Commentary

Dash of trouble, phenoms and grudges

Originally Published: September 15, 2009
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (internship ongoing in South Bend [1]):

It's been quite a month for public petulance and mismanaged anger in America. What Byron Hout (2) and LeGarrette Blount (3) started in Boise has been continued -- minus the fists of fury -- by Rep. Joe Wilson, Serena Williams and Kanye West.

Can't we all just get along?

Or at least fake it?

[+] EnlargeMinka Kelly
Jamie McCarthy/Getty ImagesDashette Minka Kelly's gridiron impact goes beyond "Friday Night Lights."

Certainly we can all agree on the merits of Dashette Minka Kelly (4), who may date a baseball player but plays a football cheerleader on TV. She can be a rallying point in these fractious times.

Beyond Minka, perhaps we can take our cue from Mr. Charlie Weis (5), who on Sunday was asked about "weird things" perpetrated by the Big Ten officiating crew in Notre Dame's dramatic, 38-34 loss to Michigan. The Fighting Irish coach was a pillar of restraint, saying he "had to be careful" in commenting on the officiating because he has a Big Ten crew coming in to work this week's game against Michigan State.

"I'm not blaming the officiating for the game," Weis said.

Then, well, the pillar of restraint toppled. He expended about 300 words on the refs, most of which seemed to be blaming the officiating for the game -- including saying he had a longer-than-usual list of video clips he intended to send to the Big Ten office, including Michigan players allegedly punching his players in the face. That crabbing brought about more questions and more answers until a huge amount of the Sunday news conference was consumed with Notre Dame's rather dim view of the officiating and timekeeping in the Michigan game.

By the way, the title of Weis' book is "No Excuses."

The coach did say he had no problems with the holding calls against his team. And it's true that there appeared to be some blown calls and non-calls that hurt the Irish in that game.

There also appeared to be some blown calls and non-calls that hurt the Wolverines.

And it also appeared that a team with a big-boy running game would have handed off and killed the clock at the end of the game instead of throwing incomplete passes and giving Michigan ample time to win the game. Notre Dame played fairly well in this game, but it goes into the books as Weis' fifth straight loss to an opponent from a "big six" conference.

Scheduling Yourself Into Trouble

For the most part, coaches prefer playing rivalry games at the end of the year and don't like scheduling huge intersectional matchups for the first week. Why? All you had to do was look at what happened last week to understand.

Almost everyone who played a circle-the-date-on-the-calendar game in the opening week was hungover like Amy Winehouse in Week 2. The carnage:

[+] EnlargeDan Hawkins
AP Photo/J.D. PooleyThings aren't looking up for Dan Hawkins and the Buffs.
Colorado (6) -- After being upset by in-state rival Colorado State, the Buffaloes staggered into Toledo and got hammered by the Rockets 54-38. The score was 30-3 before Colorado even knew the game had started. This one deserves special merit for one of the dumbest scheduling moves of all time, by Buffs athletic director Mike Bohn, who agreed to play a Friday night road game two times zones away after a Sunday night rivalry game. If Dan Hawkins loses his job after this season -- that remains a bigger if than some might think, given the cost of his buyout and CU's troubled athletic finances -- he can blame Bohn for lining up this trap game.

Colorado State (7) -- The Rams had to rally from a 23-17 deficit against Weber State, then recover a fumble deep in their own territory to win 24-23. This after looking surprisingly strong against the Buffs.

Missouri (8) -- After being showered with praise following a 37-9 rout of border rival Illinois, the Tigers nearly sparked an equal and opposite reaction by falling behind Bowling Green 20-6. Mizzou scored the final three touchdowns of the game to pull it out.

Florida State (9) -- The Seminoles lost a thrilling Labor Day game to Miami, then followed it up with seven pitiful points in the first 59 minutes against FCS Jacksonville State. Two touchdowns at the end saved the Noles from one of their all-time most embarrassing defeats. (The Dash is still waiting for FSU offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher to justify his hype. And, by extension, his succession agreement.)

Mike Gundy
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesMike Gundy and the Cowboys walked into some trouble Saturday.

Oklahoma State (10) -- What were the Cowboys talking about as they pushed themselves through winter drills, spring practice and summer conditioning? Beating Georgia in the biggest home game in school history, that's what. They sure weren't talking about backing that up in Week 2 by beating Houston. It showed when the Cougars ambushed Oklahoma State, racing to a 24-7 lead on the way to a 45-35 victory.

"They came to play and we've got to give them their props," Oklahoma State defensive back Lucien Antoine said. "We should have played harder than them. They did. They played harder than us."

