Commentary

Dash of discipline, unis and key games

Originally Published: November 3, 2009
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (discounted suspensions -- half off! -- sold separately at Florida [1]):

Urban The Ironfisted

Everyone who has seen the video of Gators linebacker Brandon "The Gouger" Spikes (2) going after the eyes of Georgia running back Washaun Ealey recognizes the truth. It was an appalling cheap shot, one of the worst things a football player can do to an opponent.

(Well, maybe not everyone would recognize it as such. If the guy in the replay booth at the Indiana-Iowa game (3) had watched the video, he would have given Spikes a sportsmanship award. And taken another Hoosiers touchdown off the board.)

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
Steve Mitchell/US PresswireUrban Meyer suspended Brandon Spikes for the first half of the Vandy game.

Gators coach Urban Meyer (4) reviewed the video and used it as a teaching moment. The lesson Meyer delivered: Nothing, not even thuggish behavior, will be allowed to substantively interfere with our pursuit of a repeat national title. That was the unmistakable message sent by Meyer's semisuspension of Spikes, which will keep him off the field for roughly 30 first-half snaps against mighty Vanderbilt on Saturday.

Spikes' action reminded The Dash of a moment from the 2006 Colonial Athletic Association basketball tournament. Namely, when George Mason guard Tony Skinn groin-punched Hofstra's Loren Stokes.

Going after a guy's eyes is more serious because of the potential damage. But the two acts are similarly classless.

Eleventh-seeded George Mason bit the bullet, did the right thing and suspended Skinn for its first game of the NCAA tournament against No. 6 seed Michigan State. The Patriots wound up going to the Final Four.

Florida suspended Spikes for half a game against the worst team in the Southeastern Conference. In a word: weak.

Color Schemes And Dash Dreams

October apparently was Mess With Your Uniform Month, capped by a couple of truly frightful football Halloween looks. This progressively more common use of "alternate" unis could be termed the Oregonization (5) of college football, in honor of the now-weekly horrifica modeled by the Ducks.

Because it's impossible to keep track of Oregon's weekly crimes against fashion, we'll briefly review the recent jersey changes elsewhere:

[+] EnlargeUNC
AP Photo/Gerry BroomeThe Dash was bowled over by UNC's dark blue look.

North Carolina (6) went straight blueberry on Oct. 22 against Florida State with navy blue pants and jerseys. Dash reaction: Liked it. A lot. When you're as light on tradition as the Tar Heels, who are you going to offend by switching up the look?

Virginia Tech (7) tried the uni trick a week later against North Carolina, wearing orange-and-maroon jerseys with maroon pants. Dash reaction: Horrific. But when you're Virginia Tech and you're saddled with school colors that would look terrible on Dashette Sandra Bullock (8) -- starring in an upcoming football movie, by the way -- you do what you've got to do.

On Saturday against Florida, Georgia (9) wadded up more than a half century of silver-britches tradition and tossed them in favor of black pants. And black helmets. Dash reaction: Look like Grambling State, play like Grambling State. The Dash was told the helmets alone cost Georgia roughly $13,000 -- pocket change for one of the richest football programs in America but money the swim team probably could have put to good use.

And Saturday night, Tennessee (10) strutted some black jerseys with orange numbers against South Carolina. Dash reaction: Not quite as hideous as anticipated, but not exactly a look that evokes memories of Gen. Neyland, Johnny Majors, Reggie White and Peyton Manning. If the decidedly nontraditional Lane Kiffin thinks it would help him sign a recruit, the Volunteers would come running out through a cursive "T" before their next home game.

[+] EnlargeTennessee
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesTennessee turned heads with its black jerseys.

The primary reason for alternate uniforms is for merchandising and licensing revenue, of course. But that hasn't always been the case. Once, it helped win a national title.

Thirty-two years ago, before jerseys were sold by the hundreds of thousands, Notre Dame (11) went with a motivational switcheroo. Coach Dan Devine -- not exactly a cavalier guy -- surprised his players with green jerseys just minutes before the Fighting Irish played USC in South Bend.

