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Is this a great time to be a Louisville fan or what? The athletics director who built your program from the ground up and shoehorned it into the ACC has been ushered out after yet another scandal. Your legendary basketball coach has gone away in disgrace, leaving behind an uncertain future and potentially crippling fallout from the FBI investigation into college basketball. And that’s less than a year after the 2013 national championship banner was ordered to be taken down by the NCAA for yet another embarrassing episode involving stripper parties and escorts for recruits.
The Louisville brand has been exposed as morally bankrupt on every level. Even its signature accomplishment as the “most profitable basketball program in the country” has been defrocked to some degree, as reporting from the Courier-Journal exposed that the financial picture wasn’t nearly as rosy as the school made it out to be.
You know things are bad in Louisville when Bobby Petrino is the honorable, steady hand in your athletic department.
Actually, check that. The best thing Louisville has going for it right now — by far — is Lamar Jackson. Sadly, his presence there is quite temporary. Barring something unforeseen, Jackson is down to the final six games of his college career before heading off to the NFL.
FINAL WHISTLE: Slew of upsets might just first of many this season
TEN OBSERVATIONS: Recapping a wild Week 7 in college football
WINNERS AND LOSERS: The highs and lows from Week 7
Jackson is alone in more ways than one as the shining beacon of Louisville athletics right now. Without him, one can only imagine what kind of shape Petrino’s program might be in.
The new low for Louisville came Saturday in a 45-42 loss to Boston College. And though while the Vegas odds may have indicated this was a huge upset, it wasn’t much of a surprise. The trend lines have been very clear for Louisville dating back to the end of last season when people started figuring out that its offensive line was bad.
Including those games, Louisville has lost six of its last nine against FBS opponents and may legitimately be in danger of missing a bowl game. With road games at Florida State and Wake Forest coming up, there won’t be a huge margin for error on the back half of the schedule.
That is almost unthinkable with a generational talent at quarterback like Jackson, who is toiling in anonymity this year despite rolling up more than 3,000 yards of total offense and remaining on pace to surpass his total last year of 5,113 when he won the Heisman.
For so many years, the worry with Petrino was whether he would jump ship at the first opportunity, which is why a massive buyout was built into his contract when Louisville took him back in 2014. But when you look at the body of work in his second go-round and his inability to surround Jackson with the kind of players necessary to win big, don’t you kind of have to wonder whether his best days are behind him?
Or, if he stays at Louisville next year without Jackson, what exactly is this program going to look like? For a fan base that is already suffering from the sins of its supposed leaders, this spiral into football irrelevance may be the most infuriating development of all.
(Disclaimer: This isn’t a ranking of worst teams, worst losses or coaches whose jobs are in the most jeopardy. This is simply a measurement of a fan base’s knee-jerk reaction to what they last saw. The way in which a team won or lost, expectations vis-à-vis program trajectory and traditional inferiority complex of fan base all factor into this ranking.)
FIVE MOST MISERABLE
Louisville: In the offseason, a couple of coaches familiar with Peter Sirmon’s work in the SEC reached out to the Misery Index to express dismay that Petrino would hire him as the Cardinals’ defensive coordinator. Last year, his defense at Mississippi State was a disaster, and the feeling around the league was that Dan Mullen got the way better end of the deal by swapping him out for Todd Grantham, who was Louisville’s defensive coordinator last year. That has proven to be accurate. Louisville ranks 62nd in total defense and 84th in scoring defense, down from 14th and 31st, respectively, in those two categories last year. Not to put that all on Sirmon, because some very talented defensive players Charlie Strong recruited years ago have cycled out of the program, but it’s a huge part of the problem. And Louisville’s inability to get stops or big plays like sacks (2.0 per game) or interceptions (five this year) just isn’t providing enough extra possessions for Jackson to put on his Superman cape. Louisville radio host Mark Ennis tweeted during the game that outraged fans were “turning and yelling up at the coaches boxes,” which is something he’d never seen in many years of covering the team. Unless there’s a quick fix on defense, it’s probably going to be a familiar theme the rest of this season.
