Commentary

September sizzles with shockers, coaching controversies

Originally Published: September 25, 2007
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football ("Remedial Pass Coverage" instructional video sold separately at Louisville [1]):

Scourge Update

Word has reached The Dash that Britney Spears' lawyers will argue in her child-custody case that Brit's reported mental crackup is attributable to poor recruiting by Ty Willingham (2).

Meet The Shockers

Most seasons, there are a handful of results that defy belief, expectation or explanation. It's part of what makes college football fun.

This year we're on fun overload. September alone has been party to a season's worth of no-way-in-hell moments. This month's shocker seven:

Andre' Woodson
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesQB Andre' Woodson and the Wildcats have passed their first five tests in 2007.

Cincinnati (3) is in the Top 25. Every dog might have its day, but not every Bearcat. Cincy hasn't crashed the rankings since 1976 and hasn't been 4-0 since 1954. The coach then? Sid Gillman (4).

Kentucky (5) is in the top 15. The last time that happened was 1977, with a team that was banned from postseason play. The Wildcats have been 4-0 to start a year fairly recently -- 2002 and 1984, to be specific. But prior to '84, the last time they were 4-0 with an SEC victory factored in was 1950. The coach then? Bear Bryant (6).

• The Utah/UCLA (7) mystery. For one surreal day, the Utes owned the Bruins, humiliating them 44-6. Now consider what each team has done before and after that day. Utah: 0-3, beaten by Oregon State, Air Force and UNLV, having scored a total of 19 points in those three games. UCLA: 3-0, beating Stanford, BYU and Washington and scoring 116 points in those victories. So what in the name of Tommy Prothro got into both teams Sept. 15?

Notre Dame (8) is 0-4. Merely unprecedented.

Ball State (9) should have beaten Nebraska (10). The Cardinals lost by a point after leading by nine in the fourth quarter. Along the way they missed an extra point and had a dropped touchdown pass with less than a minute to play. Ball State came into the game 0-24 all-time against teams from BCS conferences. Tom Osborne used to win these games 70-0.

Michigan (11) loses to Appalachian State (12). And now App State has been beaten by Wofford. Time to mark Wofford off the Wolverines' list of future guarantee games, too.

Sonya Kraus
Alexander Hassenstein/Getty ImagesA Louisville D vs. Notre Dame O scrimmage would get Dashette Sonya Kraus' attention.

Louisville (13) loses as a 37-point favorite to Syracuse (14). Believe it or not, the biggest underachiever of 2007 is not the Wolverines, or even the Fighting Irish. The Dash says it's the Cardinals, who have plummeted from the top 10 after consecutive losses -- including a shocker Saturday that, by point spread, ranks as the biggest upset on the books. Ever. Before this game the Orange were in strong contention for worst team from a BCS league. Then they set eyes upon a jaw-droppingly bad defense that cannot wait to let receivers run scot-free behind the secondary. So far the Steve Kragthorpe Era in Louisville has been all about busted coverages and broken streaks: first a four-game winning streak over Kentucky; now a 20-game winning streak at home.

To make someone feel better, The Dash is advocating a weak-on-weak scrimmage: Notre Dame's offense against Louisville's defense. Winning unit earns the right to serve tailgating food to Dashette Sonya Kraus (15).

Coaches Losing It

Congratulations to Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy (16), who showed he can be Bob Knight without the titles after his tantrum in response to a column by the Oklahoman's Jenni Carlson. In the Saturday paper, she questioned the toughness of quarterback Bobby Reid, who'd been benched by Gundy the previous week. Gundy responded by losing his mind after one of the few big victories in his 28-game career as a head coach, a shootout upset of Texas Tech.

On Monday, a completely unapologetic Gundy said it was "unfortunate" that his 3-minute, 20-second tirade took away from his team's victory. Of course, that was his fault, since he deemed trashing a reporter more important than acknowledging the Cowboys' performance.

Coaches have the right to take issue with journalists, and to do it in public. That's part of the job for a columnist to take what he/she dishes out. But this was such a shrill overreaction that the message was lost amid the screaming.

One of Gundy's big complaints was negative treatment of a "kid" who is not being paid to play the game. But coaches never object to the tens of thousands of fans fawning over that kid, the tutors arranged to help him maintain minimum eligibility standards, the training table meals he eats, the tricked-up locker room he changes in -- or the positive press most players receive most of the time. Hero worship is expected and encouraged; criticism is child abuse. It's quite the double standard.

(For the record, Reid is 21 years old. He was old enough to vote in the 2004 presidential election or to die in Iraq. But few people are afforded the means to grow up more slowly than major-college athletes.)

"Come after me!" Gundy bellowed directly at Carlson. "I'm a man! I'm 40!"

OK, if you insist. The Dash will go after Gundy.

The great orator said that the column in question was shown to him, "by a mother. A mother of children."

As opposed to a mother of walruses, presumably.

