Commentary

The BCS candidates make their pitch

Originally Published: October 21, 2008
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (lightly used helmets and shoulder pads of Missouri defensive players [1] sold separately):

It's campaign season. The poll data is flooding in. The combatants will ramp up their lobbying and intensify their attacks on one another now that Decision Day '08 is growing near.

Oh, and the Obama-McCain thing is going on as well.

What The Dash is referring to is the annual mid-October kickoff of BCS standings and the attendant campaigning by schools and fans for the hearts and minds of voters in the USA Today and Harris Interactive polls. (There will be much railing in certain sectors against the computer rankings as well, but The Dash is reasonably certain that microchips do not have ears. So good luck with that.)

Anyway, wouldn't it be fun if all the political ads choking the airwaves were replaced by ads from the top BCS Championship Game contenders?

I'm The Dash And I Approve This Message

[+] EnlargeMack Brown
James D. Smith/Icon SMIMack Brown's track record -- and explosive offense -- speaks for itself.
Texas (2) -- Ad opens with Mack Brown walking through amber waves of grain with his family and Bevo. He stops and gazes into the distance, in the general direction of Miami, as an American flag ripples in the breeze behind him. Mack's earnest/reassuring/moderately twangy voice-over: "Americans are hurting today. They need a jump-start, something to galvanize them, and what could do a better job of that than seeing our explosive offense in the BCS Championship Game? Our track record and our endorsements speak for themselves -- we're No. 1 in every poll imaginable, human or computer. Let the others go negative with their false and misleading ads. We're facing the tough issues -- Oklahoma, Missouri, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, all in succession -- not side-stepping them. And our quarterback is named Colt, which sounds pretty darned American to me. Hook 'em, and God bless America."

Alabama (3) -- Ad opens with unflattering, slow-motion, black-and-white video of Texas and Oklahoma players missing tackles, and coaches fuming on the sideline. Cut to numbers escalating on a scoreboard, national debt-style. Ominous voice-over: "The Big 12 will tell you how exciting their football is, but there are troubling facts the league is covering up. Those teams are soft on defense issues -- there isn't a single Big 12 team in the top 30 nationally in total defense." Cut to Nick Saban working in practice with his defensive unit. Then cut to Saban standing beneath a Bear Bryant statue: "At Alabama, we're gon' tackle you and cover you and rush the passer. Those are fundamental American football values that have made the SEC the greatest superpower on Earth. Touch football endangers our national security -- vote for someone from the pansy Big 12, and the terrorists win. Americans deserve more snot-flying hitting than they're getting in some other leagues that only pretend to have your best interests at heart. Roll Tide."

[+] EnlargeJoe Paterno
AP Photo/Carolyn KasterCould the senior citizen vote swing this outcome?
Penn State (4) -- Ad opens with the school fight song as the Nittany Lions run onto the field in old-fashioned throwback uniforms -- no, wait, those are the current uniforms. As the highlight reel of eight straight victories rolls, we hear commentary from a famously nasally back-East voice: "I'm Joe the Pa, and I'm the person every American voter should keep in mind come Election Day. In this time when so many senior citizens are facing uncertainty, wouldn't you feel guilty about keeping me out of the national championship game if we run the table? I'd be one more old person shoved aside by The System -- just as I was that old person shoved aside in 1994 with an undefeated team. Well, now I'm even older. And for all of you constantly criticizing the Big Ten for past BCS performances, understand this: if you wanted to play against Ohio State, you should have made it to the BCS title game the last two years. We are not Ohio State. We are … Penn State."

Oklahoma (5) -- Ad opens with black-and-white, slow-motion footage of Travis Lewis being flagged for questionable late hits on Colt McCoy. Ominous voice-over: "The officials are at it again. They took a game away from Oklahoma against Oregon a couple of years ago, and they did the same thing in the Red River Rivalry. If the refs don't coddle the fat-cat quarterback by making these bad calls against a hard-working, country-first, freshman linebacker, the Sooners are still undefeated and ranked No. 1." Cut to school president David Boren, sitting at his desk looking very presidential and staring sternly into the camera: "After the injustice in Dallas, we're asking for a second chance from the voters. Give it to us, or I'll raise hell. Ask the Big 12 conference. Boomer Sooner."

