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Wednesday, October 13, 2004
Super fan highlights wild first half

By Pat Forde
ESPN.com

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football:

Simple Twists Of Fate
Midseason is always a good time to reflect upon the random unpredictability that makes each college football season one of life's great thrill rides. The Dash is annually amazed at all the twists of fate, fame and fortune that can transpire between Labor Day weekend and Columbus Day.

One week we're saluting 39-year-old South Carolina receiver Tim Frisby (1), the next week we're raving on 19-year-old Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson (2).

One week they want to fry Ty (3) in South Bend for losing to BYU, the next week they're praising Ty on high for beating No. 7 Michigan.

Adriana Lima
It's a first half that has made even superfan Adriana Lima's hair stand on end.
One week human Hurricanes (4) are playing havoc with Chris Rix (5), the next week Mother Nature's 'Canes are playing havoc with the Gulf Coast, postponing games from Florida to Louisiana.

One week San Jose State (6) is scoring 70, the next week N-N-Nebraska (7) is surrendering 70. (Are we sure we don't have that reversed?)

One week Tennessee (8) and LSU (9) are left for dead in the SEC, the next week they're pulling upsets Between The Hedges and in The Swamp, respectively.

One week a Sun Belt school -- Troy (10) -- comes out of nowhere to defeat No. 17 Missouri on national TV, the next week it returns to nowhere by losing to decidedly unranked New Mexico State. (Thus making the Trojans the biggest one-hit wonder since Billy Thorpe (11) did "Children of the Sun.")

And if you roll enough weeks of weird together, The Dash can make a case for Florida Atlantic as a BCS contender (12). Follow along, boys and girls: Michigan lost to Notre Dame, which lost to BYU, which lost to UNLV, which lost to Utah State, which lost to North Texas, which lost to provisional Division I-A member Florida Atlantic, the Fighting Owls, pride of Boca Raton, coached by long-lost legend Howard Schnellenberger.

Florida Atlantic, let the record show, has lost to no one -- despite playing all four of its games on the road to date. Using the irrefutable logic of comparative scores, the mighty Owls should beat the Wolverines by 40 points, if Michigan had the nerve to show up.

No wonder Adriana Lima (13) loves this game.

Geaux South, Young Man
As much as The Dash and Adriana adore college football, we might have met our match in LSU football-exchange student Blake Buisson (14).

Blake Buisson (fifth from left) tranferred from Cal to LSU for the semester to major in football.
The 20-year-old Californian with the classic French-Louisiana surname transferred from Cal to LSU this semester. When it's over, he's transferring back. He switched schools for one reason, and one reason only:

"To get my football fix," Buisson said.

Unfulfilled by the tepid grid culture at Cal, Buisson decided to channel his inner Chinese Bandit, tracing the roots of his passion to their source.

His father, Jay, was born and raised in New Orleans and went to LSU. He raised his son in Encino, Calif., as a Bayou Bengal fanatic in absentia.

By age 10, Blake had the plastic LSU helmet, shoulder pads and jersey. He was in full Tiger regalia for one trip with his family to a game at Baton Rouge, and remembers pouring Bloody Marys for passengers while squashed into the back compartment of a Chevy Blazer.

Coming out of Crespi Carmelite High School, he narrowed his college choices to Cal and LSU. "I went with academics," the mass communications major said. "But LSU's always been my team."

For that reason he made it to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl last year to see the Tigers win the BCS half of the national championship. Then he started thinking about how fun it would be to follow LSU all season.

Working hard through his sophomore year, Buisson got ahead on credits toward his degree. Then he pitched the idea of a one-semester grid sabbatical in Baton Rouge.

Dad was excited. Mom, Janice, was worried about his ability to transfer back to Berkeley in good standing.

Everything checked out, and the deal was done. Buisson enrolled in 14 hours of course work -- the vast majority of it non-bunny material -- but mostly he's there for grid-related purposes. He's tailgated for days at every home game, driven with buddies to Athens and bused with a student group to Gainesville.

"Football pretty much is dominating my life," Buisson said. "Most people laughed at me. They couldn't understand it. But they'd never been here, that's why.

"It was eating at me. I've been to Louisiana 20 times my entire life. It's so different down here, I felt like I owed it to myself to see what it's really like."

What it's really like in the Red Stick during football season? Buisson offers a couple of examples:

  • "At Cal, you could have a home football game and half the people on campus wouldn't know who we're playing, or if we even have a game," Buisson said. "At LSU, the girls are tailgating at 10 a.m."

