Dashing through a chaotic month
Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football, where competency hearings will be held for Big East (1) officiating crews:
Hard to believe, but we're already one-third of the way through the regular season. Quite frankly, it was a September to dismember. The Dash is here to do exactly that.
Month in review
• Team of the month: LSU (2). When the month began, the Tigers appeared to be in disarray. Their starting quarterback, Jordan Jefferson, was facing felony assault charges. One of their key playmakers, wide receiver Russell Shepard, was suspended by the NCAA. Assistant Steve Kragthorpe had surrendered offensive coordinator duties due to Parkinson's. A promising season seemed teetering to be on the verge of disaster. Then they kicked off in Dallas, and LSU kicked tail. It hasn't stopped kicking tail since, against a challenging schedule. With a dominant defense, spectacular special teams and maligned backup quarterback Jarrett Lee doing just fine, LSU is No. 1 in the country. Beguiling Les Miles might be pulling his best magic trick yet.
• Theme of the month: Mayhem (3). No, not the accident-prone guy in the Allstate commercials. The Dash is talking about the conference realignment absurdity that hijacked two football Saturdays and has overshadowed much of the blocking and tackling. In September alone, the body count is as follows: three schools moving from their current conferences (Syracuse and Pittsburgh from Big East to ACC, Texas A&M from Big 12 to SEC); four schools staying (Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State in the Big 12, after frantic flirting with the Pac-12); one school actively looking to leave (Connecticut is sending love letters to the ACC); and one commissioner forced out (Big 12's Dan Beebe). Let's hope we take October off from this folderol -- but there are no guarantees. (The Dash is looking at you, BYU.)
• State of the month: Oklahoma (4). The undefeated Sooners are ranked No. 2. The undefeated Cowboys are ranked No. 5. Both went on the road and scored gritty victories -- Oklahoma at Florida State, Oklahoma State at Texas A&M. If they keep this up, much of gridworld's attention will be focused on Stillwater on Dec. 3 when the two rivals meet with a potential bid to the Allstate BCS National Championship Game on the line. Eskimo Joe's had better call in extra waitstaff for that weekend.
• Conference of the month: The Big 12 (5), ironically enough. If they'd stop fighting, reuniting, deserting, threatening to desert, and backstabbing one another, people might actually appreciate how good the football is in this league. Nobody has a losing record, and seven teams are undefeated. The league is 26-2 against outside competition, having won road games in Pasadena, Coral Gables, Tallahassee and Hartford. If Missouri coach Gary Pinkel hadn't iced his own kicker, you could add Tempe to that list as well.
• Play of the month: the bubble screen (6). More accurately, it's the plague of the month. It is everywhere, turning the passing game horizontal and boring. The play, often referred to as a "long handoff," has been in regular playbook rotation for more than a decade -- but we seem to have reached overload this season. It's difficult to quantify, but here is some evidence that the dink passing game is overtaking the game, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information: Completion percentage nationally is at an all-time high (61.6 percent), yet yards per completion are down from the previous two years (11.9, after 12.0 in 2010 and 12.1 in '09), and total passing yards per game (394.2) are the lowest since 2006.
The Dash understands the allure of the bubble screen to a coordinator -- it's an easy 4 yards or more on every completion -- but that doesn't make it fun to watch. It often involves no more than five people: the passer, the catcher, the blocking wide receiver and a couple of defensive backs. The other 17 players are only there for decoration unless the receiver breaks a longer run. It's almost the equivalent of the low-post isolation that makes the NBA drudgery in motion.
The Dash is urging defensive coordinators to find a method to disrupt the bubble screen and end its runaway popularity. For the children.
• Player of the month: Robert Griffin III (7). The Baylor quarterback took over September on the Friday night of Labor Day weekend by lighting up TCU, and he hasn't slowed down since. Griffin has 13 touchdown passes and 12 incompletions on the season, which is crazy. He has not yet thrown an interception. He has rushed for 167 yards, too. His team is undefeated and ranked. And at 11.7 yards per attempt, RG3 is one quarterback throwing it downfield with regularity.