[+] EnlargePete Carroll
Kirby Lee/US PresswireHard to question Pete Carroll's record in big game's during his tenure at USC.
USC (6) -- Ad opens with a black-and-white still photo of Bob Stoops scowling on the sidelines. Then a full-screen graphic is played over the picture showing the following scores: West Virginia 48, Oklahoma 28; Boise State 43, Oklahoma 42; LSU 21, Oklahoma 14; and, highlighted, USC 55, Oklahoma 19. Ominous voice-over: "They call him 'Big-Game Bob,' but the results in recent BCS bowls have been amazingly small. Can he be trusted to take a team back there again, or would it simply be more of the same? Somehow, this erratic leader's team is the highest-ranked one-loss team in the BCS standings, and that's dangerous for all Americans." Cut to footage of USC trampling Ohio State, then to Pete Carroll walking with Snoop Dogg on Venice Beach: "If you're sending a one-loss team to Miami, remember my record. I'm 5-1 in BCS bowls. The Trojans won't deliver a dud like some other teams have in recent years. We're the true big-game team. Fight on."

Oklahoma State (7) -- Ad opens with video of several Cowboys in uniform standing outside a locked door that reads, "BCS HQ." Ominous voice-over: "The insider lobbyists tried to keep Oklahoma State out of their party. They didn't rank the Cowboys coming into the season, and even as their record has stayed perfect, they've been slow to move them ahead of Establishment teams that have lost games. Teams like USC, which couldn't even beat Oregon State, are now distorting their record to the American people. Isn't it time to end the cronyism in college football? Isn't it time for a change?" Cut to a pious-looking Mike Gundy, surrounded by his family: "The computers have given Oklahoma State a chance, ranking us third in the BCS standings. Now we need you, the voters, to step up and do what's right. Let an outsider fix the corrupt system. Let the Cowboys play for it all."

[+] EnlargeMark Richt
Todd Kirkland/Icon SMIThe calm, cool, collected and semi-youthful Mark Richt is ready to lead the Dawgs to the BCS.
Georgia (8) -- Ad opens with black-and-white video of Mike Gundy tirade from 2007. Then to video of Joe Paterno limping around, and awkwardly wearing a headset in the press box. Ominous voice-over: "There are dangerous leaders poised to take their teams to BCS games -- some too volatile, some too old. In these troubled times, can America afford to make such a risky, extreme choice? Are your children safe with an angry man on the sidelines or an old man in the press box? If they cannot fulfill their term, do they have a reliable assistant one heartbeat away?" Cut to video of semi-youthful Mark Richt, the personification of even-keeled benevolence as he shakes hands, kisses babies and congratulates his players: "Mark Richt knows how to handle himself in pressure situations, and he won't need an afternoon nap to make it to kickoff of the title game. He just needs to win out, and then Georgia will be the responsible choice. Go Dawgs."

The Dash's Heisman List

1. Colt McCoy, Texas. Only solidified his spot on top by shredding Missouri on Saturday night, completing 29 of 32 passes. McCoy has been particularly devastating at home, completing 86 percent of his passes with no interceptions.

2. Sam Bradford, Oklahoma. Blew up Kansas last week for a career-high 468 yards. While Chase Daniel has backed up, Bradford has maintained his place in contention.

3. Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State. One Big 12 player exits, another enters. Bryant had more than 200 receiving yards last week against Baylor, and nearly one-fourth of his 45 catches have gone for touchdowns (11). He's also been dangerous on punt returns, taking two back to the house.

ESPN.com's Heisman Watch | Vote!
Texas Tech (9) -- Ad opens with slow-motion, black-and-white video of handoffs for no gain by various schools ranked ahead of the Red Raiders. Ominous voice-over: "Many of the other schools in the top 10 are offering you the same failed policies -- conservative, low-entertainment, low-scoring football. Isn't it time for a change?" Cut to video of Mike Leach drawing formations on a grease board. Upbeat voice-over: "Mike Leach has the maverick credentials to take on the status quo. He's done it for years, never having a losing season while never playing it by the old, stale book. He'll go five-wide on fourth-and-one and leave the uptight play-calling to the uptight competition. He'll also wear a pirate outfit and dispense dating advice. Vote Tech for change. Guns up."

