Dashing through some midterm ads

Updated: September 27, 2006, 12:32 PM ET
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football ("Thank Touchdown Jesus for Terrail Lambert (1)" T-shirts sold separately):

Dear Domers: It Ain't Happening
Notre Dame's spectacular comeback in East Lansing -- combined with a Michigan State collapse that could be the beginning of the end for John L. Smith (2) -- will be talked about for years. It will not, however, be remembered as the game that sparked a backdoor national championship run.

Alana De La Garza
AP Photo/ Louis LanzanoEven Dashette Alana De La Garza knows ND is a long shot to win the title.
The Dash looked it up: since the AP poll cranked up in 1936, no national champion has ever lost by as many as 26 points, as the Fighting Irish did against Michigan Sept. 16. The closest was Miami's first national title team, in 1983, which lost its opener 28-3 to Florida and then ran the table -- capped by that epic Orange Bowl upset of juggernaut Nebraska. (Note, too, that Miami's loss to Florida was on the road. Notre Dame's maize-and-blue beating came at home.)

Not only that, but no team with a 26-point loss has ever finished in the top two in the final regular-season AP poll -- and finishing in the top two is what it's all about these days if you want a shot at the title in the BCS championship game.

So it will take something surpassingly strange for the Irish to play anything other than spoiler to a USC title drive in November. Something like 1990, when Colorado somehow won a share of the national championship with a loss, a tie and the fifth-down bank heist of Missouri all on its permanent record.

Charlie Weis has a better chance of smooching Dashette Alana De La Garza (3) than he has of smooching the crystal football this season.

I'm The Dash And I Approve This Message
It's midterm election time, which means it's political advertising time. If you're like The Dash, you cannot turn on the TV or radio these days without hearing a candidate announcing his/her piety and integrity while denouncing his/her deceitful and devious opponent. Which might explain why the TV and radio haven't been on much lately.

But it also got The Dash to thinking: What if the major football conferences had to sell their performances so far this September to the ticket-buying public and score-keeping media? How would they promote their leagues? And how would the opposition try to tear them down?

The Dash's 30-second ad campaigns, by conference:

John Swofford
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonOne spin calls John Swofford's ACC competitive. Another spin just calls it lousy.
Atlantic Coast Conference

Their ad: (Open with shot of commissioner John Swofford (4), jaw jutting out, walking with purpose toward the sunrise while flanked by his family.) "John Swofford is a man of vision, and that vision of an expanded and enhanced ACC is paying off for the league's fans. They've been treated to four weeks of competitive games, close scores and fantastic finishes." (Roll tape of frantic last-second results.) "NC State wins one game in the final 10 seconds and loses one on the final play. Boston College is addicted to dramatic conclusions. Clemson splits a pair of consecutive overtime league games. Wake Forest beats Duke by a point. Florida State-Miami is decided by the usual field goal margin." (Roll tape of exuberant fans in the stands celebrating a close victory.) "Nobody on the Atlantic seaboard has any fingernails left -- and it's still September."

The attack ad: (Open with unflattering black-and-white shot of Swofford with his mouth open.) "John Swofford has sold the Atlantic seaboard a bill of goods." (Show graphic of AP Top 10, then roll a list of bad losses.) "The games are close because the league is uniformly lousy -- and the alleged marquee FSU-Miami matchup proved it. The ACC has a 3-4 record against the Big East it raided two years ago; has a 1-2 record against the Mid-American Conference; has no teams in the Top 10; has no marquee nonconference wins; and has five head coaches under fire." (Cut to unflattering black-and-white shots of Chuck Amato, Larry Coker, John Bunting, Al Groh and Ted Roof.) "Does anyone really need another eight weeks of this junk?"

