Dishing on Broncos, coaches, awards
Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football, while we sift through the Bus wreckage in Boise (1):
Fun while the ride lastedSo the Boise State Bus broke down in Reno, in a startling episode of football misfortune that has the makings of a sad country song. For an overachieving program that fought the good fight deep into the season, it ended with an epic kick in the gut.
Or, more accurately, an errant couple of kicks into the Nevada night.
The Dash certainly feels for Broncos senior Kyle Brotzman (2), who joins Scott Norwood, Gary Anderson and several Florida State Seminoles on the list of Kickers We Remember for all the Wrong Reasons. The kid had made 65 previous collegiate field goals and is close to setting the NCAA FBS record for most points in a career. He just picked a catastrophically bad time to seize up, like 99 percent of us would in the same spot.
In the end, the naysayers were right and The Dash was wrong: Boise wasn't good enough to play for a national title this year. But The Dash must interrupt the snob sack dance to ask this question: Who did get their preseason No. 1 pick right?
The answer: nobody.
Teams receiving No. 1 votes in the August AP poll: Alabama (54), Ohio State (3), Boise State (1), Texas (1) and Oklahoma (1).
Teams receiving No. 1 votes in the August USA Today poll: Alabama (55), Ohio State (4).
Of the 20 voters in the ESPN.com preseason power rankings, 17 went with Alabama. Two went with Ohio State. The Dash went with Boise.
You won't find any of those teams in the mix to play in the BCS National Championship Game.
The three teams that matter most today were ranked thusly by ESPN.com in August: TCU was seventh, Oregon was 12th and Auburn 22nd. Dari Nowkhah had the Horned Frogs highest of anybody on our panel at No. 2. Ivan Maisel had Auburn highest at No. 12. The Dash had Oregon highest at No. 4.
So, yes: Picking Boise was wrong. But it was no more wrong than any other picks in an unpredictable year.
Coaching carouselMiami (3). What happened and why: Randy Shannon got whacked after four seasons of .500 conference ball in the mediocre ACC, plus declining attendance from an already fickle fan base. Of course, Miami did what fiscally irresponsible schools do, giving Shannon an unjustified contract extension before the season and firing him after. Where it stands now: The suddenly hot name Sunday was Jon Gruden. The ESPN "Monday Night Football" analyst put out a statement saying he's committed to MNF, but it stopped well short of declaring no interest in the Hurricanes job. Although some folks say Gruden's desire to return to coaching has increased this season, he's proved a tough fish to land in recent job searches. A source advises not to look for Miami to move definitively for another week or so.
Indiana (4). What happened and why: Not even beating Purdue for just the second time in nine years in the Old Oaken Bucket game was enough to save Bill Lynch, who won three Big Ten games in the past three seasons. Where it stands now: Unclear as yet, but it's believed the Hoosiers are looking at both lower-level head coaches and coordinators from power programs.
Minnesota (5). What happened and why: Tim Brewster was in trouble before the season began, and toast after losing to both South Dakota and Northern Illinois in September. Where it stands now: Despite being the first to fire, the Gophers might not be the first to hire at their current pace. Athletic director Joel Maturi met last week with San Diego State's Brady Hoke (whose name also has come up at Indiana). Other reported candidates include perennial job shopper Randy Edsall of Connecticut, Troy Calhoun of Air Force and Al Golden of Temple, though their interest or lack thereof is difficult to gauge.
Colorado (6). What happened and why: Dan Hawkins was dismissed after blowing a huge fourth-quarter lead at Kansas and finishing his tenure 17 games below .500 in Big 12 play. Where it stands now: If you have a nostalgic tie to the program, you're apparently a candidate. Bill McCartney has campaigned. Former Buffaloes stars and current NFL assistants Eric Bieniemy and Jon Embree have interviewed. But don't expect the pool to be limited to that group.
Vanderbilt (7). What happened and why: Robbie Caldwell stepped down after a highly quotable but highly unsuccessful 2-10 season. In a fit of misguided optimism for a smart school, Vandy dropped Caldwell's interim tag in August and made him the full-time boss before he'd coached a game. The contract is presumed to be limited, but still had to cost the school more than it needed to. Where it stands now: Golden's name has been rumored, but here's the startling stat on the boss of the Owls: In five seasons at Temple he's never beaten a Mid-American Conference opponent that finished the season with a winning record.
