Forde Yard Dash: How Wide Open Is The College Football Playoff Race?

TCU's Trevone Boykin is firmly in the Heisman race after seven weeks. (Getty)

TCU (4). First-place votes: 3. AP ranking: fourth. Current Dash ranking: seventh. The Horned Frogs began the season No. 2 and haven’t lost a game, but they’ve lost ground anyway. Most of that is attributable to an injury-riddled defense that has given up 52 points to Texas Tech, 45 to Kansas State and 37 to SMU. TCU is surrendering nearly 400 yards per game, 5.25 yards per play and 26.6 points per game – not numbers normally associated with a Gary Patterson defense. On the flip side, TCU is third nationally in total offense and second in yards per play. November is the money month in the Big 12, and the Frogs will face Oklahoma State on Nov. 7, Oklahoma on Nov. 21 and Baylor on Nov. 27. They’re off on the final weekend, which could be a blessing or a dangerous chance to slip out of sight and mind while others are playing huge games. Like Baylor, TCU should get in the playoff field by going 12-0. But a loss would make things dicey, especially since the lone Power 5 non-conference opponent, Minnesota, has been a disappointment.

LSU (5). First-place votes: 1. AP ranking: fifth. Current Dash ranking: second. The Tigers started the season No. 14 but have risen after beating five Power 5 opponents, two of them on the road. They will only continue to pile up strength-of-schedule clout in the SEC West, and even their canceled opener was an SOS bonus – FCS McNeese State, while undefeated and better than, say, Big 12 bottom feeder Kansas, is ranked outside the Sagarin top 100. LSU is averaging more than seven yards per play, but moving at a deliberate pace (65 plays per game) limits the Tigers’ point production. The surprise has been allowing 23 points per game, most since 2008. LSU hasn’t held anyone to fewer than 17 points. The Tigers are the last unbeaten in the SEC, and an undefeated SEC champion is getting in the playoff, period. But if they lose to Alabama on Nov. 7, they’d have to get help from someone to win the West and win the SEC. And this doesn’t feel like a year when the SEC would have a very good chance of putting two teams in the playoff.

Clemson (6). First-place votes: 1. AP ranking: sixth. Current Dash ranking: fourth. The good news for Tigers fans is that the Tigers started the season 12th and moved up, passing fellow unbeaten Michigan State in the process. The bad news is that they have been passed by Utah and LSU. The best news of all, of course, is that the AP rankings don’t matter – but that’s what we have while we’re waiting for the committee to show us something Nov. 3. Clemson’s linchpin win was a nail-biter over Notre Dame – and as long as the Fighting Irish keep winning, it will keep helping the Tigers. But the ACC victories to date don’t resonate: Louisville has lost to Houston and Auburn; Georgia Tech is a major disappointment; and Boston College might be the most lopsided team in the country (all D, no O). The Nov. 7 game against Florida State will likely mean everything, in a league where any loss likely would knock the champion out of playoff contention.

Other Power Five Unbeatens Who Theoretically Control Their Own Playoff Destiny:

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Michigan State players celebrate after their thrilling last-second win over Michigan. (Getty)

Michigan State (7). The Spartans will almost certainly need to beat Ohio State on Nov. 21, on the way to winning them all. Failing that, they would likely need a nationwide bloodbath of upsets, Oregon winning the Pac-12 and the committee to be open to the idea of two teams from the Big Ten. While that would seem unlikely, it looks downright feasible compared to the scenario by which they beat Michigan.

Oklahoma State (8). The Cowboys have won three Big 12 games by a total of 12 points, one of them in overtime, which means this undefeated thing will likely hit the brick wall of reality come November. But should Oklahoma State shock TCU on Nov. 7, Baylor on Nov. 21 and Oklahoma on Nov. 28, there should be room in the bracket for the Pokes. Any loss would likely doom them, given a non-conference schedule of Central Michigan, Central Arkansas and UT-San Antonio.

Iowa (9). The Hawkeyes might have the easiest Power 5 path to 12-0, and the hardest to 13-0. They could be undefeated and still a double-digit underdog in the Big Ten championship game. But if they get there and shock the champion of the East, that might be all the validation they need. Strength of schedule would get a nice boost if Pittsburgh wins its division of the ACC, but there is otherwise no meat on the schedule bone. Any loss should be instant playoff elimination.

