Dashing through September's inventory
Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football ("Slappy," the new autiobiographical story of self-punishment by John L. Smith (1), sold separately):
We packed five Saturdays into September. That's a whole lot of blocking, tackling and, in some locales, whining for one month. The Dash reckons it's time to figure out what we learned in that time:
The Dash's response: There is a first time for everything, Vida. Now pipe down or Adriana Lima (3) makes a comeback.
Vida is correct. There has been almost no turbulence to date. Heading into the sixth full week of games, a mere 30 teams have been ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 -- the fewest number at this point since the poll expanded from 20 to 25 in 1989.
Only four ranked teams have lost to unranked opponents, compared with 16 victories by the unranked over the ranked through five weeks last year. The only two Top 25 losses that would register as truly surprising are NC State over Boston College on Sept. 23 and BYU over TCU in Fort Worth last Thursday.
So what has happened? Or, more accurately, not happened?
For starters, top teams have loaded up on home games against beatable opponents. That 12th game on the schedule has been a popular spot for easy marks from I-AA and the Sun Belt, Mid-American and Western Athletic conferences. Of the currently ranked teams, only USC (4) and Notre Dame (5) have played all their games against opponents from the Big Six conferences.
Second: the best teams have taken care of business. Maybe all those scare tactics coaches have used for decades to get their players to respect outmanned opponents are working.
Third: the underdogs haven't been able to finish off an upset. Winless Colorado gave up two fourth-quarter touchdowns at Georgia (6). Troy State scared the starch out of Florida State (7) but threw a crippling interception late. A dropped touchdown pass by South Carolina kept Auburn (8) out of overtime in Columbia.
If the law of averages does its job and remains in effect, all of this could and should change in October. And what if it doesn't change and a bunch of "big six" conferences (say the Pac-10, Big Ten, Big East and SEC) produce undefeated champions? Tell the BCS guardians to prepare for unparalleled bitching.
• September's team is Ohio State (9), which began the month as a soft No. 1 and ended it as the rock-solid top choice. The Buckeyes have pummeled everyone they've faced, including three ranked opponents -- two of them on the road and at night.
• September's coach is Jim Grobe (11) of Wake Forest, whose injury-depleted team is nevertheless the last unbeaten in the biggest flop of a conference, the ACC.
• September's game is Notre Dame 40, Michigan State 37 (12). A 19-point Fighting Irish rally in the fourth quarter, in the rain? Good enough for The Dash. Nowhere near good enough for Michigan State fans.
• September's league is the Big East (13), which has three unbeatens and two top-10 squads. Six of the eight Big East teams have at least one victory over an opponent from one of the other five power conferences. That's pretty good for a league some wanted to evict from power-conference status.
• Lane Stadium (14). With Georgia Tech's 38-27 win over host Virginia Tech Saturday, the Hokies have lost at least once for six straight years as a home favorite. Playing Metallica really loud doesn't guarantee you're going to win.
• Miami (15). Even the bounce-back victory over Houston was ugly. The Cougars were up 13-7 and inside the Miami 10 when they fumbled in the third quarter of a 14-13 loss. The Hurricanes have scored 31 points in three games against I-A competition.
• Georgia's defense (18). The Dash isn't here to diss the Dawgs' D, but any unit that has played Colorado (114th nationally in scoring offense), Mississippi (111th), UAB (108th), South Carolina (80th) and I-AA Western Kentucky had better be No. 1 in the country in points allowed. If the offense doesn't improve quickly, Georgia will lose at least four games between now and season's end.
• Rudy Carpenter (19). The Dash isn't singling out the Arizona State sophomore; he already did it to himself. "I'm not nearly as good as I thought I was," the kid said after another in a series of poor performances. Sun Devils coach Dirk Koetter made the now-disastrous move of listening to his players and reversing his starting quarterback decision from senior Sam Keller (20) to Carpenter, and he's been the anti-"Rudy" ever since. Last year's NCAA leader in passing efficiency currently ranks 50th, and 6.34 percent of his passes have been intercepted -- seventh-highest among the top 100 QBs in the country.
• Ohio State's replacement parts (21). Nine new starters on defense? Replacing an entire linebacking corps that was the best in the country in 2005? Not an issue, as it turns out. The '06 Buckeyes have surrendered 9.8 points per game; the '05 Bucks had allowed 11.6 through five games. If you're looking for a defensive candidate for the Heisman Trophy, why not Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis (22)? He's got an interception in four straight games and is averaging 8.2 tackles per game.
• Black and gold (23). Not a bad color scheme for up-and-comers. Works for Missouri (5-0). Works for Wake Forest (5-0). Not working so well for Colorado (0-5).
• The Cro-Magnon state of the SEC (25). David Cutcliffe is back in the league, Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer are in Year 2 of program building and eight out of 12 teams returned their passing leader from 2005. So you figure it's time for an offensive renaissance below the Mason-Dixon? Nope. The SEC is even more of a defense-first operation than it was last year, with the top four teams in the nation in scoring defense all hailing from this league. The SEC has seven teams in the top 35 in total defense, just three in the top 35 in total offense.
• Whining (26). The Dash didn't think Gridworld could become any touchier, but The Dash underestimated its inhabitants. The latest from the capital of whine country, Oklahoma, is an online fan petition to the NCAA to have the loss to Oregon nullified -- so far it has more than 14,000 signatures. LSU athletic director Skip Bertman, a model of restraint in comparison to OU president David Boren, nevertheless issued a statement carping about the officials after the Tigers' loss to Auburn. USC got huffy after Brent Musburger had the audacity to report something as banal as the hand signal the Trojans use to identify man-to-man coverage (here's an idea: change the signal). All that complaining, and the first BCS standings aren't even out yet.
