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Monday, August 27, 2007
Updated: August 28, 3:18 PM ET
The Dash is off and running

By Pat Forde
ESPN.com

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (Les Miles pop-off puppet [1] sold separately):

Welcome to the last days of August, the last days of pandemic optimism. Every coaching change will result in massive improvement. Every team had a great summer in the weight room. Every locker room is more unified than ever. Every school is ready to prove the haters wrong. Every fan base is envisioning Lee Corso outside the Superdome on Jan. 7, shoving its mascot's headgear on his noggin and declaring his national championship pick.

Thursday, the alarm clock goes off. The dreaming ends and the hitting begins and we start keeping score. Enjoy the last few days of undefeated bliss, folks. The calls to fire the coach and bench the starting quarterback aren't far away now.

Andrea Harrison
Dashette Andrea Harrison is focused on the start of the season.

True Story (For Once)

The season began for The Dash in the wee hours of a late-July morning. After attending Pacific-10 media days in Los Angeles, The Dash got on a miserably late red-eye flight home and wound up stuck in a middle seat for four lovely hours. As usual, The Dash was flying incognito to discourage groupies -- Broncos hat pulled low -- but it didn't work.

Lo and behold, who should plunk down directly to The Dash's right but actress/model Andrea Harrison (2)? She cleverly concealed her awe over being in The Dash's company by quickly falling asleep and not waking up until the wheels hit pavement. Nice try, hon. You know it's football season when the Dashettes are finding such creative ways to get close to their man.

Fightin' Words

College football is the undisputed epicenter of trash-talking fans -- no other group of sports enthusiasts loves tearing down the opposition as much. (Well, maybe soccer hooligans, but violent death takes things a bit far. Even by SEC standards.) With that in mind, The Dash offers some recommended tailgate talking points when visiting the following schools:

California (3): "BCS bowl games are so much fun. You really should try it sometime."

Nick Saban
The name Nick Saban is fightin' words at LSU.
LSU (4): "Sure is great having Nick Saban back in the SEC, isn't it?"

Oklahoma (5): "Pac-10 refs are the best."

Alabama (6): "What's Albert Means up to these days?"

Michigan (7): "Don't feel bad. It's been a while since Indiana has beaten Ohio State, too."

Tennessee (8): "How are y'all planning to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Charles Woodson Heisman?"

Louisville (9): "Offsides on a field goal? Nobody does that."

Auburn (10): "Anybody have a DVD of Oklahoma versus USC in the 2005 Orange Bowl?"

Penn State (11): "Did you hear that Joe Paterno requested the marching band add a harpsichord section?"

Florida State (12): "My dad says your teams were really something back in the day."

With 120 schools in the Division Formerly Known As I-A, the list could go on for weeks. Which is precisely what The Dash might do, serializing this throughout the season. Smart-mouthed readers are invited to take their best shots at the schools they like least. Check back next week to see if anyone is mean enough to make the cut.

How's this for openers

If you're like The Dash, you've scanned the array of uninspiring mismatches dotting the Labor Day weekend landscape and wondered where the onions have gone in scheduling. Teams spend more time than ever in offseason conditioning and "voluntary" workouts, yet seem less ready than ever to play a real game to start the season. Strange.

For the kids in the audience, scheduling soft-serve season openers against Smalltime State has not always been the norm in college football. Michigan (opener: Appalachian State) began the year with Notre Dame every season during 1985-90. Alabama (opener: Western Carolina) commenced with USC twice and Nebraska once in the 1970s. Texas (opener: Arkansas State) kicked off with Auburn three times and Penn State once between 1983 and '90.

To enlighten the young, refresh the aged and shame the cowardly, The Dash offers its list of the most memorable season openers ever.

The Start of Something Big, Historic Division (13):

Rutgers 6, Princeton 4, Nov. 6, 1869. The opener.

USC 42, Alabama 21, Sept. 12, 1970. On a sweaty Birmingham night, this outcome merely forced the South to integrate its major college football teams. All six Trojans touchdowns were scored by African-Americans against the all-white Crimson Tide. Fullback Sam Cunningham was the blunt force of societal change, pounding for 135 yards on 12 carries in his first varsity game, as USC outrushed Alabama 485 yards to 32.

Matt Leinart
Matt Leinart's run at USC started with a road win at Auburn.

