Commentary

Searching for at least one great team

Originally Published: October 27, 2009
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (VandalMania [1] T-shirts now half off after Idaho surrendered 70 Saturday to Nevada):

Throwback football -- or, no throwback football

A Dash retro cheer -- Rah, rah, rah! Fight, fight, fight! -- for Ball State (2) and Navy (3), both of which went pre-Dorais-to-Rockne to win Saturday. Total passing yards between the two in victories over Eastern Michigan and Wake Forest: 1.

The aforementioned yard belonged to the Cardinals, who completed two of 10 throws. The Midshipmen did not so much as attempt a pass in a daylong rain.

They scoff in your general direction, Mike Leach (4).

The semi-great eight

By mathematics and human consensus, the straightest path to the BCS National Championship Game has been awarded to the top 3 teams in the current standings: Florida, Alabama and Texas. But even a straight path can hit potholes. After watching all three teams wheeze to victory in person (Gators and Crimson Tide over Tennessee, Longhorns over Oklahoma -- combined margin of victory 15 points), The Dash is starting to doubt the established hierarchy.

Granted, those were three high-stakes games against an underdog that also happens to be a bitter rival -- all ingredients that contribute to heaping pressure upon the favored team. Nevertheless, it seems fair to ask: Are the big three really miles better than the five strivers chasing them? And are any of them really great teams?

Let's examine all eight résumés and try to decide (note, a "garbage win" is defined as an opponent ranked by Sagarin in the lower half of 120-team FBS or an FCS opponent):

Florida Gators (5)

Urban Meyer
Rick Dole/Getty ImagesUrban Meyer and the Gators can applaud three SEC road wins.

Season in a sentence: This repeat thing isn't easy.

Record: 7-0 overall, 5-0 in the Southeastern Conference.

Road wins: at Kentucky (41-7), at LSU (13-3), at Mississippi State (29-19).

Other quality wins: vs. Tennessee (23-13), vs. Arkansas (23-20).

Garbage wins: Charleston Southern, Troy.

Best moment: suffocating LSU in Death Valley.

Worst moment: needing a fourth-quarter rally and sketchy officiating to beat Arkansas.

Loved by: the humans. The Gators are No. 1 in both the USA Today and Harris polls, with a slightly higher percentage of votes coming from the coaches. (Keep that in mind, Gator haters, the next time you scream about the media conspiracy to keep Florida on top.)

Dissed by: the computers, none of which rank Florida No. 1 and two of which rank the Gators third.

What's left: Georgia on Saturday in Jacksonville, home against Vanderbilt, at No. 22 South Carolina, home against Florida International, home against Florida State.

Rallying cry: If we're playing that badly, why can't anyone beat us?

Alabama Crimson Tide (6)

Nick Saban
Paul Jasienski/US PresswireNick Saban and the Tide have what the Billingsley computer is looking for.

Season in a sentence: Undefeated, three points at a time.

Record: 8-0 overall, 5-0 in the SEC.

Road/neutral wins: vs. No. 13 Virginia Tech (34-24), at Kentucky (38-20), at Mississippi (22-3).

Other quality wins: vs. Arkansas (35-7), vs. No. 22 South Carolina (20-6), vs. Tennessee (12-10).

Garbage wins: North Texas, Florida International.

Best moment: reducing Jevan Snead and Ole Miss to jelly in Oxford.

Worst moment: needing a Terrence Cody field goal block to avoid coughing up a two-score lead in the final 3½ minutes against the Volunteers. And needing four field goals by the de facto offense, Leigh Tiffin, to score all the Crimson Tide's points.

Loved by: the Billingsley computer, which ranks the Tide No. 1.

Dissed by: Anderson & Hester, Sagarin, and Wolfe, all of which rank Bama third.

What's left: versus No. 9 LSU, at Mississippi State, vs. Chattanooga, at Auburn.

Rallying cry: We haven't trailed in an SEC game this year and have no intention of changing that.

Texas Longhorns (7)

[+] EnlargeMack Brown
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesMack Brown and the Horns are getting more love from the polls than the computers.

Season in a sentence: Don't rush us; we'll play a contender eventually.

Record: 7-0 overall, 4-0 in the Big 12.

Road/neutral wins: at Wyoming (41-10), vs. Oklahoma (16-13), at Missouri (41-7).

Other quality wins: vs. Texas Tech (34-24).

Garbage wins: Louisiana-Monroe, UTEP, Colorado.

Best moment: burying Missouri on the road in a matter of minutes Saturday.

Worst moment: debacle of a first half against Sam Bradford-less Oklahoma.

Loved by: the pollsters, who have Texas comfortably ahead of every other non-SEC unbeaten.

