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Checking college football's four-and-aft rigging

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football ("Fourth Down Jesus [1]" T-shirts sold separately):

The Scourge of South Bend, And All Mankind

Of course all the accountability for Notre Dame's historic offensive collapse rests with Ty Willingham (2). The Dash deeply regrets not coming to that conclusion last week. It doesn't matter how many three-and-outs occur on the watch of the current head coach; just blame it on the last one.

The Dash has received a few hundred loving, affectionate e-mails from Fighting Irish fans insisting that they knew this horrific season was coming, thanks to the lack of recruiting by Willingham during his final two years in South Bend. Well, sure -- now that you mention it, the preseason pessimism was rampant. Just look at this August post from The Rock Report, a Domer fan blog, which averaged out season predictions from more than 3,000 Notre Dame fans and concluded the Irish would go 8-4:

"For ND fans, if things were to break right, we're looking at a two loss season. If things were to break wrong, we're looking at a possible five loss season. Four losses looks likely from an ND fans(sic) point of view, but that's usually on the optimistic side."

If that doesn't sound like a communal acknowledgement of a terrible season to come, what does? Though The Dash doesn't see anything in there about: "If things break wrong, we're looking at no offensive touchdowns through three weeks and a potential 0-8 start."

In keeping with September revisionist history, Notre Dame fans have unearthed evidence that Hurricane Katrina (3), high gas prices (4) and defaulted home loans (5) also are directly attributable to Willingham's tenure in South Bend, Ind.

Fantastic Four

At this early point, a quartet of teams have surged to the forefront and established themselves as the early vanguard of college football. The Dash puts them in a pecking order:

1. USC Trojans (6)

Why the Trojans are No. 1: They're the only one of the four to beat a ranked team on the road -- and they did it convincingly, in a stadium that can still shake with the best of them.

What they're doing best: Dominating up front, on both sides of the ball. USC is sixth nationally in rushing offense and ninth in rushing defense, winning the game at the line of scrimmage.

Stat: Not a single Trojan ranks in the national top 30 in any of the NCAA's major statistical categories. And it doesn't matter at all.

Chinks in the armor: The passing game has been unspectacular so far, but it certainly hasn't hurt the Trojans. You have to figure John David Booty will be ready to take over a game if called upon.

First real test: Might not be until USC visits Oregon Oct. 27.

2. LSU Tigers (7)
Why the Tigers are No. 2: Combined score through three games is 137-7 -- and it took a replay review to determine that even the one touchdown allowed really was a touchdown. And the competition has at least been decent.

What they're doing best: LSU's defense has been insane. It leads the nation in total defense by more than 50 yards per game over the second-best unit, and in points allowed by three per game.

Stat: Opponents have run the ball 91 times at the LSU defense. Only five of those carries have gone for 10 or more yards. Only one has gone for more than 12. That's speed, pursuit and gang tackling.

Chinks in the armor: Is backup quarterback Ryan Perrilloux too good for the team's good? He's 27 of 33 for 403 yards and six touchdowns in relief of highly capable starter Matt Flynn. Any chance of a quarterback controversy here if Flynn struggles? (The Dash is, admittedly, grasping for a weakness.)

First real test: Florida comes to town Oct. 6 for what could be the biggest regular-season game of the year nationwide.

3. Florida Gators (8)
Why the Gators are No. 3: The offense is even more powerful and diverse than the version that won the national title last season. And the defense and special teams each chipped in touchdowns in the annihilation of Tennessee.

What they're doing best: Florida is running the spread offense to near perfection, hitting defenses from all angles. In classic UrbanBall fashion, 60 percent of the Gators' rushing attempts are by non-running backs.

Stat: How's this for efficiency? The Gators are scoring a point for every 9.4 yards of offense. Steve Spurrier's 1996 national champs, which hold the school record for scoring, averaged a point for every 11 yards.

Chinks in the armor: The secondary is young and susceptible to giving up a lot of yards and completions. And the defensive front hasn't generated enough consistent pressure.

