Commentary

Time to hand out hardware, Dash style

Originally Published: December 2, 2008
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (burnt orange secession-from-the-union petition sold separately):

Welcome to The Dashies, the annual end-of-season awards show. Grab a plate of barbecue, a cold microbrew and a chair-backed seat at the 50-yard line. But while the Dashettes are getting into their presenter outfits, there's one subject The Dash is compelled to expound upon.

Settle It On The Field? Not In This Sport!

Gotta hand it to the BCS. It is an endless wellspring of unintended consequences. It always finds a way to find a mud puddle and fall in it, facedown. It has to be the single greatest source of how-did-that-happen snafus in human history.

BMOC

Watch Pat Forde's Big Men On Campus

Once again, the powers-that-be (Big 12 powers, in this instance) will probably retrofit the rules to fix an injustice already done. Too late for you, Bevo. Talk about a bum(med) steer.

Snafu '08: Oklahoma (1) bypasses Texas (2) into the Big 12 championship game and, with a victory over disappointing Missouri, into the BCS Championship Game. Yeah, that's the same Texas that beat Oklahoma by 10 points on a neutral field less than two months ago. Only in college football could we have a system that overrules the most basic evidence possible for deciding which team is better: head-to-head competition.

That's not to say Iowa is better than Penn State, Mississippi is better than Florida or Oregon State is better than USC. But in case of a tie, what better way to break it than head-to-head? Especially when the game in question was played on a neutral field?

The NCAA didn't decide it liked Memphis' overall season better than Kansas' and award the Tigers the 2008 national basketball title. The Jayhawks got what they earned in the Alamodome.

But that's basketball, which tends to settle the same things on the court that college football prefers settled by microchip and guesswork.

OK, on with the show. Envelopes, please …

National Awards

[+] EnlargeAdriana Lima
Kevin Mazur/WireImageAdriana Lima likely doesn't need dating advice from Texas Tech coach Mike Leach.
Dashette presenter: Adriana Lima (3).

Player of the Year -- Colt McCoy (4), Texas. It's close between McCoy and a quartet of other quarterbacks -- Sam Bradford of Oklahoma, Graham Harrell of Texas Tech, Tim Tebow of Florida and Nate Davis of Ball State. But none of the others carried the load McCoy did, leading the Longhorns in rushing, throwing for 3,445 yards and accounting for 42 touchdowns running and passing -- as The Dash has been saying all season, he's out-Tebowed Tebow. And his skill-position supporting cast isn't as good as Bradford's. (The Dash will hold the Heisman Trophy ballot until next week, just in case something spectacular transpires over the weekend.)

Coach of the Year -- Nick Saban (5), Alabama. The cynic would argue that the Crimson Tide lucked into four showcase games against teams that turned out to be vastly overrated: Clemson, Georgia, LSU and Auburn. But the realist remembers that nobody on earth predicted 12-0 and a No. 1 ranking for a bunch just one season removed from losing to Louisiana-Monroe and landing in the Independence Bowl. From Shreveport to South Beach in a year? It's possible. Hard as it is to believe, Saban has been a bargain at $3.75 million this season.

Freshman of the Year -- Jacquizz Rodgers (6), Oregon State. The Pac-10 pip-squeak galvanized the Beavers' unlikely run to the brink of the Rose Bowl, ranking 13th nationally in rushing yards per game (113.9, an average brought down by being injured early against Arizona). Rodgers also had the hello-world performance of the year when he gouged USC for 186 rushing yards in a September shocker.

Game of the Year -- Texas Tech 39, Texas 33 (7). Had it all: plot twists, an improbable comeback and then a jump-out-of-your-seat ending. Follow it up with a field storming and that's hard to beat.

Scariest Rampage -- Florida's current eight-game winning streak, all of them by 28 points or more. That's a first in school history, something not even the Head Ball Coach ever accomplished.

The Dash's Heisman List

1. Colt McCoy, Texas. The Longhorns might have been edged out in the BCS standings by Oklahoma, but their quarterback is edging out the Sooners' slinger in the Heisman race. For now.

