Misery Index notebook: Cincinnati's string of lackluster wins fuel doubts; Alabama has issues

Dan Wolken

Florida leads this week's Misery Index after a 40-17 loss to South Carolina. Here are the others that made the index, a weekly measurement of knee-jerk reactions based on what each fan base just watched: 


Cincinnati: With College GameDay making its first trip to Nippert Stadium, fans were well-prepared to show the College Football Playoff selection committee what they thought about the Bearcats being ranked No. 6 this week. Among the messages written on various signs were "The CFP committee eats crayons," "CFP committee killed Harambe", and "The CFP is more crooked than Gary Barta’s teeth", referring to the selection committee chairman and Iowa athletics director. But when a fan base whines so incessantly about a lack of respect — egged on by Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell, who jokingly asked on his radio show whether Barta ever played football (he did) — the team better back it up. 

And yet, the Bearcats failed to accomplish much in a 28-20 win over Tulsa other than fueling those who doubt whether they’re really among the best four teams in the country. This was a very competitive game from start to finish, with Tulsa out-gaining Cincinnati 446-390 in yards and twice having the ball inside the five-yard line late in the game with a chance to tie. 

Though Cincinnati stopped Tulsa on both occasions to preserve the win and improve to 9-0, you have to demand the committee’s respect, not just hope to get it after squeaking by Navy, Tulane and Tulsa in consecutive weeks. We know 9-0 is 9-0. We know Cincinnati has one excellent win at Notre Dame. And we know the Bearcats can’t help that they play in the American Athletic Conference instead of a Power Five league. 

But if anything, Cincinnati's string of lackluster wins should make fans question whether they’re actually ranked too high. 

WEEK 10 OBSERVATIONS:Cincinnati has week to forget, but some losing streaks end

WEEK 10 WINNERS AND LOSERS:Arizona, Miami, Tennessee on top; Wake Forest tumbles

Cincinnati wide receiver Alec Pierce (12) battles for a pass against Tulsa safety TieNeal Martin (7).

Virginia Tech: It’s been a couple weeks since the Misery Index declared the Justin Fuente era unofficially over, and yet the administration in Blacksburg has thus far refused to acknowledge the obvious. Every week that Fuente remains on the sideline, the question unnecessarily lingers over what’s going to happen at Virginia Tech, even though everyone already knows the outcome. So it goes on and on like this, with the Hokies taking loss after loss while Fuente has to suffer the indignity of this fake limbo and the anger of the fan base gets more and more pronounced. 

Just end it already. Do it to lift the burden of a team that has never looked worse than in Friday’s 17-3 loss to Boston College, a game that featured 73 passing yards from Hokies third string quarterback Knox Kadum. Though it would be easy to blame such a lifeless performance on injuries — and yes, starter Braxton Burmeister was out along with leading receiver Tre Turner — it only serves to highlight what a poor job of roster management Fuente and his staff have done. Too many players transferring out, too few good recruits coming in. The end result is a program that lacks depth and can’t afford any injuries at all or else the bottom falls out.

A year ago, the Hokies could use their significant COVID-19 issues as an excuse for going 5-6. But now, having lost four of their last five against FBS opponents, it’s looking like the new normal. 

WEEK 10 REPORT CARD:UNC storming, Ole Miss trolling don't make the grade

Alabama: Things have gone so ridiculously well for Alabama over the last 13 years that it’s almost a joke what qualifies as adversity for this fan base. Anything less than total domination of every opponent will send Crimson Tide fans scurrying to their nearest message board for emotional support and over-the-top comments about whatever minor flaw they’re fed up with. 

But we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt this time. There’s something wrong with this Alabama team. Of course, it's all relative. Alabama is still 8-1 and ranked No. 2 by the CFP and very much expected to roll into Atlanta at 11-1 with a chance to play Georgia for the SEC title. Heck, the way things are going this season, Alabama may not even need to win that game to get in the Playoff. 

But if you put this team in different uniforms, without the knowledge that Nick Saban has won seven national championships, what would you think of it? Would you really be able to distinguish Alabama from teams like Oregon that consistently mess around and play closer games than they should against inferior opponents? 

Though Alabama has looked dominant on occasion, Saturday’s 20-14 win over LSU was one of several instances this season where the whole package doesn’t look as good as the sum of its parts. Alabama had six rushing yards — yes, six — against LSU and as a result just couldn’t consistently move the ball or build a comfortable lead. If not for a couple good defensive plays down the stretch and Ed Orgeron inexplicably going for it on fourth-and-goal at the 7 with 6:46 left instead of kicking a short field goal, Alabama would have been in real danger against a sub.-500 team. 

We know it's a rivalry game, but Alabama fans have seen such a lack of precision on offense this year to be justified in their concerns about where this season is ultimately headed. Alabama fans aren’t used to being fearful of any opponent, but at this point they should absolutely look at the prospect of playing Georgia in a month with a significant amount of dread. 

Nebraska: Does it make things better or worse for the Cornhuskers to go down as one of the best 3-7 teams in the history of college football? We’re not kidding, either. After Nebraska’s 26-17 loss to Ohio State, which was very much hanging in the balance until the final two minutes, Scott Frost’s team can “boast” six Big Ten losses by just 35 total points — and that doesn’t even include a seven-point loss to Oklahoma. 