That remains the age-old issue in sports: trying to maintain maximum motivation week after week and game after game. Coaches devote a good portion of their lives to guarding against emotional letdowns -- but humans let down. College kids cannot always be conned into believing that the next game is as big as the last game.

That's why there are upsets. And that's why the following teams should be on upset alert (or at least scare alert) this week:

USC (11) -- The Trojans were a marvelous self-sustained energy force Saturday in The Horseshoe, jumping en masse and dancing and shouting to each other all game long. "We stayed with the juice on the sidelines," coach Pete Carroll said, approvingly. "It was 100 guys versus everyone in the world, it seemed like. We were just trying to create as much energy as possible. We needed every single guy jumping."

So what happens this week, when USC travels to Seattle to play a Washington team it has beaten seven straight seasons? A Washington team that went winless in 2008, including a 56-0 loss to the Trojans?

Will they be jumping all game long again?

Meanwhile, Washington finally won a game last week and is coached by former Carroll assistant Steve Sarkisian -- with former Carroll assistant Nick Holt as defensive coordinator. Rest assured, the Huskies and their coaches have had this game in their sights far longer than USC and will have the Trojans scouted right down to their sweat socks.

[+] EnlargeJim Tressel
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesJim Tressel and the Buckeyes shouldn't look past the Rockets.

Ohio State (12) -- The other participant in that thriller in The Shoe must scrape itself off the floor after another high-profile defeat and lug itself to Cleveland for a game against Toledo. Yes, the same Rockets who caught Colorado flatter than an anorexic supermodel. En garde, Buckeyes.

UCLA (13) -- Last year the Bruins followed their upset of Tennessee with a 59-0 nuking from BYU. This year they're fortunate to host 1-1 Kansas State, which has scored offensive points in two of its eight quarters of play against mighty Massachusetts and Louisiana-Lafayette this season. (The exhuming of Bill Snyder is paying immediate dividends in Manhattan.) Still, the Bruins have been warned.

Michigan (14) -- Hard to imagine the Wolverines' losing so much steam that they're beaten by Eastern Michigan on Saturday. But then again, Northwestern probably thought the same thing before needing a last-second field goal to beat the Eagles last Saturday. And new EMU coach Ron English knows the Michigan upperclassmen from his time working under Lloyd Carr in Ann Arbor.

South Carolina (15) -- The Gamecocks pushed Georgia to the brink Saturday night between the hedges, and that came nine days after a slugfest with NC State. Now comes an obvious potential letdown game against Florida Atlantic. Steve Spurrier's South Carolina teams have let some uninspiring opponents hang around the past three years (average margin of victory in two games against Wofford and one apiece against Louisiana-Lafayette and UAB: 11 points).

Caveat: That isn't to say all season-opening rivalry games are bad things. In fact, The Dash would argue that Miami-Florida State made Labor Day weekend. Missouri-Illinois has been a welcome exception to the play-nobody trend. Colorado-Colorado State is a necessity to maintain college football interest in a Broncos-dominated state.

And this week's rivalry game, Louisville-Kentucky (16), is still better off as a season opener (which it is when played at Louisville) than as an anonymous third-week game (which it is when played at Kentucky).

Know Your Phenoms

Saturday in the Midwest, two big games came down to big drives for winning scores. That made the day memorable. What made it incredible was the fact that both drives were orchestrated by true freshman quarterbacks doing their nerveless work in front of more than 200,000 fans and nationwide TV audiences numbering in the millions.

So we got a proper introduction to Matt Barkley (17) of USC and Tate Forcier (18) of Michigan. But since they figure to be in the forefront of our football consciousness for about as long as Tim Tebow (19), it's time for a dozen compare/contrast facts to get to know them better:

Age: Both are 19.

[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesMatt Barkley passed a big test at Ohio State.

Home: Both are Southern Californians. Barkley is from Newport Beach; Forcier is from San Diego. But they never played against each other in high school.

Record: Both are 2-0 as college starters.

Size: Barkley goes 6-foot-2, 230 pounds. Forcier is 6-1, 188.

Arm: Barkley has completed 60 percent of his passes for 428 yards with one touchdown and one interception, and a quarterback rating of 134.5 (55th nationally). Forcier has completed 68 percent of his passes for 419 yards with five touchdowns and one interception, and a quarterback rating of 161.7 (21st nationally).

Legs: Barkley has just three net rushing yards on the season but had several key quarterback sneaks against Ohio State. Forcier has run for 107 yards and one touchdown in Rich Rodriguez's spread offense.

