Commentary

Dashing through the Week 1 roundup

Originally Published: September 8, 2009
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (asbestos coaching britches sold separately in Charlottesville, Va., [1] and Boulder, Colo., [2]):

[+] EnlargeMaria Sharapova
Andrew H. Walker/Getty ImagesDashette Maria Sharpova has time to keep an eye on the gridiron now.

The Dash had an easier time picking this week's Dashette than Florida did picking its teeth with Charleston Southern. It's not like Maria Sharapova (3) has anything better to do this week than watch college football and tailgate, right?

From The Desk Of The Commissioner

Thank-you notes that need to be written after Week 1 of the season:

To: Syracuse quarterback Greg Paulus (4)
From: Jim Delany (5)

From one former ACC guard to another, I want to say I'm impressed with your transition to wearing a helmet. It's definitely better than any crossover you performed in a Duke uniform -- ha ha, a little Tar Heels humor for you there, Greg . You did surprisingly well Saturday against Minnesota in your first college football game -- heck, your first football game of any kind since 2004. You gave Syracuse fans some hope, and they had become accustomed to hopelessness at that school.

But the one play I especially enjoyed was when you channeled Brian Sipe in overtime. Your forced interception in the end zone instead of throwing it away and kicking a field goal allowed the Gophers to win 23-20. Thank you for your support of Big Ten football.

Sincerely,

The Commish

To: Northern Iowa kicker Billy Hallgren (6)
From: Jim Delany

You and your Panthers teammates played an outstanding game at Iowa on Saturday, and I want to congratulate you for that. It takes a tremendous effort for a team from the Football Championship Subdivision to come so close to beating a member of our elite conference, and your three made field goals were part of what made it such an exciting game.

I also want to express my appreciation to you for kicking not one but two low field goal attempts in the final seven seconds, allowing the Hawkeyes to block them both and win the game 17-16. As Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi told The Des Moines Register, "It's got to be something similar to hitting green twice in a row on roulette." In my commissioner's role, I cannot endorse a gambling reference -- but just between you and me, he's right! Jackpot for us! Thank you for your support of Big Ten football.

Sincerely,

The Commish

[+] EnlargeKen Niumatalolo
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesKen Niumatalolo and Navy came thisclose to a Horseshoe surprise.
To: Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo (7)
From: Jim Delany

Let me join the congratulations that have poured in from sea to shining sea for your team's courageous effort against Ohio State on Saturday. Even though your Midshipmen were at a distinct size and speed disadvantage, you never buckled. That fourth-quarter comeback was service academy football at its finest.

However, the part that particularly made my day was your attempted two-point conversion while trailing 29-27 in the final minutes. To say the least, I was shocked when you spread the field and attempted to throw for the conversion instead of running it with your trademark option attack from 3 yards out. Quarterback Ricky Dobbs said Ohio State linebacker Brian Rolle "came out of nowhere" to intercept the pass and return it all the way down the field for the clinching two points -- but even if Rolle had fainted dead away on the play, there were two other Buckeyes well positioned in the end zone to break up the ill-conceived pass. If you ever again are in position for one of the biggest victories in school history, please go with your strong suit and run the ball -- unless you're playing another team from our league, of course. Thank you for your support of Big Ten football.

Sincerely,

The Commish

To: The Mid-American Conference (8)
From: Jim Delany

Thank you for being you. Actually, for being an even worse you than normal, it appears. We needed that low-stress, 4-0 start against you guys. Thank you for your support of Big Ten football.

Sincerely,

The Commish

… And two motivational notes from the league office as well:

To: Ohio State coach Jim Tressel (9)
From: Jim Delany

This is your week, Tress! I can feel it! USC is sooooo overrated it's not even funny. The Trojans might be the most overrated team since you guys last season -- wait, no, I didn't mean that. It's a joke! Love your tie, really.

You survived a knuckleball offense Saturday, but now it's back to good old fastballs. Your guys can hit fastballs, right, Tress? Or at least fast running backs? Because USC has a lot of those. But I don't want to get into the whole speed thing -- such a tired topic. I'm sure you agree.

