The Dash follows through on some midseason kicks

Updated: October 10, 2006, 2:11 PM ET
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (Chuck Amato (1) Career Resuscitation Paddles sold separately -- Bowden Batteries (2) not included):

Kickers Gone Wild
The Dash has an amused interest in kickers, those oddball fourth-down foot fetishists who so often wind up with games -- and entire seasons -- riding on their narrow shoulders. But even in a subspecialty populated by the eccentric and unusual, this has been a weird year.

• The gold standard for kicker kookiness was set when Mitch Cozad, the backup punter at Northern Colorado (3), allegedly knifed Rafael Mendoza, the first stringer, in his kicking leg in an apparent attempt to stab his way into the starting lineup.

Michael Braunstein
Jesse Beals/Icon SMIMichael Braunstein has his swagger back.
• Then there is Washington place-kicker Michael Braunstein (4). In August he proclaimed to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, "I look at myself as one of the premier kickers in the country." At the time, Braunstein had a career-long kick of 29 yards.

"A kicker has to have that swagger," the junior continued. "I'd lost a lot of that, but I'm back to thinking I'm the man. … I'm the [expletive]." That he is, in a manner of speaking. Braunstein now has a career long of 32 yards -- and also has misses of 22 and 39 yards in six attempts on the season. Seems the Groza Award can wait.

• Don't forget Boston College kicker Ryan Ohliger (5), who was suspended indefinitely last week after being involved in an altercation outside a bar. Ohliger told the Boston Herald he was acting in self defense after being accosted by several antagonists. They might have been reminding Ohliger of the three extra points he missed in two weeks.

• And the capper was the Texas Shankfest (6) in Denton on Saturday. North Texas beat Florida International 25-22 … in seven overtimes. How could a game that long not wind up in the 60s? When the kickers combine to miss eight field goals, five of them shorter than 40 yards.

Mean Green kicker Denis Hopovac (7) was 5-of-9 but made the winner, from 34 yards out. Golden Panthers kicker Dustin Rivest (8) was 3-of-7 on field goals, and his blocked point-after attempt earlier in the game proved FIU's undoing.

"I've been involved in a lot of games," FIU coach Don Strock said. "But none quite like that one."

Mayra Veronica
Jean Baptiste Lacroix/WireImage.comDashette Mayra Veronica has a thing for snakebitten teams like the Panthers.
That's saying something. Strock was the Miami quarterback in a game some consider the greatest in NFL playoff history: San Diego 41, Miami 38, in 1982.

It was only the latest special-teams disaster and gut-busting loss for 0-6 FIU, The Dash's nominee for Snakebitten Team of the Year (9). The Panthers lost their first two games by a single point each -- and missed PATs in each. On the year, they have missed six field goals and four points after, and five of their six defeats have been by five points or less.

In two losses, FIU's defense sustained the winning drives with 15-yard penalties after stopping the opposition on third down. They've failed on numerous occasions to pick up a yard in key situations. They're 116th nationally in net punting.

But they keep lining up every Saturday and competing -- and, ultimately, coming up just short.

"We know how close we are," said Strock, whose reward for perseverance in the face of misfortune is consecutive games against Miami and Alabama.

Cheer up, Panthers. Dashette Mayra Veronica (10) has a thing for lovable losers.

Who's No. 2?
Ohio State (11) has a hammerlock on the top spot in the polls, and with five more games as a prohibitive favorite between now and Armageddon (home vs. Michigan Nov. 18), that isn't likely to change. So The Dash's task is to identify the second-best team among a six-pack of pursuers:

John David Booty #10
Brian Bahr/Getty ImagesJohn David Booty has led the Trojans to a 5-0 start.
USC (12): The Trojans are undefeated in five games -- all against opponents from Big Six conferences, and three of them on the road. They've trailed for a total of 4 minutes, 11 seconds -- none of them in the second half. They've been vulnerable, but not yet beatable.

Statement games: USC 50, Arkansas 14 -- looks all the stronger after the Razorbacks whipped Auburn on Saturday; USC 28, Nebraska 10 -- put the Cornhuskers back in their place on the pretender pile.

Blah games: Three Pac-10 wins by a total of 29 points, all against teams predicted to finish in the lower half of the league (Arizona, Washington State and Washington).

