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We Have A Laundry Problem
Ever since Louisville (2) beat West Virginia (3) 44-34 Thursday, critics have been bashing the two teams and their conference like the most vicious political attack ads. You'd have thought the Big East had come out in favor of flag burning and flag football.
Never, to The Dash's best recollection, has an entertaining game between top-10 teams provoked such a backlash.
The Dash suspects this all comes down to laundry and logos. The trappings of tradition have a funny way of altering perspective. If the arriviste Cardinals had an orange steer on the side of their helmets and the nouveau riche Mountaineers wore cardinal and gold, reviews would have been more favorable.
|Pete Carroll's 2005 Trojans aren't the only team that could make defenses look bad.|
Vince Young, Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart can make good defenses look bad. So can Brian Brohm (4), Steve Slaton (5) and Pat White (6), especially with game plans conceived by Bobby Petrino (7) and Rich Rodriguez (8). Ask SEC blueblood Georgia, which had the No. 8 scoring defense and No. 18 total defense nationally in 2005 but was blown up for 502 yards and 38 points in the Sugar Bowl by West Virginia.
The establishment critics don't want to hear that. They want to decide the championship game on laundry.
"We're new," Petrino said Monday. "We're a new player. There's a lot of tradition at other schools, a lot of tradition in other conferences. We have to go through all this and be able to understand why people say those things."
It's not hard to understand the motivation for knocking the unbeaten Big East teams as national title contenders, but The Dash says that a 12-0 team from that league deserves to play for it all. Just for fun, compare scores of the Big East's best against common opponents for other top 10 teams.
Louisville beat Kentucky by 31 at home. Florida beat the Wildcats by 19 at home. (The Gators, one of the teams Big East bashers were promoting as superior after Thursday night, strutted their stuff Saturday against Vanderbilt. Beat the Commodores by six. Florida hasn't scored more than 28 in a game since Sept. 9 and has outscored its last seven opponents by 7.2 points per game.)
|Sure, Louisville and Big East fans can have BCS title game dreams. Reality, however, is a whole different ball game. Gene Wojciechowski explains. Story.|
Rutgers beat Illinois by 33, while Ohio State beat the Illini by seven. The Scarlet Knights beat Navy by 34, while Notre Dame beat the Midshipmen by 24.
Louisville won by 18 earlier this season at Kansas State without Brohm. Texas plays in Manhattan Saturday. Think the Longhorns would care to leave Colt McCoy (9) at home and then compare scores?
The one result that doesn't flatter the Big East is against Cincinnati. The Cards wheezed by 23-17 while Ohio State rolled the Bearcats 37-7. But the Buckeyes led against Cincinnati for only 35 minutes and 10 seconds, while Louisville led for a comparable 30:54.
The loudest Big East bashing seems to be coming from Southeastern Conference advocates. Here's the funny thing about that: Ask how many SEC teams are willing to schedule Louisville.
The number is two. According to the Louisville administration, everyone else in the league has ducked, dodged and squirmed away from games with the Cardinals.
|Negative campaigning shouldn't keep Bobby Petrino and the Cards out of Glendale.|
The other SEC school to step up is Georgia, which has agreed to a two-year home-and-home with Louisville starting in 2010.
Vanderbilt backed out of a contract with the Cards that was to start next year. Everyone else in the SEC has passed at least once on home-and-home overtures from Louisville this century, according to senior associate athletic director Kevin Miller.
It's gotten to the point that Louisville is now offering neutral-site games with SEC teams. Miller said he's met with officials in Nashville about scheduling Louisville against Alabama, Arkansas or Tennessee. Athletic director Tom Jurich (10) said he's open to playing an SEC team in the Georgia Dome. They've asked ESPN for help in lining up games, too.
The takers are few -- and not just in the SEC. Among the others who have broken contracts with the Cardinals in recent years, according to Miller: Boston College, Georgia Tech, Duke and Texas Tech.
"[Football scheduling] has become the hardest part of my job," Jurich said.