It takes a special kind of ineptitude to lose so many games by one possession, because it’s ineptitude laced with enough competence to compete week after week. Any bad team can play a good game or two and come up short. It takes a truly elite bad team to do it so consistently.

As usual, Frost’s postgame comments were filled with promises that Nebraska’s luck will eventually turn. "This is going to pop at Nebraska," he said. "It just is. We’re doing too many good things right. We have too many good young players. We’re putting ourselves in position to win too many games and just not making a play or catching a break." 

It will be up to athletics director Trev Alberts to decide whether that’s a realistic assessment or the same claptrap Frost has been selling to the Nebraska fan base for the last couple years without the results to back him up. 


Stanford: So, does the administration at Stanford care about being good at football anymore? If they did, it would be impossible to view David Shaw with the same ironclad security he apparently enjoys these days. At some point, a string of bad seasons becomes a cry for help, which is what a 52-7 home loss to Utah felt like. At 3-6, Stanford seems headed for its worst season since since … well, since 2019 when the Cardinal finished 4-8. It’s hard to imagine these days, but Stanford was a legitimate top-10 program in Shaw’s first six seasons with a power running offense that nobody could stop. Over the following five, Stanford is a far-from-impressive 22-18 in the Pac 12 with a stagnant style of play and constant quarterback issues. If Stanford is fine with being the Northwestern of the Pacific time zone — a program that tolerates bad seasons as long as there’s a good one now and then — that's fine. If they want to be elite again, something needs to change. 

Minnesota: The biggest news of the week for the Gophers was P.J. Fleck agreeing to a seven-year contract extension through 2028. Minnesota wanted to execute this move before the coaching carousel got fired up just in case a job opens that might pique Fleck’s interest. It was also a good time to announce the news, since Minnesota had won four in a row and occupied first place in the Big Ten West. There was plenty to feel good about all around — that is, until Illinois came to town. Somehow, a Minnesota team that had been rolling weak competition couldn’t do much of anything in a 14-6 loss. In an ugly game where neither team cracked 300 yards of offense, Minnesota was minus-2 in turnovers and couldn’t take advantage of consistently good field position. If this were any other week, Minnesota fans would shrug their shoulders. The program is in solid shape and 6-3 at Minnesota is never a bad record. Still, of all weeks to lay an egg, this one was particularly poorly timed. 

Mississippi State: Mike Leach has never met a player he wasn’t willing to throw under the bus after a disappointing loss. In typical Leach fashion, he followed a 31-28 loss to Arkansas with a rant about his two kickers, who went a combined 0-for-3 on field goals in the game.

"There’s an open tryout on our campus for kickers," Leach said. "Anybody who wants to walk on and kick at Mississippi State, we’ll hold a tryout anytime you can get over there to our building providing you’re cleared by the NCAA." 

Sorry, but when you're a 5-4 team that is inherently inconsistent, the kicking unit is not where to point the finger. We’re sure nobody feels worse about the loss, including a missed 40-yarder at the buzzer, than Brandon Ruiz and Nolan McCord. But is it really necessary to publicly humiliate them in that way by calling for open tryouts on campus? 

Leach, of course, is smart enough to know that he’s not going to pull a new kicker out of the frat house. He's just spouting off because he’s salty about losing a game his team had a 486-393 advantage in yards, and showing a little bit of empathy for the unpaid amateur athletes on his team just isn’t in his nature. Sadly, it’s not the first time it's happened with Leach — and it won’t be the last. 

Texas: In arguably the most mind-blowing story of the season so far, Texas special teams coach Jeff Banks found himself in the middle of a viral Internet sensation this week. His significant other, a former exotic dancer and Jerry Springer show guest nicknamed the Pole Assassin, owns a pet monkey that was part of her act. Rumors spread on the Internet last weekend about an incident at the Banks household where a child was allegedly bitten by the monkey during a Halloween party. We know this because the Pole Assassin went on Twitter and sort of confirmed the story, though her version suggested it was the child’s fault.

Only at Texas could you believe something so absurd. And yet, it's the perfect avatar for the entire clown show that Steve Sarkisian’s first season has turned into. After a 30-7 loss to Iowa State, the Longhorns are 4-5 and have to be considered one of the country's biggest disappointments. Nobody anticipated national titles this year, but Sarkisian has given fans nothing to latch onto that would make them think Texas will soon re-emerge as a national power. They’re not good on offense or defense, and their special teams coach has a monkey living in his backyard. 

Sarkisian, for the record, said the monkey story was "not a distraction at all." Fair enough. It’s hard to be distracted when you’re just plain bad.  


"Dan Mullen is Butch Jones" — swamp247.com (Florida)

"Whoever we hire next, we have to be ready to let him go after 3 years" — techsideline.com (Virginia Tech)

"Covid crowds were louder than this" — bamaonline.com (Alabama)

"We hired the wrong UCF coach" — huskeronline.com (Nebraska)

"Name me a more gutless, heartless Texas team in the last 30 years" — orangebloods.com (Texas)