Commentary

Dashing through a stock report

Originally Published: October 19, 2010
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football ("Beat Texas" gear 95 percent off this week in Lincoln [1]):

Safety first

Before embarking on the usual snarkfest and accompanying rants and ruminations, The Dash is compelled to offer a two-word dose of perspective to all of us: Eric LeGrand (2).

College football is great fun. But it also can be a dangerous game, filled with violent collisions that occasionally have tragic consequences. Given the paralysis suffered by Rutgers defensive lineman LeGrand Saturday against Army, plus all the recent research and information on head injuries and diminished life spans for former players, decision makers at every level of football should seriously discuss possible methods for reducing the rate of traumatic injury.

Some advocate doing away with helmets, or at least facemasks, which would seemingly eliminate head-first, projectile-style tackling. Others are in favor of outlawing the three-point stance, which puts linemen in unavoidable helmet-to-helmet collisions.

Gather all the best ideas and put them on the table. The game owes it to the men who play it.

And in the meantime, for fans losing their minds over the BCS standings, the officiating or their team's play calling: please take a deep breath, count your blessings and keep in mind a young man in a hospital in New Jersey. If you wish to send LeGrand a note of encouragement, click here.

Movers and shakers

There were seismic shifts and jarring shakeups in college football this past week, from the polls to the computers to the coaching ranks to the Twittersphere to the Heisman Trophy race. The Dash takes stock of who moved in which direction, how far, and why.

[+] EnlargeCam Newton
Paul Abell/US PresswireAuburn QB Cam Newton has sprinted to the top of the Heisman chase.

• Moving up.

Cameron Newton (3). The subtitle to the Cam Newton Story: The Laptop That Changed Everything in the SEC. Newton's arrest and departure from Florida in 2008 on suspicion of stealing a fellow student's laptop -- and then allegedly throwing it out the window when the police arrived to question him -- led him to junior college and now a rebirth at Auburn as the most dangerous dual-threat quarterback in the nation. (At least this week. Last week it was Taylor Martinez, week before that it was Denard Robinson.) Newton heads into a showdown game against LSU's nasty defense as one of the leading Heisman Trophy candidates. Meanwhile, Florida's offense is wallowing in dysfunction and plagued by sketchy quarterback play. The Gators rank 88th nationally in pass efficiency, while Auburn ranks second.

Justin Blackmon (4). Is there something in the (Still)water that produces big, fast, deep-threat wide receivers at Oklahoma State? Because Blackmon is outdoing predecessor Dez Bryant, leading the nation in receiving yards per game by a country mile (159, nearly 30 ahead of his closest pursuer) and tied for the lead in scoring (13 touchdowns). He had 10 catches for 207 yards last weekend, a personal best. This is the lite version of Oklahoma State replacing Thurman Thomas with Barry Sanders. But just as Newton will face his toughest defense of the season to date, so will Blackmon when the Cowboys host Nebraska (No. 1 nationally in pass efficiency defense and fewest passing yards allowed) on Saturday.

Anybody but TCU (5). The Horned Frogs have won all three conference games by a combined 100 points. Nobody else in America can say that. Yet TCU's reward has been being stepped over like a dead body in the polls. Consider: TCU started the season ranked seventh in the USA Today coaches' poll. Five of the teams ranked ahead of it have lost -- all but Boise State. Yet TCU has risen only to fourth, despite winning every game. Oregon leapfrogged the Horned Frogs. Then Nebraska for a week. Now Oklahoma, which gained 54 points on TCU from last week to this week, as voters apparently were dazzled by the Sooners' rout of Iowa State. Interesting departure from the norm by a group with a long history of slot voting. The Dash hates slot voting but hates snob voting more.

[+] EnlargeSteve Spurrier
AP Photo/Ed ReinkeSteve Spurrier and the Gamecocks are still in the hunt in the wild SEC East race.

• Moving down.

SEC East (6). What an absolute slag heap the once-dominant Eastern Division of the SEC has become. Collective record of the six: 19-20. There is one ranked team -- that's South Carolina (4-2), which dialed up a Chicken Curse doozy Saturday night by blowing an 18-point second-half lead against Kentucky and blowing all momentum from its upset of No. 1 Alabama. Despite that, the Gamecocks and Vanderbilt (2-4) meet Saturday with the winner in control of its destiny in the East. Repeat: Vanderbilt has a chance to control its destiny in the SEC East. Let that sink in, then decide whether you want to laugh or cry. After a 1-4 start, everyone in Georgia wanted to fire Mark Richt -- until he got to pick on someone his own size and beat two East opponents by a combined 70 points. Kentucky (4-3) could be tied for first if it hadn't given up 42 points to a Mississippi team that lost to Jacksonville State. Tennessee (2-4) cannot figure out how many men to have on the field, or how to beat anyone from a real conference. But the real disaster is Florida (4-3), which is on pace for Urban Meyer era lows in scoring, total offense, rushing offense and passing offense.

