Commentary

Dash of bowl talk and '09 developments

Originally Published: November 10, 2009
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (pink slips sold separately at Western Kentucky [1] and Memphis [2] -- with more on the way):

History has an astonishing way of repeating itself, with enough plot twists to keep everyone entertained. On Saturday, history repeated in the teeming mass of Midwestern mediocrity known as the Big Ten (3).

Northwestern
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallThe Wildcats weren't the only ones celebrating their upset win over Iowa.

One year ago almost to the day, The Dash offered sincere thanks to Iowa for knocking 9-0 Penn State from the ranks of the unbeaten and saving America from another beatdown of an overmatched Big Ten team in the BCS National Championship Game.

This year, the thanks flow in a different direction from Iowa City. The Dash is sending balloons, kazoos and party streamers to Northwestern (4) for exposing fraudulent Iowa (5). The Wildcats spared this great nation from having to listen to more earnestly deluded Hawkeyes fans explain why their team deserved a shot at the national title, despite a string of underwhelming victories against suspect competition.

Listening to Iowa's attempts to twist logic was like watching John Goodman try to fit into Prince's jeans. Not pretty.

Now everyone knows the truth. Even Iowans, who are free to return to reality.

The BCS Bowl Manifesto

Loyal readers know that The Dash considers the bowl system slightly more logical and just than the Salem witch trials. But given the current landscape, this needs to be said:

We are on the verge of one of the great test cases for fairness in college football. Let's see if the bowl honchos get it right, or knuckle under.

If undefeated TCU (6) and Boise State (7) win out -- an increasingly likely outcome -- they should both play in BCS bowls. But only one will be guaranteed by rule a spot among the five bowl games that pay the most money and get the most attention.

[+] EnlargeKellen Moore
Nelson Chenault/US PresswireKellen Moore and the Broncos have passed all their tests to this point of the season.

If one of the two (most likely Boise) is snubbed, it will be an abject betrayal of trying to put together the best games between the most deserving teams. And while that is standard operating procedure for the bowls, this year it would be an even more egregious act than usual.

Boise would be 13-0. It currently ranks sixth in the BCS standings and owns a decisive victory over the likely Pacific-10 champion, Oregon. It has won five road games and has had one game decided by single digits.

But because the Broncos do not have a massive fan base or membership in a big-money conference, they are at risk of being passed over in favor of a team with a laughably inferior résumé.

Playing this thing out hypothetically, the SEC champion would play Texas for the national title. Then you'd have bids going out to champions of the Pac-10 (Oregon), Big Ten (Ohio State), ACC (Georgia Tech) and Big East (Cincinnati). The SEC runner-up would be a lock at-large selection. TCU would get in by rule.

That would leave two remaining spots. And if, say, those went to USC (8) and Iowa (9) and left Boise to shuffle off to the Poinsettia Bowl for the second straight season? That would be an outrage.

Boise owned the team that owned the Trojans. Boise is ranked four spots higher in both human polls and five spots higher in the computer aggregate. And USC is toiling through a season considered a major disappointment by many of its fans. Should the reward for that be a BCS bowl?

As for Iowa? There is even less to like, especially in comparison to the name-brand cachet that USC brings. Boise is six spots higher in the Harris poll, seven spots higher in the USA Today poll and three spots higher with the computers.

[+] EnlargeSienna Miller
Bruce Glikas/Getty ImagesThe thought of two non-AQ teams in BCS bowls makes Dashette Sienna Miller smile.

The only place where Boise suffers in comparison to either program is attendance and TV ratings. The Broncos are averaging 32,634 fans per home game -- more than 100 percent of stadium capacity, but less than half of what the Hawkeyes (70,152) and Trojans (83,086) are bringing in.

Obviously, attendance and TV ratings are vitally important to the bowls, which is why we often see them make pocketbook picks based on that data. But Boise sold its allotment of 17,500 tickets for the 2007 Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma and had many more fans than that in attendance. And call The Dash quaint, but a matchup that actually includes the best possible teams would seem like a worthy goal for any bowl.

