Showing off our Freshman 15
Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (baked beans sold separately):
The Freshman 15
That usually refers to weight gain after being subjected to a year of dorm food, happy hours and 2 a.m. Taco Bell runs. For The Dash, it refers to college football's large number of weighty contributors in their first year on campus.
Taking it from the top:
Adrian Peterson (1) -- In case you've spent the season in Tora Bora, the Oklahoma running back has set an NCAA record by starting his career with nine straight 100-yard rushing games and is currently favored to become the first freshman Heisman Trophy winner. He's Maurice Clarett with faster feet, better vision and far less controversy. (The question for Ohio State fans continues to get harder to answer: Was Clarett worth it? Does the hardware still offset the headaches?)
The Michigan Men (3) -- Running back Michael Hart has been The Other Phenom Running Back, peeling off three straight 200-yard rushing games -- and if he'd been the featured back in the first two games, the Wolverines might be undefeated today. Quarterback Chad Henne has thrown for 2,001 yards, is ranked No. 37 nationally in pass efficiency and has 12 touchdowns and five interceptions in his last six games. (Throwing to Braylon Edwards helps.)
The Tennessee Twins (4) -- Actually, Erik Ainge and Brent Schaeffer have little in common beyond school, position and matching slings. Ainge, the pocket passer from Oregon, is No. 30 in pass efficiency and performed brilliantly -- until separating his shoulder against Notre Dame. Schaeffer, the run-pass threat from Florida, began the season as the starter and was a change-of-pace QB -- until breaking his collarbone against South Carolina. The good news is that the future looks great. The bad news is that the present looks shaky with junior Rick Clausen.
Dewayne Jarrett (5) -- It's good to have options. When Mike Williams was ruled ineligible in August and Steve Smith broke a leg against Cal, Pete Carroll turned to the high school All-American from New Jersey. Jarrett, who at 6-5 and 200 pounds is Williams all over again, has responded with 33 catches for 444 yards and eight touchdowns.
Jamario Thomas (6) -- The North Texas running back has received just a fraction of Peterson's pub -- but he's got better numbers. In fact, he leads the nation in rushing at 117.25 yards per game and has produced four straight 200-yard games. Not bad for a kid who got just two carries in the Mean Green's first two games.
Ted Ginn Jr. (7) -- One of the questions Ohio State fans have for Jim Tressel -- suddenly less pressing than those related to what Clarett did or didn't get under the table during his toxic stay in Columbus -- is why it took this long to tap Ginn's playmaking ability. Despite not being used much on offense until the second half of the season, the former cornerback has three punt-return touchdowns, two receiving TDs and a rushing TD. The Dash and Keyshawn agree: just give him the damn ball.
The Georgia Boys (8) -- Danny Ware started the season pounding the rock for the Bulldogs and has racked up 623 yards in eight games. Lately it's been the 'Dogs' speed back, Thomas Brown, doing most of the work. He has 601 yards, including three 100-yard rushing games in the last four. Mark Richt will happily take 1,200-plus from two rookies.
Brian Brohm (9) -- The Louisville quarterback had one of the great grace-under-pressure moments in freshman history, coming off the bench cold to lead the Cardinals 80 yards to a go-ahead, fourth-quarter touchdown at Miami. Now you know why he was considered the No. 1 high-school quarterback in the country by many last year.
Jordon Dizon (10) -- Colorado linebacker was moved from running back when he got to campus and has started every game. He's No. 2 on the team in tackles with 66, including five for loss and one sack. He's also broken up three passes.
Zach Miller (12) -- Considered the nation's No. 1 tight end recruit, Miller has backed it up at Arizona State. He has 38 catches for 409 yards and five touchdowns.
Austin Collie (13) -- He has 46 catches for 614 yards and seven touchdowns for a charging BYU team -- and he might make a return to Provo more enticing for superstar recruit/missionary Ben Olson. (Although word out of Utah is that Olson would prefer coming back to a different coach than the man who signed him, Gary Crowton.)
Ko Simpson (14) -- Yo, Ko: South Carolina defensive back has made an instant impact with five interceptions (one returned for a TD) and six pass breakups.
Calvin Johnson (15) -- The 6-4, 225-pound Georgia Tech wide receiver made a name for himself with three touchdowns in that freakish win over Clemson. He's slowed down a little, but still has 30 catches for 493 yards and six touchdowns.
Dan Connor (16) -- Complain all you want about Penn State's offense, but the defense has been stellar -- and this freshman linebacker is a big reason why. He's second on the team in tackles with 63, has an interception and 3.5 tackles for loss.