• Catch of the month: Georgia Tech's Stephen Hill (8) against North Carolina. Not only did the 6-foot-5 Hill climb the proverbial ladder for that ball, he held onto it while being smacked in the back. Of course, he canceled that out with a stone-cold drop of an easy touchdown later in the game. But Hill also leads the nation in yards per catch at a whopping 33.
• Freshman of the month: Sammy Watkins (9), Clemson. No receiver has more than his six touchdown receptions, and he's played better as the games have gotten bigger. Watkins had 296 receiving yards and four touchdowns against Auburn and Florida State, breaking huge plays in both those games. Coach Dabo Swinney said it took the Floridian all of three days in fall camp to barge into the starting lineup, and it's easy to see why.
• Trend of the month: Comebacks (10). TCU started it against Baylor, roaring from 24 down before losing late. Auburn continued it, escaping against Utah State. Then Michigan went crazy on Notre Dame in the fourth quarter. But the best comeback The Dash has seen was Saturday in College Station, when Oklahoma State came from 17 down on the road in a madhouse stadium to beat Texas A&M. September lessons learned by all who lost leads: Football games are long, momentum is fickle and no lead is as safe as you think it is.
• Inept officiating moment of the month: The Big East crew that hosed Toledo (11). Syracuse's Ross Krautman violently shanked a point-after attempt in the fourth quarter -- not a Kyle Brotzman close call that went over the top of the upright; a smother-hook that was clearly wide -- yet it somehow was called good. Then it was upheld on replay. And then it became a big, fat problem when the Rockets kicked what should have been the winning field goal at the end of regulation, only to lose in overtime because it was the tying field goal after the extra point was called good. The Big East office acknowledged the mistake, and there's been a lot of spluttering about retroactively declaring Toledo the winner, but the toothpaste isn't going back in that tube. The only corrective action that can be taken is to make sure that replay official spends the rest of the season watching games from his living room.
• Recurring TV scene of the month (other than the Pitbull Dr Pepper ad): West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen (12), hair going in 19 different directions as he whips off his headset, reaming officials. Honorable mention: Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly pushing emotional overload while screaming at his error-prone offense.
• Offensive devolution of the month: Florida Atlantic (13). The coach of the Owls is Howard Schnellenberger, one of the great offensive minds in the history of the game. But Schnelly is also 77 years old and retiring at the end of this season, and it's clearly time. FAU is last in the nation in rushing offense, total offense and scoring offense, and hasn't yet broken the 500-yard barrier for the season. (In yet another indictment of the Auburn defense, the winless Owls did manage more than 300 yards of offense against the Tigers on Saturday.)
• Disappearing program of the month: Oregon State (14). Last year the perennially competitive Beavers lost four of their last five games to finish with their first losing season since 2005. What looked like a surprising blip on the radar screen then appears to be a trend now. Oregon State is 0-3 this season, losing at home to FCS Sacramento State and struggling UCLA. A program that successfully put its inept history in the rearview mirror for more than a decade is in danger of backsliding to the bad old days.
• Inexplicably bad play of the month: Tajh Boyd of Clemson's pick six (15) against Florida State barely beats out Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon's fumble through the end zone against Texas A&M, Oregon State punter Johnny Hekker's negative-yardage punt against Wisconsin and any three turnovers by Notre Dame quarterbacks.
• Brutally bad division of the month: Conference USA East (16). Memphis lost by 44 to a Sun Belt team. Marshall lost by 37 to a MAC team. UAB might be worse than either. Alleged contender Southern Mississippi lost to Marshall. Fellow alleged contender UCF lost to Florida International. Nobody in the division ranks higher than 65th in the Sagarin Ratings.
Bonus month! We get five Saturdays in October instead of the usual four -- celebrate accordingly. These are the 10 must-watch games as we narrow the race to New Orleans and the national championship:
Nebraska-Wisconsin (17), Oct. 1. The Cornhuskers' first Big Ten game could be the biggest in the league this year. Nebraska's defense has been softer than expected so far, allowing 22 points per game. The Badgers are untested, having faced two inept offenses (UNLV and Oregon State), a MAC team (Northern Illinois) and an FCS opponent (South Dakota). Advantage to the home team in what should be a feral environment at Camp Randall.
