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Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Year of Opportunity candidates include perfect five, mulligan club

By Pat Forde
ESPN.com

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (Les Miles' [1] autobiography, "Why I Hit On 19 with the Dealer Showing a 3 -- And Keep Living To Tell About It" sold separately):

Sixteen Hats In The Ring

In this, the Year of Opportunity in America, Stephen Colbert (2) has declared his candidacy for president. And Hawaii, Connecticut, Kansas and Virginia have declared their candidacy for BCS bowl bids, all ranking in the BCS Top 25. Only the football teams appear to be serious.

Steve Spurrier
Steve Spurrier finally had to face losing to Vanderbilt on Saturday.

Next thing you know, Vanderbilt (3) will hold a Steve Spurrier (4) team without a touchdown. That would really be something, as Spurrier entered this season 15-0 against Vandy as a player and coach at three different schools, averaging 35 points on the Commodores.

Hmmm. How's Colbert doing in the straw polls in South Carolina?

Here in the Year of Opportunity, The Dash would not be shocked if a two-loss team backdoors its way into the BCS National Championship Game. There are six weeks of games remaining, which means there are scads of opportunities for more top teams to lose.

But until that time comes, we're left with 16 teams currently working with one loss or fewer. So let's appraise their relative worth right now, before the process of elimination further thins the field.

The Perfect Five
Start with the Perfect Five, noting that they are perfect in record only. The Dash has to ask: Is this the worst collection of unbeaten teams ever?

None has a victory over a team currently in the BCS standings. None plays in what Jeff Sagarin's computer ranks as one of the top two conferences (SEC and Big East). And none has even played what Sagarin says is a top-three team in its own conference.

In other words: You're on borrowed time, gents.

Chris Wells
Beanie Wells and the Buckeyes will run into teams with winning records in the next four games.

Ohio State (5), 8-0
Best win: 23-7 at Purdue (currently No. 32 according to Sagarin). The Buckeyes' only other victory over a Sagarin top-50 team was at home Saturday against No. 42 Michigan State. Four of Ohio State's wins are over teams ranked 92nd or worse.

Going gets tough: From here on out. No gimmes left, but no bloodbaths, either. Remaining opponents have a combined record of 23-9. Toughest figure to be at Penn State on Saturday (ABC, 8 p.m. ET) and at Michigan on Nov. 17.

Electability: The Buckeyes probably just need to win out to stay on top, but that doesn't mean America would relish the sight of another sketchy Big Ten champ back in a game where it was humiliated last season.

Boston College (6), 7-0
Best win: 24-10 at Georgia Tech (currently No. 26 Sagarin). The Eagles have five victories over teams ranked 70th or worse and haven't played a quality opponent since mid-September.

Going gets tough: Right now. All five remaining opponents have winning records, and none will be tougher than the first: BC visits Virginia Tech on Thursday night (ESPN, 7:30 ET). The 6-1 Hokies lose at least once at home every year, but they did pound the Eagles in Blacksburg in 2005.

Electability: Boston College doesn't have the name cachet of Ohio State with the voters, but it does currently hold down the top spot in the BCS computer composite and the No. 2 overall spot. The Eagles could be six wins away from New Orleans.

Rudy Carpenter
A 7-0 start has Rudy Carpenter and the Sun Devils at No. 4 in the BCS standings.

Arizona State (7), 7-0
Best win: 44-32 at home over Oregon State (currently No. 36 Sagarin). Sun Devils have played three teams ranked in triple digits and five outside the top 50. They opened with four straight at home, an underrated factor in breakout seasons.

Going gets tough: Pronto. Three of the next five opponents are ranked, starting with California on Saturday. A trip to UCLA and a Dec. 1 rivalry game with Arizona will not be easy, either.

Electability: The Sun Devils are playing a bit from behind at No. 4 in the BCS standings, but wins over Cal, Oregon and USC would be a huge boost to their strength of schedule. None of the other unbeatens has a tougher run the rest of the way.

Kansas (8), 7-0
Best win: at Kansas State (currently No. 18 Sagarin). Another team that opened with four straight home games, against the immortal likes of Central Michigan (No. 81), Southeastern Louisiana (No. 200), Toledo (No. 128) and Florida International (No. 171). Throw in Baylor at No. 112 and the Jayhawks have played almost nothing but the halt and the lame. KU has left the state once.

Going gets tough: Perhaps not until the Nov. 24 regular-season finale, a neutral-site rivalry game in Kansas City against archrival Missouri. There are two other road contests to go, at Texas A&M on Saturday (ESPN2, 7 p.m. ET) and Oklahoma State on Nov. 10, and it should be noted that the Jayhawks have a 14-game losing streak against Big 12 South teams not named Baylor.

