'Bama, brainlocks and barbeque

Originally Published: September 22, 2004
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football:

Undefeated, unranked ... unloved
Unbeaten teams are falling to earth like so many LSU pass attempts, but there are a few intriguing teams with perfect records out there, flying under Top 25 radar. The Dash grabs six of them for a full-cavity, Contender-or-Pretender examination (turn your head and cough, men):

Alabama (1) 3-0 -- The sneaking suspicion has been that the Crimson Tide had the talent to just about reverse its 4-9 debacle of 2003. That team lost five games by eight points or less, and this team has a bunch of returning starters, seven home games and a coach who at least had gone through spring ball with his guys.

But with go-for-the-gusto quarterback Brodie Croyle (2) history after a blown ACL, the bounce-back season could be scuttled. This team remains solid in the two most important areas -- the rushing offense is No. 17 in the country and the rushing defense is No. 11 -- but it will miss Croyle's leadership and guts.

Contender/Pretender diagnosis: Pretender. Even halfway there, 'Bama will be hard-pressed to reach bowl eligibility.

Andrew Walter
ASU's Andrew Walter has thrown 11 TDs and only one INT through three games.
Arizona State (3) 3-0 -- For the first time under fourth-year coach Dirk Koetter, the Sun Devils appear interested in playing defense. His ASU teams had held just four of 37 opponents to single digits heading into this season, and now they've already done it twice this year and rank No. 21 nationally in total D.

Walloping ranked Iowa could be the signal of a revival in Tempe, although the Devils will have to do something about their 2-11 record in November and December under Koetter. Quarterback Andrew Walter (4) has thrown 11 touchdown passes and just one pick.

Contender/Pretender diagnosis: Contender. This team should finish with seven victories, minimum, in the schizoid Pac-10.

Boston College (5) 3-0 -- Wheezing past Ball State in the opener impressed no one, but everything since then has been strong from the Eagles. They've throttled Penn State and Connecticut by a combined score of 48-14 and appear well on their way to a sixth straight bowl bid. Quarterback Paul Peterson (6) is a slippery run-pass threat, and the defense looks much tougher than last year's.

Contender/Pretender diagnosis: Contender. The Eagles could be 5-0 heading into consecutive road games at Pitt and Notre Dame, and could eventually duke it out for Big East supremacy at West Virginia on Nov. 13.

Colorado (7) 3-0 -- The offense has flickered on and off like an old neon sign. The defense, ranked No. 99 in America, has been strafed for more than 400 yards by a quarterback making his first collegiate start and gouged for 247 yards by a true freshman tailback from the Sun Belt. But the Buffaloes' survival instinct is spectacular, and nothing helps build confidence like pulling close games out of the fire.

Contender/Pretender diagnosis: Both? There is no sign of greatness from this team, but the Big 12 North is a shambles, so the door is wide open. After an off week comes Missouri -- and Gary Barnett is 5-0 against his alma mater, which never gave him a serious shot at its head-coaching job back in the early 1990s.

Navy (8) 3-0 -- Give it up to the Midshipmen, who went on the road and whipped 2003 bowl team Tulsa 29-0 last week. Coach Paul Johnson's throwback offense is working: quarterback Aaron Polanco (9) has thrown the ball 23 times and run it 66 times so far. Johnson has proved his worth, winning 12 of his last 17 games at Navy after a 1-10 start.

Contender/Pretender diagnosis: Please. The Middies are nobody's idea of a Top 25 team. But they still could win nine games against a benign schedule and make a second straight bowl appearance. And look out Notre Dame: your tyrannical streak against the sailors could be in jeopardy.

Stanford (10) 2-0 -- Buddy Teevens came into this season in trouble. A strange hire to begin with, he was 6-16 after two seasons -- and one-third of those wins were against San Jose State. Now the Cardinal is not only 2-0, but the average score of the two games is 40-7. Yes, true, that includes victory No. 3 of the Teevens Era over sorry San Jose, but it also includes a whipping of BYU -- which beat Notre Dame, and at least gave USC a contentious half.

Contender/Pretender diagnosis: Five wins looks like a max-out season for this Pretender, which has been living on turnovers (plus-five through two games). Although the Cardinal has quite the opportunity to prove otherwise Saturday at home against No. 1 USC.

