Commentary

Happy to be back, The Dash kicks off the season

Originally Published: August 26, 2008
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (Phil Fulmer subpoena sold separately):

[+] EnlargeYelena Isinbayeva
Alexander Hassenstein/Getty ImagesYelena Isinbayeva picked up her second career gold medal in the pole vault in Beijing.
Greetings, face painters! After 20 football-free days in China, The Dash is thrilled to see you! The Olympics are tremendous and all, but there are drawbacks compared to the great American gridiron.

The Chinese don't know how to tailgate. You just can't serve stewed fish heads and scorpion on a stick and expect to please the parking-lot crowd.

The Olympic theme music ranged from a duet that sounded like a lullaby to a song called "Forever Friends" that sounded like it belonged on a "Barney" sound track. Straight Velveeta. They've got nothing like "Hail to the Victors (1)" or "Fight On (2)" in Beijing.

Cheerleaders and dance teams? Not so much.

Sports talk radio? They can go on for hours about table tennis, but nobody's mentioning Tim Tebow or Knowshon Moreno.

And then there are the crowds. You put 92,000 in National Olympic Stadium and it sounds kinda loud. You put that number in Tiger Stadium (3) and we'll talk about noise.

If there is one thing The Dash wouldn't mind importing from Beijing, it's a few Dashettes. First draft choice: pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva (4). She just looks like a football fan, doesn't she? Or at least someone you'd like to tailgate with.

Shelve The Shorthand

As faithful readers know, The Dash is easily annoyed. This offseason's pet peeve: the use of Coach as a formal title. Like King Henry VIII, we have Coach Nick Saban.

[+] EnlargeJim Tressel
Scott Boehm/Getty ImagesHey, look! It's CJT leading the OSU.
It's worse on the fan message boards, where Internet shorthand references to head coaches always start with "C." As in, CTT for Coach Tommy Tuberville (5). CMB for Coach Mack Brown (6). CJT for Coach Jim Tressel (7).

The Dash is convinced that at this very moment, someone on a Utah State message board is typing CBG for Coach Brent Guy.

What if we were this silly in everyday life. Would we have WEJ: Welder Earl Jones? PWS: Plumber Walter Smith?

Maybe even CTD: Columnist The Dash?

Sample: CTD believes CMR (Coach Mark Richt) is loaded at Georgia and will have the Bulldogs playing in the BCS Championship Game against CPC (Coach Pete Carroll). CTD believes CBS (Coach Bill Stewart, not the network) has a lot of holes to fill on defense to meet expectations in his first year at West Virginia. CTD believes CMG (Coach Mike Gundy) must be an even bigger man now that he's 41.

Headsets

What is said between coaches in the heat of battle on the headsets remains off-limits to football fans. We see a lot of furtive talking behind play sheets, but what are they saying?

CTD endeavored this summer to find out, and heard five great/semi-great/fairly funny moments in headset history.

The coach: new Michigan boss Rich Rodriguez (8). The headset moment: West Virginia against Georgia in the 2006 Sugar Bowl.

[+] EnlargePhil Brady
AP Photo/Rob CarrNo assistants chimed in but punter Phil Brady's run sealed West Virginia's win over Georgia.
What happened: Rodriguez called an incredibly gutsy fake punt on fourth-and-6 near midfield in the fourth quarter while clinging to a three-point lead. He called it from field level and asked for confirmation that the Bulldogs' formation was susceptible to the fake.

"I said on the headphones, 'Do we got it? Hello? Hello? Anybody there?'" Rodriguez recalled.

Nobody in the press box wanted to stick his neck out and sign off on such a risky play. But the Mountaineers ran it anyway and it worked. They never gave the ball back to Georgia and won 38-35.

The coach: Florida's Urban Meyer (9). The headset moment: Florida against Arkansas in the 2006 SEC championship game.

What happened: The Gators had fallen behind the underdog Razorbacks 21-17 in the third quarter. Feeling momentum getting away, Meyer called a fake punt on fourth-and-10 from Florida's own 15 -- and it worked. But then the drive stalled at the Florida 41, and Meyer was so mad that he wanted to go for it again.

That's when he heard the voice of defensive coordinator Greg Mattison say, with unmistakable clarity and conviction, "Punt ... the ... ball." Meyer sent out the punting unit, Arkansas fumbled the return and the Gators recovered it in the end zone for a touchdown that turned the game in their favor for good and cleared the way for a national title.

The coach: new Texas A&M boss Mike Sherman (10). The headset moment: Green Bay Packers against the Chicago Bears, 2003, Lambeau Field.