And apparently we have another month to wait and see what will happen at Michigan (8). Athletic director Dave Brandon said he will not evaluate Rich Rodriguez until the season is over, bowl game included, even after another pounding from Ohio State. This leads The Dash to suspect that two things are possible:
1. Brandon has no interest in firing Rodriguez.
2. Brandon has plenty of interest in firing Rodriguez, but the guy he wants to replace him with has a bowl game of his own -- possibly even a BCS bowl game for a school that doesn't normally go to such a game, if you follow The Dash -- and doesn't want to sabotage that by taking another job between now and the bowl.
If the latter is the case, The Dash applauds both Michigan and any potential stealth candidate for showing rare restraint and actually attempting to finish the season before getting on with 2011.
The big winners so far in all this: coaching-search middlemen Chuck Neinas and Dan Parker. Neinas has been retained by both Miami and Indiana; Parker by Vanderbilt. Search committees and search firms tend to be wastes of time and money and make The Dash wonder why athletic directors can't handle this vital part of their jobs on their own.
On with the DashiesThe annual awards from The Dash, which come with a plastic statuette, some sliced salami and a coupon for a free shoe shine. The envelope, please
Intangible of the Year: Momentum (9). It is fickle and powerful. On Friday alone, Alabama led Auburn 24-0, Boise led Nevada 24-7 and Arizona led Oregon 19-14. Then momentum changed, and the season changed with it. Auburn outscored the Crimson Tide 28-3 to win by one, maintaining its national title hopes. Nevada outscored Boise 27-7 in the second half and overtime to win by three and ruin the Broncos' season. Oregon outscored Arizona 34-10 to win big and stay in the national title race. A single big play or a timely turnover can turn the tide of a big game. Alabama can forever regret Mark Ingram's fumble through the end zone for a touchback. Boise can recriminate over a questionable call for interfering with a punt catch in the third quarter that helped turn the game. Arizona can what-if about a fourth-down offside penalty that kept an Oregon touchdown drive alive. When you lose momentum, even good teams can become helpless against quality opposition.
Offensive Play of the Year: Cam Newton's run (10) against LSU, Oct. 23. Forty-nine yards, five defeated tacklers, and Newton took All-American cornerback Patrick Peterson for a ride for the final 7 yards to the end zone. Crazy combination of speed, power and agility from Auburn's 250-pound quarterback.
Defensive Play of the Year: Oklahoma State's two-man tag-team interception (11) against Oklahoma, Nov. 27. Surely you saw it over the weekend: Landry Jones' attempted throwaway pass was spectacularly batted back in bounds by leaping cornerback Brodrick Brown, into the hands of linebacker Shaun Lewis for a pick. It was like saving a ball in basketball to a teammate. Only harder and more improvisationally ingenious.
Special Teams Play of the Year: "Little Giants" (12). That was the name of Michigan State's shockingly brazen fake field goal touchdown pass from holder/punter Aaron Bates to tight end Charlie Gantt on the last play to beat Notre Dame. Turned out to be more than Mark Dantonio's ticker could tolerate, but it'll be remembered for years to come in East Lansing.
Controversy of the Year: The alleged $180,000 payment plan (13) proposed to Mississippi State from man of the cloth Cecil Newton, via middleman Kenny Rogers, for the services of his son, Cameron. No money is alleged to have changed hands, and the Newtons' lawyer says Cam knew nothing of the transaction -- though ESPN's Joe Schad quoted an anonymous Mississippi State recruiter to the contrary. The season hasn't felt the same since this story exploded in early November.
Rivalry Moment of the Year: When Alabama had to fire an unnamed game operations staffer (14) for playing "Take the Money and Run" and "Son of a Preacher Man" on the Bryant-Denny Stadium PA during pregame for the Auburn-Alabama game last week. The music choices were unauthorized and deviated from the school's established playlist for the game. See above award to understand what point the Bama staffer was trying to make.
Formation of the Year: The Pistol (15). Invented years ago by Nevada coach Chris Ault, it was little more than a low-profile curiosity tucked away in Reno until schools began using it as a better method for running downhill without the quarterback under center. The formation combines the best elements of the spread and traditional power running, and it has been in vogue across the nation this season -- including at Nevada.
Numbskull of the Year: Ohio State chancellor Gordon Gee (16). Last week Gee popped off about the difference in schedule strength between the lightweight likes of Boise State and TCU and the hardy heavyweights of the Big Ten. If only Gee knew what he were talking about. As Chris Dufresne of the Los Angeles Times pointed out, the current Sagarin strength of schedule rankings are as follows: Boise 62, Ohio State 64, Wisconsin 71. Put your bow tie in your mouth and chew on it, Gordo.
Overemployed Coach of the Year: Lane Kiffin (17). An impressive run for the man, winning this award for the second straight season with two different teams. After reducing former giant USC to 7-5 and becoming the first Trojans coach to lose to Notre Dame since 2001, Kiffy's career head-coaching record now is a robust 19-26.