Nebraska (7). What happens when you load every egg you own into one basket -- then drop the basket and break them all? We're about to find out whether the Cornhuskers can rebound from their flop against Texas and finish the season on top of the Big 12 North. Even if they do that and beat, say, Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game, it's hard to see Nebraska playing for a national title.

Heisman candidate quarterbacks. At one point Saturday afternoon, Taylor Martinez (8) of Nebraska, Denard Robinson (9) of Michigan and Ryan Mallett (10) of Arkansas all were on the bench for either injury (Robinson and Mallett) or poor play (Martinez). All three failed to finish their games. All three lost. It's hard to win the Heisman from the sideline, and it's hard to win the Heisman when your team loses high-profile games.

• Moving van.

[+] EnlargeTim Brewster
Damen Jackson/Icon SMITim Brewster's tenure at Minnesota is over.

It came for Minnesota coach Tim Brewster (11) on Sunday. Career record as coach of the Gophers: 15-30. Big Ten record: 6-21. Record against obscure opponents from the Dakotas: 1-2. Record this season in the really awesome new stadium your school opened last year: 0-4. So, yeah, the jig was up. As for successors: If the Gophers do what most schools do and counter the profile of the last hire, they get a proven head coach -- but who?

Tony Dungy is not coming home. Mike Leach's aerial circus seems a poor fit for an outdoor team in the Snow Belt. If it were up to The Dash and you wanted someone who knows how to win in the Big Ten without many built-in advantages, a call to Gary Barnett would make a whole lot of sense. (Disclaimer: The Dash played for Barnett in high school.)

Five others who don't want to look out the front window, because a moving van could appear in the driveway any day now:

Mike Locksley (12), New Mexico. The good news for Locksley is that he made it through the bye week without getting whacked. The bad news is that it probably just delays the inevitable. Not much to love about a 1-17 record and some ugly off-field episodes.

Butch Davis (13), North Carolina. His 4-2 team is actually playing with some fortitude and character, given the number of key players who have not suited up due to an ongoing NCAA investigation. But it's impossible to conceive of a scenario by which Davis emerges from said investigation with his job.

Paul Wulff (14), Washington State. Give the Cougars this much: they have stopped getting embarrassed. But they have not stopped getting beaten. Wulff is 4-28 in Pullman, 1-21 in Pac-10 play. Half his victories are over FCS opponents.

• Moving back toward the ledge?

Three embattled coaches got off to decent starts this season before losing key games Saturday. All three could still go bowling; the question is whether that's enough to save their jobs.

Dan Hawkins (15), Colorado. The Buffaloes dropped to 3-3 with a potentially crippling home loss to Baylor, but in a soft Big 12 North there is opportunity to finish strong. Home games against Texas Tech, Iowa State and Kansas State all are possible victories, as is a trip to miserable Kansas. Road games against Oklahoma and Nebraska have rout written all over them.

Ron Zook (16), Illinois. He got a 20-point win at Penn State a couple weeks ago -- but naturally followed that up with a 20-point loss at Michigan State. At 3-3, Illinois has winnable home games left against Indiana, Purdue and Minnesota, plus a potentially feasible trip to Fresno State and other road games against Michigan and Northwestern.

Ralph Friedgen (17), Maryland. The Terrapins are 4-2 in a forgiving league. There are games left against Boston College, Wake Forest and Virginia (combined record: 6-13). But there also are games left against Miami, Florida State and NC State (combined record: 15-5).

• Moving in.

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher
Joel Auerbach/Getty ImagesJimbo Fisher is off to a 6-1 start at FSU.

First-year head coaches who are doing the job well:

Jimbo Fisher (18), Florida State. Record so far: 6-1. Highlight: Pounding rival Miami on the road. Projection the rest of the way: Seminoles could be favored in every game.

Joker Phillips (19), Kentucky. Record so far: 4-3. Highlight: Coming back to upset South Carolina to become the first Kentucky coach to beat Steve Spurrier. (Four previously had tried and failed.) Projection the rest of the way: Should have the Wildcats in a fifth straight bowl.