Notre Dame 28, Oklahoma 21, Sept. 26, 1953. The Sooners would not lose again until late 1957, reeling off an NCAA-record 47 consecutive victories. That streak would, of course, be stopped by Notre Dame.

Georgia 16, Tennessee 15, Sept. 6, 1980. This was the night that a freshman running back began a season unlike any other freshman back ever had. By the time it was over, Georgia was national champion and Herschel Walker had a then-NCAA freshman record 1,616 rushing yards -- and he probably should have been the only freshman winner of the Heisman Trophy. His mythic three-year career began in Knoxville with a comeback victory that included Walker's famous splattering of stud safety Bill Bates on his way to the end zone. A snippet of legendary Georgia announcer Larry Munson's awestruck call: "He's running over people. Oh, you Herschel Walker! My God Almighty!"

USC 23, Auburn 0, Aug. 30, 2003. The record books show the Trojans' current renaissance began with a No. 5 ranking after the 2002 season. But it was the opener the next year that proved USC was in it for the long haul: Future Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart's first collegiate start was a stunning emasculation of a Tigers team that some wise guys had been touting as the national champion. By season's end the USC mini-dynasty was in full effect.

The Start of Something Big, Dream Season Division (14):

(Dash note: To make this category, games had to be against quality competition. Starting a dream season by thrashing Hyphen Tech by seven touchdowns won't cut it.)

Tennessee 34, Syracuse 33, Sept. 5, 1998. The first in a series of great escapes by the Volunteers on their way to the national title. Jeff Hall won it with a field goal on the final play, and the winning drive was kept alive by a fourth-down pass interference penalty.

Alex Smith
QB Alex Smith and the Utes delivered more than they received against the Aggies in 2004.
Washington State 37, UCLA 34, Aug. 30, 1997. Cougars mounted a goal-line stand in the final minute to win, launching a 10-2 season that ended with just the third Rose Bowl trip in school history.

Arizona State 45, Washington 42, Sept. 7, 1996. First, the Sun Devils blew a 21-point fourth-quarter lead. Then they regained the lead when Robert Nycz kicked a 38-yard field goal with two seconds left. ASU went undefeated into the last minute of the Rose Bowl against Ohio State, losing a national title on the flutter of pass-interference flags.

Utah 41, Texas A&M 21, Sept. 2, 2004. The Utes routed the Aggies on their way to a 12-0 season that turned Alex Smith into the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft and Urban Meyer into the Florida coach.

Florida 28, Miami 3, Sept. 3, 1983. It was a dream season, all right -- for the losers. After being routed in Gainesville, the Hurricanes reeled off 10 straight victories before being served up as the sacrificial lambs in the Orange Bowl to a seemingly invincible Nebraska juggernaut. Except Miami won the game, and the first of its five national championships.

The Start of Something Big, Seemingly Innocuous Division (15):
Michigan 1, Racine 0, March 30, 1879. Victory No. 1 for the program that has more of them than any other (849 and counting).

Notre Dame 87, Ohio Northern 0, Oct. 4, 1913. Fighting Irish quarterback Gus Dorais and end Knute Rockne spent the summer leading up to this game practicing a newfangled thing called the forward pass. By midseason they upset powerhouse Army with a barrage of them, and the pass was here to stay.

Maryland 60, Guilford 6, Sept. 28, 1945. First game as a college head coach for a man named Paul Bryant.

Bowling Green 20, Missouri 13, Sept. 1, 2001. The Falcons were 13-point underdogs, but this was more than just a startling upset of a Big 12 opponent. It was the inaugural game as a head coach for Urban Meyer -- which shows you just how quickly the man has rocketed up the food chain.

Miami (Ohio) openers from 1949, '51 and '63. Those were the college head-coaching debuts of Woody Hayes, Ara Parseghian and Bo Schembechler, respectively. For the record, Woody whomped Wichita 23-6, Ara beat Wichita 21-13 and Bo lost to Xavier 21-12.

Immortal upsets (16):

Northwestern 17, Notre Dame 15, Sept. 2, 1995. The Wildcats' sublime Rose Bowl run started with this stunner in South Bend, and the surprises never stopped after that.

Boston College 14, Texas 13, Sept. 11, 1976. A great indicator that the end of the run had come for legendary Darrell Royal. He retired at the end of a 5-5-1 season. The No. 7 Longhorns remain the third-highest-ranked team BC has beaten.

TCU players
The Frogs stunned the Sooners in 2005.