Sufficiently stoked, a Notre Dame team that had underachieved through the first half of that season demolished the Trojans 49-19 and dominated from then on. Wearing the green the rest of the season at home, the Irish won their final seven games by an average margin of 34 points and captured the national title after mauling No. 1 Texas 38-10 in the Cotton Bowl. Since then, Notre Dame occasionally has rocked the green.

Generally speaking, the more tradition a school has, the less likely it is to change its look. But after watching tradition-laden programs such as Georgia and Tennessee go with the alt-uniform gimmick, it got The Dash to thinking: Which programs absolutely will not go there?

The No Way in Hell list:

Air Force (12). The Falcons might have bucked military tradition by joining a conference, but they haven't messed with their look. They've worn white helmets with a blue lightning bolt since their inception in 1959, and the rest of the uniform has rarely deviated from the same general appearance. (Certainly Air Force would never repeat the mesmerizingly ugly camouflage helmet gimmick that Army tried against Navy in 2008.)

[+] EnlargeSandra Bullock
Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty ImagesSandra Bullock knows the Nebraska helmet belongs on college football's red carpet.

Nebraska (13). Rather stunningly, the Cornhuskers went with red jerseys and red pants in the 1980s against Oklahoma on Tom Osborne's watch. And they occasionally have worn white-on-white on the road. But the Blackshirts will never wear black shirts in a real game or deviate from the red "N" on the white helmet.

Oklahoma (14). The Sooners have worn throwback uniforms before, but it's hard to imagine anyone in Norman signing off on, say, an all-crimson outfit.

USC (15). Pete Carroll's edginess ends when it gets to uniforms. USC likes its cardinal jerseys and gold pants, and that isn't changing. One program insider said that when the subject was broached a few years ago about a onetime black uniform gig, it was shot down instantly.

Texas (16). White pants, burnt orange jerseys and a Longhorns logo on a white helmet. Don't expect to see any deviation any time soon.

Alabama (17). Could you see the Crimson Tide in black jerseys, black helmets or black pants? Bear Bryant would return from the afterlife to kick some serious tail.

Michigan (18). How tradition-bound are the Wolverines? When there was a rumor earlier this year that they might wear white pants (instead of the usual maize) at Iowa, it became something of a cause célèbre. (The rumor wound up being bogus.) Besides, the last thing Rich Rodriguez needs is another reason to get the old guard mad at him in Ann Arbor -- and messing with the uniforms would do it.

[+] EnlargePenn State
AP Photo/Carolyn KasterDon't look for Penn State's iconic old-school look to change anytime soon.

Penn State (19). Some 200 years from now, when Joe Paterno finally has shuffled off this mortal coil, they might try something different -- a logo on the helmet, words on the jersey, something radical like that. Until then, forget it. There is a better chance for the Yankees to replace their pinstripes with plaid.

Intelligent readers -- and let's face it, that's all The Dash has -- will notice one heavyweight program missing from that list. Spies tell The Dash that Nike has an alternate jersey in the works for Ohio State (20), of all old-school places. Just a guess here, but can you envision a straight silver look -- pants, jersey, helmet -- for the Buckeyes sometime in November?

To wrap up Fall Fashion Week at the Dash, here are three alternative-uniform looks The Dash would like to see -- just to find out what they look like:

Notre Dame in all gold. You'd have to think Adidas would leap at the opportunity, if only the Irish would let it. One side wore gold jerseys in a spring game once, but those shirts were never seen again. Too bad.

UCLA (21) in powder blue pants and jerseys. The pants might look awful -- but maybe not. The Bruins' blue jerseys are among The Dash's favorite in all of sports.

Wyoming (22) in black pants or black jerseys or black pants and black jerseys. Anything to get rid of that brown-and-yellow color scheme.

Games Of The Month: November Edition

Here's the reality of this month in college football: Barring a stupefying upset or two, there just aren't many games that will have a direct impact on the national championship chase. So for every bowl-system apologist who wants to tell you every week is a playoff? Point at the November schedule and tell him to show you where the playoff games are.

