| USA TODAY
Clemson stays at the top of Amway Coaches Poll
USA TODAY Sports’ Paul Myerberg breaks down the latest Amway Coaches Poll.
LSU fans have been thinking a lot about Auburn the last few days.
Not as an opponent, of course. By the time LSU plays Auburn on Oct. 31, the game is not likely to mean much one way or the other. But Auburn is at front of their minds as a concept of how quickly and severely a program can go bad after winning a national championship.
Auburn’s 14-0 run in 2010 stands as one of the greatest seasons in college football history, an accomplishment that sprung from nowhere on the back of an all-time great quarterback. But just two years later after much of the playing and coaching talent had left, Auburn had devolved into the SEC’s worst team, an embarrassment that necessitated the firing of Gene Chizik.
Like the 2010 Auburn Tigers, the 2019 LSU Tigers were like a comet streaking through the sky. And shortly after they won a national championship, the component parts were stripped away, leaving coach Ed Orgeron and little else that was recognizable.
The result of that transformation has been shocking, even for fans who expected a drop-off. It took just three weeks of football for LSU to go from defending national champion to outside the Amway coaches poll, and LSU fans have to worry about how bad it might get before things get better.
Having a national title in your back pocket certainly makes the tough times a little easier, but there’s not a lot of forgiveness in the SEC when you give up 44 points to a Mississippi State team that hasn’t done much since or when you lose 45-41 to Missouri, both of which were firing their coaches last winter while LSU was chasing greatness.
There’s not much cushion for the 1-2 Tigers, either. Unless their defense gets significantly better — and quickly — they’re looking at a likely 5-5 or 4-6 record. Programs that win national titles simply don’t drop off that precipitously from one year to the next, no matter how many players or coaches they lose.
And that’s going to bring significant scrutiny on Orgeron. Did he make the right decision replacing defensive coordinator Dave Aranda with Bo Pelini? Did he acquire enough offensive brainpower after passing game coordinator Joe Brady left for the NFL? Was LSU recruiting well enough the last two years to backstop the talent drain that every championship program experiences?
If not, it will be exposed quickly. And the comparisons to Chizik’s trajectory will begin soon.
FOUR MORE IN MISERY
Texas: What do the Longhorns do well? What is their calling card, other than Sam Ehlinger sometimes running around and pulling a play out of his rear end? In Year 4 under Tom Herman, what is the identity built around? It’s not defense, most certainly. They don’t possess a dominant running game, and while Ehlinger has terrific intangibles, they’re not an elite passing team. They’re just a bunch of guys in burnt orange and white uniforms of above-average talent who can beat or lose to just about anyone in the Big 12. At least when Texas fans were tired of Mack Brown by the end, they felt like they were wasting talent. But whatever Texas is doing right now doesn’t even qualify as underachievement because you don’t really look at the talent and expect a whole lot more than what you’re getting. It’s just a long ride to nowhere, and even a 53-45 loss to Oklahoma in which the Longhorns made a frantic comeback only to lose in the fourth overtime doesn’t trick fans into thinking they’re close. Meanwhile, Brown has the No. 6 team in the country at North Carolina.
Mississippi State: In 19 seasons as a head coach, no Mike Leach offense had ever been shut out until Saturday when the only points the Bulldogs managed came via a safety during a 24-2 loss to Kentucky. Just two weeks after Leach was being hailed as the offensive genius who was going to upend the SEC, he managed to lose by three touchdowns to a Kentucky team that had just 157 yards of offense and whose quarterback, Terry Wilson, completed just eight passes on 20 attempts. But that’s what happens when you throw the ball 70 times, six of which end up in the hands of the other team (K.J. Costello accounted for four of those interceptions, while backup Will Rogers also threw a pair). None of this is really a surprise: It’s the Leach script, practically word for word, from Washington State. When it works, his offense looks unbeatable. When it doesn’t, there’s no Plan B and it looks really, really bad. Then after the game, he made a vague reference to purging “any malcontents,” another tried-and-true Leach tactic to deflect blame from the head coaching chair. At least by now, Mississippi State fans know what kind of roller coaster ride they’re in for.