Hopefully some members of the power elite will schedule regular-season games with Boise in the future. You probably saw last week that a number of high-level programs have turned down offers of a one-time, no-return-game matchup with the Broncos in 2011 -- but the pool of potential opponents is far from exhausted. Boise officials remain optimistic they will get a high-profile game.

Still, some have quietly grumbled about Boise's request for a seven-figure guarantee -- but why shouldn't the Broncos ask for that much? Schools have proven plenty willing to pay upward of $1 million to play the bottom-feeders of FBS. Should one of them have the guts to do what Virginia Tech (10) did? The Hokies are shelling out a reported $1.3 million for Boise to come play in Washington, D.C., next year with no return game.

Or The Dash can dare to dream of someone actually playing Boise home-and-home. It can happen, right?

If not, it would put a frown on the face of Dashette and bowl populist Sienna Miller (11). Don't do it to her, BCS.

Bowling Without Big Names

Don't look now, but some serious blue bloods could be sitting at home for the holidays unless they win games down the stretch:

[+] EnlargeRich Rodriguez
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesRich Rodriguez and the Wolverines could be home for the holidays.

Michigan (12). Current record: 5-5. Remaining games: at Wisconsin, Ohio State. Will the Wolverines go bowling? No. And that would be a bad thing: In July Rich Rodriguez said it would be a major disappointment if his second team in Ann Arbor didn't make a bowl game -- and presumably his goals at that time were higher than the Motor City Bowl. At this point it's impossible to see Michigan winning again until the intrasquad spring game.

This season has spiraled into a complete disaster in short order. After a 4-0 start, Michigan has lost five of six with the only victory over FCS Delaware State. The only two victories against automatic BCS qualifying teams are by three points over Indiana and four points over Notre Dame, both of which came with significant officiating breaks.

In fact, half of Rodriguez's eight wins at Michigan are against Miami (Ohio), Western Michigan, Eastern Michigan and Delaware State. He's lost twice to bad Illinois teams by a combined 50 points. He's lost to Toledo.

And then there is the ongoing NCAA investigation into excessive-practice allegations. Bad time to be RichRod right now.

Oklahoma (13). Current record: 5-4. Remaining games: Texas A&M at home, at Texas Tech, Oklahoma State at home. Will the Sooners go bowling? Yes. And here's the additional good news, if you insist on finding some: Oklahoma is absolutely not going to lose a BCS bowl again this season.

All three games are winnable but all three are losable as well for a team that has staggered all season without 2008 Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford and All-America tight end Jermaine Gresham. Like the Wolverines, there isn't much in the way of quality wins on the Sooners' résumé -- sweeping the state of Kansas has never been cause for raucous celebration at Oklahoma.

Christian Ponder
Elsa/Getty ImagesWith Christian Ponder sidelined, FSU's bowl hopes don't look good.

Florida State (14). Current record: 4-5. Remaining games: at Wake Forest, Maryland, at Florida. Will the Seminoles go bowling? No. The Dash can see a victory over the Terrapins, but not on the road against the Demon Deacons (three straight losses) and Gators (five straight losses). And especially not without quarterback Christian Ponder, who is done for the year after being injured against Clemson.

So will end one of the great streaks in college football history at 27 consecutive bowl appearances. The question is whether Bobby Bowden's tenure ends with it. The results strongly indicate he's already stayed too long.

Georgia (15). Current record: 5-4. Remaining games: Auburn, Kentucky, at Georgia Tech. Will the Bulldogs go bowling? Yes. Even if they don't beat the Tigers between the hedges, they will take down the Wildcats. But it's hard to foresee an upset over Tech unless the Inexplicable Rivalry Dynamic that helps make college football fascinating comes into play.

Georgia fans have been so mad this year they can't decide whom they want to fire first: defensive coordinator Willie Martinez, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo or Uga. Some even want head coach Mark Richt's head on a platter. The Dash cannot see that happening -- but then again, The Dash did not foresee the Bulldogs' scrambling for a Music City-level bowl bid this year, either.

