Commentary

Dash of forgiveness and fallen powers

Originally Published: November 17, 2009
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football, where USC (1) has flipped the switch from Fight On to Fight Off:

[+] EnlargeJim Harbaugh
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesJim Harbaugh and the Cardinal celebrated seven TDs in the Coliseum.

So, bloodthirsty Stanford (2) went for two against the shattered Trojans with less than seven minutes remaining and the score 48-21. Seems Jim Harbaugh wanted to hang half a hundred on Pete Carroll, the coach he's now embarrassed twice in three meetings. The two-point try failed, but Stanford scored again at the 2:19 mark to make it 55-21.

The Dash doesn't expressly condone running it up like that. But The Dash understands, having seen Carroll routinely engage in excessive scoreboard tilting when USC was capable of crushing its opposition.

Now that the Trojans are not, it's hard to feel sorry for them.

Forgiveness, On A Scale Of Gandhi To Zickefoose

The Dash thinks there could be a market for a quick-turnaround motivational book written by Mr. Corey Zickefoose (3) of Maryville, Tenn.

You might recall that Zickefoose and two friends wound up in the news last week after allegedly having a gun pointed at them and being asked for their cash by Tennessee football players in the parking lot of a Pilot station.

With the wisdom of a shaman, Zickefoose told a Knoxville TV station that Volunteers Nu'Keese Richardson (4), Mike Edwards (5) and Janzen Jackson (6) should not have their standing with the team jeopardized by anything as trivial as armed robbery.

"I think they should still be able to play football, regardless," Zickefoose actually told WATE-TV. "Tennessee is my place. It's my football team."

Clearly, with such an exalted level of forbearance -- some might say such a low level of intelligence, but that's just mean -- it's easy to see why publishers could flock to Mr. Zickefoose in search of his life story. Below are a few potential excerpts from the work Mr. Zickefoose could title "Let 'Em Play."

Nu'Keese Richardson
AP Photo/Wade PayneNu'Keese Richardson would still be on the field if it was Corey Zickefoose's decision.

On how much athlete-on-fan criminal activity is too much: "Remember, it was just a pellet gun. But if one of them had actually shot my buddies or me, I'd say that would call for a one-game suspension. Or, if it's just a flesh wound, maybe one of those Urban Meyer (7) half-game deals. Hopefully they wouldn't have killed either one of us.

"But I'd definitely draw the line at cannibalism. That right there would be a cause for immediate dismissal."

On whether a potential criminal penalty should factor into a school's decision to suspend misbehaving players: "Absolutely not. Doing time is nowhere near as important as a guy's 40 time. If you need to get a jail sentence delayed until after the season, do it. I've always thought spring ball should be the time for freshmen to get experience and older players to do community service."

On how he's handled his newfound fame: "It's been an adjustment, but this could be my life's calling. Coaches from around the SEC have put me on retainer as a trauma counselor for other victims of football player crime. They want me to explain why my turn-the-other-cheek philosophy is the best way to go. Especially if the player is really good, or if anything happens leading up to a league game."

On whether he now feels empowered to speak out: "My public prominence is a burden, but I accept my new role. After we got killed by Mississippi on Saturday I knew it was my duty to call the postgame radio show and rip pantywaist Lane Kiffin (8) for leaving those boys at home. And I used my real name."

On his reaction to Kiffin's dismissal Monday of Richardson and Edwards, while Jackson's status remains undetermined: "I shed a tear or two. For the passing game, mostly. Then I put my 'Free Janzen!' bumper sticker on my Hyundai and tried to carry on."

The Top 20: Who Isn't There

As largely uneventful as the very top of the rankings have been this season, there certainly has been plenty of tumult outside the top three. Consider this: 60 percent of the top 15 programs in history (by winning percentage) currently are outside the AP Top 20. Last time this group of nine all failed to finish in the AP Top 20 in the same season? Try 1961. A rundown:

[+] EnlargeRich Rodriguez
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireRich Rodriguez and the Wolverines are 5-6 heading into the Ohio State game.

Michigan (9). Record: 5-6. Ranking: Unranked. All-time ranking heading into 2009: first. What's gone wrong: What hasn't? The Wolverines have collapsed in the second half of this season, especially defensively. Coordinator Greg Robinson could be on his way to a second firing in two years, the previous one coming as head coach at Syracuse. An ongoing NCAA investigation into rule-breaking practice hours doesn't help -- especially with the report this week that the football program failed to keep the required practice logs. How the season will end: with a mauling from Ohio State on Saturday.