Next game: Home against Arizona State, purveyors of two-hand touch defense, on Saturday. That should cure USC's run of three straight Pac-10 games without scoring 30 points, which hadn't happened since coach Pete Carroll's inaugural season in L.A.

What the computers say: The microchips love the Trojans. In fact, three computer rankings used in the BCS formula rank USC No. 1, over Ohio State. Let the wailing in Columbus commence.

Florida (13): The Gators are playing some of the stoutest defense anywhere, surrendering just 9.5 points per game (second in the nation). Coach Urban Meyer appears to have created a platoon quarterback system that works. But after playing five of the first six in The Swamp, Florida must do its heavy lifting from now on away from Gainesville.

Statement games: Florida 21, Tennessee 20 -- a gritty comeback win on the road, something notably absent in Meyer's first season with the Gators; Florida 23, LSU 10 -- Tigers were officially punted from national title contention, while the Gators' stock soared.

Blah game: Florida trailed a mediocre Alabama team by 10 in the second quarter and didn't put the Crimson Tide away until a 70-yard interception return for a touchdown with less than five minutes to play.

Next game: At Auburn on Saturday. A win on The Plains would cement Florida as the premier team in the SEC heading down the stretch.

What the computers say: Two rank the Gators third, one fourth, one second. Beating Auburn could supercharge their standing with the microchip crowd.

Mario Manningham (86)
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioThe Wolverines won't be celebrating if Mario Manningham is out of the lineup.
Michigan (14): The Wolverines aren't just undefeated, they're unchallenged. Every victory has been by at least two touchdowns. They lead the nation in rushing defense and time of possession, and nobody's talking about running coach Lloyd Carr out of town anymore. Unfortunately, Carr is talking about Tuesday's arthroscopic surgery to touchdown machine Mario Manningham's knee.

Statement games: Michigan 47, Notre Dame 21 -- arguably the biggest road win of the year by anyone (Ohio State being the arguing partner, pointing to its whipping of Texas); Michigan 27, Wisconsin 13 -- the Badgers were unbeaten at the time and the Wolverines were coming off that emotional high in South Bend.

Blah game: Beating Vanderbilt 27-7 in the opener didn't leave anybody breathless. Michigan was fortunate to have a 13-7 halftime lead.

Next game: At Penn State on Saturday. The Nittany Lions are nowhere near as good as last year, but they're burning for vengeance after their only loss of 2005, a controversial one in Ann Arbor. Not an ideal spot to walk into without Manningham, if he can't go.

What the computers say: The Wolverines are a solid fourth member of the computer Big Four, ranking behind Ohio State, USC and Florida but ahead of everybody else.

West Virginia (15): If anyone says they know how good the Mountaineers truly are, they're lying. The combined record of their four I-A opponents to date is 7-14. The one thing we know for sure is that West Virginia is practiced at the art of power football (second in the nation in rushing offense) and downright averse to airing it out (just 16.2 pass attempts per game). Predictable? Yes. Stoppable? Not yet.

Statement game: Jumping out 28-0 on Maryland and sloppily cruising home with a 45-24 win comes closest.

Blah games: The Mountaineers haven't been very impressive in their two road contests. They were up only a touchdown in the fourth quarter at East Carolina before pulling away, and they needed two scores in the final three minutes to make their 42-14 win at Mississippi State look authoritative.

Next game: Home against an improved Syracuse team Saturday. It hardly qualifies as a test, but at least it's not Eastern Washington.

What the computers say: They hate the Mountaineers so far. One ranks them 29th, another 24th. Maryland and Marshall blew fourth-quarter leads last week against Georgia Tech and Central Florida, respectively, two games that could have helped WVU's strength of schedule.

Texas (16): With Ohio State an unquestioned No. 1, the Longhorns are wearing their loss to the Buckeyes as a badge of honor these days. Give Texas credit, at least, for playing one high-caliber nonconference game. Given the rickety state of the Big 12, the Horns have reason to believe they can win out.

Colt McCoy
Tim Heitman/US PresswireColt McCoy has UT in the No. 2 discussion.
Statement game: Texas 28, Oklahoma 10 -- the Stoops stranglehold on the Red River Rivalry is over. Young pup Colt McCoy showcased his progress since that Ohio State loss.

