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Dashing through September's busiest Saturday

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (flammable mattresses (1) sold separately, in Ohio State school colors):

The Magnificent Seven

Chris, Kirk and Corso will earn their stripes this week. It's their job to tee up the biggest and busiest September Saturday in recent college football history: a stellar seven games matching 14 ranked teams from seven conferences, plus the independent nation-state of Notre Dame.

Throw in eight legit Heisman Trophy contenders and roughly half a million fannies in seats, and The Dash is married to the remote. (At least until Dashette Karolina Kurkova (2) shows up bearing chips and salsa.)

This very nearly amounts to a mid-September playoff Saturday. By midnight, seven good teams will be on the outside of the national championship chase and seven others will have significantly enhanced their chances.

And early as it is, it's time to start moving up the ladder. Fifteen of the 16 teams that have played in the BCS championship game since 1998 were ranked in the AP top 10 after their first three games (exception: Eventual national champion Oklahoma was No. 14 in 2000).

The Dash breaks down the magnificent seven, in ascending order of importance:

No. 24 Texas Tech at No. 20 TCU (3)
Something's got to give: Horned Frogs have won 12 straight games, the longest active streak in the country. Red Raiders are 10-0 against in-state nonconference opponents under Mike Leach, including a 70-35 torching of TCU two years ago.

What favors Tech: Protecting the quarterback. Graham Harrell (4) has been sacked only once this season in 101 pass attempts. TCU, normally a team that creates mayhem in the backfield, has just two sacks in two games after racking up 41 last year.

What favors TCU: Tech's two opponents (SMU and UTEP) have run the ball well, and neither of those teams had anyone like Frogs sophomore RB Aaron Brown (5). He has piled up 288 yards rushing and receiving on just 37 touches, which makes his 7.8 yards-per-touch average better than those of Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch, Steve Slaton and Kenny Irons.

The Dash predicts: TCU 31, Texas Tech 28. Frogs, trying to copy Utah's 2004 run, continue their amphibious assault on the BCS.

No. 15 Oklahoma at No. 18 Oregon (6)
Something's got to give: Sooners have won four straight against Pac-10 teams from outside the state of California (and lost five of their last six to Pac-10 teams from Cali). Ducks haven't been on the negative side in turnover margin in seven straight games, 12 of their last 14.

What favors Oklahoma: Peterson has a go at the No. 79 rushing defense in the country. The Sooners have beaten Oregon each of the past two years, including an upset win in the Holiday Bowl last season.

What favors Oregon: The Sooners are flatly unremarkable on paper, not ranking higher than 30th nationwide in any of the primary offensive and defensive statistical categories -- and ranking 111th in turnover margin. Explosive sophomore Ducks running back Jonathan Stewart (7) is expected to play after getting only one carry last week while nursing a sprained ankle.

The Dash predicts: Oregon 27, Oklahoma 24. Rhett Bomar gets dog-cussed some more in absentia.

No. 17 Miami at No. 12 Louisville (8)
Something's got to give: Hurricanes have won 31 of their last 32 against Big East opponents. Cardinals have won 13 straight home games, averaging 54.6 points in that streak.

What favors Miami: The cast on Louisville jumbo back Michael Bush's leg, for starters. And the fact that the Cardinals are essentially untested after walkover wins over Kentucky and Temple.

What favors Louisville: Brian Brohm (9) will be the best quarterback on the field, and Bobby Petrino (10) will be the best offensive coach. The Cardinals' weak secondary matches up with a middling receiving corps hurt by the continued suspension of Ryan Moore.

The Dash predicts: Louisville 32, Miami 31. Canes 1-2? Don't pick up the paper off the front porch and don't turn on talk radio, Larry Coker.

No. 7 Florida at No. 13 Tennessee (11)
Something's got to give: Gators are allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete just 46 percent of their passes. Volunteers quarterback Erik Ainge (12) is completing 74.5 percent of his passes.

