Sports

Texas’ loss could linger, and Alabama might be just ordinary


LSU leads this week’s Misery Index after a 42-21 loss to Kentucky. 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

Texas: In his Red River Rivalry debut, Steve Sarkisian experienced everything that makes Texas-Oklahoma one of the must-watch games every single year. The 50-50 crowd at the historic Cotton Bowl. The crazy momentum shifts. The white-knuckle finishes. But when you blow a 28-7 lead and your offense kind of falls apart in the second half in *that* game, the wrath of the Texas fan base will be unsparing. In a 55-48 loss, the Longhorns pretty much experienced a full-scale collapse as Oklahoma’s Kennedy Brooks ran in a 33-yard touchdown to win with three seconds. But before that, Texas went three-and-out on three of its first four possessions of the second half, couldn’t get its defense off the field on numerous third-and-long opportunities and then fumbled a kickoff return after Oklahoma tied the game at 41-41 with 7:25 left. It’s always tough to lose a rivalry game, but the way Texas let that one go could linger for awhile.

DISASTROUS END: Now, they’re coming for you, Ed Orgeron, whose time at LSU is waning

COACHES POLL: How Alabama’s loss could shake up the poll

Alabama head coach Nick Saban disputes a call by an official during the game against Texas A&M.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban disputes a call by an official during the game against Texas A&M.

Alabama: Nick Saban has only lost 24 games in 15 seasons at Alabama, so there isn’t much to pick from when discussing the worst loss of his tenure. That conversation usually goes to 2007 when the Crimson Tide lost to Louisiana-Monroe, but it was Saban’s first season with a team that had no chance of accomplishing anything significant. There’s certainly a case to be made for the consecutive losses to Hugh Freeze-era Ole Miss or getting demolished by Clemson in the national title game in 2018. But there’s a strong new candidate after Texas A&M pulled a stunner Saturday, 41-38, as 18 1/2-point underdogs. Despite being ranked in the preseason top-10, the Aggies had been quite bad this year on offense, scoring just 42 total points in three games against Power Five competition (with two losses). But whether it was pass protection, settling for field goals in the red zone, allowing a kickoff return for a touchdown or struggling on defense at the end, Alabama just couldn’t take control of the game and lost to a thoroughly inferior opponent. That’s just not something Alabama fans have experienced very often, and if there’s one thing Alabama fans don’t enjoy, it’s watching an ordinary football team.

North Carolina: There isn’t enough salt in the world to appropriately season the pretzel logic Mack Brown was serving up after a 35-25 loss to Florida State. In discussing the Tar Heels’ precipitous fall from the preseason top-10 to 3-3, Brown pointed the finger at those who hyped up his team before it played a game. “The national media expectation for us to be a top-10 team were wrong,” said Brown, who is himself a former national media member when he worked at ESPN. “So I guess we should all be critical of the media for picking us that high.” That’s a fairly comical piece of spin by Brown given that the AFCA USA TODAY Coaches’ poll also rated his team highly and that there’s quite a large middle ground between failing to live up to expectations and losing to the likes of Georgia Tech and Florida State. You don’t need to even reference the polls to admit that UNC has been a massive disappointment. At the end of the day, the Tar Heels’ fan base cares far more about basketball than football, which gives Brown a bit of cover. But the feel-good story around his return to Chapel Hill is now over.

Virginia Tech: Years from now, when Hokies fans look back on the Justin Fuente era, what they’ll most likely remember are the repeated gut-punches late in games that cost his program all momentum. Some of them can be chalked up to bad luck, but a lot of them are either self-inflicted wounds born from questionable game management. Either way, Saturday’s 32-29 loss to Notre Dame was just the latest in a long line of close losses after Virginia Tech took a 29-21 lead with 3:55 remaining. Besides allowing three long catches on Notre Dame’s tying touchdown drive, Fuente was questioned heavily for punting with 1:56 remaining when he faced a fourth-and-1 decision at Virginia Tech’s own 27-yard line. While the risk-reward in that scenario isn’t easy for a coach to manage, Notre Dame got the ball back, drove it 45 yards in seven plays and kicked the game-winning field goal with 17 seconds left. As a result, five of Virginia Tech’s last seven losses dating back to 2020 have come by a touchdown or less.