Blah game: Horns led just 16-14 in the second quarter of a crazy-weather game against Iowa State.

Next game: Home against persistent Baylor on Saturday -- Texas' seventh straight contest on Lone Star State soil. After that come consecutive road games against Nebraska and Texas Tech.

What the computers say: They don't like the Horns as much as the pollsters do, ranking Texas anywhere from sixth to 16th. That's what playing North Texas, Rice and Sam Houston State will do for you.

Louisville (17): Nobody has endured bigger injuries than the Cardinals, yet they've still dominated all five opponents to date. They lead the nation in scoring margin, winning by an average of 32.4 points per game, not to mention total offense and scoring offense. Quarterback Brian Brohm started throwing again Monday, three weeks after thumb surgery, but it's unclear when he'll play next.

Statement game: Louisville 31, Miami 7. The Hurricanes are no powerhouse, but a 24-point Cardinals win without running back Michael Bush and with Brohm going down midgame was an emphatic statement that Louisville has stockpiled elite talent.

Blah game: In front of a majority-Louisville crowd in Nashville on Friday, the Cardinals schlepped through the first half against Middle Tennessee State. Outscoring the Blue Raiders 21-7 after halftime made the 44-17 win look better than it was.

Next game: Home against Cincinnati. Last time the Bearcats played in Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, they stomped on the Cardinal logo at midfield. Final score: Louisville 70, Cincy 7.

What the computers say: Mixed reviews. The Jeff Sagarin version used in BCS computations ranks Louisville 20th, while the others put the Cards between No. 9 and No. 12. Playing Temple can only hurt your computer rating, even when you beat the Owls 62-0.

Last Interception Pool
We have a winner in LIP Bowl I: Ball State freshman quarterback Nate Davis (18) defeated Buffalo sophomore Drew Willy (19) by a quarter on Saturday. In a gripping head-to-head matchup of the last two quarterbacks among the NCAA pass efficiency top 100 without an interception, Willy blinked first.

He threw a second-quarter oskie -- Willy's 132nd pass of the season -- to Ball State's Mike Dorulla. That handed the LIP title to Davis, who began the season as a backup and now has become the No. 1-rated passer in the country. Alas, the LIP championship clearly went to Davis' head, because in the third quarter the kid's 88th pass of the season was not just a pick -- it was a pick six. Kareem Byrom took it 42 yards and fumbled it into the end zone, where a teammate recovered it.

In an unrelated development, Ball State won the game 55-25.

Midseason Conference Call
Six leagues. Six weeks in. Three questions each. The Dash has answers.

Southeastern Conference

Best team: Florida (20). The league's last unbeaten hasn't done it the easy way yet. Beating Tennessee, LSU and Alabama is a strong start.

Patrick Willis (49)
Matthew Sharpe/WireImage.com Patrick Willis leads the Rebels with 62 tackles.
Best player: Patrick Willis (21), Ole Miss linebacker. What, you were expecting an offensive player to be the pick in America's foremost defensive league? No way. Willis is the only bright spot on a lousy team, averaging 10.3 tackles per game.

Best coaching job: Phil Fulmer (22), Tennessee. Fulmer began pulling himself out of the fire last year when he replaced offensive coordinator Randy Sanders with David Cutcliffe. Since then, quarterback Erik Ainge looks like a different player, and the Volunteers are playing like a different team than the one that went 5-6 in 2005. Their only loss is by a point to the Gators, and they've walloped California and Georgia.

Big Ten Conference

Best team: The Buckeyes. Not just the best team in the conference, the best team in the country.

Best player: Troy Smith (23), Ohio State quarterback. Not just the best player in the conference, perhaps the best player in the country.

Best coaching job: Lloyd Carr (24), Michigan. Like Fulmer, Carr spent the offseason hearing the home fans call for his job. Like Fulmer, he's shut them all up so far. (Honorable mention to Wisconsin rookie coach Bret Bielema (25), who has the Badgers back in the Top 25, hinting that there might yet be life after Barry Alvarez.)

Tyrone Willingham
Colin Erie/US PresswireTyrone Willingham and the Huskies are 4-2.
Pacific-10 Conference

Best team: The Trojans. What, you were expecting Stanford (26)?