Charlie, Undressed

Notre Dame (16) will do whatever it pleases with Charlie Weis (17) -- fire him, retain him, give him another $30-plus million for almost beating USC. Whatever. He should have been dismissed a year ago, after the humiliation in the Los Angeles Coliseum, so any corrective action taken now comes a year too late.

Charlie Weis
Matt Cashore/US PresswireThe Irish are only 35-24 under Charlie Weis' watch.

But while we're waiting for the Fighting Irish brass to decide what to do with their football coach, The Dash has to admire how the man has built a five-year, get-rich-quick scheme out of virtually nothing. Look at Weis' record, and there is no substance to it.

His overall record is 35-24. If the Irish lose Saturday at Pittsburgh, his winning percentage will be .583 -- which means he'll still be succeeding at the identical rate that got Tyrone Willingham (18) canned after three seasons. His ability to create a double standard out of recruiting hype got him two more years of fat paychecks.

But there's nothing more to Weis than that.

Whom has he beaten? An endless succession of nobodies. Of his 35 victories, exactly two have come against teams that finished the season in Jeff Sagarin's ELO_Chess Top 30 (the rankings the BCS uses). One of those was against Michigan in Weis' second game as coach, in 2005 -- the Wolverines finished that year No. 24. The other was against Penn State in the second game of Weis' second year -- the Nittany Lions finished that year No. 14.

Since that victory over Penn State in September 2006, Weis' past 24 victories have been against teams ranked 35th or lower by Sagarin -- most of them much lower.

In fact, the average Sagarin ELO_Chess rank of all 35 Weis victims is a 73. Which basically means the Irish would have been hell on wheels in Conference USA over the past five seasons.

And isn't that what Notre Dame football is supposed to be all about?

Rolling The Odometer On The AP Poll

For milestone fans, we have a good one, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information. This week marked the 1,000th AP college football poll (19), dating all the way back to 1936 -- so long ago that Joe Paterno (20) was in only his sixth season coaching Penn State.

And so long that the following schools were in the first iteration, released Oct. 19, 1936: Yale, Duquesne, St. Mary's (Calif.), Fordham, Holy Cross and Marquette. Two of those schools (St. Mary's and Marquette) no longer play football.

For the record, Minnesota (21) was the initial No. 1, receiving 32 of 35 first-place votes. Naturally, fans of No. 2 Duke and No. 3 Army flocked to the message boards to express their outrage over the overrated Gophers. Voters were dragged onto talk radio to defend themselves. The computer power ratings favored No. 4 Northwestern.

Oklahoma is the all-time poll daddy, having spent more time ranked No. 1 (97 weeks), in the top five (370 weeks) and in the top 10 (509 weeks). Nebraska easily has the longest streak of consecutive weeks ranked, at 348 (dating from 1981 to 2002). Texas has the longest active streak in the Top 25 at 152 weeks.

There are 17 current FBS schools that have never once had the pleasure of seeing their name in agate type in the sports section among the elite 25 teams in the nation. Saddest of the group has to be New Mexico (22), which has been playing major-college football since 1940 without enjoying a single ranked day from the AP.

In honor of 73 years of the AP poll, The Dash gives you its ranking of the 10 most interesting developments this week in college football:

TCU
Derrick Tuskan/Icon SMIThe Horned Frogs are poised for their first undefeated season since 1938.

1. The Mountain West (23) takes center stage (1 first-place vote, from the only voter in this here poll.) When No. 4 TCU hosts No. 16 Utah Saturday, it might be the Horned Frogs' biggest home game since the Davey O'Brien days. (That's pre-World War II, young'uns.) This is the last realistic hurdle to TCU's first undefeated regular season since 1938. The Dash suggests that the Frogs follow the sage advice 1930s TCU coach Dutch Meyer used to give his team: "Fight 'em 'til Hell freezes over. Then fight 'em on the ice."