Tennessee: Vol fans have mentally moved on from Butch Jones, and it’s likely a good percentage of them were probably rooting for South Carolina on Saturday to go ahead and finish him off. As of Sunday afternoon, that hadn’t happened officially (and may not for several more weeks), but the point of no return seems to have been breached. We have to allow for the likelihood, however, that a coaching search might be even more frustrating for Tennessee fans than the product on the field the last couple years. Because unfortunately for John Currie, it seems this fan base will not be happy unless he hires one of three people: Jon Gruden, Chip Kelly or Bob Stoops. The cold, hard reality for Tennessee is that only one of those three is a viable candidate — Kelly — and even then a lot of folks with insight into his coaching desires are skeptical that he fits in the SEC. Kelly is more of a blend-in type than someone who would embrace a fishbowl job like Tennessee, and if that’s how he views his next destination, somewhere in a big market like Arizona State or UCLA would make a lot more sense. And if Tennessee can’t land any of those three, the drop-off is pretty significant. Does Greg Schiano fire you up? Can you snag Scott Frost out of Central Florida before Nebraska does? What about Memphis’ Mike Norvell, SMU’s Chad Morris or Alabama-Birmingham’s Bill Clark? Contrary to popular belief in Knoxville, this will not be an easy search. And unless Currie can pull a rabbit out of his hat, Vol fans need to prepare themselves for the possibility they’ll end up with a second-tier guy.
Florida: If you hang around Las Vegas enough, you’re bound to eventually sit at a blackjack table with somebody who plays the wrong hand every time but somehow keeps winning. When they hit on 15 against a dealer showing the six card, a five magically comes out. Then the next hand, they’ll decide to stay on 13 against a king, only to have a four revealed as the underneath card, making the dealer go bust. Playing on nothing more than intuition, this run of luck will go on for hours and hours while the winnings will stack up, and that person will leave the table thinking they’ve got the game figured out while you’ve lost money playing every hand by the book. Similarly, Florida football has been on a two-year heater of winning SEC games in ways that defy the odds. But unlike someone with dinner reservations and show tickets, Jim McElwain can’t just get up and cash in his chips. He’s got to keep trying to win with smoke and mirrors on offense, and that’s eventually a recipe for disaster. Ironically, Texas A&M kind of did to Florida on Saturday in a 19-17 win what Florida has done to a bunch of teams. The Gators had more yards (371-263), more first downs (17-10) and didn’t allow a touchdown in the fourth quarter. But they lost the game because Texas A&M did just enough, stringing together field goals on three straight possessions late including a 32-yard game winner set up by a 43-yard Christian Kirk punt return. So after McElwain started 16-5 against SEC teams — while the eye test suggested the record should be something closer to .500 — things appear to be evening out. Florida has lost close home games in consecutive weeks against LSU and Texas A&M and will probably have to either win at South Carolina or beat Florida State to eke out six wins. The prospect of Florida actually missing a bowl game is real, and the last time that happened in 2013, Will Muschamp was shown the door one year later. As Gainesville columnist Pat Dooley wrote, Florida’s 13-11 against legitimate competition (excluding payday games) since quarterback Will Grier was suspended mid-2015. The alarm has been sounded in Gainesville.
Clemson: The high of winning a national title only lasts as long as the next loss, as the Tigers reached the kind of rarefied air where they’re just not supposed to throw stink bombs. Given the opponent and the way Clemson played, losing at Syracuse was arguably the program’s most pedestrian performance since Nov. 19, 2011, when it got blown out by an 8-5 NC State team. Is it time to panic? Probably not. Clemson has played well against quality opponents enough times this season that Syracuse was probably an outlier. And yet, a fan base that quite enjoys its nouveau riche status among the blue bloods has questions. As it should. Why was quarterback Kelly Bryant playing at all if he couldn’t run? Why didn’t highly-touted freshman quarterback Hunter Johnson even get a sniff when Zerrick Cooper wasn’t getting the job done and missing receivers at times by 15 yards? What happened to the dominant defensive front from the first half of the season? And most of all, will this significantly harm Clemson’s playoff chances? That remains to be seen, but we know Clemson’s margin for error is now gone. Heck, it probably won’t even win the ACC Atlantic unless it goes on the road and beats NC State. If Clemson gets that done, all will be forgiven. But it has to be a strange feeling to watch a team that was so locked in for big games suffer a complete and uncharacteristic letdown against Syracuse.
