Commentary

Upsets make midseason landscape hard to recognize

Originally Published: October 9, 2007
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football ("Tree > Traveler" [1] T-shirts sold separately):

Midseason Report

Where does the time go? Seems like just yesterday it was August and we were declaring the Game of the Year in the Big Ten to be Michigan-Wisconsin (2). We were discussing how the coaching change at Louisville (3) figured to be seamless, while it could be difficult at Boston College (4). And everyone with a preseason Top 25 -- and we do mean everyone -- was picking USC (5) No. 1.

Pete Carroll
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillPete Carroll and the Trojans aren't the only ones scratching their heads this season.

Now you look up and we're halfway home in the regular season. It's October (even though we're still getting two-a-days weather in most of the country) and it's hard to recognize the place.

Nine of the teams in the preseason AP top 10 already have lost. Four of them have lost multiple times. Among the teams sporting 5-1 records are perennial non-powers Indiana, Illinois, Virginia, Kentucky and South Carolina. Among the unbeaten are Kansas, Missouri, South Florida, Cincinnati and Connecticut.

And freshly removed from the winless list is Notre Dame, which beat UCLA 20-6 behind the Herculean efforts of linebacker Maurice Crum (6), who intercepted two passes, forced two fumbles and recovered two fumbles, returning one for the clinching touchdown. Don't tell anyone, but Crum was recruited by the scourge of humanity, Ty Willingham (7).

On to the midseason Dashie Awards …

Upset Of The Year (8)

The operative theme for this season: Anything can happen, and will, and the more unlikely it sounds, the more likely it seems to be. When five Top 10 teams lose on a single weekend (Sept. 28-29) and that's not even in the top three most shocking developments of the year, you know it's been nuts.

1. Stanford 24, USC 23 (Oct. 6). As heroic Cardinal receiver Mark Bradford said Sunday, "This feels like Disney really happened to us." Pete Carroll, however, might not share that warm-and-fuzzy feeling after losing to his new nemesis, Jim Harbaugh.

First Harbaugh disclosed last spring that he'd been told this was Carroll's final year at Troy before returning to the NFL. Pete didn't like that. Then Harbaugh said at Pac-10 media day in July that USC might be the best football team ever. Pete didn't like that. Now Harbaugh's team turned a presumed beatdown into the biggest shocker of this or any other century. Don't think Pete liked that much, either.

Jerry Moore
Duane Burleson/AP PhotoJerry Moore and the Mountaineers upset Michigan to kick start 2007's crazy ride.

2. Syracuse 38, Louisville 35 (Sept. 22). In its five games other than this one, the Orange averaged 12 points per game -- and lost all five. So scoring 38 and ending the Cardinals' 20-game home winning streak officially qualifies as preposterous. And provides utter condemnation of Louisville (a team The Dash will further condemn below).

3. Appalachian State 34, Michigan 32 (Sept. 2). The game hailed as the new gold standard for upsets couldn't last three weeks without being topped, and couldn't last five without being topped again.

Game Of The Year (9)

LSU 28, Florida 24. This one scored off the charts for drama, atmosphere and living up to the hype, but none of those was the most impressive aspect of the game. The ferocity from both teams sets it apart.

"There was extremely sincere contact," winning coach Les Miles said. That's almost Pentagonspeak, a polite way of saying the Tigers and Gators beat the snot out of each other in one of the hardest-hitting games The Dash has ever seen in person.

Nothing epitomized the "sincerity" more than a teeth-rattling three-play stretch of the third quarter in which Florida running back Kestahn Moore and LSU safety Craig Steltz went at each other like Ali and Frazier.

Kestahn Moore
AP Photo/Bill HaberKestahn Moore and Craig Steltz (16) crossed paths often in the ferocious Florida-LSU game.

Play 1: Moore ran it between tackles for eight yards, with the play ending on a thunderous head-on collision that knocked both players backward. "It looked like the Red Sea opened up and he was all alone coming through," Steltz told The Dash Monday. "We [safeties] are the last line of defense. I had to get him to the ground. … I was feeling it. He put a lick on me, too."