Florida State (10). Unlike fellow ACC unbeaten Clemson, the Seminoles do have another major opportunity on the schedule beyond that meeting in Death Valley on Nov. 7. The season-ending game against Florida is a big one as well. But it will be November before Florida State plays its first ranked opponent. FSU almost certainly will need to complete a third straight unbeaten season to get in the playoff.


Clamoring for inclusion just outside the palace walls are a trio of undefeated teams from the

American Athletic Conference (11): Memphis, Houston and Temple. All three are now ranked, and all three have Power 5 skins on the wall: Memphis beat Kansas (barely counts) but more importantly scored 31 unanswered points in a 37-24 win over Mississippi on Saturday; Houston won at Louisville the second week of the season; and Temple thumped Penn State by 17 in the season opener.

Memphis has regular-season games left against both Houston and Temple. Houston has the Tigers and Vanderbilt. Temple has the Tigers and an Oct. 31 home game against Notre Dame that will be aired in prime time. And it’s quite possible that two of the three will meet in the American championship game.

Clearly, Temple has the biggest chance to grab the attention of the committee with the Notre Dame game. But they have to get past a road game against East Carolina on Thursday to keep that matchup relevant.

Even a 13-0 American champion likely would need some chaos to get a playoff bid. Which is precisely why all those teams would love to upgrade into a Power 5 league if the opportunity ever presented itself.


Michigan is the winningest college football program in history, with 920 victories all-time. But my goodness have the Wolverines set a painful standard for losses on the last play at home. Michigan’s misadventures include three of the most memorable walk-off defeats in the last 25 years:

Kordell Stewart to Michael Westbrook (12). Sept. 24, 1994. “Rocket Left” was the play call for the Colorado Buffaloes, trailing 26-21 and 64 yards from the end zone with time for a final snap. Stewart dropped back, bought time for his receivers to get deep, and uncorked a 70-plus-yard missile that was tipped into the arms of a diving Westbrook in the end zone for the winning touchdown. That would be enough for Michigan fans to endure for one lifetime, but there has been more in each of the two subsequent decades.

The Appalachian State blocked field goal (13). Sept. 1, 2007. It’s been called the biggest upset in college football history – an FCS school beating a team that finished the previous year 11-2 and nearly played in the BCS Championship Game. The Mountaineers took a 34-32 lead with 26 seconds left, but Chad Henne completed a long pass to Mario Manningham to give Michigan a chance for a 37-yard field goal to win on the final play. Corey Lynch of Appalachian State rushed through a hole on the left side thanks to a Wolverines blocking assignment error and blocked the kick to preserve the shocker. That was the beginning of the end of Lloyd Carr as Michigan coach.

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Blake O'Neill may have saved the Wolverines by simply falling on the ball after fumbling it. (Getty)

The punt meltdown (14). Oct. 17, 2015. And then there was the disaster Saturday against Michigan State, which left this guy losing it. There were a thousand things wrong with Michigan’s execution on the play (more on that below), but Michigan State still required a fate-kissed intersection of floating football and onrushing Spartan – specifically Jalen Watts-Jackson, who had a date with history and an orthopedic surgeon in his immediate future.


Five plays that ended games in stranger-than-fiction fashion:

The Band Is On The Field (15). California’s five-lateral kickoff return in 1982, through the prematurely celebrating Stanford band, flattening trombonist Gary Tyrrell in the end zone, remains the gold standard for fluke-tastic finishes. A sometimes-forgotten footnote: the play ended John Elway’s Stanford career, and kept him from ever playing in a bowl game. A college bowl game. Played in a few Super Bowls later.

Kick Six (16). For those who argue that Michigan State’s flubbed-punt escape was the greatest game-ending play of all, here is the rebuttal: Auburn defensive back Chris Davis’ 109-yard return of a missed Alabama field goal in the 2013 Iron Bowl. True, this play lacked the desperation that the Spartans faced – the game was tied, so it was not an absolute win-or-lose moment. But seriously: 109 yards. With no time on the clock. And the SEC West championship on the line – and, ultimately, the SEC championship and a place in the final BCS Championship Game. And it’s the Iron Bowl. Not even Saturday can top all that.

Hail Flutie (17). The play: On Nov. 23, 1984, Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie took the final snap against Miami just past midfield, retreated nearly 20 yards and uncorked a bomb to Gerard Phelan, who somehow got behind all the Hurricanes and caught it for the winning touchdown. The historic significance: the play won the Heisman Trophy for Flutie.