Washington: Given the hullabaloo last week between Chris Petersen and ESPN over the Huskies playing so many night games, it was ironic that they coughed up the biggest hairball of Petersen’s career Saturday well after midnight on the East Coast, in ESPN’s designated #Pac12AfterDark time slot. Even on a weekend of insane results, this one was on an entirely different level: Arizona State 13, Washington 7. Most of the time we can look at unexpected results and at least come up with some kind of explanation, a way to make it make sense in retrospect. But here? We’ve got nothing. Washington’s defense played fine, shut out Arizona State in the second half, limited the Sun Devils to 285 yards for the game. But its offense just face-planted in the desert to the tune of 230 yards, 3-of-14 on third down, and a bunch of punts against a defense that ranks 105th in FBS. The Huskies didn’t turn the ball over, didn’t commit a bunch of penalties. They missed two short field goals, but that’s been a problem all year. The bottom line is they just didn’t get anything done, and now a program that made the College Football Playoff last season has lost all benefit of the doubt going forward. What Washington should be most outraged by is the ridiculously soft non-conference schedule that was put together the last two years, giving the Huskies no margin for error and their critics plenty of ammunition. Stuff happens during the season, and it’s hard to be perfect. But Washington kind of needed to be perfect this year, and now even if the Huskies do get their act together, most of us probably won’t bother staying awake to see it.
IMAGES FROM WEEK 7 IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL
MISERABLE, BUT NOT QUITE MISERABLE ENOUGH
Kansas: Ok, we get it, Kansas. You’ve been really bad. You remain really bad. And you’re probably going to continue being bad for awhile. But when is enough enough? At some point you become numb to the weekly beatdowns, but this can’t go on forever. Kansas lost 45-0 to Iowa State and had 106 yards of offense, five first downs and two turnovers. And that’s coming off a bye week, which was very much needed because the Jayhawks had just gotten beat 65-19 by Texas Tech. As Doug Gottlieb (@GottliebShow) tweeted: “Man, Adidas should be allowed to buy #KU some football players.” You hate to think that changing coaches every three years is the answer, but David Beaty is sitting on a 3-27 record with just one win against an FBS team. Of course, athletics director Sheahon Zenger hired Beaty and also hired/fired Charlie Weis, whose 6-22 record looks downright elite by comparison. Rarely does an AD get to make three football coaching hires in six years, so who knows how this will play out. But this level of awful can’t go on forever.
Nebraska: Brent Blum, who does some Iowa State play-by-play work, had a terrific observation on Twitter (@brentblum) during the Huskers’ 56-14 loss to Ohio State. “Watching Nebraska now is like seeing a once popular band play at the free stage at the State Fair,” he tweeted. That’s exactly right. Nebraska football used to be the act that could fill any stadium in the world but has steadily worked its way down from there, to the suburban arenas and ampitheaters to the Atlantic City casino circuit and now finally to shows where people show up mostly for the cheap beer and because there’s really no other entertainment options in town. Nebraska isn’t even in the same stratosphere as teams like Ohio State and Wisconsin right now, and any notion that Mike Riley is going to be welcomed back next year is fading fast. Bill Moos was hired Sunday from Washington State as the new athletics director to start the process of fixing the football program. Until then, Nebraska fans will have to talk themselves into getting fired up to see if they can just beat Purdue.
Georgia Southern: Some fans on social media were calling it the lowest moment in program history, and who are we to disagree? The Eagles have had only one truly awful season in the modern era — a 3-8 debacle under Brian VanGorder in 2006, who left after one year before they had a chance to fire him. But this may, indeed, be worse after losing at home to New Mexico State, 35-27, and falling to 0-5. To make matters worse, New Mexico State didn’t even have star running back Larry Rose III available, but still rolled up 491 yards of offense. Second-year coach Tyson Summers already got one reprieve last year, when the athletics director had to issue a statement of support after his 5-7 debut season. Their might be a revolt in Statesboro if that happens again.
