Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (season tickets sold separately at North Carolina (1), where for a limited time you can get $10 off for every starter under investigation):
Offseason? Was there really an offseason? The Dash doesn't remember one after dashing from Pete Carroll bolting USC the day after the national title to the five-alarm house fire of conference realignment to the Trojans' smackdown from the NCAA to the agent epidemic and back to conference realignment again.
Mercifully, all that finally has given way to an actual game week. We're on the verge of grilled meat and marching bands, blocking and tackling, winners and losers. Hallelujah.
But before we get to the good stuff, The Dash has a couple of other thoughts on summer happenings that at least tangentially relate to college football. Two things The Dash does not understand:
• How anyone cried at "Toy Story 3." I know a lot of people did, particularly choking up over Andy going off to college. Here's what you need to know about that, you teary-eyed jack wagons (to borrow a tender phrase from the Geico drill sergeant/therapist):
College is no place for Sheriff Woody. Or Coach Woody, for that matter. You want proof? Dash friend Joe Biddle of the Tennessean reported in July that former Missouri and Vanderbilt head coach Woody Widenhofer (2) is working at a highway toll booth in the Florida panhandle. Seriously.
Fact is, Andy is more likely to come in contact with Mr. Pot Head than Mr. Potato Head. Instead of Buzz Lightyear, he could be getting his buzz from a beer bong. But before you get sniffly about lost innocence, remember this wonderful upgrade in quality of living: Andy is getting cheap tickets to football games.
What's to cry about?
• How anyone could find futbol superior to football. The World Cup was a huge deal this summer, but the biggest thing it did for The Dash was to reinforce how much better the game is when you can use your hands. Three main reasons:
Scoring. Not the first time anyone has mentioned this as a criticism of soccer, or even the millionth. But it bears repeating. Remember that torturous 1-0 championship game? Even if you make each goal worth a touchdown, that's, um, 7-0. And there wasn't a college football game that low-scoring in 2009. Closest: South Carolina 7, North Carolina State 3; and Air Force 10, Wyoming 0.
Diving. There are no feigned collisions and faux injuries in football. Well, other than punters trying to draw roughing-the-kicker flags. But nobody takes punters seriously anyway.
Vuvuzelas. There are none in football. Though the Southeastern Conference version of an obnoxious noisemaker, the cowbell, is making a comeback at Mississippi State (3).
But soccer does have at least one thing going for it. Her name is Larissa Riquelme (4), and she is a Paraguayan fan of Dashette quality. You'd make room for her at your college football tailgate, right?
The most interesting men in Gridworld
Earlier this summer, The Dash had the absolute pleasure of interviewing The Most Interesting Man in the World. When he's not working as the coolest beer pitchman alive, he goes by the name Jonathan Goldsmith (5).
It might have been the most interesting interview in the world.
The man who takes male studliness to new levels while advocating Dos Equis is, in a real life, a 71-year-old Jewish guy from New York who once drove a garbage truck. As a youth he wanted to be a gynecologist, was "dismissed" from New York University and ultimately graduated from Boston U. From there, it took a visit to a psychologist to find acting.
"My father felt like I was having a meaningless existence," Goldsmith said, so he took him to a shrink who advocated acting school.
A most interesting career was born. He waited tables but also worked with legendary playwrights Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams. He made 350 TV appearances in a variety of roles, plus some big-screen roles as well. He became involved in charities for abused children and Siberian tigers.
"But nothing has given me the accolades this wonderful character has," Goldsmith said. "I'm very fortunate. Guys my age are usually in the twilight of their careers."
Instead, Goldsmith's MIMITW character is among the most popular in advertising. So when he's not living like his character -- his home is a boat in Marina Del Rey and he's hand-fed a 700-pound tiger -- he is enjoying a new level of celebrity.
"I threw out the first pitch at the Dodgers game July 13th," he said. "It went good. Some say it was a strike, some say I just missed the outside corner."
Goldsmith said he was a painfully skinny pitcher in high school. Prior to that, he played football.
"I was very, very fast," he said. "Then one day I got tackled. I took up baseball."
Other than sailing and working out six days a week, his jock days are behind him. But he understands his character's appeal to male sports fans as a suave, sage, adventurous chick magnet.
"It's every guy's fantasy to be like him -- including mine," he said. "I hope our viewers can get a chuckle, but also get good advice. Be interesting, don't be boring.
"My advice to sports fans would be to enjoy but don't focus entirely on anything -- enjoy the experience of living broadly. Get out of your comfort zone. Read books in between games. Practice sportsmanship in your appreciation."
And, of course, stay thirsty.