Overemployed Coordinator of the Year: Greg Robinson (18). He's been the Michigan defensive coordinator for two seasons, after mystifyingly being hired and justifiably being fired as the head coach at Syracuse. During his first year in Ann Arbor, the Wolverines set a school record for most yards allowed per game (393.3) and most rushing yards allowed per carry (4.35). During his second year, the Wolverines broke those records by allowing 447.9 yards per game and 4.54 yards per carry. (Michigan doesn't have detailed opponent stats prior to 1936. But it's highly unlikely anyone was piling up 450 yards per game on the Wolverines back in the prehistoric days.)
Absurdity of the Year (Non-Les Miles Division): There are six bowl-eligible teams from the Lone Star State. The Texas Longhorns (19) are not one of them.
Absurdity of the Year (Les Miles Division): The LSU-Tennessee ending (20). Stupefying LSU clock mismanagement that was trumped only by the Volunteers having half their travel squad on the field for what should have been the final play. Granted a preposterously fortunate do-over, LSU scored the winning touchdown. An all-timer, even on the highly nonsensical Les Scale.
Dashette of the Year: Serinda Swan (21). Yes, as a matter of fact she would look great in your school's colors.
• Atlantic Coast Conference
Overall Grade: D. Virginia Tech, the league's best team, started 0-2. Everyone else quickly got into the act of losing, too. The ACC was drummed out of national championship contention even faster than usual, and currently does not have a team in anyone's top 10. Miami is looking for its fourth coach of the 21st century. Boston College backslid. North Carolina's season was undercut by scandal. Clemson did what Clemson does, failing to meet expectations. At least Florida State, Maryland and NC State had solid bounce-back seasons.
Player of the Year: Tyrod Taylor (22). The Virginia Tech quarterback edges out NC State's Russell Wilson. Taylor took better care of the football (just four interceptions to Wilson's 14), averaged more yards per play (7.66 to 6.03) and won more games (10 to eight).
Coach of the Year: Frank Beamer (23), Virginia Tech. Remained calm and carried on when everyone around him was losing their minds after the 0-2 start. The confidence and security that comes with having won 187 games at Tech helped. So did his staff of veteran assistants. The result was the first unbeaten ACC run since 2000.
Disappointment of the Year: North Carolina. The remains of the Heels actually played fairly well, going 7-5. But this was a season that began in the Top 25 and with ACC title aspirations, until allegations of agent kickbacks and academic shenanigans led to 13 players being suspended for all or part of the season.
Championship game pick: Virginia Tech 27, Florida State 21.
• Big 12 Conference
Overall Grade: C-minus. After putting a team in the BCS National Championship Game the past two years, the Big 12 came up well short of that this time around. In addition to the Texas train wreck, neither Nebraska nor Oklahoma lived up to their highest expectations -- though the two will meet in Dallas on Saturday for the league title. Colorado got its coach fired, and first-year coaches at Kansas and Texas Tech underwhelmed. The only teams that exceeded expectations were Oklahoma State, Missouri, Baylor and Texas A&M.
POY: Justin Blackmon (24), Oklahoma State. The previously anonymous wide receiver exploded onto the scene this year and was the best wideout in the country. He led the nation in receiving yards per game, led the league in all-purpose running (despite not returning kicks) and had at least 100 yards receiving in every game he played.
COY: Mike Gundy (25), Oklahoma State. The Cowboys were a popular pick to finish last in the Big 12 South but went into the final weekend of the regular season with a chance to win it. They fell short against Oklahoma, but nobody would have dreamed of 10-2 before the season after the Cowboys lost 14 starters from 2009. Gundy made one of the nation's best staff additions by bringing in Dana Holgorsen from Houston to be his offensive coordinator, freeing the head coach to take on more of a CEO role.
DOY: Texas, for reasons that have been belabored in this space all miserable season long.
Championship game pick: Oklahoma 23, Nebraska 19.
• Big East Conference
Overall Grade: F. After several years of defying doomsayers and producing a BCS-worthy champion, the league bottomed out. The league has no quality wins out of conference and finally ended a five-week absence from the BCS Top 25 this week. It has been a Flavor of the Month conference, with no one able to play at a consistently high level. It has even suffered in comparison to non-AQ leagues like the Mountain West and Western Athletic -- though it made a good move for its football future this week by officially bringing TCU aboard in 2012.
