Commentary

Separation Saturday showed the Big 12's Haves and Have-Nots

Originally Published: October 7, 2008
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (spitwads (1) sold separately in Lincoln, Neb., where there is no defense for loogies or Chase Daniel):

Big Six, Little Six

The Big 12 (2) already is split into two divisions, but that's just geography. Last week the league played six games and in the process definitively split itself into matching sets of Haves and Have-Nots.

The Dash's Heisman List

1. Chase Daniel, Missouri. He's not here just for spits and giggles. Daniel is in total control of the most relentless offense in college football.

2. Sam Bradford, Oklahoma. Give him a chance to plant his feet and it's over, he'll slice a defense to ribbons. That's why Texas defensive end Brian Orakpo's success rushing off the edge will be of paramount importance for the Longhorns on Saturday.

3. Colt McCoy, Texas. The '08 version of Tim Tebow has made nearly as many plays with his legs as with his arm. Containing his freelance running will be vital for Oklahoma.

ESPN.com's Heisman Watch | Vote!
The high-octane Haves won all six matchups -- five of them in routs, five on the road, fully illustrating the chasm between the two tiers of teams. No way that happens in the SEC (3), which has greater depth but fewer dominant teams at the top.

(Partisans can resume their boring and endless which-league-is-better debate now. Wake The Dash when it's over -- OK, it's never over, but wake The Dash when all participants have shouted themselves hoarse.)

The Haves:
Oklahoma (4). Record: 5-0. AP poll ranking: No. 1. Sagarin rating: No. 2. National scoring offense ranking: No. 4 at 49.6 points per game. Amount of time spent trailing this season: 0 minutes, 0 seconds. Scary stat: The Sooners have not lost a fumble all season. Degree of difficulty the rest of the way: Oklahoma plays four games against fellow Haves -- two at home, one on the road and one at a neutral site. Predicted finish: 12-0 and Big 12 South champions.

Missouri (5). Record: 5-0. AP poll ranking: No. 3. Sagarin rating: No. 6. National scoring offense ranking: No. 2 at 53.4 points per game. Amount of time spent trailing this season: 13 seconds. Scary stat: The Tigers have 49 straight possessions without a three-and-out. Degree of difficulty the rest of the way: Easiest of the group. Missouri plays three games against fellow Haves -- one at home, one on the road, one at a neutral site. Predicted finish: 12-0 and Big 12 North champions.

Texas (6). Record: 5-0. AP poll ranking: No. 5. Sagarin rating: No. 5. National scoring offense ranking: No. 6 at 47.2 points per game. Amount of time spent trailing this season: 7 minutes, 5 seconds. Scary stat: The Longhorns' defense has dropped opponents for 222 yards' worth of losses to date, most in the nation. Degree of difficulty the rest of the way: Toughest remaining schedule of the big six. Texas plays all five fellow Haves, and four of them in a row -- two at home, two on the road, one at a neutral site. Predicted finish: 10-2.

[+] EnlargeGraham Harrell
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesGraham Harrell barely played his freshman year but could be very high on the all-time passing chart.
Texas Tech (7). Record: 5-0. AP poll ranking: No. 7. Sagarin rating: No. 10. National scoring offense ranking: No. 5 at 48.2 points per game. Amount of time spent trailing this season: 2 minutes, 40 seconds. Scary stat: Quarterback Graham Harrell could end up No. 2 in NCAA career passing yardage, despite rarely playing as a freshman. Degree of difficulty the rest of the way: Texas Tech plays four of the fellow Haves, all in a row from Oct. 25 to Nov. 22 -- two at home, two on the road. Predicted finish: 10-2.

Kansas (8). Record: 4-1. AP poll ranking: No. 16. Sagarin rating: No. 44. National scoring offense ranking: No. 25 at 35.2 points per game. Amount of time spent trailing this season: 53 minutes, 51 seconds. Scary stat: Quarterback Todd Reesing has 30 touchdowns and only six interceptions in his past 10 games. Degree of difficulty the rest of the way: Kansas plays four fellow Haves -- one at home, two on the road, one at a neutral site. Predicted finish: 7-5.

