Commentary

Dash of discipline and desert drama

Originally Published: September 14, 2010
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com


Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (basketball tickets sold separately -- and selling briskly -- in the Atlantic Coast Conference [1]):

Bus stop

James Madison surely would not approve of what James Madison (2) has done to The Dash's Boise State bus (3). The namesake university of the Constitution's primary architect shocked Virginia Tech (4) on Saturday, pouring sugar into the bus' gas tank just when we were getting up to highway speed.

[+] EnlargeJames Madison
AP Photo/Don PetersenJames Madison's win over Virginia Tech could impact Boise State's run to No. 1.

James Madison The Founding Father was in favor of checks and balances that limited the tyranny of the powerful. Now James Madison The Football Team has aided the powerful -- Alabama and Ohio State, potentially others -- by massively devaluing Boise State's season-opening victory over the Chokies.

A nation of football snobs eager to dismiss the Broncos was handed a fresh arsenal of material. But while The Dash must acknowledge the damage to Boise's body of work -- and must move the Broncos out of the No. 1 spot in the ESPN.com power rankings -- this is no time to get off the bus. Consider two mitigating circumstances behind that Hindenburg in Blacksburg performance by Virginia Tech:

• The Boise State-Virginia Tech game on Labor Day night was a fairly ferocious battle. Players on both sides were dropping by game's end due to cramps, exhaustion and high-impact hitting. Nobody wants to think of Boise as a physical team -- not when it's far easier to rely on the trick-play cutesy team stereotype -- but the Hokies had to be a sore bunch last week. The Broncos undoubtedly were, too.

• Only an idiot schedules a game five days after a huge season opener. That would be Virginia Tech athletic director Jim Weaver, though he certainly didn't OK this game without approval from coach Frank Beamer (5). Which makes them both idiots. If you want historical precedent, look all the way back to last year. Colorado lost on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend to rival Colorado State, then turned around and traveled to Toledo for a Friday night game. Result: a 54-38 humiliation that all but ruined the Buffaloes' season. Or there's Florida State, which lost a 38-34 thriller on Labor Day '09 to Miami, then five days later trailed Jacksonville State 9-7 with less than a minute to play before pulling out the victory.

If you're going to play a massive opener, don't schedule any second-week opponent in less than seven days' time.

So there you have it. Stay on the bus.

The lords of discipline

[+] EnlargeDerek Dooley
Skip Williams/Icon SMIDerek Dooley is down with proper shower discipline.

Tennessee coach Derek Dooley (6) took micromanagement to new (and intimate) levels last week. He said he's coaching up his Volunteers on how to shower.

"We've had a few staph infections, so we did a clinic yesterday on proper shower technique and soap and using a rag," Dooley told the Knoxville News-Sentinel. "We put some new rags in -- y'all think I'm kidding, but I'm serious.

"We had, I told them, the worst shower discipline of any team I've ever been around. So we talked a little bit about application of soap to the rag and making sure you hit all your body. You know, you can neglect it trying to cut corners, and it shows in how you practice and elsewhere. I'm hoping we show some improvement in that."

Having surrendered three touchdowns of 70 yards or longer against Oregon Saturday, Dooley and staff might be better served recruiting some team speed than coaching shower protocol. But it did get The Dash thinking about who else in college football is in need of some disciplinary action:

Shoe-tying discipline: At Michigan (7), they have disregarded the threat of self-inflicted tripping injuries and let the quarterback run about with his cleats untied. It's clearly holding him back (see below). You'd think that some of the Wolverines' excessive practice time in 2009 would have been spent making the freshman lace 'em up right.

Mascot drinking discipline: At Penn State (8), Nittany Lions mascot Clint Gyory reportedly was busted in August on alcohol-related charges and suspended for the first month of the season. Another student who wore the Nittany Lions costume during the 2008 season was suspended for the Rose Bowl that year for a DUI charge. Dash tip: You guys need to wear the Lion head while drinking to maintain anonymity.

[+] EnlargeTim Brewster
Brace Hemmelgarn/Icon SMITim Brewster is looking for some Dakota discipline.

