Commentary

Unbeatens beware on Anarchy Saturday

Originally Published: October 26, 2010
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (grocery bags sold separately for fan headgear at Akron [1] and New Mexico [2], which now share the nation's longest losing streak at eight games):

Before convincing you that we're headed for more absolute carnage this weekend, The Dash wants to salute a couple of streak busters.

Give it up to Western Kentucky (3), which didn't just break a 26-game losing streak -- the Hilltoppers shattered it. They crushed Louisiana-Lafayette 54-21 on the road, unloading 761 days of winless frustration on the Disengagin' Cajuns.

"It feels like someone just gave me a million bucks," Western Kentucky quarterback Kawaun Jakes (4) told the Bowling Green Daily News.

And how about a round of applause for Baylor (5), where the Bears are 6-2 and bowl-eligible for the first time since 1995? From 1996 to 2009, Baylor was a sickly 43-117, managing five wins just once in that span. Today, the Bears are the lone ranked Big 12 representative from Texas. That should make fans at Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech want to cry.

You ain't seen nothin' yet

The Dash is calling it: There will be mayhem this weekend. Chaos in the air. Students on the field. Goalposts in the streets. Again.

[+] EnlargeMissouri
AP Photo/Jeff RobersonMissouri's goalposts could have some company.

By Halloween, we will be down from the current seven unbeaten teams to four at most. Possibly three. Maybe even two.

If every Saturday has to have a name these days, I'm going with this one: Total Anarchy Saturday. Which could lead to Bus Sunday.

But as the coaches say, one thing at a time. And the first step is explaining why this weekend is fraught with peril for unbeatens.

Start with the premise that there are no dominant teams this season. That's been the working theory since August, and there's no reason to change it now -- not after watching Alabama, Ohio State and Oklahoma getting upset in successive weeks. This is a very tough year to run the table.

Add in the inherent risk of playing road games against decent teams. Through eight weeks, there have been 23 matchups of ranked opponents in non-neutral settings. The visiting team has gone 6-17 in those games. Six of the seven unbeatens will be on the road this week, and three will play Associated Press-ranked opponents.

And don't overlook this: Most of the current unbeatens have had pretty cushy travel schedules so far. Michigan State didn't leave the state of Michigan until Saturday -- when it nearly lost to Northwestern. TCU has left Texas once, for an uninspired win at Colorado State. Missouri has played five games at home, one in St. Louis and one road game. Auburn has played six home games and two on the road -- winning the roadies by a total of six points. Oregon has played three on the road, but the combined record of the opponents in those games is 6-16. Utah has had a similar ride: three road games against teams that are a combined 6-17.

Of the unbeatens, only Boise State has played more than half its games to date away from home. Bus.

Now that you have the backdrop, here's how the dominoes will fall, in descending order of loss likelihood:

[+] EnlargeMark Dantonio
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesMark Dantonio and the Spartans are looking at a tough game Saturday at Iowa.

Michigan State (6) will lose at Iowa. The Spartans have been one of the coolest stories of 2010 -- dealing with the heart attack and recovery of coach Mark Dantonio, showcasing remarkable daring in key spots and developing one of the better offenses in school history. They even have the best passing punter in America in Mr. Fake Kick, Aaron Bates (7). But c'mon. Michigan State is not a dominant team. In fact, it is reminiscent of the 2009 version of Iowa, which kept cobbling together victories but ultimately was unmasked by Northwestern late in the season. This time around, the Hawkeyes get to do the unmasking.

Missouri (8) will lose at Nebraska. That was a statement victory by the Tigers over nemesis Oklahoma on Saturday. But Missouri has a football history that in many ways mirrors South Carolina's: Even the best of times tend to be tempered by some form of heartbreak. Which is why The Dash can see the South Carolina Story playing out Saturday -- Gamecocks knock off No. 1 Alabama, go on the road the next week and play with whatever emotion is left for a half, then are simply empty in the second half and lose. Missouri's degree of difficulty is higher than the Gamecocks', too; the opponent is Nebraska, not Kentucky.

Oregon (9) will lose at USC. This is a tougher call. There is little reason to doubt the Ducks other than the lack of a legitimate road test. But the Trojans looked as though they put it together against California and have had a week off to scheme for the Blur Offense. USC quarterback Matt Barkley (10) has been on fire the past two games and hasn't thrown an interception in three straight games, a key stat against Oregon's opportunistic secondary. The "GameDay" trap dynamic is at play here as well for a fourth straight week after taking down Alabama, Ohio State and Oklahoma.

