Strikes and gutter balls on the bowls circuit
From the bowl winners and losers (so far) to the all-freshman team on offense to Brown delivering to Paulina's love for coaches who take risks in pressure situations, The Dash runs through it all.
Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football ("You Can't Spell Utter Disaster Without UT" T-shirts sold separately):
Bowl Winners and Losers (So Far)
There are two Saturdays of scrums remaining, and surely at least one stunner is in there somewhere, but the bowl picture is slowly clarifying its confounding self. The Dash has determined who's looking good and who's hurting (as of this moment):
The Atlantic Coast Conference (1): Winner. The ACC came into the year with six bowl tie-ins but will now place at least eight teams in postseason games (that could be nine if 5-5 North Carolina shocks Virginia Tech Saturday). Eight bowl-eligible teams are the most for any league, although the Big 12 could also reach that number if 5-5 Kansas beats Iowa State Saturday. The ACC looks like it will send a seventh team to fill an open Southeastern Conference slot in the Music City Bowl (see below), and could place an eighth team in the Liberty Bowl. The only downside for the league: Miami's upset loss to Georgia Tech likely cost the ACC a shot at two BCS bowl teams.
Boston College (2): Loser. OK, there is one unhappy scenario within the ACC. This is the first time -- but likely not the last -- that geography will hurt the Eagles within their new league. BC finished 8-3 and tied with Florida State for first in the ACC Atlantic Division (yes, The Dash had to look up the name of the division) and still could get pushed all the way off the league's pecking order. The Peach, Champs and Meineke Car Care bowls get the third, fourth and fifth ACC selections, and all three Southern bowls are likely to take Southern teams that will sell more tickets. Sixth choice is the MPC Computers Bowl in Boise, but BC might be slotted into one of the two games in Tennessee searching for a team. Winner of the Maryland-NC State elimination game Saturday could wind up on the blue turf.
Fiesta Bowl (3): Winner. With a Notre Dame victory Saturday over Stanford, bowl boss John Junker will get to decide which solid-gold storyline he wants in Tempe: the resurgent Fighting Irish or resurgent Penn State. (The Dash is putting its money on Notre Dame as the choice.) The tougher call will be the opponent: Ohio State or Oregon? According to published reports, the Ducks got their lobbying campaign into high gear Tuesday, when athletic director Bill Moos and coach Mike Bellotti flew to Arizona to wheedle, cajole and/or outright grovel for the bid. Whichever way the Fiesta decides will send a ripple effect throughout the rest of the bowls.
Music City Bowl (4): Loser. Hey, it would be no shame to get Boston College, and a potential matchup with, say, Northwestern could be a very good game. But this bowl had midseason hopes of getting hometown Vanderbilt and late-season hopes of getting instate Tennessee -- only to see them both fail to win six games. To make matters worse, the SEC's No. 6 pick this year will go to the Independence Bowl over the Music City, since the I-Bowl had to go without an SEC team last year. So the last SEC pick (possibly the very attractive Florida Gators) will head to Shreveport, La.
Peach Bowl (7): Winner. The Atlanta bowl could get either South Carolina or Georgia from the SEC, both of which would guarantee huge ticket sales. And if it winds up with the Gamecocks against Florida State, how do you think a Steve Spurrier-Bobby Bowden matchup would play on TV?
Whoever gets Nebraska, Penn State, Brigham Young, South Carolina and Clemson (8): Winners. Those are five rabid fan bases that didn't get to go bowling last year -- and, in some cases, for several years. They probably all left their bowl money in savings (or, in some cases, buried in the backyard in coffee cans) and will turn out in force this time around. (The Dash's guesses: Nebraska to the Independence, Penn State to the Orange, BYU to the Las Vegas, South Carolina to the Peach and Clemson to the Champs Sports.)
Cotton Bowl (9): Winner. Depending how the SEC plays out, the grand old game could get an intriguing matchup of offense (Texas Tech) vs. defense (Alabama).
Liberty Bowl (10): Potential winner. The folks in Memphis are hoping to match the Conference USA champion with an ACC team. That could produce something as tasty as the O'Leary Bowl (Central Florida-Georgia Tech), which would follow nicely on the heels of Louisville-Boise State last year. Next year the Liberty begins a contract with the SEC, which will help sell tickets.
The Dash has put together its best guess at the best 11 freshman offensive players in Division I-A. Next week, the best 11 on defense. (Note: Outraged e-mails demanding to know why Joe Pulling Guard from My Favorite School didn't make the team should be sent to GetAGrip@GetOverIt.com. It's a big country out there, and some guys are going to be left off -- and it's not because of a deep, dark, sinister ESPN bias against Your Favorite School. Thank you.)
