Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (offensive coordinators sold separately in the Mountain West, where two have been fired already this season):
We’ve reached the feisty part of the season—tempers getting shorter, slights being perceived more readily, everyone a little more on edge. We’re into conference play and there is a lot on the line, including seven-figure jobs (see the Dash First Quarter for details on that). It’s time for frat fights in the stands at Mississippi (21), and it’s time for the coaches to get mad.
We had the undercard bout Saturday, leading into the headline showdown this week. We had Ryan Day vs. Greg Schiano (22) in the Fake Punt Fury at the Horseshoe. Day’s Ohio State team was ahead on all judges’ scorecards and also on the scoreboard, 49–10, in the fourth quarter. That’s when punter Jesse Mirco called his own number on a free-lanced fake punt, running for a first down. Given the score, this was poorly received by Rutgers, and return man Aron Cruickshank belted Mirco well after he’d already stepped out of bounds.
That resulted in an ejection for Cruickshank, and it was followed by Schiano running all the way across the field to exchange angry words and pointed fingers with Day. The two, who worked together under Urban Meyer at Ohio State, had to be separated and both were assessed unsportsmanlike conduct penalties of their own.
To the disappointment of many rubberneckers, the two appeared to cool down and smooth it over postgame. But Ohio State’s football Twitter account did get in a last dig, sending out a tweet touting Mirco as special teams player of the game.
Now, the Main Event: Nick Saban vs. Jimbo Fisher (23). The verbal brawl in May was epic—the Alabama coach unexpectedly coming out swinging at Fisher and Texas A&M over having allegedly “bought every player on their team,” and Jimbo counterpunching wildly.
“Some people think they’re God,” Fisher responded. “Go dig into how God did his deal; you may find out about a guy, a lot of things you don’t want to know. We build him up to be the czar of football. Go dig into his past.”
The whole thing fizzled out when the two got together and pretended nothing ever happened at SEC spring meetings, but that bell cannot be unrung. The Aggies visit Tuscaloosa on Saturday. They do not look like a team that’s ready to shock the world, coming off a blowout loss to Mississippi State, but they were coming off a loss to the Bulldogs last year when they took down the Crimson Tide in College Station. And Heisman Trophy–winning quarterback Bryce Young’s availability is in question after a shoulder injury.
Regardless, Saban was breathing fire at the media in his press conference Monday, railing about “rat poison” and generally trying to attack any semblance of overconfidence that may be surrounding his team (or even infiltrating it). Bama is favored by a whopping 24 points, but the coach clearly wants his team locked in. If the Tide are up big late in the game, how Saban handles trying to tack on additional points might be a truer indication of how he feels toward Fisher than any of the conciliatory rhetoric from the offseason.
The other quality coach fight to come this season:
Jim Harbaugh vs. Ryan Day (24). The Michigan–Ohio State game is always loaded with emotional freight, but this one got a boost last November when Harbaugh made a comment after finally beating the Buckeyes that has reverberated ever since. “Sometimes there are people standing on third base that think they hit a triple,” he said. “But they didn’t.” That was an apparent reference to Day landing a Cadillac job at the age of 39 with no prior head-coaching experience.
Harbaugh was asked about the third-base comment at Big Ten media days in July. His response: “I have no comment about that at this time.” Rest assured, others will supply the commentary as this year’s game draws closer.
We need more. A list of coach fights The Dash would like to see:
Mike Leach vs. Lane Kiffin (25). Two wiseacres and shot takers who get along entirely too well for being on opposite sides of one of the most heated rivalries in the country. The Egg Bowl thrives on hate, and we need the coaches at Mississippi State and Mississippi to do their part to feed the beast. The Egg Bowl will be played in Oxford on Nov. 24.
Brian Kelly vs. Billy Napier (26). This should happen, right? LSU and Florida have fought over a hurricane and played some wild, weird games against each other. Why not have the coaches fuss and feud, too? Napier was interested in the LSU job but couldn’t get a sniff—and the sport is better when the Florida coach is tweaking his rival anyway. Kelly often needs someone to be mad at. LSU plays at Florida on Oct. 15.
Mike Gundy vs. Anybody (27). The Oklahoma State coach and self-appointed expert on all things is pugnacious enough on his own, but he needs a dance partner. Oklahoma’s Brent Venables is the obvious choice but might not choose to engage.
Gundy did his part last month to (correctly) lay responsibility for the end of the Bedlam Series rivalry at the feet of the Sooners. His comment: “Bedlam is history; we all know that. We’ve known that, because OU chose to follow Texas and the money to the SEC. It’s O.K. So now, we’re having what I think are childish discussions, in my opinion, over something that’s done. And I would like to make this the last statement that I have because I have no hard feelings. But what’s going on now is almost a situation with a husband and a wife, or a girlfriend and a boyfriend, when you know you’re dead wrong and you try to turn the table and make them think they’re wrong, when Oklahoma State has no part in this.” Venables responded by offering no personal opinion on the matter.
If someone else in the Big 12 would like to step up and squawk with Gundy, The Dash would appreciate it.
Kirby Smart vs. Josh Heupel (28). If Tennessee is truly going to be back as a relevant SEC power, it would be nice if Heupel could mix it up with the 800-pound gorilla of the East Division. There was some low-level chatter from Tennessee backers about how Heupel should have won the league Coach of the Year award over Smart last year—something no coach of the Volunteers has won since 1998—but that’s about it. Maybe the NIL/collective landscape can gin up some commotion on the recruiting trail, as it did between Saban and Fisher. Or maybe if the Vols can threaten (or beat) the Bulldogs this year between the hedges. That game is scheduled for Nov. 5.
Pat Narduzzi vs. Mario Cristobal (29). There should be something here. Narduzzi will pop off. Cristobal has a chip on his shoulder. Pittsburgh and Miami have played some entertaining games against each other in both the ACC and the Big East, including two upsets by the Hurricanes in the last three seasons. The two end the regular season in Miami on Nov. 26.
Chip Kelly vs. Lincoln Riley (30). Kelly is a New England smart alec in need of a foil. Riley isn’t much for that kind of crossfire, offering blandly nice comments about Kelly during the offseason. It might help if the two meet up on the recruiting trail more often, but so far they haven’t had much cross-pollination in that area. (It’s admittedly early.) Kelly might have saved his job at UCLA by beating USC last year, and the two could have something cooking when they meet later in the year if they continue on their current trajectories. Their first matchup in their current positions is Nov. 19 at the Rose Bowl.