Recapping the top moments from college football’s Week 10 action, which include Michigan housing Penn State and much more.
Every coach in every sport who has ever lost a game could, if they wanted to, explain their failure by saying they need to get better players. Most of the time, it happens to be true.
But there’s a reason you almost never hear coaches go there, at least publicly, and particularly after a disheartening loss.
Coaching is largely about psychology and demanding things of your players that you believe will help them get better. That requires them to buy in to not only the philosophy of the program but also have faith that if they do what the coach says, they will improve their skills and ultimately experience better results. Sending the message they’re not good enough, or that they’re not as good as the theoretical people you want to replace them with, doesn’t do much to activate that belief. In fact, it might discourage it.
That’s why it was startling to hear LSU coach Ed Orgeron talk so much about the need to recruit better players, particularly along the line of scrimmage, following a comprehensive 29-0 loss to Alabama.
“I told the guys the table was set, the fans were great, the energy all day,” Orgeron said. “There was want-to … but hey we got beat at the line of scrimmage. I gotta recruit better defensive linemen. Gotta recruit better offensive linemen. Same old thing. Gotta beat Alabama at the line of scrimmage.”
BOWL PICTURE: Who is eligible? Who is close? Who is out?
Orgeron returned to this theme over and over again following LSU’s eighth consecutive loss to Alabama and insisted it wasn’t scheme (i.e., the coach’s fault) why Crimson Tide defenders were in the backfield all night turning Joe Burrow into chum.
“When you max protect you’re doing everything you can in protection and they’re beating you you have to look at personnel,” Orgeron said.
It’s fair to wonder how that’s going to play in an LSU locker room full of former four- and five-star recruits, many of whom will wind up in the NFL. Even though they know they got beat, you can bet they believe they’re good enough.
Despite the loss, which takes them out of the national title race, the Tigers still have more big games to play and could land in a nice bowl. You need them engaged in what’s going on, not checked out just because of a setback against Alabama.
That’s why it’s a real risk for Orgeron to start talking about getting better players, especially when you’re no different in that regard than anyone who plays Alabama. And yet, every now and then someone finds a way to beat those guys.
Somehow, it hasn’t been LSU for a long, long time. And if you’re banking on needing a talent advantage to beat Nick Saban, you’re probably going to be disappointed until he’s done coaching. Having to deal with that reality puts LSU at No. 1 in this week’s Misery Index, a weekly measurement of knee-jerk reactions based on what each fan base just watched.
FOUR MORE IN MISERY
Minnesota: Those who predicted that the boundless enthusiasm and recruiting prowess of young P.J. Fleck would not be enough to overcome the natural disadvantages baked into the Minnesota job have been proved right for now. The Gophers are rowing the boat toward another losing season after a 55-31 blowout at Illinois, which included the Minnesota defense giving up three touchdown plays of 70-plus yards and another 67-yarder. How in the world does a team at this level let that happen?
Minnesota ranks 117th nationally in giving up plays of 40-plus yards with 17 on the season, so that’s one clue. But still, for a coach who is all about the slogans and motivational tools, what happened against Illinois looks like a total loss of pride. When you compare what Fleck has done at Minnesota (9-11 overall, 3-11 Big Ten) to what Jeff Brohm has done in the same amount of time at Purdue (12-10, 8-7), you can’t blame Minnesota fans for having some serious questions.
Western Kentucky: Not so long ago, the Hilltoppers were both good and entertaining. Now they’re bad and boring. In the second year of the Mike Sanford Jr. era, they’ve slipped to 125th nationally in points per game (18.7) and 103rd in total offense (367 yards per game) and sunk to the bottom of Conference USA with a 1-8 record after a 29-10 loss to Middle Tennessee. Keep in mind, this is a program that hasn’t had a losing season since 2010, which was part of the early transition period from the Football Championship Subdivision, then known as Division I-AA.
Though Sanford is owed a buyout of $1.2 million — a large number for a C-USA school — this might be a “break glass in case of emergency” situation for Western Kentucky. This has been a very solid football program with an enthusiastic and supportive fan base. They can’t afford to see the Hilltoppers slip back into irrelevance this quickly. Sanford, 36, comes from the Jim Harbaugh coaching pipeline had a reputation as a good offensive coordinator coming from Notre Dame and Boise State before that. But this job has seemed to overwhelm him.
Miami: A year ago, when the famous Hurricanes’ turnover chain was all the rage, Miami football felt fun again. But there was always a fundamental problem with making a celebration of turnovers the central tenet of your success: Turnovers can be fickle. While there’s certainly skill involved in creating turnovers, every person who studies the analytics of football will tell you there’s a lot of luck involved in things like recovering fumbles.