What happened: In the words of the former Packers head coach: "I frantically asked [offensive coordinator] Tom Rossley, 'What's the name of that new screen we put in this week. ... I can't find it on the game plan.' ... Tom nervously and hastily surveyed the game plan and he couldn't find the name of it, either. As any head coach would do, I immediately put the blame on Tom and screamed, 'What the hell is the name of that screen? Where did you put it?' Tom responded by fumbling and stumbling with different attempts at its name and finally broke down and succumbed after my incoherent yelling and screamed, 'I guess I am just stupid. I am just stupid. I don't know the name of that [expletive] screen.' Upon hearing Tom's total frustration with me and the situation, I started laughing so hard I could barely call the play.

"I believe we ran a draw for lack of a better play instead of the screen I wanted, and it got us the first down.

"In hindsight, after surveying the defense, the screen would have been a dead play anyway, so here is a situation where our own comic relief won us the down."

[+] EnlargeBret Bielema
David Stluka/Getty ImagesOn the other end of the spectrum, maybe Bret Bielema talked a little too much as an assistant.

The coach: Wisconsin's Bret Bielema (11). The headset moment: As a defensive coordinator at Kansas State, against an opponent Bielema no longer recalls.

What happened: The Wildcats were trying to finish off a big victory but weren't getting much help from the offense. While Kansas State had the ball -- a time when head coach Bill Snyder almost always had his headset switch to talk to the offensive coordinator -- Bielema made a crack in the booth about the offense's failure to kill the clock. Snyder heard, but didn't say anything at the time.

After the game in what was a celebratory locker room, Bielema was called into Snyder's office and dressed down. Lesson learned: Don't take shots at the other side of the ball, and always assume the head coach is listening.

The coach: Mississippi State's Sylvester Croom (12). The headset moment: as the Bulldogs' head coach.

What happened: Sometimes assistant coaches can get a little chatty on the headset. Bad idea with Croom. He's been known to tell them to shut up. And on the occasion when a coach wants to talk too much about what's happening on the field, Croom will say, "We don't need play-by-play commentary. That's why we have [legendary State radio announcer] Jack Cristil."

Permadog

Entering the season, these are the schools with the longest active streaks without being favored against I-A opponents:

[+] EnlargeDuke Football
Bob Donnan/US PresswireThe Blue Devils haven't been favored in nearly three years.
Duke (13). Streak: 32 games. Record in that time: 1-31. Shining moment: Upset of Northwestern last year. Why so long: Apparently the Blue Devils aren't willing to shell out the coin to buy a game with Florida International.

Florida International (14). Streak: 18 games. Record in that time: 1-17. Shining moment: 38-19 victory over North Texas to close last season. Why so long: They're just bad, and they take several guarantee games each year.

Eastern Michigan (15). Streak: 16 games. Record in that time: 3-13. Shining moment: 48-45 shocking of bowl-bound Central Michigan to end 2007. Why so bad: Jeff Genyk has pushed the program toward respectability, but it is a historic loser.

San Diego State (16). Streak 14 games. Record in that time: 4-10. Shining moment: 24-20 win at Colorado State early last year -- before everyone knew how bad the Rams were. Why so long: This is surprising in a balanced conference like the Mountain West, but it speaks to the slump the Aztec program has endured in recent years.

Temple (17). Streak: nine games . Record in that time: 3-6. Shining moment: 24-17 over Miami (Ohio) last year. Why so long: Because it's Temple, yo.

Surprise streak: Texas A&M (18) at seven games. The Aggies went 2-5 in that time against a relentless schedule. The underdog run will end in the season opener against Arkansas State.

Permafave

Entering the season, these are the schools with the longest active streaks being favored against I-A opponents: LSU (19). Streak: 21 games. Record in that time: 19-2. Ugly moment: Overtime loss at Kentucky last year. Why so long: Overwhelming talent, because the Tigers have not scheduled timidly out of conference (until this year).

Oklahoma (20). Streak: 20 games. Record in that time: 16-4. Ugly moment: Stunning loss at unranked Colorado last year. Why so long: When you're the Sooners, you're expected to win every game (with the occasional exception of Texas in Dallas).

Clemson (21). Streak: 11 games. Record in that time: 7-4. Ugly moment: Scoring three points at unranked Georgia Tech last year. Why so long: Faulty oddsmaking. Tommy Bowden is awfully shaky when his team is favored.

BYU (22). Streak: 10 games. Record in that time: 9-1. Ugly moment: Surrendering 55 points to Tulsa early last season. Why so long: Consistent Cougars were the class of the MWC in 2007.

South Florida (23). Streak: nine games. Record in that time: 5-4. Ugly moment: Being routed by injured Oregon in the Sun Bowl last year. Why so long: Surprising run as a favorite shows the Bulls cannot play the Underdog Program card so well anymore -- and their record in that time shows that they're not very comfortable without having that card to play.

Coaches Making Big Debuts

Rich Rodriguez (24) and Michigan versus Utah. The radical stylistic makeover of America's most tradition-bound program gets its unveiling against a very capable opponent. It would be best to avoid a rerun of last year's season opener in Ann Arbor, but it won't be easy.