Excessive ineptitude + excessive stupidity = one bad play
While most of the free world -- and all of Gator Nation -- has focused its condemnation on the atrocious officiating that marred the Florida-Tennessee game, where is the outrage over the two players involved in the Personal Foul That Will Live in Gainesville Infamy (11)?

You better believe official Bobby Moreau (12) deserves to be ripped for his inexplicably unequal distribution of personal-foul penalties in the final minute of a tremendously taut game. He blew the call so badly that it gives the need-a-life conspiracy freaks who populate message boards (13) even more conviction that the refs are crooked.

But save some criticism for the two players involved in the chicken fight, Florida wide receiver Dallas Baker (14) and Tennessee DB Jonathan Wade (15). You two first-team All-Selfish candidates want to explain why the final minute of a one-point game seemed like the right time to start throwing shots at each other's headgear? If The Dash were the coach in either 'Ville, Gaines or Knox, you'd be running until you looked like Kip Keino.

Speaking of player brainlock ...
The Dash offers Pulp Fiction ball gags to Texas running back Cedric Benson (16) and Virginia kick returner Marquis Weeks (17) for their recent comments to the media.

Cedric Benson
Cedric Benson rushed for over 1,000 yards in four straight seasons at Texas.
Benson, interviewed on ESPN Radio, was asked whether he'd rather beat nemesis Oklahoma for the first time in his college career, potentially paving the way to a shot at the national title, or win the Heisman Trophy. Benson said he'd rather have the little stiff-armer. Host Doug Gottlieb registered his surprise and offered him a chance to recant, which Benson declined. He DID say that he might prefer a win in the Red River Shootout if he could be involved in every aspect of beating the Sooners -- but if he had to, like, depend on his teammates? Nah.

(The guy deserves some credit for honesty, since most college players, if shot up with sodium pentathol, would tell you that winning the Heisman would be the coolest thing this side of a date with Adriana Lima (18). But, yo, how about at least a little team-first faux modesty, Ced?)

As for Weeks: UVa alums undoubtedly swelled with pride upon hearing the description of his 100-yard kickoff return against North Carolina Sept. 12.

"That was just instinct," Weeks told the Washington Post. "Kind of like running from the cops, I guess you'd say."

And while we're talking about officiating ...
The Dash sides with LSU coach Nick Saban (19) and any other rules committee member who voted against the new rule prohibiting aspiring kick blockers from jumping on or over offensive linemen. Isn't that sort of like penalizing a player for being too athletic? Should there be rules in basketball limiting how high a player can jump to block a shot or dunk an alley-oop?

Adrian Karstan Golden Suspenders Award
To the coaches who have rallied in the past two weeks to stick it in The Dash's eye for criticizing their season-opening pratfalls:

Dennis Franchione (20) -- His Texas A&M Aggies were embarrassed by Utah to open the season. Since then they've outscored Wyoming and Clemson by a combined 58-6 (and here we go again with the Tommy Bowden hot seat watch). Athletic quarterback Reggie McNeal (21) is fifth in the nation in total offense.

Karl Dorrell (22) -- UCLA had its manhood impugned by Oklahoma State's physical running game in the opener, but the Bruins have shown some moxie since. They've beaten Illinois and Washington on the road, with running back Maurice Drew (23) blowing up for 474 yards in those games.

John Bunting (24) -- North Carolina barely got past William & Mary to open the season, then was ripped by Virginia. But a nice bounce-back upset of Georgia Tech last week could signal a save-the-coach's-job rally by the Tar Heels. Or not, since four of the next five opponents are ranked (Louisville, Florida State, Utah, Miami).

Rich Brooks (25) -- He had two weeks to listen to fans and media tell him how atrocious his Kentucky offense was in a 28-0 opening loss to rival Louisville. Then he shut them up with a 51-point explosion against Indiana. Now we'll see if the Wildcats can sustain it in SEC play.

Trev Alberts Fire-Him-Now Award
Goes to Saban for failing to pick a quarterback until it was too late. Saban passed on hotshot redshirt freshman JaMarcus Russell (26) and went with what was supposed to be the safe choice, fifth-year senior Marcus Randall (27), to start the season. Saban was undoubtedly leaning on the just-don't-get-us-beat philosophy of quarterbacking that helped the Tigers win a national title last year -- except that Randall very nearly got LSU beat in the opener against Oregon State, and Russell had to come on in relief.