Vince Young
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireWith Vince Young gone, is the title-game party over for the Big 12 this season?
Big 12 Conference

Their ad: (Open with shot of Vince Young pointing to the fans in the Rose Bowl while confetti rains down.) "The Big 12 is a league of champions. A league of heavyweights. A league that knows how to bring home the hardware." (Roll tape of Bob Stoops (5) holding up the national championship trophy in 2000.) "The Big 12 has had two Heisman Trophy winners this century alone and has the man who can bring home a third." (Roll tape of Adrian Peterson (6) blazing through various defenses.) "It can also be a league of surprises." (Roll tape of undefeated Missouri.) "And if it weren't for the unscrupulous, conspiratorial and dishonest officials of the Pacific-10, the Big 12 would still have a legit national title contender." (Show black-and-white photo of referee on the phone to the replay booth from Oklahoma-Oregon game.) "The Big 12. When we don't get screwed, we're really good."

The attack ad: (Open with same shot of Vince Young, then freeze the frame and fade to black.) "Vince Young doesn't live here anymore, and neither does championship football." (Cut to split-screen, slow-motion, black-and-white misery shots of Mack Brown (7) against Ohio State and Dan Hawkins (8) against Montana State.) "Fact: On Sept. 15 and 16, seven Big 12 teams lost nonconference games -- including losses to teams from the MAC and the Mountain West." (Cut to half-screen video of a baby crying. Place next to picture of Oklahoma president David Boren (9).) "The most noteworthy Big 12 moment of September has been the David Boren-led whining over the outcome of the game at Oregon. Is this a league of champions or a league of crybabies?"

Greg Schiano, right, and Manny Collins
Grant Halverson/WireImage.comA Big East ad campaign would highlight Greg Schiano and Rutgers.
Big East Conference

Their ad: (Open with shot of a laughing Mike Tranghese (10), with an American flag fluttering in the background.) "Some doubters gave up on the Big East two years ago. Now they're back, with a new appreciation for a league of survivors, strivers and thrivers." (Show graphic of the AP Top 10.) "There are two undefeated Big East teams in the thick of the national title race. You won't find an ACC team on this list." (Roll tape of Louisville laying the wood to Miami, then Steve Slaton (11) running through Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, then tape of Greg Schiano (12) congratulating his players.) "The Big East has the nation's No. 1 offense in Louisville, one of the nation's finest running backs in Slaton and one of the nation's freshest success stories in Rutgers." (Show graphic of the Louisville and West Virginia logos.) "And on Nov. 2, it could have one of the biggest games of the year when the Mountaineers visit the Cardinals." (Back to stand-up with Tranghese.) "I'm commissioner Mike Tranghese. Welcome to the Big East bandwagon. We knew you'd come back."

The attack ad: (Open with distorted, slow-motion video of Tranghese.) "The Big East wants you to believe it's having a breakthrough season, but you need to know the facts. Fact: Just two of the league's 22 nonconference victories have come against I-A opponents with winning records. Ask yourself: Who has this league beaten?" (Roll tape of Michael Bush (13) and Brian Brohm (14) getting hurt.) "Ask yourself: Can Louisville really keep winning without its two best players?" (Roll tape of an opposing quarterback passing the ball against West Virginia.) "Ask yourself: Can West Virginia really be a national title contender without a pass rush? Fact: the Mountaineers are the only team in the country with zero sacks in four games." (Roll tape of Syracuse being stopped at the 1-yard line -- repeatedly -- by Iowa.) "When it comes to delivering on its promises, the Big East still can't find paydirt."

Mario Manningham
AP Photo/Michael ConroyThe Big Ten's ad campaign could roll tape on Michigan's Mario Manningham.
Big Ten Conference

Their ad: (Open with video of Jim Delany (15) patting a baby on the head -- oh, wait, that's Pat Fitzgerald (16) he's patting. Cut to Delany shaking hands with a senior citizen -- oh, wait, that's Joe Paterno (17).) "As the most tradition-steeped conference in the country, the Big Ten doesn't need to make inflated claims like some of its competitors. It simply lets the record do the talking." (Roll tape of Troy Smith (18) throwing his runaround bomb against Penn State.) "Undefeated Ohio State is No. 1." (Roll tape of Mario Manningham (19) scoring on Notre Dame.) "Undefeated Michigan is No. 5." (Roll tape of Iowa's goal-line stand against Syracuse.) "Undefeated Iowa is No. 13." (Roll tape of Michigan State-Notre Dame.) "And if Michigan State could close a game without self-destruction, it would be undefeated and ranked, too." (Roll tape of Bo and Woody, just because.) "When the round-robin between the Buckeyes, Hawkeyes and Wolverines is done, the Big Ten will have a team in Arizona in January. Bank on it. And come join us."