Bush Push (18). USC coach Pete Carroll was calling for Matt Leinart to spike the ball on the Notre Dame 1-yard line with seven seconds left in 2005. By every indication, the Trojans would kick a chip-shot field goal and tie the game at 31, playing for overtime. But Leinart surprised everyone by trying to sneak the ball in for the touchdown. He was met by significant Notre Dame resistance, and running back Reggie Bush rushed up to shove Leinart across the goal line for the winning TD. If Leinart had been stopped short it would have been one of the all-time brain-dead plays, but instead defending champion USC stayed undefeated and remained on track for what would be an epic championship game against Texas.

Statue of Liberty (19). The two-point conversion the Boise State Broncos perpetrated to beat Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl was epic in its own right – but in point of fact it was the last in a trilogy of trick plays that earned this game a prominent place in the lore of the sport. Boise State perfectly executed a daring, 50-yard hook-and-lateral play to tie the game in regulation. Then, down seven on its first possession of overtime, the Broncos converted a fourth-and-goal on a halfback pass for six points. Chris Petersen went for two and for the win, and went gadget one more time: Jared Zabransky pulled off the Statue of Liberty, behind-the-back handoff to running back Ian Johnson, who dashed around left end for the win. Taking it over the top, Johnson then dropped to a knee and proposed to his cheerleader girlfriend just a few feet from where he scored the winning points.


They are the oft-ignored area of football, at least by fans and media. But we do pay attention when special teams perform badly. Especially when a bad play alters the outcome of a game.

That’s the pressure a special-teamer has to play with, and even embrace: you don’t get many snaps, and your name may be anonymous – until you’ve screwed something up. Fair or not, it’s the American Way, and that’s something a trio of Australian punters has found out the hard way in 2015.

Importing Aussie punters is all the rage, and often with good results, but a lack of American football knowledge may have played a part in at least a couple major malfunctions.

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Michael Dickson's flub against Oklahoma State cost Texas the game. (AP)

Texas freshman punter

Michael Dickson (20), product of Canberra, Australia, flubbed a snap late against Oklahoma State to set up the Cowboys for the winning field goal. Dickson at least did the right thing in that tie-game situation after the flub, retrieving the ball and punting it sideways for a loss of yardage, but other Aussies may have channeled the wrong instincts in that moment of crisis.

Take, for instance, Oregon State punter

Nick Porebski (21), an Aussie junior-college transfer touted as being able to punt with either foot. Interestingly enough, Michigan’s takeoff this season tangibly began in Week Two with a bad punt snap and an ensuing bad decision by Porebski.

To recap: with Michigan holding a 10-7 lead late in the first half and the Beavers in plus territory, they elected to punt. The snap sailed over Porebski’s head, and he gave chase. Porebski scooped up the ball at his own 5-yard line and attempted to do something with it, instead of kicking it out of the end zone for a safety. He was driven back to the 2, and Michigan scored a touchdown before the half for a 17-7 lead. The Wolverines dominated the second half and began a stampede that lasted until Saturday.

That’s when they encountered their own Aussie punting nightmare. The dropped snap and ensuing regrettable decision that made Michigan punter

Blake O’Neill (22) the Goat du Jour.

Derek Rackley was a four-year starter at long snapper at Minnesota who played eight seasons in the NFL and now is a Big Ten Network analyst, among other broadcast activities. He enumerated for The Dash all the errors Michigan made to create the ultimate disaster.

The formation was what has become a fairly normal modern punt look: three protectors behind a five-man front with two gunners. Problem is, that formation is designed to get out and cover more than to lock in and protect. Given the time on the clock (10 seconds) and the fact that all 11 Spartans were crowding the line of scrimmage to go for the block, this was a problem.

Not only did Michigan fail to adjust its formation, it failed to adjust its blocking from that formation. A least a couple of the linemen got brief chip blocks and then released downfield – to cover nothing. There was nobody back to return the kick.

“They should have all stayed in to protect,” Rackley said. “And if you’ve got to hold, hold. A holding penalty in that situation is not a big deal. If you have to grab them and rip them down to the ground, do it.”

Instead, Michigan released to cover nobody. And O’Neill dropped the snap.

