Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football:
October Scouting Report
The September sparring sessions are over. Time now for the serious punching, where some teams will be knocked out of national title contention and others will establish themselves as legit threats to win it all. A half-dozen things to watch during this month of slugfests:
D-Day, October 9 (1) -- There are no fewer than seven blockbuster games this day: the annual Oklahoma-Texas psychodrama in Dallas; the California-USC rematch of last year's championship-splitting upset; Tennessee at Georgia in a game that will further define the SEC East race; Wisconsin at Ohio State in a matchup of defense-first Big Ten unbeatens; Minnesota at Michigan, as the Gophers strive for their first Big Ten title since 1967; LSU at Florida, revisiting the Tigers' only loss of 2003; and the Big 12 Undercard Special, Oklahoma State at Colorado.
Buster Bowl (2) -- Fresno State at Boise State, Oct. 23, the non-BCS Game of the Year. If they're both undefeated as anticipated, this could be the WAC's biggest moment in 20 years, since former member BYU won the national championship. The Dash has been to Boise, and The Dash knows: they might have to build a bigger press box to accommodate the national media.
Fulmer vs. 'Bama (3) -- You have to wear waders to get through the bad blood flowing between Tennessee and Alabama, and it only gets more bitter with time. Volunteers coach Phil Fulmer sent it over the top when he ducked SEC Media Days in Birmingham in August, avoiding being served with a subpoena to testify about what he told NCAA gumshoes about Alabama when the Crimson Tide was under investigation. The game is Oct. 23 in Knoxville, once again sparing Fulmer a trip into subpoena territory.
Is 40 Years Enough? (4) -- Navy hasn't beaten Notre Dame since Roger Staubach was its quarterback in 1963 -- the longest current losing streak in Division I-A football. This year the Midshipmen are 4-0, and they've played the Fighting Irish off their feet each of coach Paul Johnson's first two years at Annapolis. Is Oct. 16 the day they finally end the misery?
Georgia's Five Tough Saturdays (5) -- If the Bulldogs are still unbeaten come Nov. 1, they'll be up to their slobbery jowls in the BCS championship-game hunt -- but it won't be easy. In order: home vs. LSU Oct. 2; home vs. Tennessee Oct. 9; a deceptive home game vs. Vanderbilt (Georgia has only won one of the last five meetings by more than 19 points); at Arkansas; and the annual Cocktail Party against Florida in Jacksonville (Ron Zook is an improbable 2-0 against Mark Richt).
Weeknight Drama (6) -- Five currently undefeated teams will play non-Saturday games worth monitoring: Virginia (currently 4-0) hosts Clemson and Southern Mississippi (2-0) hosts Houston Oct. 7; Louisville (3-0) visits Miami (3-0) Oct. 14; and West Virginia (4-0) plays at UConn Oct. 13 and hosts Syracuse Oct. 21. Some or all of these might be worth tearing yourself away from reality TV.
Survivor: Loveliest Little Village On The Plain
The winner: unsinkable Tommy Tuberville (7), who was as good as gone last Thanksgiving until Auburn's back-door plot to hire Louisville's Bobby Petrino (8) was exposed. The losers: former president William Walker, outgoing athletic director David Housel, de facto athletic director Bobby Lowder and Auburn's national image.
Out of embarrassment has come a feisty 4-0 start and a top 10 ranking -- right about where everyone assumed the Tigers would be at this time last year.
The Dash has learned not to bet against Tuberville. He can make it hard on himself at times, but about the time you count this guy out, he wins one (or more) that he shouldn't and escapes the burning building with his smile intact.
This year Tubs shuffled offensive coordinators for the fourth time, but it seems to be working for fifth-year senior Jason Campbell (9) (18th nationally in passing efficiency) under the short-passing tutelage of Al Borges (10), who left joyless Gerry DiNardo (11) and Indiana for this job. Tubs lost five starters in his defensive front seven, four of whom are currently in the NFL, yet the Tigers are second in the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 6.5 points per game. That's the kind of stat old gridiron Cro Magnon man Pat Dye (12) would love.
