Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (hold the potato salad):
Now that Ron Zook (1) has primed the time-for-a-change pump, The Dash is ready to offer its advance preview on that most manic of football subplots: hiring and firing season.
Florida (2) -- The stage seems set for Act II of Ol' Ballcoach (3) To The Rescue, but there remain a couple of nagging questions: What if Gator administrators want an actual Steve Spurrier interview instead of an invitation? What if they want to hear his plan on how to reclaim an SEC that has seen Nick Saban and Mark Richt rise in his absence? Would anything less than a red-carpet rollout -- ardently desired in all corners of Gator Nation -- send Spurrier in search of a different job? This deal could yet get tricky for athletic director Jeremy Foley.
UNLV (4) -- This should be interesting, since even John Robinson couldn't upgrade the football program to the profile of the basketball program. Then again, there haven't been any pictures of Richard "The Fixer" Perry (5) in a hot tub with any football players, either. (Still The Dash's all-time favorite college sports photograph.) Paul Petrino, Louisville offensive coordinator and Cardinals coach Bobby's little brother, is a candidate.
Gonna Be Accepting Applications
Illinois (6) -- Ron Turner has lost 13 straight in the Big Ten. He's a brutal 1-16 over the last two years against I-A competition (and the one win was by three points over 1-6 Western Michigan). That Sugar Bowl run of 2001 seems like three centuries ago.
Might Be Accepting Applications
Washington (7) -- Keith Gilbertson was hired awkwardly, after Rick Neuheisel was squeezed out just prior to the 2003 season, and not much has gone right since. A talented team went 6-6 last year, and the Huskies are 1-6 amid a plague of injuries this year. They're headed for their first losing season in 27 years and were shut out last week for the first time in 272 games. New athletic director Todd Turner doesn't appear inclined to go the Foley route and make a change now, but late November could be a different story.
Syracuse (8) -- Paul Pasqualoni has put in 14 largely laudable years as coach of the Orange, but returns have diminished the last three seasons. His record in that time: 13-18. Miami and Virginia Tech's desertion of the Big East created a power vacuum that Pasqualoni doesn't seem capable of filling, given the current direction of the program.
North Carolina (9) -- John Bunting's record decreased from 7-5 his first year to 3-9 his second and 2-10 his third. This year the Tar Heels are 3-4 and have popped a couple of nice upsets, beating Georgia Tech and North Carolina State, but look at the losses: by 32 to Virginia, by 34 to Louisville, by 22 to Florida State and by 30 to Utah. Granted, that's a tough schedule, but the Heels have not been competitive against the elite.
BYU (10) -- Gary Crowton has been the The Knack (11) of Gridworld, disappointing greatly after a promising BYU debut. He slid from 12-1 to 5-7 to 4-8. This year the 4-4 Cougars opened nicely with a win over Notre Dame and have won their last two in the Mountain West, but the best way for Crowton to save his job might be upsetting rival Utah in the season finale and spoiling the Utes' BCS campaign.
Iowa State (12) -- A pair of one-point victories over Northern Illinois and Baylor might be the only things separating Dan McCarney from Ron Turner Goner status. The Cyclones are 3-4 and theoretically still alive for a bowl game in the weakling Big 12 North, with three remaining home games. But that seems a stretch, and any coach with a 41-71 career record should keep his realtor on speed dial.
South Carolina (13) -- Nobody seems to have a reliable read on what Lou Holtz will do at the end of the year. The Gamecocks are 5-2 but could replicate last year's 0-4 season-ending slide against Tennessee, Arkansas, Florida and Clemson. Three straight losing seasons might convince Holtz to hang it up -- but then again, so might a run to a bowl game.
Penn State (14) -- Jolting stat of the week: The Nittany Lions are 1-14 in their last 15 games against non-MAC schools. Watching Joe Paterno get routinely housed is as sad as watching Jerry Rice wear a Seahawks jersey. It's time to retire -- but someone needs to convince the legend of that. Maybe hanging that "4" on the scoreboard against Iowa will make it clear.
