Top games are open for debate
Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football:
It's a big week for statements and rebuttals, points and counterpoints -- and six sexy football games. The Dash will moderate as each team gets a chance to say why it will win Saturday, and why its opponent will lose. We ask that the audience at Bristol U. hold its applause until the end.
Longhorns rebuttal: Four years of this tyranny is enough; it's time for a change. Five straight losses by one quality program against another would defy the law of averages, and it ignores the improvements we've made on both sides of the ball. Benson will hit his nation's-best average of 185 rushing yards against an Oklahoma defense that's rebuilt up the middle, and Young is improved enough with his arm and fast enough with his feet to break several big plays. It's time to stop the madness in Dallas.
The Dash's two cents: Watch the coin toss. If Oklahoma wins the toss it will likely defer, but if Texas wins it might take the ball and commence with the most important series of the game. The Horns have scored touchdowns on their opening drive in all four games. If they get it first and score, it will be a huge psychological boost against their nemesis. If they get it first and are stopped, the burden returns.
Why the Golden Bears will win: We have a plan for changing the Pacific-10, and there is nothing flukish about our team. We haven't played a great schedule, but we do lead a better-than-advertised Pac-10 in rushing offense, pass efficiency, total offense, scoring offense, pass efficiency defense, passing yards allowed, total defense, scoring defense, net punting and punt returns. We're a total team, with multiple threats at running back and wide receiver (senior Chase Lyman is a big-play revelation), and the rare quarterback who can sling it on even terms with USC star Matt Leinart.
Trojans rebuttal: No way we let go of a game that we've chafed about for a year, since that upset in Berkeley. Cal hasn't seen anyone as explosive as Reggie Bush or as punishing as LenDale White, hasn't game-planned for a coordinator as crafty as Norm Chow and hasn't faced a defense as athletic as ours. This isn't the New Mexico Primary, OK? This is the real deal, and we're ready.
The Dash's two cents: USC has been a goof-around team in the first half this fall, and it can't afford that this Saturday. Snooze for too long and the Trojans could be on the wrong end of a two-touchdown deficit by halftime.
Wisconsin-Ohio State (3)
Why the Badgers will win: We're strong on defense issues -- No. 1 in the nation in scoring defense and total defense, and we're facing a wobbly offense that relies way too much on kicker Mike Nugent (40 percent of Ohio State's points to date). With tailback Anthony Davis back in the lineup after an eye injury, our offense has an identity. Ohio State's all-important running game has gone nowhere with Lydell Ross, and it won't go anywhere against Anttaj Hawthorne and the boys.
Buckeyes rebuttal: Our domestic success is unimpeachable -- we haven't lost at home since 2001, and this Wisconsin team isn't good enough to terminate that streak. We might not score a lot, but neither will the Badgers. We'll put everybody but Brutus Buckeye in the box to stop Davis, then dare the nation's No. 113 passing attack to beat us. And if it comes down to a close game in the fourth quarter, in Tressel we trust -- especially at home.
The Dash's two cents: First team to double digits wins. Nobody's gotten that far yet against Wisconsin's defense, but Ohio State freshman Antonio Pittman should get his chance to carry the ball 15-plus times this week. He might get the Buckeyes' ground game going.
Volunteers rebuttal: Greene has a tendency to flip-flop -- hot one game, cold the next. We learned from our gameplan errors against Auburn, so we'll come out with Cedric Houston and Gerald Riggs pounding the rock. Nobody has stopped them yet this year; we just had to give up on the running game last week before it could take hold of the game. Ainge gave the game away with turnovers against Auburn, but he's a super-quick study and won't repeat that performance. We shock the world.
The Dash's two cents: Karl Rove couldn't spin this into a win for the Vols. Mark Richt is 3-0 against Phil Fulmer, and it would be a stunner if he's not 4-0 by Saturday night. Georgia's defensive playmakers (end David Pollack, linebacker Odell Thurman, safety Thomas Davis) are salivating for a shot at the freshmen. Watch how the Bulldogs do protecting Greene: he hasn't been sacked more than once in a game this year, after being sacked at least twice in 12 of 13 games last season.
Why the Wolverines will win: There isn't a player on our team who knows what it's like to lose to the Gophers, and that won't change now. They know they can't beat us, especially after our incredible comeback last year in the Metrodome. They've run up some fancy numbers, but they haven't beaten anyone in the top 45 in the Sagarin Ratings. They're not playing Illinois State or Toledo this week.
Gophers rebuttal: We're strong on both the top of the ticket (Marion Barber III) and the bottom (Laurence Maroney) -- and if you had trouble with Darius Walker, what are you going to do with our guys? Everyone was nervous about our quarterback, Brian Cupito, but he's been just about error-free so far. Any team that got as lucky as Michigan did last year in our place is due for a comeuppance next time around.