And I don't mean to get negative here, Tress, but you know you've lost four straight games to ranked nonconference opponents -- and three of those were not close. And you know USC hasn't lost a regular-season game to a nonconference opponent since 2002. I bring that up because, well, we need those trends to change. Badly.

You've been our best program for most of this decade, and we appreciate that. But it's kind of vital for our flagship football school to stand up and win a huge nonconference game every once in a while. No pressure or anything, but please beat USC.

Sincerely,

The Commish

To: Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez (10)
From: Jim Delany

[+] EnlargeRich Rodriguez
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesRich Rodriguez had much to applaud in Week 1.
Rod, congrats on the great victory Saturday! Sure beats the previous two season openers in the Big House, huh?

Love what you've done with the freshman quarterbacks. Last year is so last year. You're on to bigger and better things.

Which brings me to this week and the Notre Dame game. We need you to put the Fighting Irish back in their place, Rod. They're getting uppity again. Promise me your team won't turn it over six times and rack up 79 penalty yards, like you did in South Bend last season. Promise me your guys will be ready.

To that end, I'm sending your compliance staff on a mandatory, five-day retreat in the Upper Peninsula to let you guys really prepare. Like, as much as you want to. If you go over 20 hours this week, who's counting?

Sincerely,

The Commish

(P.S. If you ever tell anyone I gave you permission to break the 20-hour rule, I will feed you to an actual wolverine.)

Conference Call

Last Tuesday, The Dash predicted how each league would do in nonconference games. Time to check the results, and rank them in worst-to-best order based on opening-week performance:

Atlantic Coast (11). Predicted record: 7-3. Actual: 4-6. Theme of the Week: Is it basketball season yet? High point: Boston College's 54-point mauling of Northeastern after a traumatic offseason. Low points: Virginia and Duke losing to FCS schools William and Mary and Richmond -- just two of many low points for the league.

(The league did get a massive jolt of redemption Monday night from its flagship football schools, Miami and Florida State. The two staged a game every bit as entertaining and passionately contested as the epic showdowns from the 1980s and early '90s. If the Hurricanes' 38-34 victory is any indication, these two teams have the potential to save a floundering football league.)

Mid-American. Predicted record: 4-9. Actual: 3-10. Theme of the Week: Pffft goes the offense. Four of the five highest-scoring MAC teams of 2008 -- Ball State, Central Michigan, Akron and Western Michigan -- combined to score 30 points while going 0-4. High points: Buffalo picking up where it left off by beating UTEP on the road, and Bowling Green upsetting Troy. Low point: Ball State (12-2 in '08) losing at home to North Texas (1-11 in '08).

Big Ten (12). Predicted record: 10-1. Actual: 10-1. Theme of the Week: Rather be lucky than good. As The Dash illustrated above, the league was fortunate to avoid a complete disaster of an opening week. High point: Purdue pounding out 315 rushing yards on Toledo, its highest total in years. Low point: Illinois once again being punked by Missouri in St. Louis.

[+] EnlargeJahvid Best
Kyle Terada/US PresswireJahvid Best ran past the Terps for 137 yards.
Pacific-10 (13). Predicted record: 7-1. Actual: 6-2. Theme of the Week: California dreamin'. The schools from Cali went 3-0 by a combined score of 141-30. High point: Cal justifying some of the preseason hype by crushing Maryland 52-13. Low point: Oregon's awe-inspiring offensive ineptitude Thursday against Boise State. Below-sea-level low point: The postgame performance of a certain Oregon running back.

Conference USA (14). Predicted record: 7-1. Actual: 6-2. Theme of the Week: We beat nobody. C-USA teams were favored in seven of eight non-league games and still managed to lose one of those while struggling in a few others. High point: Expected hotshot Houston racking up 41 first-half points before throttling down against Northwestern State. Low point: Central Florida needing a fourth-quarter score to rally past Samford.

Big East (15). Predicted record: 5-1. Actual: 5-1. Theme of the Week: Move along, nothing to see here. The league had just one game against a name opponent -- and that might be an overly kind description of Minnesota -- and lost it. High point: Syracuse's 20-point first half against the Gophers. Low point: Syracuse's zero-point second half and overtime against the Gophers.