Dakota discipline: At Minnesota (9), athletic director Joel Maturi is being begged to quit scheduling opponents from those forgettable sister states to the west. In 2007, the Gophers lost to FCS North Dakota State (nickname: Bison) 27-21. In 2009, the Gophers wheezed past FCS South Dakota State (nickname: Jackrabbits) 16-13. And Saturday, the Gophers were beaten by FCS South Dakota (nickname: Coyotes) 41-38. On the growing list of reasons to whack coach Tim Brewster, going 1-2 against scrappy Plains animals ranks near the top. Word is Dakota Fanning is rounding up a powder puff team and wants a shot at Minnesota next year.

Highlight video discipline: In a related Minnesota note, it's best not to put Baghdad Bob (10) in charge of editing the postgame video. What a glorious day for the Gophers!

First quarter discipline: At Memphis (11), coaches are now working round-the-clock to make sure their players actually show up for the start of the game. The Tigers have been outscored 42-3 in the first quarter this year. They turned it over on three of their first four possessions Saturday against East Carolina.

Fan discipline: At UCLA (12), Rick Neuheisel's traditional postgame address to the fans in the Rose Bowl was partially drowned out by boos following the Bruins' 35-0 beatdown from Stanford. That's poor form -- but then again, so is a five-touchdown loss at home coming on the heels of a decisive loss at Kansas State. The Dash actually salutes UCLA fans for having the discipline not to pelt Neuheisel with plastic cups and peanut shells.

Hype discipline: Without a doubt, Michigan sophomore quarterback Denard "Shoelace" Robinson (13) and South Carolina freshman running back Marcus Lattimore (14) deserve all the praise they've received for heroic performances in big victories Saturday. Robinson shredded Notre Dame for 258 rushing yards and 240 more passing, vaulting himself to the top of the Heisman Trophy contender charts. Lattimore pounded Georgia's defense for 182 rushing yards on 37 carries, hardly looking like a kid playing his second college game.

[+] EnlargeDiora Baird
Jesse Grant/Getty ImagesDashette Diora Baird always follows Dash protocol.

But keep this in mind about Robinson: At this time last year, we all were frothing about another Michigan quarterback who sliced up Notre Dame, Tate Forcier (15). He threw for 240 yards, ran for 70 and accounted for three touchdowns, and everyone said coach Rich Rodriguez had found his ideal spread quarterback. Except then the Wolverines finished 5-7 and Forcier is now a third-stringer. Robinson looks like the real deal, but let's hold off on constructing a statue outside the Big House for now.

And for those who have declared that Lattimore is the next Adrian Peterson, know this: Lattimore's longest run in 51 collegiate carries is 24 yards, and it is his only run of 20 yards or more. Peterson took the eighth carry of his career 35 yards for a touchdown, and made a habit of long scoring runs. Both young backs have a glorious disdain for tacklers and a zeal for yards after contact. But so far Lattimore hasn't shown anything resembling Peterson's burst or top-end speed.

Hype discipline II: For about the fifth straight year, we have been told that Florida State (16) is on the way back to prominence. And for the fifth straight year, the Seminoles have lost before they even exited September. At least this time FSU was an underdog against Oklahoma; the previous four years the Noles' first loss came as a favorite. But a ranked underdog shouldn't lose by a million to the Sooners.

Dashette discipline: If you invite Diora Baird (17) to your tailgate -- and by some miracle she shows up -- don't behave like the New York Jets around a TV Azteca reporter.

SEC: Soft, easy compliance?

In 2003, less than a year into his job as commissioner of the Southeastern Conference, Mike Slive (18) announced a man-on-Mars goal for the league: to be probation-free within five years.

People around the league (unofficial motto: "If Ya Ain't Cheatin', Ya Ain't Tryin'") scoffed. And then Slive nearly pulled it off. He was widely saluted for making strides in cleaning up a league with the most lawless reputation in the land.

[+] EnlargeMike Slive
AP Photo/ Butch DillSEC commissioner Mike Slive has seen the conference backslide on compliance issues.

But fast-forward to today and you'll see a compliance backslide that cannot please the commish.

South Carolina (19) received an NCAA letter of inquiry last week regarding its football program.

Tennessee (20) also received a letter last week for alleged problems in both football and men's basketball, and already has self-imposed stiff sanctions on its basketball coaching staff.

Two preseason first-team all-SEC players, Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green (21) and Alabama defensive end Marcell Dareus (22), have yet to play a game this season while serving NCAA suspensions for impermissible benefits. Dareus is eligible this week, while Green must sit out two more games.

And those are just the compliance issues we know about. As of this minute.