The Dash's two cents: This is a classic, trench-warfare, toughman contest up front. Minnesota leads the Big Ten in rushing offense (pounding it 54 times a game). Michigan leads it in rushing defense (just 1.5 yards per carry allowed). Whoever wins that battle and holds onto the football (both teams are among the national leaders in turnover margin) wins the game.
Why the Gators will win: They're the wrong team coming into the wrong place at the wrong time. We're better than last year, and they're worse. So if we could win in Baton Rouge against the eventual national champions, we can handle them here in The Swamp. Our offense has hit its stride, and our defense isn't afraid of LSU's befuddled quarterbacks. Hyperactive Channing Crowder, maybe the best linebacker in America, heads Charlie Strong's strategic defense initiative.
Tigers rebuttal: The Swamp has turned into a quagmire under The Zooker. He's deflated the home-field advantage by losing there five times in two years - including a 36-7 humiliation from us in 2002. We're mad, and when Nick Saban gets mad, life is miserable. We need this win to keep Saban's head from exploding.
The Dash's two cents: LSU hasn't lost consecutive regular-season games under Saban since early 2001. This game will put that streak to a severe test, but it would be a shock if the Tigers don't play with maximum ferocity. The question is whether they have the firepower to stay with Florida.
At least three schools are hearing some serious howls about regime change for coaches who haven't even had 20 games on the job yet at their current institutions.
Keith Gilbertson (7) is 6-10 at Washington, 0-4 this year. Rich Brooks (8) is 5-11 at Kentucky, 1-3 this year. Mike Shula (9) is 7-11 at Alabama, 3-2 this year but riding an ugly two-game losing streak.
By normal standards, that's way too fast to be firing anyone. But all three coaches were hired under abnormal conditions, and without much of a mandate from the fans.
Brooks was the panic hire of Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart after a clumsy coaching search whiffed on Bill Parcells, Chow, Jeff Tedford, Rich Rodriguez, Jim Donnan, David Cutcliffe and every other coach this side of Billy Bob Thornton (11). Hired out of retirement at age 61 to take over a program saddled by probationary scholarship cuts, Brooks went an uninspired 4-8 last season. This year's start has been soured by another blowout loss to rival Louisville and an embarrassing 28-16 loss to Ohio. From big-bucks boosters to the board of trustees, calls are being heard for the heads of both Rich and Mitch.
Shula was hired after the infamous Mike Price night out (12) in Pensacola, without benefit of a spring practice with his team or any previous head-coaching experience. The 4-9 debut season was written off, and his team was 3-0 this year before a season-ending injury to quarterback Brodie Croyle. In other words, Shula has legitimate reasons to expect patience -- but patience is never in great supply in Bama, and it won't be if this season goes into free-fall. He's at least been helped out by the ugly start in Starkville for Sylvester Croom (13), the other finalist for the Alabama job.
Shula and Brooks can commiserate Saturday when their teams play in Lexington. But by the end of the day, the loser will be feeling even more heat.
Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood
Admit it, you've never heard of Dale Rogers (14) before. Neither had The Dash, until he went Joe Montana on Rice Saturday in a 70-63 outbreak of Arenaball (15).
"I guess that game-time morphine kicked in and he was ready to go," Hill joked. We think.
By the time Rogers was done, San Jose had erased a 34-7 deficit. He'd thrown for 359 yards on just 10 completions -- that's an outrageous 35.9 yards per completion, for the non-math majors out there. His quarterback rating of 386.56 is easily the best in the nation this season. Not bad for a senior who had 367 career passing yards coming into the game.
The Spartans won despite running just 49 plays to Rice's 100, and possessing the ball for all of 18 minutes. Their first lead was the last touchdown.
"We accomplished an earthly version of parting the Red Sea," Hill said.
Too bad nobody saw it. Attendance was 4,093, as San Jose struggles to keep its program afloat as a Division I-A entity amid apathy and red ink. But Hill won't be beating down doors to put more fans in the stands.
"That's probably something I've done too much of," he said. "I've tried to be head coach and marketing coordinator. I'm not going to do that anymore."
Adrian Karsten Golden Suspenders Award
For coaching excellence goes to Arizona State's Dirk Koetter (17), whose Sun Devils are 5-0 for the first time since the Jake Plummer days of 1996. This team is more than just Andrew Walter (18), the quarterback with 15 touchdowns and only one interception. ASU is 11th nationally in scoring defense, aided and abetted by being a plus-10 in turnover margin. And the Devils might have found the running punch they need at Oregon last Saturday, when third-string tailback Hakim Hill (19) broke out for 134 yards.
