Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (pet monkey Halloween treats sold separately in Austin … maybe):
FOURTH QUARTER: THE 4–4 CORE OF 2021 BUSTS
There are a few places in the Southeastern Conference where a coaching situation can spiral from uncomfortable to unmanageable in a matter of days—maybe even hours. Auburn and LSU fans should be nodding knowingly at this point. But don’t forget the boys from old Florida, who have seen things get weird before.
Jim McElwain’s final season in 2017 escalated from disappointing to fireable with SEC speed. The end came abruptly for Will Muschamp and Ron Zook before that. Dan Mullen isn’t getting fired like those guys were—during the season, without a tinge of institutional reluctance—but the tenor of his tenure has changed.
Some of that is natural fan overreaction, which is life in the SEC. But after doing a respectable job of falling on his sword following the latest loss, a 34-7 thumping from No. 1 Georgia, Mullen on Monday sounded like a guy who only had one day of humility in him.
His press conference was described as “unusually short,” by media that regularly cover the team, and it included Mullen shutting down questions about recruiting (or his lack of it), complete with a “next question” cut-off of a reporter.
(As Matt Baker of the Tampa Bay Times noted, Mullen was happy to take questions about recruiting after beating Georgia last year.)
In addition, no players were made available. And the only other media access to the Gators this week will be Mullen on the SEC teleconference appearance Wednesday. So, yeah, the head coach is a little touchy at the moment.
But, boy, does Mullen have company. The map is rife with teams that started the season in the Top 25 and currently do not have winning records. The fellowship of the miserable:
Florida (31). Began the season: No. 13 in the AP poll. Currently: 4–4, unranked, fourth in the SEC East.
What’s gone wrong: Playing Georgia and Alabama is an invitation to lose twice. The problems are the other two, to Kentucky and LSU. Florida fans are accustomed to beating Kentucky, and still have some raw emotions regarding the season-altering upset loss to LSU last year.
Mullen almost certainly will make staff changes this offseason, likely among them defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. He also has to figure out his quarterback situation, which has been an unproductive mixing and matching of Emory Jones and Anthony Richardson.
From here: Florida should win the last four games of the regular season, which would calm everyone down and make Mullen 37-13 in four seasons. That’s certainly not a fireable record. There would have to be some weird developments to necessitate a coaching change—but as noted above, Florida can get weird on occasion.
North Carolina (32). Began the season: No. 10 in the AP poll. Currently: 4–4, unranked, tied for third in the ACC Coastal.
What’s gone wrong: The Tar Heels are 0–3 on the road, a year after going 3–1. They are a bit less proficient offensively than last season, which probably should have been expected after the loss of two star running backs and their top two receivers. Combine that drop-off with a defense that is every bit as pliant as last year’s, and you have a team that has stepped backward and not forward from last year’s 8-4 season. (Quarterback Sam Howell is still performing well; he’s just getting less help than he did in 2020.)
From here: North Carolina has three losable games remaining, against Wake Forest Saturday, Pittsburgh Nov. 11 and North Carolina State Nov. 26th. This could go from disappointing to a real meltdown in November—or the Heels could salvage something down the stretch.
Miami (33). Began the season: No. 14 in the AP poll. Currently: 4–4, unranked, tied for third in the ACC Coastal.
What’s gone wrong: The schedule began with the thankless task of playing Alabama, then got unexpectedly harder with a game against Michigan State. Since starting 2–2, every game has been a dramatic coin flip, and thus it shouldn’t be a surprise that the Hurricanes have gone 2-2 in those games. Points scored in those four games: 139. Points allowed in those four games: 139. Miami has fought through major injury issues and gotten very good play from freshman backup quarterback Tyler Van Dyke, but could use some improvement defensively.
From here: The remaining four games all are winnable, but given this team’s margin for error you never know. Beating Pittsburgh and North Carolina State has certainly helped Manny Daiz’s job security; winning out could end that discussion.
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USC (34). Began the season: No. 15 in the AP poll. Currently: 4–4, unranked, tied for third in the Pac-12 South.