2. Sam Bradford, Oklahoma. While McCoy's Heisman hay is in the barn, Bradford gets the chance to make the final impression on voters in the Big 12 title game. We'll see whether the injury to his non-throwing hand has any effect.

3. Nate Davis, Ball State. This spot easily could go to Graham Harrell or Tim Tebow, but Davis' special season has lifted a low-profile program to new heights. After seeing him in person last week, Davis is legit and The Dash is a believer.

ESPN.com's Heisman Watch | Vote!
Worst Trend -- In-season firings. Tommy Bowden, Tyrone Willingham, Ron Prince, Phillip Fulmer, etc. How many of those moves markedly improved the end result of the season? The conventional wisdom is that in-season changes provide a head start on finding a replacement -- but really now, did Clemson need to launch a far-flung search to promote assistant Dabo Swinney, and whom did Kansas State edge out for the right to recycle Bill Snyder?

Best Coaching Wisdom -- When Texas Tech's bizarre buccaneer, Mike Leach (8), doled out first-date advice to a Tech student on his TV show. It's a more interesting sport when Leach's team is in the national conversation all season.

Best Meal -- The Last Resort in Athens, Ga., Sept. 26. Great food, great company, great restaurant in a great college town.

Best Crowd -- Oklahoma's at home against Texas Tech. Bob Stoops challenged his entitled fan base to get feral when the undefeated Red Raiders came to Norman. They responded like 80,000 rabid hyenas.

Best Tailgating Atmosphere -- LSU. It's an art form in Baton Rouge.

Angriest Fans -- LSU's, when Saban came back to town and beat the Tigers. If Saban owned a pet rabbit, the LSU people would have boiled it on the spot.

Nastiest Fans -- USC's, last Saturday for the Notre Dame game. There were churlish drivers by the dozens en route to the stadium. There was the surly elevator operator who tried to tell a woman (Irish fan) escorting her son in a wheelchair that she had to leave her two young daughters behind to wait for the next elevator. And there were the fans spewing penitentiary-worthy profanity at the Notre Dame players and coaches as they exited the field. That "SC" stands for Stay Classy, Trojans fans.

Biggest Free Fall -- Auburn, which went from the preseason top 10 in several polls and magazines to 71st in the latest Sagarin Ratings. That edges out Michigan, Tennessee and Arizona State for biggest bomb of the year.

Biggest Rise -- Ball State, which was ranked 75th by one national preview magazine but has risen into the top 12 in the BCS.

Conference Call

ACC

[+] EnlargeLeyla Milani
Tiffany Rose/Getty ImagesLeyla Milani is a fan of the spontaneous feel the ACC provides.
Dashette Presenter -- Leyla Milani.

Motto -- "What we lack in power, we make up for in unpredictability."

Coach of the Year -- Jeff Jagodzinski (9), Boston College. Just barely over Paul Johnson of Georgia Tech. Anyone who thought Jags was simply lucky to ride the coattails of Matt Ryan saw this year that's not the case. After replacing 12 starters, including the star quarterback, leading tackler and two leading rushers, the Eagles are right back in the ACC title game.

Player of the Year -- Jonathan Dwyer (10), Georgia Tech. In a year when the top preseason candidates either fizzled out or got hurt, this award is totally wide open. (Put it this way: The two divisional champions both endured season-long quarterback controversies -- and they were winning.) In a league where both the teams and players were rarely great, The Dash went with the league's leading rusher, a key cog in the Yellow Jackets' powerful running game.

Freshman of the Year -- Russell Wilson (11), North Carolina State. The redshirt quarterback blossomed down the stretch, leading the Wolfpack to a closing four-game winning streak to reach bowl eligibility for the first time in three years. Even more impressive, Wilson had the lowest interception percentage of any quarterback in the top 100 nationally in pass efficiency, throwing just one pick in 252 attempts.

Disappointment of the Year -- Clemson, which began the year in the top 10 but was bad enough to get its coach fired in October.

[+] EnlargeTrimane Goddard
Joel Auerbach/US PresswireA great game got an exciting finish. Miami was thisclose to securing a last-second win.
Game of the Year -- North Carolina 31, Miami 24. In the final analysis, this was not monumentally important in the overall conference race, but it was a great game. Sharply contested, and wildly dramatic. The Tar Heels scored what would be the winning touchdown with 46 seconds left, but still had to pick off a pass in the end zone on the final play to ice it.