The attack ad: (Open with slow-motion video of an Illinois quarterback -- pick one -- throwing an interception.) "The Big Ten likes to talk about its best teams, but it doesn't like to talk about anyone else in the league. What is the Big Ten trying to hide?" (Roll slow-motion tape of an Indiana running back -- pick one -- being hammered for a 3-yard loss.) "Could it be that the Big Ten really doesn't care about its middle class and working poor? Could it be that the bottom of this league is as bad as it's ever been?" (Roll slow-motion tape of a Northwestern defensive player -- pick one -- missing a tackle against New Hampshire.) "Seven of the league's 11 teams are lacking a quality nonconference win, defined as a team ranked in the top 50 of the Sagarin Ratings. And seven teams have played schedules ranked 61st or worse to date by Sagarin. When the Big Ten talks, remember the story it isn't telling you."

Pete Carroll
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesPete Carroll and the Trojans haven't lost a step in the Pac-10.
Pacific-10 Conference

Their ad: (Open with ground-up video of Pete Carroll (20) standing tall in L.A. Coliseum.) "The other leagues tried to tell you that USC would take a step back in 2006, and the Pac-10 would backslide with it." (Roll tape of John David Booty (21) throwing a touchdown pass to Dwayne Jarrett (22).) "They said the Trojans would never be the same after losing Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush." (Roll tape of the USC defense suffocating Arkansas, Nebraska and Arizona.) "They said it was time for someone else to assume the role of the preeminent program in the country." (Roll tape of Traveler, the USC song girls, the USC marching band. Cue stand-up of Will Ferrell (23).) "This is Will Ferrell, inviting you to check the rankings and see how far USC football has fallen. Fight on."

The attack ad: (Open with the logos of nine conference schools not named USC.) "Guess which schools the Pac-10 forgot to mention in its misleading and deceptive ad." (Roll tape of Tennessee trampling California.) "All but one." (Roll tape of Auburn throttling Washington State.) "The Pac-10 is a single-issue candidate in terms of competition for the national title. When the conversation doesn't involve USC, they change the subject." (Roll tape of LSU slaughtering Arizona.) "How much longer do we have to stand for this one-trick Trojan horse of a league?" (Roll tape of Boise State crushing Oregon State.) "How bad can we afford to allow it to get?" (Roll tape of Stanford failing to tackle anyone.) "And we won't even mention the officiating." (Black-and-white still shot of The Villainous Replay Ref.)

Mike Slive
AP Photo/Butch DillMike Slive knows the SEC is strong on defense.
Southeastern Conference

Their ad: (Open with video of Mike Slive (24) wearing a helmet and riding in a tank.) "Nobody is stronger on defense issues than the SEC. This isn't just the toughest conference in the country, it's the toughest conference to score in, too." (Show graphic of the AP Top 10.) "Four teams in the Top 10 -- it's a landmark achievement for most leagues. For the SEC, it's a fairly common occurrence -- the eighth time it's happened since we expanded to 12 teams in 1991." (Show graphic of October games to come.) "No league is set for a bigger, better month than us. Oct. 7: LSU at Florida, Tennessee at Georgia. Oct. 14: Florida at Auburn. Oct. 21: Alabama at Tennessee. Oct. 28: Florida versus Georgia in Jacksonville. You won't be able to take your eyes off of us." (Roll tape of tank opening fire.) "And if the BCS jobs our champion again like it did in 2004, we're invading NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis."

