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Misery Index notebook: Clemson, Iowa State out of race; 4-0 Oklahoma a mirage

  • September 26, 2021

North Carolina leads this week’s Misery Index after a 45-22 loss to Georgia Tech. Here are the others that made the index, a weekly measurement of knee-jerk reactions based on what each fan base just watched.

FOUR MORE IN MISERY

Clemson: If they’re being honest, Clemson fans should have seen this coming. As much as the Tigers had implanted themselves in the College Football Playoff field for six straight seasons, nothing lasts forever if you don’t evolve and your talent level dips. This version of Clemson doesn’t have a generational quarterback, doesn’t have a good offensive line and doesn’t have one of the best running backs in ACC history anymore. Add it up, and you’ve got a team that is now 2-2 after a thoroughly deserved 27-21 double-overtime loss to NC State.

UCLA, Texas gain ground; Minnesota embarrassed

COLLEGE FOOTBALL GRADES:High marks for flag planting, Skittles break

Oklahoma: In the long and storied history of the Misery Index, there has never been a 4-0 team landing in such a prominent position. But Oklahoma is a special case after a 16-13 win over West Virginia that continues a trend of underwhelming performances this season against mediocre opponents. It got so bad Saturday night that quarterback Spencer Rattler was repeatedly booed and fans chanted “We want Caleb,” referring to highly touted freshman Caleb Williams.

The Sooners have not been particularly pleasant to watch this season, especially for fans who grew accustomed to the free-flowing offense Lincoln Riley was able to run with Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts. But Oklahoma’s problems aren’t limited to the quarterback position — hello, mediocre offensive line play — and are probably too widespread at this point to expect a quick turnaround.

One interesting subplot to monitor is how the disappointment with Rattler manifests from a name, image and likeness standpoint. Rattler has taken full advantage of the new NCAA rule that allows athletes to market themselves, signing endorsement deals with the Raising Cane’s fast food chain and a Norman-area car dealership that posted tweets recently suggesting it had fixed Rattler up with two different cars. While that’s a great thing for him, this is all very new for college sports — including how fans react when a college athlete who sells them products isn’t performing up to expectations on the field. 

Iowa State: Being the trendy underdog in college football is a lot of fun — until you’re actually expected to outperform your history. When Matt Campbell got Iowa State to the point where it was going to the Alamo Bowl and the Camping World Bowl, fans were ecstatic. For a program without much sustained success, going 8-5 every year was a completely new level of competence and one that nobody took for granted.

But by making the Big 12 championship game last season and winning the Fiesta Bowl, the bar was raised. Campbell, who was arguably the hottest coach in all of football, decided to stay and coach this team. With so much talent returning, everything lined up for quarterback Brock Purdy and running back Breece Hall to lead the Cyclones to never-before-seen heights. Instead, Iowa State looks like a team that might have over-performed during a weird COVID-19 season and is now crashing back to Earth at 2-2.

By typical Iowa State standards, none of this is bad — including Saturday’s 31-29 loss to Baylor when the Cyclones couldn’t make a 2-point conversion in the final minute. But when the fantasy of an all-time season dies in the first month, on top of being stuck in a diminished Big 12 Conference due to the impending departures of Texas and Oklahoma, let’s just say 2021 isn’t exactly working out the way Iowa State fans envisioned. 

Texas Tech: You know a coach is on shaky ground when the athletics director has to announce that he’s coming back. But that’s exactly what Kirby Hocutt did after Matt Wells’ second season with the Red Raiders — along with the requisite staff shake-up, including the firing of offensive coordinator David Yost. Knowing what was at stake this year, Wells also tried to rebuild the roster with some transfers — which seemed like it was working for the most part through three weeks. But Saturday against Texas was a prove-it type of game, particularly when Wells started saying, “Now it’s personal” as something of a mantra response to the Longhorns and Oklahoma leaving the Big 12 for the SEC.

It might have been personal to Wells, but it clearly wasn’t that personal to Texas Tech’s players, who lost 70-35 and didn’t play one lick of defense against a Longhorns team that had 639 yards and converted 10-of-14 on third down. The Red Raiders’ schedule gets really tough after Halloween, so it’s not hyperbole to suggest that Wells’ tenure extending beyond this season could rest on the next two games against West Virginia and TCU. 

TRENDING TOWARD MISERY

Minnesota: Every year, there are Power Five teams that take bad losses. But nobody will take a worse loss in 2021 than the Gophers somehow getting beat at home by Bowling Green, 14-10. Before Saturday, Bowling Green had not beaten an FBS opponent since Nov. 2, 2019, against Akron — a streak of 10 straight losses. The Falcons haven’t had a winning season since 2015 when Dino Babers was the coach and promptly left for Syracuse. Just a few weeks ago, they lost 38-6 at Tennessee. And yet, despite being 31-point favorites, veteran Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan completed 5-of-13 passes for 59 yards with two interceptions. He also lost a fumble. It’s utterly baffling, but Minnesota’s 11-2 season in 2019 when it finished in the top 10 is starting to seem like a long time ago. 