The Dash is amazed at the number of teams still scrambling for that sixth victory and potential postseason game -- and at the conferences that could come up short of filling their bowl quotas. Simply put, there will be a whole lot of 6-5 and 5-6 records out there in ParityLand in a few weeks. Here's your league-by-league bubble watch:
Should get there: Clemson (now 5-4, should finish 7-4); Georgia Tech (5-3, should finish 6-5); North Carolina (4-5, should finish 6-5).
Just missed: Maryland (4-5, should finish 5-6); North Carolina State (4-5, should finish 5-6); and Wake Forest (4-4, should finish 4-7).
Bowl slots: Should fill all seven. There's a long-shot chance at having two BCS teams, which would leave the league one short.
Big East (18)
Already eligible: West Virginia, Boston College.
Should get there: Syracuse (5-4, should finish 6-5); Connecticut (5-3, should finish 6-5).
Just missed: Pittsburgh (5-3, should finish 5-6); Rutgers (4-5, should finish 5-6).
Bowl slots: Will fill all four, with Notre Dame's help, and might have an extra team to send to a bowl with an opening.
Big Ten (19)
Already eligible: Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, Minnesota, Ohio State.
Should get there: Purdue (5-4, should finish 7-4); Northwestern (5-4, should finish 7-5).
Just missed: Michigan State (4-6, should finish 6-6).
Bowl slots: Should fill all seven, but could easily have two teams taken by the BCS.
Big 12 (20)
Already eligible: Oklahoma, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State.
Should get there: Colorado (5-4, should finish 7-4); Iowa State (5-4, should finish 6-5).
Just missed: Nebraska (5-4, should finish 5-6); Missouri (4-5, should finish 5-6); Kansas State (4-5, should finish 5-6).
Bowl slots: Would be one short of their eight commitments with the above scenario, thanks to rampant mediocrity in the North Division.
Should get there: Oregon (5-4, should finish 6-5).
Just missed: UCLA (5-4, should finish 5-6); Oregon State (4-5, should finish 5-6); Stanford (4-5, should finish 5-6); Washington State (4-5, should finish 5-6).
Bowl slots: Would be one short, producing the following lamentations: the Beavers kicking themselves for missed extra points at LSU; the Bruins hating their two-point home loss to Washington State; the Cardinal bemoaning multiple lost second-half leads; and the Cougars desolate over blowing a big lead against Oregon.
Already eligible: Auburn, Tennessee, Georgia, LSU, Alabama, South Carolina.
Should get there: Florida (5-4, should finish 6-5).
Just missed: Arkansas (3-5, should finish 5-6); Mississippi (3-5, should finish 4-7).
Bowl slots: Would fill seven out of eight, and could have an Alabama or Florida wind up in Shreveport for the Independence Bowl.
Conference USA (23)
Already eligible: Louisville.
Should get there: UAB (5-3, should finish 7-4); Southern Miss (5-2, should finish 7-4); Memphis (5-3, should finish 8-3); Cincinnati (5-4, should finish 6-5).
Just missed: TCU (4-4, should finish 5-6); South Florida (3-4, should finish 5-6); Tulane (3-5, should finish 4-7).
Bowl slots: Would fill all five spots.
Mountain West (24)
Already eligible: Utah, Wyoming.
Should get there: BYU (5-4, should finish 6-5); New Mexico (5-4, should finish 6-5); Air Force (4-5, should finish 6-5).
Just missed: No school that still has a chance.
Bowl slots: With three tie-ins, the MWC would have enough teams to meet its obligations and fill some other vacancies. But if Utah ascends to BCS heaven, don't look for the Liberty Bowl to take sloppy MWC seconds.
Already eligible: Northern Illinois, Toledo, Miami Ohio, Bowling Green.
Should get there: Marshall (5-4, should finish 6-5); Akron (5-4, should finish 6-5).
Just missed: Eastern Michigan (4-5, should finish 4-7).
Bowl slots: MAC only has two tie-ins, so it will have several other teams to try to shop to other bowls in search of an at-large opponent.
Already eligible: Boise State, UTEP.
Should get there: Fresno State (5-3, should finish 8-3).
Just missed: Louisiana Tech (4-5, should finish 5-6), Hawaii (4-5, should finish 5-7); Nevada (5-4, should finish 6-6).
Bowl slots: WAC has three games, including a costly trip to Hawaii to take the spot normally reserved for the Warriors.
Sun Belt (27)
Already eligible: Nobody.
Should get there: North Texas (5-4, should finish 7-4); Troy State (5-4, should finish 7-4). Nobody else matters, because this is a one-big league. The Mean Green looks like it will make its fourth straight New Orleans Bowl appearance.
