BCS busters, leading rushers and APBs
Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football:
Rise Of The Little Guys
Gridworld has spent most of this week saluting the BCS outsiders who defrocked elite programs from the power conferences, with good reason. But as the coaches will tell you, nobody wins any trophies for what you've done by mid-September.
Well, The Dash is violating coach's orders and not taking it one game at a time. The Dash is here to look ahead, and to forecast which of the Seven Dwarves (2) (we say it with love, really) from outside the BCS leagues has the best chance for forcible inclusion into the land of the giants:
Utah (3) -- The Utes don't have a splashy victory over a Top 25 opponent. But they got a head start by beginning the year in the rankings, and they authoritatively dispatched BCS opponents Texas A&M and Arizona. The rest of the schedule sets up like something from Bill Snyder Fantasyland: eight of the nine remaining opponents already have lost at least once, and none is ranked higher than No. 37 in the latest Sagarin Ratings.
Chance of running the table: Very good. And they'd be tough to leave out if that happens.
Boise State (4) -- You have to love a program that is 51-11 over the last five-plus seasons despite changing coaches and rolling over personnel. The Broncos' last non-league game is at home (BYU Sept. 25), and so is what's shaping up as the WAC Game of the Year (and perhaps the Non-BCS Game of the Year): Fresno State on Oct. 23. Since the Broncos have beaten Fresno three straight by a total of 65 points, you have to say that the road to the WAC title runs through the blue turf.
Chances of running the table: Fighting chance. Beat Fresno and unbeaten Boise might be a more viable BCS commodity than unbeaten Utah.
Fresno State (5) -- In a rational world (one in which poll voters show some flexibility and quit treating their preseason guesses like something Moses carried down from the mountaintop), the Bulldogs would be much higher than No. 19 (AP) and No. 20 (ESPN/USA Today) in the latest polls. Nobody has two better wins right now the 'Dogs, who ripped Washington in Seattle and Kansas State in Manhattan. Fresno should be 5-0 when it gets to Boise.
Chances of running the table: Could all depend on what happens Oct. 23.
Memphis (6) -- The Tigers got the start they had to have, beating Ole Miss in Oxford, and now the schedule could do the rest. C-USA rivals Louisville and Southern Miss must come to the Liberty Bowl, and TCU isn't on the schedule. (Neither is Tennessee, which dropped the Tigers until 2012 in a football-basketball scheduling snit that could ultimately work against this Memphis team.) Watch out for a dangerous trip to UAB Sept. 25.
Chances of running the C-USA table this season are pretty slim.
Louisville (7) -- The Cardinals could easily be 4-0 when they reach their season-making opportunity at Miami on a Thursday night. That should end the run -- but on the other hand, an upset in the Orange Bowl would shatter any voter resistance to considering the Cards BCS-worthy.
Chances of running the table: Beat Miami and then we'll talk.
Southern Mississippi (8) -- The Eagles are 1-0 against the toughest nonconference schedule of any aspiring BCS buster: at Nebraska, at Alabama and California. The Cal game has now been "hurricaned" off of Thursday night and probably blown clean into December, which could be a positive for Southern Miss. If they're in the hunt that late, a victory over the Bears could provide a late poll push.
Chances of running the table: Only if Brett Favre comes back.
TCU (9) -- The Horned Frogs now expect to win and, even more importantly, know how to do so -- they've won their last eight regular-season games decided by a touchdown or less. (Yes, with some help from the Northwestern kicker to keep that streak alive.) They should be 5-0 going to UAB Oct. 16, and could be 8-0 traveling to Louisville Nov. 9.
Chances of running the table: Semi-tough, as TCU alum Dan Jenkins (10) would say.
Can one of the Seven Dwarves (an affectionate term, seriously) make history?
"If we run the table, I think the nation will demand a (BCS) game," Fresno coach Pat Hill (11) said. "Especially if you played a nonconference schedule where you had to put it all on the line. I don't think the polls or computers would let it work out ... They have it in basketball, with the Gonzaga story. We gotta have a football team push the envelope. It hasn't happened yet."
More WAC Love
Boise State and Fresno State are the stories du jour in college football, but that's not the only reason to notice the Western Athletic Conference. It's also home to the leading rusher in America, Louisiana Tech's Ryan Moats (12), who has opened up 2004 with back-to-back 257-yard games -- first against Nevada, then Louisiana-Lafayette.