Play 2: Moore between tackles again, winning the battle by leg-driving through Steltz for 11 yards.

Play 3: Moore one more time up the gut, with Steltz again waiting for him and this time winning the battle by shoving the running back backward and to the turf after a gain of four.

Moore retreated to the sidelines two plays later to get help fixing what looked like a broken helmet or chinstrap -- then he fumbled on his next carry later in that possession, a key play in the game. Steltz kept playing until he racked up 16 high-impact tackles.

"My helmet was a little messed up; I had some equipment messed up," he said. "I don't know if it happened on those plays or not. I had a little bit of treatment on my shoulder [Sunday] and I'm feeling it a bit, but I'll be ready to go."

LSU must keep its sincerity up this week for a potential trap game at Kentucky.

Coach Of The Year (10)

Jim Leavitt, South Florida. He built the thing from the ground up and has two quality wins that are about as good as anybody's: at Auburn and over West Virginia.

Rookie Coach Of The Year (11)

Jeff Jagodzinski, Boston College. He's Larry Coker on training wheels. Coker won his first 24 games as a head coach at Miami. Jagodzinski is now 6-0, aided by inheriting senior QB Matt Ryan and 43 other lettermen, and has the Eagles in the top five.
Les Miles
Doug Benc/Getty ImagesLes Miles' fourth-down gambles paid big dividends against Florida.

Gambler Of The Year (12)

Les Miles, LSU. His game-day rep soared after that gusto-filled win over the Gators. Five times Miles went for it on fourth down, and five times LSU made it -- including passing up a potential tying field goal to boldly go for the winning touchdown. He's now outfoxed two national champion coaches with fake field goals (first Steve Spurrier, then Urban Meyer). And he's rotated two quarterbacks with great results so far, stealing a page from Meyer's 2006 playbook.

Half-Year Heisman

1. Tim Tebow, Florida. He's putting up Vince Young numbers: third in the nation in pass efficiency and halfway to a 1,000-yard rushing season. Nobody is harder to defend, and nobody is more central to his team's success. When Tebow stopped running the ball against LSU -- by design or by physical wear and tear -- the Gators stopped scoring.

2. Chase Daniel, Missouri. Third nationally in total offense and the unquestioned leader of a dynamic Tigers attack. He's probably not his listed height of 6 feet, but he's XXL in terms of smarts and toughness. And if Mizzou beats Oklahoma Saturday in Norman, there might be a change atop the leaderboard.

3. Your Name Here. This remains a w-i-d-e open race. Plenty of time for DeSean Jackson, Glenn Dorsey, Michael Crabtree, Darren McFadden, Mike Hart, P.J. Hill, Matt Ryan, Colt Brennan, Sam Bradford, Dennis Dixon or someone else to swoop in and steal the stiff-armer.

Bust Of The Year (14)

Louisville's season has splintered, with mounting evidence that the players and new coach Steve Kragthorpe are on opposite sides of a great divide.

There have been too many suspensions and other unexplained and/or poorly explained absences from games to make anyone believe that Kragthorpe has full command and respect in the locker room. There have been too many horrific performances -- especially defensively -- to make anyone believe the players are giving maximum effort.

Before the season, anything less than a BCS bowl might have been a disappointment for a fan base looking to sustain the roll that resulted in an Orange Bowl win in 2006. Now 3-3, with home losses to Syracuse and Utah and the remaining six opponents a combined 26-6, the Cardinals will be hard-pressed to make any bowl game.

Spoof Of The Year (15)

Fowler Toyota of Norman (naturally), Okla., unleashed this ad inspired by a certain head coach's September temper tantrum.

Motivational Speech Of The Year, Coaches Division (16)

By Western Kentucky coach David Elson, who sledgehammered a Florida helmet in the locker room in The Swamp minutes before the Hilltoppers first game as a I-A program. It only carried over so far, however, before WKU was sledgehammered on the field 49-3. Watch ESPN Video

Motivational Speech Of The Year, Players Division (17)

By Missouri defensive tackle Lorenzo Williams, who got so fired up during the Tigers' Friday night meeting that he reportedly went ballistic inspiring his teammates to beat Nebraska the following day.