Notre Dame (10). Record: 6-4. Ranking: Unranked. All-time ranking heading into 2009: second. What's gone wrong: The Fighting Irish are in need of another coaching change after the latest uninspired hire, Charlie Weis, has proven he's not the guy to get Notre Dame back into national contention. The Irish have plenty of problems, but they start up front on both sides of the ball. They don't run with authority (84th nationally) and don't stop the run (72nd). How the season will end: 7-5 and with an interim coach leading the Irish into a non-BCS bowl.

Oklahoma (11). Record: 6-4. Ranking: Unranked. All-time ranking heading into 2009: fifth. What's gone wrong: From before the first game, when tight end Jermaine Gresham went down with a knee problem, injuries have killed this Sooners season. But Oklahoma fans had an easier time accepting the injury excuse early than at season's end, when the Sooners scored three points at Nebraska. Given the plateau Oklahoma has settled on the past few years, might coach Bob Stoops actually listen this time if Notre Dame comes calling? How the season will end: 7-5 and in an off-brand bowl.

USC. Record: 7-3. Ranking: 22nd. All-time ranking heading into 2009: seventh. What's gone wrong: The annual reload finally ran dry. The Trojans' defense has collapsed, further exposing a limited offensive team led by a freshman quarterback. The deeper problem could be the staff turnover that has steadily robbed Pete Carroll of his most trusted and experienced assistants over the past several years. Carroll either needs better assistants or more trust in the assistants he has now. How the season will end: 8-4 and outside of the BCS bowls for the first time since 2001.

[+] EnlargeBo Pelini
Brad Schloss/Icon SMIBo Pelini and the Huskers are out of the top 20, but they are moving in a good bowl direction.

Nebraska (12). Record: 7-3. Ranking: Unranked. All-time ranking heading into 2009: eighth. What's gone wrong: This hasn't been a bad season for the Cornhuskers, who hurt themselves with a game-losing assignment bust late against Virginia Tech and a ghastly eight-turnover performance against Iowa State. A three-game winning streak since the debacle vs. the Cyclones has at least been solid, if unspectacular. How the season will end: 9-3 and a chance to be murdered by Texas in the Big 12 title game, then on to a good bowl location (Holiday, perhaps?).

Tennessee (13). Record: 5-5. Ranking: Unranked. All-time ranking heading into 2009: 10th. What's gone wrong: Well, the old service-station stickup and subsequent fall-down against Mississippi has certainly put a damper on the proceedings (this just in, Vols: Dexter McCluster just scored again). But only the delusional expected this to be a great season for the Volunteers to begin with. At least they should be back in the postseason after missing out two of the past four years. How the season will end: 7-5 and probably bowling close to home.

Florida State (14). Record: 5-5. Ranking: Unranked. All-time ranking heading into 2009: 12th. What's gone wrong: Know what it's like when you have a party and one person just doesn't seem to notice when it's time to go? How the season will end: 6-6 and bowling for the 28th consecutive season.

Georgia (15). Record: 6-4. Ranking: unranked. All-time ranking heading into 2009: 13th. What's gone wrong: Plenty, starting with the fact that the Bulldogs have forced the fewest turnovers in the nation (eight, tied with Fresno State). But there is at least one mitigating factor -- the Dogs have played the toughest schedule in the SEC, according to Jeff Sagarin's computer. They've had some decent victories (at Arkansas, South Carolina, Auburn) but also a ghastly defeat against Tennessee and absolutely no consistency. How the season will end: 8-4 and everyone feeling a bit better after upsetting Georgia Tech in the regular-season finale.

Miami (16). Record: 7-3. Ranking: 21st. All-time ranking heading into 2009: 15th. What's gone wrong: The Hurricanes have made substantive progress in Year 3 under Randy Shannon. They're the only team to have beaten Georgia Tech, and their three losses are to seven-win teams (Virginia Tech, Clemson, North Carolina). But the purported breakthrough victories over Florida State and Oklahoma have been diminished by the presence of both those teams on this list. How the season will end: 9-3 and playing in a quality bowl.

League Losers

The Dash has unmasked some teams that have tended to put together decent records without doing much in conference play:

Kansas (17). Overall record this year: 5-5. Big 12 record: 1-5. Big 12 record under Mark Mangino: 23-39 -- and that even includes a 7-1 league mark in 2007. Take that out of the equation and Mangino's record is largely built on the backs of Sun Belt and FCS opponents. And anytime Mangino is on your back, it hurts.