Big 12 (16). Predicted record: 11-1. Actual: 10-2. Theme of the Week: Ecstasy and agony. The league was on a serious roll early Saturday, with Missouri shellacking Illinois and Oklahoma State whipping Georgia. Then Sam Bradford got hurt and Oklahoma lost, and on Sunday, Colorado was embarrassed at home by Colorado State. High point: The Cowboys justifying their preseason pub by shutting down the Bulldogs. Low point: Oklahoma's crash-and-burn in Dallas.

Sun Belt (17). Predicted record: 3-5. Actual: 3-5. Theme of the Week: We did what we were paid to do. Four teams (Western Kentucky, Florida Atlantic, Middle Tennessee and Louisiana-Monroe) got hefty guarantee checks to take whippings from power programs. High point: North Texas winning its first nonconference road game since 2003. Low point: Preseason favorite Troy blowing a 14-0 lead and losing at Bowling Green 31-14.

[+] EnlargeBoise State
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesBoise State held Oregon to 152 total yards.
Western Athletic (18). Predicted record: 2-5. Actual: 3-4. Theme of the Week: In blue turf we trust. Boise State continues to carry the conference. High point: Boise's big defensive night against Oregon, totally owning one of the most-anticipated games of the season. Low point: Nevada and Louisiana Tech failing to scare Notre Dame and Auburn, respectively.

Southeastern (19). Predicted record: 10-2. Actual: 11-1. Theme of the Week: Taking care of business. The league suffered no major upsets and no close calls against underdogs, despite playing four true road games and two neutral-site games. High points: Alabama finishing strong against Virginia Tech, and Auburn starting strong under Gene Chizik. Low point: Offensive power outage from Georgia at Oklahoma State.

Mountain West (20). Predicted record: 4-4. Actual: 6-2. Theme of the Week: Big 12 beatdown. BYU and CSU scored major upsets of The Dash's preseason picks to win the Big 12 South (Oklahoma) and North (Colorado). (Clearly, The Dash should have been drug-tested after picking the Buffaloes.) That more than offset New Mexico's 41-6 loss to Texas A&M. High points: Wins by the Cougars and Rams, plus Utah's 15th straight victory. Low point: San Diego State surrendering 30 unanswered points against UCLA, turning a 14-3 lead into a 33-14 loss.

And although The Dash didn't predict games for the FBS Independents (21), they are the most accomplished group of them all. Notre Dame crushed Nevada, Navy scared Ohio State and Army won its opener for the first time in 13 years, beating Eastern Michigan. To all you young men wearing gold helmets, nice work.

Know Your Cupcakes

There were a whopping 37 games between FBS and FCS schools last week, which might be a record. The tally read FBS 34, FCS 3.

But upon closer inspection, it's obvious not all cupcakes are created equally. The record against unranked FCS schools was 28-0. The record against ranked FCS schools was 6-3. And of those six victories, only one was by more than a touchdown. South Florida (22) scored 24 second-half points to beat Wofford.

In other words, it's a lot safer to schedule Mississippi Valley State -- as Arkansas State (23) did, winning 61-0 -- than fifth-ranked Villanova -- as Temple (24) did, losing 27-24.

Grade The Debuts

The Dash hands out letter grades for players seeing their first action and head coaches in their first college games:

Player Division: A -- Michigan quarterback tandem of Tate Forcier (25) and Denard Robinson (26). Now, that looks more like a Rich Rodriguez offense, thanks to the arms and legs of these two guys. They produced 197 passing yards (three TDs by Forcier) and 111 rushing yards (one TD run of 43 yards by Robinson), combining to create the statistical body of work Pat White used to turn in by himself. Next up is a Notre Dame defense that made run-pass threat Colin Kaepernick of Nevada look mighty ordinary.

[+] EnlargeDion Lewis
Charles LeClaire/Getty ImagesDion Lewis ran for 129 yards in his debut with the Panthers.
A -- Pittsburgh running back Dion Lewis (27). The diminutive (5-foot-8) heir apparent to LeSean McCoy scored three touchdowns before halftime, two rushing and one receiving, and finished with 129 rushing yards in the Panthers' walloping of Youngstown State.