Alabama-Florida (18), Oct. 1. Marquee SEC rivalry lost its juice last year when the Gators tanked on the season and were routed in Tuscaloosa. It says here that the Gators' rush defense, ranked fifth in the nation, is a mirage created by facing teams that cannot run the ball (FAU last in the nation, UAB 114th, Tennessee 112th, Kentucky 90th). Stopping Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy will be a different deal.
Clemson-Virginia Tech (19), Oct. 1. This is strength on strength, with Clemson's productive offense against what looks like a classic Bud Foster defense. The Tigers are one of the surprise stories of September -- but can a young team that's been 3-7 the past two years on the road summon a third straight big effort? Circumstances favor the Hokies.
Oklahoma-Texas (20), Oct. 8. The Red River Rivalry would be more entertaining this year if OU president David Boren and Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds leg-wrestle at midfield -- winner earns the right to name the next full-time commissioner of the Big 12. But the game itself might not be bad, either, if the Longhorns are up to the task. Still seems like a stretch for Texas' young skill players to match points with Oklahoma.
Florida-LSU (21), Oct. 8. Part 2 of the Gators' growth test. Nobody in the nation has a tougher two-game stretch than the Crimson Tide and Tigers back-to-back, plus the added bonus of a trip to Auburn on Oct. 15. Florida's Oct. 22 bye week might be the most timely in America all season.
Arizona State-Oregon (22), Oct. 15. This looks like the best ASU team in years, but this series has been all Ducks over Devils. Oregon has captured six straight, averaging more than 40 points and winning by double digits every time. ASU is 4-13 on the road since '07.
Oklahoma State-Texas (23), Oct. 15. If Florida has the toughest back-to-back in the nation against Alabama and LSU, this might be second-toughest -- Texas gets the Cowboys a week after the annual blood feud with the Sooners. Young Horns secondary has played well so far this year, but Landry Jones and Brandon Weeden on consecutive weeks could be quite the reality check.
USC-Notre Dame (24), Oct. 22. Loser might feel worse than the winner feels good in a battle of two teams that have underperformed so far. Two teams with self-destructive tendencies -- Trojans are 113th nationally in turnover margin, and Fighting Irish are 120th and last.
South Carolina-Tennessee (25), Oct. 29. The Volunteers appear to be a solid cut below Steve Spurrier's team, but Neyland Stadium has been a torture chamber for the Gamecocks. They're 1-14 in Knoxville all-time, and the one victory (in 2005) was by a single point.
Clemson-Georgia Tech (26), Oct. 29. Tech will have to win three October road games to keep this game on the must-see list, but it's not out of the question. The Dash remains intrigued by the Yellow Jackets' offense -- allegedly built to control the ball and grind it out, but actually a big-play machine. Tech is averaging 9.4 yards per play, still well above the NCAA record.
And on Nov. 1
The following truths will be self-evident:
The leading contenders for the national title (27) will be two each from the SEC (LSU and Alabama), the Big 12 (Oklahoma and Oklahoma State) and Pac-12 (Stanford and Oregon), plus one from the Big Ten (Wisconsin), one from the ACC (Virginia Tech) and one that arrives by Bus (Boise State).
The Heisman front-runner will be: Russell Wilson (28) of Wisconsin, who will gather momentum after leading the Badgers past Nebraska, Michigan State and Ohio State in October. Andrew Luck will get a chance to reassert himself in high-profile November games against Oregon and Notre Dame.
The Hot Seat Bowl will be: Ole Miss-Kentucky (29). They play in Lexington on Nov. 5, and by then the Wildcats will be 3-5 and Rebels 2-6. Houston Nutt will be on borrowed time in his fourth year, and Kentucky fans have jumped ship on Joker Phillips in a remarkable hurry. (There were empty seats for normal lock sellouts against archrival Louisville and unbeaten Florida.) Phillips has only had 17 games as head coach, winning eight. Most Wildcats fans don't seem to recall that predecessor Rich Brooks was 5-12 at the same point in his UK career, on his way to three straight losing seasons before pushing the program to respectability.