Bragging Point -- Every team in the league ranks in the Sagarin top 51.

Don't Mention -- No team in the league ranks in the Sagarin top 13. Once again, the ACC was drummed out of the national championship conversation very early.

Dash Moment of the Year -- When North Carolina parachuted in the game ball for its opener against McNeese State -- and the plane accidentally dropped its payload into rival Duke's stadium eight miles away.

Trend Indicator (based on preseason expectations) -- Clemson down. Florida State up, slightly. Wake Forest down. Maryland up. Boston College up. North Carolina State up. Virginia Tech down. North Carolina up. Miami down. Georgia Tech up. Duke up. Virginia neutral.

Big 12

[+] EnlargeSamantha Cole
Ray Tamarra/Getty ImagesSamantha Cole can work the crowd into a frenzy much like Big 12 offenses.
Dashette Presenter -- Samantha Cole.

Motto -- "No scoreboard circuitry is safe."

Coach of the Year -- Mike Leach, Texas Tech. After years of coming close, the Red Raiders finally broke through into serious national contender status and won a share of the toughest division in college football.

Player of the Year -- Colt McCoy, Texas. See above.

Freshman of the Year -- Robert Griffin (12), Baylor. The confident, athletic, savvy quarterback ranks in the top 30 nationally in total offense and pass efficiency. In a league overrun with quality QBs, Griffin refused to take a backseat.

Disappointment of the Year -- Missouri (13). Nine wins has never before been a letdown at Mizzou, but the expectations were for something greater. This team was never good enough defensively, and the loss to a mediocre Kansas team cemented the letdown -- but an upset of Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game, however unlikely, could change everything.

Game of the Year -- Texas Tech 39, Texas 33. See above. And the second-best game was the one that no longer counts: Texas 45, Oklahoma 35.

Bragging Point -- Six offenses among the top 11 in the nation.

Don't Mention -- Zero defenses among the top 49 in the nation.

Dash Moment of the Year -- Now-fired Kansas State coach Ron Prince (14) making his team run wind sprints as soon as they got off the team bus after coming back from the Louisville game. The Wildcats ran 38 wind sprints -- one for every point they allowed. That worked -- K-State lost six of nine after that grandstand play.

Trend Indicator -- Oklahoma up. Texas Tech up. Texas up. Oklahoma State up. Texas A&M down. Baylor neutral. Missouri down. Nebraska up. Kansas down. Kansas State down. Colorado down. Iowa State down.

Big East

[+] EnlargeElsa Benitez
Victor Chavez/WireImage.com Elsa Benitez knows the Big East after being married to former Syracuse hoops star Rony Seikaly.
Dashette Presenter -- Elsa Benitez.

Motto -- "It's basketball season!"

Coach of the Year -- Brian Kelly (15), Cincinnati. Won the league handily despite major quarterback issues. Has a chance to be the best coach in Cincy history -- or to be the next coach at a more established program. The choice will be his.

Player of the Year -- Donald Brown (16), Connecticut. Leads the nation in rushing yards per game and provided the bulk of the Huskies' offense, despite the fact that every opponent loaded its defense to stop him. (Honorable mention to Cincinnati's Mardy Gilyard.)

Freshman of the Year -- Victor Anderson (17), Louisville. He's a 1,000-yard rusher with a game to go. Might not have Steve Slaton's breakaway speed, but he's got his shiftiness and deceptive power -- which is fitting, because he nearly went to West Virginia before deciding to stay home.

Disappointment of the Year -- Goes to the loser of Saturday's game between West Virginia and South Florida. They were supposed to be playing for the Big East title this weekend; instead they're playing to avoid 7-5.

Game of the Year -- Cincinnati 26, West Virginia 23, OT. The Bearcats' win in Morgantown at night was probably the defining moment of their breakthrough season -- especially after blowing a 13-point lead in the final 71 seconds of regulation.