Ohio State (10) -- Ad opens with video of Terrelle Pryor slashing through Michigan State's defense. Voice-over from Jim Tressel: "We're not here to talk about the past. Everyone in America is hungering for a fresh start, and as Ohio State goes, so goes the nation. For all of us, the future is what matters, not the past. The past is so long ago that I can't remember what happened last year or the year before that -- in fact, I can't even remember last month. Particularly whatever may have happened on Sept. 13th -- when our best player, Beanie Wells, was injured, and we were playing the wrong quarterback. But that was in the past, and we're a totally different team now. Only losers live in the past, and we're winners at Ohio State. I have the Winner's Manual to prove it -- and so can you, for only $24.99. O-H …"

[+] EnlargeCharisma Carpenter
Jean-Paul Aussenard/Getty ImagesWho needs words when you have Charisma?
Florida (11) -- Ad opens with a wholesome but sad-eyed 12-year-old boy, who looks at the camera plaintively: "I love college football more than anything in the whole world, and even though the BCS Championship Game will end late on a school night, my parents will let me stay up and watch it. Please, voters, don't make me watch Ohio State, or my mom will send me to bed when the Buckeyes fall behind by four touchdowns at halftime. And please don't send a Big 12 team that will throw the ball all night and make the game last until 1 a.m. Send a hard-working, all-substance SEC team with a role-model quarterback all of America's youth can respect." Cut to video of Tim Tebow with the Heisman Trophy, then video of Urban Meyer holding aloft the crystal football trophy as confetti falls down around him. Meyer voice-over: "Vote Florida. For the children."

Then there's this from the fringe candidates, Utah (12), Boise State (13) and Tulsa (14): Ad opens with Kyle Whittingham, Chris Petersen and Todd Graham walking three abreast and staring resolutely ahead. Earnest voice-over: "Who really represents the American middle class? It's not the rich elites from the power conferences who misrepresent their patrician backgrounds. If you want a little bit of reality brought from Tulsa Main Street to the BCS, you'll vote for a true outsider like one of us."

And finally, The Dash knows one candidate who doesn't need to say a thing to get elected. She can win on charisma alone -- Dashette Charisma Carpenter (15).

Grease Fires

Ten programs that are watching their seasons blow up, with no reversal in sight.

[+] EnlargeWashington State
AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenWashington State is setting historically ugly records.
Washington State (16). The Record: 1-7. The streak: four straight losses, and seven straight against FBS competition. The Dash was drawn with macabre interest to the in-game box score of USC's 69-0 slaughter of the Cougars. It did not disappoint. Wazzu even tried to shorten the game and lessen the damage by throwing the ball only nine times (for 28 yards). The Cougs now are the first BCS conference team ever to give up 60 or more points four times in a season. And the night is young.

San Diego State (17). The record: 1-6. The streak: lost three straight, and six straight in the Mountain West Conference. Some crushings you expect, like Wazzu-USC. Some come out of nowhere, like New Mexico 70, San Diego State 7. It was 49-0 at halftime. Against New Mexico. Chuck Long is now 8-23 as coach of the Aztecs, and could have just five games left in his tenure.

Wisconsin (18). The record: 3-4. The streak: lost four straight. Since taking a 19-0 lead on Michigan in the third quarter Sept. 27, the Badgers have been outscored 133-46 while plummeting out of the top 10. It's been an amazing crack-up by a team that returned 17 starters from a nine-win team.

Iowa State (19). The record: 2-5. The streak: lost five straight. Another team with a distinct downturn -- since taking a 20-0 lead over Kansas at halftime Oct. 4, the Cyclones have been outscored 108-30. That includes consecutive blowout losses to Baylor and Nebraska, not exactly the elite of the Big 12. Pillow fight with Texas A&M on Saturday might be the Clones' last chance to win in '08.

[+] EnlargeSyracuse
Kim Klement/US PresswireSyracuse's lone win this season is over FCS foe Northeastern -- by nine points.
Syracuse (20). The record: 1-6. The streak: lost three straight overall and 10 straight to FBS competition. The Orange has been outscored 80-13 in the fourth quarter, continuing the ineptitude of the Greg Robinson Era, as it were. But the fact that the Cuse has come closer to beating Pittsburgh and West Virginia than it did to beating Akron tells you something about the ragged state of the Big East.