"Zo, he just went crazy," linebacker Sean Weatherspoon told the Kansas City Star. "He starting kicking down boards and everything, getting everybody pumped up."

Missouri's defense responded with its best effort of the season and the Tigers produced their worst beating of the Cornhuskers in 60 years, 41-6.

Alexa Davalos
Getty ImagesDashette Alexa Davalos always gets a good reaction.

Worst Fan Reaction Of The Year (18)

Give it to Gator Nation for the reported 200 threatening phone calls to the owner of the towing company involved in safety Tony Joiner's burglary charge last week. There were multiple death and bomb threats among the calls, owner Stan Forron told Florida Today.

Runner-up is the plastic cup bombardment Alabama fans rained upon Georgia after the Bulldogs scored the winning touchdown in overtime at Tuscaloosa on Sept. 22.

And SEC fans wonder why the rest of the nation thinks they're insane.

Dashette Of The Year (19)

The Dash has special fondness for Andrea Harrison (20) after a real-life airplane encounter, but has no interest in breaking a six-way tie by choosing between Harrison, Talisa Soto (21), Milka Duno (22), Natalia Estrada (23), Sonya Kraus (24) and Selita Ebanks (25). However, there is always room for a seventh. Make space at the tailgate party for Alexa Davalos (25).

Midseason Conference Call

ACC (26)
Best player: Ryan, Boston College. He's averaging 310 passing yards per game and has led the Eagles to their highest ranking since 1984.

Best coaching job: Jagodzinski. See above.

Biggest surprise: That would be BC, which is undefeated after being picked last in its division by at least one preseason magazine.

Biggest disappointment: Several to choose from, but it's hard to do worse than North Carolina State. Tom O'Brien was supposed to upgrade things from the Chuck Amato days, but the Wolfpack is 1-5 and winless against I-A competition.

Who will win it: Virginia Tech might have hit its stride whipping Clemson on the road last week and should win the Coastal. Count on Boston College winning the Atlantic.

Chase Daniel
Daniel Turner/Icon SMIChase Daniel ranks third nationally in total offense.

Big 12 (27)
Best player: Daniel, Missouri. See above.

Best coaching job: Dan Hawkins, Colorado. The Buffaloes (4-2) already have doubled last year's win total and seem like they're fully embracing Hawk Love.

Biggest surprise: Colorado. Nobody outside of the team locker room saw that upset of Oklahoma coming.

Biggest disappointment: Texas edges out Nebraska and others. Losing by 20 at home to Kansas State was not part of the master plan.

Who will win it: Missouri in the North, although the schedule favors the Buffaloes at this point -- and a Mizzou-Kansas rivalry game in Kansas City on the final weekend could have huge stakes. Oklahoma will win the South. Sooners-Tigers title game would be a rematch of this Saturday's game in Norman.

Big East (28)
Best player: The temptation is to stick with Brian Brohm of Louisville, despite the horrific team results. He's on pace to throw for 4,800 yards and 40 touchdowns with just eight interceptions. But it hasn't happened from a leadership standpoint for Brohm, so The Dash is going with incredibly disruptive South Florida defensive end George Selvie. He already has 10.5 sacks and 18 tackles for loss.

Best coaching job: Leavitt. See above.

Biggest surprise: Remarkable as South Florida has been, Cincinnati might be an even bigger shock. The Bearcats are now 6-0 and get Louisville, West Virginia and UConn at home. Road trip to USF Nov. 3 looming large.

Biggest disappointment: Louisville. See above.

Who will win it: South Florida. But the Bulls will lose at least one game along the way.

James Laurinaitis
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesJames Laurinaitis has Ohio State pointed in the right direction.

Big Ten (29)
Best player: Tough choice, but give it to Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis over fellow LB J Leman of Illinois and Michigan running back Mike Hart.