SEC schools are busy filling out their schedules with home games, largely against chumps. So far in 2006 the league has produced exactly one road win against a nonconference opponent from a Big Six league: Vanderbilt over Duke. The Big East owns six road wins over Big Six opponents in 2006.
This is how you preserve the status quo: refuse to play up-and-coming programs, then howl about their allegedly weak schedules.
But the status quo is four Louisville victories away from taking a thumping. If the Cardinals win out -- beating undefeated Rutgers Thursday, bowl-eligible South Florida Nov. 18, bowl-eligible Pittsburgh Nov. 25, then closing it out Dec. 2 against Connecticut -- and they're not sabotaged in the human polls, they'll likely be headed to Glendale, Ariz.
And no amount of negative campaigning from the establishment schools should stop it.
A Bowl Team? Us?
Louisville and Rutgers aren't the only up-from-the-bootstraps teams making moves in college football. Look at some of the strangers to postseason play who could wind up going bowling this winter:
|Justin Willis and the Mustangs need one more win to become bowl eligible.|
Kentucky (12). Record: 5-4. Last bowl appearance: 1999. Chance of getting there: Excellent. The Wildcats finish with Vanderbilt, Louisiana-Monroe and Tennessee, so six wins seems like a lock. Kentucky fans have a history of showing up en masse for bowls, but this team hasn't drawn well at home (an average of about 8,500 empty seats per game in 67,600-seat Commonwealth Stadium).
Indiana (13). Record: 5-5. Last bowl appearance: 1993. Chance of getting there: Iffy. One victory in the final two weeks would give the Big Ten its seventh bowl-eligible team with seven bowl tie-ins. But to get there the Hoosiers must either shock the universe (Michigan on Saturday) or beat their archrival (Purdue Nov. 18) for the first time since 2001 and just the second time in 10 years.
Baylor (14). Record: 4-6. Last bowl appearance: 1994. Chance of getting there: Not gonna happen. The Bears, who lost starting quarterback Shawn Bell to an ACL injury, would have to beat Oklahoma State and Oklahoma, then hope the Big 12 had an available slot. Too much to ask.
Arizona (15). Record: 4-5. Last bowl appearance: 1998. Chance of getting there: Slim. The Wildcats would have to upset either No. 8 California or No. 21 Oregon, then beat archrival Arizona State in the finale. Mike Stoops has taken another gradual step forward, but a bowl bid will probably have to wait until '07.
|Dick Tomey's trying to get the Spartans to their first bowl game since 1990.|
Vanderbilt (17). Record: 4-6. Last bowl appearance: 1982. Chance of getting there: Nope. Commodores have a tossup game at Kentucky Saturday, then play Tennessee to close the year. No way they beat the Volunteers two years in a row.
Ohio (18). Record: 7-3. Last bowl appearance: 1968. Chance of getting there: Should be a lock. The Bobcats lead the MAC East and will be favored in their last two regular-season games. Frank Solich is back in postseason play; just hold the margaritas.
Rice (19). Record: 4-5. Last bowl appearance: 1961. Chance of getting there: Not good. The Owls play Tulsa and two other teams striving for a bowl bid: SMU and East Carolina. Even six wins might not guarantee anything. Rice won eight games in 2001 and seven in 1996 and '97, and still stayed home.
Middle Tennessee (20). Record: 6-3. Last bowl appearance: None as a I-A program. Chance of getting there: Very good. The Blue Raiders haven't yet played the two teams right behind them in the Sun Belt standings, Arkansas State and Troy, but they've won their five league games by an average of 17 points.
Busts Of The Year
By conference, The Dash selects its lineup of the nation's biggest underachievers in 2006:
|Larry Coker and the Canes are 5-4 and headed to a mediocre bowl.|
Big 12: Colorado (23). This didn't figure to be a golden year for the Golden Buffaloes, but nobody foresaw 1-9 and a loss to Montana State.
Big East: Syracuse (24). After a three-game midseason blip of offensive competence, the Orange (3-6, 0-4 league) reverted. They've lost four straight and averaged 11 points per game. Greg Robinson is now 0-11 in Big East play.