Tennessee (21). The record: 3-4. The streak: won one in a row! Beating Mississippi State does not put out the fire under Phil Fulmer and his punchless offense -- not when 14 of Tennessee's 34 points were scored by the defense. But beating No. 2 Alabama this week in a hateful rivalry game would be a classic Fulmer escape. (The Dash will take a moment to salute the Best Player on a Bad Team in America: sophomore safety Eric Berry. Quite a talent.)

Southern Miss (22). The record: 2-5, 0-3 in Conference USA. The streak: lost four straight for the first time in 31 years. Sure is a good thing the school canned Jeff Bower, who had one 2-5 start in 18 years on the job. Larry Fedora has improved the offense, but the defense is in the tank. Maybe USM needs to get back in touch with its coaching nickname roots. The Golden Eagles previously have been led by a Blondie (M.J. "Blondie" Williams, in 1913); a Spout (O.V. "Spout" Austin, 1921-23); a Pie (Thad "Pie" Vann, 1949-68); a Bear (no, not that one, P.W. "Bear" Underwood, 1969-74); and a Curly (Hallman, 1988-90).

North Texas (23). The record: 0-7. The streak: lost eight straight. The Serene Green have surrendered 40 or more points 12 times in 19 games under coach Todd Dodge. Three times they've given up 74 or more. For the love of all that's holy, stop someone.

Idaho (24). The record: 1-6. The streak: lost six straight, and 23 straight against FBS competition. Oh, the Vandals. They began the season in pants with an embarrassingly placed logo on the seat. They continued with a controversy over the cheerleaders' uniforms, deemed too risqué for Moscow. Along the way they've given up at least 40 points in every game, even to Utah State.

League-wide grease fire: ACC (25). Nobody in this league is being pummeled on a weekly basis -- because there aren't enough good teams in this league to do the pummeling. The conference has no dog anywhere near the national title fight -- even the Big East and Mountain West have two teams apiece higher in the BCS standings than the ACC. Once again, when Florida State, Miami and Virginia Tech don't play up to standards, the ACC has nothing to hang its hat on.

Lip: We Have A Winner!

In a dramatic conclusion, The Dash's Last Interception Pool was captured by Baylor freshman Robert Griffin (26). He locked it up Saturday with a 15-for-27 performance against Oklahoma State, pushing him to 155 collegiate passes without a pick. Griffin won the coveted title when Mississippi State's Tyson Lee (27) threw not just one, not just two, but three oskies against Tennessee -- two of which were pick sixes. So Lee ended his interceptionless run in a big way.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin
Peter G. Aiken/US PresswireEverytime Robert Griffin has reared back to throw, the ball has never landed with an opponent.
The Dash caught up with Griffin on Monday to talk about his feat.

"I think it goes partly to my ability to make good decisions," he said. "A lot of interceptions are tipped balls and batted up into the air, and fortunately, all [of] ours have hit the ground."

Griffin did get a pass intercepted against Connecticut, but it was called back on a roughing-the-passer penalty. And he nearly had one picked against the Cowboys. But this is a guy with a history of taking care of the football -- he threw only nine interceptions in two years as a high-school starter.

Now he's started his collegiate career even more error-free.

"I'm confident in my abilities," Griffin said. "But it all comes down to whether the team accepts you. These guys around here have accepted me. They've put their faith in me to go out and produce."

Griffin doesn't just produce on the football field; he does it on the track as well. He finished 11th in the 400-meter hurdles at the U.S. Olympic Trials and will run for Baylor's powerful track team in the spring.

Wheels like that are why he has also run for 433 yards this season -- and why former Oklahoma State coach Pat Jones describes Griffin as "a two-play guy. You watch two plays on film, shut it down and go offer him a scholarship."

Nutty Times Are Here Again In Arkansas

In the eternal melodrama that is the SEC West, where coaches switch schools like socks, Houston Nutt (28) returns to his porcine stomping grounds Saturday when Mississippi (29) visits Arkansas (30). Among those not expected to attend: Gus Malzahn (now coordinating the most productive offense in the country at Tulsa); Mitch Mustain (now backing up Mark Sanchez at USC); and Frank Broyles (might be there, but not as athletic director anymore). Some of the fans who FOI'd Nutt's phone records may well be in the house.