Electability: At No. 9 in the BCS, Kansas will need some help in front of it. But it also has a user-friendly schedule that could keep the Jayhawks unbeaten a while longer while those ahead of them fall.

Hawaii (9), 7-0
Best win: at Louisiana Tech (currently No. 107 Sagarin). There is absolutely nothing here worth noting. Every opponent to date ranks in triple digits. Average Sagarin number of the motley seven: 159.3. The Warriors wouldn't even be No. 1 in I-AA.

Going gets tough: Never, really, though a three-game stretch of Fresno, at Nevada and Boise State comes close.

Electability: About as viable as Dennis Kucinich.

The Mulligan Club
The 11 one-loss teams battling the unbeatens for prime BCS real estate, and who has the best excuse for the game that got away:

LSU (10), 7-1
The loss: 43-37 in triple overtime against Kentucky

Les Miles
Les Miles and the Tigers have a résumé to sing about.

How bad was it: Not very. On the road in overtime against a ranked opponent, one week after playing a slugfest against Florida. The only real shame in defeat came from the Tigers' curious decisions not to use running back Charles Scott or backup QB Ryan Perrilloux more.

How good are the wins: Excellent. Crushed Virginia Tech in Baton Rouge. Beat Florida in the great fourth-down-conversion classic. Just survived wild game against resurgent Auburn, complete with Miles' endorsing a game-winning call that went past bold and bordered on reckless. Throwing into the end zone for the winning touchdown with a second left, when a 40-yard field goal would have done the trick, is nearly insane. Forget the danger of the clock's running out (the play could have been stopped at :03); what if the very good coverage had been 6 inches better and the ball was intercepted? They'd be dredging the bayous in search of Miles' body.

"I would have made the exact same call if I had the chance again," Miles said Monday. "…We have a quarterback who understands that we need to conserve the time on the clock. I felt really comfortable that the call was given enough time to place if it was incomplete. If he brings the ball down and runs, then I have a timeout in my pocket I am ready to use. If we get to the next down, I like Colt David."

South Florida (11), 6-1
The loss: 30-27 at Rutgers How bad was it: Respectable. Good opponent, close game and the Bulls got a tough break on a 50/50 replay reversal that took away a long touchdown on a blocked field goal return. Nevertheless, USF was surprisingly soft up the middle against the run.

How good are the wins: Very. Beating West Virginia and Auburn in the opening month of the season was as strong as anything anyone did all September.

Pat White
Pat White and WVU have recovered after their USF stumble.

West Virginia (12), 6-1
The loss: 21-13 at South Florida

How bad was it: Not terrible. The Bulls are a quality opponent and quarterback Pat White missed more than half the game with a bruised thigh. Still, it wasn't as though the Mountaineers played brilliantly; they turned the ball over six times and never led.

How good are the wins: Zero to brag about. Best WVU can say is that it beat the No. 44 Sagarin team (Maryland). Terrapins the only victim with a current winning record.

Missouri (13), 6-1
The loss: 41-31 at Oklahoma

How bad was it: Understandable, given the fact that the Sooners were a solid favorite. Mizzou led early in the fourth quarter before surrendering 18 unanswered points and then adding a cosmetic touchdown in the final minute.

How good are the wins: Not too shabby. Neutral-field win over Illinois looks better now than it did on Sept. 1. Home blowouts of Nebraska and Texas Tech help, as well -- especially with a shaky defense's not allowing the high-powered Red Raiders a single offensive play in the red zone.

Oklahoma (14), 7-1
The loss: 27-24 at Colorado

How bad was it: Not pretty, since the Sooners blew a 17-point lead against a team now 4-4. Altitude and early kickoff played to the Buffaloes' favor, but that's not much of an excuse.

How good are the wins: Crushing Miami and outscoring Texas and Missouri -- a quality body of work, with three other semi-credible opponents to come before a potential Big 12 title game. Sooners flirted with blowing everything on Saturday by sleepwalking against Iowa State.

Dennis Dixon
Dennis Dixon and the Ducks have consecutive Pac-10 challenges to pass.

Oregon (15), 6-1
The loss: 31-24 at home to California

How bad was it: Quality loss -- even at home, and even to an opponent that has subsequently lost twice. Oregon led into the fourth quarter before the defense unraveled and allowed 21 points. Nearly tied the game late, but fumbled through the end zone for a touchback. Minus-four turnover margin in that game was a killer.