Indiana (15) -- A new athletic director makes Gerry DiNardo's status difficult to read. It's safe to say that a 7-24 record hasn't dazzled anyone, but few in hoops-centric Bloomington have seemed to notice. That could be parlayed into a fourth year. DiNardo could help himself by coming out of his bunker and selling his program a little more.
Safe, But Staff Changes Coming
Texas (16) -- Mack Brown is 0-5 this century against Oklahoma, 47-6 against the rest of America. That's good enough for The Dash and any other sane football observer. But offensive coordinator Greg Davis might be sacrificed to salve Sooner-inflicted wounds among the burnt-orange faithful. (Bad year for a shutout in Dallas, dude.)
Kentucky (17) -- Rich Brooks' return from retirement has been a flat-out failure so far. Problem is, stuck in the quicksand of probation purgatory, changing coaches again doesn't seem like the solution. And it won't be, as Wildcats athletic director Mitch Barnhart told The Dash this week: "We're going to stick with our plan. We're not in the market for a coach. We're going to give coach Brooks the chance to coach the players we've recruited." But offensive coordinator Ron Hudson, who grossly misused UK career passing leader Jared Lorenzen last year and whose unit is No. 116 nationally in total offense this year, has got to go. Or a loyal fan base will mutiny.
Waiting For The Call Up
With jobs coming open, The Dash offers a six-pack of assistants worthy of becoming a boss soon*:
Brian VanGorder (18) -- The Georgia defensive coordinator owns the only defense in America to allow just one opponent to score 30 or more points in the last 3½ seasons. Only one of the last 12 regular-season opponents has even reached 20.
Randy Shannon (19) -- Miami defensive coordinator has had his name in the mix for several years now, and this year shouldn't change that. The Hurricanes rank in the top 20 in scoring defense and pass defense.
Chuck Long (20) -- Oklahoma offensive coordinator ran a pass-first offense that helped get Jason White the 2003 Heisman Trophy. Now he's calling plays for a run-first offense that could get Adrian Peterson to the statue in 2004. Not a bad double.
The Utah Guys (21) -- Urban Meyer gets most of the credit and deserves it. But offensive coordinator Mike Sanford has had his name mentioned at UNLV, and defensive coordinator Kyle Whittingham could be a candidate at his alma mater in Provo if Crowton goes down.
Mike Cassity (22) -- Pretty simple: He took over a Louisville defense ranked 93rd last year and has it ranked seventh this year. Prior to that, he did good work at Illinois back when Ron Turner was considered smart.
Brett Bielema (23) -- First-year Wisconsin defensive coordinator took a unit that surrendered 23.5 ppg last year and has reduced that to a nation-leading 8.5 this year. And the school he left to come to Madison, Kansas State, has seen its points-allowed average balloon from 17 ppg last year to 29 this year.
* USC offensive coordinator Norm Chow (24) has had his name retired from speculation due to serial reticence to take a head-coaching job.
Tale Of The Tailback Tape
America's two best running backs might not only be confined to the same league and the same division, but the same state. Saturday we'll see the hot child from Norman -- Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson (25) -- match strides and stiff arms with the old man from Stillwater -- Oklahoma State's
Vernand Morency (26), who spent four years playing baseball -- in a duel that makes the handoff look glamorous again.
Here's how to tell 'em apart:
Adrian Karsten Golden Suspenders Award
Goes to Louisiana-Monroe's Charlie Weatherbie (27). The Indians lost 15 of their first 16 under the former Navy coach, but they might have turned the corner now. UL-M has won three in a row for the first time since 1993 -- not a misprint -- capped off by a 17-14 win at Florida Atlantic. That was the first loss this year for the mighty Owls.
Trev Alberts Fire-Him-Now Award
This space was reserved for the Zooker. Since that's become a moot point, how 'bout a Looker? With that subtle segue we offer this week's glimpse of Adriana Lima (28), who is by no means relieved of duty as The Dash's official groupie. (Word is, Adriana favors Urban Meyer's candidacy at Florida over Spurrier's. Our girl knows fashion, and she says Spurrier's visor is through.)
