going bowling, but they have a chance to post the best record in the Big Ten Leaders Division and have one of the more rewarding regular seasons in Penn State history.
Runner-up: Kyle Flood (11), Rutgers. When program architect Greg Schiano left for the NFL, it was up to assistant Flood to keep the Scarlet Knights competitive. He’s done that and more, winning the first six games of his head-coach career. The competition hasn’t been great and Rutgers has not been dominant, especially offensively, but it’s hard to argue with 6-0.
Not Coach of the Midyear, Rookie Division
Ellis Johnson (12), Southern Mississippi. Not many people thought Johnson was an inspired hire, but it’s turned out much worse than the lowest of expectations. Southern Miss, a rock-solid program with a streak of 18 straight winning seasons, is now 0-6. The back half of the schedule is very easy against the vast underclass of Conference USA, but unless the Golden Eagles win out, including a bowl game, that streak will end.
Runner-up: Norm Chow (13), Hawaii. During his days as a respected offensive coordinator, Chow was constantly mentioned as a head-coaching candidate. It finally happened at Hawaii, to the Warriors’ chagrin. They’re 1-5, with their only victory over FCS Lamar, and the five defeats coming by an average margin of 36.2 points.
Geno Smith (14), West Virginia. Ugly loss in Lubbock on Saturday can’t all be pinned on Smith, who still hasn’t thrown an interception (see below) and still leads the nation in pass efficiency. But Smith has come back to the pack after leading by open lengths.
Also invited to New York, if there were actually a midyear presentation in New York:
Manti Te’o (15), Notre Dame. Leads a remarkable defense in tackles and inspiration. Te’o is averaging just fewer than 10 tackles a game, has three interceptions and a fumble recovery, and is the driving force behind the nation’s No. 2 scoring defense. Notre Dame has stretched its streak of games without surrendering a defensive touchdown to four, and not by virtue of playing FCS or Mid-American Conference competition. Could he be the first defense-only Heisman winner? It’s not out of the question.
Collin Klein (16), Kansas State. He’s having a Tebow 2009 kind of season: running well, passing decently and, most of all, winning a lot. That formula was good enough to get Tebow to New York for a third Heisman presentation (even though he didn’t win), and it could do the same for Klein. Until someone figures out how to beat the Wildcats, he’ll be prominently in the Heisman mix.
Braxton Miller (17), Ohio State. The Buckeyes are averaging 452 yards per game of offense, and 69 percent of it is coming courtesy of Miller’s arm and legs. He’s seventh nationally in rushing and 17th in total offense, and the fit with Urban Meyer’s offense seems to be improving by the week. The biggest things holding back Miller’s Heisman candidacy are the irrelevance of the Big Ten and the Buckeyes’ ineligibility to play in the conference title game.
Midyear Forgotten Men
Matt Barkley (18), USC. The preseason Heisman favorite has had three very good passing games against bad competition (a combined 69 of 98 for 862 yards, 13 touchdowns and one interception). He’s had three very ordinary games against better competition (a combined 52 of 95 for 613 yards, three touchdowns and five interceptions). There are some big games and some vulnerable defenses to come, so Barkley can probably play his way back into the picture – but at the midpoint, he’s a non-factor.
Runner-up: Sammy Watkins (19), Clemson. The multi-purpose threat has been absent as much as present so far – he’s missed two games via suspension and one via illness. When he has been on the field, the production has been well short of last year’s pyrotechnics. Watkins threw a touchdown pass on a gadget play at Florida State but has not been in the end zone himself, after scoring 13 TDs last year. His high game in receiving yardage is 52, a total he topped 11 times last year as a true freshman.
Other runner-up: Rex Burkhead (20), Nebraska. The running back had only three carries in the first three games after injuring a knee early in the opener. Since then it’s been a job share with Ameer Abdullah for the disappointing Cornhuskers – though, to be fair, the majority of the disappointment has been on the defensive side of the ball.
Freshman of the Midyear
Johnny Manziel (21), Texas A&M. No, this one is not close. Manziel has been a running and passing sensation at quarterback, the perfect plug-and-play component for new coach Kevin Sumlin’s high-powered offense. He’s second nationally in total offense at 393 yards per game and 10th in pass efficiency. The toughest defenses are still to come – LSU on Saturday, Mississippi State on Nov. 3 and Alabama on Nov. 10 – but Manziel looks like the real deal.
