There’s a stereotype commonly associated with college football fans on the West Coast as more patient and less irrational than their counterparts who would know Paul Finebaum’s callers by name. But trust the Misery Index when we say that SEC country does not have an exclusive claim to crazy.
Sure, you might find more of a wine-and-cheese crowd at Stanford (no, really, they’re actually consuming wine and cheese at the tailgate). And at, say, Colorado, there are other “recreational” activities to take your mind off things if your team happens to lose.
But the Southern Cal fan base is a bit of anomaly. These are not your laid-back L.A. folks who will shrug their shoulders and go to the beach if the Trojans are in a rough patch. No, USC fans are every bit as demanding as Alabama, every bit as intense as LSU. When things are going poorly, they’ll flood message boards with calls for coaching changes and fill social media with bile. In short, they’re the real deal. And they’re angry right now.
USC is an ugly 1-2 after getting hammered 37-14 at Texas in a game in which the Longhorns scored 34 points in a row.
Clay Helton, the consummate nice guy coach, is trying to play the positivity card. “There’s a lot of guys playing a lot of good ball out there,” he told reporters.
But that’s not going to fly with a fan base that believes it should be in the same tier as Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State after ranking No. 3, No. 6 and No. 10 and No. 1, according to Rivals.com, in the last four recruiting classes.
The meltdown in Texas was particularly poorly timed for Helton, as it followed a 17-3 loss at Stanford in which the Trojans got physically manhandled. The pressure is on him to change something (perhaps offensive coordinator Tee Martin), or for athletics director Lynn Swann to replace a coach he didn’t hire in the first place.
More: Winners and losers of college football's Week 3 headlined by Big Ten failures
FOUR MORE IN MISERY
Rutgers: Longtime Newark Star-Ledger columnist Steve Politi wrote that Saturday’s 55-14 loss at Kansas “might be the most demoralizing, humiliating, unacceptable loss in the modern history of Rutgers football,” which is really a breathtaking thing to say if you know anything about the cornucopia of ugly losses in the history of Rutgers football. This is a program that once went through a 1-27 stretch in the Big East and opened the 2002 season by losing to Villanova and Buffalo by a combined 71-30. Rutgers knows dark times like few other programs know dark times, and yet a 41-point beatdown from Kansas may top them all. We all knew transitioning from the Big East to the Big Ten was going to be tough for the Scarlet Knights, but that’s no excuse for losing to Kansas, which has been the unchallenged titleholder of “worst Power Five program” for several years now. Rutgers found a way to go into Lawrence and snatch that distinction, and any notion that coach Chris Ash is still making progress in his third season now looks like fool’s gold.
Florida State: You can excuse some of the Seminoles’ shortcomings in Willie Taggart’s first season because his predecessor, Jimbo Fisher, recruited himself into a chasm. The offensive line is a mess, quarterback Deondre Francois has always been more of a project than the national perception of him and the receivers haven’t been Florida State-caliber in a while. Plus, Taggart is overhauling the pro-style scheme Fisher employed, which isn’t an easy fix. So perhaps it’s no surprise that things look like such a mess on the field. But what you can’t excuse is FSU’s disorganization and lack of competitiveness, both of which reflect directly (and poorly) on Taggart. The Seminoles looked mentally fragile, poorly conditioned and physically soft in a 30-7 loss at Syracuse that really could have been much worse had the Orange not blown a couple scoring opportunities early. Not only was this a disaster performance offensively (240 yards, 1-for-14 on third down), FSU’s defense did little to make redshirt freshman quarterback Tommy DeVito (11-for-16, 144 yards) uncomfortable after talented Syracuse veteran Eric Dungey got hurt. You simply can’t envision any scenario in which Taggart’s first three games could be worse, which is why the Tallahassee Democrat reported thousands of page views Saturday from fans looking up Taggart’s buyout (for the record, it's just north of $21 million). There have also been nine GoFundMe accounts created to raise money for said buyout with a grand total of $31 raised as of Sunday afternoon.
