Commentary

Cornhuskers, spoilers, feasters on menu

Originally Published: November 23, 2010
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football ("We Put the Alice in Corvallis" T-shirts sold separately at USC [1]):

Ugly breakup

Before we dive into a gluttonously good week, The Dash must note the building acrimony as Nebraska (2) plays its final games as a member of the Big 12 (3). This divorce could be reaching the stage of throwing potted plants at each other in the front yard as the moving vans load up belongings.

It was all on display Saturday in Texas A&M's 9-6 victory over the Cornhuskers in College Station -- uncontrolled sideline rage, questionable calls, cheap shots; you name it. Then came the postgame tantrums. And finally the conspiracy complaints from the Corn People, whose big season has been crippled by a Texas two-step of upsets: The officials are out to screw Nebraska on its way out the door to the Big Ten.

Here are the facts as The Dash knows them:

Penalties in that game were Nebraska 16 for 145 yards, Texas A&M two for 10 yards. The Cornhuskers were hit with five personal fouls and two unsportsmanlike conducts -- one of them on sideline demon Bo Pelini (4) at a critical juncture in a tie game. A roughing-the-passer penalty on the Huskers was a flat-out bad call. And the consecutive 15-yard penalties on Nebraska tight end Ben Cotton in the first half were, as this video shows, an understandable reaction to a disgusting cheap shot by A&M's Tony Jerod-Eddie.

Jerod-Eddie should be suspended for this week's game against Texas. Preferably the suspension would be delivered by A&M, but if the school doesn't have the, um, stones to do it, let Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe step in.

[+] EnlargeBo Pelini
AP Photo/David J. PhillipBo Pelini engaged in a few heated discussions at Kyle Field on Saturday.

Beyond that is the bigger picture, which shows that Nebraska is flagged at a much higher rate than its opponents -- the numbers are 86 flags on the Huskers and 48 on the other guys so far.

Part of that is the fact that Nebraska tends to play on the edge of mayhem under Pelini -- they are aggressive to a fault and occasionally prone to crossing the line. The number of flags this year on the Huskers falls into line with their first two seasons under Bo.

But penalties on opponents are down from the past two years, when Nebraska was a Big 12 member in good standing. As Omaha World-Herald columnist Tom Shatel pointed out in his column Monday, Cornhuskers opponents have been penalized 48 times for 420 yards. Last year they were penalized 64 times and the previous year 84. That makes you wonder.

Shatel makes a good point: There's a greater likelihood that Big 12 refs are anti-Pelini than perpetrating an orchestrated payback on the school for leaving the league. Fact is, Pelini has surpassed Arizona's Mike Stoops (5) as the worst ref-baiter in college football -- and he embarrassed himself Saturday night in College Station.

If Pelini doesn't think spending three hours screaming at officials has any negative consequences, then he must think the "N" on the helmet stands for Nowledge. If he does understand that and persists anyway, he's got an anger issue. Either way, the criticism levied at Pelini by Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman on Sunday was significant and justified.

Pelini's sideline demeanor was reprehensible toward the officials (including chasing after one of them postgame before going to shake Mike Sherman's hand). His tirade aimed at quarterback Taylor Martinez was even more distasteful (not surprisingly, there were widespread rumors Sunday night that Martinez quit the team -- rumors later dispelled). His equally hotheaded brother, defensive coordinator Carl Pelini (6), allegedly went after a credentialed videographer postgame and damaged his camera (Carl Pelini disputed the version of events from the videographer, who works for a Texas A&M fan site).

Pelini apologized publicly Monday for losing his mind.

For the school that gave us the dignified stoicism of Tom Osborne (7), this is an ironic disintegration of decorum. Dr. Tom needs to have a talk with his head coach, perhaps explaining that Jim Delany is much less inclined than Dan Beebe to tolerate the Linda Blair "Exorcist" routine from a millionaire head coach. Really, what Osborne needs to do is give Pelini a one-game suspension -- but with rival Colorado looming and a chance to win the North Division and play in one final Big 12 championship game, don't expect that to happen.