Best coaching job: It's difficult to beat what Ron Zook has done at Illinois, but The Dash's choice is Indiana's Bill Lynch. Remember, he wasn't even the head coach until the summer, when it became apparent that Terry Hoeppner's illness was terminal. Now the Hoosiers are 5-1 and closing in on Hoeppner's stated goal of "playing 13" this season. Biggest surprise: No doubt it's the Illini, which has more victories this year than in the previous two years combined. They'll be in the Big Ten title hunt into November.

Biggest disappointment: So many nominees. But since Michigan and Wisconsin both can recoup the choice has to be Iowa. The Hawkeyes are completely out of the league race, despite being handed a schedule that doesn't include Ohio State and Michigan. They're 0-3 in league play and 2-9 over the past two seasons.

Who will win it: Something tells The Dash that Michigan will be there at the end, after nearly flat-lining at the beginning. What would Wolverines fans say if Lloyd Carr beats Jim Tressel (for a change) to win the league title?

Conference USA (30)
Best player: Kevin Smith, Central Florida. The junior running back leads the nation in rushing at 172 yards per game and has racked up 11 touchdowns. If Smith really wants to make a name for himself, he has an opportunity Saturday against South Florida.

Best coaching job: Mike Price, UTEP. He lost the school's all-time leading passer (Jordan Palmer) and receiver (Johnnie Lee Higgins) but still has the Miners 4-2 overall and 2-0 in league play. And they've scored 148 points in the last three games.

Biggest surprise: East Carolina lost its leading rusher, passer, receiver and tackler from last season but leads the East Division at 2-1 after consecutive wins over Houston and Central Florida.

Biggest disappointment: Nobody was expecting greatness from Marshall, especially against a difficult schedule. But 0-5, including a loss to I-AA New Hampshire, is not ideal.

Who will win it: Southern Mississippi in the East if it can overcome quarterback injuries. And, what the heck, how about Rice to get healthy itself and rebound from an 0-4 start and win the West?

Eugene Jarvis
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesEugene Jarvis is averaging 142 yards per game in 2007.

Mid-American (31)
Best player: Eugene Jarvis, Kent State. He's all of 5 feet, 5 inches and 158 pounds -- and fifth in the nation in rushing, 14th in all-purpose running. Just hope he survives Saturday against Ohio State's sausage factory defense.

Best coaching job: Brady Hoke, Ball State. The Cardinals are four points short of being 5-1, including a win at Nebraska.

Biggest surprise: The Buffalo Bulls won two MAC games combined the past two seasons. They've already equaled that this year with a 2-1 league start.

Biggest disappointment: Toledo. The Rockets are 118th nationally in scoring defense, giving up a minimum of 34 points in every game to date. Not coincidentally, they're also 0-2 in the MAC.

Who will win it: With the MAC's screwed up scheduling, with teams playing varying numbers of league games and only divisional games counting for division championships, it's difficult to figure out. But let's go with Central Michigan in the West and Bowling Green in the East.

Mountain West (32)
Best player: BYU quarterback Max Hall is sixth nationally in total offense and is nearly 100 yards ahead of the MWC competition in that category. Not bad for a first-year starter who hadn't played a competitive game in four years.

Best coaching job: Troy Calhoun, Air Force. He's working a gradual makeover of the Fisher DeBerry ground-bound offensive scheme with surprising results. The Falcons are 4-2 overall, 3-1 in the league.

Biggest surprise: Wyoming. The 4-1 Cowboys gave Virginia its only loss so far, and in turn their only defeat came at Boise State.

Biggest disappointment: TCU, and it's not close. The Horned Frogs began the year talking about BCS busting, but instead have flat busted. They're 1-2 in a league they were expected to dominate.

Who will win it: BYU should be there at the end, though a trip to Laramie Nov. 17 won't be easy.

DeSean Jackson
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesDeSean Jackson scorched the Ducks for 161 yards and two TDs.

Pac-10 (33)
Best player: DeSean Jackson, Cal. He's been huge when the bright lights were on, racking up that crazy punt-return touchdown against Tennessee and catching 11 passes for 161 yards against Oregon. He's scored rushing, receiving and returning a kick this season.