Guts: Mater Dei High School football coach Bruce Rollinson after watching Barkley beat Ohio State: "You name it, it was tested. He had noise, pressure, playing in pain, playing against the scheme of Ohio State. But he has that innate ability to remain calm." Scripps Ranch High School football coach Sergio Diaz after watching Forcier beat Notre Dame: "He's basically fearless. He doesn't fear making mistakes, isn't afraid to take a hit, and he'll put the ball a lot of places other quarterbacks aren't willing to throw it. If he does make a mistake, he always feels the next play is going to work out."

[+] EnlargeTate Forcier
Domenic Centofanti/Getty ImagesTate Forcier rallied the Wolverines twice in the fourth quarter to beat the Fighting Irish.

Brains: Both graduated from high school early so they could enroll in college in January and go through spring practice.

Athletic family tree: Barkley's dad, Les, was an All-American water polo player at USC. Forcier's father, Mike, was a quarterback at San Diego City College and his big brothers, Jason and Chris, have played at Stanford and UCLA, respectively.

Six degrees of separation: The transfers of Jason and Chris Forcier out of Mater Dei cleared the way for Barkley to play there as a freshman.

Six degrees of Marinovich: Barkley broke the Orange County high school record for career passing yards held by former USC star/NFL bust/serial arrestee Todd Marinovich (20). Forcier has been trained in quarterback skills for years by Marv Marinovich (21), Todd's infamously controlling father.

This good, this fast: Rollinson: "When he got to USC I said, 'Don't count him out. Matt will get right into the thick of the competition.' I felt he could handle anything they presented to him. So far it's been a joyride." Diaz: "I've been watching this kid do that kind of stuff the last two years. I'm not surprised he's able to do that. But the way the kid has been able to step up and take control of the team and the whole Michigan Nation, it's pretty amazing."

Grudge Games

Eight games this week that The Dash has identified as carrying some extra emotional payload for one side or another:

Tennessee-Florida (22). Offended party: Florida. This one, of course, became the Grudge Game of the Year on national signing day when new Volunteers coach Lane Kiffin said, in so many words, "Urban Meyer is a dirty rotten cheater!" And got the accusation wrong. Since leaving a horse head in Kiffin's bed is against SEC rules, Meyer will have to settle for beheading Kiffin's team in The Swamp. Given the bundle of shot nerves that is Tennessee quarterback Jonathan Crompton, and given the excellence of the Florida defense, The Dash is predicting an absolute emasculation spiced by late timeouts and Meyer's delivering a Vulcan nerve pinch to Kiffin at the postgame handshake.

Texas Tech-Texas (23). Offended party: Texas. The Longhorns would have played Florida for the national title had it not been for a dropped interception and missed tackle in Lubbock last year. Instead, the Horns were engulfed in a storm-the-field celebration by the Tech fans after what might have been the biggest victory in program history. This year Texas again has title aspirations and Tech is trying to replace Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree. The Dash predicts a four-touchdown Bevo beatdown.

[+] EnlargeCharlie Weis
Matt Cashore/US PresswireCharlie Weis and the Irish need a win over the Spartans.

Michigan State-Notre Dame (24). Offended party: Notre Dame. Somehow, the Fighting Irish have not beaten the Spartans in South Bend since Lou Holtz was the coach in 1993 -- and it's not like Michigan State has been a juggernaut in that time. Weis' job security likely would be a different issue if he weren't 1-3 against the Spartans.

West Virginia-Auburn (25). Offended party: Auburn. It was far from pleasant on the Plains last year when the Tigers played the Mountaineers in Morgantown. At that point Auburn was 4-3 and already had fired offensive coordinator Tony Franklin. But Tommy Tuberville's tenure really hit the rocks when the Tigers blew a 17-3 lead by giving up 31 consecutive points. If they had won that game they would have gone bowling last year at 6-6.

Georgia Tech-Miami (26). Offended party: Miami. One of the biggest reasons the Hurricanes have failed to assert themselves in the ACC is their failure to beat the Yellow Jackets. They've lost four straight league games to Tech, bottoming out in a 41-23 loss on a Thursday night late last season. This year's game is a Thursday nighter as well and could signal a return to prominence for the Canes if they win.

Middle Tennessee-Maryland (27). Offended party: Maryland. The Terrapins did their part to soil the ACC's rep last year with a 10-point loss to the Blue Raiders as 13-point favorites. Why they were playing a game in Murfreesboro is strange enough, and the outcome only exacerbated that. The rematch is in College Park.

