Ponies unbridled, running QBs and Laetitia
From a rise in quarterbacks on the run to an as-good-as-it-gets rivalry, The Dash sprints through all the hottest topics.
Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (Weis For Pontiff T-shirts sold separately):
Peruna rides again
If any team (non-Gulf Coast Division) deserved a victory last Saturday, it was the Southern Methodist Mustangs (1). Their 21-10 upset of No. 22-ranked Texas Christian not only was the school's first victory over a ranked team in 18 years A.D. (after death penalty) but also was cosmic payback for a deed of great charity.
SMU was the school that took in Tulane (2) when the Green Wave needed a post-Katrina base of operations. Even though the two Conference USA schools play each other in Dallas on Sept. 24, the Mustangs reached out to help keep the Tulane program alive for about 10 traumatic days. When the Green Wave shipped out about noon Monday for their latest home, in Ruston, La., SMU coach Phil Bennett (3) even gave Tulane's Chris Scelfo (4) copies of his school's recruiting lists.
"As happy as we are [after the TCU win], I asked [the players] to think about the Tulane players who have been uprooted and on a roller coaster forever," Bennett said. "... If you've ever been in need of help -- and I have -- you'll understand what it's like."
He understands. On Bennett's first day of practice as the new defensive coordinator at Kansas State in August 1999, his wife, Nancy, was struck by lightning, and she later died. That left Phil to raise his two kids, Sam and Maddie, and it opened his eyes to the generosity of others.
"You find out how many people are willing to help you," Bennett said. "I think Chris is finding that out right now."
Since becoming head coach at SMU, Bennett has been unable to break the deep program inertia spawned by the NCAA death penalty for egregious and repetitive cheating. His three-year record heading into this season was 6-29.
SMU opened with a 28-23 loss to Baylor -- a defeat Scelfo believes his team helped cause. ("We disrupted their routine and their lives, and we cost them that game," he said.) But the Mustangs were ready for neighbor rival TCU, which was flying high after its upset of Oklahoma.
"People don't want to admit it, but TCU has sort of looked down at SMU," Bennett said. "... They've stuck up their nose at us for a long time, about six years. Didn't want to be associated with us ... didn't want to be in a conference with us. This was a pride factor.
"Maybe stick their nose up is the wrong term. ... The respect they've got, they definitely earned it. This win gives us some respect back."
Who's really No. 1?
If you say USC, you're wrong. At least according to the good folks at The Princeton Review, who have given list-addicted America a new fix with their recently released book, "The Best 361 Colleges, 2006 Edition." (Nice, round number, 361. Where they came up with that, The Dash has no idea.)
The Review has about a million interesting lists compiled from surveys of actual college students. The Dash went through the lists to find the good stuff for football fans.
Who Packs the Stadium? (The five student bodies that most ardently support intercollegiate athletics.)
1. Maryland (5). Imagine how excited they'll be when there once again is reason to Fear the Turtle in football.
2. Notre Dame (6). What else would you expect at America's Ultimate Male University?
3. Florida (7). Tennessee is preparing to experience the Gators' enthusiasm Saturday.
4. Penn State (8). What else is there to do in Happy Valley?
5. North Carolina (9). They love their hoops, but there's also suspiciously strong support for soccer in Chapel Hill.
Top party schools. (Based on questions about alcohol and drug use, study time, and the influence of fraternities and sororities. The Dash edited the list for Division I-A purposes, striking Lehigh, Cal-Santa Barbara and SUNY-Albany -- ranked third, fourth and fifth -- for failure to play big-time football.)
1. Wisconsin (10). Well, knock The Dash over with a feather.
2. Ohio U. (11). Students probably haven't stopped drinking since the Bobcats beat Pittsburgh last Friday night.
6. Indiana (12). They might be partying in Bloomington, but they're sure not tailgating. Attendance for the home debut of new coach Terry Hoeppner last week: 27,000. And that's after Hoeppner's energetic canvassing of the state all offseason to pump up support.
7. Mississippi (13). If you've been to The Grove on a football Saturday -- or to the bars on the quaint square in Oxford any night -- you understand the ranking.
8. Iowa (14). See Ohio, in reverse. Students probably haven't stopped drinking since the Hawkeyes were thumped by Iowa State last Saturday.
Quarterback: Not just for handing off anymore
It's not just Vince Young (15) tucking and running, kids. If you think you've been seeing quarterbacks running the ball more this season, you're not alone. The Urbanization (16) of college offenses (hello, spread-option) seems to have more schools relying on their QBs as ball carriers this September.
Thirty-three of the 119 Division I-A teams have given at least 30 percent of their rushing attempts to quarterbacks. (That statistic is slightly skewed by the fact that sacks count as rushes in college.)
