The Dash dishes out a midterm test

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (coaching flak jackets sold separately in College Station):

In our nation's rush to revel in the idiotic, we all became familiar with a 6-year-old Colorado child last week. We know he did not fly away in a balloon that looked like a saggy Jiffy Pop bag. We know that authorities think his live-TV non-emergency was a scam. We know he gets sick at the sight of television cameras.

In a sentence, we know plenty about nothing.

To correct that, we should as a nation focus our collective brain power on something more substantive and vital to the common weal. Namely, college football. While pop culture goads to become dumber, The Dash is paddling in the opposite direction and challenging us to become smarter football fans.

Thus this week's midseason Dash springs a 40-question pop quiz designed to sharpen our knowledge of America's greatest diversionary pleasure.

Midterm Exam (No Cheating, Seminoles)

The most celebrated Falcon (1) of the fall should be:

A. Falcon Heene, aka Balloon Boy.

B. Tim DeRuyter, Air Force defensive coordinator. His Falcons are leading the nation in turnover margin and are seventh in scoring defense. Air Force has not given up more than 20 points this season. Last time AFA could say that seven games into the season was 1985, when it went 12-1.

C. Freddie Barnes, Bowling Green wide receiver, who leads the nation in receptions per game at 12.1 and has had games of 15, 17 and 22 catches this season.

Dash answer: C.

The Freshman (2) of the half-year is:

A. USC quarterback Matt Barkley, who ripped up Notre Dame's defense for 380 passing yards Saturday in improving his record as a starter to 5-0. Barkley ranks 22nd nationally in pass efficiency and is helping everyone forget the early departure of Mark Sanchez.

B. Pittsburgh running back Dion Lewis, who trampled Rutgers for 180 yards and two touchdowns Friday night to help the Panthers to 6-1. Lewis ranks third nationally in rushing and is helping everyone forget the early departure of LeSean McCoy.

C. Michigan's quarterback tandem of Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson. Between the two of them, they have thrown for 1,199 yards, rushed for 453 and accounted for 18 touchdowns in a rejuvenated Wolverines offense.

Dash answer: A.

The Hypocrite (3) of the half-year is:

A. Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy.

B. Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy.

C. Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy.

Dash Answer: All of the above. Everyone remembers the "I'm a Man! I'm 40!" part of that absurd Gundy rant in 2007, right? What most people don't recall is Gundy also screaming, "That's not true!" about certain aspects of a story in the Oklahoman. Well, it turns out the great champion of truth and accuracy couldn't bring himself or his program to be forthright about why receiver Dez Bryant sat out against Grambling on Sept. 26.

The school stated that Bryant missed the game with an injury. Then, according to a report last week in the Oklahoman, the school told the NCAA a different story. In its appeal to restore Bryant's eligibility after he lied to NCAA investigators, Oklahoma State congratulated itself for withholding its star wideout because of eligibility concerns.

That, to quote the coach, is garbage.

The Coach (4) of the half-year is:

A. Brian Kelly, Cincinnati. Replaced 10 defensive starters from last year's Orange Bowl team and somehow made the team better. Bearcats are No. 5 in the BCS standings and withstood the loss of starting quarterback Tony Pike to a wrist injury last week at South Florida, winning by 17 without having him for most of the game.

B. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa. Restored luster to his rep with 7-0 start -- and that's after losing projected starting running back Jewel Hampton for the year to an injury in preseason. Hawkeyes have won 11 straight dating back to last year, including a pair of upsets of top-five Penn State in that time.

C. Robb Akey, Idaho. The Vandals were 3-21 the previous two years. Now they're 6-1, off to their best start since their days as an FCS program and eyeing their first bowl bid since 1998. They're keeping alive the impossible dream: "GameDay" in Boise on Nov. 14 for Idaho-Boise State?

Dash answer, in a close one: C.

The Send-Him-Off-In-A-Balloon Coach (5) of the half-year is:

A. Stan Parrish, Ball State. Promoted from offensive coordinator when Brady Hoke fled Muncie for San Diego (The Dash cannot figure out that lifestyle choice), Parrish has presided over a complete program collapse. The Cardinals went from 12-0 last regular season to 0-7 this year, running Parrish's personal winless streak to a gruesome 35 games. Prior to this season, Parrish presided over Ball State's GMAC Bowl loss to Tulsa and an 0-26-1 stretch to end his ignominious tenure at Kansas State in the 1980s.

B. Mike Locksley, New Mexico. Winless and hardly sinless in his debut season in Albuquerque. Locksley admitted to getting into a physical altercation with an assistant coach a few weeks earlier in what has been a 0-6 start to his head-coaching career.