Should Goldsmith ever choose to retire, The Dash has a list of potential replacements from college football. Introducing the 2010 Most Interesting Men in Gridworld (to be read in Dos Equis narrator voice):
Chris Petersen (6), Boise State coach. His brain makes Spock's seem slow. He treats defensive coordinators like lab rats. He's made living in Boise cooler than the French Riviera. Ideal MIMITW scene: Ice fishing by hand.
Brian Kelly (7), Notre Dame coach. He wins more routinely than the Harlem Globetrotters. His arrival in South Bend was so exhilirating, Touchdown Jesus applauded. He is the real schematic advantage, not just a guy talking a big game. Ideal MIMITW scene: Piloting a motor boat in the company of beauty queens.
Urban Meyer (8), Florida coach. He retired and un-retired faster than Usain Bolt can run 100 meters, and nobody held it against him. He signed the nation's best recruiting class while working part-time. He's named for a pope -- and the pope is flattered. Ideal MIMITW scene: Sword fighting on cobblestone streets.
Sam and Emmanuel Acho (9), Texas Longhorns. They take part in yearly trips to bring medical aid to people near their ancestral home of Isuikwato, Nigeria. They recruit teammates to go with them and log 14-hour days helping doctors. When they hit ball carriers in Texas, they feel it in Isuikwuato. Ideal MIMITW scene: Playing cards with tribesmen in the jungle.
Mark Ingram (10), Alabama running back. He is the defending Heisman Trophy winner on the defending national champions. He claims to have rolled a 248 game in bowling and shot a 69 in golf -- and if you doubt him, he will stiff-arm you to the ground. He treats arm tackles as an insult. Ideal MIMITW scene: Hitting trick pool shots from the mouths of friends.
Terrelle Pryor (11), Ohio State quarterback. He is the most talented physical specimen in college football. He became the first Buckeyes QB since World War II to lead his team in rushing and passing. He is a Heisman candidate despite playing in the Most Conservative Offense in the World. Ideal MIMITW scene: Removing a bear's paw from a steel trap.
Mikhail Marinovich (12), Syracuse defensive end. He is the son of the scariest Little League dad in football history. He was part-owner of a Syracuse hookah bar and dabbled in male modeling. He shares the same first name with Gorbachev and Baryshnikov, but neither can block him on the edge. Ideal MIMITW scene: Surfing gigantic waves.
Jordan Culbreath (13), Princeton running back. He was diagnosed with life-threatening aplastic anemia last season and stared it down. He's returning against high odds to suit up in 2010 after a medical redshirt year. He's majoring in mechanical and aerospace engineering, a degree program that would embarrass 99 percent of FBS players. Ideal MIMITW scene: Bench pressing nurses.
Craig Thompson (14), Mountain West commissioner. He crushed a rival conference (the WAC) with his bare hands. Senators line up to do his BCS fighting for him. He turned a near-fatal television contract into a mere flesh wound. Ideal MIMITW scene: Jai alai star.
Pat Haden (15), USC athletic director. He makes Tim Tebow look like a scofflaw. He's talented enough to get rich four different ways (NFL player, TV analyst, businessman, athletic administrator). When he yanks the leash in his hands, Lane Kiffin yelps. Ideal MIMITW scene: Arm wrestling a third-world dictator.
Ten biggest dolts
For all the interesting people in the game, there are a few who deserve a Dash diss for football-related stupidity:
Marvin Austin (16), North Carolina defensive tackle. Provided a Twitter road map for NCAA investigators linking him to enjoying an allegedly agent-funded high life on South Beach. Not only that, but reports indicate Austin was something of a pied piper for other players, leading them into agent-infested waters. And then his name was linked last week to potential academic fraud as well. Not a great offseason, young man.
Tyler Thomas (17), Oregon State offensive lineman. There is a time and a place for firing out of a three-point stance. Drunk, naked, while allegedly trespassing in a woman's apartment and facing police is neither the time nor the place.
Jay Nixon (18), Missouri governor. At a time when schools were circumspectly investigating conference relocation, the highest-ranking Mizzou fan all but grabbed a bullhorn and shouted from the dome of the state capitol in Jefferson City that the Tigers wanted into the Big Ten and out of the Big 12. Along the way he took shots at the academic profiles of Big 12 brethren Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. And when all was said and done? Missouri didn't get that Big Ten invite and found itself in major suck-up mode to those it offended in the Big 12. That was a Nixonian gaffe unlike any seen since the early 1970s.
Jeremiah Masoli (19), Mississippi quarterback. Somebody tell The Dash if this is a good career move: After leading your school (Oregon) to the Rose Bowl, go out and commit felony burglary the following spring. Then, while suspended for the 2010 season, get cited for possession of marijuana. Then transfer to Mississippi and scramble for eligibility to play for a team picked to finish last in the SEC West. Never mind, The Dash can figure out that answer all alone.