  • The professor in Buisson's management class came in on the day of a test wearing eye black and blaring the LSU fight song on the lecture-hall sound system. Blake's reaction: These are my people.

    He misses his friends at Cal and still roots for the Golden Bears -- who, irony of ironies, are in the top 10 while LSU has plummeted out of the top 20. But even now, in the midst of what could be a Wrong Way Roy Riegels (15) decision for Buisson (to reference a name that lives in Cal football infamy), he offers no regrets.

    "I wouldn't trade coming down here for anything in the world," Buisson said. "I'm still enjoying Cal's season vicariously through my friends. But I'm getting seven home games here, and I'm going to make three road games. That's 10 amazing weekends."

    Not a bad loaner program, if you can get it.

    Nebraska Pinned
    Rulon Gardner
    Olympic hero Rulon Gardner is baffled by what's happening to his beloved Nebraska Cornhuskers.
    The Dash bumped into a true American athletic hero in LAX Sunday morning in two-time Olympic heavyweight wrestling medalist Rulon Gardner (16). In addition to showing The Dash his gold medal from Sydney and bronze from Athens (they're heavy) the outgoing big man eagerly shared his views on college football.

    Gardner is a Nebraska fan, which meant he was still shaking his head Sunday morning after the inconceivable 70-10 loss to Texas Tech.

    "Can you believe that?" Gardner said. "Especially after what they did to [Frank] Solich."

    Like many other Cornhusker fans, Gardner was appalled that athletic director Steve Pederson (17) offed program lifer Solich (18) after going 10-3 last season. Nothing Solich did was as bad as a 60-point loss to Texas Tech.

    Bottom line: If Bill Callahan (19) doesn't work out in Lincoln, Gardner and other Children of the Corn will be ready for Pederson to leave his loafers at midfield in Memorial Stadium and walk off into retirement.

    Getting Flowery With Vince Dooley
    The front row of Introduction to Horticulture at Georgia might seem a strange place to find a septuagenarian football legend. But 72-year-old Vince Dooley (20), a man who knows a thing or two about hedges, is taking up residence there this semester, amid the miniskirts, flip-flops and backward ballcaps.

    The greatest coach in Georgia history is one of 160 students in Prof. David Berle's class, further feeding his gardening fixation. Berle reports that Dooley has taken other horticulture classes, gone on "plant trips" with other professors and attends annual meetings of the Georgia Green Industry Association. Dooley has a lavishly landscaped yard, and even has two plants named after him.

    "Coach sits in the very front and takes far more notes than most of the students," Berle said via e-mail. "He is quiet, always writing. ... Many students do not know he is in the class, but when they find out, they often ask for autographs after class. He generally keeps a low profile."

    Dooley is just now retired, after being forced out as Georgia AD by president Michael Adams, amid great public acrimony. But he's never stopped educating himself. He has a master's degree in history and has taken other courses on political science, art history and the Civil War.

    "There is a joy in learning," said Dooley, who still keeps an office in the Georgia athletic department. "I sit down, take notes, listen to the lectures. And when the exam comes, I get up and wish the students luck, and tell 'em I'll see 'em tomorrow."

    Adrian Karsten Golden Suspenders Award
    Goes to the Gray Panthers who are starting over: Army's Bobby Ross (21) and UTEP's Mike Price (22).

    The 67-year-old Ross got his first win as coach of the Cadets last week, beating Cincinnati to end Army's 19-game losing streak. That's after coming close against TCU the week before -- and Army rarely even came close to a win last season while going 0-13. The Cadets had their highest totals in points (48) and yards (554) in five years.

    The 58-year-old Price, out of coaching last year after the Alabama debacle, and his Miners shocked Fresno State last week to improve to 3-2 -- already their most wins in a season since 2000. Every important player was returning from last year, so the table was set for some success this year -- but nobody dreamed of winning at Fresno.

    Trev Alberts Fire-Him-Now Award
    Goes to Kansas State sourpuss Bill Snyder (23). A team that began the season in the Top 25 stands 2-3, having given up 45 points to Fresno State, 42 to Texas A&M and 31 to Kansas. Next up: Oklahoma. Too bad you can't play Louisiana-Lafayette every week, huh, Bill?

    Gimme 20
    Georgia coach Mark Richt (24) has deservedly gotten a lot of love in 3 seasons for his offensive handiwork. But the fact is, the unit coached by defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder (25) has rarely made it necessary for the Bulldogs' offense to win shootouts.