TCU 17, Oklahoma 10, Sept. 3, 2005. Sooners were coming off consecutive appearances in the national title game and had Adrian Peterson in the backfield. Horned Frogs were coming off a 5-6 season and were 25-point underdogs. They'll be talking about this is Fort Worth (and Austin) for years to come.

Toledo 24, Penn State 6, Sept. 2, 2000. Looks like a misprint, but it wasn't a fluke. Rockets led 24-0 and outgained the Nittany Lions by 220 yards on the day. No game did more to fan the "Joe Must Go" flames from earlier this century.

Missouri, 1975-78. The Tigers opened in '75 by shocking Alabama in Birmingham, 20-7. They opened in '76 by routing USC in Los Angeles, 46-25. The opened in '78 by stunning defending national champion Notre Dame in South Bend, 3-0. Unfortunately, there weren't many other big wins during that four-year stretch that saw Mizzou go 24-21.

Brutal Beatdowns (17):

Clemson 122, Guilford 0, Oct. 5, 1901. Only 100 points behind Georgia Tech's infamous annihilation of Cumberland 15 years later.

Oklahoma 104, Kingfisher College 0, Oct. 7, 1911. The road kill from Kingfisher played the Sooners 22 times between 1897 and 1919 -- losing 19 times, tying three and scoring a total of 25 points. That included non-opener crushings of 179-0 and 157-0. Oklahoma coach/sadist Bennie Owen clearly was not familiar with the concept of mercy.

USC 76, UCLA 0, Sept. 28, 1929. First meeting in the series did not accurately foreshadow the great rivalry to come. Bruins lost the first two in the series by a combined 128-0, then wisely waited six years before trying the Trojans again and earning a 7-7 tie.

Clemson versus Presbyterian, 1930-57. No school has ever served as a more faithful punching bag than Presbyterian did for the Tigers. This was Clemson's opening opponent from the Depression through WWII to Korea and beyond, compliantly playing all but one of those 28 games in Clemson. Presbyterian managed one win and two ties to go along with its 25 losses.

Georgia Tech versus everyone, 1912-21. The Yellow Jackets went a solid decade of season openers against the likes of the 11th Cavalry, Fort McPherson and Mercer without surrendering a point. Combined score of those games: 338-0.

Dash Numerology

115 -- The number of shopping days left 'til the Poinsettia Bowl (18).

491 -- The number of days since former USC hero Reggie Bush (19) said, "When this is all said and done, everybody will see at the end of the day that we've done nothing -- absolutely nothing wrong." That was in regard to his family's extended upscale home stay in Los Angeles as VIP tenants of a spurned fledgling sports agency. Of course, nothing has been said or done since, as all involved parties have refused to cooperate with Pacific-10 and NCAA investigators. Bush has shown no interest in clearing his name, perhaps because he can't.

6 -- The number of interesting openers in the Pac-10 (20), well above the norm for most BCS conferences. Start with Tennessee at Cal, the marquee game of the weekend, but don't stop there. Washington State at Wisconsin, Utah at Oregon State, Arizona at BYU and Washington at Syracuse all are noteworthy nonconference games, and UCLA-Stanford will provide early answers on two fronts: Can the Bruins start 11-0, as The Dash predicts, and how much will new coach Jim Harbaugh (21) improve the Cardinal?

Pravda Lives

One of the best parts of August for The Dash is the mailbox bombardment of school media guides. Actually, "media guides" is an archaic term -- most schools have cannibalized them, tearing out much of the program history in favor of dozens of pages of coach-controlled, unapologetic top spin aimed at recruits. (Minor props to Missouri (22), which at least labels its publication what it is: a recruiting guide.) So The Dash enjoys thumbing through the new crop of guides every year to keep current on the latest propaganda. A few rules of thumb:

• Overplay your accomplishments and underplay your pratfalls.

Urban Meyer
The 2007 Florida media guide has more than a few references to Urban Meyer and the Gators' 2006 title.

The 2007 BCS Championship game was won by Florida (23) over Ohio State (24), 41-14. The Gators subtly remind you of this with a holographic 3-D cover featuring their championship rings, the championship trophy and Meyer receiving a Gatorade bath. The Buckeyes break the news of their defeat on page 63. The only other substantive mention of that game in the Ohio State guide is on page 138, in a recap of the school's bowl history.

• There are no official facility rankings, so just go ahead and declare yours the best.