Arkansas: If Chad Morris were in a rational business, you wouldn’t knock him for making every effort to watch his son Chandler, a highly-rated quarterback for Highland Park in Dallas, play high school football games. And in a rational world, nobody would connect the Razorbacks’ first-year struggles under Morris with his determination to sneak away on a private plane for a few hours on Fridays after the real game preparation has been done and return before bed time. But this isn’t a rational world. It’s college football, and you can already see the fault line in Arkansas’ fan base forming around this issue. Everyone agrees with “family first” — until you start getting beat by the likes of Colorado State and North Texas, which made the Razorbacks look silly in Fayetteville, 44-17. One may have nothing to do with the other (Chandler, in fact, played Thursday of this week instead of Friday), but there’s no doubt Morris has an optics problem. Morris can say his former boss Dabo Swinney did the same thing, but Morris isn’t Swinney and Arkansas isn’t Clemson. Moving forward, Morris would do well to remember he now works at a school where fans once used the Freedom of Information Act to procure Houston Nutt’s phone records in an attempt to embarrass him once he started losing.
Georgia Tech: Since the Misery Index came into existence several years ago, the Yellow Jackets have landed on this list from time to time. The fundamental tension in the program practically lends itself to that. Paul Johnson will adamantly claim he’s overachieved thanks to his triple-option offense at a school with tough academics that hasn’t always had a strong financial commitment to football. Johnson’s detractors say he wouldn’t have to overachieve if he were more effective at procuring talent and that the ceiling should be higher on a program located in the middle of one of the three best metropolitan areas for recruiting in the country. That debate has simmered through some ups and downs, but Johnson won the argument by guiding Tech to four ACC title game appearances in his first seven years. Not all arguments are final, however. Johnson is in the midst of a bad dry spell: Seven losses in his last nine games against FBS teams, seven straight losses away from home and potentially a third season in his last four without a bowl bid unless Tech can turn things around quickly. With a reasonable buyout of $4 million, more and more Georgia Tech fans are saying they’ve had enough.
TRENDING TOWARD MISERY
UCLA: The offseason’s most celebrated coaching hire has been a dud so far. This is a full-blown rebuild under Chip Kelly, whose Bruins have been outscored 113-52 by Cincinnati, Oklahoma and Fresno State. The Rose Bowl is going to be a sea of empty seats for awhile, but fans who do show up will be treated to some bizarre in-game calisthenics.
Northwestern: Coach Pat Fitzgerald made some eye-catching remarks this week when he compared run-pass option (RPO) plays to “communism.” Although clearly said in jest, you can’t mix up your metaphors that badly and then go out and lose to Akron, which hadn’t beaten a Big Ten team since 1894, in the same week. The Zips’ 39-34 upset, combined with the $1.2 million check they received to play the game, isn’t communism. But it’s not great economics either for the Wildcats.
Ole Miss: Nobody would have reasonably expected Ole Miss to beat or even come close to Alabama this year. But the Rebels’ defense has been horrendous all season, and Alabama made them look like an FCS team in a 62-7 rout. It’s hard to believe that just two years ago Ole Miss had a 21-point lead over Alabama, with Hugh Freeze looking for his third straight win over the Tide. It’s all been downhill since.
Auburn: Gus Malzahn is regarded as one of the game’s best offensive coaches. And yet each of the last two seasons, his Auburn team has blown a double-digit lead against Ed Orgeron-led LSU because his offense has basically ground to a halt in the second half. While Auburn fans may whine about two questionable pass interference calls that moved along LSU’s game-winning drive for a 22-21 win, they should be blaming an offense that got conservative and managed just eight plays for 16 yards on its final two possessions.
Nebraska: The Huskers have lost six straight games and eight of their last nine dating back to last season when it became obvious Mike Riley had to be fired. Though Scott Frost only accounts for two of those, it’s obvious he has a long road ahead after a 24-19 loss to Troy. Frost will probably be fine in the long run, but the celebration of his homecoming is officially over.
TOTALLY REAL AND IRRATIONAL MESSAGE BOARD THREADS
“COME BACK, COACH O!!!!!!” - WeareSC.com (USC)
“Is it time to finally cut SEC bait?” - hogville.net (Arkansas)
“We should’ve gotten Kirby” - AuburnUndercover.com
“Serious question…do our players actually practice or just dance for 2 hours?” - warchant.com (Florida State)
“Head covered brown bags at next game?” - theknightreport.com (Rutgers)