[+] EnlargeJessica Biel
Fillipo Monteforte/AFP/Getty ImagesMinnesota native Jessica Biel knows the Gophers struggle in November.

NC State (18). Overall record this year: 4-6. ACC record: 1-5. ACC record the last six seasons: 16-30. The Wolfpack figures to miss the postseason for the fifth time in the last six years because it cannot win games in a mediocre league. Tom O'Brien was supposed to change that, but his ACC mark since coming to Raleigh is 8-14.

Minnesota (19). Overall record this year: 6-5. Big Ten record: 3-4. Big Ten record the last six years: 16-31. Current coach Tim Brewster is 0-8 in league play in the month of November. That's not how to finish.

In defense of Minnesota, it is the home state of Dashette Jessica Biel (20). Which certainly counts for a few league victories in The Dash's ledger.

South Florida (21). Overall record this year: 6-3. Big East record: 2-3. Big East record the last four years: 12-14, which isn't that bad until you compare it to the 20-2 nonconference record in that time.

Kentucky (22). Overall record this year: 6-4. SEC record: 2-4. SEC record the last 32 years: 62-162. That's right, it's been 32 years and six coaches since the Wildcats last had a winning league record. (And even the team that went 6-0 in the SEC in 1977 and 10-1 overall was on probation and banned from postseason play.) But give Rich Brooks credit for dragging Kentucky to bowl eligibility for the fourth straight season.

And The Program Whose League Isn't Getting It Done

The Dash stirred up Ohio State (23) fans over the weekend with the column on Jim Tressel (24), America's most conservative winner. Part of the premise of the column was that Tressel has dominated an underachieving Big Ten, and a Columbus correspondent passed along the following numbers to back that up. If anything, the numbers suggest that John Cooper (25) was cursed with bad timing while his successor has been blessed with exactly the opposite:

Big Ten schools other than Ohio State in BCS bowls (Rose, Sugar, Orange, Fiesta) during the John Cooper era in Columbus (1988-2000) -- 9-5.

Big Ten schools other than Ohio State in BCS bowls during Tressel era -- 1-7.

Big Ten schools other than Ohio State in all bowl games during Cooper era -- 33-26.

Big Ten schools other than Ohio State in all bowl games during Tressel era -- 18-30.

Obligatory Dead Schembechlers Note

(Because it is Ohio State-Michigan (26) this week, even if it is a completely irrelevant affair.)

The Dash reached Dead Schembechlers lead singer Bo Biafra (27) via Twitter (what else?) and was greeted with shocking news: The Schems are not performing in 2009. Instead, Biafra announced that he is wandering the state of Ohio in something of a fugue state, waiting for signs from Woody Hayes as to what will transpire this weekend in Ann Arbor.

His breathless Twitter description of a close encounter with Woodrow kind:

Dead Schembechlers
Dead SchembechlersBo Biafra's always geared up for the Buckeyes vs. the Wolverines.

"Light just over surface of lake. Getting stronger. Stronger. Coming closer. I will soon be before Him."

"The Light of His wisdom and anger will soon be upon me. Heed the words that follow. Heed the words of Woody for His is the power & glory!"

"I stand now before The Sacred Burning Couch! The voice of Woody rings out. So loud it hurts my ears...He speaks...He speaks...to...me..."

"WHEN SLEEVELESS ONE NEEDS VICTORY NOT. AND FLOATER FLOATS ON FLOAT. TWO OF THREE WILL SOON BE ONE. AND WEASEL TURNS TO GOAT."

"These are the words of the Buckeyes Lord. Thanks be to Woody."

If that isn't Twitter at its most poetic, then The Dash doesn't know what is. Either that, or it's the weirdest thing this side of a bleached Sammy Sosa.

Dash score prediction: Ohio State 37, Michigan 17.

(As bad as this game figures to be this year, it sure beats what the top two teams in the country are doing -- Alabama hosting Chattanooga and Florida bringing in Florida International. This is the most uninspiring November weekend in recent memory.)

Heisman Voting -- Still Waiting For Clarity

Time is running out -- just three weeks left for someone to step forward and put a stranglehold on the little stiff-arm statue. The Dash remains wholly uncommitted at this point, but is weighing no fewer than eight options in what could be the most wide-open voting in years:

Kellen Moore (28), Boise State. Touchdown-to-interception tally now at 32 to three. He threw five TD passes in just 32 attempts in the Broncos' rout of Idaho, increasing what already was the highest touchdown-per-attempt rate in the nation to 10.7 percent. That's higher than Sam Bradford's national-best 10.4 percent last year -- and you know what Bradford walked away with at season's end.

