It is safe to say no college football team looked forward to a single game this season more than Alabama for its chance at revenge on LSU.
Beyond the fact that Alabama’s program has been stewing for more than a year over what happened last season in Tuscaloosa, when the Tigers cemented their status as the national championship favorite, there was proverbial blood in the water coming into Saturday’s rematch.
At no point this season has LSU looked like a good football team, which is a rather tame thing to say given the Tigers’ losses to every decent opponent they’ve played. But for Alabama, LSU’s sudden weakness smelled like an opportunity to make a statement that 2019 was a historical fluke.
Alabama’s 55-17 win was embarrassing for LSU in several ways, exemplified by Ed Orgeron losing it on the sidelines and throwing his headset after DeVonta Smith’s 61-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter. But if defensive coordinator Bo Pelini was the subject of Orgeron’s anger after the Tigers allowed 650 total yards, he has only himself to blame.
This was Ed Orgeron’s reaction after DeVonta Smith’s second touchdown.
(🎥 by @lefteyedaquano) pic.twitter.com/QY8MblOFd9
Part of building a dynasty, as Saban has demonstrated, is to make good staff decisions when talented assistant coaches inevitably move on after they experience success. Maybe that’s not the only issue for LSU, which lost nearly all of its starters from last year’s title team, but it’s emerging as a big one.
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LSU is 3-5 and is on track for its worst season since 1999. Speculation has already started about how much leeway winning a national title has bought Orgeron if this year proves not just to be a blip. And with Alabama putting its foot down Saturday in a game that wasn’t competitive at any point, the national championship seems like a long time ago.
That’s why LSU is No. 1 in this week’s Misery Index, a weekly measurement of knee-jerk reactions based on what each fan base just watched.
LSU head coach Ed Orgeron yells during the second quarter of the Tigers' loss to Alabama. (Photo: Derick E. Hingle, USA TODAY Sports)
FOUR MORE IN MISERY
Oregon: Ducks fans have the worst of all worlds. Every year, they have to listen to the college football media project Mario Cristobal to bigger jobs like Texas and Michigan or to eventually succeed Nick Saban at Alabama. And yet, the speculation about a bigger future for Cristobal doesn’t match the reality at Oregon, where he’s racking up at least one bad loss per year. After entering this season as the Pac-12 favorite, Oregon is now just 3-2 after a 21-17 loss to Cal. While the circumstances haven’t been ideal — the Ducks lost star quarterback Justin Herbert to the NFL and had several key opt-outs including safety Brady Breeze and offense tackle Penei Sewell — there’s a worrisome trend developing. Cristobal is 24-9 overall and recruiting like crazy, so things aren’t all bad. But there have been some head-scratching losses during his three seasons, including last November to Arizona State, which kept the Ducks out of the College Football Playoff. Until Cristobal starts winning all the games in which he has more talent, it’ll be hard to square the reality with the hype.
Purdue: The only thing worse for a fan base than having a season where everything goes wrong is suffering at the same time its in-state rival has become America’s darling. While Indiana is arguably the feel-good story of the season at 6-1 and perhaps headed to a New Year’s Six bowl game, fans of the Boilermakers are assessing whether 2021 is a make-or-break season for Jeff Brohm. They can do that because with four straight losses, including to the likes of Rutgers, Minnesota and most recently Nebraska, there’s very little positive Purdue can take out of this season. And that makes at least two straight disappointing seasons under Brohm, who overachieved in 2017 to go 7-6 and followed it up with another bowl game in 2018. After that season, Brohm turned down a huge offer to go to Louisville and signed a lucrative contract to stay at Purdue. Since then? He’s won six out of 18 games.
Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm talks with his offensive lineman during the game against Nebraska. (Photo: Nikos Frazier, Journal & Courier)
Tennessee: For a half, the Vols played really hard and seemed pretty competitive against Florida. But Tennessee fans knew better than to believe what they were watching. All season long, a good half from Tennessee hasn’t been worth much because of the pain that inevitably comes next. During their six-game losing streak, the Vols have been outscored 122-26 in the second half. Though it wasn’t as dramatic in a 31-19 loss to Florida (the second-half tally was only 14-12) the Gators’ 10-point halftime lead expanded to 24 before Tennessee put up a couple late scores to make it more respectable. Is that a coaching problem? To the layperson, it sure seems like it. But hardly anyone in college football thinks Jeremy Pruitt is really in danger of losing his job this year, given the contract extension he signed before this season and the fact that he was chosen by athletics director Phil Fulmer. It would look awful for all involved if Tennessee made a change now. But is it any worse than the way it looks now?
