Commentary

Dashing through the wild, wild Big 12

Originally Published: November 13, 2007
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (North Texas-Navy [1] flag football film sold separately):

In case you missed it, the Serene Green scored 62 points on the Midshipmen while surrendering 74. Most points ever in a regulation Division I-A game. With 446 points allowed in nine games (a shade under 50 per), the Serene Green is closing in on the NCAA season record for defensive pliability. It's 556 points, currently held by 2002 Eastern Michigan (2).

The good news for the Serene Green is that if they make it to the final week under the record, they will match their nation's worst scoring defense against the nation's worst scoring offense of Florida International (3). The Dash thinks there will be a few slightly better viewing options than that one on Dec. 1.

Pyrotechnics On The Plains

People who say nothing much happens in Flyover America are missing one insane season in the Big 12 Conference (4). There are three teams in the top five -- two of which need oxygen masks to handle such rarified air. There are points being scored at a basketball rate in a league that once knew a thing or two about playing defense. There are coaches seemingly on the brink of being fired, and other coaches seemingly on the brink of nervous breakdowns.

Here is The Dash compendium of the top 10 story lines of the season in the wild, wild Big 12:

10. Leach Loses It
Texas Tech coach Mike Leach (5) staged a 17-minute, two-part howl of protest at the officiating after his Red Raiders lost to Texas Saturday, 59-43. Leach called it "a complete travesty" and wondered aloud whether "incompetence" or "bias" led to a flurry of calls he did not particularly enjoy. Leach also called into question the fact that head referee Randy Christal is an Austin resident.

[+] EnlargeMike Leach
AP Photo/Waco Tribune Herald/Jerry LarsonTexas Tech's Mike Leach has never had a problem expressing himself.

"Am I condemning the crew?" Leach said. "Hell yeah, I'm condemning the crew."

According to the Austin American-Statesman, when a Texas Tech publicist tried to tell Leach something mid-rant, the coach responded, "Don't butt in." After he was finished with that screed, he left and came back to reporters to hammer the replay system, calling it a "brother-in-law process to make officials look like they get the calls right."

(Most likely the biggest culprit in the loss was Tech's customarily atrocious defense, but hey, Leach was on a roll.)

While waiting for the inevitable fine/reprimand/suspension from the league office, Leach did not back away from his comments on the Big 12 teleconference Monday.

"I don't have any regrets," he told one reporter on the call. "But as far as the specifics, you're going to have to get the notes from those who were in class.

"As a coach you're under plenty of scrutiny. The other areas that affect the game should perhaps be under scrutiny as well."

Mack Brown
AP Photo/Harry CabluckFive straight Texas wins has Mack Brown smiling.

9. Texas Under Radar
The very fact that the Big 12 could have such a remarkable season while one of its marquee programs has been largely unremarkable is, itself, remarkable. (That sentence just confused the hell out of The Dash.) But Texas (6) slipped off the map when it was blown out by Kansas State, stayed off after losing to Oklahoma and hasn't done enough to resurface.

Now the 9-2 Longhorns are trying to complete a long back-door run to BCS consideration. They'd have an argument at 10-2, but not a convincing one. By Sagarin Rating, their best victory is over No. 39 Oklahoma State -- and it took a miracle fourth-quarter rally to win that game.

8. GuyMo's Reversal of Fortune
A failed coach at Baylor (7) is hardly a break from the norm. But Guy Morriss' path to the brink of a pink slip has been full of plot twists.

Morriss made a lateral-at-best move to Waco from Kentucky after a startlingly successful 7-5 season in 2002, when Baylor threw more money at him and delivered on facility upgrades. Since then he's gone 18-39, while successor Rich Brooks gradually has turned the Wildcats into a Top 25 program.

But even more surprising has been the sudden and staggering loss of momentum at Baylor. A 5-6 season in 2005 was followed by a 4-4 start in '06, with the Bears' first bowl bid since 1994 seemingly within reach. But Baylor hasn't won a Big 12 game since then, losing four straight to end last season and all seven this year. In fact, the Bears haven't come within 20 points in a league game since October '06.

[+] EnlargeJosh Freeman
AP Photo/Harry CabluckJosh Freeman and K-State have lost three of four.

7. Wildcats Whiplash
At midseason Kansas State (8) was 4-2, with credible losses to Auburn and Kansas and with emphatic wins over Texas and Colorado. Since then its only win is against Baylor, and K-State (5-5) has surrendered nearly 40 points per game.