Houston: Easily the most out-of-nowhere score on Saturday (well, maybe if you count Washington-Arizona State finishing on Sunday) was Houston losing to Tulsa, 45-17. The Cougars, the self-proclaimed flagship of any conference they’ve ever been in, got absolutely curb-stomped by a Tulsa team that came into the game 1-5 and had lost to Tulane by 34 points just a week earlier. So what happened? Nothing, other than Houston just got whipped, which will probably not please “Ten Win” Tilman Fertitta, the mega-booster who, upon hiring Major Applewhite last December, gleefully reminded people that Houston was the kind of program that would fire coaches for only winning eight games.
Georgia Tech: Is there some kind of black magic ritual Paul Johnson can perform to reverse the bad karma around this season? The Yellow Jackets could and should be 5-0 right now, but instead they’re 3-2 after a gut-wrenching 25-24 loss at Miami (Fla.). Georgia Tech, remember, lost its opener to Tennessee 42-41 in overtime when Johnson went for a two-point conversion and came up short. Even before that late in regulation, Georgia Tech was about to put the game away when JJ Green fumbled, opening the door for the Vols to come back. This time, the Yellow Jackets got derailed by a massive rainstorm in the second half, as the field in Miami turned to mud and they couldn’t get any traction — literally — for their running game. Then they got another dose of bad luck when Miami’s fourth-and-10 play to keep the game alive got tipped by a defensive back but completed, helping set up a game-winning field goal.
TOO SHOCKED TO BE MISERABLE
Washington State: If a Mike Leach-coached team ever went unbeaten, we’d all be robbed of at least one postgame rant for the ages. “Our guys just sauntered around out there on the field like weirdly we’d accomplished something, which obviously is false,” Leach said following a 37-3 loss at California that dropped the Cougars from the ranks of the unbeaten. Seriously, if you have seven minutes, watch the whole thing. It was an all-timer (with bonus points for using “sauntered”). And hey, if your team is going to lose in embarrassing fashion, it’s better to have a coach that will at least entertain you afterwards.
Vanderbilt: Three games into the season, the Commodores looked like they might have one of the elite defensive units in college football. Now they look like an absolute mess. If this is head coach Derek Mason’s baby, then that baby needs a diaper change, some fresh jammies and a nap. After giving up 13 total points in the first three games, Vanderbilt has yielded 199 over the last four to Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Ole Miss. It’s been a month’s worth of tough competition, sure, but there’s no excuse for getting run over to this degree.
Texas: The effort has been there, but given what fans thought coming into the year about the talent level on this roster and what kind of offensive spark Tom Herman might bring, don’t we have to acknowledge that 3-3 is a bit of a letdown? Texas’ best moments of the season have both been in losses — one in overtime to USC, the other Saturday in a 29-24 loss to rival Oklahoma after briefly taking the lead in the fourth quarter. In the end, though, Texas’ offense is just too inconsistent to beat a top-level team. Given the remaining schedule, the Longhorns are likely headed for 6-6, which isn’t what they signed up for with this coaching change.
Arizona: Obviously the Wildcats should be happy with a 4-2 record at this point, given that they went 3-9 last season and it looked like the Rich Rodriguez era was losing steam. But don’t we kind of have to ask why it took this long to identify Khalil Tate as the starting quarterback? Tate has stunned college football the last two weeks, piling up a combined 557 rushing yards against Colorado and UCLA. That’s amazing for anybody, much less a quarterback. So why did he come off the bench against Houston in a 19-16 loss in Week 2 and didn’t play at all in a 30-24 loss to Utah? Why did it take Brandon Dawkins getting knocked out of the game early against Colorado before Arizona’s coaches played their best player?
Arkansas: The revelation this week by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that Bret Bielema’s buyout could be closer to $6 million than the previously reported $15.4 million is a game changer, at least from a public perception standpoint. A fan base that wanted Bielema gone but understood the school was unlikely to pay that bill is now going to put unprecedented pressure on athletics director Jeff Long to do something about a program that is spiraling toward the bottom of the SEC. Losing 41-9 to Alabama was expected, but a 2-4 record at this point was not.
FIVE TOTALLY REAL AND IRRATIONAL MESSAGE BOARD THREADS
“How would we fare against the #1 HS team? (IMG Academy)” – phog.net (Kansas)
“The Muschamp O was better than this!” – gatorcountry.com
“I thought these players liked this coach.” – vandymania.com
“Its obvious that the Charlie Strong recruits have left the building” – cardinalsports.com
“We’re only two plays from being 5-1!” – volnation.com