Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football ("Come after me! I'm a man! I'm Forde!" T-shirts sold separately):
Sources close to the New York Mets (1) say their historic September collapse can be traced directly to shoddy recruiting by Ty Willingham (2). Meanwhile, Notre Dame (3) is 0-5.
Your Papers, Please
If you don't recognize the top 10 this week, don't worry. You're not alone. The Dash is wondering how it came to this: Oklahoma, Texas and Florida losing to the unranked and leaving a power vacuum that was filled by a collection of football drifters. So it's high time to check credentials of a few undefeated programs that have wandered off the streets and into the penthouse.
Taking it from the top:
California (4). Ranking: third in all major polls. Dash ranking: third. Highest ranking since: 1952. Cal's leading passer that season was Bill Mais, who completed 30 passes on the year. That's just two more than current QB Nate Longshore (5) completed in the Saturday triumph at Oregon.
Why the Golden Bears are there: They've come through when the nation is watching, beating Tennessee handily in the biggest game of the opening weekend and then winning at Oregon in the biggest game last Saturday. They've also scored a minimum of 31 points in every game and rank third nationally in turnover margin. And in case you ever doubted the importance of turnovers, know this: four of the top five teams in that department, and seven of the top 17, are undefeated.
Cause for concern: Three BCS conference opponents played thus far are averaging 295 yards per game passing against Cal. With a pass defense like that, is any lead safe?
Staying power: Should be strong. There are dicey road games later this month against UCLA and Arizona State, but The Dash expects Cal to be no worse than third when it hosts USC on Nov. 10.
South Florida (6). Ranking: sixth in AP, ninth in USA Today Coaches' poll, 10th in Harris Interactive. Dash ranking: fifth. Highest ranking since: the school started football in 1997. Back then a big victory was over Morehead State.
Why the Bulls are there: They've got two quality wins that might be better than anybody else's, at Auburn (which is 10th in the Sagarin ratings) and home against West Virginia (seventh in Sagarin). They're fifth nationally in turnover margin, first in tackles for loss (thanks to monster defensive end George Selvie ) and 10th in scoring defense. Currently riding a six-game streak of surrendering 23 points or fewer.
"They've got very good athletes, they play extremely hard," said West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez. "They tackle well in space. They're very active and athletic up front."
Cause for concern: South Florida hasn't faced a deficit larger than three points all season. With the nation's No. 88 passing attack, can the Bulls come from behind?
Staying power: Expect the Bulls to remain in the mix until at least the latter half of this month, when they visit Rutgers and UConn, then face November home games against Cincinnati and Louisville. This program has come a long way in a short while, but it's hard to see it contending for a national title just yet.
Kentucky (8). Ranking: eighth AP and USA Today, seventh Harris. Dash ranking: eighth. Highest ranking since: 1977. And that team was ineligible to play in the postseason because of NCAA probation. Last untainted UK team to rank that high was 1965.
Why the Wildcats are there: Consecutive high-profile wins over Louisville and Arkansas put them on the map. They're averaging one point scored for every 10.6 yards of offense, an excellent ratio. That means they're ending drives with touchdowns instead of field goals; working with short fields thanks to turnovers (Kentucky is ninth nationally in turnover margin); and have a couple of defensive touchdowns. Kentucky has one of the more balanced offenses in the country, averaging 224 yards on the ground and 269 through the air. Andre' Woodson (9) continues to do just about everything right.
Cause for concern: The defense ranks 103rd nationally against the run. Can't stay undefeated long like that.
Staying power: The challenge is immense and immediate. The Cats' next three games are against South Carolina (they've lost seven straight to the Gamecocks and have never beaten Steve Spurrier), LSU (lost four straight) and Florida (lost 20 straight). Florida Atlantic coach (and UK alum) Howard Schnellenberger told The (Louisville) Courier-Journal he expects Kentucky to win two of those three. The Dash thinks one of three sounds more like it.
Boston College (10). Ranking: seventh AP, sixth USA Today and Harris. Dash ranking: sixth. Highest ranking since: 1984. Quarterback was a guy named Flutie (who, according to the BC media guide, was never a team captain).
Why the Eagles are there: Because so many teams lost in front of them that they jumped five spots after beating a I-AA team (UMass) by 10 points. Not something you see every week. Winning three league games to start the year served notice that BC wasn't going to backslide under rookie head coach Jeff Jagodzinski. The Eagles have been rugged against the run (No. 2 rushing D in the country), are plus-five in turnover margin and are getting big numbers from quarterback Matt Ryan (11).
Cause for concern: The running game and pass defense are iffy, which could be a problem late in the season.