2. State of Ohio (24) squabbling reaches a critical stage. Cincinnati and Ohio State fans have been bickering all season about who has the better team -- normally a nonargument, but this year it's a legit conversation topic. Bearcats host West Virginia on Friday night (ESPN2, 8 ET) in an opportunity to state their case. Buckeyes host Iowa the next afternoon (ABC, 3:30 ET) in a chance to respond. BCS bowl stakes riding on both games. (The toughest part of the week for Brian Kelly isn't deflecting questions about Notre Dame; it's handling his embarrassment of quarterbacking riches. Kelly said Tuesday that he will stick with back Zach Collaros as injured starter Tony Pike continues to recover from a left arm injury.)

3. Last stand for the Head Ball Coach (25)? Nobody is saying Steve Spurrier is going to hang it up at South Carolina -- but at his age it's a year-to-year proposition. And the results continue to be uninspiring. And his alma mater and former employer comes to Columbia on Saturday. So there would be no finer late-career climax for Ol' Stevie Boy than to upset No. 1 Florida and ruin the Gators' national title hopes. Don't bet on it -- but feel free to discuss it among yourselves.

4. Firing Season (26) has begun. David Elson was trap-doored Sunday night amid a winless season at Western Kentucky (more on that in a minute). Memphis whacked Tommy West (hint to the Tigers: A new football coach, while needed, is not going to help you get into the Big East). More dominoes will start to fall every Sunday and Monday from now until December. Coaches with losing records have some tense moments ahead.

5. LeGarrette Blount (27) is back on the team at Oregon. And The Dash has no problem with that, provided the Ducks cut no corners on their stipulations for his return. It was originally believed that Blount would be reinstated last week. Whatever the reason for the delay, this makes more sense -- don't bring the young man back for a road game at Stanford, where the students and band can be wickedly creative toward the opposition if they feel sufficiently motivated. A home game against Arizona State is a safer re-entry spot.

6. Jahvid Best (28) is apparently OK. After one of the scariest plays in memory (recent or long-term), the Cal running back was released from the hospital Sunday and appears to have survived with just a concussion and some serious soreness. Of course, "just" a concussion is no picnic -- and the fact that it's his second in eight days is very troubling -- but it beats the potential spinal damage that could have resulted from a slightly different landing trajectory. The Dash has a reminder for every running back who is in love with the trend of vaulting himself at high speed near the goal line: Leaving your feet can increase the risk of injury.

Case Keenum
Thomas B. Shea/Getty ImagesCase Keenum has passed for 3,815 yards and 28 TDs in 2009.

7. The Case Keenum (29) Heisman Trophy campaign is heating up. He's thrown for more than 1,000 yards in the past two games alone, and his heroics Saturday helped Houston avoid a major upset on the final play against Tulsa. This year Cardiac Case is 4-0 in games decided by seven points or less, and he leads the nation by a mile in passing yards and total offense. Houston and Conference USA have begun trying to drum up publicity for him in the obstinately wide-open Heisman race.

8. Toby Gerhart (30) says don't forget about me. The Stanford muscle back pounded Oregon for 223 yards Saturday and now ranks second nationally in rushing yards per game and rushing touchdowns. If he can back up that performance with a big day this week against USC, he could become the regional favorite of the West Coast voting bloc.

9. The Spud State Super Bowl (31) demands to be noticed. It's finally here: 7-3 Idaho at 9-0 Boise State in the biggest game in Idaho history. Who among us is not thrilled? Kickoff is 3:30 ET Saturday on ESPNU. Miss it and you'll hate yourself.

10. George O'Leary (32) gets angry. The Central Florida coach lamely tried to throw a radio reporter out of his postgame news conference after the Golden Knights were garroted by Texas on Saturday. O'Leary was angry because the reporter (accurately) broke the news that starting quarterback Brett Hodges and starting running back Brynn Harvey would not play against the Longhorns the night before the game. Then again, accuracy hasn't always been O'Leary's thing.

Also receiving votes: Julio Jones returns from exile; Wake Forest finds another way to lose a close one; Eastern Michigan (0-9) is blindingly bad.

Ambition Is Good. Blind Ambition Is Not.

Two years and two months ago, The Dash was embedded with the Western Kentucky football team for its first-ever game as an FBS school. The game was at defending national champion Florida, and the result was perfectly predictable: a 49-3 beatdown.

