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Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Updated: November 12, 3:06 AM ET
Breaking down the Big 12 vs. SEC Dash style

By Pat Forde
ESPN.com

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (Schematic Advantage [1] refund now available in South Bend):

The Dash wishes to send a fruit basket and a set of steak knives to Kirk Ferentz and Iowa (2). Thank you, Hawkeyes, for saving college football from a third straight season of sending an overmatched, overrated and outdated Big Ten champion to the BCS National Championship Game. Now that Iowa has taken overly conservative Penn State (3) out of the title mix and Ohio State has removed itself with two losses in a season of great expectation, hopes are high for a worthy title game.

Melissa Baker
Big Ten country gets a buckeye sticker for Dashette Melissa Baker.
And the Big Ten is free to send its champion to Pasadena, where it figures to be throttled by USC (4). But the parade will be fabulous.

Meanwhile, the Iowa loss had to feel nauseatingly familiar to Penn State fans. Last time their team was 9-0, the year was 1999. The Nittany Lions lost to Minnesota in Week 10 by the same score (24-23) in the same way (late field goal).

That Penn State team cratered, losing its last three games of the regular season. That's not likely this year, since the next opponent is an awful Indiana team, but the lethal damage of that first loss is the same now as it was in '99.

But before moving on to discuss the big boy leagues, let's offer this bit of gratitude to Big Ten country. The Dash does wish to thank Ohio for producing Dashette Melissa Baker (5).

Big 12 vs. SEC: Let The Jawing Begin

Unless some jarring plot twists occur over the next four Saturdays -- and everyone who lived through 2007 knows that can happen -- the champion of the Big 12 will face the champion of the Southeastern Conference for the national title.

(USC and Utah are rooting for plot twists. Lots of 'em. Teams like South Carolina, Florida State, Auburn, Oklahoma State and Missouri have legions of newfound fans in Los Angeles and Salt Lake City).

That would be fitting given those two leagues' general primacy, both this year and in the recent past. Right now the Big 12 and SEC hold spots one through five in the BCS standings (Alabama, Texas Tech, Texas, Florida, Oklahoma). They also have combined to win the past three national championships, and have had at least one representative in the past five title games.

As loyal readers know, The Dash is not huge on comparing conferences -- but it seems unavoidable at this juncture. What follows is your all-purpose breakdown of both essential and nonessential Big 12 versus SEC information.

First, head-to-head, one through 12, as of today:

Graham Harrell
In a battle between the Big 12 and SEC, who comes out celebrating?
Alabama vs. Texas Tech. Dash advantage: Texas Tech (6). What the Red Raiders have done the past two weeks trumps the Crimson Tide's achievements to date.

Florida vs. Texas. Dash advantage: Texas (7). The Longhorns have beaten teams ranked sixth (Oklahoma), ninth (Oklahoma State) and 13th (Missouri) by Jeff Sagarin. Gators have beaten teams ranked 12th (Georgia), 19th (Miami) and 20th (LSU). And Texas' one loss looks a lot better than Florida's.

Georgia vs. Oklahoma. Dash advantage: Oklahoma (8). Not once all season have the Bulldogs looked anywhere near as good as the Sooners, who are averaging 57.8 points per game since losing to Texas.

LSU vs. Oklahoma State. Dash advantage: Oklahoma State (9). The Cowboys have one hang-your-hat victory on the books, winning at then-No. 3 Missouri. Closest LSU can come to comparing with that is winning at South Carolina. Tigers also have been dump-trucked twice (by Florida and Georgia) to only once (Texas Tech) for Oklahoma State.

South Carolina vs. Missouri. Dash advantage: Missouri (10). The Gamecocks have come on in the second half of the season, but losing to Vanderbilt remains on their permanent record. Mizzou's two losses both are to ranked opponents.

Ole Miss
Ole Miss scored a huge victory earlier this season, winning in the Swamp.
Mississippi vs. Nebraska. Dash advantage: Mississippi (11). Finally, one for the SEC. The Rebels have the one huge victory in The Swamp and have come close in every loss. In their seventh home game of the season, the Cornhuskers finally beat someone worth noting (kind of) in Kansas on Saturday.