How good are the wins: The early beatdown of Michigan looks stronger with each passing week. Ducks haven't beaten anyone of consequence yet in the Pac-10, but that could change in a hurry with USC and Arizona State coming to Eugene on successive Saturdays.

USC (16), 6-1
The loss: 24-23 at home to Stanford

How bad was it: Inexplicable. Leave it at that.

How good are the wins: Shockingly short on substance. Nebraska and Notre Dame are great names but bad teams. Trojans haven't beaten -- or even played -- a single Sagarin top-50 team yet.

Virginia Tech (17), 6-1
The loss: 48-7 at LSU

How bad was it: Ugly and thorough, with the redeeming factor being the quality of opponent. Hard to see a team that lost by 41 points coming anywhere near a national championship game.

How good are the wins: Aside from thumping schizophrenic Clemson on the road, there is nothing to suggest greatness from the Hokies. Unless you're dazzled by beating Ohio by three touchdowns.

Al Groh
Al Groh and the Cavs have won seven straight.

Virginia (18), 7-1
The loss: 23-3 at Wyoming

How bad was it: Terrible. Outgained by 352 yards? By a Mountain West opponent? Check that, a mid-pack Mountain West opponent? That stain doesn't come out, even if it did happen on the first Saturday of the season.

How good are the wins: Suspenseful, if nothing else. The Cavaliers have won two games by one point (Maryland, Connecticut), two by two points (Middle Tennessee, North Carolina) and one by five (Georgia Tech). The Cavs have trailed in the fourth quarter in four of those five white-knucklers. Zero opponents have been ranked.

Connecticut (19), 6-1
The loss: 17-16 at Virginia

How bad was it: No great shame in losing by a point on the road to a team now 7-1. But if the Huskies had punched in touchdowns instead of settling for two short field goals they could have won.

How good are the wins: UConn should apologize for one-third of its victories, thanks to dubious officiating. An apparent game-winning touchdown for Temple turned into an incomplete pass on a bad call that was upheld by worse replay review. And UConn's 21-17 win over Louisville on Friday was abetted by an atrocious call, when punt returner Larry Taylor waved for a fair catch on a punt -- then took off for a 74-yard touchdown while everyone else on the field stopped. Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese admitted the call was "terrible" and phoned the league's apologies to Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich.

Boise State (20), 6-1
The loss: 24-10 at Washington How bad was it: Nothing embarrassing about a WAC team's losing to someone from the Pac-10 -- even Boise, which had won 14 straight games to this point. But the Broncos helped give it away with a minus-two turnover margin.

How good are the wins: Beating Wyoming and Southern Miss aren't bad, but they won't get the Broncos back to where they spent last bowl season.

The Plasmatics Would Be Proud

The Dash is feeling all punk-nostalgic these days, watching college football players take off their helmets and reveal Mohawk haircuts. What's next, clove cigarettes on the sidelines?

Owen Schmitt
WVU's Owen Schmitt "Ohawk" has The Dash feeling nostalgic.

(Or, if you wanted to get seriously throwback-ish, you can feel nostalgic for the 1400s, when the Mohawk wearers were the Mohawks themselves, members of the Iroquois nation of American Indians. But The Dash is fairly sure that even predates Beano Cook [21].)

The first Mohawk The Dash saw this year was in August on the head of stud Missouri tight end Martin Rucker (22), who actually was rocking the Mr. T model complete with beard and fat sideburns. The Dash pities the fool who has to cover the 6-foot-6, 250-pound Rucker (his 47 receptions lead the Tigers).

Since then they've popped up from coast to coast. South Florida quarterback Matt Grothe (23) is wearing the Grohawk. West Virginia fullback Owen Schmitt (24) is wearing something that might as well be called the Ohawk. Oklahoma State wide receiver Adarius Bowman (25) might as well call his the Bohawk.

And if we'd been this clever back in the day, Joe Strummer's would have been a Joehawk.

Irina Shaykhlislamova
The Dash prefers Irina's fashion sensibilities to the Mohawk look.

One other questionable fashion statement in college football '07: Kansas coach Mark Mangino (26) stretching a pair of sunglasses around his immense and fleshy face, at night, in Boulder. Even Chuck Amato's old sunglasses looked better.

The Dash has a clear preference for the fashion sensibilities of Dashette Irina (27). She'd look good in your team colors, too.

Conference USA: Punters Optional

There are 12 schools in C-USA, and none of them has the letter "d" in its name. Fitting. Because the league is rife with orgiastic offensive performances this season.

