Hopefully, long-time readers of the Misery Index understand that it’s mostly a semi-serious way to look back at each situation. college football saturday and analyze some of the most notable results through the lens of angry fandom – which, ultimately, is what makes people so passionate about the sport in the first place.
It’s rare that watching the sport or being a fan of a team is associated with real, real misery. It’s just entertainment, after all. But for perhaps the first time in a decade of this every week, we saw exactly that play out Saturday at Florida State.
There’s nothing sarcastic or funny to say about what happened to the Seminoles against North Alabama, when quarterback Jordan Travis was ejected after a run that ended with part of his lower body bent the wrong way. Even though the official diagnosis wasn’t made Saturday night, we don’t really need it. This is bad, and it will almost certainly end his season and Florida State’s hopes of making the College Football Playoff.
It’s simply heartbreaking. It’s brutal. It’s the only truly miserable part of the sport.
The Seminoles finally won the game, 58-13, but that hardly mattered. From the body language on the field and the morose tone of coach Mike Norvell’s halftime interview, you could tell the score didn’t seem that important.
For the team, for the technical staff and for the supporters, it is as serious as possible. Florida State had been preparing for a season like this for years, and it could hardly have gone better. The Seminoles had passed every test, starting with in week 1 with LSU and browse the entire ACC schedule. All that was realistic between Florida State and the playoffs was a trip to disappointing Florida next week and a date with Louisville in the ACC championship game.
Everyone who plays or watches football understands that a season or an entire career can change with one bad step or dangerous tackle. But the idea that this would happen in a throwaway game against an FCS team? Who could even imagine something so horrible?
Travis, a sixth-year senior, had improved each year in Norvell’s program to the point where he became one of the best quarterbacks in the sport. He didn’t deserve to have his college career end this way, and neither did his teammates, whose hopes of doing something special this season were largely in his hands.
But this is the reality of the state of Florida, and it stinks. There’s not much more you can say.
For college football, this also represents a big potential problem.
Let’s say the Seminoles find a way to beat Florida and Louisville anyway and are there at 13-0 on December 3. Typically, an undefeated Power Five conference champion would have no problem getting into the college football playoffs.
But the field is chosen by a committee responsible for selecting the four best teams in the country. With Travis, an undefeated Florida State would clearly be in this group. Without Travis, this seems like overkill.
If Florida State can complete an undefeated year, it would be pretty cruel – especially under these circumstances – to leave out a team that did everything it was supposed to do. But the point of the playoffs is to decide a national title, and a team that loses its starting quarterback and offensive engine in the 11th game of the season is not the same team we saw over the first two and a half months.
In the NFL, it doesn’t matter. If you qualify for the playoffs but suffer a serious season-ending injury that dooms your chances of winning the Super Bowl, you’re still in the playoffs. For better or worse, college football doesn’t work that way. It’s a somewhat subjective endeavor, and at least until next season when it expands to 12 teamsthere are only four places available.
The CFP committee has been very fortunate over the years to avoid almost any truly difficult decisions. But this FSU situation could present a real dilemma when they have to weigh what’s best for the playoffs and what’s fair.
If an injury against North Alabama is what costs the Seminoles a playoff bid that seemed so likely when they woke up Saturday morning, it has to go down as one of the unluckiest moments in sports history.
Four others in poverty
Michigan: Beyond the NCAA survey in real time that cost linebackers coach Chris Partridge his job Friday and sowed serious doubts about Jim Harbaugh’s long-term future with the Wolverines while serving a three-match suspensionThere is a bubbling question regarding their current goal of winning a national championship. Is Michigan really that good? The Wolverines were able to get to 11-0 by beating just two teams that currently have seven or more wins. One of them was Penn State, who never beats elite teams, and the other was UNLV. It’s entirely fair to wonder if Michigan has been tested enough to adequately prepare for Ohio State next weekend. Also, after an uninspiring 31-24 victory over Maryland, it’s a real question mark whether the Wolverines are even good enough to beat the Buckeyes. Maryland has been far from a defensive juggernaut this year, and Michigan has only managed 291 yards of offense. Sorry, Michigan fans, but this is a major wake-up call heading into the biggest game of the year.