[+] EnlargeJeremiah Masoli
Nelson Chenault/US PresswireJeremiah Masoli could help his former Oregon teammates by leading Ole Miss past Auburn.

Auburn (11) will lose at Ole Miss. Work with The Dash here. The Tigers are coming off an emotional, physical game against LSU and are due for a letdown. Auburn's defense is absolutely nothing special outside of raging bull tackle Nick Fairley (who is very special). The Rebels are cranking out more than 400 yards and 30 points per game offensively behind Oregon transfer/graduate Jeremiah Masoli (12) -- who is in the ironic position of being able to help the Ducks with a victory Saturday. And do not overlook or underestimate the Houston Nutt Freak Factor: The man pulls out at least one victory over a ranked opponent just about every year. In 12½ years as an SEC coach, Nutt has had 21 wins over ranked teams -- 14 of them as an underdog.

Utah (13) will win a close one at Air Force. They're almost all close in this series. They've played 26 times, and the difference in total points between the two is 19. Seventeen of the 26 meetings have been decided by eight or fewer points, including each of the past five. The Dash was tempted to take the Falcons to pull the upset, but they're without fullback Jared Tew, who was on pace for a 1,000-yard rushing season until he broke his leg against San Diego State. So Utes will win. Close.

TCU (14) will curb-stomp UNLV on the road. The 1-6 Rebels are all kinds of terrible, having surrendered 30 or more points to every opponent but New Mexico -- and the Lobos are redefining terrible as we speak. The Rebels have been considerably better at home than on the road, but the only way to concoct an upset scenario involves the Horned Frogs on a bender at the Bellagio the night before.

And Boise State (15) will blow up Louisiana Tech on Tuesday night on the blue turf. The Broncos have beaten Tech eight straight times and have won the past four meetings in Boise by an average of 35.8 points. Kellen Moore (16) will have another ruthlessly efficient game; the nation's No. 1 total defense will dominate the night; and Chris Petersen will have a cute play or two in the game plan before shutting down the blowout in the second half. Then the Establishment snobs will declare it all meaningless compared with the heroic efforts of Michigan State to overcome Northwestern or Auburn to stave off Kentucky or Oregon to withstand Washington State.

Bus.

(By the way, the Boise Bus picked up a couple of VIP riders this week in Kirk Herbstreit and Rick Reilly. Feel free to hit the minifridge, fellas.)

If The Dash's Saturday prophecy comes to pass, heaven help us. Martial law might have to be imposed because we would be looking at a world in which the three unbeatens would be the three unwanteds: Boise State, TCU and Utah. Voters would have to implement even more creative ways to bypass the Broncos, Horned Frogs and Utes in the polls while paying lip service to giving them "respect."

The SEC: Where loony happens

Why is the Southeastern Conference so much fun to cover? Well, clearly, the football is routinely excellent. But the off-their-rockers nature of fans and occasionally coaches helps, too. You just never know when something bizarre will happen, and there are few things The Dash enjoys more than unexpected eruptions of crazy.

This past week, in the Land of the Weird:

• There were letters to commissioner Mike Slive (17).

[+] EnlargeMike Slive
AP Photo/ Butch DillMike Slive and the SEC office receive some interesting mail.

One was a 930-word manifesto from an Ole Miss fan (18) excerpted in part on Kyle Veazey's Ole Miss blog for the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. The fan is asking for some serious embroilment after alleged officiating gaffes in the Rebels' loss to Alabama.

"Please, please Commissioner Slive, I am asking you to take care of the situation of the officiating in our great conference before it is great no more. There should be no stone unturned: corruption, apathy, incompetence … whatever it might be. A full scale investigation should begin immediately in my opinion. If [it] takes the embroilment of local law enforcement, state law enforcement, federal law enforcement, or government leaders at all levels, then they should be involved."

To get the embroilment rolling, the author CC'd a couple of athletic directors, a number of media members and, naturally, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour.

Another letter to Slive came from "College football fans everywhere" (19), as it read at the close. It's a 1,500-word whopper that can be found on thesportsjury.com, and it also deals with alleged officiating outrages. The author's take is summed up succinctly at one point:

"The officials aren't bad at what they do. They are on the take."

The author proceeds not with any evidence of officials on the take but with a laundry list of allegedly poor calls that went in favor of unbeaten SEC teams -- purportedly to enhance their chances for national championship and/or BCS bowl contention.