"That's a freaky little thing," Moats acknowledged.
All the freakier when you consider that Moats was never supposed to gain a yard in college. His sophomore year at Bishop Lynch High School in Dallas, a staph infection settled into his right femur and nearly destroyed the bone. He had major surgery to repair the damage and was on crutches for nearly the entire school year. Doctors told him he'd never play football again.
"I just fought, fought, fought, fought," Moats said. "I wanted to come back and play."
He didn't play spectacularly enough to get the attention of the Big 12 schools where he wanted to play, particularly boyhood favorite Texas A&M. ("It kind of makes you mad, you know?" he said. "Gave me a little fire.") So he wound up at Louisiana Tech, and last year he stepped out as the team's feature back. Despite not starting two games, Moats ran for 1,300 yards, and was the only back to gain 100 in a game against LSU.
"He has such a great knack for making people miss," said Tech coach Jack Bicknell III (13). "You think you have him and the next minute he's racing down the field. I wouldn't trade him for any other back in the country."
This year the slippery 5-9, 200-pounder does an even better impersonation of his idol, Barry Sanders.
"I love him to death," said Moats, who wears No. 20 and grew up with a Sanders poster on his wall. "I'd love to meet him one day. ... I'm not going to say I run like Barry Sanders because, you know, that's Barry Sanders. But that's how I like to run."
Tech needs all the Barry it can get out of Moats over the next four games, which are a tour of the Top 25: at Miami, at Tennessee, Fresno State and at Auburn. If he puts up anything close to 257 per game against that crowd, give him the Heisman.
Pedigree Violation In Florida
Miami has given college football Bernie Kosar, Vinny Testaverde, Craig Erickson, Gino Torretta, Ken Dorsey and others. Florida State has given it Casey Weldon, Brad Johnson, Peter Tom Willis, Charlie Ward, Danny Kanell, Chris Weinke and more. You'll count four Heisman Trophy winners, multiple All-Americans and tens of thousands of passing yards in that company.
Thus The Dash watched Brock Berlin (14) vs. Chris Rix (15) last Friday and wondered what has happened to the assembly lines at Quarterback U-Tallahassee and Quarterback U-Coral Gables. The two guys certainly didn't lack for competitive spirit and effort, but the execution was far beneath what we've come to expect from this rivalry. Shouldn't the Hurricanes and Seminoles be able to find fifth-year seniors who can A) hit an open receiver, B) burn a blitz, C) make a difficult throw against decent coverage and D) avoid brainlock at crucial junctures? Berlin at least got some things done from the shotgun at winning time, while Rix continues to make the same forehead-slapping decisions he did as a freshman.
Bottom line: The average score of three Rix-Berlin encounters has been Miami 18, FSU 13. Average score of the previous five 'Canes-'Noles games: Miami 28, FSU 27.
Adrian Karstan Golden Suspenders Award
While South Florida was being buffeted by hurricanes, the Owls have been out upsetting 2003 bowl teams. First they shocked Hawaii in Honolulu, then they beat North Texas in Denton. Twenty years after he took the Kosar and the 'Canes to their first national title, The Schnell is still doing remarkable work in relative obscurity.
Trev Alberts Fire-Him-Now Award
Michigan coach Lloyd Carr (17), come on down. The Dash knows that Carr is working with a true freshman quarterback in Chad Henne (18), but that doesn't excuse the Bo Schembechler throwback play-calling that helped cause the Wolverines' 28-20 come-from-ahead loss to Notre Dame.
There is conservative, and then there is this: Michigan faced third down and three-yards-or-longer 13 times in the first 54 minutes of the game, and it failed to make a legitimate effort at converting on 11 of those third downs. By legitimate effort we mean throwing past the first-down marker, or simply attempting to throw at all. There was a third-and-10 screen pass for seven yards, a third-and-four dink that required a broken tackle to get the first, a third-and-eight draw play, and multiple underneath routes to receivers that were well short of the necessary yardage.
On all three third downs in the second quarter, Michigan ran the ball. Most egregious was a handoff on third-and-goal from the six-yard line with time ticking down in the half and the Wolverines up 6-0. The ensuing field goal was a relief to a Notre Dame team that was on the ropes. The Dash has seen greater killer instinct at a PETA convention.