Playing both guys just hasn't worked, for either player or for the offense as a whole. Reacting with amazing touchiness to media questions about the QB controversy hasn't helped. (Saban announced that he would no longer answer questions about his QBs after a Baton Rouge TV station did an online poll asking viewers who they favored as the starter.) It's time to pick a guy and let the offense coalesce around him.

(The Trevvie does NOT go to Alabama coach Mike Shula (28), who has been unjustly grilled by some Tider Insiders for putting QB Croyle in harm's way with a 31-0 lead on Western Carolina last Saturday. For the record: it was the first possession of the third quarter, hardly time to put the starters in cold storage, and it's not like 'Bama's offense was a tremendous machine that it didn't require some more in-game polishing. It's true that Shula erred by playing a dinged Croyle last year against Georgia, and the result was further injury to his shoulder. This situation is completely different.)

First interception pool
With coaches seemingly putting more emphasis than ever on limiting mistakes by their quarterbacks, interceptions seem to be in shorter supply this season (except at air-it-out Nebraska, of course). The Dash invites you to guess (for entertainment purposes only, of course) which of the following star QBs will be the last to throw a pick this season:

Hawaii's Timmy Chang (29) -- Hasn't thrown one in a whopping 116 attempts this year. The Rainbows have been a major disappointment so far, but don't blame it on their QB.

Alex Smith
Alex Smith could be spending New Year's eve in Memphis.
Utah's Alex Smith (30) -- None in 63 attempts to date, and just four in 333 career throws.

Stanford's Trent Edwards (31) -- Also none in 63 attempts this season. But next up is USC, which has picked off eight passes this year.

Purdue's Kyle Orton (32) -- None in 56 attempts, with the No. 80 pass efficiency defense (Illinois) in his sites Saturday.

Texas' Vince Young (33) -- None in 43 attempts. Next two games are against Rice (fundamentally opposed to aerial football in any form) and Baylor (defensive backs seen wearing Strafe Me signs on their backs at times last year). After that comes the real challenge (Oklahoma).

California's Aaron Rodgers (34) -- None in 42 attempts. He definitely won't throw one in September, since the Bears don't play again until Oct. 2. Rodgers dodged a pretty tough defense in Southern Miss (three INTs against Nebraska), thanks to Hurricane Ivan.

Spectre of Spurrier
Every time Ron Zook (35) loses a game while Steve Spurrier (36) sits unemployed increases the "noise in the system," as The Zooker famously calls the criticism he's taken since taking over for the Ol' Ballcoach at Florida.

But The Dash's advisers in the Sunshine State think Spurrier is not the slam-dunk choice to coach the Gators again should Zook get the hook (be it this year or sometime in the future). In fact, those who know Spurrier say he's sincerely undecided about coaching next season -- which, at the very least, is the smart thing to say right now. There's nothing Spurrier can say in September that does anybody any good, so the questions will need to be asked again later in the year -- when buzzards are circling in earnest at several locales.

Nevertheless: The Zooker is urged, for his own sake, to take care of business this week against Kentucky. His teams have been lucky to beat the Wildcats the past two years, and a loss now would turn the noise in the system into a Metallica concert.

Putting out an APB for ...
With Clemson playing what was supposed to be a big game at Florida State Saturday, it's time to find out what became of receiver Perry Tuttle (37), favorite target of quarterback Homer Jordan (38) and Sports Illustrated cover boy after Clemson won the 1981 national title in the Orange Bowl.

While The Dash's investigators get to work on Tuttle, we'll update you on last week's missing people, the Tennessee CobbWebb backfield tandem (39) from the late 1980s. Reggie Cobb is a regional scout for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, while Chuck Webb, a Toledo native who was a bust in the pros with the Green Bay Packers, remains harder to track. A Charles E. Webb, age 34, has a listed address in Toledo, with previous addresses in Knoxville and Green Bay -- but no listed telephone number.

Point after
When hungry in Oklahoma, The Dash recommends the sensational beef brisket and sausage combo at Bob's Bar-B-Q (40) in Norman. If the brisket were any more tender, you could cut it with a sharp glance. (Alert readers will note that this makes back-to-back touts of barbecue joints by The Dash. Which means it's high time to start eating a little healthier on the road. The Dash also thanks reader recommendations of other top 'cue spots, not matter how oxymoronic the locales -- one swears by a place in the Appalachian hills of Eastern Kentucky, another insists that it gets no better than a spot in Syracuse, N.Y. The Dash could be guilty of regional bias, but it remains skeptical.)

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