Vanderbilt vs. Kansas. Dash advantage: Vanderbilt (12). Slight edge to the struggling Commodores, who have played a much tougher schedule.

Kentucky vs. Colorado. Dash advantage: Kentucky (13). By the slimmest of margins, which is exactly what the Wildcats have won their two SEC games by -- a combined two points. Both teams count Big East opponents as the best skins on their wall -- West Virginia at home for Colorado, Louisville on the road for Kentucky.

Auburn vs. Kansas State. Dash advantage: Auburn (14), if forced to pick a winner. But the Tigers are so far in the tank right now that they struggled to beat Tennssee-Martin on Saturday.

Tennessee vs. Texas A&M. Dash advantage: Texas A&M (15). If the Volunteers can lose at home to Wyoming, which is in the process of getting its coach fired by its lousy play, they can lose to anyone.

Arkansas vs. Baylor. Advantage: Arkansas (16). This isn't a good Razorbacks squad but it has improved pretty steadily as the season has progressed.

Mississippi State vs. Iowa State. Dash advantage: Mississippi State (17). Bulldogs (3-6) are four points away from being 5-4. Cyclones haven't won since Sept. 6.

Scoreboard: Big 12 6, SEC 6. But they don't give out awards for being better in the bottom half of the league. Winner: Big 12.

Other semi-pertinent compare/contrast information:

Sam Bradford
The Big 12's strong suit this season: quarterbacks.
Current strong suit -- SEC: Defense. Big 12: Quarterbacks.

Current knock on the other -- SEC on the Big 12: They're playing overrated touch football. Wait until they run up against one of our defenses. Big 12 on the SEC: Can anyone throw the ball in that league? Wait until they try to stop one of our offenses.

Dead man walking -- SEC: Phillip Fulmer, Tennessee. Big 12: Ron Prince, Kansas State.

Multi-threat quarterback -- SEC: Tim Tebow of Florida, 10 rushing touchdowns and 17 passing TDs. Big 12: Colt McCoy of Texas, seven rushing touchdowns and 28 passing TDs.

All-purpose freak -- SEC: Percy Harvin of Florida, 12 touchdowns -- five rushing and seven receiving -- on 76 total touches. Big 12: Jeremy Maclin of Missouri, second nationally in all-purpose yards at 198.5 per game.

Record in BCS bowls -- SEC: 11-4. Big 12: 6-8.

State where they all go to recruit -- SEC: Florida. Big 12: Texas.

Huge neutral-site rivalry game/drunkfest -- SEC: World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, Florida vs. Georgia in Jacksonville. Big 12: Red River Rivalry, Oklahoma vs. Texas in Dallas.

Rogue basketball school -- SEC: Kentucky. Big 12: Kansas.

Best city -- SEC: Nashville. Big 12: Austin.

Best town -- SEC: Athens. Big 12: Boulder.

Worst town -- SEC: Starkville. Big 12: Ames.

Barbecue of choice -- SEC: Ribs. Big 12: Brisket.

Don't Beat Yourself

Turnovers and penalties. You hear coaches preach against them like lust and gluttony. You hear fans bemoan them on message boards and call-in shows.

So is it true that avoiding mistakes is the clearest path to success? The Dash looked up the numbers and put that old bromide to the test.

The results show that teams low in both giveaways and penalty yards generally are successful -- but not all of them. The top 12 teams in The Dash's DBY (Don't Beat Yourself) Index:

The Dash's DBY Index
Team Fewest Giveaways Fewest Penalty Yards Average Rank
Ball State (18) T-2nd 3rd 2.5
Correlation: Strong. Undefeated Cardinals are having the best season in school history.
Penn State T-6th 1st 3.5
Correlation: Strong. Nittany Lions were an unexpected national title contender until losing at Iowa -- where they exceeded their pre-game averages with two turnovers and 35 penalty yards.
Navy (19) T-17th 2nd 2.5
Correlation: Fairly strong. Midshipmen are 6-3 and bowl-bound again under first-year head coach Ken Niumatalolo, avoiding a rebuilding year.
Virginia Tech (20) T-6th 13th 9.5
Correlation: Fairly strong. With seven games decided by 10 points or less, avoiding mistakes can only help.
Arizona (21) T-17th 4th 10.5
Correlation: Strong. Wildcats are bowl-eligible for the first time in a decade.
Syracuse (22) 13th 9th 11
Correlation: None. Makes you wonder how bad the 2-7 Orange would be if they were playing carelessly.
West Virginia (23) T-6th 28th 17
Correlation: Fairly weak. Mountaineers are a disappointing 6-3, but you cannot blame that on sloppiness.
Northern Illinois (24) T-13th 24th 18.5
Correlation: Strong. Huskies have jumped from 2-10 last year to 5-4 under new coach Jerry Kill.
UNLV (25) T-6th 39th 22.5
Correlation: Inconclusive. Rebels won two games a year for the previous four and have doubled that this season -- but this was supposed to be the payoff year for coach Mike Sanford, and a 1-5 Mountain West record fails to dazzle.
Vanderbilt T-29th 18th 23.5
Correlation: Fairly strong. The Commodores' 5-0 start was largely fueled by a big turnover margin -- and in the SEC, playing smart is a must for Vandy to compete. But the Dores have lost four straight since then.
Alabama (26) T-38th 10th 24
Correlation: Strong. Crimson Tide are undefeated and ranked No. 1.
Duke (27) 23rd 25th 24
Correlation: Strong. At 4-5 the Blue Devils are having their best season since 1994.

Stop The Madness

A Chicago Sun-Times story Monday shed much more heat than light on the tenure of Charlie Weis (28) at Notre Dame. The story declared that "The Weis Watch is officially on," but lacked even the slightest substantiation for that assertion beyond the Fighting Irish's continued lousy play against decent opposition.

Charlie Weis
Since Brady Quinn left South Bend, Charlie Weis has struggled mightily against top teams.
After once again playing piņata for mighty Boston College (29), Weis is now 1-16 in his past 17 games against teams that finished the season .500 or better -- or, in the case of 2008 opponents, currently are .500 or better. That lone point of pride in those 17 games: a seven-point win last month over Stanford (30), which presently is 5-5 but easily could end up 5-7 and wipe that victory off the books.

Since Brady Quinn (31) left South Bend, Notre Dame hasn't beaten anybody.

But that doesn't mean Notre Dame should compound its serial coaching errors in the post-Lou Holtz era by firing Weis after four seasons. Changing coaches every four years -- which would be the average tenure of Bob Davie, Ty Willingham and Weis -- only breeds instability into the program.

Ask Baylor, which is on its fifth coach in 16 years after Grant Teaff retired. Ask Missouri, which fired five coaches between 1977 and 2000 -- then stuck with Gary Pinkel and got huge results the past two seasons. Ask Washington, which desperately hopes the fifth replacement for program patriarch Don James lifts the school out of what has become an entrenched mediocrity.

Then there is the buyout in the ludicrous 10-year, $30-plus million contract the school threw at Weis in celebration of a close loss to USC in 2005. Surely, it can't be cheap, even for a school with its own television contract, with NBC.

For a program that has spent the entire decade finding ways to lose luster, firing another coach now is not the answer. One more year of working with his highly ranked recruits should tell a more complete tale of whether Weis is a big-time coach, or merely a lucky schlub who parlayed the Tom Brady-Brady Quinn exacta into false idol status.

Big Six Leagues -- Then And Now

In July, the media punditocracy made its predictions for the order of finish of the six automatic-bid BCS conferences. Four months later, it's time to check in and see which teams have overachieved and which have underachieved in comparison to those expectations.

Maryland
Maryland is in the hunt for the ACC Atlantic crown.
Atlantic Coast Conference (32). Overachiever: None really, as the media picks have largely played out. Closest thing to an overachiever would be Maryland, predicted fifth in the Atlantic Division but currently 3-2 and a half game out of first. Underachiever: Clemson, and it's not close. The Tigers got a league-high 59 votes to win their division but find themselves in fifth, explaining why Tommy Bowden is now golfing instead of coaching.

