Sometimes, teams that aren’t great can have great seasons. But it’s hard to live a lie for 10 games.
Heading into Saturday’s regular-season finale, Miami (Fla.) was on the verge of pulling off one of the great smoke-and-mirror jobs in recent memory.
At 8-1 and ranked No. 10 by the College Football Playoff selection committee, Miami’s record looked impressive enough on the surface to lock up a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl game. Even though there wasn’t much substance underneath — the Canes’ best win was 44-41 against N.C. State? — all they had to do was beat North Carolina to slide into the Orange Bowl.
That turned out to be a bit complicated. In fact, at no point Saturday in the Tar Heels’ 62-26 win did it appear as though the Hurricanes were in the same class as UNC.
“The opening statement is we got our ass kicked,” Miami coach Manny Diaz said in his postgame news conference. “Humiliating performance.”
How humiliating? Miami gave up 778 yards, the worst defensive performance in program history. And there was really nothing more to it than that. The Hurricanes couldn’t stop anything North Carolina did and were exposed as a team not nearly as good as its record.
Here at the Misery Index, we don’t think Miami fans ever for a second thought the Hurricanes were truly “back” this season. But they didn’t expect a blowout of this magnitude with so much on the line, a performance that blew a hole in the credibility Diaz has built in his second year.
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For that reason, Miami takes No. 1 in the final Misery Index of the regular season, a weekly measurement of knee-jerk reactions based on what each fan base just watched.
FOUR MORE IN MISERY
Florida: Let’s be real here. Florida would be No. 1 in the Index this week, except that we already knew long before the infamous shoe throw by Marco Wilson and Cade York’s game-winning 57-yard field goal for LSU that the Gators weren’t going to be a College Football Playoff team this year. In theory? Sure, it was possible. But it would have required Florida to beat Alabama next week in the SEC championship game, and … hahahahahaha yeah. Not with that defense. Florida’s 37-34 loss, though, deserves more scrutiny. The Gators rested star tight end Kyle Pitts for the SEC championship because he was a bit banged up. Bad decision. Arrogant decision. They out-gained LSU 609-418 but committed three turnovers. And, of course, with the chance to get the ball back in a tie game with less than 90 seconds left, Wilson chucked an LSU player’s shoe after a third-down stop, resulting in truly one of the dumbest unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in college football history and allowing a second chance that the Tigers took advantage of. Florida approached this game against a bad LSU team like it was a given and got what it deserved, but its status as a Playoff contender was going to be exposed one way or another.
Nebraska: If the Cornhuskers’ coach was named Scott Smith instead of Scott Frost, we’d look at the accomplishments through three years and discuss the merits of making a coaching change. That isn’t going to happen because Frost is both a Nebraska legend and something of a last resort for a program that has absolutely spiraled since deciding that nine-win seasons weren’t good enough when it fired Bo Pelini in 2014. But losing 24-17 at home to a Minnesota team that was missing more than 30 players and hadn’t played since Nov. 20?
As if that’s not bad enough, Frost showed up to his news conference complaining about the number of media timeouts before Nebraska drives, which would be a lame excuse under the best of circumstances. Hey, at least somebody’s willing to put the schlock Frost is selling on television.
Arizona: The scary part for Arizona fans isn’t that Kevin Sumlin was fired Saturday. It’s that without such an emphatic failure this year, capped off by a 70-7 humiliation at the hands of Arizona State, the school might not have been willing to commit the $7 million to buy him out. Arizona, whose athletic department has major financial challenges, wanted to do anything but pay a coach not to work. Sumlin made that impossible. Arizona lost 12 consecutive games going back to last season — all but one by double-figure margins. Don’t feel too badly for Sumlin. Combined with his Texas A&M buyout, he’s going to end up collecting $17 million for jobs he no longer has to do. Now the question is whether the Wildcats will be able to run a more effective search than last time on a tight budget — and whether they’ll have someone capable of identifying below-market value talent. Given the track record, that’s hard to believe.
Virginia Tech: There’s been growing chatter the last two weeks about the Hokies’ willingness to make a clean break from coach Justin Fuente after five somewhat rocky seasons, despite the fact it would cost $10 million plus various buyouts of his coaching staff. The cost is a real consideration, but so is the trajectory of both on-field performance and recruiting. How do you balance it all? Well, Virginia Tech finishing the regular season with a dominant 33-15 win over rival Virginia to go 5-6 makes things more complicated, not less. Had the Commonwealth Cup gone the other way, Virginia Tech fans wanting change would be far more confident that their day was coming. Now? Who knows.
TRENDING TOWARD MISERY
Wisconsin: For two weeks, the Badgers were an offensive juggernaut. The rest of the time, they were just offensive to watch. In fairness, we’ll never really know how the major COVID-19 outbreak Wisconsin experienced changed the trajectory of its season. But over the last three games, the Badgers have scored a combined 20 points with nine turnovers. Wisconsin hasn’t finished with more losses than wins since 2001, and that’s very much in play now after it slipped to 2-3 with Saturday’s loss to Iowa.
Illinois: It feels as if the cycle is about to begin again. Lovie Smith has had five years, and at 17-39 overall, it’s clear he hasn’t cracked the code of why a flagship institution in a heavily populated state can’t get its act together. Sure, Ron Zook took Illinois to one fluke Rose Bowl, and Ron Turner had a great season in 2001. But nobody’s really done it consistently in the Big Ten era, so the question becomes: Can anyone? If Illinois moves on from Smith, athletics director Josh Whitman will get another chance to spin the coaching roulette wheel. Whether it yields more favorable results this time is unclear.
Navy: Coach Ken Niumatalolo wasn’t thrilled with the fact that the way the schedule fell this season, Army had 21 days to prepare for his team while the Midshipmen played the previous two weeks. But with Navy at 3-7, it’s hard to say Army’s 15-0 win was anything but a just result. Still, it’s hard to swallow. After 14 consecutive Navy wins in the series, Army has won four of the last five. Fans of the Midshipmen should start rooting for Army coach Jeff Monken to get hired at Vanderbilt, Arizona or anywhere else.
TOTALLY REAL AND IRRATIONAL MESSAGE BOARD THREADS
“Burning all my Cane gear” – Canes Insight
“No masks or social distancing this week please” – Gator Country
“Not sure I can or want to watch another Frost coached team” – Husker Online
“Why would any up and coming coach want this job?” – Wildcat Authority
“The league has caught up” – Badger247