Staying power: Expect BC to be 7-0 after beating Notre Dame Oct. 13. Then it closes with five league games that could go either way.
One Month From Now
It's tricky enough forecasting how October will play out one week at a time, but that's for amateurs. The Dash is ready to put on his hazmat prognostication suit and declare how the top 10 will look heading into the month of November:
1. LSU (12). The Tigers will be 8-0 and will continue steadily stealing first-place votes from USC by beating three straight quality teams: Florida, Kentucky and Auburn. That will set the stage for the ultimate pressure game for Les Miles (13): at Alabama and Nick Saban (14) on Nov. 3. Victory will be the only acceptable option for Miles.
2. USC (15). The Trojans also will be 8-0 after blowouts of Stanford and Arizona, a close game for a half at Notre Dame and a four-quarter fight at Oregon. But November won't be any picnic.
3. Cal. The Bears figure to be tougher than UCLA on Oct. 20 and Jeff Tedford (16) figures to win his fifth straight against ASU on Oct. 27.
4. Oklahoma (17). Expect the Sooners to beat Texas in Dallas this Saturday and Missouri in Norman on Oct. 13, rising back up the rankings. Oklahoma is four plays short of being 25-1 over its past 26 games, having lost to Colorado (last week), Boise State (Fiesta Bowl), Oregon (September 2006) and Texas Tech (November 2005) all on the final play. The only defeat that didn't come at the gun was a 28-10 loss to Texas last year.
5. West Virginia (18). Look for the Mountaineers to win all three October games, with the toughest coming at Rutgers on Oct. 27.
6. Wisconsin (19). The Bret Bielema (20) Badgers don't do much of anything with overwhelming force; they just keep winning. Well, that can't go on forever. Expect a loss one of the next two weeks (at Illinois or at Penn State), followed by a steady creep back up the rankings as others lose. (Props must be extended to frequent Dash bashee Ron Zook for the 4-1 start at Illinois, with the lone loss to unbeaten Missouri.)
7. Ohio State (21). The Buckeyes' only loss before November will be 7-6 at Penn State, in a game featuring 21 punts and two coaches wearing neckties.
8. Florida (22). The Gators will lose in Baton Rouge on Saturday, which will mark the first back-to-back losses for Urban Meyer (23) since he was at Bowling Green in 2002. But they'll bounce back to beat Kentucky and Georgia, become the highest-ranked two-loss team in the country and eyeball a rematch with LSU in the SEC championship game.
9. South Florida. There's a loss waiting for the Bulls in Piscataway, N.J., on a Thursday night.
10. Boston College. Eagles will be another Thursday night victim, losing at Virginia Tech on Oct. 25.
Meanwhile, voters will not know what to do with 7-0 Hawaii (24).
Dash VIP Newsletter -- Sign Up Today!
After hearing about the insider-info booster newsletter scheme cooked up by Texas A&M's Dennis Franchione (25) -- at the low, low price of $1,200 per year, for about a dozen elite program supporters -- The Dash's first reaction was to immediately make him Scammer of the Year in college coaching.
The Dash's second reaction: it's been quite a month for the Big 12 South, with Screamer of the Year honors already locked up by Mike Gundy (26), vigilant protector of children in Stillwater, Okla.
Third reaction: Maybe the scammer is onto something. So here goes, Dash fans
For just $40 (get it?) per week, you too can become a Forde-Yard Dash VIP! Read the one-liners a day earlier than everyone else! Get insider alerts on whether your school will be praised or ripped! Be the first to see what Ty Willingham is being blamed for next!
And best of all: Dashette phone numbers for Platinum VIP members willing to pony up $1,200! Invite Selita Ebanks (27) to your tailgate party! (Just be prepared for the Heisman stiff-arm!)
You have to sign a confidentiality agreement swearing not to divulge any of this information. Because The Dash could get fired for doing something this ethically squishy -- just as Franchione could get fired by his current employer.
During his time at A&M, he's routinely declined to disclose injury information to the media, which serves as the conduit for the fan base. But if you have enough money, congrats, you get to know. The fan caste system has never been stronger.
Franchione could be violating federal privacy laws by revealing student-athlete information. Or that the news could land in the hands of gamblers who thrive on such tidbits -- perhaps some of the boosters themselves.
Beyond all that, it's positively crass for a guy making $2 million a year to be shaking down boosters for an extra 24 grand on the side -- reportedly to pay for Franchione's personal Web site, coachfran.com. Perhaps Fran can charge his neighbors a fee for waving to him, just to make sure he has enough coin to pay the electric bill.