What’s gone wrong: Starting the season with Clay Helton was the first mistake, and USC tried to correct that by firing him after two games. It didn’t fix much. The Trojans’ only two wins since Sept. 18 are against Colorado and Arizona, the two worst teams in the conference. USC is a bad defensive team, allowing a league-high 6.12 yards per play. The Trojans have surrendered more than 30 points five times, including the last three games.
From here: It will likely get worse after the loss of star receiver Drake London for the rest of the season to injury. USC could be an underdog in all four of its remaining games as a lame-duck staff coaches out the string.
LSU (35). Began the season: No. 16 in the AP poll. Currently: 4–4, unranked, sixth in the SEC West.
What’s gone wrong: After giving up 38 points to UCLA in the season opener, it was obvious that the defensive issues of 2020 hadn’t been properly addressed. As injuries mounted, Ed Orgeron proved incapable of circling the wagons motivationally or fixing the problems schematically. Orgeron got himself fired midway through the season, a jarring ending to what had been a fairy-tale ride through 2019.
DELLENGER: Inside Ed Orgeron's Swift Fall at LSU
From here: First is playing Alabama at Bryant-Denny for the first time since, “Roll Tide what? F--- you!” So that should be a pleasant atmosphere for the Tigers to walk into. They also figure to be underdogs against Texas A&M, and possibly Arkansas as well. LSU hasn’t had a losing season this century, but that streak will be challenged this year.
Washington (36). Began the season: No. 20 in the AP poll. Currently: 4–4, unranked, tied for third in the Pac-12 North.
What’s gone wrong: The Huskies are a terrible offensive team, which became immediately and acutely apparent when they scored seven points in the season opener against FCS opponent Montana. They are 104th nationally in scoring and 94th in yards per play, and that’s with a 52-point eruption against Arkansas State factored in. Their defense is good enough to keep them in games, but the margin for error is slim.
From here: Coach Jimmy Lake fed coal into the Oregon rivalry furnace with a convoluted—but seemingly pointed—statement Monday about competing less against the Ducks for recruits and more against schools of “academic prowess” like USC, Stanford and Notre Dame. “In our world, we battle more academically prowess teams,” Lake reportedly said, a sentence structure that certainly lacked its own academic prowess. After likely being beaten by the Ducks for the 15th time in the last 17 meetings, Washington has a chance to win out and go to a bowl game. At some point, Lake will get around to firing offensive coordinator John Donovan.
Texas: Began the season: No. 21 in the AP poll. Now: 4–4, unranked, tied for fifth in the Big 12.
What’s gone wrong: As noted in the Second Quarter, the Longhorns can’t hold a lead. When the schedule got tougher, they couldn’t finish. They’re soft defensively and have become an inefficient third-down team offensively.
From here: They could drop their fourth in a row Saturday at Iowa State before the schedule lightens up in the final three weeks. Going 7–5 would not indicate tangible progress from the Tom Herman Era.
Indiana (37). Began the season: No. 17 in the AP poll. Now: 2–6, unranked, last in the Big Ten East.
What’s gone wrong: For all you fans fuming over your 4–4 teams, it could be worse. Your team could be Indiana. The Hoosiers have completely reverted to historical form after two feel-good seasons. Cut them a bit of slack for this: they’re playing in what is probably the best division in college football, and one of their non-conference opponents was undefeated Cincinnati. But this is still a major disappointment, fueled by a collapse in quarterback production and a backslide on the defensive line.
From here: The Hoosiers might not win another game in 2021. It will be a bit harder to L-E-O through the rest of this season than the past two years.
COACH WHO EARNED HIS COMP CAR THIS WEEK
Kalani Sitake (38), BYU. His Cougars dropped 66 points on Virginia Saturday, the most BYU has scored on an FBS opponent since 1989. A year after losing the No. 2 pick in the NFL draft, Zach Wilson, Sitake’s team can still light up the scoreboard in a way that carries on the legacy of program patriarch and offensive pioneer LaVell Edwards. Sitake is now 18–3 over this season and last.
COACH WHO SHOULD RIDE THE BUS TO WORK
Steve Sarkisian (39), Texas. At the risk of piling on, poor ol’ Sark now has some monkey business to deal with in addition to a three-game losing streak and the Cyclones on Saturday.
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