Runner-up: Stefon Diggs (22), Maryland. On a team that ranks 119th nationally in total offense, the big-play ability of Diggs is a godsend. The wide receiver/kick returner is ninth in the nation in all-purpose yardage and fourth in kickoff returns, with a kick-six that helped win the game at Virginia last week. He’s become a bigger part of the Terrapins’ passing game as the season has gone along as well.
Bust of the Midyear
The Atlantic Coast Conference (23). Oh, sure, you thought this was going to be the Big Ten. The Dash will get to that bunch of canines in a minute – but the ACC has actually been worse. A league that began the year thinking it had two national championship contenders in Florida State and Clemson quickly proved that it had none. And the league’s non-conference record is an absolute embarrassment: 12-14 against FBS competition, including losses to Army and Middle Tennessee states, with 13 wins against FCS opponents. The ACC’s best non-conference win is a one-pointer by Virginia against Penn State thanks to a barrage of missed kicks by the Nittany Lions.
Runner-up: The Big Ten (24). Zero teams in the first BCS Top 25. No signature victories in non-conference play – and plenty of bad losses. Two teams ineligible for postseason play. And the league is set up to be overmatched in bowl games, which could produce yet another embarrassing December/January.
Road Team of the Midyear
Florida. The Gators are 3-0 outside of Gainesville, with all three victories in league games. They took on the frenzied atmosphere of Texas A&M’s SEC opener and won. They took on more than 100,000 fans in Neyland Stadium when Tennessee was unbeaten and won. And they won by two touchdowns at Vanderbilt, which isn’t exactly planting the flag at Iwo Jima but it’s a road victory. Nice work so far.
Road Kill of the Midyear
Stanford (25). Eight quarters away from home. Zero offensive touchdowns. Two losses. In those games quarterback Josh Nunes is 30 of 62 for 295 yards, no scores and three interceptions.
Agonizing Loss Leader of the Midyear
Utah State (26), which is bidding for a repeat title. Building on last year’s five losses by seven points or less, the Aggies have lost twice by a total of five points, to Wisconsin (16-14) and BYU (6-3).
Massacred Linemen of the Midyear
Tulane (27). Offensively, the Green Wave is averaging less than one yard per carry: 133 rushes for 113 yards, and zero rushing touchdowns – that’s easily the worst in the nation. Defensively, the Wave is being gouged for 5.6 yards per carry, among the worst in the nation. Somehow, Tulane managed to win its first game Saturday, 27-26 over SMU.
FIVE SECOND-HALF PREDICTIONS
Watch out for Oklahoma (28). Since the home loss to Kansas State, the Sooners have beaten Texas Tech and Texas by a combined 63 points. Oklahoma will be able to build more confidence against outclassed Kansas on Saturday, then welcomes Notre Dame to Norman on Oct. 27. The five games that follow also will build the Sooners’ strength of schedule. If they keep winning and get some help, don’t be surprised if they play their way back into the national title picture.
Prepare for Arkansas (29) to play BCS spoiler. Yes, Arkansas. The biggest disappointment of September. The Razorbacks appear to have rebounded with routs of Auburn and Kentucky – not exactly Alabama and Florida, but still – and could have opportunities in November to ruin the seasons of South Carolina (Nov. 10), Mississippi State (Nov. 17) and LSU (Nov. 24). That would about be par for the John L. Smith course.
Coaching turbulence is coming in the SEC (30). There will be coaching changes at Arkansas and Kentucky, guaranteed. There may be coaching changes at Tennessee and Auburn. There could be the reintroduction of Bobby Petrino at one of those locations. And a guy like Dan Mullen of Mississippi State could be wooed to become the latest in a long line of coaches to change jobs within the league.
A Big East (31) team will go 12-0. Three teams are still unbeaten: Louisville, Rutgers and Cincinnati. One of them will get to the finish line without a loss. The Cardinals should have the best opportunity with four of their last six at home, including Cincinnati Oct. 26. Both the Scarlet Knights and Bearcats are on upset alert Saturday: Rutgers at Temple and Cincy at Toledo.
Dashette Martina Stella (32) will also remain undefeated. That is a lock.