[+] EnlargeBo Pelini
Bruce Thorson/US PresswireBo Pelini has embraced Nebraska's traditions, making him the antithesis of Bill Callahan.
Bo Pelini (25) and Nebraska versus Western Michigan. So far, Pelini has been everything Bill Callahan wasn't: He's embraced the tradition and the former players, and he'll be committed to playing a level of defense the old Blackshirts can be proud of. At least eventually. If the Cornhuskers return to competitiveness quickly, it only bolsters the revival that the Big 12 North enjoyed last year with Missouri and Kansas.

Rick Neuheisel (26) and UCLA versus Tennessee. Quarterback injuries, a dearth of returning talent and a heavyweight opponent might make this the toughest debut game in the country. Anyone expecting big things from the Bruins this year should fast-forward to basketball.

Houston Nutt (27) and Mississippi versus Memphis. The Rebels are one of CTD's potential surprise teams -- they're returning a lot of talent and unveiling transfer quarterback Jevan Snead, and they'll be better coached than they were under Ed Orgeron. This has developed into an underrated rivalry, with the game usually in doubt into the final minutes.

June Jones (28) and SMU versus Rice. Time to see whether it was worth it to take the money and leave Hawaii.

Coaches In Need Of A Big Year

Greg Robinson (29), Syracuse. He's 7-28 in three years, and three of those victories are against Mid-American Conference opponents. The Orange rushed for 753 yards last year, less than half as much as Darren McFadden.

Dave Wannstedt (30), Pittsburgh. On paper, this sets up as a breakthrough year for the Panthers in the Big East. The optimism accrued from ruining rival West Virginia's BCS Championship Game hopes carried over through the offseason. Now it's time to produce. After years of promising recruiting, it's time to go bowling and upgrade Wanny's 16-19 record in three seasons.

Mike Stoops (31), Arizona. The Wildcats won three of their last four to finish 2007, and they return a lot of offensive experience, but impatience is growing at a school that hasn't been to a bowl game in 10 years. The first half of the schedule is very manageable (Idaho, Toledo, New Mexico and what figures to be three lower-division Pac-10 opponents). Stoops is 17-29 in four years.

Kirk Ferentz (32), Iowa. After doing great work earlier this decade, he signed an astronomical contract a few years back and has delivered very little bang for all those bucks. The Hawkeyes are 19-18 the past three years, and the school has been sullied this offseason by allegations that it handled a sexual-assault allegation against a football player in a negligent manner.

Willingham and Weis (33), Washington and Notre Dame. The former and current Fighting Irish coaches went a combined 7-18 last season, which excited no one. When they meet Oct. 25 in Seattle, both need to be doing better than that.

Turnover Trends

If you don't think turnover margin is the most important stat in football, read the numbers:

Kyle Moore
Kirby Lee/US PRESSWIREIt's no coincidence that USC's greatest feats came when they owned the turnover battle.
USC (34) went 22-4 the past two years (14-4 in conference) with a plus-six for the seasons combined. It went 48-4 the previous four seasons (30-2 in conference) with a plus-78.

Cincinnati (35) was a plus-16 last year while going a surprising 10-3. It was a minus-18 the previous three years while going 19-17.

TCU (36) was a minus-seven in a disappointing 8-5 season. The previous two years it was a plus-28 while going 22-3.

Boise State (37) has had two seasons in the past six with three or more losses. Average turnover margin in those years: minus-3.5. It has had four seasons of one or fewer losses in the past six. Average turnover margin in those years: plus-9.8.

Under Charlie Weis, Notre Dame (38) is a plus-15 turnovers in two winning seasons and a net zero in one losing season.

Mouthful

Maryland's newly remodeled stadium now goes by the cumbersome title of Chevy Chase Bank Field at Byrd Stadium. Gross.

Then there is the Duke defensive front four. Preseason starters Vince Oghobaase, Wesley Oglesby, Ayanga Okpokowuruk and Greg Akinbiyi combine for 21 syllables. Sympathies to the radio crew.

Putting Out An APB For ...

... Former Boston College wide receiver Brian Brennan (39), who was basically the set-up man for two of the greatest moments in football history. He caught a ton of balls from Doug Flutie before going pro and turning over the stage to Gerard Phelan of Hail Mary fame. With the Cleveland Browns, Brennan caught what appeared to be the Super Bowl-clinching touchdown bomb from Bernie Kosar in the 1986 AFC title game. Instead, it set the stage for John Elway to lead The Drive. Anyone with information on Boston College's third-leading career receiver, please apprise The Dash.

Point After

When hungry and thirsty in the newest I-A college town in America, Bowling Green, Ky., The Dash recommends a trip to Double Dog Sports Bar (40). Big-league nachos are served in a metal dog-food dish. There is an impressive selection of quality beer. (And if you're the golfing type, see if a member can get you on at Olde Stone Country Club just outside town. It's an astonishingly nice links course, perhaps second only to Ryder Cup host Valhalla Golf Club in the state of Kentucky.)

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