Gundy went on to say that 75 percent of the column was fabricated. He took issue with two points in the column. So maybe math isn't his specialty.

Anyway, The Dash hopes Gundy felt like a big man when it was over. Next time an ounce of professional decorum would be appreciated. Until then, try to worry more about improving that 13-15 career record that includes seven victories over Sun Belt and I-AA opposition.

(By the way: Gundy says he doesn't read the newspapers. It's The Dash's experience that the majority of coaches who say they don't read the newspapers are lying.)

On the undercard, don't overlook the exchange between Navy coach Paul Johnson (17) and a reporter after practice one day last week. This was from a transcript on the Navy Web site:

Reporter: Can I ask you something without making you mad?

Johnson: Maybe. I don't know.

Paul Johnson
Byron Hetzler/S PRESSWIRENavy's Paul Johnson could draw a crowd at the city dock.

Reporter: I was talking to a Navy fan and he said he follows the coverage and that he noticed something and I'm just going to put it to you. He says that it seems like when Navy loses you blame the players, i.e., we can't execute fundamental plays, but that the success of the team the last four years has been attributed to brilliant coaching. How do you respond to that?

Johnson: Whatever he thinks. I don't go down to McDonald's and start second-guessing his job so he ought to leave me alone.

Reporter: But do you feel like it can't be both ways?

Johnson: You know what? I could care less. I'm old enough where I could give a crap what the fans think or what you think to put it in a nutshell.

Reporter: Wins and losses are evenly distributed as far as credit and blame, right?

Johnson: If you could ever find one time that I said we won the game because of brilliant strategy I will kiss your butt at city dock and give you two days to draw a crowd. Find it and bring it to me. Tell that guy that if he wants to talk to me I live at [address given but deleted for the transcript] I will be right there. Come ring my doorbell and I will be glad to talk to him.

No word on whether the guy rang Johnson's doorbell. Or whether a crowd has gathered at the city dock.

Coaches Catching It

Football has become a Cult of the Coordinator sport. The guys calling plays and defenses get more attention and more money than ever before -- but with that higher profile comes more pressure and scrutiny, as well.

Mike Cassity
Steve Mitchell/AP PhotoMike Cassity's defense has Louisville fans chirping.
Thus it's been open season on defensive coordinators this month. Texas Tech coach Mike Leach forced out his DC, Lyle Setencich (18), the day after the Red Raiders were gouged for 49 points by Mike Gundy's Cowboys. Nebraska fans are calling for the hide of DC Kevin Cosgrove (19) after the Huskers gave up 89 points in two games to USC and, ahem, Ball State. And Louisville fans are chirping about their DC, Mike Cassity (20) after the Cardinals' error-ridden start.

Michigan's Ron English (21) was a hero last year when the Wolverines were going 11-2. Then he was a bum this year when they started 0-2 and surrendered an average of 36.5 points. Now his approval rating is edging back up after his defense allowed nine total points in two wins.

Coaches Regretting It?

As in most professions, coaches want to move up to the bigger paycheck, the bigger office, the bigger challenge. But there are at least three guys in new jobs who might be feeling a little buyer's remorse right now:

Todd Dodge (22), North Texas. Dodge helped create a national powerhouse at Southlake Carroll High School in the Dallas area. Now he's 0-3 with the Mean Green and last in the nation in scoring defense (51.3 points allowed).

Steve Kragthorpe (23), Louisville. Revived the program at Tulsa. Now being accused of tearing down the Cardinals.

Bobby Petrino (24), Atlanta Falcons. Winless in the NFL and coaching Joey Harrington, when he could still be drawing up touchdowns for Brian Brohm at Louisville.

And one coach who made a sideways move that has turned into a step down:

Tom O'Brien (25), North Carolina State. Wolfpack are winless against I-A competition. Meanwhile, O'Brien's old school, Boston College, is undefeated and ranked 12th in the nation.

Shasta To Golden Bear: Duck!

If you're even vaguely acquainted with YouTube, you've probably seen the video of the Sept. 1 mascot throwdown between Shasta (26) the Houston Cougar and the Oregon Duck (27). It's gone worldwide, reportedly drawing especially enthusiastic response in Japan.

Oregon Duck
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesBack from suspension, the Oregon Duck will be on the sideline when Cal hits Autzen Stadium on Saturday.
The video shows a one-sided, web-footed whuppin' at Autzen Stadium, with the Duck abusing poor Shasta far beyond the bounds of normal mascot playfulness. Punches, kicks and a flying elbow drop were enough to get the deranged Duck suspended for Oregon's home game against Fresno State on Sept. 15. But according to Houston, it was selective film usage.

"For what it's worth, [Shasta] did stick the Duck at least once," offered Houston sports information director Chris Burkhalter.