First true test: At LSU Oct. 6. Gators lost last time they were there, in 2005.

4. Oklahoma Sooners (9)
Why the Sooners are No. 4: They've crushed three teams, but how good are those three? Combined record for Utah State, Miami and North Texas is 2-6, and the Hurricanes' two victories came against teams currently 0-3.

What they're doing best: The offensive balance is impressive: The Sooners rank 13th nationally in rushing offense and 12th in passing offense. Five backs are doing the damage on the ground and Oklahoma has thrown one touchdown pass for every 7.4 attempts. (Wideout Malcolm Kelly has 14 receptions and seven TDs.)

Stat: Oklahoma's leaders in rushing (DeMarco Murray), passing (Sam Bradford), sacks (Auston English) and tackles for loss (Ryan Reynolds) did not play a down in 2006.

Chinks in the armor: The Sooners are nothing special so far punting the ball and returning punts. That's about it.

First real test: Red River Shootout Oct. 6 against Texas. Oklahoma has lost two straight in that rivalry for the first time since 1998-99.

(If you want to make it a Fantastic Five, Dashette Natalia Estrada (10) makes a suitable fifth wheel. No chinks in her armor.)

Fraudulent Four

And here are four schools not named Notre Dame that have sabotaged their fans' preseason optimism:

UCLA (11). The Dash foolishly ignored Karl Dorrell's past precedent, which screamed that his team would mail in at least one lame performance against an unranked team. (See: Stanford loss 2003, Washington State loss 2004, Arizona loss 2005, Washington loss 2006.) The Dash's faith in a veteran Bruins' team was rewarded with a 44-6 quit job against wounded, winless Utah. Pathetic.

Florida State (12). The Seminoles have converted just 10 of 44 third downs into first downs. That's 22.7 percent. That's terrible. That's worse than Notre Dame (24.4 percent) and all but four other I-A teams. How much money did they pay Jimbo Fisher to fix the offense?

Oklahoma State (13). Losing the opener by three touchdowns to Georgia was not good. Losing last week by 18 to Troy -- after falling behind by 31 -- was much worse. Not to say that Mike Gundy's record is built on a pile of straw or anything, but seven of his 12 victories as coach of the Cowboys are against I-AA or Sun Belt teams. (After what Troy did to the Pokes, OSU had better stick to scheduling the bottom half of the Sun Belt in the future.)

Auburn (14). Nobody in America has more giveaways than the Tigers' dozen. The only team to equal that number is Minnesota, which at least has a pair of decent excuses: It's playing a true freshman quarterback and has a rookie head coach. The Tigers, with senior quarterback Brandon Cox and veteran coach Tommy Tuberville? No excuse.

Big Ten Television Programming

Given the inglorious start to the season in the Big Ten Conference, The Dash has a few suggestions for altering programming on the league's new television outlet:

6:00-9:00 -- "Big Ten-ACC Challenge, the Football Version." Commissioner Jim Delany (15) uses charts, graphs and video to show that there is one BCS conference faring worse than his.

9:00-9:30 -- "Appreciating the Quality of I-AA Football." Lloyd Carr (16) is host.

9:30-10:00 -- "He Works Hard For the Money." Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz (17) explains why he's worth the $2.8 million he's making per year. (Video highlights of the Hawkeyes' loss to previously winless Iowa State not included. Video highlights of last year's 6-7 team, which began the season ranked No. 16, also not included.)

10:00-Noon -- "Great Moments in Big Ten Marching Band History."

Noon-12:30 -- "That '80s Show." Highlight clips from the Northwestern (18) teams that lost 34 straight from 1979-82 are compared to the current Wildcats' home loss to Duke. Viewers invited to vote for which is worse.

12:30-1:00 -- "Insight in Hindsight." Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi (19) reviews tape of the Gophers' 42-39 loss to Florida Atlantic, concludes that Glen Mason would have lost by more. "I guarantee you," Maturi says, "we will not blow a 31-point lead in a bowl game this year." Left unsaid: They won't get near a bowl this year.