QB -- Tim Hiller (11), Western Michigan. From Bob Knight's hometown of Orrville, Ohio, Hiller became the Broncos' starter at midseason after injury to Ryan Cubit and has been unconscious ever since. Has 20 touchdowns and three interceptions -- and if he'd played enough games, his passer rating of 180.1 would easily lead the country.
RB -- Darren McFadden (13), Arkansas. Pat Dye watched the 1,000-yard rusher at work and pronounced him the best freshman he'd seen in the SEC since Bo Jackson. His 6.95 yards-per-carry was second-best among the nation's top 45 rushers, beaten only by Mr. Reggie Bush.
WR -- James Hardy (14), Indiana. Slowed by injury in the second half of the season, the two-sport athlete (basketball, too) still finished with 893 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns in 10 games.
WR -- Sidney Rice (15), South Carolina. Strong guy with great hands had an eight-game streak of catching at least one touchdown pass, and had 100 yards receiving in five of his last six games.
TE -- Chase Coffman (16), Missouri. Has 39 catches for 404 yards and three TDs on the season.
OL -- Cole Popovich (17), Fresno State. Another in a long line of offensive linemen to play right away and play well for Pat Hill.
OL -- Dallas Reynolds (18), BYU. The 345-pounder has started all year at guard, giving up just three sacks.
OL -- Jonathan Luigs (19), Arkansas. Leads the team in knockdown blocks, averaging more than six per game.
OL -- Alex Boone (20), Ohio State. Huge (6-foot-8, 315 pounds) blue-chip signee has wasted little time earning playing time on a veteran line.
OL -- Ryan Clady (21), Boise State. At 6-6, 312 pounds, his potential is immense. Formed a big bookend to senior Daryn Colledge at the other tackle.
PK -- Jordan Congdon (22), Nebraska. He's 15 of 18 on field goals, having made his last nine straight. Kicked a 40-yarder with a minute left to beat Kansas State and sew up a bowl bid, and has made 25 straight PATs.
Brown, You're Doing A Heck Of A Job
The Dash salutes the kings of the Ivy League, the Brown Bears (23), who have been playing football amid the pointy heads for 60 years -- and just now have won their first outright league title. The Bears clinched by beating Columbia, and remarkable running back Nick Hartigan (24) was the star once again with 229 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
The day before the Columbia game, Hartigan had his interview with the Rhodes Scholarship committee in Pittsburgh. Then he flew to New York to join his teammates for the clinching victory.
"I'm as proud of Nick Hartigan as I have been of any football player I've ever been associated with," said Brown coach Phil Estes. "It's unbelievable how he balances academics and athletics. He is absolutely amazing."
The MAC's Weeknight Warriors
College football has long since ceased being a Saturday-only sport, but the boys from the Mid-American Conference (25) have spent the stretch drive playing almost exclusively between Monday and Friday.
By the end of this week, MAC teams will have played 18 weeknight games. Eight of the MAC's final 11 league games are weeknight affairs.
Toledo (26), for example, played its last Saturday game Oct. 29. By the end of the regular season, the Rockets will have played games on Tuesday (twice), Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
This midweek mania means three things: more television exposure for a low-profile league on the ESPN family of networks; more logistical challenges for teams trying to establish a rhythm throughout their seasons; and more challenges for fans to leave work early and/or stay up late and attend these midweek games.
"All the increased exposure has been a real positive for us," MAC commissioner Rick Chryst (27) said. "We've had a very competitive league, and this week has been reflective of it. Five teams are competing for a spot in the championship game."
Which is, naturally, on a weeknight: Thursday, Dec. 1.
Despite the benefits in terms of exposure, Chryst said that changes will have to be made for next year, when Division I-A goes back to 12 regular-season games in a 13-week season. Whittling it down to a single bye week makes midweek games that much more challenging.
"Our schedule is going to have to be much more structured, I think, to make it work," Chryst said.
The commish anticipates having games selected a couple of weeks in advance for midweek television exposure, which would give ESPN the opportunity to select the most competitive and important matchups and still give schools a chance to prepare for some scheduling upheaval.
"We want to sustain the exposure we've had, but bring a little more structure to it," Chryst said.
And how have the coaches, who crave continuity, reacted to being bounced all over the calendar?