What favors Florida: The Gators have converted 17 of 24 third downs in two games, and get to unleash freshman breakaway threat Percy Harvin (13) on a Tennessee defense that lost two starters to season-ending injury last week and struggled containing Air Force. On defense, the lone scoring drive Florida has surrendered covered all of 28 yards.

What favors Tennessee: The Vols haven't allowed a sack in 2006, and only one Gator has recorded a sack in '06. Florida had four turnovers last Saturday against Central Florida; replicate that in Knoxville and it won't be close.

The Dash predicts: Florida 19, Tennessee 17. After Chris Leak engineers the game-winning drive and puts Florida in the SEC East driver's seat, Gator Nation's Tim Tebow honks actually have to quiet down for a week.

No. 19 Nebraska at No. 4 USC (14)
Something's got to give: The Cornhuskers have the No. 8 pass efficiency offense in the country. The Trojans have the No. 4 pass efficiency defense.

What favors Nebraska: Possible USC rustiness after playing one game and then taking a week off. The season-ending injury to USC safety Josh Pinkard (15) further thins a callow secondary that will be taking a step up in class after Arkansas.

What favors USC: Nebraska hasn't beaten a team ranked this high in five years -- and glorified scrimmages against Louisiana Tech and Nicholls State are no way to get ready. The Trojans haven't lost in L.A. Coliseum since Pete Carroll's third game as coach.

The Dash predicts: USC 31, Nebraska 10. Carroll remains well ahead of Bill Callahan (16) in the pro-to-college transition game.

No. 11 Michigan at No. 2 Notre Dame (17)
Something's got to give: Michigan is tied for fourth nationally in turnover margin. Notre Dame is 11th.

What favors Michigan: The Wolverines have excelled at pressuring the quarterback, racking up 10 sacks, while Brady Quinn (18) has been dumped five times already. The Irish are giving up a fairly fat 4.5 yards per carry, which means the nation's No. 7 rusher, Michael Hart (19), should have some room to run.

What favors Notre Dame: The Irish have won three of the last four in this series despite being solid underdogs in each game. If it comes down to quarterbacks making plays, you have to like Quinn more than Chad Henne.

The Dash predicts: Notre Dame 24, Michigan 20. Lloyd Carr loses a September game for the seventh straight season. Big Blue fans plot the overthrow of the Schembechler Dynasty.

No. 6 LSU at No. 3 Auburn (20)
Something's got to give: Tigers (LSU version) have the nation's No. 7 scoring offense. Tigers (Auburn version) have the nation's No. 7 scoring defense.

What favors LSU: Auburn QB Brandon Cox (21) struggled last year against LSU, completing just 16 of 40 passes, and this year the Bayou Bengals' secondary is even better. Meanwhile, LSU QB JaMarcus Russell (22) appears on the verge of mastering his position.

What favors Auburn: LSU hasn't won on The Plains since Gerry DiNardo was its coach. Auburn is primed for revenge after kicker John Vaughn missed five field goals in Baton Rouge last year in a three-point loss. He has made 10 of 12 since then.

The Dash predicts: LSU 16, Auburn 13. On a blocked Vaughn FG at the gun.

The Malignant One
And then, at the opposite end of the big-game spectrum, we have the premium BCS pillow fight of the season: Syracuse at Illinois (23).

The Illini have lost 10 straight games to I-A opponents -- and in a true measure of non-competitiveness, have not come within 15 points of a I-A opponent in that time. They bottomed out (at least The Dash hopes it was the bottom) with a 33-0 loss to Rutgers this past week.

The Orange have lost 11 straight games and have gone 10 straight games without scoring more than 17 points. Their offensive ineptitude reached new depths Saturday, when they had nine overtime plays from the Iowa 2-yard-line -- on two possessions -- and netted three points. The final possession included seven plays from the 2 or closer without scoring.