Bragging Point -- Talk about smart expansion: If Louisville beats Rutgers on Thursday, the three football schools swiped from Conference USA (Louisville, Cincinnati, South Florida) will have gone .500 or better for the regular season in 11 out of 12 tries since joining the league.

Don't Mention -- Closest thing the Big East has to a marquee nonconference win is Pitt over Iowa.

Dash Moment of the Year -- Cincinnati kick returner Gilyard, who predicted before the Bearcats played West Virginia that he'd run a kickoff back for a touchdown and told his blockers, "I'll run until I puke." True to every word, Gilyard ran back the opening kick for six, then missed the next offensive series because he was losing his lunch on the sidelines.

Trend indicator -- West Virginia down. South Florida down. Pitt up slightly. Rutgers down. Louisville neutral. Cincinnati up, up and away. Connecticut up. Syracuse neutral.

Big Ten

[+] EnlargeFrancesca Lukasik
francescalukasik.comGood luck completing a pass in the Big Ten.
Dashette Presenter -- Francesca Lukasik.

Motto -- "Passing is for pansies."

Coach of the Year -- Who else but the limping, press box-sitting, octogenarian whose team won the league? JoePa, capice?

Player of the Year -- Shonn Greene, Iowa. As the Hawkeyes asserted themselves down the stretch, so did the junior running back on his way to a 2,000-yard season. He scored 11 touchdowns in Iowa's last five games, as what started out to be a disappointing season reversed course and became a solid 8-4.

Freshman of the Year -- Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State. When his passing mechanics and ability to read defenses improve, he'll be somewhere near unstoppable.

Disappointment of the Year -- Michigan (18). School-record nine defeats. Worst loss to Ohio State in four decades. And don't forget losing to a Toledo squad that got its coach fired. That would qualify as an unmitigated disaster.

[+] EnlargeBrendan Smith
Harry How/Getty ImagesBrendan Smith's walk-off interception return lifted the Wildcats and sunk the Gophers.
Game of the Year -- Northwestern 24, Minnesota 17 (19). Brendan Smith's tipped-ball interception return 48 yards for a touchdown with 12 seconds left helped catapult the Wildcats to a surprise 9-3 season while simultaneously sending the Gophers' fairy-tale season into a late tailspin. (The Dash acknowledges that this is a shaky pick over Iowa 24, Penn State 23, given the impact of that upset. But how often do you have a walk-off interception return?)

Bragging Point -- Seven Big Ten teams rank in the top 36 nationally in pass efficiency defense.

Don't Mention -- Only three Big Ten teams rank in the top 56 nationally in passing offense.

Dash Moment of the Year -- Nittany Lions mascot and Penn State senior James Sheep (20) -- presumably his real name -- was charged with a DUI the night before he was honored for meritorious mascot service at the game against Michigan State.

Trend Indicator -- Ohio State down. Penn State up. Wisconsin down (win total has gone from 12 to 9 to 7 under Bret Bielema). Iowa up. Michigan down. Illinois down. Michigan State up. Northwestern up. Purdue down. Minnesota way up, then down. Indiana down.

Pac-10

[+] EnlargeGemma Atkinson
Jorge Herrera/WireImage.com Maybe Gemma Atkinson should have gotten a look at backup QB for Washington State?
Dashette Presenter -- Gemma Atkinson.

Motto -- "If Pete Carroll ever leaves, we're screwed."

Coach of the Year -- Mike Riley (21), Oregon State. The dude has won 27 games the past three seasons. In Corvallis. Compare that to a few big-ticket coaches like Kirk Ferentz (20 wins), Charlie Weis (19 wins), Tommy Tuberville (25 wins) and Rich Rodriguez (25 wins) and the Beavers are getting a bargain.

Player of the Year -- Jacquizz Rodgers, Oregon State. See national Freshman of the Year above. (Though it is tempting to pick any of three or four USC defensive players.)

Freshman of the Year -- Jacquizz Rodgers, Oregon State. See above.

Disappointment of the Year -- Arizona State (22). Six-game losing streaks are not the stuff dream seasons are made of.

Game of the Year -- Oregon State 27, USC 21. The shock waves from that game are still being felt, as the Trojans see their hopes of playing for a national title dwindle after one bad Thursday night in Corvallis.