1:00-6:00 -- "Woody Versus Bo Marathon." Fans invited to vote for their favorite handoff.

6:00-6:30 -- "Style Points Don't Count." Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema (20) explains why trailing UNLV into the final two minutes and being tied at halftime with The Citadel should not result in a rankings demotion for his Badgers.

6:30-7:00 -- "Great Halftime Adjustments." Ohio State's Jim Tressel (21) shows us why it's all about the second half in college football, ignoring fact that his team has been outscored 9-6 by Akron and Washington in the past two first halves.

7:00-Midnight -- All-time Indiana basketball highlights.

Midnight-12:05 -- All-time Indiana football highlights.

12:05-12:30 -- Live look-in at Ron Zook (22) writing letters to recruits, promising immediate playing time and banana splits for breakfast.

12:30-1:00 -- "Undefeated is Undefeated." Penn State's Joe Paterno (23) defends his team's 3-0 record against opponents ranked 113th (Notre Dame), 126th (Buffalo) and 144th (Florida International) in the Sagarin Ratings. Guest star Joe Tiller (24) of Purdue chimes in about the challenges of beating teams ranked 86th (Central Michigan), 121st (Toledo) and 178th (Eastern Illinois).

1:00-6:00 -- Silent Film Festival. Paterno screens his personal favorites.

Don't Forget About These QBs

The Dash sees a wide-open Heisman Trophy race developing, with no slam-dunk leader established after playing one-fourth of the regular season. Early-season faves like Darren McFadden, Brian Brohm, Colt Brennan, John David Booty, P.J. Hill, Ray Rice and the West Virginia duo of Pat White and Steve Slaton remain prominently in the mix. But none has run away from the pack, and now you must add a new tier of quarterbacks playing superbly for undefeated teams:

Matt Ryan (25), Boston College. He sandwiched a pair of 400-yard passing games around a lackluster outing against old coach Tom O'Brien and NC State. Expect Ryan to still be in the conversation a month from now: after opening with three straight ACC victories, the surprising Eagles now get four very winnable nonconference games. (Army, Massachusetts, Bowling Green and the Program Formerly Known As Notre Dame.)

Chase Daniel (26), Missouri. The diminutive Daniel has six straight 300-yard passing games dating back to last season, and he's an effective runner as well (109 yards this year). The Tigers should be 4-0 heading into back-to-back showdowns with Nebraska (in Columbia, Mo.) Oct. 6 and Oklahoma (in Norman) Oct. 13. Win either and play well? He stays in the hunt. Win both and play well? He vaults near the front.

Sam Bradford (27), Oklahoma. The Sooners have been down this road before, with a freshman trying to crowd his way into a club that discriminates against rookies. Last time was Adrian Peterson, who made it to New York for the ceremony. Bradford hasn't been as spectacular as Peterson was, but ranking third nationally in pass efficiency and completing 80 percent of your throws on a top five team is a pretty good way to get noticed.

Andre' Woodson (28), Kentucky. Winning the bluegrass battle against Brohm -- and firing a 57-yard TD bomb with 28 seconds left -- stamped him a contender. He's just 15 throws away from breaking the I-A record for consecutive passes without an interception (271, set by Trent Dilfer at Fresno State). If the Wildcats can perpetrate road upsets of Arkansas and South Carolina, Woodson will enter the LSU-Florida double (Oct. 13 and 20, respectively) as one of the hottest names in the country.

Tim Tebow (29), Florida. Has lived up to the hype so far, which is nearly impossible. Expected to be the world's greatest quarterback, he nearly has been. He's accounted for 13 touchdowns with arms and feet, and a big performance against LSU's bulletproof defense Oct. 6 could push him into the lead.

(Other QBs starring for current unbeatens: Curtis Painter of Purdue, Graham Harrell of Texas Tech, Dennis Dixon of Oregon, Cullen Harper of Clemson, Paul Smith of Tulsa, Todd Reesing of Kansas and Kellen Lewis of Indiana.)