Nevertheless, there are plenty of games that will shape the BCS bowl landscape and the conference title races. Here are your top 10 games to watch between now and December:

Nov. 6: Boise State at Louisiana Tech (23). Regular readers know The Dash is pumping up Idaho-Boise State as the Spud State Super Bowl -- but honestly, if you're scrounging for a game the Broncos might lose, this is as close as you'll get. It's a long, glamourless trip from Boise to Ruston, and Tech is 3-0 at home. Boise is 3-2 in Ruston all time, and none of the victories has been a rout.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Paul Jasienski/US PresswireNick Saban is looking to guide the Tide to their first home win over LSU since 1999.

Nov. 7: LSU at Alabama (24). The Crimson Tide haven't beaten the Tigers in Tuscaloosa since 1999 -- four Alabama coaches ago. If the Tide snap that streak, they will be able to backstroke to Atlanta for the SEC title game.

Nov. 7: Ohio State at Penn State (25). If the Big Ten is to have two BCS bowl representatives -- deserved or not -- one of them figures to be the winner of this game. (Working subtitle: the Terrelle Pryor homecoming game, wherein everyone ruminates on whether Pryor did the right thing by spurning the home-state Nittany Lions -- and spread-friendly Michigan -- for the Buckeyes.)

Nov. 14: Iowa at Ohio State (26). The Hawkeyes have been the ultimate road warriors this season, winning at Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan State. Add a victory in the Horseshoe to the mix and Iowa will be close to completing what might be the best season in school history.

Nov. 14: Georgia Tech at Duke (27). Forget unbeatens, the Yellow Jackets are the last one-loss team in the ACC. The only team that's even with Tech in the loss column in league play is Duke -- yes, Duke. The Blue Devils haven't won an ACC title in 20 years since Steve Spurrier was their coach.

Nov. 14: Notre Dame at Pittsburgh (28). The Fighting Irish also are striving for a BCS bowl but have a long way to go to get there. They're currently No. 22 in the BCS standings, nine spots behind the 7-1 Panthers. Charlie Weis and Dave Wannstedt have spent some time on the griddle in recent years, but the coach who wins this game could gain some lasting validation.

[+] EnlargeGary Patterson
Vladimir Cherry/US PresswireGary Patterson and the Frogs have a big MWC date with Utah on Nov. 14.

Nov. 14: Utah at TCU (29). Talk about two teams that hate to lose. The Utes have won 21 of their past 22. The Horned Frogs have won 22 of their past 24 (with one of the losses by three points to Utah). The Mountain West Conference title will be at stake -- as will TCU's BCS and long-shot national title hopes.

Nov. 14: Florida at South Carolina (30). If you insist on believing that someone can beat the Gators before the SEC title game, here is your opportunity to be correct. There is a slim chance the Gamecocks (5-0 at home) will rise up and dethrone Florida -- but don't bet your lunch money on it. The safer bet is that Brandon Spikes will play, even if he has maimed an opposing player between now and then.

Nov. 21: Oregon at Arizona (31). In Rose Bowl terms, this game has mattered approximately one time in the 31 years since the Wildcats joined the Pacific-10. That was two years ago, when Ducks quarterback Dennis Dixon went down with an injury in Tucson and took Oregon's championship hopes with him. But even then, it was a one-way proposition -- Arizona was not competitive in the conference. This year the Wildcats are a factor at 3-1 in league play, standing as the nearest pursuer to 5-0 Oregon.

Nov. 26: Texas at Texas A&M (32). The Dash already is on record declaring the Longhorns a lock for the BCS championship game. But if you insist on looking for Bevo-related drama between now and January, this would be the spot. The Aggies have unloaded on their past two opponents, burying Texas Tech and Iowa State by a combined 87-40 margin. And because this game is on Thanksgiving night, it can serve as a welcome escape from the annoying family members you've been forced to talk to all day.

Campaign Season Has Begun

If it's November, it's time for teams near the top of the BCS standings to begin pumping out propaganda, defending their position and disparaging the competition. First school to fire: Iowa (33), which issued an e-mail blast Monday intended to disperse "the correct facts on Iowa football."