The attack ad: (Open with black-and-white free frame of Slive in the helmet.) "It was a bad look for Michael Dukakis 18 years ago. It's a bad look for Mike Slive today. He knows his league is all talk and no offensive firepower." (Roll tape of incomplete passes and ineffective runs.) "Of the 10 league games played so far, the average regulation score is 20-9. That's not simply good defense." (Roll tape of Alabama-Arkansas, as coaches Houston Nutt (25) and Mike Shula (26) try to out-timid each other.) "It's hopelessly conservative play calling and inept execution." (Roll tape of blundering Mississippi State Bulldogs and Ole Miss Rebels.) "And remember, this is the league that has fostered a growing chasm between the haves and have-nots. Sure, there are four teams in the Top 10 -- but there are also five teams ranked 57th or worse in the Sagarin Ratings. The bottom half of the SEC is no better than the bottom half of the ACC -- in a down year for the ACC."

Injured But Undaunted
Two teams in America could be making every excuse under the sun right now after injuries to key players early in the season. Neither has needed to utter a peep, because neither has lost a game.

Louisville (27) you know about. A team with two Heisman candidates now has none, after Bush's broken leg in the first game and Brohm's torn thumb ligament in the third. The Cardinals' underrated recruiting efforts have allowed them to plug those holes well enough to keep rolling -- but the unsung heroes are on the defensive side of the ball. Coordinator Mike Cassity (28) has tightened up his D after giving up too many deep balls in the opener against Kentucky, and his pressure-intensive scheme has only given up 13 points in Louisville's last three games. The Cards are sixth nationally against the run and 10th in sacks, making a living by creating chaos in the opposing backfield.

Jim Grobe
Brian A. Westerholt/WireImage.comJim Grobe and surprising Wake Forest are 4-0 this season.
Wake Forest (29) is the most surprising unbeaten left in America. The Demon Deacons not only are the lone team with four victories over teams from the Big Six conferences -- one from the SEC, one from the ACC and two from the Big East -- they've done it, like Louisville, without their starting quarterback (Ben Mauk, broken arm) and top running back (Micah Andrews, blown knee).

And make no mistake: Wake Forest traditionally is not the type of school that can suffer significant injuries and keep winning. Yet without Mauk, Andrews and starting offensive lineman Arby Jones, the Deacons steamrolled miserable Mississippi (30) 27-3 -- passing just five times -- to go 4-0 for the first time in 19 years.

"Those two kids [Mauk and Andrews] were really the keys to our offensive football team," wildly underrated coach Jim Grobe (31) said. "But it doesn't seem to affect our players. They love those two guys, but it doesn't bother us on Saturdays.

"The kids have been very resilient. I think we'd be in real trouble if our kids had panicked, and they never panicked."

The biggest reason is a defense that has asserted itself, giving up just 39 points in four games -- and, significantly, giving up absolutely no points so far in the fourth quarter.

"The defense has picked up the slack, and that's what we needed to have happen," Grobe said. "In the last couple of years we lost too many games in the fourth quarter -- lost more than our share of games late in the fourth quarter. Now we've become a pretty good fourth-quarter team, and it's more because of experience. Some of these guys have lost heartbreakers in the past, and they've found by experience how to win late."

Last Interception Pool
One week into The Dash's annual Last Interception Pool, and the crowd is already more scarce than the Walt Harris (32) Fan Club. Three big-name guys threw their first picks of the season last week: Smith, Booty and Boise State's Jared Zabransky. Wake Forest freshman Riley Skinner didn't throw enough passes to remain qualified under the NCAA pass efficiency rules. That leaves just three quarterbacks to fight it out for the lavish Dash grand prize -- an ESPN pen and a box of half-filled reporter notepads.

The remaining contestants:

Drew Willy (33) of Buffalo: no picks in 118 attempts. Next up: the Bulls have a bye, which, given last week's attrition rate, could make Willy the man to beat.

Stephen McGee (34) of Texas A&M (the same school as former LIP winner Reggie McNeal): no picks in 90 attempts. Next up: Texas Tech.

Thaddeus Lewis (35) of Duke: no picks in 62 attempts. Next up: Virginia.