Stay tuned to see whether the Big 12 and Nebraska can be rid of one another without plants flying in the front yard.

Spoilers

The stakes are at their highest this week in college football, with three unbeatens facing their toughest remaining opponents and several other teams trying to lock up league or division titles. The Dash breaks down which teams can make their season by ruining someone else's.

Arizona (8). Opponent: No. 1 Oregon. Site: Eugene. When: Friday at 7 p.m. ET (ESPN). What's at stake: Ducks are trying to maintain their place atop the BCS standings and play for their first national championship. Spoiler Factor: The Wildcats have given up 99 points the past two meetings with the Ducks, which is a bad sign given Oregon's current offensive prowess. But this Arizona defense has been better than past units, and the Wildcats might have learned some things from watching California hold the blur offense to 15 points. The doubt is whether anyone can even come close to pulling the upset in Eugene, where Oregon's average victory margin is 49.2 points.

Dash pick: Oregon 49, Arizona 28.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Marvin Gentry/US PresswireNick Saban and the Tide can ruin Auburn's season Friday.

Alabama (9). Opponent: No. 2 Auburn. Site: Tuscaloosa. When: Friday at 2:30 p.m. ET. What's at stake: Tigers striving to hold their place in the only standings in which being second counts every bit as much as being first. Cam Newton trying to play his way through off-field strife and hold his spot atop most Heisman polls. Plus, it's the Iron Bowl. Spoiler Factor: Alabama was supposed to be the team entering this game with a national title on the line. But after two disappointing losses the Crimson Tide finds itself playing to spoil someone else's season. Last year the Tigers nearly pulled off a mammoth upset; can the Tide get it done this time?

Dash pick: Alabama 28, Auburn 26.

Nevada (10). Opponent: No. 4 Boise State. Site: Reno. When: Friday at 10:15 p.m. ET (ESPN). What's at stake: Broncos gunning for another unbeaten season, another BCS bowl bid and hoping Alabama or Arizona can help them crack the top two. Spoiler Factor: This could be the hottest ticket in Nevada football history, going for an average price of $143 on StubHub (more than the Arizona-Oregon average, but considerably less than Auburn-Alabama). Even though the 10-1 Wolf Pack has lost 10 straight to Boise, the past three have only been by a combined 20 points. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick needs to be the best player on the field Friday night -- he's a dual threat who has greatly improved his passing this season, with career highs in efficiency (158.5 rating, 15th in the country) and accuracy (66 percent). But his production has decreased each year in three starts against the Broncos, from 420 total yards to 311 to 172 as Boise's defense has improved. And this is the best Boise defense yet.

Dash pick: Boise State 35, Nevada 20.

New Mexico (11). Opponent: No. 3 TCU. Site: Albuquerque. When: Saturday at 4 p.m. ET. What's at stake: Horned Frogs trying to close out unbeaten regular season, hoping to hold off Boise in BCS standings and praying for a loss ahead of them. Spoiler Factor: The Lobos are spectacularly bad, with a 1-10 record and ranking 100th or worse in 14 of 17 major NCAA statistical categories. They have no chance to win this game. And if the Horned Frogs feel they need to run it up to grab attention on a week when voters will be looking elsewhere, this could really get ugly.

Dash pick: TCU 57, New Mexico 7.

[+] EnlargeBret Bielema
Rick Osentoski/US PresswireBret Bielema and the Badgers can't afford to overlook Northwestern.

Northwestern (12). Opponent: No. 7 Wisconsin. Site: Madison, Wis. When: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC/ESPN). What's at stake: Badgers are trying to clinch at least a tie for the Big Ten title and, given their lead over Ohio State and Michigan State in the BCS standings, a Rose Bowl bid. Spoiler Factor: The Wildcats have upset a few ranked teams in the past three seasons, most recently knocking off Iowa on Nov. 13. But they lost do-everything quarterback Dan Persa in that game to a season-ending injury and looked like a different team in being routed by Illinois Saturday at Wrigley Field. Given Northwestern's problems stopping the run, the chances of handling Wisconsin's power game are slimmer than Calvin Borel.

Dash pick: Wisconsin 37, Northwestern 14.