Best coaching job: Jeff Tedford, Cal. The Golden Bears are ranked No. 2, highest ranking since the early 1950s. The man has built a perennial power where many thought it would never be done again.

Biggest surprise: Stanford, for shocking the world.

Biggest disappointment: The city of Los Angeles. UCLA has two horrible losses in what was supposed to be its best season in years, and USC just lost as a 41-point favorite.

Who will win it: Cal, even though the schedule favors Arizona State with five league games at home to the Golden Bears' four.

SEC (34)
Best player: Tim Tebow. See above.

Best coaching job: Les Miles. See above. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is coming through when the whole world expects you to.

Biggest surprise: Kentucky, at 5-1 and ranked in the top 20, has lessened the annual October chatter about basketball in the bluegrass. But the schedule shows no mercy.

Biggest disappointment: Georgia. Yes, the Bulldogs are young. But losing at home to South Carolina and being routed at Tennessee more than cancels out that dramatic road win over Alabama.

Who will win it: LSU in the West, though the next three will be interesting: at Kentucky in a potential letdown game, home against surging Auburn, and at Alabama for the Nick Saban Psychodrama Game. Let's go with the Gators in the East after winning a nailbiter over the Head Ball Coach.

Calvin Dawson
Rex Brown/Getty ImagesCalvin Dawson has rushed for 100 yards in 10 straight games.

Sun Belt (35)
Best player: Calvin Dawson, Louisiana-Monroe. He ranks sixth nationally in rushing yards per game and has produced 10 straight 100-yard rushing games -- longest active streak in the nation. And five of those century games were against BCS conference teams (Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Clemson and Texas A&M).

Best coaching job: Howard Schnellenberger, Florida Atlantic. The old guy still has it, pulling an upset of Minnesota and jumping out to a 2-0 start in league play.

Biggest surprise: After an 0-4 start, Louisiana-Monroe ambushed Arkansas State last week and has a chance to go to 2-1 in league play at North Texas Saturday.

Biggest disappointment: Nobody expected former high school coach Todd Dodge to work overnight miracles at North Texas. But it's fair to say that nobody expected the Mean Green to be surrendering 51.6 points per game at this point, either.

Who will win it: Troy is the class of the league and should run the table in conference games. The Trojans could be the best team in the brief history of the league.

WAC (36)
Best player: Colt Brennan, Hawaii. Even with some aches and pains he's still fourth nationally in total offense and sixth in pass efficiency.

Best coaching job: Chris Petersen, Boise State. He has just 11 returning starters from the 13-0 dream season, but the Broncos are 4-1, with the lone loss at Washington. (But beware the season's second half, which features four road games.)

Biggest surprise: Fresno State probably should have beaten Texas A&M in College Station, which would have made the Bulldogs 4-1. As is, 3-2 with losses to the Aggies and Oregon (combined record: 9-2) isn't bad.

Biggest disappointment: New Mexico State. The Aggies were the wise-guy sleeper team in the WAC, but a 58-0 loss to Boise State suggests otherwise. They're 1-3 against I-A competition.

Who will win it: Hawaii has the hype, the ranking and the unbeaten record. But The Dash believes Boise State might emerge again with a sixth straight league title.

Putting Out An APB For …

… Former Virginia Tech quarterback Jim Druckenmiller (37), a first-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers a decade ago who, ahem, did not live up to expectations. Anyone with information about the strong-armed former Hokie, please apprise.

Meanwhile, The Dash is pleased to report that last week's APB subject, former Northwestern running back Darnell Autry (38) is alive and well and living in Chicago. Autry contacted The Dash to say that after football he returned to Evanston and completed work last year on a double major (Theater and Communication) and is working on a Master's degree. He's also working at Cushman & Wakefield Commercial Real Estate Company and is in "the beginning stages of writing an autobiography" about his football experiences.

Point After

When hungry for breakfast in Birmingham, Ala., The Dash recommends the softball-sized biscuits at Demetri's (39). They come recommended by none other than SEC commissioner Mike Slive (40).

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