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Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (Irish hangover remedies sold separately in Evanston, where it’s been a month since Northwestern got drunk on victory over Nebraska):

MORE DASH: QBs Saying ‘I Told Ya So’ | League Rankings | September Review



Story lines for the month ahead:

A defining three-game stretch looms in the back half of October for James Franklin (31) and Penn State. The Dash is going to go ahead and predict victory for the Nittany Lions Saturday against futile Northwestern. After that comes an open date, and after that comes three games against the other current unbeatens in the Big Ten—at Michigan Oct. 15, home against Minnesota Oct. 22, home against Ohio State Oct. 29.

At 4–0 and a presumptive 5–0, Penn State is close to shaking off the two-year malaise that gripped the program. The Nittany Lions went 11–11 in 2020 and ’21, remaining behind the Buckeyes and watching the Wolverines and Michigan State both surge past them. Franklin got a nice contract extension in the offseason after flirting with other jobs, but he hasn’t done much since 2019 to earn it. After standing pat with sixth-year senior quarterback Sean Clifford, adding some talented freshmen running backs, improving the offensive line and building elite units at tight end and in the secondary, Penn State has a chance to reassert itself against the best competition the league has to offer. If it goes well, a manageable November comes next.

Alabama coach Nick Saban stands with his hands on his hips during a game against Texas.

Is Alabama (32) ready for its road tests? The Crimson Tide was pretty bad at Texas in its first road game of the season, reminiscent of shaky performances last year at Auburn, Texas A&M and Florida. Improvement is needed when ‘Bama visits Arkansas this week and Tennessee Nov. 15. In its five true road games last year and this year, the Tide has averaged 10 penalties for 89 yards—the kind of stat that leaves Nick Saban snarling on the sideline. More surprising for this team and its veteran defense, Alabama has generated just one turnover in four games. By every indication, Arkansas and Tennessee are far better than Texas, which took Alabama down to the wire before losing by a point. ‘Bama will have to execute on a higher level than it did in Austin.

It will be a zesty month in the ACC Atlantic (33). The four current unbeatens in the division will all see a lot of each other in October. Clemson plays North Carolina State Saturday, at Florida State Oct. 15 and Syracuse Oct. 22. N.C. State plays all three in succession: at Clemson Saturday, Florida State at home Oct. 8 and at Syracuse Oct. 15. The Seminoles have a Wake Forest-N.C. State-Clemson run from Oct. 1-15. The Orange end the month with N.C. State, at Clemson and Notre Dame. Prediction: nobody is unbeaten in the division come November.

The Big 12’s brave new world (34) gets all the more interesting. Last year’s championship game was contested without Oklahoma and Texas, and early returns indicate that could repeat itself. Unbeaten Oklahoma State plays three road games in October (Baylor, undefeated TCU and Kansas State). TCU gets a chance at home to bury the Sooners Saturday, but then has consecutive games against unbeatens Kansas and Oklahoma State. The Jayhawks are still earning no respect from the voters or Vegas—they’re unranked and a three-point home underdog Saturday against Iowa State. This is easily the most wide-open Power 5 conference race.

Prepare for 8–0 Washington (35) to be well-positioned in the first College Football Playoff rankings on Nov. 1. After four straight home games, the Huskies have to prove they can play on the road—they have three of the next four away from Seattle, starting at UCLA Friday night. Although the Bruins are 4–0, the schedule has been horrible and home attendance is so soft that the school is doing everything but throwing tickets to the Washington game at passing cars on Wilshire Boulevard. The other road games are Arizona State and California, and the one home game in October is Arizona.

After firings during three successive weeks, Brian Harsin (36) is next man on the plank in the coaching cycle. Everyone knows that the Auburn coach is hanging by a thread, and Missouri’s late burst of incompetence Saturday might have been the only thing that will allow him to see October as the coach of the Tigers. Now the question is whether he can make it to Auburn’s open date, which is Oct. 22. The next three games are all highly losable—LSU, at Georgia, at Mississippi—so the guess here is no.

Will the Sun Belt (37) cannibalize itself and open the door for someone else to grab the New Years Six bowl bid? There are a lot of good teams that have scored statement victories in the Sun Belt this season, but perhaps not one that’s good enough to produce a record gaudy enough for the College Football Playoff selection committee to elevate. That would be a shame, but that’s life in a league with newfound depth after expansion. Don’t be shocked if Cincinnati or another American Athletic Conference team ends up grabbing that New Years six bid yet again.

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Joey McGuire (38), Texas Tech. The former Texas high school coach’s first career Big 12 game was against Texas Saturday, and danged if McGuire’s Red Raiders didn’t win it in field-storming fashion. Trailing by two touchdowns in the third quarter, Tech scored 17 straight points, surrendered a tying field goal on the final play of regulation, then won in OT. He’s now 2-0 against the state, having also beaten Houston, which is a fine way to start his tenure in Lubbock.


Andy Avalos (39), Boise State. The school’s successful formula of hiring coaches with ties to the program has faltered. The Broncos went 7-5 last year in Avalos’ first year on the job, their worst record since 1998. This year’s team is off to a 2-2 start that includes a brutal loss to UTEP Friday night, which was followed by the firing of offensive coordinator Tim Plough and the reported transfer of quarterback Hank Bachmaier. If former Boise coach Harsin comes back on the market, Avalos’ tenure could be short.


When thirsty in the underrated city of Winston-Salem, The Dash recommends a stop at the excellent Wise Man Brewing (40), part of an archipelago of bars and restaurants in the downtown area. Try a Body Electric IPA, get some food from the Asian food truck outside, grab a picnic table and thank The Dash later.

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MORE DASH: QBs Saying ‘I Told Ya So’ | League Rankings | September Review