Rutgers (25) declares "The Hale Center is part of the top football complex in the nation!" But is it even the best in its own conference? Pittsburgh (26) says its practice facility "is the finest and most complete facility of its kind in the country. It contains everything a football player could ever need or want to reach his fullest potential!" (Exclamation points are big this year.)

But what about the rest of the nation? Baylor (27) -- yes, even Baylor -- quotes its athletic director, Ian McCaw, saying the Highers Athletic Complex "will be recognized throughout the Big 12 and the nation as one of the premier athletic facilities." Arkansas (28) says it "offers the finest facilities in the nation."

Give Rutgers, Pitt, Baylor and Arkansas a few years to sell their buildings and we should be seeing them in BCS bowls regularly. Right?

• If you don't use the term "state-of-the-art" several times in describing your facilities, start over. Or convince the boosters to pay for some new upgrades.

• Know your competition.

Texas A&M (29) points out that its 6,500-square-foot locker room is the "largest locker room in the state of Texas." Take that, Longhorns.

• And now a word from our sponsors …

In the Notre Dame guide, an adidas ad inside the back page lists 15 of the greatest victories in Irish history-- most of them upsets -- with the predictable tagline, "Impossible is nothing." Actually, impossible is outdated. The last one on the list occurred in 1998. What have you done for us lately, Domers?

• Sell the NFL.

Sure, most of the players you sign won't get there, but a little false hope never hurt anyone, right? Pictures of your former players in NFL uniforms are a must. So are two-page spreads touting your campus Pro Day (recommended photo: a dozen scouts with stopwatches clustered around the finish line for the 40-yard-dash). Iowa (30) devotes 18 pages to its NFL pipeline, not counting the full-color inside of the front.

• Play up the strength program.

Strength coaches have become the new rock stars of media guides, getting their names and pictures all over the place. They're all short-haired and appear short-tempered, glowering in pictures on pages that declare they will turn any weakling into a Man of Steel. Oklahoma State (31) bestows two pages of praise to assistant athletic director for speed and strength Rob Glass.

• Win over the mamas.

Include at least one picture of someone in a cap and gown -- even if you had to rent the gown and slip it on a walk-on. Include pictures of the coaches' families -- even if they don't spend any time with their wives and kids from now 'til December. Sprinkle the word "family" liberally throughout the guide. Texas (32) hits you with it 19 times in a four-page spread.

• And don't forget the babes.

Mississippi (33) knows what it has to sell. That's why the dance team is inside the front cover, some tailgating hotties from The Grove are on the back cover, the school's three Miss Americas are on Page 9 and the 2006 Homecoming queen is on Page 23.

Literary Corner

The Dash has been inundated by interesting books about college football this summer, several of which happen to be written by FODs. So it is The Dash's pleasure to plug their work -- but not without sincerity. Readers of this column would be the logical target audience for:

"Meat Market: Inside The Smash-Mouth World of College Football Recruiting," by ESPN.com colleague Bruce Feldman (34). Few people are as good as Feldman at working their way inside a program's guts and reporting how it works, from the inside out.

"Bowls, Polls and Tattered Souls: Tackling the Chaos and Controversy that Reign Over College Football," by Stewart Mandel (35). A clear, cogent, big-picture look at how the sport became the mess it is today. Why didn't anyone write this sooner?

"Saturday Rules: A Season with Trojans and Domers (and Gators and Buckeyes and Wolverines)," by Austin Murphy (36). A third case of a writer doing what he does best: In this case, it's Murphy taking the reader inside a season, week by week, and wryly reporting what he sees.

Putting Out An APB For …

… Former LSU running back Charles Alexander (37). Alexander The Great was a Heisman finalist in 1977 when Texas monster stud Earl Campbell (38) won the award, and he remains third on the LSU career rushing list with 4,035 yards gained from 1975-78. Anyone with information on Charles' whereabouts, please apprise The Dash.

Point After

Veteran readers of this column know The Dash has a proclivity for grilled meat and good beer, and The Dash has made a couple of important (and rhyming) discoveries this offseason. Namely: Grub's (39) and Old Chub (40). The former is an eat-til-it-hurts, wings-and-burgers hangout in Fayetteville, Ark. The latter is a revelatory Scottish Ale brewed in Lyons, Colo., and, heretically, distributed in cans. But don't let the aluminum fool you: It's a fabulously rich ale that would make great tailgate consumption -- especially when the weather turns autumnal and dark beers are more palatable.

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