[+] EnlargeHouston Nutt
J. Meric/Getty ImagesHouston Nutt will be on the other sideline when he returns to Arkansas.
In the meantime, the two involved coaches will do their best to minimize the obvious story line.

"I understand the buildup by the Razorback fans; that's natural," said Nutt's replacement, Bobby Petrino (31). "As we watch the video we're focusing on how to move the ball, how to stop them, and not anything at all about who their coaches are. I think our players will do the same. Our players understand that it's our football team against their football team. Let's take the coaches out of it, let's take the past out of it and let's just get ready to go out there and compete, play hard, play the game that we all love. We'll just worry about the game. It's easier for me to say that than it might be to get done, but I really do feel like our players will feel the same way. "

Nutt's take from Oxford on Monday: "Sometimes you can't help but think about it off and on during the summer because of all the time we spent there, but I've been pretty wrapped up in Ole Miss. I love this football team here, and I've gotten close with these guys. Once the whistle blows and once that ball is kicked off, I think it's just like every other football game. We've trying to get our guys in the right position and all of that so you get lost in the game. You can't but help having a lot of feeling for the guys you recruited there and the guys you know. You know their families, so naturally there is a relationship there."

Asked what kind of reception he is expecting, Nutt answered: "I don't know. We will find out."

The Dash is guessing something less than a 70,000-person standing ovation. But it still will be nicer than what Nick Saban (32) gets in Baton Rouge on Nov. 8.

One More Marriage Gone Bad

That would be Pennsylvania product Terrelle "I'm From Ohio Now" Pryor (33) against the in-state school he considered longest, Penn State (34). When Pryor takes the field in the scarlet and gray of Ohio State on Saturday in the Horseshoe, every Nittany Lions fan will hope he doesn't come back to haunt his old home folks. Beanie Wells, they could lose to and eventually accept it. Pryor? Not so much.

(But if anyone should regret not getting Pryor, it's Rich Rodriguez and miserably bad Michigan. The Dash would bet its bottom dollar that Pryor would have started from day one in Ann Arbor.)

LSU's 12th Man

By now you might have seen this video clip of SEC official Wilbur Hackett Jr. (35) apparently flashing back to his linebacker days at Kentucky and lowering his shoulder into unsuspecting South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia (36).

Coach Steve Spurrier and the SEC office have quickly exonerated Hackett of any wrongdoing. But you have to believe Garcia is still catching grief in the locker room for being dropped by an umpire who played college ball nearly 40 years ago.

You also have to believe Hackett will not work another South Carolina game this year.

Putting Out An APB For …

[+] EnlargeChris Fuamatu-Ma'afala
Brian Bahr/Getty ImagesDo you know what this former Utah battering ram is up to these days?
… Former Utah jumbo back Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala (37) who rumbled for 2,630 career yards for the Utes, third-best in school history, before moving on to a long NFL career. Anyone with information on the first-team all-vowel running back, please apprise The Dash.

Meanwhile, The Dash is pleased to report that last week's APB subject, former Michigan State running back Lorenzo White (38), is alive and well and was seen in the flesh on the sidelines of the Spartans' blowout loss to Ohio State last Saturday. White looks good and lives in his hometown of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., where he has a home remodeling business. His son, Lorenzo III, is a cornerback at Central Michigan who is out for the season after injuring a knee.

"He was the smart one," White said of his son. "He gets to hit people instead of being hit."

Of the guys who do get hit, White said he's impressed with current Michigan State running back Javon Ringer.

"Great back. I talk to him a lot," White said. "Outside of football, he kind of reminds me of me."

White also had some counsel for the Spartans after their 45-7 loss to the Buckeyes: "We can't let this loss determine the rest of our season."

Point After

When hungry and thirsty in East Lansing (39), The Dash recommends hitting Crunchy's (40), an excellent campus hangout that will serve you both beer and food by the bucket -- perfect for volume-consumption football fans. They have a deluxe beer list with the top in-state microbrews from Bell's and New Holland. The Dash was also psyched this past weekend to try two new Anheuser-Busch beers with plenty of redeeming quality: Michelob Pale Ale and Irish Red. Not bad at all.

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