For the sake of perspective, it must be noted that what we know so far about the above four cases appears to be small potatoes compared to the toxic dump at North Carolina (23). We also know that there are ongoing enforcement cases at Michigan (football) and Connecticut (basketball), and that USC (both sports) will be feeling the affects of its scofflaw run for years to come.

So it's not like the SEC has cornered the market on scamming. But the off-the-field headlines in the league this month reinforce this truth: Even the noblest cleanup efforts are only as lasting as the communal commitment behind them. And it's hard to convince The Dash that most SEC fans would rather lose clean than risk trying to win dirty.

Cue John Heisman

The coach with the famous trophy named after him had an immortal quote back in the day. Addressing his team, he said, "Gentlemen, it is better to have died as a small boy than to fumble this football."

And when they happen in the red zone, it's even worse.

Saturday, we got another refresher in the extreme importance of ball security. Actually, we got it in triplicate.

The game: West Virginia-Marshall (24).

The circumstances: The Thundering Herd were leading their in-state rival 21-6 and closing in on their first-ever victory over the Mountaineers. Marshall had a first-and-goal at the WVU 6-yard line with less than nine minutes to play.

The fumble: Freshman running back Tron Martinez, rather inexplicably getting his first touches of the game from scrimmage on this possession, coughed it up to the Mountaineers at their 4-yard line.

The aftermath: WVU drove 96 yards to score. Then drove 98 yards to score again with 12 seconds left in regulation. Then made a tying two-point conversion. Then won in overtime.

Final score: West Virginia 24, Marshall 21.

[+] EnlargeJohn Heisman
Getty ImagesJohn Heisman wouldn't stand for fumbling the ball.

The game: South Florida-Florida (25).

The circumstances: The Bulls and heavily favored Gators were tied at 7 in the third quarter. South Florida had driven into the red zone and had a first down at the Florida 16-yard line.

The fumble: Quarterback B.J. Daniels and running back Demetris Murray completely botched a handoff, and Florida recovered at its own 12-yard line.

The aftermath: The Gators scored three players later on a 62-yard run by Jeff Demps. Then they scored twice more in the next five minutes for a 28-7 lead. Ballgame.

Final score: Florida 38, South Florida 14.

The game: Georgia-South Carolina (26).

The circumstances: The Bulldogs trailed the Gamecocks 14-6 in the third quarter but had seized momentum and appeared to be going in for a potential tying score. They had a second-and-goal at the South Carolina 8-yard line.

The fumble: Running back Washaun Ealey had the ball jarred loose by Gamecock DeVonte Holloman. Stephon Gilmore recovered at the South Carolina 1 and returned it to the 14.

The aftermath: The Gamecocks played keep-away the rest of the game, grinding downfield for a clinching field goal late in the fourth quarter. Georgia did not run another play in South Carolina territory until the final minute.

Final score: South Carolina 17, Georgia 6.

Cue John Heisman

Not since last century -- Halloween 1998, to be exact -- has Arizona (27) hosted a game between two ranked teams. That changes Saturday night (ESPN, 10:30 ET) when the No. 24 Wildcats face No. 9 Iowa.

Fact is, Arizona still has a lot to prove outside of Pacific-10 play, having largely scheduled its way back into contender status instead of beating anyone of note outside its region. It has lost 10 straight nonconference games against teams from BCS automatic qualifier leagues. Last victory in such a game: the 1998 Holiday Bowl over Nebraska.

The current Arizona seniors were 10 years old when that game was played.

Somebody will be 3-0

In addition to Iowa-Arizona, here are nine other games matching 2-0 teams this weekend:

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
Harry How/Getty ImagesThe Dash predicts Andrew Luck and Stanford will move to 3-0 Saturday.

Wake Forest at Stanford (28). Demon Deacons are averaging 53.5 points per game, but that isn't Presbyterian or Duke on the other side of the ball -- it's a Cardinal team that just shut out UCLA. See if Wake can stay a-Wake for an 11:15 p.m. ET (ESPN2) kickoff. Dash pick: Stanford 37, Wake Forest 24.

Clemson at Auburn (29). Auburn QB Cameron Newton is the larger, Southern version of Denard Robinson. He ranks sixth nationally in pass efficiency and 16th in rushing, and stopping him will be job one for a Clemson defense that has been shaky so far against weak competition. Dash pick: Auburn 42, Clemson 21.