Undefeated, Unranked, Unloved

Ten teams that haven't lost but haven't dented the Top 25, either. The Dash determines who's legit and whose bubble is about the burst.

Indiana (30). Victories over: Indiana State, Western Michigan, Akron. Sagarin rank: 51st. Buy or sell: Sell. The Hoosiers are better and should make their first bowl appearance since 1993. But even in a bad Big Ten and with Ohio State and Michigan off the schedule, 7-5 looks like the ceiling.

Air Force (31). Victories over: South Carolina State, Utah, TCU. Sagarin rank: 30th. Buy or sell: Buy. First-year coach Troy Calhoun is off to a sensational start. Some picked the Falcons to finish last in the Mountain West, but they've already beaten two of their primary conference rivals. If they can win at BYU Saturday, they might be favored in every game the rest of the way.

Texas Tech (32). Victories over: SMU, UTEP, Rice. Sagarin rank: 21st. Buy or sell: Buy. Mike Leach is at it again, plugging new parts into his orgiastic passing machine. It's not hard to envision the Red Raiders 6-0 and playing host to Texas A&M to kick off a tough second half to the season.

Tulsa (33). Victories over: Louisiana-Monroe, BYU. Sagarin rank: 42nd. Buy or sell: Buy. Todd Graham has picked up where Steve Kragthorpe left off, and even upgraded the offense under former Arkansas coordinator Gus Malzahn. The Golden Hurricane is fourth nationally in total offense after riddling the Cougars for 55 points. They'll take a beating from Oklahoma Friday night (ESPN2, 8 ET), but then will enter Conference USA play as the team to beat.

Connecticut (34). Victories over: Duke, Maine, Temple. Sagarin rank: 35th. Buy or sell: Sell. The Huskies have proved nothing so far and might yet finish with a losing record.

Cincinnati (35). Victories over: Southeast Missouri State, Oregon State, Miami (Ohio). Sagarin rank: 6th. Buy or sell: Buy. The Bearcats have flat-out murdered three teams in a row under new coach Brian Kelly, taking the ball away an astonishing 17 times and leading the nation in turnover margin. They should move to 5-0 going into Big East play -- the question is how they do when the turnovers stop coming.

Kansas (36). Victories over: Central Michigan, Southeastern Louisiana, Toledo. Sagarin rank: 28th. Buy or sell: Sell. Yes, the Jayhawks have outscored opponents 159-20. And they'll put another pinball score on Florida International this week. But when they finally leave home in October and play some real opposition, the losses will start coming. Even without playing Texas or Oklahoma, Kansas will be around its familiar .500 perch.

Michigan State (37). Victories over: UAB, Bowling Green, Pittsburgh. Sagarin rank: 34th. Buy or sell: Sell. The Spartans are a solid team under Mark Dantonio, but they barely got by Bowling Green and Pitt, both at home. The offensive line looks like it will have trouble holding up through a Big Ten season, and the Spartans should finish about 6-6.

Purdue (38). Victories over: Toledo, Eastern Illinois, Central Michigan. Sagarin rank: 25th. Buy or sell: Buy. The Boilermakers haven't proven much yet, but in a measly Big Ten they might be the dark horse that makes a run at the title. Wisconsin is off the schedule and Ohio State is at home, which helps.

Arizona State (39). Victories over: San Jose State, Colorado, San Diego State. Sagarin rank: 17th. Buy or sell: Buy. The Sun Devils will be 7-0 when California comes calling Oct. 27, thanks in large part to a defense that has improved markedly under Dennis Erickson.

Point After

When hungry in Lexington after the once-every-three-decades victory over a top 10 team, The Dash recommends a visit to one of the SEC's great greasy spoon joints, the Tolly-Ho (40). Get yourself a Ho burger, some cheddar tots and an Oreo milkshake -- after you've had a few beers. It's a short stagger from several quality bars to the Ho.

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