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Misery Index Week 8: Urban Meyer, Ohio State crash in spectacular fashion again

USA TODAY SPORTS logo USA TODAY SPORTS 10/22/2018 Dan Wolken

When the world first saw it, the image of sad Urban Meyer on a golf cart after the 2013 Big Ten championship game eating out of a Papa John’s pizza box became an instant meme with surprising durability. Even five years later, whenever something bad happens to Ohio State football, there it is, guaranteed to be on your Twitter feed. And it will never go away. 

But why? There’s nothing particularly remarkable about a man eating pizza. Coaches do a lot of abnormal things, but eating after a football game when someone puts a pizza in front of you seems like a really natural thing to do. 

The root of the meme, though, is this: Meyer is particularly and singularly unlikable. Even before the off-field drama this preseason against former receivers coach Zach Smith that led to Meyer being suspended, investigated over what he knew about domestic abuse allegations and ultimately reinstated, Meyer was not popular either among his peers or college football fans outside of Ohio. 

Unlike Nick Saban, whose unique brand of perfectionism is so over-the-top that we can all kind of get in on the joke, Meyer’s humorlessness and self-righteousness comes off as a shallow exercise in trying to simplify a complex world. And if you’re going to draw those kind of stark dividing lines between good guys and bad guys, between right and wrong, it’s not helpful your reputation to when people get a look behind the curtain both at Ohio State and Florida and see all the ethical compromises Meyer made to run a football program at the highest level. 

In other words, the pizza meme is powerful because it looks lonely. And when Ohio State struggles, it does so alone — with no sympathy from anyone and plenty of critics gleefully ready to say, “I told you so.”

Moreover, when Ohio State loses these days, it tends to do so spectacularly, as it did Saturday in a 49-20 blowout at Purdue. Combined with a 31-point shellacking at Iowa last year and a 31-0 shutout against Clemson in the 2016 College Football Playoff, an Ohio State loss isn’t just a game, but rather an event. You can’t look away.

When the Smith controversy hit, Meyer fought hard to keep his job. Whether you think he deserved to stay, whether you think he lied about what he knew or what was erased from his cellphone, there’s no doubt it took a toll on him. But for what? 

Meyer has always been the type where the agony of losing far exceeds the joy in winning. But even the winning now seems like it’s stressful, and the losing is something far worse. Meyer is eating out of that pizza box again — figuratively, not literally — and every Ohio State fan knows what it tastes like, which lifts the Buckeyes to No. 1 in the Misery Index, a weekly measurement of knee-jerk reactions based on what each fan base just watched. 

FOUR MORE IN MISERY 

Tennessee: It isn’t much fun to be opposite the most impressive dynasty in the history of college football. 

If any fan base knows that, it’s Tennessee’s, which has now watched 12 consecutive losses to Alabama in what was once the South’s most intense rivalry. Though surely the Vols will one day be the team smoking postgame cigars in the locker room — a tradition that goes back to the 1960s — it realistically could be a long time.

But what you really don’t want is a loss in which the person most responsible for the current sorry state of your program is able to celebrate on the other side. And that’s exactly what happened Saturday when former Tennessee coach Butch Jones received a Gatorade bath on the field at Neyland Stadium and a stogie in the visiting locker room as Alabama wrapped up a 58-21 victory. Seriously, what did Jones do to deserve that other than proving he was in way over his head in the SEC and getting fired after a winless conference season?

Though nobody should begrudge him a chance to continue his career, the audacity of giving him any credit or license to celebrate how Alabama won that game when his only significant contribution was dragging the Tennessee program even further into the ditch is breathtaking. 

MORE COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Winners and losers from Week 8

12 takeaways from Week 8

The bowl picture: Who's out, who's in, who's close 

Playoff projection: Ohio State is out, LSU is in

Oregon: There’s a particular type of misery that only a few fan bases can understand. To qualify for it, the program in question must have been part of significant, sustained success, only to experience a quick nosedive. The years after that are punctuated by hopeful moments, frustrating losses and eager proclamations of being “back” that seemingly get mocked by a bad loss coming around the corner. Texas has been the most prominent fan base in this cycle recently, but Oregon is getting a feel for it, too.