Charlie Strong (20), Louisville. Record so far: 3-3. Highlight: Destroying Memphis 56-0. (No, Memphis isn't any good -- but predecessor Steve Kragthorpe never beat an FBS opponent by more than 19 points in three years.) Projection the rest of the way: A competitive 5-7.

Ruffin McNeill (21), East Carolina. Record so far: 4-2. Highlight: Three wins by a combined nine points, all of them coming from behind in the fourth quarter. Projection the rest of the way: Seven wins and a bowl bid.

• Moving mouth.

Three guys who said too much last weekend:

Joel Maturi (22), Minnesota athletic director. The quote: "You're not following Vince Lombardi here." That was Maturi's parting shot at the coaching ability of Tim Brewster. The problem with the quote: While a good line, it should be remembered that it was Maturi who hired a guy who coached like Vince Vaughn, not Vince Lombardi, in the first place.

Barry Alvarez (23), Wisconsin athletic director. The quote: "We play football here; we don't play basketball here." That was Alvarez's chest-thumping hosannah to his team's smashmouth style after thumping Ohio State, an apparent shot at the proliferation of spread offenses in college football. The problem with the quote: Ask Alvarez how many national championship rings he-man Wisconsin has won compared to, say, the "finesse" spread offense of Urban Meyer.

Randall Cobb (24), Kentucky jack-of-all-trades. The quote, via a series of Twitter messages after the Wildcats upset South Carolina Saturday night: "To all the fans: loved seein' Yall come late, love hearing Yall tell us we suck during the game, love that we have to play against our own fans too! Love that we can't pack the house when we play the #10 team in the nation …" And so forth. Cobb, a fan favorite who has always handled himself well, later took down the incendiary tweets and played nice: "To all the fans that has been true to this program throughout the years. Yall deserved a win like that last night! Let's keep it going!" The problem with the quote: Over the blighted decades, few schools have fans more willing to support bad football than Kentucky. On results alone, there is no reason for the school to have a 70,000-seat stadium, much less fill it regularly. Don't bite the hands that clap for you.

• Moving out (of the replay booth).

Last week the Mountain West Conference (25) banned school employees or alumni from working in the communicator position in replay booths. Why? Because a BYU staffer was in that role when the Cougars beat San Diego State Oct. 9, aided in large part by a blown fumble call on the Aztecs that was upheld upon review despite apparent evidence to the contrary. The MWC reportedly suspended that replay crew for one game and then changed its policy on staffing the booth. That came a week too late to avoid conflict-of-interest howls from San Diego State and points elsewhere in a league where BYU has plenty of enemies. (Maybe this is just the right time to exit for independent status.)

• Moving In mysterious (Mephistophelian) ways.

[+] EnlargeMonica Bellucci
Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty ImagesCount Dashette Monica Bellucci in the moving up category.

Les Miles (26). The Hat's latest trick was to tank against McNeese State, lurching to a 32-10 victory after failing to take the lead for good for nearly a quarter and a half. (By contrast, equally undefeated Missouri beat McNeese earlier this season 50-6, scoring all 50 points in the first three quarters.) LSU threw for a dazzling 103 yards, slipping back to 113th nationally in passing offense. But don't be lulled into thinking El Sombrero won't have his damn strong football team ready for its visit to Auburn Saturday. And if it's close late, do you really want to bet against the guy who is 23-8 at LSU in games decided by eight points or less? No matter how he gets there? Especially when he's got that deal with You Know Who. As an alert reader pointed out, the Tigers currently are No. 6 in the BCS standings, No. 6 in the AP poll and No. 6 in the USA Today poll.

• Moving to the Top …

… Of the Dashette power rankings is Monica Bellucci (27), with no controversy attached. Monica is the same age as The Dash but looks 10 million times better maintained.

Bus update

It was a mixed weekend for the Boise State Bus (28). Added GPS, but got a nail in a tire.

Establishment teams Ohio State and Nebraska were removed from potentially blockading the way to Glendale. But Oklahoma jumped to the top of the BCS standings with the help of Texas' victory over the Cornhuskers, and the Broncos were not helped by the company they keep.

[+] EnlargeKellen Moore
Kyle Terada/US PresswireKellen Moore leads the nation in passing efficiency.