Michigan (13). Opponent: No. 8 Ohio State. Site: Columbus. When: Saturday at noon ET (ABC). What's at stake: Buckeyes also striving for a share of the Big Ten title while hoping for a Wisconsin loss that could clear the path to Pasadena. They're also still holding out hope for another BCS bowl bid if the Rose doesn't work out. Spoiler Factor: The Wolverines remain stuck in spoiler mode against their biggest rival, which has to be getting old for the winningest program ever. But until Michigan puts a competent defense on the field, it's hard to envision it beating Ohio State for the first time since 2003. For further analysis, The Dash turns to the infamous lead singer of the Michigan-bashing Dead Schembechlers, Bo Biafra: "This year's Hate Michigan rally will be the greatest in the history of the rivalry. It's not only a celebration of our 20th anniversary as a band, but also a going-away party for Rich Rodriguez. As we predicted when he signed on, his Michigan career will be three seasons and a cloud of dust."

Dash pick: Ohio State 35, Michigan 21.

Penn State (14). Opponent: No. 10 Michigan State. Site: State College, Pa. When: Saturday at noon ET (ESPN2). What's at stake: Spartans striving for 7-1 while also rooting for hated Michigan to upset the Buckeyes and turn the Big Ten into a two-team tie -- because they own the head-to-head tiebreaker with Wisconsin. Michigan State hasn't been to the Rose Bowl since 1988. Spoiler Factor: This is by no means a great Penn State team, but the Nittany Lions are 5-1 in Beaver Stadium and have not lost there to Michigan State in eight meetings since 1965. The Spartans looked like they were feeling the pressure of their position against struggling Purdue last week, falling behind by 15 points at home before furiously rallying to win. And here's the ultimate X factor: What if this is Joe Paterno's last home game?

Dash pick: Penn State 24, Michigan State 21.

Oklahoma (15). Opponent: No. 9 Oklahoma State. Site: Stillwater, Okla. When: Saturday at 8 p.m. ET (ABC). What's at stake: Cowboys shooting for their first Big 12 South title outright with a victory. Sooners can win the South outright with a victory and a Texas A&M loss, or could win a BCS standings tiebreaker with the Aggies if both win. Spoiler Factor: The Sooners are a bit of a disappointment, continuing their unexceptional play away from Norman. The Cowboys rank among the biggest surprises in the country. Oklahoma has won seven straight in this rivalry, but they'll struggle to slow down the explosive Pokes.

Dash pick: Oklahoma State 34, Oklahoma 28.

[+] EnlargePatrick Peterson
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesPatrick Peterson and the Tigers hope to break into the BCS mix.

Arkansas (16). Opponent: No. 5 LSU. Site: Little Rock, Ark. When: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET. What's at stake: Tigers are hanging around, hoping for enough losses to somehow slip into the BCS National Championship Game -- or at least into a BCS bowl. Razorbacks fans are still clinging to the hope that their team could get a second BCS bid out of the SEC by finishing 10-2. Spoiler Factor: This has been one of the nation's underrated rivalries in recent years, with the past five meetings all decided by five points or less, and two of them going into overtime. The Razorbacks' high-powered passing attack (fourth nationally in efficiency) takes on one of the nation's best pass defenses (10th nationally in efficiency defense). Ryan Mallett and Patrick Peterson both figure to be playing on Sundays, and soon. From a coaching standpoint, does Bobby Petrino's obsessive game planning meet its match in Les Miles' seat-of-the-pants mojo?

Dash pick: Arkansas 28, LSU 27.

Maryland (17). Opponent: No. 23 NC State. Site: College Park, Md. When: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2). What's at stake: Wolfpack can put an exclamation on their best season since the Philip Rivers days and clinch their first ACC Atlantic Division title with a victory. If the Terrapins win, the division title goes to Florida State. Spoiler Factor: Everything about this matchup says tossup. The all-time series is tied 31-31-4, and eight of the past 10 meetings have been decided by a touchdown or less. NC State has played five games this season decided by seven points or fewer; Maryland has played four. Games like this often are decided by turnover margin, and the Terps have the edge there (plus-11 to NC State's plus-5).