Five guys The Dash loves to watch with the ball in their hands -- and occasionally thinks the ball should be there more often:
Devin Hester (29) -- Miami kick returner averages a freakish 27.3 yards per touch and has returned four kicks for touchdowns this season. Last seen taking opening kickoff to the house against North Carolina State. Before that: made Louisville's punter look worse than Jeff Suppan on the base paths -- Brent Moody simply collapsed when Hester made his juke -- on a 78-yard return score.
Justin Miller (30) -- Has three kick-return touchdowns and averages 25.1 yards per touch for Clemson. Like Hester, he plays defensive back. Like Hester, you sometimes wonder why they don't at least see cameo duty at wide receiver.
Reggie Bush (31) -- Does a whole lot more "dirty work" than the kick-return boys above, playing primarily at running back at USC. But he's also a big-play receiver and returned a kickoff 84 yards against California. Most versatile player in America.
Ronnie Brown (32) -- The Other Back at Auburn is tops among the nation's leading rushers in yards per carry at 7.5. He's also caught 17 passes for 162 yards and scorched Tennessee as a receiver. He's scored five touchdowns in his last four games, and he gets a gold star for good attitude: Brown has gone 21 straight games without 20 touches, but you don't hear him complain.
Jason Hill (33) -- In a year after all the glamour receivers left college, Hill is quietly putting up big numbers at Washington State. The sophomore is averaging 27.7 yards per catch and has nine touchdowns on only 23 receptions.
Confusion In C-USA
Just when it looked like everyone's favorite dysfunctional league, Conference USA, had put together a powerful four-team vanguard in its final season before realigning, half that group gets gutted.
Memphis (34), rolling along at 5-1 and eyeing a potential showdown game with Louisville (35) Nov. 4, gets inexplicably creamed 49-10 by a bad Cincinnati team. And UAB (36), off to its best start ever at 5-1, goes AWOL defensively and loses 59-55 to a horrid Tulane team.
That leaves the Cardinals and the league's old reliable, Southern Mississippi (37), as the league's last unbeatens. (The Golden Eagles now have won 13 straight league games.) Unfortunately, they don't play each other.
Putting Out An APB For. . .
. . . Former Nebraska I-back Isaiah Moses Hipp (38) -- better known as I.M. in his off-tackle days. The Dash would love to know what's become of the Hippster, a former walk-on who ranks sixth on the school career rushing list, and what he thinks of the Cornhuskers' new throw-it-around offense.
Last week's APB subject was another memorable name from the past, Washington quarterback Sonny Sixkiller (39). Seems that Sonny is still in the Northwest and still in football, serving as an analyst for Fox Sports Northwest and authoring one of those assembly-line football books currently making the rounds, "Sonny Sixkiller's Tales from the Washington Sidelines." He could probably suit up and help his alma mater right now.
In the search for unlikely barbecue, The Dash has finally met its match. It asked for 'cue recommendations in Vermont and received exactly one response, from alert reader Jeff Nowell. His assessment:
"There is no such thing.
"I was raised in Georgia (UGA grad) and went to law school at Wake Forest. In fact, in law school, I was a member of an esteemed bunch of over-eaters known as the "Lunch Posse". We even had shirts made up. Our purpose was to dine at every establishment across the state that could tout the best "stick-to-your-ribs"
culinary delights. Actually, we challenged several Supreme Court Justices of North Carolina to try to hold their own with us in Raleigh. They did a fairly commendable job. Therefore, I feel qualified to comment. ...
"With respect to the question at hand, the closest you'll come is Finkerman's (40) in Montpelier. It's a relatively new place, and they've got pulled pork in a sauce similar to the Lexington style. They have hush puppies and jalapeno cheese grits, as well. Make no mistake, this place is an attempt at a faithful reproduction of the real thing, but it comes off a little shy of the mark. Not bad, but. . .
"Lastly, if you get any other responses from Vermonters, I'll be shocked. No one up here knows what they're talking about when it comes to the food of the gods. That said, if you do get another response, and it differs from mine, please understand that the person is wrong."
We understand. Guess it's like trying to find good clam chowder on a two-lane road in Alabama.
Pat Forde is a senior writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.