C. Ron Zook, Illinois. He's 1-5 and winless against FBS competition. He's yet to lose by single digits. He's taken eight returning offensive starters, including a second-team all-Big Ten quarterback and a preseason first-team All-America wide receiver, and averaged 16.5 points per game -- that's 112th nationally. He is, all things considered, Zooker being Zooker.

Dash answer: A. The very fact that athletic director Tom Collins hired Parrish, with his 2-30-1 FBS head-coaching record, deserves its own award for administrative error. But then again, Collins is also the guy who hired Ronny Thompson to run his basketball program into the ground a few years earlier.

The Replacement Part (6) of the half-year is:

A. Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech running back. Was supposed to back up 1,000-yard rusher Darren Evans until Evans blew out a knee in preseason. Williams has stepped in and rushed for 834 yards, ranking eighth nationally in yards per game.

B. Alabama's offensive line. The Crimson Tide lost three starters, two of them All-Americans, from the 2008 road-grading crew that made Glen Coffee and John Parker Wilson look good. Now the rebuilt line is making Mark Ingram and Greg McElroy look better.

C. Nick Foles, Arizona quarterback. The sophomore transfer from Michigan State took over the quarterback position three games ago and has since thrown for 254, 384 and 415 yards, with seven touchdowns and two interceptions.

Dash answer: B.

The Bad Marriage (7) of the half-year is:

A. Jacoby Ford and the Clemson passing game. One of the most explosive receivers in college football hasn't caught a touchdown pass since Sept. 10, languishing in a passing attack that ranks 96th nationally.

B. Boise State and the Western Athletic Conference. There are not enough quality opponents in the WAC to pump up the Broncos' strength of schedule and get them into the BCS National Championship Game. Outside of Idaho (No. 27 in Sagarin's ELO_CHESS ratings), there is nobody left on the schedule to boost the Broncos' SOS.

C. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor and the Ohio State offensive staff. He's the best athlete on offense in college football, and he's not ranked in the top 50 in total offense or the top 60 in pass efficiency. Blame Pryor for not developing, but also blame the coaches for not and/or molding their offense to fit the sophomore's vast talents. Pryor's play the past two weeks -- paltry quarterback ratings of 105 and 112 -- is not what anyone envisioned when the Buckeyes signed the No. 1 QB recruit in the nation two years ago.

Dash answer: C.

The Most Dramatic Team (8) of the half-year is:

A. Washington. Five games decided by one score, including an upset of USC, a come-from-ahead overtime loss to Notre Dame, and a victory over Arizona on a pass that bounced off a receiver's foot for a fluke interception return touchdown.

B. Notre Dame. Five straight games decided by seven points or less, all going down to the last possession and the last seconds.

C. Northern Illinois. Four of six games decided by one score or less: 20-19 loss to Toledo marked by a blocked field goal in the final minute; 34-31 loss to Idaho when a 15-point rally in the final half of the final quarter fell short; 28-21 upset of Purdue preserved by a fake punt in the final minutes; 28-20 loss to Wisconsin marked by 14 fourth-quarter points and a recovered onside kick, but a stalled drive in the final minute.

Dash answer: B. Problem is, all that drama has solved nothing. Charlie Weis still hasn't won a game in 2009 that will convince everyone he should be the coach in 2010 or lost a game in 2009 that will convince everyone he should be fired.

The Overachieving Conference (9) of the half-year is:

A. Southeastern. There have been some disappointments (Georgia, Ole Miss), but some surprises as well (South Carolina, Auburn, Alabama at No. 2).

B. Pac-10. Once again, the only team that can beat USC resides within the league. Oregon has righted its ship impressively after an opening debacle. Arizona has done well against a rigorous schedule. Stanford is respectable. UCLA won at Tennessee. Washington is up off the deck at last.

C. Big East. Who had Cincinnati in the top five in the preseason? Who figured on South Florida losing its four-year starting quarterback and winning at Florida State the next week? Who would qualify as a disappointment, other than possibly Rutgers?

Dash answer: B.

The Underachieving Conference (10) of the half-year is:

A. Big 12. Injuries have scuttled Oklahoma. Houston has done damage to the South Division, beating both Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. And the usual North Division malaise has settled in, making everyone look mediocre.

B. Big Ten. Ohio State has major offensive issues. Penn State hasn't done anything spectacular. Illinois is a grease fire. Michigan State lost to a MAC team. That's enough to offset the gains made by Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin.

C. Atlantic Coast. Outside of Miami and Georgia Tech, there is nothing here to brag about and plenty to cringe at.

Dash answer: C.