“None of it matters if he just catches the snap,” Rackley said. “It was a low snap but that’s a fundamental play.”

Even if he’d caught it, and not tried to pick it up and punt it, Rackley wondered what O’Neill was doing. He was going into the usual, three-step running kick, when the situation dictated just getting the thing off his foot as quickly as possible.

“That should have been one step and kick,” Rackley said.

Ultimately, if O’Neill had just fallen on the ball where he dropped it, Michigan probably still would have won. But this was likely not a scenario that anyone had thought of preparing for during spring ball, fall camp or weekly practice during the season.

“You don’t practice situations where stuff gets messed up,” Rackley said. “Teams don’t discuss it. You don’t say, ‘OK, here’s what you do if you drop the snap and all hell breaks loose.’ And you especially don’t bring that up right before the play.”

Somehow, The Dash suspects that a lot of college teams will start practicing what to do if all hell breaks loose this week. For the first time.


LSU sent several video clips to the SEC office this week, in an effort to highlight what it thought were situations where superstar running back

Leonard Fournette (23) was subject to excessive contact against Florida on Saturday night.

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Leonard Fournette remains firmly in the Heisman race after a 180-yard, two-TD performance against Florida. (AP)

The beastly back is so hard to tackle that several plays ended up in Fournette vs. Florida standoffs, with three or four Gators pushing him backward before whistles sounded forward progress. Miles thinks officials might have let the plays run on too long before blowing them dead.

“At some point,” he said, “that’s a personal foul.”

Fournette got a little feisty himself a couple of times during the game, at one point almost taking a swing at a Florida tackler who got into his air space.

“There was a lot going on under those piles,” Fournette said afterward. “A lot of guys grabbing me.”

There has been a lot of media banter about what the sophomore should do after this year, when he is still a year away from being eligible for the NFL draft. Some have even suggested Fournette sit out 2016 to avoid an injury that could scuttle a multimillion-dollar career. While that seems both unlikely and unwise, there are plenty of concerned parties who will be monitoring his carries and the hits he takes.

Miles’ communication with the SEC might also be communication with those concerned parties, showing that the coach will do what he can to protect Fournette – for now and for his future.


There are a lot of good ones out there, but The Dash has been dazzled by three in particular so far in 2015:

Corey Coleman (24), Baylor. What the junior is doing is insane – he has 16 touchdown receptions in six games. Randy Moss, a man among boys at Marshall in 1997, had 26 TD receptions in 13 games. Yeah, the passing game is more evolved now, but Coleman is averaging a touchdown every 2.6 catches. And he’s averaging 21.4 yards per catch. If Baylor wants to pick a player to promote for the Heisman Trophy, Coleman is probably the guy.

Josh Doctson (25), TCU. Despite all Coleman has done, he has competition in his own league and own state for best WR. Doctson has been sensational, leading the nation in receiving yards per game (152.4) and ranking second in touchdown catches (12). If TCU QB Trevone Boykin goes to New York for the Heisman ceremony, he should at least bring Doctson back a Statue of Liberty snow globe.

Leonte Carroo (26), Rutgers. Carroo has been in enough trouble to miss 2 ½ games due to suspensions – and he’s still caught nine touchdown passes. That’s in 14 quarters of football. In two Big Ten games, the senior has 14 catches for 291 yards and six TDs. If he can stay on the field the rest of the season, look out. Ohio State can begin building all its pass coverage around Carroo now in anticipation of visiting Rutgers on Saturday.


The vigil continues, waiting for someone to win The Dash’s annual Last Interception Pool. We lost Paxton Lynch of Memphis, who threw his first pick of the season against Mississippi – but still led the Tigers to one of the biggest victories in program history. Here’s who is left:

Dak Prescott (27), Mississippi State. Has zero interceptions in 225 attempts. Next: hosts Kentucky on Saturday, which has intercepted four of opponents’ 185 attempts (2.2 percent).

Anu Solomon (28), Arizona. Zero interceptions in 182 attempts. Next: hosts Washington State on Saturday, which has intercepted six of opponents’ 176 attempts (3.4 percent).

Everett Golson (29), Florida State. Zero interceptions in 177 attempts. Next: at Georgia Tech on Saturday, which has intercepted six of opponents’ 198 attempts (3 percent).