The "correct facts" compare Iowa to only Cincinnati, Boise State, TCU and Oregon -- no comparisons to Florida, Texas and Alabama. Which means the Hawkeyes are at best mounting a case to be No. 4.

According to the e-mail, Iowa leads those other BCS contenders in victories over opponents with winning records, in winning percentage of beaten opponents, number of victories over teams in the BCS Top 25 and the winning percentage of upcoming opponents. Among other things.

[+] EnlargeIowa
Stephen Mally/Icon SMIIowa blocked Northern Iowa's Week 1 upset bid.

Some other areas where Iowa leads the competition:

Most nail-biting victories over teams not in the top 120 of the Sagarin ELO_Chess rankings: 2 (over Northern Iowa and Arkansas State by a combined four points).

Most games won with the bailout help of multiple favorable replay reviews against a below-average opponent: 1.

The Hawkeyes have had a great season. But they've had enough late escapes against uninspiring opponents to earn some skepticism. Seven teams (the six remaining FBS undefeateds and Oregon) deserve to be ranked ahead of them, no matter what the campaign propaganda says.

Scoring 40

Dash congratulations to Notre Dame, which finally hit the 40-point mark after 32 consecutive regular-season games short of that. Chalk it up to favorable scheduling; Washington State (34) and its 114th-ranked scoring defense is the tonic for every struggling offense.

The other perpetually sub-40 offense mentioned by The Dash last week, South Carolina (35), remains that way after a 31-13 loss to Tennessee. Steve Spurrier is at 34 consecutive games without scoring 40.

[+] EnlargeAl Golden
AP Photo/Gail BurtonAl Golden has the Owls flying high in 2009.

Coach Who Earned His Comp Car This Week

Give it up for Temple's Al Golden (36), who has the Owls on a six-game winning streak. It's their longest in 35 years and makes them eligible to make their first bowl appearance in 30 years.

When the season began with a loss to FCS Villanova, this looked like same old Temple. But the Owls are now 4-0 in the Mid-American Conference and 2-0 against the service academies, stamping them as this year's Buffalo (read: out-of-the-blue success story) in the MAC.

Coach Who Should Ride The Bus To Work

That would be Michigan's Rich Rodriguez (37). If you thought his loss to Toledo last year marked the nadir of his brief time in Ann Arbor, we have this update: The Wolverines' 38-13 rout at the hands of putrid Illinois was worse.

The loss was Michigan's fourth in its past five games, with the lone victory over FCS opponent Delaware State. At 5-4, the Wolves no longer are a lock to earn a bowl bid -- and Rodriguez said in July that anything short of a bowl bid would be an extreme embarrassment. Combine extreme embarrassment with an ongoing NCAA investigation into whether Michigan broke time limits on practice, and you might have an untenable situation.

Putting out an APB for …

… Former Ohio State wingback Brian Baschnagel (38), who blazed a trail from western Pennsylvania to Columbus more than 35 years before Terrelle Pryor. If anyone has information on the whereabouts of a man who shared the same backfield with Archie Griffin, Pete Johnson and Cornelius Green, please apprise The Dash.

Meanwhile, The Dash is pleased to report that last week's APB subject, former Oregon quarterback Danny O'Neil, is alive and well and still living in Eugene. In fact, O'Neil is the Ducks' team chaplain and the pastor of Calvary Chapel, a church he started. The Dash thanks what might have been a record number of spies sending e-mails about O'Neil.

Point after

When hungry and thirsty in the state of Oklahoma, The Dash has multiple recommendations. Start with food at Earl's Rib Palace (39) in Oklahoma City, where they line the walls with license plates and line your stomach with quality 'cue. Get the smokestack sandwich -- chopped brisket, a hot link and cole slaw on a bun -- and thank The Dash later. Quoth Earl, according to his napkins, "If you can find better BBQ, eat it!"

And in Stillwater, everyone goes to Eskimo Joe's (40), perhaps the best-known bar in a backwater college town in America. It was the place to go when The Dash visited Oklahoma State more than 20 years ago as a college kid, and it's still the place to go now.

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