Bear Bryant has undoubtedly been chain-smoking and dog-cussing in the Afterlife over recent crimes against football in the state of Alabama, from probation to ignoble upsets to ill-advised strip-club visits, but the Bear must be pleased at the current state of affairs.
Alabama (19) is 2-0 for the first time since 1999 and flying comfortably under radar. And here's guessing while he'd light up a Chesterfield and grumble about it, he still couldn't help but notice Auburn (20) is 2-0 and, pending storm movements, hosting LSU in a huge game Saturday. And even the Alabama Junior League is chipping in: UAB (21) is 1-0, having crushed Baylor in its opener and Troy (22) is 2-0, having scored the biggest wins in school history on consecutive weeks, at Marshall and then shocking Missouri on national television.
With apologies to the home turf of John Wooden, Larry Bird and Oscar Robertson, it should be noted that the state of Indiana is on a roll, too. Indiana (23), arguably the most apathetic football school in a BCS league, is somehow 2-0 after smacking Oregon in Eugene. Purdue (24), has outscored two opponents 110-7. Even that modest little fixer-upper program in the northwest corner of the state, Notre Dame (25), has something to brag about after beating No. 7 Michigan. This is some solace for a state that suffered the ultimate indignity last March -- just one bid to the NCAA Tournament, from Valparaiso.
Mississippi Cultural Exchange Program
This undoubtedly wasn't planned, but the three I-A programs in the Magnolia State have scheduled what amounts to visits with Martians this season. Talk about bringing together people with little in common:
California (26) at Southern Miss, scheduled for Thursday but postponed until December.
Maine (27) at Mississippi State (28), Saturday.
Ole Miss (29) at Wyoming (30), Sept. 25.
The Dash would like to send boiled peanuts to the Golden Bears when they arrive in Hattiesburg and to the Black Bears when they get to Starkville, and oxygen tanks to the Rebels when they come to Laramie. Hopefully the coaches will let the players have at least a passing encounter with what should be a markedly different culture.
Matchups The Dash Would Pay To See
Ohio State kicker Mike Nugent (33) vs. Colorado kicker Mason Crosby (34) in a long-distance field goal competition.
Troy offensive guard Junior Louissaint (35), a 276-pounder who stampeded 63 yards with a fumble for a touchdown against Missouri, vs. Louisville offensive guard Kurt Quarterman (36), a 338-pounder who scored his second career touchdown as a fullback against Army, in a limbo contest.
Call The Dash weird (you won't be the first), but it liked South Carolina's Goth Look (37) the other night against Georgia. Black shoes, black pants, black jerseys, black helmets -- same Gamecocks, unable to finish an upset of a ranked opponent.
Putting Out An APB For. . .
Tennessee's old CobbWebb backfield (38) of Reggie Cobb and Chuck Webb. Anyone with information on the whereabouts of the No. 7 career rusher (Cobb) and No. 1 single-game rusher (Webb) in Volunteers history, please advise.
Last week The Dash went looking for former South Carolina quarterback and legendary mullet man Steve Taneyhill (39). Amid the avalanche of e-mailed whereabouts from alert Carolina readers came one with the message line, "I'm here." Indeed it was Steve, with the following update:
"I live in Charleston, S.C. and I'm teaching and coaching at West Ashley High School. I was the head coach at Cambridge in Greenwood, S.C., for 1998-2002. We won back-to-back state championships in 2000 and '01. West Ashley is in the Big 16 Conference and we have started 0-2. We are rebuilding. Take care.
"P.S.: Tell Chris Fowler I said hello. ... Go Cocks!!!"
Pictures forwarded from South Carolina newspapers show that the mullet has been tamed and trimmed, although a tad too much hair remains on the back of Taneyhill's neck to gain admission to anyone's military academy.
When hungry in Alabama, there is but one place to go for the best ribs and surliest service in America. Dreamland Barbecue (40) in Tuscaloosa features the following menu: ribs (apparently from a brontosaurus) and white bread. As the sign on the wall says, "No beans, no slaw, don't ask." Another sign warns, "No farting." The help will barely tolerate you, but after one bite of the ribs you'll barely care.
Pat Forde is a senior writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.
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