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Forde-Yard Dash: Has The SEC Taken Things Too Far?

From Tennessee fans showering the field with debris to Ed Orgeron's ousting, The Dash grapples with the league's unjustifiable debacles that arise from the need to win.
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Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (projectiles sold separately in Knoxville):

MORE DASH: LSU or USC Job? | Winds of Change | Wazzu Blame

FIRST QUARTER: IT JUST MEANS … TOO MUCH

This weekend, the Southeastern Conference (1) completed its inevitable crossing of the Rubicon. The nation’s best football league transitioned from It Just Means More to By Any Means Necessary. They’ve gone from passionate to pathological, intense to desperate, urgent to ruthless.

A descent that started with adding Texas and Oklahoma (2) to the league during the summer—to the betterment of the league’s bottom line but to the detriment of the sport and even most of the rest of its members—accelerated Saturday and Sunday.

A taut, gripping game in Neyland Stadium dissolved into mayhem when Tennessee fans (3) showered the field with debris because they didn’t like an official’s ruling of a very close call. The game against Mississippi was delayed nearly 20 minutes due to fan behavior, and many longtime observers of college football couldn’t recall a disruption of similar length that was solely attributed to fans endangering everyone on the field. Tennessee had to send its own spirit squads off the field for their safety: cheerleaders, dance team and marching band all departing, some of them covering their heads with whatever they had to keep from being pelted. It was a disgraceful scene, a complete abdication of responsible fan behavior and a deep stain on what had been a great game.

This is another example of the furious fringe that has poisoned the Tennessee fan base. The majority of the school’s sports fans support their teams in a positive and classy manner—but not all of them, and the faction that feels entitled to act like a vigilante mob is neither small or silent. Saturday night displayed the mentality that led to the hijacking of the school’s football coaching search in 2017, the smearing of Greg Schiano, the firing of John Currie and the hiring of both an incompetent athletic director (Phil Fulmer) and coach (Jeremy Pruitt). We get our way or we riot isn’t a great way to support a football program, but that behavior hasn’t been adequately addressed yet. Easier to write it off as “passion” when in reality it’s something darker.

The spluttering justifications from some fans that followed the debacle were even more embarrassing. Being robbed by the refs—the call was borderline, and probably correct—is not an excuse to throw hundreds (maybe thousands) of objects on the field. A golf ball was thrown at Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin, and if it had hit his head or face he could have been injured. Same with many of the bottles filled with liquid—they weren’t all empty, as some apologists tried to argue. Falling back on whataboutism by digging up old videos of other fans throwing objects onto a court or field doesn’t excuse anyone. Attacking anyone who is critical of loutish behavior rather misses the mark as well.

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Tennessee chancellor Donde Plowman tweeted that she was “sickened” by the scene. SEC commissioner Greg Sankey tweeted a statement saying the fan behavior was “unacceptable” and that the league office will assess whether to penalize the school. A fine seems likely from a league that regularly hits schools in the pocketbook for field stormings in the name of safety—but that would be a pretty empty gesture in this instance. If what occurred is really “unacceptable,” then the sanctions have to be serious enough to strongly discourage the behavior from happening again. Tennessee’s next home game, against Georgia Nov. 13, should be contested in an empty stadium other than family members of the players. We’ll see whether the school and the league have the backbone to withstand the backlash that would come from taking a real stand.

The Tennessee Tantrum was the hot topic in the SEC for about 12 hours, then came the next wave of evidence that football has become too big to fail. As Dash colleague Ross Dellenger reported Sunday, LSU (4) is pushing Ed Orgeron out the door at the end of this season—a decision reached just 17 games after Orgeron led the Tigers to the 2019 national championship in one of the most dominant seasons in recent history. The afterglow from that epic achievement had the shelf life of raw fish.

For more than a year, The Dash has been comparing Orgeron to Gene Chizik—the last coach to be brutally trap-doored two seasons after winning it all. That happened at Auburn in 2012, when the magic of a Cam Newton 2010 title season had dried up and the Tigers went 3–9. For many years, Auburn has held the title of the most cold-blooded football factory in America. That title now shifts to the school in Baton Rouge.

