Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (sauce sold separately):
For the next two Saturdays, we'll immerse ourselves in the games that alumni live for -- and argue over -- all year long. There are 10 significant rivalry games this week, and The Dash examines which sides are most in need of a victory Saturday:
Auburn-Alabama (1) -- The Iron Bowl gets The Dash's vote for America's Most Intense Football Rivalry -- for better and for worse.
Which school needs it more: Auburn. It's been 47 years and six Alabama national championships since the last time the Tigers ended the season No. 1. Win this one, and Auburn is at least one step closer to arguing a compelling case for inclusion in the Orange Bowl.
Utah-BYU (2) -- Utah's first victory over a college opponent was against BY Academy, as it was known in 1896. For reasons that remain utterly unclear, the game was played April 6 (the two teams met subsequently in November and December of that year). Since then the Utes and Cougars have met 84 more times, with Utah leading the series 50-31-4.
Which school needs it more: Utah. True, BYU needs to win for bowl eligibility, and perhaps to preserve the job of coach Gary Crowton. But the Utes are gunning for their first 11-0 season, first BCS bid and a $17 million Mountain West Conference payday.
California-Stanford (3) -- Strike up the band: the rivalry that produced the single most memorable ending in football history hasn't been this compelling in many years. This is the first time since 1951 that either team has entered the Big Game ranked in the top five.
Which school needs it more: Cal. Yeah, Stanford coach Buddy Teevens' neck could be on the chopping block. But coaches come and coaches go. Meanwhile, the Bears need this to remain on track for their first Rose Bowl since 1959. It would be a heck of a time for The Farm to collect a payback for the five-lateral finish of '82, wouldn't it?
Michigan-Ohio State (4) -- Might not be quite as fierce -- or toxic -- as Auburn-Alabama, but no rivalry reeks of more tradition than this one. And with Wisconsin having stumbled, the path to the Rose Bowl is clear for the No. 7 Wolverines -- which once again makes this the Game of the Year in the Big Ten. Only once in the last 35 meetings has neither team been ranked.
Which school needs it more: Even with the roses on the line for the Wolves, you'd have to say Ohio State needs it more. To salvage a disappointing season, and to divert attention (at least temporarily) from the Maurice Clarett allegations.
Florida-Florida State (5) -- After two losses, the Zooker gets one last crack at St. Bobby. Seminoles' offense has been so shaky that the Gators should have a great opportunity for their first win in Tallahassee since 1986.
Which school needs it more: Florida State. With a lame-duck coach and the likelihood of an off-Broadway bowl destination, school's out at Florida. At 8-2, the Seminoles have more to play for.
Oregon-Oregon State (6) -- With both teams 5-5, this game should be played on a desperation level in Corvallis. The good news for the Beavers: They've won their last six home finales.
Which school needs it more: Oregon State. The OSU program has moved forward dramatically in the last 6-7 years, but it remains overshadowed by the Nike bonus-baby program in Eugene. A win that sends the Beavers bowling and keeps the Ducks at home would be especially sweet for the home crowd.
South Carolina-Clemson (7) -- Tigers have won six of the last seven meetings in a rivalry that dates to 1896. For the second consecutive year, this game is rife with coaching drama: last year Tommy Bowden was saving his job with a shocking 63-17 romp; this year rumors are everywhere that Lou Holtz will retire and be replaced by Steve Spurrier. (If you believe the whispers, South Carolina alum and Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson has all but put a green jacket on Stevie Boy's back to cinch the deal.)
Which school needs it more: Clemson. This is a must-win for the 5-5 Tigers, having blown its shot at bowl eligibility last week with an inconceivable loss to Duke.
Missouri-Kansas (8) -- If Mark Mangino is finished with the conspiracy theories, he can turn his attention to the oldest rivalry west of the Mississippi River. Trust The Dash: These two schools hate each other, although this rivalry usually packs a bigger payload in basketball.
Which school needs it more: Missouri. The 4-5 Tigers are still trying to salvage a hugely disappointing season with a bowl bid. The Jayhawks have long since spit the postseason bit.
Harvard-Yale (9) -- Because pointy-headed intellectuals need their props, too.
Which school needs it more: Harvard. Not only are the Crimson trying to finish off an undefeated season, they need to recoup some prestige after watching two Yalies fight it out in the presidential election.
Adriana Lima-Nicollette Sheridan (10) -- The Dash will put Our Girl up against the "Monday Night Football" trollop every day of the week. Book it: T.O. would drop Sheridan like a sack of potatoes if Adriana strolled by in a towel.
BCS: Less Conspiracy, More Transparency
The Dash has two words for coaches who believe sinister forces are at work in the final weeks of the regular season: shut up.