Adrian Karsten Golden Suspenders Award Goes to North Texas coach Darrell Dickey (28), whose team owns its league like no other in the land. The Mean Green, 5-0 in the Sun Belt this year, have rolled 23 straight victories in the Belt and won every league title.
This season hasn't been easy. Popular backup quarterback Andrew Smith died in a car wreck in August. The No. 1 rusher in the NCAA last year, Patrick Cobbs (29), went down with a season-ending injury in September. Neither event has derailed North Texas, to Dickey's credit.
Trev Alberts Fire-Him-Now Award
Goes to Gary Pinkel (30) of Missouri. The Tigers, trendy preseason picks to crash the Top 25 and win the Big 12 North, have lost four straight and stand 4-5. The decision to make dual-threat quarterback Brad Smith more of a pocket passer hasn't worked, and suspending running back Damien Nash for popping off about play-calling looked vindictive. Pinkel has frittered away his political capital fast enough that fans are taking a hard look at his 21-24 record in Columbia, and wondering why it isn't better.
The Dash offers thumbs up and thumbs down to the Coach of the Moment in college football, Utah's Urban Meyer (31).
Thumbs up for putting such an entertaining product on the field, for getting a fairly apathetic fan base to buy in, for getting his players to focus unwaveringly on the quest, for giving BCS haters a team to root for, and for seemingly appreciating the whole thing as it has unfolded.
"Thanks for coming," he told media members after the Utes detonated Colorado State 63-31 last Saturday.
Thumbs down to Meyer for either shoddy arithmetic or a poor attempt to cover up a piling-on situation against the Rams. After Colorado State scored three straight touchdowns to make the score 56-31 midway through the fourth quarter, Meyer hustled Heisman Trophy candidate Alex Smith (32) off the bench and back into the game to direct another scoring drive.
"It was a three-score game with 7½-minutes left," Meyer said, only it wasn't. Three scores plus three two-pointers makes 24, and the lead was 25.
Here's the problem with the current system: Despite their best intentions, coaches can find themselves compelled in the heat of the moment to maintain (or enlarge) scoring margins. Then they have to turn around and explain it. Better to say, "Hey, we're on the verge of a BCS berth. We wanted to make sure a legitimate blowout win looked like a blowout win to voters who might not have been watching." Don't fudge the math. Sportswriters and math don't go real well together, but we could figure this one out.
(But this might be a reason for the Bull Gators in Gainesville to take a shine to Urban. Finding clever ways to justify late touchdowns was a specialty of Ol' Stevie Boy (33).)
Wacky ACCtion in the ACC
Of all the parity-stricken leagues out there, the ACC has become the least predictable. In the past three weeks, eight league games have been decided by one score or less -- and six of those by three points or less.
It has boiled down to a four-team race for the league title, and an upcoming round robin between Miami (34), Virginia (35) and Virginia Tech (36) will be the major factor. The Hurricanes visit Charlottesville Saturday, then the Cavaliers go to Blacksburg Nov. 27, then the Hokies travel to Miami Dec. 4. Basketball just might have to wait until that game is over.
Putting Out An APB For ...
... Former Virginia quarterback Shawn Moore (37), 1990 Heisman finalist and the quarterback of the only Cavaliers team to be ranked No. 1. Readers with knowledge of Moore's whereabouts please advise.
Meanwhile, an alert reader passed on information that last week's APB subject, former Texas Tech running back James Hadnot is back in Lubbock, working for Consolidated Cotton and Gin.
Hadnot has worked as a machinist there for the last 16 years, making parts for cotton gins all over west Texas. The native of Jasper, Texas, returned to Lubbock after four years with the Kansas City Chiefs and a year in the USFL, and says he still goes to see the Red Raiders play on occasion.
"It's a little bit different than when we used to play, with all that passing," Hadnot said. "I'm old school. As an old running back, I like to run. But Mike Leach has got 'em rolling. Whatever it takes to win."
The Dash returned to one of its favorite 'cue cribs last week when it ate at The Rendezvous in Memphis. In addition to the ribs, The Dash recommends a bag of Rendezvous popcorn (38) to go, seasoned with the restaurant's famous dry rub.
The Dash, which has been on the road a lot of late, also sampled a swell microbrew in Salt Lake City, Cutthroat Pale Ale (39). Utah being a different world, you have to buy "memberships" to get into the bars, which violates long-held credo of The Dash and Groucho Marx (40): We don't want to belong anyplace that would have us as members.
Pat Forde is a senior writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.
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