The Dash thought it would be great fun to get a peek into the SEC's Crazy File of letters from fans, even if the names had to be withheld to protect the paranoid. Alas, SEC media relations director Charles Bloom declined.

• There was the offer of free eye care.

After witnessing some controversial calls going in favor of Auburn and against the hometown Arkansas Razorbacks on Oct. 16, Fayetteville-based McDonald Eye Associates (20) issued a release offering free laser surgery to all the officials who worked that game or were in the replay booth.

"Errors and incorrect calls from the game could have possibly been avoided with better vision," said the release, according to Matt Jones' Slophouse blog for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and Northwest Arkansas Newspapers. "McDonald Eye Associates believes that a laser vision correction procedure will result in fewer mistakes in the future."

• There was another Hat Dance with the devil, only to be undone by more dysfunctional crunch-time offense from LSU (21).

[+] EnlargeLes Miles
Kim Klement/US PresswireLes Miles' luck ran out at Auburn on Saturday.

The Dash's favorite warlock coach, Les Miles (22), was at it again Saturday against Auburn. A nice touchdown drive to end the first half looked as though it might have been scuttled by an apparent delay of game inside the 5-yard-line, but officials cited the same mumbo-jumbo rule that excused Michigan State against Notre Dame: Just because the play clock says zero, it doesn't equal delay of game if the ball is in the process of being snapped. Or something like that. So there was the bargain coming through again.

But in the end, Beelzebub could not hold up his end of the deal against the insurmountable LSU bumbling with the game on the line. Facing a fourth-and-7 from their own 29 with 3:27 left and trailing by a touchdown, the Tigers did the logical thing: They called timeout to plot strategy for this do-or-die play.

Or they called timeout to discuss where they were eating the postgame meal, judging from what followed. Coming out of the timeout, LSU had 10 men on the field -- receiver Russell Shepard (23) hustled out late. Fellow receiver Terrence Toliver (24) lined up on the wrong side of the formation and had to be gestured to the opposite side. Flustered quarterback Jarrett Lee (25) then botched the play by trying to scramble for the first down and was predictably hammered down well short. Game over.

Add it to The Hat's Hall of Fame list of endgame comedy.

• And there was the World War II Speech.

That was courtesy of Tennessee coach Derek Dooley (26) in his weekly news conference Monday. Dooley compared his team to the German army awaiting the allied D-Day invasion. Here is the transcript verbatim from Tennessee media relations:

Question: When it comes to experience, is part of that being self-sufficient and having a little more responsibility in those kinds of situations?

[+] EnlargeDerek Dooley
Jim Brown/US PresswireDerek Dooley's Monday soliloquy caused a stir.

Dooley answer: "I think it comes with experience, and we've got to keep coaching it. You coach them so that, No. 1, they're not afraid to go out there. I think a lot of it is when you're new and you're young, you're afraid. You don't want to mess up. When the bullets are flying, you vapor-lock sometimes.

"You saw it in that little offensive series. It's just a lot of -- I want to go up to them sometimes when it's like that and go, 'What's your name?' 'Yes, sir!' Relax, and think, and compete. It just comes with experience. Going out there when you hit the field and you just feel calm and confident, I belong here. You're not afraid to take ownership in the decision.

"Right now, we're like the Germans in World War II, all right? Here come the boats. It's coming. The binoculars, like, 'Oh my God, the invasion is coming.' That's what they were doing. They were in the bunkers. 'It's coming.' They call Rommel. They can't find Rommel. 'What do we do? I'm not doing anything until we get orders. Have you gotten Rommel yet?'

"The Americans were the exact opposite. We hit the beach, and we're on the wrong spot, what do we do? I don't know, but these guys are firing, we better hide over there and blow some stuff up to get up there. They weren't looking for [orders]. So we've got to make that transition.

"I don't want the German people to get upset at me. I'm not attacking. But that's what happened. You had one group, they weren't worried about what the plan was, what the orders were. When the war hit, things change. You've got to go. You've got another group, now wait a minute, they told us the invasion was way further north, where we had the empty tanks and were hiding Patton out. 'We weren't ready for this. What do we do? Well, we better wait until Rommel tells us what to do.'

"[Laughs] I hope I got my names right."

He got the names right, although you could quibble with the accuracy of Dooley's D-Day depiction. (This is a guy who has had difficulty getting the right number of players on the field this season; do you really want to trust his version of history?) But it was for other reasons that the soliloquy caused something of a Twitter kerfuffle Monday.