First it was Kansas' Mark Mangino (11) who piped up with some silly talk about why officials calling offensive pass interference on his guy late in a near-upset of Texas last Saturday. It was, at best, a ticky-tack call that helped the Jayhawks lose to the Longhorns -- but if the refs were really under orders to protect Texas' BCS position, do you think they'd have waited until the last minute to cook the game? Please.
But at least Mangino was speaking in the heat of the moment, after what could have been his biggest win as a head coach. Oklahoma's Bob Stoops (12) has no such excuse for his ruminations this week about ESPN analysts pumping up Auburn as perhaps a more worthy Orange Bowl prospect than his squad. (The SEC has a contract with ESPN, the Big 12 does not. Neither, for that matter, does the Pac-10 and USC.)
"All people ought to be aware who their contracts are with and what some of their agendas may be," Stoops said.
Right. And if Stoops thinks ESPN is predisposed to favoring the Tigers over the Sooners, he's invited to peruse this web site in search of the weekly "Auburn: The Program" material.
In light of all this suspicion, it is doubly discouraging that the American Football Coaches Association has voted to keep coaches' Top 25 ballots secret. Coaches are accusing referees and television networks of playing dirty politics, but won't make their votes -- which are vital to the outcome of the BCS system -- public? Sounds like a double standard to The Dash.
Adrian Karsten Golden Suspenders Award
Goes to Iowa's Kirk Ferentz (13). The guy has a different starting quarterback every year. He's working on something like his 23rd tailback this season, after a plague of injuries. And his home recruiting turf is not to be confused with Florida. But he's also 28-6 over the past three seasons and working on a third straight January bowl game. No wonder his name has come up at Florida and is mentioned around the NFL as well.
Trev Alberts Fire-Him-Now Award
Goes to Nebraska's Bill Callahan (14). He can be mad at Stoops if he wants for trying to run up the score last week. But calling the Oklahoma fans "(bleeping) hillbillies" as he's running off the field might stray from acceptable coaching decorum. Besides, Bill: It's not like your fan base consists of sophisticated urbanites.
So you say you want to be a bowl representative, wear a gaudy sport coat and spend your fall traveling to watch college football on the company dime? Don't we all. But now is the time of year when the bowl reps earn their money, trying to sort out what has become a nearly inscrutable situation.
Via e-mail or the phone, The Dash talked to representatives from nearly half of the 28 bowls this week. Most of them are still twisting in the wind, waiting for the picture to clear, and this year ranks among the most perplexing.
"I can't remember a year when we've been waiting so long for so many bowls," said one rep.
"By this time, we've usually got one or two possibilities from each conference," said another. "Now we've got four or five on both sides."
Here are the complicating factors:
More important December games than usual. Not only are we awaiting the championship games of the SEC, Big 12 and Mid-American Conference, but there are at least five other games that could have an impact: California-Southern Mississippi (15), in a game that was postponed by hurricanes from mid-September; Tulane-Louisville (16), another hurricane makeup game; Virginia Tech-Miami (17), which could significantly affect the ACC pecking order; and USC-UCLA (18), which could spring an 11th-hour BCS plot twist of its own if the Bruins pull the upset; and Michigan State-Hawaii (19), as the Spartans strive for 7-5 and the postseason.
The number of teams still trying to gain bowl eligibility. In the Big 12 North, only one of six teams -- Colorado -- has reached six wins. Four ACC schools -- Clemson, Maryland, Wake Forest and North Carolina -- still have a shot. Two Big Ten teams -- the Spartans and Northwestern -- could have their postseason fate decided in season-ending games in Hawaii. Connecticut and Rutgers could each be 5-5 and playing for a bowl game on Thanksgiving day -- with 5-5 Syracuse playing Boston College for a bid two days later.
The potential for broken contracts, sidestepped commitments and at-large bids -- otherwise known as the Utah Domino Theory (20). If the Utes beat BYU, make the BCS and get a probable Fiesta Bowl bid, that frees up a spot in the Liberty Bowl. Speculation centers on Boise State (21) jumping out of its WAC bowl commitment and going to Memphis to play Louisville (22) in a sexy non-BCS bowl. (That would certainly be preferable to the Cardinals than a rematch with Memphis, a concept Liberty Bowl director Steve Ehrhart started kicking around just minutes after Louisville outlasted the Tigers 56-49. No way Louisville wants to play a team from its own conference that it has already beaten on its home field.)
Then there is talk of WAC runner-up UTEP (23) aspiring to skip the league's top two bowls and go to Hawaii instead. Combine those factors with the possibility of several leagues not meeting all their bowl-eligible commitments, and suddenly teams like Navy (24) could be in surprising demand.
"I don't know why we even have contracts with the leagues," said the rep of one bowl facing a scramble situation.