A-minus -- USC quarterback Matt Barkley (28). Hard to knock a guy who cranks out a 199 pass efficiency rating in his first college game. Barkley completed 15 of 19 passes for 233 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. That means he "managed the game" (coachspeak for "don't do anything stupid that kills us") very effectively. Question is whether he can do more than manage if necessary in The Horseshoe on Saturday.

B-minus -- Syracuse quarterback Greg Paulus. Natural leader who made some very nice plays in staking the Orange to a surprising halftime lead against Minnesota. But the Orange failed to score on their final seven possessions of the game, and Paulus' last throw was the game killer referenced above.

I -- LSU quarterback/utility back Russell Shepard (29). Last week, coach Les Miles said the athletic Shepard could see as many as 10 to 12 snaps for the Tigers against Washington. He played zero, conjuring up memories of last season when Miles refused to play freshman QB Jordan Jefferson until the season already had spiraled into disappointment under Jarrett Lee and Andrew Hatch. Loosen up, Les!

Coach Division: A-plus -- Army's Rich Ellerson (30). The Dash doesn't care that the opponent was Eastern Michigan. If you are Army and you have lost 12 straight openers, some to the likes of Temple, Akron, Arkansas State and Holy Cross, you take the victory and rejoice. The fact that this was a 13-point road victory makes it all the sweeter.

A-minus -- Washington's Steve Sarkisian (31). The new head Husky might have overseen the program's 15th straight loss, but the enthusiasm and attitude in the tenacious loss to LSU augur better times to come in Seattle. Specifically, better times should arrive Saturday in the form of visiting Idaho.

Lane Kiffin
Jim Brown/US PresswireLane Kiffin's Tennessee tenure started with a big win.
B -- Tennessee's Lane Kiffin (32). The statistics were overwhelming: a 56-point victory margin; 657 yards total offense; just 83 total yards allowed. But the opposition from Western Kentucky was underwhelming. And a scoreless first quarter against a totally outmanned team hints that the return to glory might take a while.

B -- Mississippi State's Dan Mullen (33). There was an epidemic of penalties and some other sloppiness against an even sloppier opponent, Jackson State. But the Bulldogs also scored more than 40 points for the first time since Sept. 14, 2002. That alone should have sent fans sprinting naked into the streets in Starkville (assuming they have streets in Starkville).

D-plus -- The Land of Disenchantment (34). Mike Locksley's New Mexico Lobos and DeWayne Walker's New Mexico State Aggies went 0-2 against Texas A&M and Idaho, respectively, combining to score 12 points. Nobody said it was going to be easy at either locale.

F -- Oregon's Chip Kelly (35). That absolute fiasco in Boise has to go down as one of the bottom five debuts in collegiate head-coaching history. No more need be said about it -- well, other than banging on Kelly's knuckleheaded running back below …

Two Players, Two Responses

Player One, when confronted last week with aggressive behavior, reacted with completely selfish instincts. He threw a sucker punch to an opponent's jaw. Then he went after a teammate. Then he went after fans. If he had not been restrained, he likely would have gone Ron Artest in the stands and created possibly the ugliest incident in football history. For that, LeGarrette Blount (36), you earn a spot in infamy and the end of your season after 60 minutes.

(Unfortunately, Blount will not be joined in suspension for even one game by the mouth who instigated his eruption, Boise defensive end Byron Hout (37). The school's response has been disappointingly soft in terms of missed playing time for Hout.)

Then there is Player Two. When confronted last week with aggressive behavior, he selflessly accepted the risk of injury or even death to save 22 others. When a girl on his school bus waved a loaded .380 semiautomatic pistol and shouted threats, Player Two approached her, tackled her and took the gun from her. He then ran off the bus and disarmed the weapon. For that, Mississippi State commit Kaleb Eulls (38) of Yazoo County, Miss., is every bit the hero Blount is not.

Putting Out An APB For …

… Former UCLA running back Gaston Green (39). If anyone has information on the whereabouts of the Bruins' all-time leading rusher, who cranked out 3,731 yards from 1984 through '87, please apprise The Dash.

Point After

When hungry in the most-excellent Mexican food territory of Dallas, The Dash recommends a stop at one of the many locations of Luna de Noche (40). They're proud of their sour cream chicken enchiladas, for good reason. And the salsas, green and red, both are high quality and plenty spicy. Solid margaritas, too.

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