This LSU team is nowhere near as bad as that Auburn team, which won zero games against Power 5 competition. This LSU team is 4–3, with a pair of SEC wins—including upsetting Florida Saturday. Yet at midseason, it was decided that Coach O must go. While Orgeron absolutely caught lightning in a coordinator/quarterback bottle with Joe Brady and Joe Burrow in 2019 and wasn’t likely to ever repeat that, railroading a native son of Louisiana out of his dream job this quickly shows that loyalty is disposable. LSU only cares about winning, and only cares about winning lately. You follow 15–0 with 9–8 over the next 17 games? You’re gone.

Reports surfaced Sunday citing Orgeron’s alleged off-field actions as he’s gone through a recent divorce. The school has been embroiled in a Title IX lawsuit that names Orgeron among the defendants. And there have been some NCAA violations on Orgeron’s watch. But if Coach O were undefeated again this season, does anyone think his job would be in even the slightest jeopardy?

Look, perspective has been in short supply in the league for decades. But we’re now down to emergency rations. In Alabama, one fan shot and killed another last week while arguing during the Crimson Tide’s loss to Texas A&M (5). That’s the same A&M that extended coach Jimbo Fisher’s contract a couple of months ago to a $90-plus million, 10-year deal. And future member Oklahoma (6) showed last week that it can obsess at an SEC level. It shut down access to all media outlets presumably because the student newspaper had the ingenuity to view practice via binoculars from a public building near the practice fields and report what everyone knew would happen: Caleb Williams was going to start at quarterback against TCU.

In many SEC locales, every expenditure and every shortcut and every paranoid stance is justified if it leads to winning. And if it doesn’t, scapegoats must be found—the officials, the head coach who delivered a national title but hasn’t backed it up, whoever. And when the conference bloats to 16 teams and the monetary stakes rise even higher, guess what? It will only get worse.

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FOUR FOR THE PLAYOFF

The Dash’s weekly view of how the College Football Playoff would shake out, if today were Selection Sunday:

Orange Bowl: top seed Georgia (7) vs. fourth seed Michigan State (8).

The No. 1 Bulldogs squashed another opponent that was feeling good about itself, beating Kentucky 30–13 in Athens. That was a third straight victory over SEC teams coming off big wins of their own, by a combined score of 101–23. Georgia’s ridiculous defense did not allow the previously undefeated Wildcats a single run of 10 or more yards or a single pass play of 20 or more. The Bulldogs also blocked two kicks, for good measure, and hit several big plays in the passing game behind ace backup quarterback Stetson Bennett IV.

Next for Georgia: Florida in Jacksonville on Oct. 30.

The Spartans (7–0) are the new team in the bracket after picking up their fourth road win of the season at Indiana. It certainly wasn’t easy, trailing at halftime and being outgained by 81 yards, but Michigan State once again showed its knack for finding ways to win. This time around the recipe included a defensive score and a touchdown drive that began with a short field after a securing an interception.

Next for Michigan State: Michigan comes to East Lansing Oct. 30.

Cotton Bowl: second seed Cincinnati (9) vs. third seed Michigan (10).

The Bearcats (6–0) keep rolling unimpeded, and keep taking advantage of teams losing ahead of them in the rankings. Iowa’s upset loss to Purdue, combined with punishing Central Florida 56–21, further solidifies them on the right side of the playoff bubble—for now. Running back Jerome Ford set a new career high in rushing yards in each of the past two games, going for 149 against Temple and 189 against UCF.

Next for Cincinnati: at Navy Saturday.

The Wolverines had an open date, resting up and healing up after a stout 6–0 start. Their offense is showing signs of diversity in recent weeks after relying heavily on the running game to start the season. Passing yards have increased in every Big Ten game, from 163 against Rutgers to 253 against Wisconsin to 255 against Nebraska. Quarterback Cade McNamara is finding new targets after the early-season loss of Ronnie Bell to injury.

Next for Michigan: Northwestern visits Ann Arbor Saturday.

Dropped out: Iowa.

Also considered: Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Alabama, Penn State, Oregon, Ohio State.

MORE DASH: LSU or USC Job? | Winds of Change | Wazzu Blame

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