This was probably not the association most Volunteers fans would choose for their team -- the Germans were the bad guys in the worst episode in human history, for one, and they also lost the war. And in this sensitive day and age, the once-plentiful war-football analogies are widely discouraged. The mere mention of World War II in any context other than World War II sends the perception-obsessed into a panic.

But The Dash fails to be outraged at Dooley's comments. (It would not outrage The Dash's dad, who fought in World War II.) Dooley's point was that he needs his players to loosen up and play, not wait for directions. He invoked a military example without mentioning Hitler, the Holocaust or anything more hot-button than Erwin Rommel.

If the media rip Dooley over this, it will be the ultimate case of asking interview subjects to show some personality and then killing them for it.

Geographic misdirection play

The Pacific-10 Conference will morph into the Pac-12 (27) next year. One of the orders of business of expanding was dividing the conference into two divisions, a process that proved stickier than it should have because everyone wanted a piece of the Southern California schools -- USC and UCLA -- and the accompanying access to the league's most fertile recruiting ground.

Commissioner Larry Scott (28) and the league's 12 presidents last week came to the correct conclusion: Stanford, California, Oregon, Oregon State, Washington and Washington State to the North; Arizona, Arizona State, USC, UCLA and newbies Utah and Colorado to the South.

Then they produced a graphic display of the new league that was at best geographically inept. It placed the Colorado logo closer to Alamosa than its proper location of Boulder (29), and the Utah logo closer to Cedar City than its proper location of Salt Lake City (30).

Both logos are hundreds of miles too far south. Honest mistake? Maybe, but plenty of people are suggesting that the league "relocated" the new schools so that they appeared in closer geographic harmony with the rest of the South Division.

If it takes fudging the map to sell the divisional alignment, the Pac-12 has bigger problems to come.

Scare tactics

Halloween weekend is approaching, which got The Dash to thinking about the scariest assignments in college football:

• You are a 200-pound safety moved down into the box for run support. You fill the hole and find yourself face mask to face mask with 6-foot-6, 250-pound Auburn quarterback Cameron Newton (31). Make the tackle. Without help from three teammates.

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Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty ImagesDashette Natasha Poly wouldn't cause a Halloween scare.

• You are a 235-pound linebacker and find yourself in space with Oregon running back LaMichael James (32), the nation's most productive and elusive rusher. Make the tackle. Or at least don't completely whiff.

• You are a cornerback in press coverage on Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon (33), the national leader in receiving yards per game and touchdown catches. You have no safety help. Break up the pass.

• You are an offensive guard assigned to block head-up on Auburn tackle Nick Fairley (34), who has 17 tackles for loss. Keep him out of the backfield.

• You are a left tackle facing Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers (35), who leads the nation with 10 sacks, in an obvious passing situation. You do not have a running back or guard to apply a double-team. Keep your quarterback upright.

• You are a punter kicking deep to Utah's Shaky Smithson (36), the country's top punt returner. Think hang time and directional kicking. Don't give him anything to return.

• You are a tailgating college student who just found out that Dashette Natasha Poly (37) is stopping by your party. Act natural.

Putting out an APB for …

… Former Florida running back Neal Anderson (38), a key part of the Gators' strongest teams of the 1980s. If anyone has information on the current whereabouts of Florida's third-leading career rusher, please apprise The Dash.

Meanwhile, The Dash is pleased to report that last week's APB subject, former Iowa tight end Marv Cook, is alive and well and coaching high school football in Iowa City. Cook's Regina High School Regals completed the regular season 9-0 and ranked No. 1 in the state's Class AA. Thanks to what was probably a record number of spies and informants for inundating The Dash with intel on Cook.

Point after

When thirsty in the Loveliest Village on the Plains, Auburn, Ala., pay a visit to Quixote's (39) downtown -- not far from fabled and toilet-paper-covered Toomer's Corner. The Dash was graciously received there to watch the second half of the Oklahoma-Missouri game, which was of prime interest to the locals, as well, in their quest for a BCS National Championship Game spot.

Hotels are scarcer in Auburn than houndstooth fashion statements, so The Dash stayed about 30 miles away in Columbus, Ga. (40) Props to that city for planning and producing a nice downtown, from the scenic walking/running trail that follows the Chattahoochee River to the Broadway bar and restaurant scene. Pleasant surprise.

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