Bragging Point -- The only league with 10 or more teams that plays a full round-robin schedule.

Don't Mention -- The 1-6 record versus the Mountain West Conference.

Dash Moment of the Year -- Due to injuries and ineptitude, Washington State (23) held a campus tryout for backup quarterbacks in October.

Trend indicator -- USC neutral. Cal neutral. Oregon up. Arizona State down. Arizona up. Oregon State up. UCLA neutral. Washington down. Stanford up. Washington State down.

SEC

[+] EnlargeLaToya Luckett
Leon Bennett/WireImage.com You could say it's the SEC's destiny to find a spot in the BCS title game.
Dashette Presenter -- LeToya Luckett.

Motto -- "We're No. 1. And No. 2." (AP poll only.)

Coach of the Year -- Nick Saban. See above.

Player of the Year -- Tim Tebow (24), Florida. In the context of doing less individually, his team is doing more collectively.

Freshman of the Year -- A.J. Green (25), Georgia. Gets the nod over equally excellent Alabama receiver Julio Jones because Jones hasn't visited the end zone since September. Green has been there eight times this season and leads the SEC in receiving yards per game.

Disappointment of the Year -- Flip a coin between Tennessee and Auburn -- one got its coach fired, the other may yet. But it should come up Tiger tails, since Auburn was expected to be better coming into the season.

Game of the Year -- Alabama 27, LSU 21 (26), in OT, in the Saban Bowl, in Tiger Stadium. A terribly flawed LSU team pushed No. 1 to the brink before letting the Crimson Tide escape undefeated.

Bragging Point -- There has never been a conference championship game with more wattage and anticipation than Tide-Gators.

Don't Mention -- That old SEC calling card -- top-to-bottom strength -- is a myth this year. Only two teams rank in Sagarin's top 15 and only four are in the top 35.

Dash Moment of the Year -- When Urban Meyer used all his timeouts at the end of clobbering Georgia in the Cocktail Party game, just to make sure Mark Richt knew there were, ahem, no hard feelings over that end zone celebration of 2007.

Trend indicator -- Florida up. Georgia down. South Carolina up/neutral. Tennessee down. Kentucky neutral. Vanderbilt up. Auburn down. LSU down. Alabama up. Mississippi up. Mississippi State down. Arkansas neutral.

Mountain West

[+] EnlargeOlivia Wilde
Jeff Vespa/WireImage.comThe Dash always knows what channel Olivia Wilde is on.
Dashette Presenter -- Olivia Wilde.

Motto -- "Good football, if you can find it."

Coach of the Year -- Kyle Whittingham (27), Utah. Narrowly over Gary Patterson of TCU. The buzz team in August was BYU. The undefeated team in December is Whittingham's.

Player of the Year -- Brian Johnson, Utah. Despite the versatility of punter/place-kicker Louie Sakoda and the dominance of the Utes' defense Johnson deserves his props. The senior quarterback's improvement this year made an undefeated season possible. Johnson was sensational when it mattered most: on the game-winning drive against TCU, and in the BCS-clinching victory over BYU. He completed 30 of 36 passes for four touchdowns against the archrival Cougars.

Freshman of the Year -- Mychal Sisson, Colorado State. The linebacker racked up 99 total tackles, seven for loss, on a better-than-expected Rams team.

Disappointment of the year -- New Mexico (28). Coach Rocky Long, while announcing his resignation after a 4-8 season, said he and his staff did a terrible job. Who is The Dash to argue?

Game of the Year -- Utah 13, TCU 10. Utes won the anticipated defensive slugfest when Johnson led an 80-yard drive for the winning score in the final minute.

Bragging Point -- The league established itself as the Pac-10's daddy.

Don't Mention -- The league still lacks the clout to get a 12-0 team even into the national title discussion.

Dash Moment of the Year -- When San Diego State fired coach Chuck Long (29) just a month after athletic director Jeff Schemmel stated that he'd be back in 2009.

Trend Indicator -- Utah up. BYU down slightly. TCU up. UNLV down slightly. New Mexico down. Wyoming down. Air Force up. San Diego State down. Colorado State up.