Reader E-mail Of The Week
The Dash was, shall we say, touched by the e-mail response to last week's column from Sooner Nation (36). Given the volume of correspondence, it seems fitting to sample multiple respondents, the vast majority of whom took strident issue with The Dash's criticism of Oklahoma's extended petulance in the wake of the officiating debacle at Oregon (names deleted and prose verbatim):

You must be a Pac-10 fan you [derogatory term for a homosexual]. Horrible article you wrote, truth is if it was your alumni that got ripped out of a win you would be irate as well. It hurt the Sooners in there pursuit of a BCS bowl. The only calls the review booth got right were the Malcolm Kelly reception and to my suprise the fumble by Jonathan Stewart. You obviously dislike Oklahoma football. The addition of replay is supposed to make the games more fair not the other way around. Not only did the replay booth get the onside kick call wrong and pass interference -- which was a terrible call as well [I saw no interference on the play] but the ball was tipped, there were 7 officials who couldn't get the calls right. In my opinion a one-game suspension doesn't do justice -- it messes the Sooners' whole season up so the least they should get suspended for the year without pay. The way to make a replay booth fair is to have an official of each of the conference there not a Pac-10 homer who spent 28 years working for the Pac-10. I am glad Gordon Riese is getting death threats because he deserves them. You are a terrible writer and I hope ESPN fires you for your blatant homerism you [expletive-charged term for a homosexual] moron!

Dash Note: The author of the above valentine was, allegedly, a woman.

Hey,

Read your column yesterday. Listen:

When I was a kid my parents called me "No Fair Lisa."

No fair: Jenny stole my toy!
No fair: Annie got more cookies!
No fair, no fair, no fair!

So, it's only appropriate that I now count myself among the Sooner faithful.

But I have to tell you, even I, "No Fair Lisa," am mortified at the behavior of certain OU administrators and fans.

So you have to tell the world. Some of us are decent. Some of us are reasonable, even. Did we throw things at the televison set? Did we shout obscenities? Sure! Anybody would … But do we threaten violence, call for a no-contest, or pretend that the Sooners have a defensive line? No, we don't.

We realize that top teams (and their fans) are gracious in both victory and defeat. We congratulate the Ducks on a hard-fought game and we look forward to supporting our team next week. Please don't allow the few very loud, obscene, and apparently violent among us speak for the Sooner Nation as a whole.

Dash Note: Dozens -- perhaps even hundreds -- of Oklahoma fans wrote to disagree without being overly obscene or violent. So The Dash does not think ill of Sooner Nation as a whole.

And The Dash's personal favorite:

As an irate Sooner fan, I have only one question for you -- How could you not post a picture of this week's Dashette?

Dash note: There was difficulty finding a useable shot of last week's Dashette. We will take pains to insure it does not happen again.

Putting Out An APB For …
… Famous Amos Lawrence (37), the former North Carolina tailback who rushed for 1,000 yards four straight seasons (1977-80) and remains the school's all-time leading rusher. The Tar Heels went 11-1 in Lawrence's senior season and finished the year ranked 10th. That ranking has only been outdone once since then, when the Heels wound up sixth in 1997 -- Mack Brown's final season in Chapel Hill before leaving for that little fixer-upper job in Austin.

Point After
When thirsty in Minneapolis (38), The Dash recommends a visit to Nye's Polonaise Emporium (39), which is just about too funny for words. GQ or Esquire -- one of those magazines that specializes in arch hipness -- recently named Nye's the No. 1 bar in America, and it's easy to see why.

Start with the self-titled World's Most Dangerous Polka Band (40), which one recent night was cranking out an up-tempo version of "America The Beautiful" for people to dance to. The three-piece band members include two older fellows in white shirts and ties (one on trumpet, the other drums) and a cranky septuagenarian broad who rests her accordion on thighs thicker than Corey Simon's.

Fans of old-school Midwestern Americana will appreciate more than just the music, though. The wood paneling, Christmas lights and faded formica bar top make this the perfect place for a Miller High Life commercial -- but the beer selection is, thankfully, broader than that. Skal!

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.