Vanquished opponent Oregon State lost to Washington in overtime, and could have additional tough sledding without its second-best player, receiver James Rodgers. (Bad week for all things Beaver. Barbara Billingsley, who played June Cleaver on "Leave It To Beaver," died at age 94.) Also, previously undefeated Nevada took the helium out of its potential showdown game in November with Boise by losing to Hawaii. And playing San Jose State was a strength-of-schedule anchor.

Given the predisposition of voters to look for reasons to diss the Bus, the lure of piling up style points is understandable. But Boise coach Chris Petersen (29) won't succumb to the temptation.

In the last three games -- maulings of New Mexico State, Toledo and San Jose State -- the starters haven't played much in the second halves. The challenge will be not only for poll voters to keep track of that, but also Heisman Trophy voters to be cognizant the impact on the stats of Boise quarterback Kellen Moore (30).

Moore leads the nation in pass efficiency but is only 32nd in total offense. A big reason? He isn't getting many plays.

Nobody in the NCAA top 100 in total offense is averaging more yards per play than Moore's 9.8. (The only other player over nine is Taylor Martinez at 9.4.) Moore isn't a runner, and he's thrown only 56 passes the past three games. He has just 159 passes and runs on the year, less than half of total offense leader Bryant Moniz of Hawaii.

Moore personifies an entire offense built on efficiency. Boise leads the nation in yards per play at 7.7. Bus.

Home heroes, road zeroes

Teams that have shown a marked location-based difference in their performance:

[+] EnlargeJeff Tedford
Kirby Lee/US PresswireJeff Tedford and Cal are 0-3 on the road in 2010.

California (31). Home: 3-0, winning by a combined score of 139-17. Road: 0-3, losing by a combined score of 110-54. What's left: four home games (Arizona State, Oregon, Stanford, Washington), two road games (Oregon State, Washington State).

Georgia (32). Home: 3-1, averaging more than 40 points per game. Road: 0-3, averaging 15 points per game. What's left: two homes games (Idaho State, Georgia Tech), two road games (Kentucky, Auburn), one neutral-site game (Florida in Jacksonville).

South Carolina (33). Home: 4-0, winning by a combined score of 131-59. Road: 0-2, losing by a combined score of 66-55. What's left: three home games (Tennessee, Arkansas, Troy), three road games (Vanderbilt, Florida, Clemson).

Iowa (34). Home: 4-0, surrendering a total of 17 points. Road: 1-1, surrendering a total of 62 points. What's left: three home games (Wisconsin, Michigan State, Ohio State), three road games (Indiana, Northwestern, Minnesota).

Connecticut (35). Home: 3-0, scoring at least 40 points in each victory. Road: 0-3, scoring a total of 50 points. What's left: three home games (West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati), three road games (Louisville, Syracuse, South Florida).

Kent State (36). Home: 2-0, averaging 34.5 points per game. Road: 0-4, averaging 13.5 points per game. What's left: four home games (Ball State, Temple, Army, Ohio), two road games (Bowling Green, Western Michigan).

Putting out an APB for …

… Former Iowa tight end Marv Cook (37). Anyone who knows the whereabouts of the former All-American from the late 1980s and All-Pro of the early '90s, please apprise The Dash.

Meanwhile, The Dash has received conflicting reports on the location of last week's APB subject, former Oklahoma State defensive end Leslie O'Neal. Some folks say he's living in Arkansas and playing plenty of golf. Some folks say he's living in San Diego and playing plenty of golf. It is, of course, possible to have homes in both places, and to play a lot of golf. The Dash hopes that reports of O'Neal's low handicap are accurate.

Point after

When hungry and thirsty in the excellent college town of Madison, The Dash recommends dinner at a true upper Midwestern gem, Quivey's Grove (38). (As the sign says, "Other restaurants are in Wisconsin. Quivey's Grove IS Wisconsin.") The restaurant is in an old stone farm house, with quilts on the wall, and our waiter was a jovial older woman named Marylou. Of course. A tunnel connects the restaurant to a barn converted into a large and festive bar, where last Friday night you could find a piano player and Amish customers waiting for a table -- and not drinking. The menu is classic 'Sconsin: a sausage-plate appetizer; lamb, trout, perch and beef entrees; and apple muffins are worth the trip alone. Have a Lakefront Pumpkin Lager (39) to top it off.

Then, of course, you have to hit the State Street area, the city's famous party zone. The Dash recommends a beer at Wando's (40), where on Tuesday nights they provide free bacon to patrons. Again, perfect Wisconsin.

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