The U-Turn (11) of the half-year is:

A. Arkansas, from 1-2 to 3-3 and nearly beating Florida on the road. Razorbacks have found their footing and are playing better defense after being strafed by Georgia and Alabama on consecutive weeks.

B. Michigan State, from 1-3 to 4-3. Hanging on in overtime against rival Michigan turned the season around.

C. Virginia, from 0-3 to 3-3. As predictable as it is pronounced, the Cavaliers have gone from awful to powerful. The defense has given up only 19 points in the past three games, as Al Groh embarks upon his annual job-saving campaign. But it will take several more victories to make people forget that 12-point opening loss to William & Mary.

Dash answer: C.

The U-Turn Into Oncoming Traffic (12) of the half-year is:

A. Texas A&M. From 3-0 to 3-3, having surrendered 145 points in the three losses. Aggies were never that impressive going 3-0, though.

B. Auburn. From 5-0 to 5-2. Averaged 41.4 points per game during winning streak; now 18.5 during two-game losing streak.

C. Colorado State. From 3-0 to 3-4. Caveat: the teams the Rams have lost to have a combined record of 23-3.

Dash answer: B.

The Bust (13) of the half-year is:

A. Ole Miss. Started the season ranked eighth in the AP poll. Currently 4-2 overall, 1-2 in the SEC and not in the BCS standings.

B. Florida State. Started the season ranked 18th in the AP poll. Currently 2-4 overall, 0-3 in the ACC and not in the BCS standings.

C. California. Started the season ranked 12th in the AP poll. Currently 4-2 overall, 1-2 in the Pac-10 and not in the BCS standings.

Dash answer: C. The Golden Bears' two league losses were by a combined 72-6.

The Worst Development (14) of the half-year is:

A. Marquee games that became slogfests. Oklahoma-Texas, Florida-LSU and Iowa-Penn State have been the biggest games in the Big 12, SEC and Big Ten, respectively. All three were low on thrills and high on sloppiness.

B. Too many injuries to high-profile players. Sam Bradford, Jermaine Gresham, Tim Tebow, Michael Floyd, Ryan Williams, Matt Grothe, Tony Pike, Matt Barkley, Taylor Mays and many other impact players have kept trainers and team doctors distressingly busy.

C. Too much rain. Ponchos have gotten a workout this fall and face paint has been runny on several Saturdays nationwide.

Dash answer: B.

The Most Surprising Development (15) of the half-year is:

A. Georgia forgetting how to tackle. And cover. And rush the passer. The Bulldogs are 83rd nationally in scoring defense and 69th in total defense.

B. Mike Stoops' team being ahead of Bob Stoops' team in the first BCS standings. Arizona is 22nd, Oklahoma is outside the top 25.

C. Oregon star running back LeGarrette Blount punching his way out of the season in the opener, and perhaps apologizing his way back into the season in November.

Dash answer: C.

The Least Surprising Development (16) of the half-year is:

A. Fans of (Fill In the Blank U.) screeching their brains out about being screwed by the refs.

B. Excessive Tim Tebow adulation.

C. Excessive Tim Tebow backlash.

Dash answer: All of the above.

The Game of the half-year (17) is:

A. Miami 38, Florida State 34. Labor Day classic went down to the final play -- a low pass that was dropped in the end zone. It set the tone for two seasons -- surprise success for the Hurricanes and major disappointment for the Seminoles.

B. USC 34, Notre Dame 27. Tough to choose the best of all the Fighting Irish thrillers, but Notre Dame's fourth-quarter comeback was a thrill -- until it was trumped by USC's red zone defensive stand.

C. Central Michigan 29, Michigan State 27. Chippewas scored nine points in the final 32 seconds, with a perfect onside kick in between scores, to pull a major upset.

Dash answer: A.

The Single Weirdest Score (18) of the half-year is:

A. Kansas State 62, Texas A&M 14. Wildcats lost by 52 the week before and had no business scoring 62 on anybody -- or 38 in the first half. K-State is the same team that scored 15 against Louisiana-Lafayette.

B. Maryland 24, Clemson 21. At that point, the Terrapins were 1-3 and their only victory was in overtime against FCS James Madison. Naturally, they beat the annually psychotic Tigers.

C. UTEP 58, Houston 41. Between losing by 57 points to Texas and 15 to miserable Memphis, the Miners managed to beat a ranked Cougars team.

Dash answer: A.

The Bum (19) of the half-year is:

A. Falcon Heene's dad.

B. Whoever invented and distributed the rumor that Jon Gruden is a "done deal" to Louisville and Steve Kragthorpe has already told his team he's done. Um, no.