Dissed by: the computers, most notably Sagarin (14th) and Massey (10th). That element of the BCS ranks the Horns fifth.

What's left: at No. 14 Oklahoma State, vs. Central Florida, at Baylor, vs. Kansas, at Texas A&M.

Rallying cry: The system can't screw us if we keep winning.

Iowa Hawkeyes (8)

Kirk Ferentz
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesKirk Ferentz and the Hawkeyes have four big road wins in 2009.

Season in a sentence: We can win it in the last minute.

Record: 8-0 overall, 4-0 in the Big Ten.

Road wins: at Iowa State (35-3), at No. 12 Penn State (21-10), at Wisconsin (20-10), at Michigan State (15-13).

Other quality wins: No. 20 Arizona (27-17), Michigan (30-28).

Garbage wins: Northern Iowa, Arkansas State. (Total margin of victory: 4 points.)

Best moment: fourth-quarter road comebacks to beat the Nittany Lions and Spartans, the latter capped by game-winning touchdown pass on the last play in East Lansing.

Worst moment: requiring two blocked field goals on the last two plays to outlast Northern Iowa.

Loved by: the computers. Five of the six rank the Hawkeyes No. 1.

Dissed by: the humans. They're eighth in both polls used by the BCS.

What's left: vs. Indiana, vs. Northwestern, at No. 17 Ohio State, vs. Minnesota.

Rallying cry: Don't hate us, hate our league.

USC Trojans (9)

[+] EnlargePete Carroll
Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireThink Pete Carroll and the Trojans are still thinking about their trip to Seattle?

Season in a sentence: Sleepless since Seattle.

Record: 6-1 overall, 3-1 in the Pac-10.

Road wins: at No. 17 Ohio State (18-15), at No. 24 California (30-3), at No. 23 Notre Dame (34-27).

Road loss: at Washington (16-13).

Other quality wins: vs. Oregon State (42-36).

Garbage wins: San Jose State, Washington State.

Best moment: game-winning drive against the Buckeyes.

Worst moment: surrendering game-winning drive to the Huskies.

Loved by: the pollsters, who rank the Trojans fourth in both and are more impressed than any of the computers.

Dissed by: all the microchips. Trojans are ninth in the computer composite.

What's left: at No. 10 Oregon, at Arizona State, Stanford, UCLA, No. 20 Arizona.

Rallying cry: We have an injury excuse for the UW game, and we're not afraid to use it!

TCU Horned Frogs (10)

Gary Patterson
John Rivera/Icon SMIThe computers love Gary Patterson and the Horned Frogs.

Season in a sentence: Never mind the Broncos, here's the BCS buster.

Record: 7-0 overall, 3-0 in the Mountain West.

Road wins: at Virginia (30-14), at Clemson (14-10), at Air Force (20-17), at BYU (38-7).

Other quality wins: None.

Garbage wins: Texas State, SMU, Colorado State.

Best moment: owning the Cougars in Provo on Saturday.

Worst moment: sliding out of frozen Colorado Springs with a 3-point win over the Falcons.

Loved by: the computers -- most notably Anderson & Hester and Wolfe -- which rank the Horned Frogs fourth.

Dissed by: Harris voters, who rank them seventh.

What's left: vs. UNLV, at San Diego State, vs. No. 16 Utah, at Wyoming, vs. New Mexico.

Rallying cry: You can't beat us if you can't score.

Boise State Broncos (11)

[+] EnlargeChris Petersen
Brian Losness/US PresswireChris Petersen and the Broncos have their eyes on Oregon's results.

Season in a sentence: Wins over Oregon and the six dwarves.

Record: 7-0 overall, 2-0 in the Western Athletic Conference.

Road wins: at Fresno State (51-34), at Bowling Green (49-14), at Tulsa (28-21), at Hawaii (54-9).

Other quality wins: vs. No. 10 Oregon (19-8).

Garbage wins: UC Davis, Miami (Ohio).

Best moment: dominating the Ducks on the opening night of the season.

Worst moment: letting Tulsa fullback Charles Clay slip wide open behind the defense for a potential game-tying touchdown. Reprieve came when the pass was short.

Loved by: the humans, who voted Boise fifth in both polls.

Dissed by: the computers, which voted the Broncos eighth and helped drop them three spots after a 45-point road victory. Specifically the Colley Matrix, which ranked the Broncos 11th.

What's left: vs. San Jose State, at Louisiana Tech, vs. Idaho, at Utah State, vs. Nevada, vs. New Mexico State.

Rallying cry: Every time Oregon wins, we look that much better.