"Being physical is the No. 1 thing you've got to be able to do to play for Auburn," Tuberville said.
The knock on Tuberville is that he's always good but never great -- he's lost at least four games in each of his nine seasons as a head coach. If Auburn wins in Knoxville Saturday, great becomes a distinct possibility for a guy who was all but fired less than a year ago.
Robocoach Steps Down
The announcement that UNLV coach John Robinson (13) was retiring at the end of the season didn't surprise many people out West. What did surprise folks was that the former national championship winner at USC didn't sustain his early success at Vegas.
An 8-5 season in 2000, including a big bowl-game victory over Arkansas, was supposed to be the start of something big. Instead it was the end -- the Rebels haven't had another winning season under Robinson, and they're an ugly 0-4 this year.
Nevertheless, it's undeniable that Vegas football has a better reputation now than it did pre-Robinson. Which should help it in hiring his successor.
"John Robinson was the right guy at the right time for UNLV," Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson said. "He came into the program and upgraded the schedule, won some big national contests that gave recognition to the program and has worked in concert with the athletic directors to improve the facilities -- both game and practice. He has built a program that should have allure to attractive candidates."
Athletic director Mike Hamrick (14) will be the one-man search committee, just as he was last spring when he hired Lon Kruger to coach the Runnin' Rebels basketball program. Early names in the rumor mill include a number of coordinators from successful programs. Some Vegas fans are pining for Tulsa coach Steve Kragthorpe (15), who oversaw a miraculous turnaround last year that caught the eye of athletic directors nationwide. Several former head coaches at big-time programs, currently out of coaching, have had their names circulated on the gossip wire, but none seem to make sense for this job. (In other words: The Dash has a hard time seeing Frank Solich (16) and his option scheme at a school that says it wants a wide-open offense. And let's not even waste anyone's breath discussing Stevie Boy (17).
Adrian Karstan Golden Suspenders Award
For coaching excellence goes to Wyoming's Joe Glenn (18), for the Cowboys' 37-32 upset of Mississippi last Saturday. How big was this one? It was the program's first victory over a BCS conference opponent since 1997, and first ever over a Southeastern Conference team.
Glenn spent a ton of years winning games at smaller schools -- he'd never had a losing season as a head coach until last year, his first in Laramie. In 15 games there, Glenn has more victories (he's 6-9) than predecessor Vic Koenning had in the previous three years (5-29).
Trev Alberts Fire-Him-Now Award
Goes to the first BCS coach to lose to Wyoming in seven years, Mississippi's David Cutcliffe (19).
Think they miss Eli (20) these days in Oxford? The Rebels are 1-3, with the only win a three-pointer in overtime against winless Vanderbilt -- and the quarterbacking hasn't been pretty. Micheal Spurlock (21) lasted all of two games in the thankless role of No. 10's successor before giving way to Ethan Flatt (22), who had four interceptions and a fumble in the upset loss to the Cowboys. The Rebels have thrown one touchdown pass this year.
Some excitable Ole Miss fans wanted Cutcliffe out before Manning's senior season, and you can bet that same bunch wants him out after it. But in between was a 10-3 run and a Cotton Bowl victory -- not to mention a healthy new four-year contract for the coach. That's built-in job security.
It Ain't Any Prettier In Starkville
Ole Miss fans can take cold comfort in the similar struggles for Mississippi State under first-year coach Sylvester Croom (23). Good thing Croom won the historic opener against Tulane, because he's followed it with blowout losses to Auburn and LSU sandwiched around a 9-7 loss to -- ummmm, uhhhh, not a misprint -- Maine. And now the Bulldogs have lost quarterback Omarr Conner (24) to a knee injury for at least two games, at Vandy and home against UAB.
Croom inherited a mess from Jackie Sherrill (25), as becomes more obvious with each passing Saturday. The Bulldogs were 8-27 Sherrill's final three years, as the coach became more involved in Nixonian paranoia than program upkeep. Even Sherrill's decently touted final recruiting classes have splintered, leaving Croom with only a fraction of the talent he could have had.