Mark Ingram (29), Alabama. He keeps churning, producing 1,297 rushing yards and 13 total touchdowns for an unbeaten team at a school that has never had a Heisman winner. But he might need a big game in the SEC championship against Florida to fully win over The Dash. So far none of Ingram's 100-yard rushing games has come against a top-40 rushing defense. He won't see one this week (FCS Chattanooga) or next (Auburn is No. 91 against the run). But the Gators are 10th in rushing defense.

Toby Gerhart
Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireToby Gerhart has rushed for 401 yards and six TDs in the past two weeks.

Toby Gerhart (30), Stanford. Power back just had the two most impressive back-to-back games of anyone in the country, mauling USC and Oregon for 401 yards and six touchdowns while the Cardinal scored 106 points. He's third nationally in rushing yardage, about 10 yards per game behind first-place Ryan Mathews of Fresno State and 10 yards per game ahead of fifth-place Ingram. But Gerhart leads the nation in rushing touchdowns with 19.

C.J. Spiller (31), Clemson. He's the versatility candidate, adding to his résumé this past weekend by scoring touchdowns running, catching and passing. For the season, he's scored six TDs rushing, one passing, four receiving, one on a punt return and three on kickoff returns. Clemson's five-game winning streak doesn't hurt his candidacy, either.

Colt McCoy (32), Texas. He simply hasn't put up numbers like he did a year ago -- interceptions up, touchdowns down, rushing yards down, But he's the most accurate passer in the country (72 percent) and he will become the winningest starting quarterback in FBS history with one more victory. And that has to count. Yes, it's an individual award, but this is the ultimate team game and team success has to be a significant factor in Heisman voting.

Tim Tebow (33), Florida. You can take most of the above about McCoy and paste it right in here -- numbers not dazzling, but his record is unbeaten and unbeatable to date. If the strongest leader in college football takes his team back to the national title game, he probably will take a lot of voters along with him.

Case Keenum (34), Houston. Keenum's candidacy took a hit last week with an upset loss to Central Florida and "only" 377 passing yards (he's had five games of 400 or more yards). But he's more than 1,000 yards ahead of the second-most prolific passer in the country, and only Moore has thrown more touchdowns than Keenum's 31.

Undersized Texan Running Back Playing College Ball in Oregon (35). Take your pick: LaMichael James of Oregon, the 5-foot-9, 180-pound freshman from Texarkana; or Jacquizz Rodgers of Oregon State, the 5-7, 191-pound sophomore from Richmond. Or maybe even the undersized New Yorker at Pitt, Dion Lewis (5-8, 190).

All options remain open. And likely will into December.

Coach Who Earned His Comp Car This Week

June Jones (36) of SMU. The only FBS football program ever to get the death penalty is 6-4 overall and on track for its first bowl bid since 1984 -- pre-shutdown. Not only that, the Mustangs are 5-1 and atop the Conference USA West. They control their own destiny and can advance to the C-USA title game with wins against Marshall and Tulane. Nice work by Jones at a program that had won a total of two games the previous two years.

Coach Who Should Ride The Bus To Work

Bob Stoops (37). He must have had a flashback to last season, when the Sooners were playing for something and running up scores all the time. Not sure what else would explain Stoops having Landry Jones in the game throwing a touchdown pass with Oklahoma leading Texas A&M 58-10 and less than 10 minutes remaining. That's poor.

Putting Out An APB For …

… Former Northwestern hero Steve Schnur (38), the guy who quarterbacked the purple to Pasadena in 1995. Anyone with information on Schnur, please apprise The Dash.

Meanwhile, The Dash is pleased to report that last week's APB subject, former Washington State running back Rueben Mayes, is alive and well and working as the regional director of development for Sacred Heart Medical Center in Eugene, Ore., the hometown of the team he trashed for an NCAA-record 357 rushing yards, the Oregon Ducks. Mayes had previously worked in the Washington State College of Business and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame this past summer. The Dash thanks all spies for their input.

Point After

When hungry and thirsty in the Cincinnati area, take a drive across the Ohio River to Covington, Ky., for some swell Cajun food at Dee Felice (39) -- and take home a jar of jambalaya sauce while you're at it. Then head right to the river for beers at Behle Street Café (40), where the West Virginia fans were grumbling about the refs and their coach right up until last call after losing on Friday night to the Bearcats.

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