POY: Jordan Todman (26), Connecticut. By far the biggest reason the Huskies still have a chance to win the league is their junior running back, who ranks second nationally in rushing at 148 yards per game and has scored 14 touchdowns. Louisville is the only team to hold him to fewer than 100 yards. He's gotten stronger as the season has gone on, averaging 32 carries and 160 yards in UConn's current four-game winning streak.
COY: Charlie Strong (27), Louisville. Barely edges out Doug Marrone of Syracuse, largely because Strong coaxed the Cardinals to 6-6 while having to play three quarterbacks due to injury and missing leading rusher Bilal Powell and top receiver Doug Beaumont for two games apiece. Strong inherited a program that was picked to finish last in the league, got it to .500 and had a chance to win every game but one.
DOY: Pittsburgh. The heavy preseason favorites turned in a Wannstedt Special, playing well below their talent level. The Panthers still have a chance to win the league but need to beat Cincinnati and have both UConn and West Virginia lose. There's no excuse for being in that predicament in a league this soft.
• Big Ten Conference
Overall Grade: B. The league had a compelling three-team race to the finish -- and that finish came a week later than usual, which kept the Big Ten from slipping completely out of sight and mind come Thanksgiving. So those were good things. But the league also ran out of realistic national title contenders by Halloween. And although it was nice to see Wisconsin and Michigan State sustain great seasons to the finish, the Big Ten still needs Michigan to get off the mat and Penn State to be a consistent contender.
POY: Denard Robinson, Michigan. In a league loaded with quality quarterback play, Robinson was the most electrifying and irreplaceable player. He's third nationally in total offense, fourth in rushing and a very respectable 20th in pass efficiency. This wasn't an easy call over Northwestern's Dan Persa and Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor, who apparently took his honorable mention All-Big Ten status hard, if his Twitter feed is an indication: "Damn I must be the worst Qb/ player. I might quit football." Something tells The Dash Pryor will stick it out.
COY: Mark Dantonio (28), Michigan State. This really is a full-staff award, since Dantonio missed significant sideline time after suffering a heart attack following that Notre Dame victory. But the 11-1 body of work is the Spartans' best record since the famous 1966 team went 9-0-1. By every measure this season was a success beyond anyone's wildest dreams at Michigan State.
DOY: Iowa (29). The Hawkeyes began the season in the top 10 and finished it 7-5, bottoming out in an embarrassing season-ending loss to 3-9 Minnesota. Iowa was a poor road team all season, going 2-3 and needed a dropped touchdown on the final play to beat Indiana. And for all the love (and money) Kirk Ferentz gets, he's lost five or more games in four of the past six seasons.
• Mountain West Conference
Overall Grade: A-minus. For the fourth time in the past seven seasons, the Mountain West has put a team in a BCS bowl -- and TCU may need just one upset loss from either Oregon or Auburn to play for the national title. The bad news has been the lack of competition the MWC was able to provide the Horned Frogs. Utah was a paper tiger, and only San Diego State was able to come within 27 points of the Frogs. The bottom half of the league was truly dreadful this year.
POY: Andy Dalton (30), TCU. The Frogs are so dominant defensively and needed so little in the way of quarterbacking heroics that Dalton was easy to take for granted. But his numbers are stellar: a 167.03 passer rating, fifth nationally; 26 touchdowns and just six interceptions; and 407 rushing yards as well. No current college quarterback has as many career victories (41).
COY: Gary Patterson. Made 12-0 look easy, leading the nation in scoring defense, total defense and pass defense. Everyone in the league knows what TCU is going to be about every year, and nobody can do anything about it. (Honorable mention to SDSU's Brady Hoke, who has the Aztecs bowling for the first time since 1998.)
DOY: BYU (31). The Cougars were uncharacteristically inept offensively, scoring 16 or fewer points in all six defeats. Their lone victory over a team with a winning record (San Diego State) was abetted by a bad call and replay review that came with a screaming conflict of interest -- a BYU employee was part of the replay crew, necessitating a midseason MWC rule change. If it weren't for the league's soft underbelly, the Cougars might have had their worst record in decades.
Overall Grade: A. When USC goes 7-5 and the league still has one team primed for a BCS National Championship Game berth and another with a strong shot at a BCS bowl, it's been a great year. Oregon and Stanford are having what may be the best seasons in school history. If only the rest of the league weren't so mediocre that it cannot fill its bowl slots, the season would be perfect.
POY: Andrew Luck (32), Stanford. The more popular pick is Oregon running back LaMichael James, but the question is this: Who is more indispensible to his team? The answer is Luck, who has thrown for more than 3,000 yards and also is the Cardinal's No. 2 rusher. Without him, Stanford is UCLA.