Included in that number is exactly half the Big 12. Notably absent from that league's 30 percent club are Nebraska and Oklahoma, which won multiple national titles under Tom Osborne and Barry Switzer with running quarterbacks.
Through Sept. 10, 8 percent of the 119 Division I-A teams are led in rushing by their quarterbacks. Twenty-five percent of I-A teams have a quarterback in their top two rushers. And 41 percent have a QB among their top three runners.
"The advantage [to a running quarterback] is when defenses start talking about having enough hats in the box and giving you no place to run," said Ohio State's Jim Tressel (17), who has used both Troy Smith and Justin Zwick extensively as runners this year. "The running back now becomes a blocker for that extra hat, and there's some skillful people running the ball.
"The downside probably is, what's your depth at quarterback?"
Few teams can afford an injury there. Another possible downside: fumbles. Quarterbacks who are unaccustomed to taking hits and covering up the ball like a running back might be more prone to coughing it up upon contact. And if anything will curtail the QB running rage, it's turnovers.
For now, though, keeper's the word -- and not just for the few old-school devotees to the traditional option game. Five schools relying heavily on the legs of their signal callers:
Missouri (18): Coach Gary Pinkel helped ruin last season by attempting to keep superathletic Brad Smith in the pocket more. This year, Smith has the green light to run and is using it. He's gained 50.5 percent of Mizzou's rushing total.
UNLV (19): New coach Mike Sanford was offensive coordinator under Urban Meyer at Utah last year. Not surprisingly, that has translated into junior QB Shane Steichen's becoming the team's leading rusher, with 47.5 percent of the Rebels' runnin' total.
Oklahoma State (20): It hasn't been just Donovan Woods running the ball; fellow QB Bobby Reid has done it plenty, too, as the two have combined for 44.1 percent of the Cowboys' rushing yards. (Look for that stat to drop potentially, starting soon. Coach Mike Gundy said Tuesday that with Reid firmly in place as the starter, the athletic Woods has been given the option to explore playing another position.)
West Virginia (21): Rasheed Marshall is gone, but the running game from the QB position is still around in Morgantown. The Mountaineers' two leading rushers are both quarterbacks, Adam Bednarik and Pat White, accounting for 43.8 percent of the running total.
Oregon (22): The true surprise of the group. New coordinator Gary Crowton has gone to more of a Utah-ish look, springing QB Kellen Clemens to become the leading rusher for an underachieving ground game.
Players miss games for all kinds of injuries, but Utah kick returner Justin Walker (23) won't make the trip to play TCU Thursday night because of what The Salt Lake Tribune terms "an apparent sleeping disorder."
"He just can't sleep," coach Kyle Whittingham (24) told the paper.
Try showing Walker the game film from Florida State 10, Miami 7. Surest cure for insomnia The Dash has ever seen.
Hanging out with Laetitia Casta (25) (who joins Adriana Lima and Eva Longoria on the names-end-in-A Dash groupie list) would have the opposite effect. She'd just want to stay up late watching game film. (For the record, Laetitia likes the Utes to win and cover against the Horned Frogs.)
Coach who earned his comp car this week
Vanderbilt's Bobby Johnson (26), whose program's ancient history of finding ways to lose games in the fourth quarter has suddenly been turned on its ear. Behind quarterback Jay Cutler (27) -- who has made a believer out of The Dash -- the Commodores have mounted game-winning drives of 49 and 76 yards to beat Wake Forest and Arkansas, respectively, in the final minutes. Johnson, a straight-laced sort who likes ice cream and dislikes profanity, suddenly has a chance for a 5-0 start -- something Vandy hasn't accomplished since 1928. But beating Ole Miss for 3-0 won't be easy.
Coach who should ride the bus to work
... All the way from Pittsburgh to Lincoln, where Dave Wannstedt (28) hopes to finally earn his first college victory -- against another fallen former pro, Bill Callahan. Wanny's new offense somehow has turned Tyler Palko from a Heisman Trophy candidate into a bewildered QB who has thrown two TD passes to the opposition (Ohio cornerback Dion Byrum says thank you) and one to his own team.
Gators-Vols: Good as it gets
Since 1990, Florida vs. Tennessee has been an annual highlight of the early season. At least one of the teams, and more often both, has been a national title contender at that point in the season. That's definitely the case this year.
The Dash asked two veteran observers of the rivalry, Gainesville Sun columnist Pat Dooley (29) and the Knoxville News Sentinel's John Adams (30), to rate the high and low points in that time.
The Florida high point:
Dooley: Fourth-ranked Gators 35, second-ranked Tennessee 29 (1996). "That was the most-hyped game I ever covered," Dooley said. "They had fourth-and-11 [on the first drive] in the rain. [Steve] Spurrier goes for it, and you're thinking, 'What's he doing?' And there's Reidel Anthony wide open in the end zone. Next thing you know, it's 35-0."