Oklahoma State (9). Record: 5-0. AP poll ranking: No. 17. Sagarin rating: No. 21. National scoring offense ranking: No. 3 at 52.6 points per game. Amount of time spent trailing this season: 13 minutes, 20 seconds. Scary stat: The Cowboys are averaging four rushing touchdowns per game, tops in the nation. Degree of difficulty the rest of the way: Oklahoma State plays four fellow Haves the rest of the way, all with a Have-Not spaced in between -- one at home, three on the road. Predicted finish: 8-4.

The Jayhawks were the only Have that had to sweat last weekend, rallying from a 20-0 second-half deficit at Iowa State. Otherwise, it was five mismatches in what turned into separation Saturday. And that set the stage for a dandy dozen heavyweight matchups across the final eight weeks of the season. The schedule:

Oct. 11 -- Oklahoma vs. Texas; Oklahoma State at Missouri

Oct. 18 -- Missouri at Texas; Kansas at Oklahoma

Oct. 25 -- Oklahoma State at Texas; Texas Tech at Kansas

Nov. 1 -- Texas at Texas Tech

Nov. 8 -- Oklahoma State at Texas Tech

Nov. 15 -- Texas at Kansas

Nov. 22 -- Texas Tech at Oklahoma

Nov. 29 -- Oklahoma at Oklahoma State; Kansas vs. Missouri

Stick Food

[+] EnlargeLetoya Luckett
Scott Gries/Getty ImagesChances are Letoya Luckett isn't downing many chocolate-covered bacon sticks at the state fair.
One of the time-honored joys of this week's Oklahoma-Texas Red River Rivalry is the fact that the game is played at the Cotton Bowl, in Fair Park, while the fair is going on -- meaning there is a chance to sample the latest and strangest in food-on-a-stick and fried vittles.

Fletcher's corny dogs have been going strong for 66 years. Among the newer items you can purchase this year (and hopefully survive ingesting): crispy fried cantaloupe pie, fried snowballs, fried cake on a stick, fried banana split and fried Texas jelly beans. Welcome to Crisco Heaven.

But the State Fair of Texas has a worthy challenge from its cholesterol-saturated neighbors to the east. The Dash has it on good authority that chocolate-covered bacon on a stick (10) is available at the Arkansas State Fair. Presumably none of it is made from the home-state Razorbacks (11), who have been reduced to pork rinds in three straight blowout losses. Combined score: 139-31.

Tempting as all the state fair food sounds, The Dash is going to play it safe and find a healthier tailgating spread for Dashette Letoya Luckett (12).

Signal Corps

With the proliferation of no-huddle offenses throughout college football, more and more teams are relying on high-speed play-signaling from the sidelines to the unit on the field. Almost nobody does it with just one guy going through the hyperactive, third-base-coach gyrations -- one guy is "live," signaling in real plays, and the rest are decoys. The "live" guy can change by game, by half or even more frequently if you're really paranoid.

At Colorado, they employ three quarterbacks. At Missouri, coaches do the signal work. At Indiana, they have three quarterbacks and two coaches signaling.

Which leads The Dash to believe there's some Belichickian sign-stealing going on.

[+] EnlargeDan Hawkins
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesSome coaches are more paranoid than others about hiding their signals. Dan Hawkins isn't too concerned.
"People are going to try," said Indiana offensive coordinator Matt Canada (13). "We all know that's going to occur.

"But if you get people trying to steal your signals, you're doing a good job. If they're that worried about what's coming in, you've got 'em."

You hear occasional tales about graduate assistants who become staff heroes for cracking the code on an opponent's signals. But Colorado coach Dan Hawkins (14) doesn't believe covert operations are widespread.

"You better get your own defense lined up and ready to go," Hawkins said. "There's not a lot of time for espionage work."

Southern Mississippi coach Larry Fedora (15), who previously was the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State, Illinois and Florida, said his quarterbacks often work together to come up with their own signals for the cornucopia of terms and labels -- such as cars, animals, states, cities and proper names -- that he puts on plays.

"The learning curve is in the spring," Fedora said.

As the game speeds up, the mental demand on quarterbacks intensifies. There is even less time to step back and process now, and more stuff to remember.

Hawkins says his team is squeezing in 20 more plays per practice while working 15 fewer minutes, thanks to the no-huddle. But formation, protection and play signals have to be kept to a reasonable length for quarterbacks to retain it all. There is a Too Much Information danger for overly esoteric offensive coordinators.

"You don't want the quarterback saying, 'I got the first five signals, but missed the last two,'" Hawkins said.