As it turns out, Houston has more than just a fake-furred mascot's manhood to protect. The guy in the Cougar suit happens to be a walk-on wide receiver named Matt Stolt (28) -- and you simply cannot have a football player being owned by a duck. (Most walk-ons don't dress for games.)

So Stolt explained his relative passivity: "Being a mascot is for the fans, it's to represent the school. If you want to fight, take off the gear. He wasn't fighting Matt Stolt, he was fighting Shasta. Shasta got his licks in, but he wasn't there to fight. If it was just me and him, I'd take off the suit and fight."

Stolt admitted he has "taken a little flak" from his teammates over the fight.

"They said there's no reason I should be taking it from a duck," he said.

This is just another line on Stolt's varied Joe College résumé. He's a mascot, he's a football player -- and for his first two years at Houston he played trumpet in the marching band. The only job Stolt hasn't had at home football games is selling popcorn.

"I just like being a part of something and I like to represent UH," said Stolt, a Texas native who will graduate in May with a degree in kinesiology.

Shasta
Danny Moloshok/Getty ImagesShasta has some advice for fellow mascot Oski's looming encounter at Autzen Stadium.
With California visiting Oregon on Saturday for a major showdown, The Dash thought it wise to get Cal's Golden Bear (29) a scouting report on the Duck's dirty tricks. Oski once got into quite a dustup with the Stanford Tree (30) during a basketball game, but this could be a step up in class.

Here's the dish on the duck from Shasta:

"My advice to any mascot that goes against him is not to worry. There won't be a problem. I think the duck's in enough trouble right now. But if it comes to that, just turn that duck's head around so he can't see nothin'."

Last Interception Pool

Back either by popular demand or a need to fill this space, The Dash has resurrected an old favorite: the last interception pool. There are six quarterbacks currently ranked in the top 100 nationally in passing efficiency who have not thrown a pick. Feel free to pick the one you believe will be the final guy to pass one to the wrong colored jersey.

The candidates:

Tyrod Taylor (31), Virginia Tech. Zero picks in 62 attempts. Next up: North Carolina, which has two INTs in 124 attempts against it. Odds of winning: 20-1. Taylor's 62 throws are the first passes of his college career. The defenses will get tougher after the Tar Heels, and an interception is inevitable for a rookie.

Pat White (32), West Virginia. Zero picks in 69 attempts. Next up: South Florida, which has seven INTs in 117 attempts against it. Odds: 12-1. The Mountaineers don't throw it often, so White is at less risk on a down-to-down basis. But the Bulls will provide an immediate test in a very big game.

Matt Grothe
Paul Abell/US PresswireMatt Grothe hasn't thrown a pick in 96 attempts.

Matt Grothe (33), South Florida. Zero picks in 96 attempts. Next up: West Virginia, which has five INTs in 117 attempts against it. Odds: 12-1. He and White are in a pick-off match game Friday night in Tampa.

Dennis Dixon (34), Oregon. Zero picks in 96 attempts. Next up: California, which has six INTs in 172 attempts against it. Odds: 8-1. Dixon's progression as a passer has taken a leap forward this season, but the Golden Bears will present a difficult challenge.

Cullen Harper (35), Clemson. Zero picks in 108 attempts. Next up: Georgia Tech, which has one INT in 130 attempts against it. Odds: 5-1. Harper has been an impressive first-year starter who will face a greater possibility of being sacked by the Yellow Jackets than being intercepted by them.

Andre' Woodson (36), Kentucky. Zero picks in 134 attempts. Next up: Florida Atlantic, which has 10 INTs in 165 attempts against it. Odds: 2-1. Woodson will face a pick-happy defense this week and has LSU looming Oct. 13, but this is the guy currently riding an NCAA-record streak of 296 passes without a pick. Do you want to bet against him?

(An aside: the old stereotype of African-American quarterbacks says they're all about athleticism and not much on the intricacies of the passing game. Four of the six guys on this list are black quarterbacks.)

Putting Out An APB For …

… Former Pittsburgh quarterback Alex Van Pelt (37), the only quarterback in Pitt history to throw for more yards than Dan Marino. At least in college. The Dash is reasonably sure Marino threw for a few more than Van Pelt in the pros. Anyone with information on Van Pelt's whereabouts, please apprise The Dash.

Meanwhile, The Dash has had a multitude of sketchy updates on former USC wide receiver Kareem Kelly (38). Kelly spent time in the CFL and Arena League, and, according to one reader, "is still here in L.A. attending many BBQs at my house." Could you drop Kareem The Dash's number between plates of brisket, please?

Point After

When hungry and thirsty in Tuscaloosa, The Dash recommends eating and drinking somewhere else -- the town is just not big enough to properly entertain 100,000 people on a football Saturday. So if you end up in, say, Birmingham, try the ribs at Dreamland (39) and experience gustatory ecstasy. (Dreamland originated in T-town and remains more real there -- but good luck getting in.) Post-barbecue, hit Little Five Points (40) and check out the underrated bar scene.

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