COY: Jim Harbaugh (33), Stanford. Not many people expected the Cardinal to be better after losing Heisman finalist Toby Gerhart. They are better. Much better. And Harbaugh is the single hottest coaching commodity in football -- at any level.
DOY: USC. The Trojans were dealt very bad news in the summer with their postseason NCAA ban. But there still was plenty of talent at Kiffin's disposal -- certainly enough to do better than 7-5 with a date remaining against UCLA. Other than a win at Arizona and an opening victory over Hawaii on the island that looks better in hindsight, this USC team hasn't done anything impressive all year.
Overall Grade: B-plus. The league is positioned to play for a fifth straight national title, which is reason for America's cockiest fans to crow some more. But Auburn potentially could drag plenty of baggage with it to Glendale in the form of the ongoing NCAA investigation of quarterback Newton. As tremendous as the SEC West has been, the SEC East has been that bad -- both Florida and Georgia are enduring nightmarish years, and Tennessee is trying to pretend 6-6 is a feel-good season. And even defending champion Alabama has backslid much farther than most could have guessed, losing three games.
POY: Cameron Newton. The best player in college football.
COY: Gene Chizik (34), Auburn. The Dash thought he was a lousy hire two years ago. Today, with a 20-5 record that has featured some spectacular crunch-time victories, it's time to admit that was a gross error in judgment. (Mississippi State's Dan Mullen isn't far behind.)
DOY: Florida (35). The day of the Sugar Bowl last season, The Dash wrote that it might be the last night of the Gators dynasty. Athletic director Jeremy Foley emphatically disagreed -- and he may well ultimately be correct. But the changes that have buffeted the Florida program have been significant -- Tim Tebow and a bunch of other NFL draft picks gone, defensive coordinator Strong gone, offensive coordinator Mullen gone since the 2008 season -- and the recovery from that has been much slower than expected. If Urban Meyer was dangerously stressed out going 13-1, what has been the toll of going 7-5?
Championship game pick: Auburn 30, South Carolina 28.
• Western Athletic Conference
Overall Grade: A. On the brink of realignment-induced irrelevance, the league produced a spectacular season. Boise State was center stage all season -- but in the end this was not a one-team league. Hawaii exceeded expectations. And one-loss Nevada was strong enough to take down the Broncos in the WAC's biggest game in many years. The appalling byproduct was the excessive poll drop for Boise, which showed that voters never fully bought into either Boise or Nevada. A very good team beat another very good team, just the way Michigan State beat Wisconsin or Wisconsin beat Ohio State. No matter what Gordon Gee thinks.
POY: Kellen Moore (36), Boise State. In another league with remarkable quarterbacks, he's the best. Don't hold the kicker's two misses against him; Moore's season has been incredible.
COY: Chris Ault (37), Nevada. Slayed the giant, becoming the first WAC coach to beat Boise since 2007. In his 26th season and third different tenure coaching the Wolf Pack, he has his best team. Nice to see the payoff after many years of meritorious service in relative anonymity.
DOY: Idaho. The Vandals were one of the great surprises of 2009, winning eight games and capping the season with a ridiculous comeback bowl victory over Bowling Green. Despite having 10 defensive starters back they returned to reality a bit this year, going 5-7 with losses to Colorado State and Fresno State by a combined five points. Those were the nail-biters Idaho won a year ago.
Putting out an APB forNobody. This is the final regular-season version of The Dash, so there will be no APB to update next week. (Though there will be a Bowl Dash sometime in mid-December, so stay tuned.)
Meanwhile, The Dash is pleased to report that last week's APB subject, former Kansas star quarterback David Jaynes (38), is alive and well and responded personally to The Dash's APB. Which was very cool. Here is a portion of what Jaynes had to say in summarizing his post-Jayhawks life:
"Single until I was almost 49. Married a great woman, and, I still have no clue why she is with me.
"We spend half our time in LA and the other half at a second home outside of Telluride, Colo.
"I'm primarily in the real estate investment business.
"I love airplanes and always wanted to fly. Finally, four years ago at age 54, I bought a new Cirrus SR22 turbo, learned to fly in that plane, and now enjoy flying the plane mostly between L.A. and Colorado.
"We are grateful for the good things we have in life."
The Dash is grateful to Jaynes for the information. But it should be pointed out that the "great woman" he married is Barbara Harris, widow to famed actor Cary Grant.
Point afterWhen thirsty in the excellent (but soggy) town of Portland, Ore., The Dash recommends a visit to Doug Fir (39), a subtly hip bar with the requisite killer local beer list. Have a pint of Mirror Pond Pale Ale (40) and thank The Dash later. But don't bring an umbrella; it will out you as a tourist.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.
WEEK 14 PREVIEW