The top four all-purpose running performances of the season have come against C-USA defenses. Rice (28), Central Florida (29), Tulsa (30) and East Carolina (31) are the guilty units.

The Nos. 2 and 4 individual games for total offense came against C-USA defenses (gouged out against SMU and Tulsa, respectively).

The top individual game for receiving yards came against a C-USA defense. Rice gave up 346 yards to Houston's Donnie Avery (32).

The top individual game for rushing yards came against a C-USA defense. SMU (33) surrendered 342 yards to Tulane's Matt Forte (34). (The Mustangs have earned a potentially historic distinction, giving up a 300-yard rushing game and a 300-yard receiving game in the same season. Which helps explain why they're 1-6.)

But it would be wrong to simply scoff at all the missed tackles in C-USA. It's worth appreciating offensive talents like Avery (No. 2 nationally in receiving yards) and Forte (No. 1 by a good distance nationally in rushing yards).

Matt Forte
Tulane's Matt Forte torched SMU for 342 yards.

Forte is averaging 180 yards per game and has the season's only 300-yard games -- two of them, the explosion against SMU but also a 303-yard performance against Southeastern Louisiana. It's been a pretty fair season -- and a pretty fair career -- for a senior who was almost universally unwanted coming out of Slidell, La.

"I never imagined having even one 300-yard game," Forte said Monday.

He grew up idolizing Emmitt Smith, even wearing his number and the words "Emmitt Jr." on the back of his jersey in little league. College coaches failed to see the resemblance.

Forte and his dad sent out 15-20 videotapes of his high school work to Division I-A schools around the country and got almost no response. Virginia Tech was nice enough to write back and say he looked good, but the Hokies already had all the running backs they needed. LSU "had a thousand running backs," Forte said with a laugh.

His only scholarship offers were from the Green Wave and in-state Division I-AA schools McNeese State and Northwestern State. That at least made choosing Tulane fairly easy.

Forte was a part-time starter his first two years and then took over the job last year before a knee injury shelved him for the last three games. The 6-2, 225-pounder entered his senior year with 2,138 rushing yards -- and could double that this season alone.

"He's supposed to be 220-225 pounds, but he is fast," said the next C-USA coach who has to deal with Forte, Memphis' Tommy West. "I haven't seen anybody catch him from behind. You don't run for 300-plus yards by accident. That's unbelievable."

It takes a durable back to pound it like Forte against defenses designed to stop you. He's had four games with at least 32 carries and says he's ready for more, thanks to a rigorous offseason conditioning program.

Tulane split its squad into two groups for daily weight and conditioning workouts during the summer. Forte often worked out with both groups, building the stamina he's shown this fall.

"Once the defense wears down, it's like putting a hot knife through butter," he said. "I can't wear down -- I won't let myself."

Matt Forte has five more opportunities to wear down C-USA defenses. More huge numbers could follow.

Quote Of The Week

Kentucky radio play-by-play man Tom Leach (35) surveyed the packed press box food and bathroom lines at Commonwealth Stadium Saturday during the Wildcats' game against Florida and declared, "One thing about bad football: It sure was easier to pee and eat."

Despite the line at the loo, The Dash does not recommend pulling an Eric Schnupp (36). You might have heard about the Baylor assistant coach who recently relieved himself on the bar at a Waco nightclub. Schnupp subsequently relieved himself of his job, realizing he'd made a pretty bad career move at the world's largest Baptist university.

Meanwhile, at another prominent religious school, the football team has slid to 1-7 and Charlie Weis (37) is now 20-13 at Notre Dame. That's just a smidge better than the 21-15 record that got the scourge of humanity, Ty Willingham (38), fired in 2004. Willingham is suspected of causing Marie Osmond to faint onstage during ABC's live broadcast Monday of "Dancing with the Stars."

Putting Out An APB For …

… The Alabama defensive end duo of Eric Curry and John Copeland (39), who terrorized quarterbacks during the Crimson Tide's 1992 national title run and were subsequently drafted fifth and sixth in the '93 NFL draft. Information on the bad-ass bookends is appreciated.

Meanwhile, The Dash reports that last week's APB subject, 1995 Heisman winner Rashaan Salaam of Colorado, is splitting his time between his hometown of San Diego and China, where he's believed to be promoting martial arts and UFC bouts. Hopefully the bouts are going better than his pro career did.

Point After

The Dash was back in Lexington, Ky., for the third time this season and second consecutive week, so there is no new place to recommend to the thirsty citizens of Dash Nation. But the Sierra Nevada (40) was still cold at The Horse & Barrel, and there will be a fresh locale to scout this week. Stay tuned.

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