    Only one team in America has given up 30 or more points just once in the past 3 years: Georgia. In fact, if the Bulldogs offense puts just 20 points on the board, Van Gorder's defense will make it hold up. Georgia is 33-0 under Richt when scoring 20 or more points, 3-9 when scoring fewer.

    Which brings us to the Dawgs' puzzling annual SEC offensive shutdown. Last week it happened in a 19-14 loss to Tennessee, which could cost Georgia its hopes for winning a national title, SEC title or even an Eastern Division title. It's happened three straight times against Florida, twice against LSU and twice against South Carolina, too.

    The Dash believes that until Georgia can produce more consistently on offense against quality SEC competition, it will remain on the outside of the national title chase.

    Last Interception Poll Update
    After Purdue's Kyle Orton (26) and Hawaii's Timmy Chang (27) both finally succumbed to the pick, it's now down to a Dash-ing duo: Texas A&M's Reggie McNeal (28), still interceptionless in 124 throws, and Illinois' Jon Beutjer (29), oskie-free after 118 passes.

    Now comes the hard part: Beutjer faces a Michigan secondary that is tied for second nationally with 11 interceptions, while McNeal takes on an Oklahoma State team with a nation's-best 17 takeaways in six games (though just six interceptions). Pass with care, gentlemen.

    And You Thought 23-for-23 Was Good
    On the very day when Cal quarterback Aaron Rodgers (30), tied Tee Martin (31) for the NCAA record of 23 consecutive completions in a game, the mark actually was being surpassed on the opposite coast in Division I-AA. In Boone, N.C. -- Carolina being one of America's barbecue hotbeds, The Dash must point out -- Appalachian State quarterback Richie Williams (32) was completing 28 straight against Furman. For the day Williams was 40-of-45 for 413 yards. And, unlike Rodgers, his team won the game.

    Cal-USC Leftovers
    The Dash took in the instant classic in The Coliseum and left it a Rodgers fan, but also was hugely impressed with USC defensive tackle Mike Patterson (33). He had a whale of a season in three hours' time, racking up 10 tackles, seven solo, two for loss, one sack, two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble. Patterson isn't tall (just 6 feet) and could be considered light by today's NFL interior lineman standards (285 pounds), but his motor runs on high at all times and he's very quick.

    "He is the most consistent guy in the time that we have been here," said Trojans coach Pete Carroll (34), which is hardly faint praise given the run SC has been on.

    The Dash also believes that the broken leg suffered by receiver Steve Smith (35) will accelerate the blossoming of true freshman wideout Dwayne Jarrett (36). At 6-5 he's got Mike Williams size, which makes him ideal for mismatches in the red zone, and his leaping catch on a fourth-and-12 against Cal showed his big-time talent.

    Putting Out An APB For. . .
    Major Harris
    If you've seen former West Virginia star QB Major Harris, please contact The Dash.
    With West Virginia recusing itself from even faux title-contender status, The Dash is wondering whatever became of the quarterback who led the Mountaineers to the 1989 Fiesta Bowl and a de facto national championship game with Notre Dame, Major Harris (37). Anyone with a clue as to the whereabouts of big No. 9, a college legend but a 12th-round NFL pick after unwisely leaving school as a junior, please advise.

    The Dash is pleased to report that several alert readers have passed on information on last week's APB subject, former Oklahoma wishbone wizard Thomas Lott (38). The modern-day father of the 'do-rag is alive and well in suburban Dallas. In the last 10 days alone, he's been spotted at the Tulsa State Fair, guesting on Fox Sports Southwest, and heard on the radio in Oklahoma City. There also are reports of Lott coaching YMCA ball in Highland Park and University Park. Surely he's got his team running the option.

    Point After
    The Dash has to hand it to the readership. We asked the impossible -- find us 'cue in Alaska -- and got four joints to check next time we cover the Iditarod. Wayne's Original Texas Barbecue (39) in Anchorage was the only two-time nominee.

    Next up: barbecue in Montana -- if only to find an alternative to the highly disturbing gastronomic tout received from one reader: The Testicle Festival (40) in Clinton, Mont. That's right, bull parts (also known as Rocky Mountain oysters, Montana tendergroin and cowboy caviar) are annually cooked up by the ton -- filleted, marinated, breaded, deep-fried and served with hot sauce.

    The Dash will pass, thanks, but wouldn't mind a T-shirt that allegedly reads: "Testicle Festival -- I Had A Ball."

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