Afterward, WKU president Gary Ransdell (33) seemed shocked by the outcome. Like he almost expected something different.

"If you had to pick your opponent for the first game, you might not choose the defending national champ," Ransdell said solemnly at the time. "On the other hand, you might as well jump in with both feet."

[+] EnlargeDavid Elson
AP Photo/Gail BurtonDavid Elson will be looking for a new job after getting fired by WKU.

Sunday night, Ransdell pushed his coach, Elson, off a plank. The seventh-year coach had had a career winning record until a few weeks ago, but that didn't save him. Ransdell fired him amid a 0-9 season that marks Western Kentucky's first year as a bowl-eligible member of FBS.

The Hilltoppers are terrible, no doubt about it. But The Dash wonders whether Ransdell made the same mistake many other striver schools have made in recent years while upgrading from FCS to FBS -- entering into this big-time football thing without a realistic idea of how hard it would be.

WKU made a significant financial commitment by renovating its stadium into an impressive modern edifice. But that doesn't equate to an immediate talent upgrade -- especially at a school that does not sit on the greatest natural recruiting ground. (Put it this way: South Florida is a better place for a startup program than Bowling Green, Ky.)

When The Dash was with the Hilltoppers, athletic director Wood Selig (34) said he'd tied his future to Elson's.

"Very few athletic directors or coaches survive the transition," Selig said. "David and I made a pact: We're bound and determined to survive this transition together."

One of the supposed survivors just got voted off of Transition Island. We'll see how long Selig lasts while attempting to carry out the vision of an unrealistic administration.

Coach Who Earned His Comp Car This Week

That would be Stanford's Jim Harbaugh (35), who orchestrated another big upset in his third year as coach of the Cardinal. His program is bowl-eligible for the first time since 2001 after beating Oregon 51-42. In 2007, Harbaugh's Cardinal took down No. 2 USC as a 41-point underdog and also shocked rival California as a 13-point 'dog that same season. Last year, Stanford won three times as an underdog, beating Oregon State, Washington and Arizona.

If Michigan and Rodriguez should part ways, Harbaugh would seem like a natural candidate at his alma mater -- but only if he and the powers that be have made up after some public sniping two years ago over academic standards for football players at Michigan.

Coach Who Should Ride The Bus To Work

Rice's David Bailiff (36), whose tenure as boss of the Owls has been all wild mood swings. Bailiff went 3-9 his first year at Rice, then rebounded for a 10-3 record last year. Now: 0-9. Along the way the Rice defense has been every bit as resilient as a Styrofoam container in a hurricane, surrendering 40 or more points six times. The only consolation: If the Bailiff pattern continues, Rice might go undefeated next year.

Putting Out An APB For …

… Former Washington State running back Rueben Mayes (37), a product of the noted football breeding ground of North Battleford, Saskatchewan. Twenty-five years ago Mayes ran for a then-NCAA-record 357 yards against Oregon State -- and since there isn't much nice to say about the current Cougars, maybe we can find a past great. Anyone with information on the whereabouts of Mayes, please apprise The Dash.

Meanwhile, The Dash is pleased to report that last week's APB subject, former Ohio State wingback Brian Baschnagel (38), is alive and well and living on Chicago's North Shore after a career with the Chicago Bears. The Dash's spies report that Baschnagel works for North American Paper Company and is a regular at the Big Ten's annual summer kickoff luncheon.

Point After

Since The Dash was not on location for a football game this past weekend, there is no restaurant/bar recommendation for the hungry/thirsty populace. But that doesn't mean The Dash has nothing to offer. In fact, this could be a cool gift idea for the tailgater who has (almost) everything: the Team Grill (39).

Team Grill is in the business of slapping college logos and school colors on grills. You'd certainly be the envy of your tailgate party while charbroiling burgers or smoking ribs in a logo'd-up grill. The Dash is apprised that Team Grill reps will be showing off their maize-and-blue and scarlet-and-gray product line at the Ohio State-Michigan game (40) Nov. 21.

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