TRENDING TOWARD MISERY

UConn: Thanks to some brilliant scheduling by the administration at UConn, we have a clear and undisputed champion as the worst team in FBS. Just one week after losing to woeful Vanderbilt, the Huskies took the crown by losing the battle of New England to previously winless UMass 27-13. Adding insult (and illness) to injury, interim coach Lou Spanos, two assistants and two players weren’t able to participate due to positive COVID-19 tests. Thankfully, all of them are reportedly vaccinated and in good condition. But UConn’s program has never been in worse shape as it managed just 291 yards and 1-for-10 on third down against a UMass team that hadn’t lost a game by fewer than 14 points and got beat by 38 last week against Toledo.

Louisville: In consecutive games, the Cardinals’ fortunes have come down to late field goals. On both occasions, they’ve come up on the heartbreaking end of it. Just a week after Wake Forest drove 60 yards in 11 plays to set up a game-winner with 22 seconds left, Louisville’s own 49-yarder to beat Virginia on the last play sailed left, leaving the Cardinals at 3-3. Even worse, Louisville led this game 30-13 at the end of the third quarter, which should have given them plenty of breathing room to finish this one off. Instead, Virginia kept plugging away and the Louisville offense went three-and-out on consecutive possessions. After kicking a 40-yard field goal to increase the lead to 33-27 with 2:22 left, Louisville allowed Virginia to march 75 yards down the field, converting a pair of fourth downs that would have ended the game. Virginia finally took the lead on a touchdown with 22 seconds left, but even then Louisville quickly got in field goal range. When you have that many chances to win games and don’t close them out, it’s difficult for fans to invest much emotionally in the second half of the season.

Arizona: There’s no bigger gap between proficiency on social media and ineptness on the field than what coach Jedd Fisch has displayed in his first season. When Fisch got hired at Arizona, enthusiasm and engagement seemed like his full-time job, and he certainly succeeded in making people notice him. But given the reality of Arizona’s team, it would probably have been better to keep a low profile. The Wildcats are now 0-5 after a 34-16 loss to UCLA, and even more concerning is that they haven’t scored 20 points in any of their games (including a loss to Northern Arizona last month). Combined with the utter collapse at the end of Kevin Sumlin’s tenure, Arizona hasn’t won a game since Oct. 5, 2019 — a span of 17 straight losses. Arizona is a basketball school that has never had a great football tradition, but it’s never been quite this bad.

West Virginia: There hasn’t been much hot seat talk surrounding Neal Brown, but that might change soon. After showing some promise early in his tenure, the Mountaineers are stuck in neutral as a program and might have even thrown themselves into reverse Saturday in a 45-20 loss at Baylor. West Virginia isn’t the world’s easiest job, but having made a bowl game in 17 of the last 19 years, the fan base has relatively high expectations. Falling to 0-3 in the Big 12 — and they haven’t even played Oklahoma State, Texas or Iowa State yet — suggests that Brown is unlikely to post a winning conference record in any of his first three seasons. If that happens, fans will point the finger only at Brown, who came in with a big offensive reputation from the Air Raid tree but whose offense has scored 13, 20 and 20 points in its three conference games so far.

Tulane: This has simply been a nightmare season for the Green Wave, a program that had shown so much growth and promise over the past few years but hasn’t had a lick of luck in 2021. After making three straight bowl games, hopes were high that Tulane could raise the bar even higher and get recognized for something more than its pleasant color scheme and cool uniforms. Instead, Hurricane Ida forced Tulane to relocate to Birmingham a week before the season opener and it hasn’t really been the same since. Not only has Tulane lost four straight games, it has lost most of them by big margins: by 40 to Ole Miss, 23 to ECU and 18 to Houston. And the worst may be yet to come, as Tulane’s schedule takes them to SMU, Cincinnati and UCF over the next few weeks. The freefall may continue for awhile.

TOTALLY REAL AND IRRATIONAL MESSAGE BOARD THREADS

“We are turning into Florida State” — tigerdroppings.com (LSU)

“Watching this game life felt like being part of a Hollywood horror flick” — orangebloods.com (Texas)

“We have a serious talent and coaching issue” — BamaOnline.com (Alabama)

“Never a doubt we’d be outcoached in a close game” — techsideline.com (Virginia Tech)

“They should legalize pot in the city of Louisville for the night” —cardinalauthority.com (Louisville)

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Alabama football is average, Texas’ loss could linger: Misery index

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