Bottom line: State won't be back anytime soon as a contender in the SEC West.
Then There's Good News, Down By The Gulf
Southern Mississippi (26) has survived all hurricanes, is 2-0, has won 10 straight Conference USA games and living high on larceny. The Golden Eagles have eight takeaways and just one giveaway this season. Even The Dash's non-football-following pal, Adriana Lima (27), knows you'll win just about every game with that turnover ratio.
Interception Poll Update
If you had Stanford's Trent Edwards or Texas' Vince Young, condolences. You're out of The Dash's Last Interception Pool. The four nominees who still haven't thrown a pick: Hawaii's Timmy Chang (in 116 attempts), Purdue's Kyle Orton (in 106), Utah's Alex Smith (in 86) and Cal's Aaron Rodgers (in a measly 42, as the Bears continued their work stoppage for a second Saturday).
To quell the clamoring in College Station, The Dash also wishes to acknowledge and salute the interception-free chucking of Texas A&M quarterback Reggie McNeal (28), who has thrown 85 passes without one going to the wrong-colored jersey. The Big Ten also is the conference of careful QBs -- and tepid DBs – with Orton joined by Illinois' Jon Beutjer (29) (77 throws without an interception) and Minnesota's Brian Cupito (30) (76 throws) in the No Oskie Club.
Arkansas QB Matt Jones (31) will throw a few picks -- four so far this year. He'll occasionally commit the killer fumble, as he did against Texas when some fundamental ball security would have led to a potential winning field goal. Even as a senior his haphazard throwing mechanics make him the anti-Aikman.
But if there is a more entertainingly unorthodox improvisor in America, The Dash wants season tickets to watch him play.
Jones is first-team All-Sandlot, a veteran who still seems to prefer the broken play to the scripted one. He's an athletic marvel: has there ever been a quarterback this tall (6-foot-6), this fast (an alleged 4.5 in the 40) and that pale, with that much stringy hair?
"If he's not the best player in the SEC, he's one of the best," said Florida coach Ron Zook (32), whose defense gets a shot at Jones in The Swamp Saturday.
He needs just 123 yards to set the SEC career rushing record for a quarterback, despite not playing in a true option system and looking vaguely like a turbo-charged Ichabod Crane (33) while galloping through defenses. He's a cross between Dan McGwire (34) and Michael Vick (35).
"It's rare to come across a quarterback like that," said Florida linebacker Travis Harris (36). "... He doesn't look as fast on film as he does in person because he's got those long legs and long strides."
Putting Out An APB For. . .
. . .The last great straight-ahead, square-toed kicker in The Dash's memory, the Air Force's Dave Lawson (37). Given the high-profile struggles this season with easy place kicks, we'd like to find the last true stud from the pre-soccer style days. Lawson drilled field goals of 62 yards against Iowa State in 1975 and 60 against Colorado in '74 (albeit using a 2-inch tee), and routinely bashed kickoffs through the uprights at Falcon Stadium. Anyone with information on the whereabouts of his powerful right leg, please advise.
APB update: Clemson receiver and 1981 SI cover boy Perry Tuttle (38) appears to be alive and well and working as a senior associate for corporate development at L.D. Bennett & Associates in Charlotte. Canadian Football League fans will no doubt note that Tuttle is a member of the Winnipeg Hall of Fame after a stellar career with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Barbecue joint recommendations continue to roll into The Dash, which is now junking plans for a more healthy lifestyle and planning to eat nothing but smoked meat on the road this season. (Have the coffin and a pair of Fat Boy trousers ready after the Orange Bowl.)
A torrent of testimonials have backed up the assertion that Dinosaur Barbecue (39) in Syracuse is the real deal, despite its locale. But The Dash has been rightfully chastised for omitting the Undisputed King of Dry Rub, The Rendezvous (40) in Memphis. The Dash hopes this oversight does not affect its chances of getting a table the next time it visits Elvistown.
Pat Forde is a senior writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.