WAC

[+] EnlargeAlessandra Ambrosio
John Parra/WireImageChris Petersen's success in Boise is no secret to Alessandra Ambrosio.
Dashette Presenter -- Alessandra Ambrosio.

Motto -- "Undefeated lives here."

Coach of the Year -- Chris Petersen, Boise State. The dude has had two undefeated regular seasons in three tries as a college head coach. Fortunately, the Boise administration showed incredible patience to stay with him through last year's 10-3 debacle.

Player of the Year -- Kellen Moore (30), Boise State. The redshirt freshman beat out several more experienced quarterbacks for the starting job, and we quickly found out why. The nifty lefty has completed 70 percent of his passes and ranks 11th nationally in pass efficiency.

Freshman of the Year -- Kellen Moore. See above.

Disappointment of the Year -- Fresno State (31). Early in the year, the Bulldogs were a trendy BCS Buster pick. Then they lost three games by a total of nine points. Then they lost a fourth by 13. Then they lost a fifth, to Boise, by 51. See ya.

[+] EnlargeKellen Moore
Otto Kitsinger III/Getty ImagesQB Kellen Moore led Boise State to an undefeated regular season.
Game of the Year -- Boise State 41, Nevada 34. The Broncos' unbeaten season had to survive a Nevada pass into the end zone on the final play in Reno.

Bragging Point -- For the third straight season, the WAC has sent a 12-0 team into the top 10.

Don't Mention -- In terms of prestige, the league (specifically Boise) is still paying for the massacre of impostor Hawaii in last season's Sugar Bowl.

Dash Moment of the Year -- This terrifically bad YouTube rap proclaiming the prowess of New Mexico State, which would go 3-9 and fire coach Hal Mumme at season's end. Though you have to admire the unblinking optimism despite decades of truly horrible football.

Trend Indicator -- Boise State up. Fresno State down. Nevada neutral. Hawaii up. New Mexico State down. San Jose State up. Louisiana Tech up. Idaho neutral. Utah State up (but not up enough to save its coach from being canned).

Conference USA

[+] EnlargeCharisma Carpenter
Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagicCharisma Carpenter knows supernatural feats and what Jarett Dillard has done at Rice is right up there.
Dashette Presenter -- Charisma Carpenter.

Motto -- "Wild, wild West. Mild, mild East."

Coach of the Year -- David Bailiff (32), Rice. After a tough transition season (the Owls went 3-9 last year in Bailiff's first season), Bailiff's bunch rebounded to go 9-3 and tie for the West Division title.

Player of the Year -- Jarett Dillard (33), Rice. He's caught 19 touchdown passes this season and 54 over the past three seasons. Which is ridiculous.

Freshman of the Year -- Damaris Johnson (34), Tulsa. He's fourth in the nation in all-purpose running, racking up nearly 1,300 yards in kickoff returns, nearly 600 receiving and more than 200 rushing.

Disappointment of the Year -- SMU, which paid June Jones a fortune and got the same results it had from Phil Bennett for a fraction of the pay. The Mustangs went 1-11 in the first year under Jones, the same record that got Bennett fired in 2007.

Game of the Year -- UTEP 40, Southern Mississippi 37, OT. Typical C-USA scorefest -- the losing team had a running back go for 260 yards.

Bragging Point -- East Carolina won some big games early, and Tulsa stayed unbeaten through eight games.

Don't Mention -- Neither team could sustain it (though they will meet for the league championship this week).

Dash Moment of the Year -- UTEP coach Mike Price compared his team in mid-November to Barack Obama, saying the Miners had an opportunity similar to Obama's opportunity to run for president and had to seize it. UTEP promptly gave up 95 points in its last two games to finish 4-8.

Trend Tndicator -- Tulsa up. SMU down. UTEP down. Houston up. Rice up. Tulane neutral. East Carolina up slightly. UCF down. Marshall neutral. Memphis neutral. Southern Miss neutral. UAB neutral.

Mid-American Conference

[+] EnlargeKristianna Loken
Mark Mainz/Getty ImagesKristanna Loken thinks Nate Davis has been as efficient as a machine.
Dashette Presenter -- Kristanna Loken.