Big 12 (33). Another league that has hewed close to anticipated form. Overachiever: Texas Tech, which was predicted to finish a close third in the Big 12 South but now finds itself in first in that division -- and in second nationwide. Underachiever: Oklahoma, for the moment. The Sooners were picked to win the South but currently are a game behind the Red Raiders and lose the tiebreaker with co-second-place team Texas.

The Dash's Heisman List

1. Graham Harrell, Texas Tech. Did nothing in that rout of Oklahoma State to dissuade voters -- and if you were still unsure, throwing six touchdowns can sway a few undecideds.

2. Colt McCoy, Texas. Scorched Baylor in a bounce-back game, throwing for 300 yards and five touchdowns. A 78 percent accuracy rate and 4-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio remains pretty strong.

3. Sam Bradford, Oklahoma. Barely holding off surging Tim Tebow for third on this ballot. Hard to drop a guy who throws for 320 yards and four touchdowns and leads his team to 66 points.

ESPN.com's Heisman Watch | Vote!
Big East (34). Overachiever: Cincinnati, picked to finish fifth but currently tied for first after defeating West Virginia on the road -- no wonder coach Brian Kelly's name is circulating for other jobs. Underachiever: South Florida. The predicted runner-up instead is languishing in seventh, having only beaten moribund Syracuse.

Big Ten (35). The league office wimps out with its picks, only releasing the top three teams (which were Ohio State, Wisconsin and Illinois). Given that limited data to work with, The Dash still can make some calls. Overachiever: Michigan State, which most preview magazines appraised as a midpack team but currently is on top at 6-1. Underachiever: Michigan. The Wolverines weren't supposed to be great this year -- but neither were they supposed to have seven losses, with Ohio State still to come.

Pac-10 (36). Overachiever: Oregon State. The perennially underappreciated Beavers were forecast to finish sixth but currently occupy second -- and would own the tiebreaker in case of a deadlock at the top with USC. Underachiever: Arizona State. The Sun Devils were picked to finish second, but the only teams behind them are the terrible twosome of Washington and Washington State.

Southeastern Conference (37). Overachiever: Alabama, which didn't get any of the 70 votes to win the SEC Western Division but already has wrapped it up. Underachiever: Call it a tie between Tennessee (last in the East after being picked third) and Auburn (fourth in the West after being picked to win it).

Putting Out An APB For ...

David Gordon
One could argue that since David Gordon's kick, Notre Dame has never been the same.
... Former Boston College kicker David Gordon (38), who in 1993 started the malaise that still grips Notre Dame football 15 years later. Gordon kicked the game-winning, 41-yard field goal to shock the undefeated, No. 1 Fighting Irish 41-39 -- sending Florida State toward its first national title and leaving the Irish to play Texas A&M in a consolation Cotton Bowl. Notre Dame was jobbed out of a national title shot despite beating Florida State the previous week, but the penalty in the polls for losing to a 7-2 BC team was significant enough to vault the Seminoles back to No. 1.

Anyone with information on the whereabouts of Gordon, please apprise The Dash. We already know the whereabouts of his coach that day, a guy named Tom Coughlin.

Meanwhile, The Dash is pleased to report that last week's APB subject, former Alabama safety George Teague is alive and well and living in Carrollton, Texas, where he is the athletic director at Carrollton Christian Academy. Thanks to all Dash spies who supplied info on the man who took the ball from Miami's Lamar Thomas like candy from a baby in the 1993 Sugar Bowl in the greatest play that never counted (it was wiped out by a penalty).

Point After

When hungry in the embarrassment of nightlife riches known as New Orleans, The Dash recommends dinner at Emeril's (39). Anything and everything on the menu -- eat it and love it.

After dinner, walk up the street for a bottle of Abita Purple Haze at Lucy's (40), one of only a million cool bars in a great American city.

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