It's not often that a team beats a top 10 opponent on the road by 20 (Texas) and loses by 42 to an opponent with a losing record (Nebraska) in the same season, but the Wildcats have managed it.

6. Tech's Temporary Solution
When the Red Raiders gave up 49 points to Oklahoma State, Leach shoved out defensive coordinator Lyle Setencich (9) after one-third of the season. That worked pretty well for a few weeks -- Tech gave up just 31 points its next three games, all wins -- but the backsliding has been noticeable.

Forty-one points surrendered in a loss to Missouri. Thirty-one in a loss to Colorado. And the aforementioned 59 to Texas.

Leach's counter-culture approach to football is refreshing and entertaining. But until he becomes consistently serious about the game's two most elemental building blocks -- running the ball (117th nationally) and stopping the run (79th) -- his team will be little more than an entertaining novelty act. Good for a winning season every year, but never good enough to win a title.

[+] EnlargeDennis Franchione
AP Photo/L.G. PattersonCoach Fran and the Aggies have a 3-4 Big 12 record.

5. Can Fran?
On the list of all-time bad ideas, circulating a $1,200 secret newsletter to big-shot boosters without telling your bosses about it ranks pretty high. And when you combine that with an 18-21 conference record in five years as a lavishly paid coach at a school that wants to win big, you're pretty well asking to be fired.

So we're all waiting for the ink to dry on the buyout for Dennis Franchione (10) at Texas A&M. Not even a second straight upset of Texas is likely to save Fran, now that another season will end outside the Top 25 and outside of contention in the Big 12 South.

4. "I'm a man! I'm 40!"
Oklahoma State screamer Mike Gundy (11) made himself a YouTube rock star for going Bob Knight ballistic on Oklahoman columnist Jenni Carlson in September. Fun while it lasted, but after all the hosannas Gundy received for "sticking up for his players," the moment had no tangible carry-over to the field.

The Cowboys were 2-2 when Gundy issued his thoughtful treatise on parenthood, and other issues. They're 5-5 now, with 6-6 the probable end result. It's fair to say more was expected of a team that returned its two leading rushers, two top passers, six of its top seven receivers and seven top tacklers.

3. Offensive Orgies
Points are up nationwide -- but nobody is running up and down the field like the boys in the Big 12. A league that has played some defense in its day has gone all Arena ball on us.

Four different teams have scored 70 points this season: Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Kansas and Nebraska. The past two weeks, the winners of all 12 league games broke 30 points -- and five of them broke 50. Twenty times this season a Big 12 team has hung half a hundred at least on the board. Four league teams rank in the top seven nationally in scoring, and seven are in the top 20 in total offense.

"We're getting good quarterback play in this league," Kansas coach Mark Mangino (12) said. "We're getting guys who can throw the ball, but also beat teams with their feet."

[+] EnlargeSam Bradford
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiSam Bradford is the nation's passing efficiency leader with a 180.4 rating.

The quarterback play is the nation's best. Six Big 12 quarterbacks are in the top 20 in pass efficiency. Sooners QB Sam Bradford leads the nation in pass efficiency; Texas Tech QB Graham Harrell leads the nation in total offense and Missouri's Chase Daniel is fourth; and Kansas QB Todd Reesing hasn't thrown an interception in five weeks.

"Everyone's ability to space and then throw the football more efficiently is a big factor, and the skill that's out there with everybody," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops (13) said.

Expect more touchdowns in bunches this week with Oklahoma at Texas Tech, Oklahoma State at Baylor, Iowa State at Kansas and Missouri at Kansas State. If the winners of all four of those games don't hit 40 it will be a surprise.

2. Nebraska Goes 70/70, Waits For Regime Change
The Dash hasn't found a school that has ever done what the Cornhuskers have done the past two Saturdays: giving up 76 to Kansas, then scoring 73 on Kansas State. Mood swings like that will send your fans to the shrink's couch -- and get a coach fired. Especially the surrendering 70.

Bill Callahan (14) should be fully prepared to pack his boxes after the regular season ends Nov. 23 against Colorado. With Tom Osborne brought on board to oversee the expected firing and hiring, theoretical leading candidates to be the new coach start with LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pelini and Buffalo coach Turner Gill. If it goes beyond those former members of the Cornhuskers family, it gets very interesting.

1. Missouri-Kansas: Big 12 Game of the Year
The Border War (15) will be played Nov. 24 in Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium. It's a fortuitous switch from home-and-home history, because the oldest continuous rivalry west of the Mississippi will suddenly matter more than ever in its largely lousy 116-year history.