Motto -- "Having a Ball."

Coach of the Year -- Brady Hoke, Ball State. When you go 12-0 and rise into the top 15, there is no competition for this award. (But an honorable mention shout-out goes to Jerry Kill, who did marvelous work in his first season at Northern Illinois.)

Player of the Year -- Nate Davis, Ball State. He outplayed and outwon other quality MAC QBs like Dan LeFevour, Tim Hiller, Drew Willy and Andy Schmitt.

Freshman of the Year -- Chandler Harnish, Northern Illinois. The quarterback didn't play much the first half of the year, but he still accounted for more than 1,800 yards of total offense and 11 touchdowns. (Honorable mention to Toledo running back Morgan Williams, who came out of nowhere to rush for 330 yards in a single game.)

Disappointment of the Year -- Miami (35). A program with the tradition of the Redhawks isn't real thrilled about a third straight losing season. Which is why Shane Montgomery is out as coach.

Game of the Year -- Eastern Michigan 56, Central Michigan 52 (36). In his last game as coach of the perpetually horrible Eagles, Jeff Genyk had Schmitt throw the ball 80 times. He completed an NCAA record 58 of them for more than 500 yards in a shocking upset. (Honorable mention to Ball State 31, Central Michigan 24. The game that essentially decided the MAC went down to the final minute and featured a steely comeback by the Cardinals on the road against the two-time defending champs.)

Bragging Point -- Hang-your-hat victories over BCS conference opponents: Toledo beat Michigan. Western Michigan beat Illinois. Ball State walloped Indiana. Bowling Green beat Pittsburgh.

Don't Mention -- Eight MAC teams rank 82nd or lower in total defense.

Dash Moment of the Year -- Ball State senior Jake Erdley showing up at every Cardinals game in a panda bear outfit and a T-shirt proclaiming himself the Touchdown Panda (37). Erdley said he got the outfit from his aunt's costume shop because (A) she didn't have a cardinal and (B) "everyone likes pandas."

Trend indicator -- Central Michigan neutral. Western Michigan up. Ball State straight up. Northern Illinois up. Toledo down. Eastern Michigan neutral. Bowling Green down. Miami down. Kent State neutral. Buffalo up. Temple up. Ohio down. Akron neutral.

Sun Belt Conference

[+] EnlargeMelissa Haro
AP Photo/Kristie Bull/GraylockWhat better place for a swimsuit model than the Sun Belt?
Dashette Presenter -- Melissa Haro.

Motto -- "In Troy we trust."

Coach of the Year -- Mario Cristobal (38), Florida International. The program had won one of its past 24 games heading into this season. The Golden Panthers have won four this year, which constitutes huge progress.

Player of the Year -- Tyrell Fenroy (39), Louisiana-Lafayette. The senior running back is the nation's leading active rusher with more than 4,500 yards.

Freshman of the Year -- T.Y. Hilton (40), Florida Atlantic. The receiver/kick returner leads the league in all-purpose running.

Disappointment of the Year -- Florida Atlantic. With 18 returning starters from the school's first-ever bowl team, the Owls looked like the smart pick to win the league. Instead they've had to rally to reach 6-6.

Game of the Year -- To be played this week, with old reliable Troy and Arkansas State squaring off Saturday for the Sun Belt title.

Bragging Point -- Arkansas State shocking Texas A&M. Middle Tennessee upsetting Maryland.

Don't Mention -- Troy squandering a 31-3 second-half lead against LSU.

Dash Moment of the Year -- Middle Tennessee completed last-play Hail Marys twice in 17 days -- but only one of them worked. The Blue Raiders threw one against Kentucky on Sept. 13 that was caught on the carom, but the receiver was tackled at the 1-yard line as time expired. Against Florida Atlantic on Sept. 30, MTSU got the ball into the end zone on the final pass for the game-winning touchdown.

Trend indicator -- Florida Atlantic down. Troy up. Louisiana-Monroe down. Louisiana-Lafayette up. Arkansas State up. Middle Tennessee neutral. North Texas down. FIU up.

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