Dash pick: Maryland 19, North Carolina State 17.

Colorado (18). Opponent: No. 15 Nebraska. Site: Lincoln. When: Friday at 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC). What's at stake: As detailed above, the Cornhuskers are playing for a berth in the Big 12 title game. The Buffaloes are playing for bowl eligibility and the chance to send Missouri to the title game by inflicting a stinging goodbye defeat on an old rival. Spoiler Factor: Colorado has won two straight -- and looked pretty good doing it -- under interim coach Brian Cabral. Quarterback Cody Hawkins has played his two best games of the year since his dad, Dan, got the ziggy as head coach. If there's true turmoil between Pelini and Nebraska QB Martinez, this could get interesting.

Dash pick: Nebraska 23, Colorado 20.

Memphis (19). Opponent: Central Florida. Site: Memphis. When: Saturday at noon ET. What's at stake: Golden Knights win the Conference USA East with a victory. A UCF loss combined with a Southern Mississippi win at Tulsa would send the Golden Eagles to the C-USA title game. Spoiler Factor: The Tigers are simply awful, winners of one game all season. Nine of their 10 defeats have been by two touchdowns or more. When you're losing like that in C-USA you're a really bad team.

Dash pick: UCF 52, Memphis 9.

Feast week

The Dash is hosting Thanksgiving dinner and you're all invited -- along with a few college football special guests. Who they are, what they're bringing to the party and what part they're playing in the group dynamic:

Mark Ingram (20), Alabama. Brings a tasty side dish. But it's not as good as last year's.

Joe Paterno (21), Penn State. Sits in a place of honor at the head of the table. Tells the same stories every year. Nobody complains.

Kenny Rogers (22), Scamville. Talks a big game about bringing a gourmet dish. Shows up with nothing, and keeps telling a different story why. By the end of the day he's asking for money from other guests.

[+] EnlargeChristina Hendricks
AP PhotoChristina Hendricks is mad about the men at The Dash's feast table.

Gene Chizik (23), Auburn. Must be seated at the opposite end of the table from Dan Mullen and Urban Meyer.

Bret Bielema (24), Wisconsin. Spends most of the day in the basement beating small children in pingpong 21-2.

Les Miles (25), LSU. Crazy Uncle Les brings a side dish of sautéed grass. As usual he offers to deliver the blessing, and as usual it's long, stilted and confusing.

Chris Petersen (26), Boise State. Wows people with card tricks. Stuffiest guests look down their noses at his very presence at the table.

Terrelle Pryor (27), Ohio State. Brings the yams. They're good, as usual -- but always leave you wanting more.

Mack Brown (28), Texas. Always brings a classy bottle of wine. This year he drops it in the driveway and it shatters.

Rich Rodriguez (29), Michigan. His dish is never as good as Jim Tressel's.

Chip Kelly (30), Oregon. Make sure duck is not on the menu.

Jim Delany (31), Big Ten. Sets up a nonsensical field for the backyard Turkey Bowl.

And a place will of course be set at the table for Dashette Christina Hendricks (32), who brings what can only be characterized as a well-rounded personality to the party.

Coach of the year

There are a couple of important weeks to go, but The Dash has 10 names to consider for the best coaching job of 2010. In alphabetical order:

[+] EnlargeChris Ault
Douglas C. Pizac/US PresswireChris Ault has guided Nevada to 10 wins so far this season.

Chris Ault (33), Nevada. This is probably the best of his 26 teams in Reno, and that's saying something when you consider that the guy has won 216 games. (Second-winningest coach in school history has 40 victories.) Ault has developed quarterback Colin Kaepernick as a passer to diversify the offense, but the Wolf Pack's defense and turnover margin (plus-7) might be the biggest improvements from recent seasons. If Nevada beats Boise, Ault will stake a serious claim.

Gene Chizik, Auburn. The Dash turned out to be dead wrong about Chizik when he was hired here after a 5-19 nightmare at Iowa State. No small amount of credit goes to offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, but Chizik has developed a mental toughness that translates to winning the close ones -- the Tigers are 5-0 in games decided by eight points or less.