Cincinnati Bearcats (12)

Brian Kelly
Chris Livingston/Icon SMIBrian Kelly and the Bearcats have reason to shout about the BCS system.

Season in a sentence: Ten new defensive starters and an injured quarterback -- are you kidding me?

Record: 7-0 overall, 3-0 in the Big East.

Road wins: at Rutgers (47-15), at Oregon State (28-18), at Miami (Ohio) (37-13), at South Florida (34-17).

Other quality wins: Fresno State (28-20).

Garbage wins: Southeast Missouri State, Louisville.

Best moment: total domination of Rutgers on Labor Day to set the tone for this unexpectedly excellent season.

Worst moment: when Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Tony Pike went down with a reinjured non-throwing arm in the first half against South Florida.

Loved by: Wolfe's computer, which ranks the Bearcats fifth.

Dissed by: the system, which gave them the Boise treatment -- a three-spot drop after winning a league game by 31 points with a backup QB.

What's left: at Syracuse, vs. Connecticut, vs. No. 21 West Virginia, vs. Illinois, at No. 15 Pittsburgh.

Rallying cry: We beat the Beavers in Corvallis by a wider margin than USC beat them in Los Angeles. Respect that. This is how The Dash ranked the semi-great eight this week:

1. Florida
2. Texas
3. Alabama
4. Cincinnati
5. USC
6. Boise State
7. TCU
8. Iowa

In a completely gratuitous statement, feel free to disagree.

Remember, the rankings are written in pencil

Consider this a lock: At least one -- and probably more -- of the semi-great eight is headed for a humbling fall. It happens every year. The Dash looked back at the rankings of recent years and found plenty of teams that were unbeaten and garnering buzz in late October, only to fade from contention in short order.

Among the famous flameouts (many of which marked the beginning of the end of a coach's tenure):

2008: Oklahoma State (13) was 7-0 and ranked seventh in the AP Top 25. The Cowboys finished 9-4, losing to Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oregon (in the Holiday Bowl) by an average margin of 17.8 points. Final ranking: 16th.

2008: Tulsa (14) was 8-0 and ranked 19th. The Golden Hurricane wound up 11-3, losing to Arkansas, Houston and East Carolina -- and gave up 70 points to the Cougars. Final ranking: unranked.

2007: Boston College (15) was 8-0 and ranked second. The Eagles finished 11-3, beaten by Florida State, Maryland and Virginia Tech. Final ranking: 10th. (Anyone seen Jeff Jagodzinski lately?)

2007: Arizona State (16) was 8-0 and ranked sixth. The Sun Devils finished 10-3, losing to Oregon, USC and Texas by a combined 50 points. Final ranking: 16th. (Since that high-water mark of 8-0 in '07, ASU has gone just 11-13.)

2005: Alabama was 9-0 and ranked fourth. The Crimson Tide finished 10-2, losing to LSU and Auburn. Final ranking: 8th. The next year, the Tide snorkeled to 6-7, and that was the end of Mike Shula in Tuscaloosa. Seems the replacement has done a decent job.

2005: UCLA (17) was 8-0 and ranked seventh. The Bruins finished 10-2, murdered by Arizona and USC by a combined 85 points -- which is hard to fathom. Final ranking: 16th. After that 8-0 point, Karl Dorrell went 15-15 and was canned after the '07 season.

2004: Miami (18) was 6-0 and ranked fourth. The Hurricanes finished 9-3, losing to North Carolina, Clemson and Virginia Tech by a total of 16 points. Final ranking: 11th. Larry Coker lasted only two more years.

2004: Wisconsin (19) was 9-0 and ranked fourth. The Badgers lost their last three games by 61 points to Michigan State, Iowa and Georgia. Final ranking: 17th.

2002: Notre Dame (20) was 8-0 and ranked fourth. The Fighting Irish finished 10-3, losing to Boston College, USC and NC State by 60 points. Final ranking: 17th. Ty Willingham was on the clock from then on and was fired two years later.

2002: NC State (21) was 9-0 and ranked 10th. The Wolfpack finished 11-3, losing to Georgia Tech, Maryland and Virginia by a combined 15 points. Final ranking: 12th. Chuck Amato went 25-28 after that 9-0 start and was gone in 2006.

Halloween fashion, Dash-style

The Dash knows that some of you college football fans will be balancing trick-or-treating or Halloween parties with football watching Saturday. Ever so thoughtfully, The Dash has provided an appropriately themed costume catalog:

SEC refs (22). Walk the neighborhood in an official's uniform throwing flags at well-mannered and law-abiding children! Costume comes with SEC logos, extra-thick glasses and two stickers to affix to the striped shirt: "I HEART FLORIDA" for the front, and "SUSPENDED" for the back.