Air Force at Oklahoma (30). On paper it shouldn't be close -- but the Sooners have a couple of unforgettable losses to Mountain West competition in recent years. They lost their opener last year to BYU, and lost in 2005 at home to TCU. Something will have to give between the passing prowess of Oklahoma QB Landry Jones (380 yards and four touchdowns against Florida State) and an Air Force defense that held BYU, of all schools, to 88 yards throwing Saturday. Dash pick: Oklahoma 31, Air Force 20.

Maryland at West Virginia (31). Both conferences (ACC and Big East) have stunk so far, and both need a team to get excited about. A conundrum for the Terrapins: They haven't thrown it worth a darn yet this year, but isn't there a temptation to try it against an opponent that has yet to record a sack? Will also be interesting to see whether the Mountaineers are energized by their great escape against Marshall or flat after an overtime battle with an in-state rival. Dash pick: Maryland 19, West Virginia 17.

California at Nevada (32). Underrated Game of the Week. Golden Bears averaging 52 per game. Wolf Pack averaging 50. But Cal also leads the nation in total defense, while Nevada leads it in total offense. Coach Jeff Tedford seems to be the Houston Nutt of the West Coast, more comfortable when the expectations are lower at Cal. They're lower this year. Dash pick: Cal 48, Nevada 27.

Arizona State at Wisconsin (33). The Sun Devils' offense has been energized by quarterback Steven Threet -- but as the Michigan transfer can tell his teammates, going to Madison is a bit different than playing Northern Arizona and Portland State. This looks like a reality check for ASU. Dash pick: Wisconsin 28, Arizona State 10.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
AP Photo/Duane A. LavertyGetting over the TCU hurdle is a tough way for Robert Griffin and Baylor to have to get to 3-0.

Texas at Texas Tech (34). From the Tech coach to the Texas quarterback, a lot has changed since the Longhorns lost their shot at the 2008 national title in Lubbock. See who wins in the trenches: a Texas offensive line that hasn't allowed a sack in two games, or a Tech defense that has rung up nine sacks. Dash pick: Texas 24, Texas Tech 16.

Baylor at TCU (35). Baylor hasn't played anyone capable of containing dual-threat quarterback Robert Griffin III. That will change here. TCU QB Andy Dalton has just been OK so far, not great. That could change here as well. Dash pick: TCU 28, Baylor 13.

San Diego State at Missouri (36). The Aztecs are 2-0 for the first time since 1994, which is probably more of an indictment of the program as a whole than an affirmation of this team. But SDSU has been authoritative enough under second-year coach Brady Hoke that it should get the Tigers' attention. Dash pick: Missouri 27, San Diego State 24.

Literary corner

The Dash enthusiastically recommends the third in its series of books for football fans, "Perfect Rivals (37): Notre Dame, Miami and the Battle for the Soul of College Football." The book by former South Bend Tribune writer Jeff Carroll focuses on the 1980s heyday of one of the great rivalries in the history of the game, particularly the games from 1988-90 that impacted the national title picture.

The Dash's first truly big college football assignment was the epic battle between the Fighting Irish and the Hurricanes in South Bend in 1988, won by Notre Dame 31-30 on the way to the school's last national championship. The Dash also caught the rematch the following year in Miami, won by the Canes on their way to the title.

If you remember those games, you'll want to relive them through Carroll's words. If you're too young, buy the book and educate yourself on some of the most fascinating football (and theater, and social commentary) in the game's history.

Putting out an APB for ...

... Former Nebraska blocker Joel Makovicka (38). He owned a fullback's body, a fullback's name and a fullback's zest for smashing open holes on some of the best Cornhuskers teams of all-time. Anyone with knowledge of Makovicka's whereabouts, please apprise The Dash.

Meanwhile, The Dash is sheepishly pleased to report that last week's APB subject, Florida State kicker Scott Bentley, is alive and well and back home in his native Colorado, where Dash spies say he's working in customer service for All Aboard Toys. The sheepish part comes into play because The Dash forgot it had put out an APB on Bentley two years ago. In Year 7 of The Dash, an inadvertent repeat APB was bound to happen sooner or later.

Point after

When hungry and thirsty in the Bucknutty town of Columbus, Ohio, The Dash recommends a deep-dish pizza at Adriatico's (39) near campus, and a beer at McFadden's Saloon (40) in the Gateway area. The pizza joint won't look like much on the outside, but the pie is all-Big Ten.

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