Second-year head coaches Ron Zook (24) and Greg Robinson (25) looked like questionable hires in 2005. They've done nothing to change that perception since.

Other Coaches Who Could Use A Hug -- And A Few TDs
Sylvester Croom (26), Mississippi State. All the momentum Croom thought he took into the offseason after walloping Mississippi to end 2005 has vanished in a hail of incomplete passes and an avalanche of sacks. The Bulldogs haven't scored a point in two games, have just one drive longer than 38 yards and rank last in the nation in total offense. And Croom didn't want to hear about it after losing 34-0 to Auburn on Saturday.

"I don't want to hear about the play-calling. I don't want to hear about getting rid of my coaches," Croom told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger on Saturday. "I want to get that clear before that call-in show. I don't want to do that show anyway. I need to be working and trying to get our team better instead of sitting around and listening to those questions."

Croom backed off his comments Monday, saying he got a severe reprimand from his wife for dumping on the fans. And he showed up for his radio show Monday night. The Clarion-Ledger reported that 12 of his 14 calls were supportive. The other two, according to the newspaper, were cut off. Viva free speech.

Chuck Amato (27), NC State. Coach Chest is under fire in Raleigh and is handling it with a notable lack of grace. Two days after losing at home to Akron, Amato took a shot at the Zips for accepting academic nonqualifiers into the school.

"They're in a conference that allows nonqualifiers in school," Amato said during his weekly news conference, according to The Charlotte Observer. "Nonqualifiers. Do y'all need to look that one up to write your stories?

" … Do you know what kind of players nonqualifiers are, usually? They're inversely proportional to what their grade-point average is. They can make a big difference."

Right. Certainly a bigger difference than the facilities, ACC revenue and television exposure NC State receives. It's a wonder how the poor Wolfpack could even stay on the field with the mighty Zips and their horde of sketchy students.

Actually, an Akron spokesman told the Observer that the football team had three nonqualifiers on its roster, one of whom had done the necessary academic work to be eligible for a fifth year.

(The Dash also wishes to salute the gusto of Akron coach J.D. Brookhart (28), who went for the win on the final play at NC State from the 1 instead of taking the tie and playing for overtime. Brookhart is a scrappy 14-12 at a school where the wins have never come easily.)

Dan Hawkins (29), Colorado. The Buffaloes are 0-2 and haven't scored a second-half point against Montana State and Colorado State. The Dash knew the talent drain was significant in Boulder in recent years because of recruiting restrictions the school imposed on itself, but the full effects are now on display.

Rocky Mountain News columnist Bernie Lincicome opined, with his usual acidity, that under Hawkins "the game clock is managed as if you can't tell the little hand from the big hand." And that "a coach who professes to be consumed by details runs a game as if it is a yard sale." The Dash assumes the honeymoon to be over.

And to make matters worse, Montana State lost to Division II Chadron State this past Saturday.

Walt Harris (30), Stanford. This looked like a tough year on paper for the Cardinal, but it's even worse on the actual playing surface. Stanford is 0-2 after an embarrassing come-from-ahead loss to San Jose State and ranks last in the nation in rushing defense, surrendering a stratospheric 7.11 yards per carry.

(The Dash also extends props to old warhorse Dick Tomey (31), who came from Texas in 2005 to take on the monumental challenge at San Jose State and is making some progress. The perennially dreadful Spartans closed Tomey's first season with two wins, and now have split an opening pair of games against Pac-10 teams, losing by six to Washington in their opener.)

Don Strock (32), Florida International. Two road games, two one-point losses, two missed extra points providing the margin of defeat. That hurts.

Reader E-mail Of The Week
The Dash is sincerely ambivalent about providing pub to the following "band," but found it too perversely interesting to resist.

The inbox turned up a release from a Columbus, Ohio, group calling itself the Dead Schembechlers (33), which alleges itself to be "purveyors of punk rock written exclusively about the Ohio State Buckeyes versus University of Michigan football rivalry."