Dorothy Davidson (20), mayoral candidate in Bessemer, Ala. You probably heard about Davidson, who came up with the brainstorm this summer to have herself photoshopped into a picture with Alabama god/coach Nick Saban as a celebrity endorsement of her candidacy. Stunningly, Alabama caught on and let the world know that Saban had not, in fact, endorsed Davidson for mayor. To quote another suddenly prominent Alabamian, Huntsville soliloquist and Internet sensation Antoine Dodson, "You are so dumb. You are really dumb. For real."
Hog Sports Radio (21). On-air personality Renee Gork was fired in August, in part because the Florida grad wore a Gators hat to an Arkansas scrimmage and subsequent Bobby Petrino news conference, at which the always light-hearted Petrino criticized the fashion statement. Clearly, the only acceptable media headgear when covering Arkansas practice is a plastic Hog hat.
Fired athletic directors (22). Specifically, Mike Garrett of USC and Damon Evans of Georgia. Employment tips for high-profile college administrators: do not scoff at major NCAA sanctions and chalk them up to "jealousy" ... and hide the red panties when the red panties do not belong to your wife.
Jim Delany (23), Big Ten Conference commissioner. Expanding the conference to 12 is fine. Relocating the league's greatest rivalry to midseason and reducing its value is not. Trifling with the tradition of Ohio State-Michigan has the potential to be a very dangerous move.
Dwight Dasher (24), Middle Tennessee State quarterback and allegedly terrible poker player. Dasher is suspended from a very promising season while the school, NCAA and law enforcement look into whether he borrowed $1,500 from an octogenarian poker acquaintance, lost it all, then tried to cover the losses with checks stolen from his roommate. Despite The Dash's fondness for Dasher's surname, that's bad. Cue the Kenny Rogers song that is appropriate in these situations.
Rice (25). Yes, it's mean to pick on the largely defenseless Owls. (And The Dash does mean defenseless; Houston hung 73 on 'em to end 2009.) But on what appears to be an otherwise up-to-date athletic website, the Rice football recruiting section has failed to account for the 2-10 debacle in 2009 in any way. The site still proclaims that Rice has gone to bowl games two of the past three years (2006 and '08). Time to get current, even if the present isn't pretty. (The near future isn't pretty either, with Texas coming to Houston to open this season -- the first of seven straight in-state games for Rice. The Owls don't leave Texas until Oct. 23.)
Ten things that could reshape the season
According to the chalkosphere, Alabama and Ohio State will meet for the national championship. Which would be fine, but it sure sounds dull going into September. So, for that matter, does the predicted excellence of usual suspects Texas, Oklahoma and Florida. Here are 10 wild cards that could alter the predicted course of the season between now and January:
Pete Kwiatkowski (26), Boise State defensive coordinator. The Dash's only hesitation in picking Boise No. 1 was the loss of stellar DC Justin Wilcox to Tennessee in the offseason. And while the Broncos have made a name for themselves as an offensive power, they won their biggest games in an undefeated 2009 season with defense, holding Oregon and TCU to a combined 18 points. So Kwiatkowski must prove he is up to the promotion from defensive line coach. He has something of a safety net with the February hire of Bob Gregory away from his defensive coordinator job at California -- but the two of them must be in synch and on task if Boise is to reach its sky-high goals for 2010.
Georgia turnover margin (27). Bulldogs were a putrid minus-16 in that department last year. They recovered exactly two fumbles, which is why Willie Martinez is now coordinating elsewhere, and Bulldogs QBs threw 17 interceptions. Some of the turnover margin is aggressiveness on defense and some of it is prudence on offense -- and some of it is just luck. After never having a year anywhere near that bad in turnover margin, Mark Richt is due for some better bounces this time around. If Georgia gets back into plus-turnover margin on the season, it could well win the SEC East.
Wisconsin offensive line (28). The Badgers return everyone up front, including Lombardi Award watch listers Gabe Carimi (6-foot-7, 315 pounds) at left tackle, John Moffitt (6-5, 323) at center and Lance Kendricks at tight end. When Wisconsin's line clicks, it wins: the Badgers were 10-0 when rushing for more than 150 yards last year and 0-3 when rushing for less; and they were 9-0 when allowing two or fewer sacks and 1-3 when allowing three or more. If Wisconsin's offensive line can outplay the formidable defensive front sevens of Ohio State and Iowa (just 2.7 yards per carry and 10 sacks against those two last year), the Badgers might win the Big Ten.
Arkansas defense (29). It was horrible last year, surrendering an SEC-worst 401 yards per game and ranking 89th nationally. With 10 starters back from the No. 9 scoring offense in the country, the Razorbacks only need to be competent defensively to win a lot of games. But if they can upgrade from competent to good, they'll have a chance for big victories in a crucial four-game stretch early in the season against Georgia, Alabama, Texas A&M and Auburn.