Best player: Keith Rivers (27), USC linebacker. You could choose any of the Trojans linebackers -- Rey Maualuga, Dallas Sartz, Brian Cushing -- and plug them in here. You could choose Dwayne Jarrett, but he's been hurt. You could choose Marshawn Lynch, but he hasn't been spectacular. Give it to Rivers, second on the USC team in tackles and a guy offenses must account for on every play.

Best coaching job: Ty Willingham (28), Washington. Winning record overall at 4-2. Winning record in the Pac-10 at 2-1. The rebuilding job is ahead of schedule for a guy Notre Dame fans think can't even tie his shoes correctly.

Big East Conference

Best team: Louisville has proven more so far. But without Bush and with Brohm's return still unscheduled, West Virginia has the greater upside.

Bobby Petrino
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesBobby Petrino and the Cardinals haven't let a rash of injuries slow them down.
Best player: Steve Slaton (29), West Virginia running back. He's third in the nation in rushing, despite having an eight-carry day against Eastern Washington. Averaging 6.9 yards per run.

Best coaching job: Bobby Petrino (30), Louisville. No Division I-A coach would trade injury reports with Petrino, but 112 of them would trade rankings. Seriously: Who else loses their best two offensive players and still leads the nation in total offense and scoring offense? (Honorable mention to Greg Schiano (31) of 5-0 Rutgers, working a fairy tale in Piscataway, N.J.)

Big 12 Conference

Best team: Texas. The fact that it's not a terribly close competition at this point is less an endorsement of the Longhorns than a condemnation of everyone else.

Best player: Adrian Peterson (32), Oklahoma running back. The Texas game confirmed how hard it is for even a high-quality defense to bring him down with a single tackler. He seems to relish every collision.

Best coaching job: Gary Pinkel (33), Missouri. First 6-0 start for the Tigers since the Nixon administration has delivered Pinkel from the hot seat to the throne room. Mizzou could wind up losing four of its last six -- but then again, with Texas off the schedule, it's not completely insane to foresee 12-0. Wait a minute, yes it is.

Calvin Johnson
Kevin C. Cox/WireImage.comCalvin Johnson has snagged eight touchdown catches in 2006.
Atlantic Coast Conference

Best team: Clemson (34). Maybe. Unless it's Georgia Tech (35). The Dash is certain that it's not the underachievers from Florida (FSU, Miami) or the bums from North Carolina (UNC, NC State, Duke, Wake Forest).

Best player: Calvin Johnson (36), Georgia Tech wide receiver. Scary to think what kind of numbers he'd put up with a big-time quarterback throwing him the ball.

Best coaching job: Jim Grobe (37), Wake Forest. Even if the bubble burst in the fourth quarter Saturday against Clemson -- another in a long series of late Demon Deacons collapses -- Wake (5-1, 1-1 ACC) has massively overachieved. Especially given the injuries it has endured, particularly on offense.

Putting Out An APB For …
… Former Missouri quarterback Phil Bradley (38), an option-runner extraordinaire in the late 1970s/early '80s who went on to a career in pro baseball. Mizzou's current run might be its best since Bradley was running the veer in Columbia. Anyone with information on Bradley's whereabouts, please advise The Dash.

Meanwhile, The Dash received sketchy and conflicting information on last week's APB subject, former Florida State Robo QB Dan Kendra (39). The most seemingly reliable and current reports had Kendra working in medical equipment sales in his home state of Pennsylvania. Kendra opted to join the Navy SEALs at one point, according to news stories, but his name could not be found in a database of training graduates. The Dash's favorite report said that Kendra is actually playing quarterback at Florida under the name "Tim Tebow."

Point After
When hungry and attempting to pass yourself off as classy in Dallas, The Dash recommends dinner at Al Biernat's (40), a swank steak place that will serve you a swell bottle of red wine with your red meat. But they won't serve you a bottle of OU Suks beer, which several Texas fans told The Dash is real and was for sale in several locales leading into the Red River Rivalry. One reader passed along an e-mail of a purported label of the beer, which bills itself thusly: "Brewed south of the Red River, to prevent impurities and single-branch family trees, this Texas beer has something Oklahomans can only wish for: distinctively smooth taste." Them's fightin' words -- as if Oklahoma and Texas needed any more reasons to get mad at each other.

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