Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (stuffed chicken dolls sold separately in Knoxville, to the displeasure of the South Carolina Gamecocks):
Fourth Quarter: October Forecast
September was great. October could be even better. Let’s take a look at some potential headlines.
Three Schedule Observations
Oregon (31) has the most bonkers month ahead. The 5–0 Ducks have a three-week gantlet that could propel the Ducks to near the top of the rankings, or leave them in arrears in the Pac-12 race. After an open date this Saturday, No. 8 Oregon visits undefeated No. 7 Washington; hosts undefeated No. 13 Washington State; then visits No. 18 Utah.
That’s the kind of run SEC teams used to have—and they usually received the benefit of the doubt for it from College Football Playoff selection committee members and poll voters. Will the Pac-12, in the midst of a remarkable season, be accorded the same level of respect if and when its teams start beating each other?
North Carolina (32) has the most user-friendly schedule among unbeatens. The Tar Heels have mostly cruised along under the radar to 4–0, with an opening victory over South Carolina in Charlotte constituting their most significant data point. Now they’ve got three in a row at home this month—Syracuse, Miami and Virginia—before closing October at Georgia Tech. To date, North Carolina has played one true road game (at Pittsburgh), which was also their only game outside the state. Playing six of the first seven in North Carolina is a pretty sweet gig—although that Miami game Oct. 14 is looming large.
SEC Elimination Season (33) is at hand. Four league teams with one or zero losses will face off against each other multiple times this month. Those games will go a long way toward clarifying how many playoff contenders the conference has.
One-loss teams Alabama, Texas A&M and Tennessee play a round-robin: Saturday, Texas A&M hosts Alabama. The following week, the Aggies visit Tennessee. And the week after that, the Volunteers are at ‘Bama. All three are 4–1 to date, with both A&M and Alabama’s losses coming against nonconference competition. The Vols were beaten by Florida.
Three Bold October Predictions
We will make it to November with zero head coaches fired for on-field reasons (34). If that holds true, it would appear to be the first non-pandemic season without a pre-November firing or resignation in at least a decade.
Once we get into November, though, keep an eye on: Dana Holgorsen at Houston; Dave Aranda at Baylor; Jeff Hafley at Boston College; Mike Houston at East Carolina; Ken Wilson at Nevada; Danny Gonzales at New Mexico; Blake Andersen at Utah State; Mike Neu at Ball State. All of them could use a good October.
Lincoln Riley (35) will have at least one NFL overture that could be an enticing one. The Chicago Bears, having blown a 21-point lead to the previously winless Denver Broncos on Sunday, assumed the pole position for the No. 1 draft pick in 2024. Coach Matt Eberflus further cemented his own First To Be Fired status on the NFL level in that game by opting against a go-ahead field goal with 2:52 remaining, opting to go for a fourth-and-1 and being stuffed. Denver subsequently drove for the winning field goal.
If the Bears win the Caleb Williams sweepstakes and need a new coach, why not kick the tires on Riley and go for the package deal? Caveat: Riley doesn’t seem like a perfect NFL fit in terms of personality. So if he’s not the guy to coach Williams at the NFL level, what about another current member of the USC staff, offensive analyst and former Arizona Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury?
Someone will at least consider trying to hire the next Deion Sanders (36). It won’t work out well. Sanders is one of one. You cannot copycat-hire Deion.
You can hire another famous former player, but how many of them have put in the time coaching at the small-college and high school levels? And even the most famous former players don’t have Sanders’s cache and contacts across multiple sports and the entertainment world.
Part of Sanders’s unique allure is that he can be all things to all people: the archetype of cool, which can appeal to legions of young players; an outwardly religious man, which can appeal to a lot of parents; a Black role model who is parenting his sons in real time on a national stage, which can appeal to another swath of parents; and a coach who knows what it takes to get to the NFL, which appeals to almost everyone involved in the sport.
Drive for 325 Update
Each week The Dash is updating the progress of Iowa offensive coordinator and nepo baby Brian Ferentz (37) toward fulfilling contractual obligations that call for the Hawkeyes to average 25 points per game. That’s a total of 325 points across 13 games. After last year’s offensively challenged team wheezed its way 17.7 points per game, improvement was mandated—and put in writing. The update through four games:
- Last week: Iowa rallied to beat Michigan State at home, improving to 4–1.
- Points scored: 26, the Hawkeyes’ second-most of the season, a week after being shut out for the first time in 23 years. Iowa scored the final 16 points of the game on a Cooper DeJean punt return and three field goals. The offense produced just 222 total yards. Exceedingly on-brand.
- Average points through five games: 22,2, still 2.8 below the Mendoza Line.
- Average points attributable to the offense: 19. Percentage of Iowa points this season that are not attributable to the Iowa offense but still countable toward Ferentz’s contract: 14.4.
- Number of points needed the rest of the way to reach the target: 214. The Hawks need to average 26.8 through the next nine games.
- Next up: Purdue on Saturday in Iowa City. The good news for Ferentz & Ferentz, Inc.: the Boilermakers are allowing 29.6 points per game. The bad news: The Boilermakers are coming off their best game of the year, a 44–19 thrashing of Illinois. The worse news: Iowa starting quarterback Cade McNamara reportedly is likely to miss the rest of the season after suffering a leg injury Saturday. Backup Deacon Hill saw his first extensive action against Michigan State, completing 11 of 27 passes for 115 yards and a touchdown with one interception.
Coach Who Earned His Comp Car This Week
Troy Calhoun (38), Air Force. Now in his 17th season at the Academy, what if Calhoun has his best team? The Falcons are a dominant 5–0, winning every game by double digits and most recently blowing out San Diego State 49–10. Air Force leads the nation in rushing offense by a wide margin, but also hurt the Aztecs by completing 6-of-7 passes for 189 yards and two touchdowns. And Calhoun’s defense has been excellent as well, ranking second nationally to Penn State in fewest yards allowed.
There’s a long way to go, but the Falcons could be favored in every remaining game. The Dash could foresee an Air Force-Fresno State Mountain West championship game that also could have New Years Six bowl implications.
Coach Who Should Take the Bus to Work
Trent Dilfer (39), UAB. The closest thing we have to Sanders at present—a notable former NFL player and longtime TV analyst with no prior FBS coaching experience— did something Sanders hasn’t come close to during the Blazers’ loss to Tulane on Saturday. Dilfer completely melted down on his coaching staff after an illegal substitution penalty on a fourth down, tearing into seemingly everyone in his path. It was a complete loss of composure that should have embarrassed Dilfer as much as it embarrassed UAB.
An AL.com story Monday noted that Dilfer said he was “not proud of the moment,” and acknowledged that it was “over the top.” It’s easier for a coach to get a pass on an in-game tantrum when his record is better than 1–4.
When thirsty in the microbrewery-intensive downtown of Colorado Springs, The Dash recommends a pub crawl that can hit several of them in a manageable walk. Best in show: a Low Earth Orbit Australian Pale Ale from Bell Brothers Brewing (40). Grab a pint and thank The Dash later.