Big Ten: Michigan State (25). The Spartans win an unspirited competition with Iowa and Minnesota because they did the unimaginable: losing to Indiana and Illinois in the same season. Their shameful laydown against the Illini gave Ron Zook his only Big Ten win to date in two seasons.
Conference USA: UTEP (26). Memphis is bad, but it lost DeAngelo Williams. Central Florida is bad, but it had only one year of recovery from 0-11 under its belt before relapsing. The Miners, meanwhile, returned one of the nation's best pass-and-catch combinations in Jordan Palmer and Johnnie Lee Higgins -- and they're still 4-5, fifth in the C-USA West.
Mid-American: Toledo (27). The league has hitched its November television exposure to a team that is 3-6 (1-4 MAC). The Rockets will be playing three consecutive Tuesday nights, starting tonight.
Mountain West: TCU (28). Way back in September there was talk about the Horned Frogs crashing the BCS. Then they crashed by a combined 27 points against BYU and Utah and haven't been heard from again.
|Mark Richt and the Bulldogs have lost to both Vandy and Kentucky in 2006.|
Southeastern: Georgia (30). Not even Ray Goff lost to Vanderbilt and Kentucky in the same season. In fact, no Georgia coach had done it since 1973, until Mark Richt pulled the infamous double this year. The 6-4 Bulldogs' only win since September was a three-point wire job at home against Mississippi State.
Sun Belt: Louisiana-Lafayette (31). Preseason league favorite is off to a 1-2 start, with a pair of two-touchdown losses. Still time to turn it around, but probably not far enough around to win the league.
WAC: Fresno State (32). Certainly in the conversation for Bust of the Year nationally at 1-7. Gave up 68 points at home to Hawaii, and gave Utah State its only victory over the year so far. But unless the Bulldogs are totally in the tank, they should at least split their final four games.
Defense And Nov. 18
The Football Writers defensive All-America ballots are due this week. Filling it out drove home a point: As if you needed another reason to watch Michigan (33) play Ohio State (34), the game matches The Dash's choices for the two best defensive players seen in person this season.
|Carla Campbell can't wait to see if LaMarr Woodley or James Laurinaitis will be more disruptive.|
The No. 2 guy is Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis (36), who is one of the best first-year starters in recent memory. Baby Road Warrior has five interceptions, four sacks, a pair of forced fumbles and leads the Buckeyes in tackles.
Dashette Carla Campbell (37) said she can't wait to see which guy does more to disrupt the opposing offense. A Carla sighting on the sidelines in the Horseshoe would be most disruptive to both teams.
Gonzo Coaching Call Of The Week
Oklahoma's Bob Stoops (38) going for fourth-and-inches at his own 29 with 90 seconds to play, up one on Texas A&M. It worked, of course, and the Sooners are 7-2. Give Stoops credit for two things: having resolutely kept his team on track in a year wracked by suspension and injury, and having absolutely zero fear of failure.
Putting Out An APB For
The extravagantly named Oklahoma running back Elvis Peacock (39). During the absolute heyday of the Barry Switzer wishbone attack in Norman, in 1975, he was part of a five-man rotation of backs that included Joe Washington, Horace Ivory and a pair of freshmen named Kenny King and Billy Sims. Peacock did some work in the NFL, but his enduring claim to fame might be his name. Anyone with information as to his whereabouts, please apprise The Dash.
As for last week's APB subject, former Arkansas Orange Bowl hero Roland Sales: The Dash received few and conflicting leads. Most promising was a note from Greg Heim of Fayetteville, Ark., son of Steve Heim, an offensive tackle on the same team with Sales. The elder Heim reports through his son word of mouth that Sales is working for the U.S. Postal Service in Fort Worth, Texas. Others speculated that Sales is with the Postal Service in Arkansas or a fireman in Texas. Anyone with concrete information, please inform The Dash.
When thirsty in Louisville, The Dash recommends a flyby of Flanagan's Ale House (40), where an abundant selection of beers can be found and, these days, there is always someone at the bar willing to discuss the BCS standings and how they affect the home team.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.