Of course, the main reason Fran could get flushed in College Station has much more to do with wins and losses than Newslettergate. After all, why do you think those confidentiality agreements were breached and the media informed about the newsletters the week after A&M was humiliated by Miami?
No coincidence there, right? This wasn't a booster or two deciding that confidentiality only mattered when the Aggies were headed in the right direction, by any chance?
In big-money circles at A&M, maybe your word is only as good as your football team. And the football team is nothing special.
Franchione is a tepid 29-24 at A&M, with seven difficult games to go this season. A winning record the rest of the way would make this Aggies team 8-4. That -- and the fallout from the newsletter revelation -- could leave athletic director Bill Byrne (28) with a difficult decision.
One thing is sure: If Franchione is out at Texas A&M, the boosters won't hear about it first in any newsletter from the coach.
Last Interception Pool -- Canceled!
In a classic Dash hex, all six quarterbacks who had yet to throw a pick going into last week ponied up at least one oski last weekend. Hence the pool finishes with unceremonious brevity in a six-way tie between Woodson, South Florida's Matt Grothe, West Virginia's Pat White, Clemson's Cullen Harper, Virginia Tech's Tyrod Taylor and Oregon's Dennis Dixon.
The Dash identifies 10 true freshmen who have not only found their way onto the field but made plays once they got there.
(NOTE: No, we can't mention 'em all. So if your team's top freshman is not on the list, The Dash apologizes.)
Arrelious Benn (29), Illinois. The wide receiver Zook snagged in a bitter recruiting battle with Notre Dame has 24 catches for 286 yards and a touchdown, 19 rushes for 91 yards and took his only kickoff return of the season 90 yards to the house against Penn State. Think the Fighting Irish wouldn't like to have him right about now?
LeSean McCoy (30), Pittsburgh. When starting running back LaRod Stephens-Howling got hurt, McCoy stepped in and Wally Pipped him. McCoy has 503 rushing yards and six touchdowns, averaging six yards a carry.
Kris O'Dowd (31), USC. He's started at center three out of four games for the Trojans and became just the third true freshman to start the opener on the USC offensive line since World War II. And if you've seen the Trojans play, you know the offensive line has been doing some work.
Major Wright (32), Florida. Safety hits like a sledgehammer, which is why he knocked senior Kyle Jackson out of the starting lineup. Wright has 15 solo tackles, 10 assists and two forced fumbles -- and he's just getting started.
Eric Berry (33), Tennessee. Became a starting safety by the second game and had a 96-yard interception return for a touchdown in his third game, against Florida. Berry also has 13 solo tackles and six assists.
Kendall Hunter (34), Oklahoma State. He's not big at 5-foot-8 and 180, and he didn't come out of high school with a big rep, either. But after sitting out the Cowboys' opener, Hunter has piled up 359 rushing yards and four touchdowns in four games.
Graig Cooper (35), Miami. Went to prep school last year and has surprisingly become the Hurricanes' leading rusher in a backfield that already had plenty of returning talent. Cooper has 341 yards and four touchdowns so far.
Lee Ziemba (36), Auburn. The 6-8, 300-pounder has started all season at offensive tackle, and two weeks ago was joined by two other true freshmen starters. They didn't play like rookies against Florida.
Antonio Brown (37), Central Michigan. Another prep schooler, he's 13th nationally in all-purpose yardage, having caught 38 passes for 352 yards and two touchdowns and returned a kickoff for a TD.
Putting Out An APB For
Former Northwestern running back Darnell Autry (38). The primary offensive weapon for the Wildcats' miracle Rose Bowl run of 1995 made the cover of Sports Illustrated and is Northwestern's No. 2 all-time rusher. The NFL career was less glowing. Anyone with information on Autry's current whereabouts, please apprise The Dash.
Meanwhile, The Dash is pleased to report that last week's APB subject, former Pitt quarterback Alex Van Pelt (39), is alive and well and on the coaching staff of the Buffalo Bills, where he played for several years. Van Pelt is the offensive quality-control coach, which means he spends hours breaking down opponent film and updating the Bills' playbook. Van Pelt also spent two years as the team's radio analyst, and will no doubt be pleased to know that tons of readers who revered him from his playing days in Western Pa. are still keeping an eye on him.
Alert reader Paul Crook was dismayed that The Dash ditched Tuscaloosa in favor of dining in Birmingham last week, and wrote to suggest that when T-Town visitors don't want to eat with their hands (i.e., Dreamland), they should visit The Globe (40), which is across the Black Warrior River in Northport. The Web site sure looks fancy.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.