The Tennessee high point:
Adams: The 20-17 overtime win in Knoxville in 1998, when the Vols hung tough despite just seven first downs. "They finally ended the famine" against Spurrier, Adams said, beating him for the first time in six years. "Terry Jackson fumbles as he's going over the goal line on the first possession. If he scores, they're thinking, 'Here we go again.' I don't think they win the game without that. And if they don't win that game, they don't win the '98 national championship.
The Florida low point:
Dooley: Tennessee 24, Florida 10, in 2003. Ron Zook's offense bungled the two-minute drill at the end of the first half, gave the ball back to Tennessee and allowed a Hail Mary touchdown on the final play of the half. That was the boost the Vols needed to post their second straight win in Gainesville. "Nobody has ever done that, since it's been The Swamp," Dooley said of the moniker Spurrier hung on Florida Field in 1990.
The Tennessee low point:
Adams: Calls it "an unbreakable tie" between the '96 game Dooley referenced above and the 1995 game, when the Vols surrendered a stunning 48 consecutive points to the Spurrier Fun-N-Gun. Combine that with the 35 first-half points Florida scored the next year and, as Adams said, "You don't see points scored that fast in a highlight reel."
Show me something
Five people or teams entering big Saturday games with something to prove:
Boston College (31) -- Time for the Eagles to fulfill the preseason hype (some of which was generated in this very space) against eighth-ranked Florida State. Exclude the Notre Dame series, which seems to bring out the giant slayer in BC, and it has beaten a team ranked this high just one time in its history. (BC 14, No. 7 Texas 13, in 1976.) The Dash has some concerns about the Eagles' team speed vs. the Seminoles, but gives them a solid chance in a low-scoring defensive brawl.
Phillip Fulmer (32) -- He has won a national title, and they can't take that away. But the Tennessee coach hasn't won an SEC overall title since 1998, and it seems as though there always has been somebody outflanking Phil in the league. First it was Spurrier, then it was Mark Richt, and last year Tommy Tuberville thumped him twice. Fulmer sure doesn't want to start out 0-1 against Meyer.
Rhett Bomar (33) -- Oklahoma didn't throw a pass in the second half last week against Tulsa, which pretty much tells you where Bob Stoops' confidence level is with his hyped redshirt freshman quarterback. Bomar will have to make some plays Saturday in the Rose Bowl for the Sooners to match points with high-powered UCLA. Is he up to the task, or is it all on Adrian Peterson's shoulders again?
Drew Stanton (35) -- The Michigan State quarterback is fourth in the nation in pass efficiency and seventh in total offense, and coach John L. Smith said this week that Stanton is running his system exactly the way he wants it done. He'll be the Lesser Quarterback in terms of billing Saturday against Brady Quinn, but that might change by game's end. Notre Dame's secondary should gird itself for its toughest test to date.
Buffalo scoring vigil
The Dash has proclaimed that it will light a candle for the Buffalo Bulls (36), in hopes of a touchdown this Saturday. Or a field goal. Or a safety. Or anything that passes as points.
The Bulls (0-2) are the only Division I-A team yet to alter the pregame zero on their side of the scoreboard. And the sad fact is, they really haven't come close. They've yet to attempt a field goal or visit the red zone, getting no farther than the Connecticut 38 in Week 1 and the Syracuse 37 in Week 2.
For the season Buffalo has accumulated 12 first downs, 17 three-and-outs and 19 pass completions (in 48 attempts). But Rutgers (37), a traditional gridiron beacon of hope for opponents, comes to Buffalo Saturday. Dare to dream, Bulls -- if not of victory, then at least of a touchdown.
Putting out an APB for ...
... The last quarterback to lead Vanderbilt to a bowl game, Whit Taylor (38). He threw for 452 yards in a losing effort against Air Force in the 1982 Hall of Fame Bowl (back when there was a Hall of Fame Bowl). Anyone with information on Taylor's whereabouts, please advise.
Meanwhile, The Dash is pleased to report that last week's APB subject, former Notre Dame kicker Reggie Ho (39), has done quite well for himself post-football. As one e-mailer put it, "After ripping out the hearts of Michigan fans, he now repairs them ... hearts, that is." Ho, who went to Penn med school, is listed as a cardiologist at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.
If you find yourself in search of authentic Buckeyeness in Columbus, The Dash recommends a visit to The Varsity Club (40), not far from Woody Hayes Drive or the banks of the Olentangy. The only catch: Getting in and getting a seat on game day is dicey with 105,000 of your friends in the area. And if you're visiting postgame, the mood can be slightly surly if, say, the home team loses in agonizing fashion. Like this past week.
Pat Forde is a senior writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.