Auburn: There are many things about the current state of Auburn football that Hugh Freeze could reasonably blame on his predecessor. Bryan Harsin just didn’t understand the job and didn’t do it very well, especially when it came to acquiring talent in the SEC. However, losing to New Mexico State in Auburn’s worst performance in decades is 100% on Freeze, however. New Mexico State is a good Conference USA team with a great coach in Jerry Kill, but when a program like Auburn loses to a program like this, it’s a calamity. And Auburn not only lost, I got beaten up from the 31st to the 10th at home in a match that certainly didn’t seem like a fluke. Auburn didn’t give it back and didn’t have an unusual number of penalties. He simply couldn’t pass the ball (2.5 yards per carry), didn’t protect quarterback Payton Thorne very well and never made an impact on the New State defense -Mexico. Auburn’s had enough bad teams on its schedule to earn bowl eligibility at 6-5, but it was a very unimpressive first season for a coach with a pretty good record of overnight success in his previous stops.
Southern California: Lincoln Riley brought a future Heisman Trophy winning quarterback with him to Los Angeles and still hasn’t managed to win as many games in his first two seasons as Clay Helton. You remember Helton, right? This is the guy USC fired so they could make a splash by hiring their boosters and administration sought by Riley, who left Oklahoma on a huge 10-year contract. USC was right to move on from Helton, but it’s just a fact that he went 21-6 with a Pac-12 title in his first two full seasons. Riley, meanwhile, is 18-8 without a conference championship after a putrid 38-20 defeat at home against UCLA to close out a 7-5 regular season. This is going to be a long and embarrassing offseason for the Trojans after losing five of their last six games. Riley won’t just have to hire a new defensive coordinator after firing Alex Grinch, he needs a top-to-bottom reality check on what kind of program he wants to run. And with Caleb Williams almost certain to leave for the NFL, it’s not like the immediate future looks exceptionally bright.
North Carolina: Tar Heel fans should have a lot of gratitude towards Mack Brown for getting out of the TV booth and restoring a decent base level of competency to their football program. But at 72, Brown has reached the ceiling of what he can accomplish in his second go-around in Chapel Hill. Yes, 8-3 is still a pretty good season for North Carolina with the possibility of nine or 10 wins. But it’s also been a year of underachievement, with no truly notable wins and stunning losses to Georgia Tech and Virginia. Given the incredibly soft schedule, North Carolina should have been 10-0 heading into Clemson on Saturday in a game that should have really mattered in the national picture. But the Tar Heels weren’t 10-0, so it didn’t matter much that they lost 31-20. And that’s kind of the problem here. After five years, it’s probably time for Mack to enjoy a nice retirement and for UNC to start looking toward the future.
Miserable, but not miserable enough
Colorado: There’s no reason to worry about the Buffs’ late-season collapse, punctuated by a 56-14 loss to Washington State. If they lose next week at Utah to finish 4-8, that will actually be a major step forward for Deion Sanders’ first season. What’s alarming, however, is that Colorado only ranks 63rd the 247 Sports recruiting rankings with signing day approaching soon. Coach Prime will undoubtedly raid the transfer portal again this offseason, but historically it’s not the best place to fix the offensive line, which is clearly Colorado’s biggest problem. You’d think all the hype would have translated into a few more blue-chippers at this point.
James Madison: It was a difficult, but predictable, break when the NCAA rejected the Dukes’ request to waive the two-year probationary period for FBS newcomers so they can play in a bowl game this season. The best revenge for James Madison would have been to remain undefeated and make all of America scream at the injustice of it all. It might still be unfair, but after losing 26-23 in overtime to Appalachian State the cold reality is that fewer people will pay attention or care about their cause.
Baylor: The school administration loves Dave Aranda. For a variety of reasons, including the quality of the person he is and the way the program is run off the field, they don’t want to fire him. (And yes, at Baylor, both of those things matter given the scars from past football administrations.) But at some point, results have to be part of the equation, too. A 42-17 loss to TCU, a week after a 59-25 blowout at Kansas State, will at least make it abundantly clear that Aranda needs to turn things around next year. But it’s hard to convince Baylor fans to bring back a coach who is 3-9, which is where Aranda is likely headed barring an upset against West Virginia next week. That 2021 Big 12 title seems far in the past.