[+] EnlargeChase Daniel
G. Newman Lowrance/Getty ImagesChase Daniel has the Tigers zeroing in on the Big 12 North title.

How strange is it? Put it this way: the two teams have combined for 19 victories this season  with several games still to play. The only other time that occurred: 1899, when Kansas went 10-0 under Fielding H. Yost (who would go on after that season to make something of a name for himself at Michigan) and Missouri went 9-2 under David L. Fultz. For the record, Kansas won the season-ending matchup 34-6, also played in Kansas City.

The winner will be the champion of the previously puny Big 12 North, and could possibly be 60 minutes away from a spot in the BCS Championship Game. Which is insane.

In Praise Of Charlie Weis -- Seriously

The Dash has not missed an opportunity all year to take a shot at Notre Dame (16), all of which the Fighting Irish have richly deserved. Today, however, The Dash comes not to bury Charlie Weis (17) but to praise him.

Has he done a remarkably poor job building and improving this team? Yes.

Is his three-year record now worse than The Scourge of Humanity, Ty Willingham (18), without any of the same consequences? Yes.

Is 1-9 Duke vs. 1-9 Notre Dame now officially the worst nationally televised game in college football history? Yes.

Charlie Weis
Andy Altenburger/Icon SMIIn the midst of ND's nightmare season, Charlie Weis has reached out to others in need.

But this is what you need to know about Weis, in the midst of this nightmare season: He has continued to be admirably selfless toward others suffering far more than himself. This is not new behavior for Weis, but it can be easier to show grace when times are good than when times are like this.

Evidence:

Friday, Oct. 19: Unbeknownst to virtually anyone outside the program, Weis entertained a seriously ill cancer patient in his office for 20 minutes the day before Notre Dame played USC. Tom Heuser (19), a 75-year-old semi-retired farmer from Iowa, had nothing to offer Weis in terms of booster donations -- just perspective on what matters in life. Weis gave the man sideline passes and invited him to the team's pregame meal.

Thursday, Nov. 1: Two days after running back Robert Hughes (20) learned that his brother had been killed in Chicago, Weis personally drove Hughes home after practice for the funeral the following day. Weis stayed with the family for a couple of hours, then drove home late that night.

Say this much for the man: he has not allowed a colossally bad football season to warp his perspective; he has not crawled into a woe-is-me bunker; he has not soured on an outside world that has largely soured on his coaching.

That deserves to be said, and Weis deserves to be applauded. It might be the only applause he gets all fall.

Flavors Of The Week

If you want to know how fickle the winds of fortune and fame have been this season, check this list of who we were celebrating from week to week -- and what became of them.

Week 1: Appalachian State (21), after shocking Michigan 34-32. Where are they now: Mountaineers are 8-2, having lost to Wofford and Georgia Southern. Good thing neither of those teams were on the Wolverines' schedule.

[+] EnlargeMatt Grothe
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty ImagesMatt Groethe and USF took a hit after suffering three straight losses.

Week 2: South Florida (22), after beating Auburn 26-23 on the road. Where are they now: Bulls have recused themselves from the rankings and BCS talk after a three-game losing streak.

Week 3: Florida (23), after routing Tennessee 59-20. Where are they now: inexperienced Gators defense has helped them lose three games, terminating repeat championship hopes and jeopardizing SEC East repeat bid as well.

Week 4: Kentucky (24), after beating Arkansas 42-29 to go 4-0. Where are they now: Wildcats have lost three games, most damagingly at home by 17 to Mississippi State. Still have a chance for their best bowl bid in decades.

Week 5: California (25), after beating Oregon 31-24 and reaching No. 2 in the nation. Where are they now: Golden Bears have lost four of their last five to become one of the nation's bigger disappointments.

Week 6: Cincinnati (26), after beating Rutgers 28-23 to go 6-0. Where are they now: Bearcats are 7-2, following consecutive losses to Louisville and Pittsburgh with consecutive wins over South Florida and Connecticut.

[+] EnlargeRudy Carpenter
Dustin Snipes/Icon SMIRudy Carpenter and ASU are 9-1 and in the BCS mix.

Week 7: Arizona State (27), after beating Washington 44-20 to go 7-0. Where are they now: Sun Devils are 9-1 and still in the mix for a potential BCS bid.

Week 8: Boston College (28), after a miraculous comeback to beat Virginia Tech 14-10 and go 8-0. Where are they now: Back to earth after consecutive losses to unranked Florida State and unranked Maryland.