Louisville-Kentucky. Offended party: Louisville. Why is Cardinals coach Steve Kragthorpe sitting in a Bunsen burner these days? In no small part because he's 0-2 against the rival Wildcats. His first year the Cards were ranked ninth in the country but lost 40-34 on a Kentucky bomb in the final minute. "I think that's one I'll take with me to the grave," Kragthorpe said Monday. "And I'll remember it while I'm in the grave." Last year Louisville failed to score in a home shutout. A victory in either season would have put the Cards in a bowl game.

UTEP-New Mexico State (28). Offended party: UTEP. New Mexico State won four games against FBS competition the past two years -- half of them against the rival Miners and both of those with fourth-quarter comebacks. Total margin of victory: six points. UTEP coach Mike Price, who in Year 5 has lost his mojo after a quick start in El Paso, went so far Monday as to call this a "must-win" game for his 0-2 team.

Add One To The Buster List

You already know about Boise State (29) of the Western Athletic Conference and the Mountain West troika of BYU (30), TCU (31) and Utah (32). They're the fearsome foursome of BCS outsiders that figure to have a chance at crashing the five elite, big-money bowl games come January.

Time, now, to add a third conference to the mix: the maligned (and deservedly so) Conference USA and its Houston Cougars (33).

[+] EnlargeCase Keenum
AP Photo/Brody Schmidt Include Case Keenum and the Cougars in the BCS talk.

Behind quarterback Case Keenum, high-octane Houston rolled up 45 points on then-No. 5 Oklahoma State, its first victory over a top-five team in 25 years. That came after scoring 41 points in the first half in the Cougars' opener against Northwestern State.

Kevin Sumlin's team is off this week and then hosts Texas Tech on Sept. 26. If the Cougars can beat the Red Raiders -- who will be coming off their game at Texas -- they'll sweep two meetings with the Big 12 South. And after that the opportunity for a memorable run is there.

Houston plays three straight road games after Texas Tech. One of them -- at Mississippi State -- gives it an opportunity for three victories over teams from elite conferences. In other words, strength of schedule won't be a problem if it's combined with a 12-0 record.

But there's a long way to go to get to that point.

And The Horse You Rode In On

The state of football at Virginia (34) was perfectly summed up last Saturday when the school's mascot, Cavman, fell off his horse while riding onto the field amid the pregame festivities. The Cavaliers promptly followed suit, being trampled at home by TCU 30-14.

That followed a 12-point loss to William & Mary in the season opener and stretched the program's losing streak to six dating back to last year. Total points scored during that slide: 79.

The fact that Al Groh (35) is in his ninth year at the school speaks poorly of Virginia's athletic administration: He has recruited remarkably well while fielding remarkably mediocre teams. If Groh is around for a tenth, the ACC should kick the school out of the league.

Coach Who Earned His Comp Car This Week

Gene Chizik (36), who went 2-10 last year at Iowa State but has already equaled that victory total in two games at Auburn. The Tigers were miserable offensively last year but explosive so far this year under offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, ranking fourth nationally in total offense at 572 yards per game. Malzahn was smart enough to see a talented stable of backs and give them the ball, as Auburn ranks second in rushing offense.

You know there are different sheriffs in town when Auburn and Mississippi State combine for 73 points a year after combining for five.

Coach Who Should Ride The Bus To Work This Week

Miami (Ohio) rookie head coach Michael Haywood (37), whose team is yet to score in two games. Combined margin of defeat: 90-0 against Kentucky and Boise State. In 113 offensive plays this season, Miami has one gain of more than 20 yards -- a 22-yard pass from quarterback Daniel Raudabaugh to Jamal Rogers in the season opener.

Out of 120 teams, the RedHawks rank 104th or worse in 13 statistical categories. Much of that is a reflection on fired coach Shane Montgomery, who had the program atrophy on his four-year watch.

Putting Out An APB For …

… Former Ohio State quarterback Art Schlichter (38), who turned up Sunday morning as an analyst on a radio station in Columbus. Schlichter sounded pretty good and pretty knowledgeable -- but given his sordid gambling history, The Dash kept waiting for Schlichter to release his special five-star lock of the day instead of rehashing USC-Ohio State.

Meanwhile, The Dash is pleased to report that last week's APB subject, former UCLA running back Gaston Green (39), is alive and well and reportedly living and working in the Atlanta area, going by the name Gaston Muhammad. The Dash thanks spies near and far for their information.

Point After

When hungry in Columbus, Ohio (40), The Dash recommends leeching off the generosity of others. Namely, The Dash's buddy, Pete Thamel of The New York Times, invited The Dash over to his aunt Sylvia's house for pulled pork with all the fixings, plus chocolate cake.

Sorry if that doesn't help the readership a great deal. But maybe if you get to know Sylvia she'll bake a cake for you, too.

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