Mark Dantonio (34), Michigan State. His Spartans are a surprising 10-1, and the head coach has guided them there despite suffering a heart attack that kept him at home, in the hospital or coaching from the press box for several games. (That alone should make offensive coordinator Don Treadwell -- who took over on-field leadership duties while Dantonio was recovering -- the runaway leader for the Broyles Award, given to the nation's outstanding assistant coach.) Along the way Dantonio has revealed a gambler's side, making many memorably gutty calls that helped swing close games to the Spartans.

Mike Gundy (35), Oklahoma State. After major personnel losses on both sides of the ball, the Cowboys were a popular pick to finish last in the Big 12 South. Instead they're 10-1 and a victory away from playing in their first league championship game. Gundy has plugged in new stars at quarterback (Brandon Weeden) and receiver (Justin Blackmon) and just kept winning.

Jim Harbaugh (36), Stanford. Only four coaches have ever won 10 games in a season on The Farm, and two of them are named Bill Walsh and Pop Warner. Harbaugh is the latest, doing it a year after losing Heisman finalist Toby Gerhart. Whatever Stanford paid for the man's bathroom a few years ago, it was money well spent. Now the task will be keeping him when a number of pro and college suitors come calling this offseason.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesChip Kelly has the Ducks looking at a perfect record in 2010.

Chip Kelly, Oregon. He's taken the spread offense to what might be its apex, gashing defenses with fast players and a super-fast tempo. But this isn't just a one-dimensional bunch riding a cute gimmick; the Ducks have a ball-hawking defense and dangerous special teams that make them a well-rounded team. Since his debacle of a debut at Boise last year, Kelly is 20-2 and very hard to outscheme.

Jerry Kill (37), Northern Illinois. The Huskies have won eight straight games for the first time since 1965 and are the favorites to win the Mid-American Conference championship. They will make their third bowl appearance in Kill's three seasons as coach -- something that has never happened before at NIU. Kill had to battle through health problems of his own, being hospitalized for dehydration in September, but nothing has slowed down his team since September.

Les Miles, LSU. Hey, give the devil his due. Nobody went into this season predicting a 10-1 record for the Tigers and a top-five BCS spot -- if anything, Miles began the year on the hot seat despite his gaudy record in Baton Rouge. He's caught some lucky breaks but also created his own luck with trademark in-game audacity. And he eats grass, which should help him earn the vegan vote.

Gary Patterson (38), TCU. This is his seventh team with double-digit wins in Fort Worth, but it's also his most balanced and dominant. The Horned Frogs have had only two minor wobbles -- against SMU and San Diego State -- but have never been in serious jeopardy of losing. The Horned Frogs have earned their seat at the BCS table.

Chris Petersen, Boise State. How dominant have the Broncos been? They lead the nation defensively in fewest yards allowed per play at 3.67, and they're second in the nation offensively in most yards gained per play at 7.52. (Only Auburn, at 7.6, averages more.) According to the researchers at ESPN Stats & Information, nobody has done that since 2000. Only two other teams have been close, and you may remember them: The 2000 national champion Florida State team was first nationally in yards per play (7.13) and third in fewest yards allowed per play (3.99), and the 2002 Miami team that lost the title to Ohio State was second offensively (6.83) and third defensively (3.96). Bus.

Putting out an APB for …

… Former Kansas All-America quarterback David Jaynes (39). Anyone with information on the 1970s slinger who used to own all the school's passing records, please apprise The Dash.

Meanwhile, The Dash is pleased to report that last week's APB subject, former Illinois quarterback Jack Trudeau, is alive and well and living in suburban Indianapolis after a pedestrian career with the Colts. Trudeau co-hosts a morning sports talk radio show. Thanks to the spies for the info.

Point after

The Dash did not attend a game this weekend but did manage to break away from a swim meet in Cincinnati for a while to watch wall-to-wall football at the well-appointed Buffalo Wild Wings (40) near Mason, Oh. If you go, prepare to see a lot of Ohio State jerseys.

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