The coach climbing off the hot seat will be: Mark Richt (30), Georgia. After an 0-2 start, Bulldogs fans who gave up on Richt will be back on board when his team beats Mississippi State, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and nemesis Florida in October.
The leading candidate for coach of the year will be: David Shaw (31) of Stanford, who will still be unbeaten in his first season as a head coach.
The most wicked warlock move of the month by Les Miles (32) will be: four consecutive onside kicks at Tennessee, the last of which will be recovered by a 300-pound lineman.
The stubborn unbeatens of dubious quality (33) will be: South Florida and Houston. The Bulls might be legit, but they only have three games between now and November, and could be 7-0 without doing anything remarkable. The Cougars' schedule is downright dismal, with only a single remaining opponent holding a winning record after September (SMU).
The current unbeaten we won't be talking about anymore will be: Iowa State (34). The Cyclones have gotten to 3-0 through clean living, winning those games by a total of eight points. They might be 3-5 by November.
The teams rebounding after early losses (35) will be: Oregon and TCU. Losses in Week 1 shouldn't bury the Ducks and Horned Frogs, who will win out in October to set up some huge games on Nov. 12: Oregon at Stanford, TCU at Boise State.
Dashette Vanessa Rousso (36) will still be hotter than a royal flush.
Coach who earned his comp car this week
Steve Addazio (37), Temple. The program's rise to relevance did not end when Al Golden flew south to Miami. Addazio has the Owls 3-1 after mauling Maryland 38-7, and could have been 4-0 had they not let Penn State off the hook late. Between a defense that leads the nation in scoring (7.8 points per game) and the powerful legs of Bernard Pierce, Addazio might have the team to beat in the MAC.
Coach who should take the bus to work
Mike Locksley (38). Ooooops, wait a minute, he no longer has a job to bus to. Locksley's spectacularly disastrous tenure at New Mexico ended Sunday, when athletic director Paul Krebs fired him following a rather poor Saturday. First the Lobos lost to FCS Sam Houston State 48-45 in front of the smallest home crowd in 19 years, dropping to 2-26 on Locksley's watch. Then a 19-year-old was arrested on suspicion of DWI in an SUV registered to the Locksley family.
According to the Albuquerque Journal, Joshua Butts is a former Illinois high school teammate of Meiko Locksley, the coach's son. In the criminal complaint, Butts told police Locksley had brought him from Chicago to play, and had lent him the vehicle.
According to a school release, the vehicle is Meiko Locksley's, and Butts has no connection to the Lobos football program. Meiko Locksley is a walk-on defensive back for the Lobos.
That was just the latest off-field embarrassment for the coach. Most prominently, Locksley was fortunate to keep his job after punching an assistant coach during his first season, an incident that led to a one-game suspension.
The New Mexico program has been set back so far under Locksley that the next coach should get a six-year contract to dig it out. If anyone trusts Krebs to correct his error this time around.
Putting out an APB for
Mark Herrmann (39), one of the strongest links in the long line of Purdue quarterbacks. Anyone with information on the whereabouts of the Boilermakers' No. 3 all-time passer, please apprise The Dash.
Meanwhile, The Dash is pleased to report that last week's APB subject, former Florida running back Errict Rhett, is alive and well and living in Plantation, Fla. Rhett is the CEO of Errict Rhett Custom Homes and has a charity foundation in his name as well. Dash spies report that he also is very involved in the lives of his three children.
When hungry in College Station, drop by C & J Barbeque (40) for some quality 'cue. Try the two-meat combo sandwich -- jalapeno cheddar sausage and sliced beef worked well -- and hit the hot-pepper bar for added heat. Thank The Dash later.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL WEEK 5 PREVIEW
Conference expansion overshadowed on-the-field fun. But a chaotic September sets up an October to remember. Pat Forde »