Nebraska quarterbacks (30). At the rate he is going, Bo Pelini won't announce a starting quarterback until 10 seconds before that unit takes the field for the first time in the opener against Western Kentucky. The Cornhuskers have expressed total confidence in all three QBs vying for the job -- incumbent Zac Lee and backups Cody Green and Taylor Martinez -- but it's impossible to tell whether that's sincere or just the party line. Many people believe quality quarterbacking could be the only thing separating Nebraska from contention for a national title.
Pac-10 quarterbacks (31). The Dash loves the QB quality out West, from Stanford's Andrew Luck to USC's Matt Barkley to Washington's Jake Locker to Arizona's Nick Foles to California's Kevin Riley. But with the Trojans banned from the postseason and questions about the Cardinal (life after Gerhart), the Huskies (last winning season was 2002), the Wildcats (punked in bowl game) and the Golden Bears (floppers when expectations are high), it may be a new starter who holds the conference's fate in his hands. That would be Oregon sophomore Darron Thomas. If he can do a decent Jeremiah Masoli impersonation -- minus the legal trouble -- the Ducks win the league by open lengths.
Dave Wannstedt (32). He's been a head coach for 16 seasons in the NFL and college, with one division or conference title (with the Miami Dolphins in 2000) to show for it. This year his Pittsburgh Panthers are favored to win the Big East. Can Wannstache outperform his career record and win some hardware?
Jimbo Fisher (33). He's replacing a man who won 377 college football games. He's won zero. Fan base is so excited that, heading into this week, there were 15,000 unsold tickets for Fisher's debut against Samford. But you have to start somewhere, and the feeble finish to Bobby Bowden's brilliant career leaves Florida State with plenty of room to improve. The Seminoles were outgained on the season last year, first time that's happened since 1981. This could be the first time in years that the Noles actually live up to preseason expectations.
NCAA enforcement (34). The department has shown its teeth -- correction, fangs -- this summer, and the bite marks on offending players and programs could have a significant impact on the 2010 season. The most promising North Carolina season since the Mack Brown era seems poised for meltdown. And there are major eligibility questions and/or ongoing inquiries at several other schools around the South.
African-American coaches (35). Last year at this time, there was one black head coach at a school in a BCS automatic-qualifier conference (Randy Shannon, Miami). Today there are five. (Say hello to Turner Gill at Kansas, Mike London at Virginia, Joker Phillips at Kentucky and Charlie Strong at Louisville.) While that number remains disappointingly low, it's at least an upgrade from criminally low. Of the four newcomers, only Phillips takes over a healthy program -- Kentucky is coming off four straight winning seasons under minor miracle worker Rich Brooks. The other three guys all face rebuilding jobs and are picked to finish well back in their respective conferences this season. But at least they have the opportunity. (Programming note: Phillips and Strong face each other Saturday on ABC in a series that has tilted in favor of Big Blue after Petrino owned Brooks for four years.)
There is a lot of compelling reading material coming out this fall for football fans, and The Dash will note a few good reads in the first few weeks of the season. Leading off is "Called To Coach," the faith-based memoir of Bobby Bowden (36) that the FSU legend wrote with friend and colleague Mark Schlabach (37). The book has heavyweight forewords written by Tony Dungy and Joe Paterno, and many interesting anecdotes and revelations from one of the greats in college football history.
If this were an entry in a Schlabach Hot or Not list, enter it on the Hot side.
Putting out an APB for ...
... Former Notre Dame tight end and wholly unlikely 1973 Sugar Bowl hero Robin Weber (38). His only catch of the season came with the Fighting Irish facing a third down and backed up to their 2-yard line, clinging to a one-point lead over Alabama in the final minutes. Tom Clements completed a 36-yard pass to an understandably open Weber, a name unfamiliar to even Notre Dame fans until that moment. Thanks to that catch, the Irish ran out the clock and won the national title.
Anyone with information as to the whereabouts of Dave Casper's old understudy, please apprise The Dash.
When hungry in the Big Red-centric city of Lincoln, Neb., The Dash urges a stop at Phat Jack's (39), a barbecue joint of great authenticity and merit. You don't have to be convinced by all the barbecue ribbons and medals on the walls of the six-table spot; just have the ribs and brisket accentuated by a spicy sauce. But get there early if you want burnt ends, because they usually sell out by noon.
And if you're thirsty for a vast beer selection that includes some local microbrews, head over to Old Chicago in the Haymarket area and try a bottle of Spilker Hopluia IPA (40), brewed in nearby Cortland. Chances are decent you'll find someone willing to tell you why Nebraska will win the national title this year.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.