Last Interception Pool

The Dash got the LIP off to a late start this year; the field of top 100 pass efficiency quarterbacks without a pick is already down to just two: Baylor's Robert Griffin (16) and Mississippi State's Tyson Lee (17).

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin
David Butler II/US PresswireRobert Griffin likes to run it but when he throws, he doesn't turn it over.
Griffin has thrown 104 passes without an interception to date. Lee has thrown 71. Operators are standing by to take your votes on which one will last longer without throwing one to the wrong-colored jersey.

The amazing thing about both is that they've never thrown an NCAA interception. They're both rookies at this level: Griffin is a true freshman and Lee is a junior college transfer.

At the opposite end of the rookie-initiation spectrum is SMU freshman Bo Levi Mitchell (18), who under pass fetishist June Jones is throwing the ball all over the stadium -- including to the other team. Mitchell has 15 picks on the year. (Which is OK, because Bo Levi, who hails from Katy, has one of the great Texas football names of all time. Surprising that Dan Jenkins (19) didn't think of it first for a character in one of his novels.)

There are some big names among the group that has thrown just one interception: Missouri's Chase Daniel (20) (in 156 attempts), Florida's Tim Tebow (21) (in 128), Georgia's Matthew Stafford (22) (in 144) and West Virginia's Pat White (23) (in 103).

One-Man Teams, ACC Dept.

There were two players in the Atlantic Coast Conference who had Saturday performances that fall into the hard-to-believe category.

[+] EnlargeDemaryius Thomas
Dale Zanine/US PresswireDemaryius Thomas was the entire receiving offense for Georgia Tech against Duke.
Hard to believe one guy could do all that. And hard to believe the other team didn't do more to prevent them from doing all that.

First, Georgia Tech wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (24). The ground-loving Yellow Jackets completed nine passes in a 27-0 pasting of Duke Saturday -- all of them to Thomas, for 230 yards' worth of receptions. Yo, Dookies, you guys are supposed to be smart, right? Could The Dash suggest double coverage? Triple coverage? The entire secondary on Thomas, maybe?

The Air Demaryius offense apparently remained a shock to Duke all day, since his last three catches went for 25, 88 and 33 yards. Credit Georgia Tech with at least being smart about when it threw to Thomas: After his first four receptions converted third downs into first downs, he caught passes only on first and second down thereafter.

Then there is North Carolina linebacker Bruce Carter (25). In the Tar Heels' 38-12 defrocking of Connecticut, Carter blocked/deflected three consecutive punts. (And, if you go back a week, Carter got his hands on Miami's last punt of the game for four straight. Which has to be a record of some sort. A Dash Record, at least. You go, Bruce.) In addition to lauding Carter's effort, The Dash has to ask about UConn's inability to gang-block the guy who kept breaking into the backfield. You'd think the sideline coaching instruction after the first block would be pretty crisp and clear to the personal protector, "See No. 54? If he gets past the two guys we're going to put on him at the line of scrimmage, get in his way or die in the attempt!"

Psycho Team Of The Year

Maryland (26) needs an extended stay on the psychiatrist's couch. The Terrapins are 2-0 against ranked opponents, having upset California and Clemson. They're 0-1 against the Sun Belt Conference after a 10-point loss to Middle Tennessee State. They lost 31-0 to a putrid Virginia team that had been playing Al Groh out of a job. They barely got past Delaware, 14-7.

Coach Ralph Friedgen's postgame analysis of the Virginia debacle, according to the Washington Post: "I don't know, I don't know, I don't know."

Neither do we, Fridge.

SEC: Pointless

The Southern spin on low-scoring SEC football has been that it's attributable to all those fast, ferocious defensive players in the league. That's only a partial explanation, failing to fully cover the fact that more than half the conference ranks in the bottom 50 nationally in total offense.

The following are not attributable to great SEC defense:

Tennessee's 13 points against Northern Illinois. Auburn's 27 points against a Southern Mississippi team that subsequently gave up more to Marshall and UTEP, respectively. Arkansas' zero first-quarter points on the season -- including against Western Illinois and Louisiana-Monroe. Mississippi State's 14 against Louisiana Tech and seven against Georgia Tech. South Carolina's 23 points against a Wofford team giving up an average of 27 points per game to FCS competition.