Da Man From DeKalb
In its 60-year history, the Mid-American Conference has never had a player finish in the top three in Heisman Trophy voting. Randy Moss (27) of Marshall was fourth in 1997, marking the league's high mark.
Garrett Wolfe might change that.
The first thing you need to know about Wolfe's candidacy is the fact that, through five games, nobody in Division I-A history has ever rushed for more than his 1,181 yards. Nobody.
The second thing you need to know is that that fact actually appalls Wolfe.
Not surprisingly for a guy who's listed at 5-foot-7 and 173 pounds, Wolfe grew up admiring Sanders. He was also a fan of Emmitt Smith, another running back who was once believed to be too small to make it big.
"I was always a big fan of running backs, even though I didn't have the courage to play that position," said Wolfe, a wide receiver at the time. "I thought it was too physical."
His sophomore year of high school, Wolfe was forced into playing running back in a junior varsity game because of injuries. He's never left it since.
The apex of Wolfe's running career was last Saturday, when he ran for 353 yards -- the 13th highest single-game total in I-A history -- on 31 carries on a wet field against Ball State. At least you'd think it was the apex. Not so.
Wolfe said his main goal coming into the season was to grade out at 95 percent or higher in every game on the coaches' film. He graded at 98 percent on each of his first four games this year but was only 96 percent against Ball State.
"I fumbled," Wolfe explained. "That's a no-no. And I also missed a blocking assignment."
Fact is, Wolfe graded out higher against No. 1 Ohio State in the season opener. His 171 yards rushing and 114 receiving against the Buckeyes should be enough to convince Heisman voters that, yes, he can play against the big-name schools, too. He's not just rolling up yards against overmatched MAC defenses.
"Our offensive line coach [Sam Pittman] said this summer, 'You may be doing these things in the MAC, but you're doing it with a MAC offensive line, too,'" Wolfe said. "'If you had USC's offensive line or Ohio State's or Oklahoma's, who knows what you might do?'"
What Wolfe is doing right now is as special as anything ever accomplished by a MAC player. If he keeps going at this pace, there will be no keeping him out of Manhattan for the Heisman award ceremony.
Last Interception Pool
These are the things that happen to you when you're the quarterback at luckless Buffalo: Just when it looks like you've won The Dash's prestigious LIP, along comes a new competitor who sneaks into the competition through the back door.
Duke's Thaddeus Lewis (30) and Texas A&M's Stephen McGee (31) took themselves out of the LIP running by throwing their first picks of the year, leaving Buffalo's Drew Willy (32) as the apparent champion while enjoying a bye week. But up pops Ball State freshman Nate Davis (33), whose 38 passes against Northern Illinois in his first full-time duty of the season gave him enough attempts to be eligible for the NCAA pass efficiency rankings. Davis has not been picked off in 77 collegiate throws. Willy has thrown 41 more times without an oskie, but he doesn't have the title yet.
Now comes the potential for an epic conclusion -- LIP Bowl I, if you will. In a bit of reality drama that "American Idol" wishes it could summon, Willy and Davis will play head-to-head Saturday -- Ball State at Buffalo, 1 p.m. ET kickoff. The Dash will be (the only human) breathlessly monitoring play-by-play from UB Stadium to see whether an LIP champion is crowned.
Reader E-mail Of The Week
As usual, reprinted without editing:
Thanks for your article. Even in your negative view of the golden dome national title run, you leak positive vibes. I believe you can't help but root for the Irish, as many, including me. I did not go to the school, but find it irresistible to root for the gold and blue (what is maize, anyway?). In the spin, I see the opportunity to overcome insurmountable odds -- a springboard to greatness, if you will. Why else would SportsCenter highlight your article? The ND nation is strong, and "dissing" it would create problems, not help ratings. Like many in life, I go through struggles of my own. I'm thinking of placing a picture of a half-full glass of water on my desk, with the personal challenge to always look at it half-full!
Dash response: Very inspirational, thanks for writing.
Not Ivan Maisel (34)
Putting Out An APB For
Former Florida State quarterback/fullback/weight lifter/questionable chemist Dan Kendra (35). The guy was All-Everything in the 1990s coming out of high school, but it never fully translated in Tallahassee. After some early promise as the backup to Thad Busby (36) (another APB candidate), Kendra bulked up to 260 pounds, nearly blew himself up in a home chemistry experiment, blew out a knee and moved to fullback. Last The Dash heard, he quit training camp with the Indianapolis Colts in 1999 and became a Navy SEAL. Anyone with updated information on Kendra, please advise.
Meanwhile, The Dash is pleased to report that last week's APB subject, former North Carolina running back Amos Lawrence (37), is alive and well and living in Chesapeake, Va. According to the UNC Sports Information Department, Lawrence works as a recreation supervisor at St. Brides Correctional Facility.
When seeking revelry in College Station, The Dash suggests putting on your jeans and Tony Lamas for a stroll down University Avenue (38) right after Midnight Yell practice has let out on the Friday before a Texas A&M home game. This isn't the world's greatest college town, but you won't be bored.
There's some serious enthusiasm in the air -- enough to help you understand why Kyle Field's concrete stands jiggle earthquake-style when the fans lock arms, sing and sway back and forth.
There are plenty of bars to hit on the street. Unfortunately, there also are plenty of Anheuser-Busch products being served. Shiner Bock was the tepid best choice at many bars.
The venerable Dixie Chicken (39) is the centerpiece of the strip. No sign of a Tennessee Lamb (40), however.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.
ESPN TOP HEADLINES
- Megatron fastest to 10,000 receiving yards
- RG III calls benching a 'coach's decision'
- Texans' Clowney has 'a lot of pain' in knee
- Clifford sits Stephenson late: 'Not a star' yet