When you go on a huge tear of turnovers, as Miami did in 2017 with 31 takeaways, it can mask some fundamental underlying issues. Those issues are now being laid bare in 2018, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. Miami lost its third consecutive game Saturday, mustering just one takeaway while committing two turnovers in a 20-12 loss to Duke. While this game was played in a downpour, it’s alarming that Miami hasn’t scored more than 14 points since Oct. 6.
Texas A&M: If you’re a Texas A&M fan, you probably have one eye on the recruiting rankings, where the Aggies are No. 2 currently for the Class of 2019. That’s got to be heartening. But don’t you also have to have an eye on what’s happening on the field this year — not just at Texas A&M but also Florida State? Jimbo Fisher, the $75 million man, has his fingerprints on a lot of failure this year in college football. Let’s start with the Aggies, who quickly are regressing to the mean after consecutive road losses to Mississippi State and Auburn, the latter of which came after a crash-and-burn fourth quarter in which it blew a 10-point lead. Moreover, the offense looks stale, as if Fisher is caught between his old ball control style and the spread evolution necessary to succeed now in college football.
If Texas A&M finishes 7-5, which looks likely at this point, is that some major success when that’s exactly the record that got Kevin Sumlin fired last year? Meanwhile, all those highly ranked recruiting classes Fisher assembled at Florida State are now a fifth-place team in the ACC Atlantic. While Willie Taggart has done a poor job in Tallahassee, those are Fisher’s players, and the trend line toward this was evident last year when Fisher was still there.
TRENDING TOWARD MISERY
Texas: Just when fans thought the Longhorns were breaking through — oh yes, the “Texas is back” takes were flying a few weeks ago — they’re back to stumbling around in middle-of-the-Big-12 mediocrity. Texas had plenty of chances the last two weeks to keep its push toward a conference title moving but instead lost by a combined four points to Oklahoma State and West Virginia to fall to 6-3. Saturday’s gut punch, losing 42-41 on a two-point conversion with 16 seconds left, makes the math really hard for Texas to get into the Big 12 title game.
South Florida: We all knew this team’s 7-0 record was a house of cards built on close, come-from-behind wins against mediocre teams. But it would have been hard to foresee Saturday’s 41-15 debacle at home against Tulane in which the Bulls allowed 368 rushing yards and lost the turnover battle 3-1. Even worse, USF has an extremely tough close this season with games at Cincinnati, at Temple and home against unbeaten UCF. Not hard to see how 7-0 could turn into 7-5.
North Carolina: Though the Tar Heels have been mildly more competitive of late — they haven’t been truly blown out since Sept. 28 against Miami — they’re still a 1-7 team on the way to 2-10 barring an upset. If that’s the way it plays out, it’s a two-year stretch of 5-19 for Larry Fedora, which is awful no matter how you slice it. But the more you talk to plugged-in people around college athletics, you won’t find anyone right now who believes athletics director Bubba Cunningham is going to spent the $12-plus million to make a coaching change. If Fedora returns, what kind of fan base will he come back to in 2019?
Florida State: If there’s a miracle left out there for the Seminoles this season, they need it now to preserve their NCAA record 36-year bowl streak. It’s a mark of consistency the program has rightly been proud of, but at 4-5 with three games left against ranked teams, the Seminoles are likely staying home for the holidays this year. And that’s going to bring a lot of heat Willie Taggart’s way going into the offseason because there’s no way to spin what Florida State has looked like this year. If there was one bit of good news to come out of a 47-28 loss at N.C. State on Saturday, it’s that sophomore James Blackman had a really nice day at quarterback, completing 29 of 46 passes for 421 yards. On the other hand, the Seminoles were never really in the game, which has been a theme far too often on Taggart’s watch.
Stanford: As much as we can admire running back Bryce Love’s commitment to education and finishing out his Stanford degree, coming back as a senior has proved to be a poor football decision. Love, who was probably the most dynamic player in the country last year, has been stifled by injuries and larger issues surrounding Stanford’s personnel. Saturday’s 27-23 loss at Washington, in which Love carried the ball 18 times for 71 yards, was the sixth game this season in which he’s been unable to reach 100 yards. Last year he ran for 100-plus 12 times. As Stanford loses for the fourth time in the last five games, you have to ask, did he really come back for this?
TOTALLY REAL AND IRRATIONAL MESSAGE BOARD THREADS
“Hire Hugh Freeze, Screw the SEC Office” — geaux247.com (LSU)
“At least it’s not as bad as 1983” — gopherhole.com (Minnesota)
“Can we sue Harbaugh?” — warchant.com (Florida State)
“So much for ‘changing the culture’…” — TexAgs.com
“Bobby Petrino for OC” — canesinsight.com (Miami)