"I think you can say we're for real," Koetter said.
After an authoritative start the Devils get an extra week to prepare for USC, which will be coming off its Game of the Year with California. The trick for Koetter will be reversing ASU's post-Halloween performance: it is 2-11 in November and December in his previous three seasons in Tempe.
Trev Alberts Fire-Him-Now Award
Goes to Fresno State's Pat Hill (20) -- not for being a bad coach, but for being a bad sport. The Bulldogs' BCS run was stopped in surprising fashion at Louisiana Tech last Saturday. By the WAC conference call on Monday, Hill still was having a hard time accepting it gracefully.
The Dash was dismayed to hear him mention a couple of "very interesting holding calls" that prevented Fresno from taking what could have been a 24-0 lead. And he failed to mention (or credit) Tech revelation Ryan Moats (21), who had his third 200-yard rushing game of the season to become a backdoor Heisman candidate. Nor did he offer any insight on a pregame skirmish between the two teams.
You're better than that, Pat.
All Talk, No Walk
Speaking of pregame dustups, The Dash was amused to hear that truly miserable East Carolina (22) went out of its way to ruffle the feathers of the Louisville Cardinals (23) last Saturday in Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. Pirates players stomped on the Cardinal logo at midfield, and amid some woofing with Louisville players, one Pirate allegedly spit on the arm of Cards linebacker Robert McCune (24). (Bad choice of targets. The thoroughly chiseled McCune, an army reservist, looks like he got lost on his way to a Mr. Olympia posedown.)
"I took it personal," McCune said.
So did the rest of the Cardinals, who pounded the Pirates 59-7.
"We played a team that would rather talk than play," said Louisville coach Bobby Petrino (25).
East Carolina, once a scary opponent by any standards, is now 1-15 under John Thompson (26). He's no relation to the fabled former Georgetown basketball coach (27), but he might consider calling him for defensive advice. The Pirates have given up at least 24 points in all 16 games Thompson has coached.
After poring over the schedules with close personal friend and fellow college grid fanatic Adriana Lima (31), The Dash has concluded that the Utes undoubtedly have the inside track to finish 11-0. They play four of their final six at home, and none of the six opponents is ranked in Sagarin's top 40. Problem is, only one of Utah's first five opponents is in the Top 40: Texas A&M, at No. 26.
With such a lightweight schedule, how much will 11-0 actually prove? Enough to at least snag a spot somewhere in the eight-team bonanza, according to The Dash. The political pressure to admit its first BCS outsider, instead of a second team from an elite conference, will be significant. And should be.
Last Interception Pool Update
The competition has thinned appreciably after last week. Utah's Alex Smith, California's Aaron Rodgers and Minnesota's Brian Cupito all threw their first picks of the season. That leaves just five QBs who have yet to throw one to the wrong-colored jersey:
Purdue's Kyle Orton (32), in 137 attempts, and Hawaii's Timmy Chang (33), in 159 attempts, are the only two from The Dash's original list. The late additions are Illinois' Jon Beutjer (34), 104 attempts, Texas A&M's Reggie McNeal (35), 97 attempts, and Ball State's Joey Lynch (36), 61 attempts.
(Special commendation to Purdue, which has yet to turn the ball over in any fashion. That's strong.)
Putting Out An APB For. . .
. . .former Oklahoma wishbone operator and football fashion trendsetter Thomas Lott (37). Not only was the Lott among the foremost practitioners of the triple option, he might have been the first big-time player to wear a bandana under his helmet -- sending an entire generation of kids out to purchase their own prehistoric do-rags to wear under their helmets. (Yes, The Dash included in that group.) We know where his son is -- playing running back at Rice -- but please advise The Dash of any further updates on the coolest QB of from the 1970s.
The Dash regrets to inform the readership that it has received no tangible leads on the whereabouts of last week's APB subject, straight-ahead kicking legend Dave Lawson of Air Force (38). We will continue our search for the last great kicker not to use his instep.
The Dash continues its drive to become the definitive Internet clearinghouse for barbecue-joint recommendations, and is just a few locales short of being able to publish its own book on where to find quality 'cue anywhere in the western hemisphere. (Among the many new offerings this week was one in Eagle, Idaho. Still waiting for Alaska to sound off. Come in, Alaska.) Going on name alone, the best new tout has to be Fat Matt's Rib Shack (39) in Atlanta.
But all the barbecue talk has made The Dash thirsty, and ready for a quality microbrew. When parched in Colorado we recommend a bottle of O'Dell's 90 Shilling (40), although you'll be hard-pressed to find some decent pulled pork to go with it.
Pat Forde is a senior writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.