Fact is, it has been a bumpy season for the following five SEC playcallers:

[+] EnlargeTony Franklin
AP Photo/Dave MartinThings seemed so promising for Tony Franklin and the spread offense. Then the season started.
Tony Franklin (27), Auburn. He might have been the most-hyped offensive coordinator hire of the year, but the hype has dissolved into gripes. The Tigers are 104th nationally in total offense and averaging just 18.7 ppg, which if it holds would be their lowest scoring output in 10 years. They've scored just five offensive touchdowns in four SEC games, as the no-huddle spread offense that made a cult hero of Franklin has ground to a halt. Franklin has shouldered the blame -- but his job will be in jeopardy if there isn't a second-half turnaround.

Dave Clawson (28), Tennessee. The Volunteers are riding a three-game streak of offensive ineptitude that has produced 31 points -- their lowest three-game total in 14 years. If their 18 ppg average doesn't improve, it would be the lowest in 34 years. Clawson was the former head coach at high-scoring Richmond, but he might be headed back to the FCS level if Tennessee continues to flail offensively. Amazing how ordinary the Vols' offense has looked over the years when not coordinated by David Cutcliffe.

Bobby Petrino (29), Arkansas. Brother Paul Petrino has the offensive coordinator title, but Bobby has always maintained control of the script and the play-to-play strategy. The shocking thing is the first-quarter bagel for a guy whose game-opening scripts were almost unstoppable in his high-scoring days at Louisville. Biggest problem is the No. 107 national ranking in rushing.

Team Spurrier (30), South Carolina. Steve Sr. said before the season that he was turning over the play-calling duties to Steve Jr. Then we saw that the Head Ball Coach would sooner trade in his visor for a bowler than trade in total control of his offense -- even to kin. So he gradually took back the play sheet in the first few weeks. Regardless of who has been dialing up the calls, South Carolina in Year 4 under Spurrier still looks more like a Lou Holtz operation than the expected offensive powerhouse.

Woody McCorvey (31), Mississippi State. Head coach Sylvester Croom has resolutely -- at times defiantly -- stuck by McCorvey through years of fan criticism. Now, with the league's lowest-scoring offense and no victories against FBS competition, Croom's clout with first-year athletic director Greg Byrne could be tested if Croom wants to retain McCorvey for a sixth season. State hasn't had a single 40-point game since 2002, by far the longest streak in the league.

It's All Great At Ball State

[+] EnlargeDavid Letterman
AP Photo/Michael ConroySurely Dave Letterman is proud of his alma mater making the Top 25.
With the undefeated and ranked -- yes, ranked -- Cardinals celebrating their 5-0 start, the former Eastern Indiana Normal School in mighty Muncie, Ind., Ball State (32) is finally known for something more than the following:

• The man who made lists fun, David Letterman (33).

• The papa of pizza, Papa John's founder John Schnatter (34).

• The creator of the world's most pervasive talking animated cat, Jim Davis (35) of Garfield fame.

• The author of the immortal phrase "Boom goes the dynamite," Brian Collins (36), who lived every broadcaster's worst nightmare and had the lousy luck of doing it in the age of the Internet. There but for the grace of reliable Teleprompter goes The Dash.

Putting Out An APB For ...

... Former LSU quarterback Jeff Wickersham (37), the No. 2 career passer in Tigers history. The 1980s slinger didn't go on to much of a pro football career, but he did play a quarterback in the movie "Everybody's All-American." Anyone with information on Wickersham, please apprise The Dash.

Meanwhile, The Dash is pleased to report that last week's APB subject, former West Virginia running back Amos Zereoue (38), is alive and well and owns an eponymous restaurant in Manhattan. Zereoue features cuisine from the Ivory Coast, which was Amos' birthplace, and The Dash is told that it's a popular lunch spot for staffers of ESPN The Magazine. Thanks to the avalanche of input from fans of both the Mountaineers and the food at Zereoue.

Point After

When thirsty in Denver, The Dash recommends a trip to the Cheeky Monk Belgian Beer Café (39) near Capitol Hill. It's a bit off the 16th Street Mall beaten path but worth the trip through the dodgy characters on Colfax Ave. for the dazzling array of ales from the Motherland of great beer. Try a 750 ml bottle of Lucifer Golden Ale (40) and thank The Dash later for the devilish tip.

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