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Forde-Yard Dash: Heisman Hopefuls Lose Luster in Surprising September

The Dash decides what is trending up and what is trending down after a wild first month. Plus, why Selection Sunday would look like an SEC Invitational if it were today.

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (rowboat repair kit sold separately in Minneapolis):

MORE DASH: Conference Rankings | Marquee Matchups | Hot Seats


We have careened through a wild first month of the season, with power programs flopping and surprise teams revealing themselves and weekly upheaval in the rankings. The Dash takes stock of what has transpired.

DOWN: The Heisman Trophy race (1). Where are all the candidates? So many of the players we talked about all preseason have lost games and lost luster, performing far below expectations. It’s been a tough month for touted quarterbacks: Sam Howell of North Carolina, D.J. Uiagalelei of Clemson, Spencer Rattler of Oklahoma, Kedon Slovis of USC, D’Eric King of Miami, C.J. Stroud of Ohio State and Michael Penix of Indiana have all taken their lumps.

In their place, the current Heisman list starts with Mississippi quarterback Matt Corral (14 touchdowns in just three games while leading the nation’s top offense). Coastal Carolina’s Grayson McCall (leads the nation by a mile in pass efficiency) and Alabama’s Bryce Young (fifth in efficiency) would finish out The Dash’s ballot if it had to sent in today.

Other candidates on undefeated teams who are emerging from outside the mainstream: Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa (eighth nationally in passing yards per game); SMU quarterback Tanner Mordecai (leads the nation in touchdown passes with 20); Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker (leads the nation in rushing); UTSA running back Sincere McCormick (workhorse leads the nation in carries); and Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson (tied for the national lead in sacks with 5.5).

UP: The Kirby Smart coaching tree (2). Not only is Smart’s Georgia team undefeated, but two of his former assistant coaches are 4–0 and leading renaissances at Power 5 programs. Sam Pittman, who coached the offensive line under Smart at Georgia from 2016 to '19, has Arkansas rolling. The Razorbacks have recorded double-digit victories over Texas and Texas A&M—games that will resonate in recruiting in the Lone Star State—and Pittman is an early leader for national Coach of the Year. Among those in contention for that award with Pittman is the guy who coordinated Georgia’s defense from '16 to '18, Mel Tucker. His second Michigan State team is 2–0 in the Big Ten and has three wins over Power 5 competition after a dramatic overtime victory over Nebraska on Saturday.


DOWN: Poll voters (3). Not blaming them, because who could have foreseen this carnage? Nine members of the preseason AP Top 25 have already lost twice: No. 3 Clemson, No. 7 Iowa State, No. 10 North Carolina, No. 12 Wisconsin, No. 14 Miami, No. 15 USC, No. 17 Indiana, No, 20 Washington and No. 24 Utah. Only Clemson remains ranked, at 25th.

UP: Brand loyalty (4). The poll voters do stand by the big names, even if there isn’t much to love. The USA Today coaches poll still has Oklahoma in the top four, despite a combined winning margin of 15 points against three FBS opponents (the Sooners beat Tulane by five, Nebraska by seven, West Virginia by three). All three of those opponents have multiple losses. The coaches also leapfrogged Penn State ahead of Cincinnati last week and Notre Dame ahead of the Bearcats this week.

DOWN: The $90 million men (5). Two college coaches have 10-year deals worth more than $90 million or more, and neither of them is delivering a very handsome return on investment. Dabo Swinney’s Clemson team is 2–2 and falling apart offensively, having scored a total of 31 points in regulation against three FBS opponents. Clemson is last in the ACC in total offense, yards per play, pass efficiency and passing yards per game. And Jimbo Fisher’s Texas A&M team isn’t much better on that side of the ball, having scored 10 points in a shaky victory over Colorado and 10 in a miserable defeat against Arkansas. Fisher had to turn to backup quarterback Zach Calzada in the second game of the season, but still: Apparently $9 million a year doesn’t buy what it used to in terms of coaching up the most important position in the sport.

UP: The Mitten (6). Michigan is 4–0. Michigan State is 4–0. Western Michigan is 3–1 and its only loss is to the Wolverines, with an upset of Pittsburgh on the ledger. Eastern Michigan is 3–1 and just scored 59 points on Texas State, the most in program history against an FBS opponent. Central Michigan is 2–2 after scoring 21 points in the fourth quarter to rally from 17 down and defeat Florida International. An undefeated Saturday in the state presumably made it easier to get over the latest Lions-related catastrophe on Sunday. (Maybe.)


Each week, The Dash plays College Football Playoff selection committee and selects the matchups as if today were Selection Sunday. This week is pretty much an SEC Invitational.

Orange Bowl: Top seed Georgia (7) vs. fourth seed Arkansas (8).

The Bulldogs (4–0) brutalized Vanderbilt in Nashville, jumping to a 35–0 lead in the first quarter and winning 62–0. Georgia’s ridiculous defense held the Commodores to 77 total yards, and Vandy’s longest play went for 13 yards. The Dawgs lead the nation in total defense, scoring defense and yards allowed per play.

Next for Georgia: Arkansas visits Athens Saturday, coincidentally enough, in what has suddenly become a big game.

The Razorbacks (4–0) continued their revival by beating Texas A&M in Arlington, taking a 17–0 lead and then just managing the game the rest of the way. The Hogs hit two huge plays in the passing game, an 85-yard touchdown from K.J. Jefferson to Treylon Burks late in the first quarter and then a Burks wheel route to A.J. Green, who bounced through the shoddy tackling of the Aggies for a 48-yard score. Arkansas moved to plus-four on the season in turnover margin after its second straight game with zero giveaways. The Hogs haven’t lost a fumble all season.

Next for Arkansas: at Georgia.

Sugar Bowl: second seed Alabama (9) vs. third seed Oregon (10).

The Crimson Tide (4–0) dominated Southern Mississippi, 63–14. Receiver Jameson Williams began the game with a 100-yard kickoff return touchdown, then added a second kickoff TD early in the fourth quarter. Between those two plays, he had an 81-yard touchdown reception. "Every time I get the ball I'm trying to take it to the crib," Williams said. He’s now cribbed the ball five times this season since arriving as a transfer from Ohio State, and four of those scores have been longer than 80 yards.

Next for Alabama: hosts Mississippi Saturday.

The Ducks (4–0) weren’t very good against miserable Arizona Saturday, leading by just five points going into the fourth quarter and pulling away from there. They were flagged for 95 yards in penalties, gave up 435 yards and were outgained by a team that has the longest losing streak in the nation at 16 games. But they did put the game away in the fourth quarter, scoring the last 17 points of the night. Oregon’s defense produced five interceptions, returning one for a touchdown. The Ducks are tied for the national lead in picks with nine.

Next for Oregon: at Stanford Saturday.

Dropped out: Penn State, which saw its wins over Wisconsin and Auburn devalued a bit over the weekend.

Also considered: Penn State, Iowa, Florida.

MORE DASH: Conference Rankings | Marquee Matchups | Hot Seats