Louisville: Scott Satterfield was voted the ACC’s coach of the year last season because the perception of what he inherited was so poor that going 8-5 was celebrated as if he won the national title. But sometimes that kind of perception inflation can be dangerous. Just because Louisville was *better* last season after Satterfield took over doesn’t mean it was *good.* Ranked as high as No. 16 after the first week of the season, the Cardinals have crashed into the reality that their defense is pretty mediocre and their offense is turnover-prone with nine giveaways in their last three games. That feels like a big regression to the mean for a team that was able to pull a couple surprises last year on teams in the soft middle of the ACC. This year, Louisville isn’t going to sneak up on anybody. But even against a Georgia Tech team picked to finish last in the ACC, Louisville looked flat and sloppy in a 46-27 loss to fall to 0-3 in the league. As much as fans enjoyed Satterfield’s first year, his second has pretty much been a debacle.
Virginia Tech: It is a nice cliché to say there are no excuses in sports. But of course there are excuses! Especially for Virginia Tech, a roster that seems like it has been held together with duct tape and string since the season began. At some point, Hokies fans would like to be able to see a their full team play. But because of issues (primarily COVID-related) that have just decimated Virginia Tech’s defense, they’ve gone into every game missing huge chunks of their team. And you can only overcome that for so long. North Carolina exposed the Hokies 56-45, but how do you really measure a team that is missing 15 defensive players and had to play without any safeties? Other players who were healthy enough to be in the game on defense had barely practiced, and nickel back Chamarri Conner was ejected early for targeting. Maybe the worst is over for Virginia Tech, but no team in the country has been as adversely affected by COVID-19 positives and contact tracing issues for as long. Until that changes, it’s going to be difficult to know what the Hokies’ actual potential is.
TRENDING TOWARD MISERY
Alabama: Every time the Crimson Tide goes on defense, a collective blood pressure spike occurs across the state. Nick Saban’s program still wins but is practically unrecognizable in its current form. Maybe Ole Miss did steal Alabama’s signals, but that did not explain the missed tackles or the freelancing you saw from the Crimson Tide throughout a 63-48 win in which it gave up 647 yards. Defensive coordinator Pete Golding was once viewed as a wunderkind, but doing this little with this much talent brings Saban’s judgment into question. He seems in over his head.
Syracuse: There was a real fear around Syracuse that Dino Babers might bolt after 2018 when the Orange won 10 games and finished No. 15. Maybe some fans wish he had, as Syracuse appears to be on its way to a second straight losing season. Saturday’s 38-24 loss to Duke was Syracuse’s ninth in its last 12 ACC games, and things probably won’t get any better as quarterback Tommy DeVito suffered a serious ankle injury. Safety Andre Cisco, their best defensive player, is also going to miss an extended period of time due to injury, so any real hope of Syracuse turning this season around is likely gone.
Pittsburgh: To be a Pitt fan is to exist on the knife’s edge of barely winning games you should probably win big, surprisingly winning games you should lose, then face-planting at the most surprising moments. This life cycle has left many of them with no emotions at all, and yet still losing in back-to-back weeks by a single point after starting the season 3-0 is the peak of all Pitt self-loathing. Against N.C. State last week, the Pitt defense gave up an 8-play, 79-yard touchdown drive — including a fourth-and-9 conversion — within the final two minutes to lose. This time, the Panthers got to overtime on a 58-yard field goal by Alex Kessman. But just minutes later, Kessman missed an extra point that would have sent it to a second overtime, securing a 31-30 loss.
North Texas: There are worse teams in the country, but maybe no worse defenses. North Texas is giving up 7.33 yards per play, better than only Ole Miss in the national stats. The difference is the Mean Green hasn’t had to face Alabama; they’re this bad against a mediocre lineup of Conference USA also-rans. This week it was Charlotte that got a turn padding its numbers at their expense, racking up 599 yards in a 49-21 humiliation of the 1-3 Mean Green.
TOTALLY REAL AND IRRATIONAL MESSAGE BOARD THREADS
“What does O have to do next year to keep his job” – TigerRant.com
“Don’t call me for donations” – Orangebloods.com
“Satterthorpe or Kragfield?” – CardinalAuthority.com
“I’m over the Leach experiment” – EliteDawgs.com
“Pete Golding still having a job delegitimizes our entire program” – BamaOnline.com