LAST INTERCEPTION POOL UPDATE
The Dash’s annual Last Interception pool remains unchanged. All three surviving finalists were pick-free through last Saturday, though not all remained undefeated. The update:
Geno Smith (33), West Virginia. Up to 259 passes this season without an interception, but last week was his worst game of the season. Smith was 29 of 55 for 275 yards and just one touchdown in an upset loss at Texas Tech. Next up: Kansas State on Saturday, in a major Big 12 showdown. The Wildcats have six interceptions for the season, 2.75 percent of the passes thrown against them.
Colby Cameron (34), Louisiana Tech. He’s now thrown 238 passes without an interception, including 58 of them in a 59-57 loss to Texas A&M. Cameron probably would have traded his place on this list for a successful two-point conversion to tie the game – Tech missed two of those in the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs now host Idaho, which has six interceptions for the season, also 2.75 percent of the passes attempted against it.
A.J. McCarron (35), Alabama. He’s the low-volume member of this group, having thrown just 132 passes for the season. McCarron attempted 21 of them against Missouri on Saturday before injuring a knee. Nick Saban said the injury is just a bruise and expects McCarron to play at Tennessee. The Volunteers are 39th nationally in pass efficiency and have nine interceptions, 4.04 percent of the passes thrown against them.
This could be a riveting real-time drama Saturday. All three quarterbacks play at the same time, kicking off at 7 ET. Will any (or all) make it to 11 p.m. interception-free?
Whatever you think you know about John Heisman (36), the namesake of the most prestigious individual award in sports, you’ll learn a lot more by reading “Heisman: The Man Behind the Trophy.” It’s written by John M. Heisman, the book subject’s great-nephew, and Friend of Dash Mark Schlabach.
The authors mined Heisman’s personal documents, writings, playbooks and correspondence to create a portrait of a man who was much more than a football coach. Steve Spurrier, 1966 Heisman Trophy winner, wrote the foreword to the book.
COACH WHO EARNED HIS COMP CAR THIS WEEK
Tommy Tuberville (37), Texas Tech. Tubs has dropped an ambush to plenty of ranked visitors during his coaching career, but few of them were more shocking than the 49-14 detonation of No. 5 West Virginia last week. It marked the third time in three seasons at Tech that Tuberville has overseen an upset of a ranked team: Missouri in 2010; Oklahoma in 2011; and now the Mountaineers have learned about the perils of playing in Lubbock.
COULD WHO SHOULD TAKE THE BUS TO WORK
Wyoming’s Dave Christensen (38). He spent the first part of this week apologizing, and the Mountain West Conference spent time reprimanding him. Christensen got himself in trouble for refusing to shake hands with Air Force coach Troy Calhoun on Saturday, yelling in his face, and then airing his gripe to the media.
At issue: Christensen questioned whether Air Force quarterback Connor Dietz was really injured when he left the game for a play in the middle of the fourth quarter, with the Cowboys holding a 27-21 lead. Christensen alleged that Dietz feigned injury to give the Falcons time to get backup Kale Pearson ready and call the right play. Pearson scored what turned out to be the winning touchdown on the play from five yards out.
"In this game, we're supposed to be ethical and that's not ethical," Christensen said after the game.
Going after a service academy for unethical conduct is risky, especially when the root product of his displeasure was probably his team’s 1-5 record. That’s why there was an apology and a reprimand.
PUTTING OUT AN APB FOR …
… Former Nebraska I-back I.M. Hipp (39), whose given name is Isaiah Moses Walter Hipp. In a program that celebrated walk-ons like no other, Hipp was one of the best. He ran for more than 1,000 yards twice in the 1970s, when the Tom Osborne machine was in high gear. Anyone with information on the whereabouts of the South Carolina product who just showed up one day in Lincoln and became a star, please apprise The Dash.
Meanwhile, The Dash is pleased to report that last week’s APB subject, former Texas defensive tackle Stonie Clark, is alive and well and – get this – selling tea cakes in Austin. According to the website Stoniesteacakes.com, Clark has turned his grandmother’s recipe into a business. Thanks to Dash spies for the tips.
When thirsty in South Bend, The Dash recommends Fiddler’s Hearth (40), an Irish pub of impressive authenticity downtown. Have a Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale – though, it must be said, they do know how to properly pour a Guinness there as well. Special thanks to the staff of The Observer, the Notre Dame student paper, for the tip and the company.
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