Auburn: If you set aside Gus Malzahn's first year at Auburn, when the Tigers had two miracle wins late in the regular season and nearly rode that momentum to a national title, they’re just 31-26 in the SEC over the last seven years and haven’t finished in the top 10 of the Amway Coaches Poll. Just as concerning for Auburn fans is the idea they’ve been passed by Texas A&M as the big threat to Alabama in the SEC West. Maybe that’s not an open and shut case; Auburn has beaten the Crimson Tide three times since A&M’s last win over Alabama in 2012. But in the head-to-head comparison, Texas A&M’s 31-20 win in Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday had the look of one program trending up and another trending down. Auburn had some chances in the game, but quarterback Bo Nix finished 15-of-23 passing for 144 yards and once again looked like his development has stalled. Big game magic has saved Malzahn in key moments throughout his tenure, but in 2020 it’s been missing. We’ll know soon if the anger over Auburn’s 5-4 record is enough to justify a change.
TRENDING TOWARD MISERY
BYU: Let’s be honest, it kind of felt like BYU got bullied into playing Saturday at Coastal Carolina. The easier path would have been for the Cougars to coast to a 10-0 record, fall short of a New Year's Six bowl game and complain for the rest of eternity that they got screwed. But BYU was also the program that talked about being willing to play anyone, anytime, anywhere. And the media was going to hold the Cougars to that or else question their motivation. So they took a chance and made the cross-country trip to Myrtle Beach to play on the teal turf and got beat, 22-17. So there won’t be any major bowl game for BYU this year, nor will there be any complaints about getting snubbed. It wasn’t worth it.
BYU's Neil Pau'u sits in the end zone after the Cougars' loss to Coastal Carolina. (Photo: Richard Shiro, AP)
Arizona: At the end of 2017, both Power Five jobs in the state of Arizona came open. The Arizona Wildcats opted for Kevin Sumlin, an established college coach who had just been fired at Texas A&M. It was almost universally hailed as a good decision. Meanwhile, the Arizona State Sun Devils made an outside-the-box move for Herm Edwards, who had no real track record in college and was widely viewed as a stunt. Who’s happier now? Hint: It’s not Arizona, which fell to 0-4 after a 24-13 loss to Colorado. At just 6-16 in the Pac-12, the length of Sumlin’s tenure is very much in doubt.
Northern Illinois: In a league where programs have relatively equal resources, you won’t find a MAC program that has been at the top as consistently as Northern Illinois. But the Huskies seem like they are trending down at 0-5 this season following a 5-7 record last year under Thomas Hammock. Prior to his arrival, Northern Illinois only had one losing season in the previous 10 years. So it’s not going to be hard to identify where fans place the blame.
Duke: No matter what happens from here, we’ll be saying decades from now that David Cutcliffe did a great job at Duke. And he did! The Blue Devils have been to six bowl games under Cutcliffe, which is twice as many as they’d been to the previous 50 years. But Duke is slowly slip-sliding back to the historical norm during this putrid 2-8 season, which has one more game left at Florida State. Duke hasn’t finished .500 in the ACC since 2015, and after 13 years in Durham, it’s fair to wonder whether Cutcliffe can recapture the mojo of those 9- and 10-win seasons from the previous decade. Saturday’s 48-0 loss to Miami suggests he probably can’t.
TOTALLY REAL AND IRRATIONAL MESSAGE BOARD THREADS
“Did any cardboard fan leave at halftime?” — Geaux247 (LSU)
“Welp, next year is a waste of time too…and there goes much of our talent…” — Vol Nation (Tennessee)
“Welcome back to Helfrich days” — Duck Territory (Oregon)
“It feels like we are about to be Miss. State East” — Auburn Undercover
“It felt like our team/coaches hadn’t watched an ounce of film” — CougarBoard (BYU)
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