In the words of lead singer Bo Biafra, who apparently wrote the release himself, "The Dead Schembechlers have shaken the very foundation of the Big Ten football conference." (He also identifies the band's other members as Bo Thunders, Bo Vicious and Bo Scabies. Sounds like Bo knows weird. And Bo knows self-promotion.)

Biafra advises The Dash that the band's album, "Wolverine Destroyer," is now available on iTunes. Verbatim:

It features songs like the viciously entertaining "Bomb Ann Arbor Now" which sings of the President of the United States calling in a nuclear strike against Michigan Stadium the home of Wolverines football. Other cuts on the album include their ode to the on field omnipresence of one particular Buckeyes player "Tedd Ginn Did Everythin'," the story of a trip to a Michigan reservoir "I Peed in Ann Arbor's Water Supply," the epic tale of the U of M's greatest missed kick "Wide Left: The Ballad of Mike Lantry" and a slightly scrambled epitaphic swipe at their foes "Muck Fichigan."

Swell. Go light another couch on fire, fellas.

Double Vision
The Dash thanks Frank Mercogliano, Idaho State's assistant athletic director for media relations, for passing along this neat note:

If you looked at the box score from Idaho State's Sept. 9 football game with Fort Lewis, it looked like a misprint somewhere. Matt Gutierrez (34) was 14-for-19 for 196 yards and two touchdowns for Idaho State, and Matt Gutierrez (35) was 22-for-29 for 206 yards and two touchdowns for Fort Lewis. But it wasn't a mistake -- both quarterbacks are named Matt Gutierrez. Idaho State's Gutierrez, who wears No. 12, is a senior in his first year with the Bengals after spending four years at Michigan. Fort Lewis' Gutierrez, who wears No. 4, is also a senior, and he was the preseason Player of the Year in the Division II Rocky Mountain Conference. Idaho State's Gutierrez walked off the winner, 48-12.

Putting Out An APB For …
… Former Iowa linebacker Andre Tippett (36), one of The Dash's all-time looks-like-a-stud-in-his-uniform selections. Tippett converted to Judaism in the 1990s after a stellar career with the New England Patriots. Anyone with an update on his whereabouts, please advise.

Meanwhile, The Dash got extensive and enthusiastic help in tracking down last week's APB subject, former Florida wide receiver Chris Doering. He's alive and well and living in Gainesville with his wife and two kids, and he's all over the airwaves. Doering has a radio show called "The Sports Fix" on the ESPN affiliate out of Ocala and does a live college football television show on Sun Sports every Monday night with former Miami Hurricane Steve Walsh and former Florida State Seminole William Floyd.

"It's cool," Doering said of the broadcasting life. "The thing I dislike is you're talking about the things people are doing instead of them talking about things you're doing."

This was Doering's first season without a helmet since he was a child. He played nine years in the NFL for a variety of teams, moving to and from Gainesville 22 times by his count.

In a prediction that should surprise no one, he's calling for a Gators victory in Neyland Stadium on Saturday.

"Florida might have the best athletes it's had in a long time," Doering said. "And having a defense like that makes it easier for the offense. If they could just score 20 points in every game, they should be all right."

Point After
If you're hungry in Austin, The Dash enthusiastically recommends County Line Barbecue (37). Get the Cadillac meat plate, which comes with ribs, brisket, chicken and sausages -- and keeps being refilled. Prepare for the inevitable postmeal coma.

When thirsty in Austin (this town is too good for just one tout), mingle with the beautiful people at Six (38). That guy in the black shirt who was just surrounded by eight hot women, the guy who looks like Lance Armstrong? It's Lance Armstrong (39), reportedly a co-owner of the crib. And that scruffy dude at the bar, shouting "We Are … Marshall!" and looking like Matthew McConaughey? It's Matthew McConaughey (40), who went on to act a fool on the Texas sideline the next day.

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