Auburn: Nobody would accuse Auburn fans of being nuanced and sophisticated in the way they evaluate their own team, but they’re certainly experienced enough to know that not all wins are worth celebrating. The only good thing about escaping against Georgia State on Saturday, 34-24, is that Auburn didn’t lose the game — which it absolutely could have until quarterback TJ Finley improvised for a game-winning 10-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-9 with 45 seconds left.

Until that play, where it seemed like Finley was dancing and spinning into trouble until he miraculously got free to find an open receiver, Auburn was awful against a Georgia State team that had previously lost by a combined 75 points to Army and North Carolina. The reality for Auburn is that this was an evenly played game with a team from the Sun Belt, which doesn’t bode well for games against the likes of Alabama and Georgia.

With the offense looking slow and clunky, first-year Auburn coach Bryan Harsin chose to bench quarterback Bo Nix (13-of-27, 156 yards) for Finley, an LSU transfer who did well on the 98-yard drive to win the game but didn’t light the world on fire. Just a week after a solid performance in a loss to Penn State, it would now be considered somewhat of an upset if the Tigers are middle of the pack in the SEC. 

TCU: Gary Patterson has been one of the best coaches of his generation. He’s the only reason TCU got into the Big 12 after wandering in the conference wilderness for 16 years following the breakup of the Southwest Conference. There’s a statue of him in front of Amon Carter Stadium. But the calls for Patterson to step aside — including from within his own fan base — are only going to intensify after a 42-34 loss to SMU. It’s the first time since 1992 and 1993 that TCU has lost back-to-back games to the Mustangs, but more than that, it symbolizes a program that isn’t what it used to be. Over the last three-plus seasons, TCU is 20-18 and hasn’t really made much of an impact in the Big 12.

For a variety of reasons, including a revolving door of offensive coordinators and a drop-off in the quality of defense that Patterson is responsible for, this just isn’t the same TCU. Instead of routinely beating teams like SMU, now the Horned Frogs lose and complain about how the victors rub it in their faces. Next week, the Horned Frogs play Texas — the one team they’ve dominated lately, winning seven of the last nine. If TCU doesn’t show up for that one, it’ll be time for some frank conversations about the direction of the program. 

Wisconsin: The easy narrative Saturday was that the Badgers chose the wrong quarterback when they invested in Graham Mertz instead of Jack Coan, who transferred to Notre Dame and led his team to a 41-13 victory over Wisconsin on Saturday. But honestly, both of them are pretty average college quarterbacks. And if any program has proven the ability to win at a high level with average college quarterbacks, it’s Wisconsin.

But the Badgers’ issues are deeper than that. Right now, they appear to be on a pretty depressing trajectory from a team that nobody likes to play to a team that isn’t really much of a threat if you have decent speed and skill. After finishing in the top 15 three times in his first five years, Paul Chryst is 5-7 in his last 12 games. The Badgers have often been unpleasant to watch under Chryst. But if they lose at home to Michigan next week, they will be rendered completely ineffective, too. 

UNLV: There are never any real expectations placed on this program, but how hard is it to win one game? We may find out with the Rebels, given that they haven’t done it since Nov. 30, 2019 in a season finale against rival Nevada. Five days before that game, UNLV fired Tony Sanchez, the former coach at high school powerhouse Bishop Gorman who had gone 20-40 with the Rebels. He was replaced by Marcus Arroyo, the former offensive coordinator at Oregon, who is now 0-10 as a head coach.

To be fair, Arroyo had to deal with COVID-19 in his first season and a tough schedule to start 2021 including Arizona State, Iowa State, Fresno State and FCS powerhouse Eastern Washington. But things aren’t getting much easier from a schedule standpoint, with precious few opportunities this season for Arroyo to get his first win. Perhaps UNLV can beat San Jose State, New Mexico or Hawaii. Otherwise, Arroyo could be going into Year 3 with a historically poor record. 

TOTALLY REAL AND IRRATIONAL MESSAGE BOARD THREADS 

“Culture tweak – start with uniforms…seriously” – Inside Carolina (UNC)

“We are going to have a losing season this year” – Tiger Illustrated (Clemson)

“We may not even get a bowl game!” – Cyclone Fanatic (Iowa State)

“Was that the worst win in Auburn history?” – Auburn Undercover 

“This is the one that broke me” – Inside the Red Raiders (Texas Tech)

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