C. Bobby Hauck, Montana coach. Nobody likes a bully, and that's what Hauck has been to an easy target -- the student paper at the school. Hauck has retaliated at a story in the paper, The Kaimin, about an alleged assault of a student by two football players. He has publicly belittled its reporters, refused to answer questions from the paper and the players have followed suit by declining to comment to Kaimin staffers. The paper responded by printing its GameDay section with a focus on the opponent, Cal Poly -- pretty much its only recourse.

Dash answer: C.

The Dashette (20) of the half-year is:

A. Irina Shayk.

B. Jessica Hart.

C. Olivia Wilde.

Dash answer: They're all equally fabulous to The Diplomatic Dash.

The Most Message-Board-Massacred Quarterback (21) of the half-year is:

A. Jonathan Crompton, Tennessee. Played well in the first and most recent games. In between were four trips to the orthodontist, sans novocaine, for Volunteers fans.

B. Cody Hawkins, Colorado. Buffaloes fans finally got their wish -- a benching for the coach's son. His replacement, Tyler Hansen, helped lead an upset of Kansas last week.

C. Jevan Snead, Ole Miss. From the Heisman Trophy short list to the 78th-rated passer in America. That's a tough slide.

Dash answer: A. At least until Crompton undressed Georgia like he was Peyton Manning or something.

The State (22) of the half-year is:

A. Pennsylvania. Penn State is No. 13 and Pittsburgh No. 20 in the first BCS standings. Even Temple is 4-2.

B. Arizona. The Wildcats and Sun Devils are a combined 8-4.

C. Idaho. The perennially mighty football state is 12-1 between Boise State and Idaho.

Dash answer: C.

The Lousy State (23) of the half-year is:

A. North Carolina. The Tar Heels and Wolfpack are sizable disappointments. Duke is better than most of its wretched recent history, but remains Duke. The only good news is that East Carolina has rallied from a slow start to take the lead in Conference USA's Eastern Division.

B. New Mexico. The bad news for the New Mexico State Aggies: you're No. 152 in the Sagarin Ratings. The good news: that's 10 spots higher than the in-state rival New Mexico Lobos.

C. Mississippi. The Rebels are No. 49 in Sagarin. The Bulldogs are No. 63. And Southern Miss is No. 82. Not exactly the forecast football renaissance of 2009.

Dash answer: C.

The Last Interception Pool (24) winner is:

A. Jerrod Johnson, Texas A&M.

B. Cody Endres, Connecticut.

C. Tom Savage, Rutgers.

Dash answer: A. All three threw their first interceptions of the season last week, but Johnson did it last. Savage threw his Friday night in the second quarter against Pittsburgh, ending his pick-less streak at 93 passes. Endres was next up in a noon kickoff against Louisville, but his 96th pass of the year was an oskie. That left the laurels to Johnson -- who promptly threw three picks in a nightmare game against Kansas State, in which his streak was stopped at 242 passes. The pork rinds are in the mail, Jerrod.

The Heisman Favorite (25) of the half-year is:

A. Mark Ingram, Alabama. As quarterbacks get hurt, lose or produce unspectacular numbers, Ingram has rushed into the void by rushing for 129 yards per game -- including a dominating 246 yards Saturday against South Carolina. History is not on his side, but perhaps sentiment is: believe it or not, no Crimson Tide player has ever won the Heisman.

B. Tim Tebow, Florida. Still hard not to like the No. 3 pass efficiency quarterback in America while on a 16-game winning streak and having rushed for nearly 400 yards this year. Especially when his biggest attributes are not measured in stats (other than win-loss record).

C. Kellen Moore, Boise State. The nation's leader in pass efficiency has his team in the top five and has a personal record of 18-1 as a college starter -- with the lone loss coming by a single point.

Dash answer: B.

The Pip-squeak (26) of the half-year is:

A. Todd Reesing, Kansas quarterback. The allegedly 5-foot-11 senior is on pace for more than 4,000 passing yards if the Jayhawks play a bowl and he stays healthy.

B. Dion Lewis, Pittsburgh running back. The allegedly 5-8 freshman has been impressively durable, with at least 20 touches from scrimmage in every game.

C. Jacquizz Rodgers, Oregon State running back. The allegedly 5-7 sophomore had 38 touches from scrimmage for 271 yards last week in a victory over Stanford.

Dash answer: A.

The Big Ugly (27) of the half-year is:

A. Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska DT. Bidding to become the first defensive lineman to crack the top four in Heisman balloting since Steve Emtman of Washington in 1991.