Week 9: Ohio State (29), after beating Wisconsin 38-17 to go 10-0. Where are they now: Doing the low-belly crawl after a grim home loss to Illinois ended the Buckeyes' national title aspirations.

Week 10: Kansas (30), after beating Oklahoma State 43-28 to go 10-0 for the first time since the 19th century. Where are they now: Jayhawks haven't had a chance to backtrack yet.

Speaking Of Where-Are-They-Nows …

… This being Michigan-Ohio State week, The Dash had to catch up with its boy, Bo Biafra (31), and his band, the Bastard Sons of Woody (32) -- formerly known, of course, as the Dead Schembechlers (33).

Last year the band rocketed to some level of notoriety leading up to the matchup of undefeated teams in Columbus, only to have Schembechler die the day before the game and spur the name switch. The boys have kept a low profile since, so The Dash sought them out.

In Biafra's own words, via e-mail, here is the update on the world's most humorously twisted punk band with strong college football allegiances:

[+] EnlargeRaica Oliveira
John Sciulli/WireImageDashette Raica Oliveira might be just the ticket to cheer up Bo Biafra and his band.

It's been a trying year for us. I myself have been in and out of the Athens Lunatic Asylum after my collapse due to the National Championship game early this year. Our bass player became frustrated with my absence and moved to Seattle to open a German breakfast cafe called Luftwaffle. While I can neither confirm nor deny any plans for this week there is talk of us barnstorming into Ann Arbor this Saturday morning and playing on a flatbed truck outside of Michigan Stadium. It is my understanding that the local constables are not enamored of these plans. … Gotta go. The nurse said it's time for my afternoon meds.

Here's hoping Bo's nurse bears a resemblance to Dashette Raica Oliveira (34).

He's Not Telling You You're No. 1, Kyle

An all-world feud appeared to be bubbling in the Rocky Mountains, only to have both coaches turn all apologetic for acting like testosterone-saturated teenagers.

In case you missed it: Utah coach Kyle Whittingham (35) apparently felt his team's 43-0 third-quarter lead on Wyoming wasn't safe, so he ordered up an onside kick. Wyoming coach Joe Glenn (36) responded with a middle-fingered salute across the field.

Joe Glenn
David O. Bailey/US PresswireJoe Glenn's heated gesture has the Cowboys coach in hot water.

"I met with my team on Sunday and apologized to them for the gesture I made toward the Utah bench during the game," Glenn said in a statement. "I also want to apologize to all fans for that action. Football is an emotional game, and I let my emotions get the best of me. I felt it was appropriate for me to let my team and all fans know that I am truly sorry for that emotional moment."

The Mountain West Conference provided Glenn the obligatory reprimand.

Whittingham told the Salt Lake Desert Morning News that "after thinking about it, I wouldn't have done it in hindsight. … At times your emotions get in the way of sound decision-making."

Glenn stirred the pot during the week leading up to the game, when he guaranteed a victory when speaking to a Wyoming student group. Of course word of that reached the Utes, and Whittingham referred to it when asked why he went for the rub-it-in onside kick.

"Typically don't do things like that," Whittingham said of the kick, according to Salt Lake City radio station KFAN. "But Coach Glenn had made a guarantee, so he must have known something I didn't about the outcome of the game."

Glenn acknowledged the folly of the guaranteed win that turns into a 50-point loss.

"Find the crow and I'll eat it," he said.

Send both children to bed without dinner, says The Dash.

Putting Out An APB For …

… Former Georgia quarterback Eric Zeier (37), who was the Bulldogs' starting QB for approximately seven years in the 1990s. (Unfortunately none of it was done in the very cool black uniforms coach Mark Richt trotted out against Auburn Saturday. Props to that move from the suddenly motivation-stoked Richt.) Anyone with information on the whereabouts of the Bulldogs' second-leading career passer, please apprise The Dash.

Meanwhile, The Dash is pleased to report that last week's APB subject, former Nebraska nose guard Rich Glover (38), is alive and well and coaching high school ball in his native New Jersey. Glover's first season as head coach at Jersey City's Dickinson High School ended with a 3-7 record. Better luck next year to one of the great undersized, overachiever interior linemen in college football history.

Point After

When thirsty in Madison, Wis., The Dash strongly recommends a visit to The Great Dane Pub and Brewing Co. (39). Nice spot centrally located near the state capitol, with plenty of TVs and plenty of its own beer. The Dash recommends the Old Glory American Pale Ale (40), and suggests you be on guard for pretty women wanting to do Bucky Bombs: a Wisconsin-red shot of God knows what.

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