A couple of other bowl scenarios to keep in mind:
While many bowls will be waiting until Dec. 4 to know which way is up, the Big Ten should have its top three nailed down Saturday. A Michigan win should send it to the Rose Bowl (25), with the Capital One Bowl (26) taking the winner of the Iowa-Wisconsin game (perhaps to play LSU) and the Outback Bowl (27) taking the loser (to play either Tennessee or Georgia). On the second tier of the Big Ten, several bowl reps said they believe Ohio State is coveted by the Alamo Bowl (28).
In the SEC, just about all the second-tier bowls would like a shot at South Carolina (29) and its travel-happy fans. The only exception might be the Peach Bowl (30), which could get a Florida-Miami matchup if things break right in the ACC.
Tie Goes To The Loser
It's been a bad year for coaches who wear neckties. Formal sideline wear is favored by Joe Paterno (31) and Jim Tressel (32) -- and look where it's gotten them. Paterno is 3-7 at Penn State and being pressed to retire, while Tressel is 6-4 and enduring a two-year Maurice Clarett hangover. (The sartorial exception is Howard Schnellenberger (33), who sports a coat and tie and a 6-3 record at Florida Atlantic.)
Unfortunately, this will only reinforce the Casual Saturday dress code, which already tilts heavily toward polyester, baseball caps and khakis. Sooner or later, somebody is going to show up coaching in shorts. (Dana Dimel (34)), former head coach at Wyoming and Houston, broke one barrier when he used to coach in a T-shirt.)
The MAC: Cradle Of Quarterbacks?
The Mid-American Conference is generally a haven for players passed over by the glam leagues, but it's become a fine place to find big-time quarterback talent. Take a look at the NFL, where MAC products Ben Roethlisberger (Miami Ohio), Chad Pennington (Marshall) and Byron Leftwich (Marshall) all are among the young stars. Now take a look at the league this season, where four quarterbacks rank in the NCAA top 30 in passer rating: Bowling Green sophomore Omar Jacobs (35) is third and has thrown a nation-leading 32 touchdown passes; Toledo junior Bruce Gradkowski (36) is sixth, with more than 6,000 passing yards the last two seasons; Miami Ohio junior Josh Betts (37) is No. 21, having taken over admirably for Big Ben; and Akron junior Charlie Frye (38) is No. 30 and has more than 10,500 career passing yards.
Putting Out An APB For ...
... This being Ohio State-Michigan week, The Dash is nostalgic for the great Woody-Bo battles of the 1970s -- all on artificial turf, invariably freezing, annually full of slobberknocking hits. So if anyone has information on the whereabouts of former Buckeye wingback Brian Baschnagel (39), who joined Archie Griffin, Pete Johnson and Cornelius Green in a fairly awesome full-house T backfield in the mid-70s, please advise.
Last week The Dash sought information on former Virginia quarterback Shawn Moore. Among the many replies was one from Mr. Moore himself, who today works for USA Football, a non-profit advocacy group created by the NFL and its players' association. Moore provides the following update on his post-Cavalier life:
"After finishing at UVA, I was drafted in the 11th round to the Broncos and every year they tried to cut me, I would play well in the last preseason game and they just couldn't. I played four years in Denver from '91-'94 but in '94 went to Cardinals after training camp and was there with "Buddy-Ball" (Buddy Ryan). After those 4 years, I went to CFL to get more playing time and more opportunities. I was only there for one season 1995, went to training camp with Ottawa, and finished the season with the Grey Cup Finalists Calgary Stampeders. I was traded in the middle of the season when Doug Flutie and Jeff Garcia both went down with injuries and started the final two games for Calgary. Flutie returned for the playoffs, and Garcia and I watched as we lost to Baltimore (now Montreal) in the Grey Cup in minus-20 degree conditions. Once that season was over, I thought about returning but decided I had to retire from football. ...
"I started working as an Enforcement Representative for the NCAA in 1997 and worked there for 2.5 years. I left the NCAA to work in football operations with the XFL. When they folded in 2001, I moved to Washington DC and shortly afterwards started working as the Associate AD at Howard University. I was only at Howard for one year before the NFL and NFLPA created the organization I am currently with, USA Football. I have been here for almost two years now and life is great for me. I had a short but enjoyable 5 years of professional football and I have progressed nicely in the corporate world of athletics over the last 7 years."
As many alert readers know, The Dash has been galavanting around the country watching football on assignment for the past three weeks. This has at times interrupted and superceded the quest for 'cue, but it has led to some other interesting gastronomic encounters. Today's nod goes to the Boise State tailgaters who were feasting on elk chili (40), an entrée they'd shot themselves.
Pat Forde is a senior writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.