No, The Dash is not snubbing LSU QB Brandon Harris, who also is oh-for-oskie on the season to date. But Harris didn’t have enough attempts to make the NCAA Top 100 passers until after the LIP had started. So he’s out.

Janina Gavankar (Getty)

Maybe this week The Dash’s dazzling swag will be awarded to the winner: a lifetime supply of eye black, a Slim Jim and the undying affection of Dashette

Janina Gavankar (30).


The Dash assesses the chances of five struggling programs to right the ship, finish .500 or better and reach the postseason Promised Land – or at least the Foster Farms Bowl:

Indiana (31). Last bowl game: 2007. Since then: 26-58, 9-47 in the Big Ten. This year: 4-3, 0-3 in Big Ten. Can the Hoosiers do it? Coughing up a 25-point lead in the second half at home against Rutgers sure didn’t help. Expect to see them 4-6 heading into the final two weeks: at Maryland and at Purdue. Those are winnable games – except for the fact that Indiana hasn’t won a Big Ten road game since 2010. This feels like 5-7.

Kentucky (32). Last bowl game: 2010. Since then: 14-34, 4-28 in the SEC. This year: 4-2, 2-2 in SEC. Can they do it? Yes. Even if the Wildcats lose their next three – at Mississippi State, Tennessee, at Georgia – they have the get-well double of Vanderbilt and Charlotte on Nov. 14 and 21. And this may be the year to end a four-game losing streak against rival Louisville in the season finale.

Colorado (33). Last bowl game: 2007. Since then: 23-62, 6-18 in the Big 12, 4-32 in the Pac-12. This year: 3-4, 0-3 in the Pac-12. Can they do it? Not likely. The Buffaloes have played a lot better at home than on the road, and four of the final six are away. Even if Colorado could score rare league road wins at Oregon State and Washington State, that still leaves them searching for a victory over UCLA, Stanford, USC or Utah to reach six. Not happening.

South Florida (34). Last bowl game: 2010. Since then: 14-34, 2-12 in the Big East, 5-11 in the American. This year: 3-3, 1-1 in the American. Can they do it? The Bulls haven’t done many things well in the last few seasons, but beating Connecticut is one of them – they took down the Huskies on Saturday for the fourth straight year. Now the task becomes finding three more wins in a pretty challenging back half of the schedule. SMU on Saturday is a must-have, as is the closing game against winless rival Central Florida. Cincinnati may be vulnerable in Tampa on Nov. 20th.

New Mexico (35). Last bowl game: 2007. Since then: 18-67, 9-46 in the Mountain West. This year: 4-3, 2-1 in the MWC. Can they do it? Iffy. The Lobos actually had their first winning streak since mid-2012 earlier this season, a dizzying two games. But the bowl quest in Bob Davie’s fourth year may boil down to needing to win the final two games at home, against Colorado State and Air Force.


Todd Monken (36), Southern Mississippi. Speaking of bowl droughts: the Golden Eagles haven’t been to one since 2011, but they’ve got a chance this year. After beating UTSA on Saturday, Southern Miss has won four games already, equaling the victory total from the previous three seasons combined. Monken is scraping a once-proud program off the deck, and seven or eight wins seems possible this year.


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Paul Johnson's Yellow Jackets haven't had much to get excited about this season. (Getty)

Paul Johnson (37), Georgia Tech. After watching the Yellow Jackets give Florida State all it wanted last year in the ACC title game, then rout Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl, The Dash was bullish on Tech in 2015. It has instead been a bust. After beating Alcorn State and Tulane, Johnson’s team has lost five straight and given up at least 30 points in all those defeats. Yeah, the schedule has been challenging – but good teams are supposed to occasionally beat other good teams.



Clay Helton (38) became the fourth different coach to lead USC against Notre Dame in the last four seasons – Lane Kiffin in 2012, Ed Orgeron in 2013, Steve Sarkisian in 2014 and Helton last week. Presumably there will be a fifth in five years next season. He might be the first Trojans coach since 2009 whose last name does not end in an “n.” Then again, Kevin Sumlin?


When hungry and thirsty in arguably America’s greatest eating and drinking city (New Orleans), The Dash recommends a long stay. But if you need specifics: grab lunch at

Cochon Butcher (39), with its newly expanded dining area, and order the buckboard bacon melt. And at some point – maybe at the Kingpin late night – try a locally brewed

Abita Jockamo IPA (40). Thank The Dash later.

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