[+] EnlargeMike Slive
Darrell Walker/Icon SMISEC commish Mike Slive has had to deal with officiating blunders and complaining coaches.

SEC coaches crying about SEC refs (23). Choose a visor, logoed shirt and matching pacifier in school colors -- Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi State colors are especially popular this year. Box of Kleenex sold separately.

SEC commissioner Mike Slive (24). Conservative suit and tie, plus a sheaf of reprimands to hand out like Halloween candy to crying coaches and inept refs.

Tim Tebow (25). One of our biggest sellers. Costume comes with a white No. 15 Florida jersey, ice pack for head, trash bag for candy and/or vomiting, and eye black reading "Dinged" and "Up." And a halo, of course.

Sam Bradford (26). Our simplest costume. A sling and a scowl have you ready to go.

Dez Bryant (27). The perfect retort to the Sam Bradford costume in the Sooner State. The Dez comes with an Oklahoma State No. 1 jersey and a hand-held sign that reads, "Deion Who?"

Terrelle Pryor (28). Ohio State No. 1 jersey stretches over a torso-fitting square peg, which is encased (awkwardly) inside a round hole. Can be sold in tandem with Jim Tressel sweater vest.

LeGarrette Blount (29). For the pugnacious partier. Outfit comes with boxing gloves -- one green, one yellow -- and a white Oregon jersey.

Steve Kragthorpe (30). For a trick-or-treater on the go. Louisville coaching gear, a suitcase and a freshly updated résumé.

Rich Rodriguez (31). Maize-and-blue coaching attire is accessorized by a Flavor Flav-sized clock to be worn around the neck. Clock face reads, "Twenty-Hour Rule."

Freida Pinto
Danny Martindale/Getty ImagesEven Dashette Freida Pinto had to smile after Iowa State's win and celebration.

Why do we love college football? This is why

It's all right there in this Iowa State (32) postgame video from the Cyclones' 9-7 victory over Nebraska. When two programs separated by a chasm of tradition and resources flip the script, the response is going to be a memorable outpouring of emotion. The unrestrained jubilation that comes with scoring a massive upset, the camaraderie of the winning locker room -- that's just great stuff.

It was the Clones' first win in Lincoln since 1977, and it improved their all-time record in that town to 7-49. Iowa State won the game despite missing its three-year starting quarterback (Austen Arnaud) and the Big 12's leading rusher (Alexander Robinson).

That's why you get a priceless reaction like this. Awesome.

The only thing that could have made those guys any happier was a postgame visit from Dashette Freida Pinto (33).

Numbers of the week

Only one team has scored more than 17 points on TCU in the Horned Frogs' last 15 games. That team: FCS Texas State (34), believe it or not. In that span, BYU has played the Frogs twice and managed just 14 total points.

Steve Spurrier (35) and Charlie Weis (36) are supposed to be all about offense, right? Well then, why have their teams failed to score 40 points in a regulation regular-season game since 2006?

Notre Dame's non-40 streak now spans 32 regular-season games, dating to when Brady Quinn was wearing a gold helmet. Spurrier's South Carolina team has done the Fighting Irish one better -- or worse -- with a streak currently numbering 33 regular-season games.

The Gus Malzahn Experience at Auburn (37) began with an explosion of points in September -- 181 of them in four games, or 45.2 per game. Since then it's been a steady erosion of production for Malzahn's spread offense. The Tigers' 10-point effort at LSU on Saturday -- which included an excuse-me touchdown with three seconds remaining -- marked a fourth straight scoring decrease. Auburn has gone from a high of 54 points against Ball State on Sept. 26 to 26 against Tennessee, 23 against Arkansas, 14 against Kentucky and 10 against LSU. At this rate, single digits are next on Saturday against Mississippi.

Putting out an APB for …

… Former Oregon quarterback Danny O'Neil (38), one of the heroes of the Ducks' last Rose Bowl team in the 1994 season. O'Neil set Rose Bowl records of pass completions (41), attempts (61) and passing yards (456) in Oregon's 38-20 loss to Penn State. If the Ducks can beat USC on Saturday -- something O'Neil's team managed in '94 -- they'll have the inside path to their first Rose Bowl in 15 years.

Anyone with information on O'Neil, please apprise The Dash.

Point after

When thirsty in bedrock football territory of Birmingham, The Dash recommends a visit to the Tilted Kilt (39). Yeah, it's a chain, but this is one of its better locales. The TV setup is excellent, the beer list is tremendous, the food is good, and the wait staff is Dashette-intensive. Have the bartender pour you a Sweetwater IPA (40), watch some football and thank The Dash later.

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