B. Gerald McCoy, Oklahoma DT. Unless McCoy beats Suh to the spot.

C. The Pouncey Twins, Mike and Maurkice, Florida OL. Two large and identical reasons the Gators are sixth nationally in rushing offense.

Dash answer: B.

The Most Perplexing Florida State Score (28) of the half-year is:

A. Florida State 54, BYU 28. Seminoles crushed a team ranked in the top 10 at the time, on the road.

B. South Florida 17, Florida State 7. Seminoles could do nothing right at home against a team that had just lost its starting quarterback for the year.

C. Florida State 19, Jacksonville State 9. Seminoles didn't take the lead for good against an FCS opponent until 35 seconds remained.

Dash answer: All of the above. Everything the Seminoles do perplexes The Dash.

The Most Flagrant Big-Six Conference Fraud (29) of the half-year is:

A. Washington State. In the Cougars' defense, they have played (and been beaten by) four pretty good teams so far.

B. Maryland. Beating Clemson is the only redeeming factor in a hideous season to date.

C. Vanderbilt. Commodores lost to Army and have scored 29 points in four SEC games. So much for continuing the momentum from last year's breakthrough bowl bid and victory.

Dash answer: C.

The Broyles Award Winner (30) of the half-year is:

A. Mark Whipple, Miami offensive coordinator. Hurricanes have gone from No. 110 nationally in total offense through six games last year to No. 56 this year -- and are 28th in passing offense.

B. Bob Diaco, Cincinnati defensive coordinator. Bearcats lost 10 starters on defense but haven't surrendered more than 20 points in a game all season for their first-year coordinator.

C. Gus Malzahn, Auburn offensive coordinator. The Tigers have improved 100 spots in total offense from this point a year ago (108th) to today (8th).

Dash answer: C.

The best evidence of the half-year that Defenses are Winning (31):

A. Texas leads the nation in scoring at 42 points per game. Last year through six games Texas was fifth nationally in scoring at 46.8 points per game.

B. Four of the top five teams in the country in total defense rank in the top 15 of the BCS standings. Zero of the top five teams in the country in total offense rank in the top 15.

C. Sixteen teams are averaging at least three sacks per game. Last year the number was seven.

Dash answer: B.

The Annoyance (32) of the half-year:

A. Teams that only run from the pistol formation and never pass.

B. The inability of so much of the nation to correctly spell the surname of Boise State coach Chris Petersen. Yeah, with an "e."

C. The haphazard (at best) application of the excessive celebration/taunting rule.

Dash answer: B.

The Puntingest League (33) of the half-year is:

A. Mid-American Conference.

B. Conference USA.

C. Sun Belt Conference.

Dash answer: C. The Sun Belt, at 5.7 punts per game per team, easily out-bores the MAC (5 per game) and C-USA (5.2).

The Most Punt-Averse League (34) of the half-year is:

A. Big East.

B. Big 12.

C. Big Ten.

Dash Answer: A. The Big East punts only 4.4 times per game per team, slightly ahead of the Big 12 (4.5), the Big Ten (4.5) and the WAC (4.5).

The Vertical Quarterback (35) of the half-year is:

A. Blaine Gabbert, Missouri.

B. Ryan Mallett, Arkansas.

C. Max Hall, BYU.

Dash answer: B. Mallett has completed 17 passes of 30 or more yards this season, one more than Gabbert and three more than Hall (per ESPN Stats & Information).

The Big-Play Running Back (36) of the half-year is:

A. Jahvid Best, California.

B. Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech.

C. Mark Ingram, Alabama.

Dash answer: All of the above. All three have 10 rushes of 20 yards or more (per ESPN Stats & Information).

The Up-Tempo Team (37) of the half-year is:

A. Bowling Green.

B. Houston.

C. Texas A&M.

Dash answer: B. The Cougars are squeezing off 84.3 offensive plays per game, most in the nation.

The Huddle-Up Team (38) of the half-year is:


B. Western Kentucky.

C. Minnesota.

Dash answer: C. The Golden Gophers are getting only 57 snaps per game on offense, fewest in the nation.

The Weak-Legged Team (39) of the half-year is:

A. Wake Forest.

B. Wyoming.

C. South Florida.

Dash answer: A. The Demon Deacons are 0-4 on field goal attempts of longer than 29 yards.

The Dallas Night Spot (40) of the half-year is:

A. The Idle Rich Pub. High-quality beers on tap in classic pub setting.

B. Primos. Have a steak fajita and watch the games while you're there.

C. Dragonfly at Hotel ZaZa. A definite beautiful people spot -- except for the guy wearing the green James Harden Oklahoma City Thunder jersey. Not a great look.

Dash answer: All the above, depending upon time and score.

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