"Our guys have been really good," Chryst said. "I think they understand that to try and grow the league, this comes with the territory."
Dashette Paulina Porizkova (28) has always been aggravated by the play-it-safe nature of football coaches. She's more of a free-wheeling sort, so she's a big fan of the latest trend in coaching: gambling in pressure situations.
The ripple effect from that gusto-laden game has been obvious. In the NFL, Jon Gruden (32) and Dick Vermeil (33) both played for the win in traditional go-for-the-tie goal-line situations at the end of games.
What next, a conscious decision to take all kickers off scholarship and go for every fourth down? Only something slightly less outlandish: even eternally stodgy Michigan coach Lloyd Carr (34) has gotten into the act.
Carr allowed himself to be talked into a fourth-and-short in his own territory in the fourth quarter against Ohio State, while holding a six-point lead. That gamble produced what looked like a clinching field goal, only to have the Buckeyes roar back for two touchdowns in the final minutes.
So not every gamble guarantees victory. But The Dash and Paulina both enjoy seeing coaches playing less conservatively these days.
Coach Who Earned His Comp Car This Week
Clemson's Tommy Bowden (35). Dude might have trouble starting seasons, but he sure knows how to finish them. The Tigers were 2-3 on Oct. 1 and now stand at 7-4, having beaten two ranked teams (Florida State and South Carolina). Last year Clemson was 1-4 before finishing 6-5, with an upset of Miami. Year before that, Bowden was 4-4 before a closing four-game winning streak saved his job, highlighted by upsets of Tennessee and Florida State. And the bottom line in the Palmetto State is his recent record against the Gamecocks: he's won four straight and is 6-1 overall.
Coach Who Should Take The Bus To Work
Miami's Larry Coker (36). His team drop-kicked the ACC title and a BCS bid right into Biscayne Bay. Not only that, Coker's completely hands-off reaction to the tender ballad recorded by the "7th Floor Crew" has been surprising for a guy who has done so much of the heavy lifting that has improved his program's image.
Coker dished off all comment last week on the matter to athletic director Paul Dee. His response to reporters asking about the song: "Any questions about Georgia Tech?"
Plenty of them, in hindsight of a 14-10 loss. But back to the topic at hand.
Neither Dee nor Coker have given any indication of whether they followed through on Dee's public statement from last week, in which he said the school intends to identify, discipline and/or counsel the players involved in the recording. The Dash isn't advocating draconian punishment -- a public apology and acknowledgment that, as Miami football players, recording such a song was a less-than-bright, less-than-classy decision would do. But we might not even get that much from The U.
Putting Out An APB For
With Arizona playing Arizona State and the Sun Devils needing a win for a bowl bid, The Dash got to wondering whatever became of former ASU slinger Jeff Van Raaphorst (37). On a beautiful New Year's Day 1987, The Dash sat in the Rose Bowl stands and watched Van Raaphorst outplay Michigan's Jim Harbaugh and lead the Sun Devils to their first and only victory in the Grandaddy of Them All. Anyone with information on Van Raap, please apprise The Dash.
Meanwhile, The Dash is pleased to report that last week's APB subject, former Auburn linebacker Aundray Bruce (38), is alive and well and splitting time between homes in Alabama, Georgia and California. Bruce, who is in the grocery business, made an appearance last week in Birmingham at an Iron Bowl function honoring former greats from both sides of the rivalry.
And The Dash is doubly pleased to report that the APB subject from two weeks ago, former Miami running back Cleveland Gary (39), contacted The Dash. Gary is alive and well and living in his hometown of Stuart, Fla., where he describes himself as "a diehard financier." Gary also said he's just finished a 207-page book called "The Truth Behind The Ball," which he says is a behind-the-scenes look at football. Gary says his book "is not slandering anybody," but that is serves as an alert to parents who have aspiring football players. "It tells the real story," Gary said. "It pulls no punches." He said he does not yet have a publisher for the book.
When hungry in East Lansing, Mich., The Dash recommends buddying up to Michigan State sports information director John Lewandowski (40). Lewie likes his food, and he put out a swell spread for visiting media and bowl reps at a Spartans hockey game the night before they played Penn State in football. The brats were good, the peanut butter chocolate cake was better. Everyone in attendance gained five pounds.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.
ESPN TOP HEADLINES
- Spurs cruise past Grizzlies to take Game 1
- LeBron to Vogel: 'We're not just another team'
- Cabrera hits 3 HRs, but Tigers lose in Texas
- Greening's goal in 2 OT leads Sens by Pens