A week ago, the Ducks were ready to regain Pac-12 supremacy after beating Washington in overtime. As it turned out, trying to get Oregon to come down from that emotional high, regain focus and put together another peak performance at Washington State was too much to overcome. Oregon didn’t just lose 34-20, but the program’s immaturity as a contender was exposed. Maybe when Mario Cristobal gets more recruiting classes in and other big wins, it will be easier to get up physically and emotionally for consecutive games against tough opponents. For now, though, Oregon fans just have to accept that they will think they’re “back” at least a few more times before they really are. 

Indiana: There really is no program in the country quite like Indiana, which finds a way to take most of the good teams on its schedule to the wire without beating any of them. What’s the reward in being an Indiana football fan? You get a momentary thrill now and then, like recovering an onside kick late against Penn State to give you a chance to win, only to see your offense take a holding penalty and a sack that ends the game. Just like in the Charlie Brown cartoons, Lucy always pulls the football away.

Last year the Hoosiers took Michigan to overtime, played Michigan State to an eight-point game and even scared Ohio State in the opener. In 2016, it was a five-point loss to Nebraska (ranked in the top 10 at the time). In 2015 Indiana lost by seven to Ohio State, by eight to top-10 Iowa and to Michigan in double overtime. That has to get old, especially when just one win like that could redefine an entire season. The Hoosiers deserve it, but all they get when these games come down to the wire is that sinking feeling that they’ve seen this movie before. 

Navy: When the Midshipmen abandoned their conference independence and joined the American, it was something of a risk. Though the potential rewards were great in terms of television exposure and bowl affiliations, it was also a tougher level of competition on a week-in, week-out basis. One of the secrets to Navy’s consistency for so many years was cherry-picking the schedule to a certain degree, and making sure that it didn’t load up on games it probably couldn’t win. That’s not possible in the AAC.

If your team isn’t right, it can get exposed quickly. And maybe that explains why Navy, after going 7-1 each of its first two years in the American, is 5-7 since after a 49-36 loss to Houston. It looks like Ken Niumatalolo is in danger of losing not only the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy for a third year in a row — something that hasn’t happened since 2000-02 — but also missing a bowl for the second time in 11 seasons as head coach. At 2-5 with four consecutive losses, Navy gets Notre Dame next and then a string of tough opponents on the road in Cincinnati and UCF. This could be a long losing streak forming, which isn’t something Navy fans are used to in recent times. 

TRENDING TOWARD MISERY 

USC: Until Saturday, the Trojans could have looked at winning the painfully mediocre Pac-12 South as both a goal and a huge opportunity to change the narrative of its season. Though USC had a couple of early, offensively ugly losses, it was still salvageable. But when the Trojans lost at Utah 41-28 all pretense that this could be a successful year went out the window.

In what has been a common theme of the Clay Helton era, Utah was much tougher physically and racked up a 541-205 advantage in total offense. Even if USC somehow wins the division (which is still possible), it’s a bad consolation prize. Even if Helton makes massive staff changes this offseason, that probably won’t quiet a segment of Trojans boosters who want to bring back Pete Carroll. 

Kansas: The Yeti of phrases associated with Kansas football — winning streak — is now a distant memory. Indeed, when Kansas won two in a row in September, it seemed like the door was still slightly open for David Beaty to keep his job. But now Kansas is back to being Kansas, which means fans are ready for action after a 48-16 loss at Texas Tech. Though athletics director Jeff Long probably won’t make a coaching change for at least a few more weeks (it’s not his style to do it early), you have to acknowledge the obvious at some point soon or else it will serve only to irritate fans whose main concern is that the school has a plan and is ready to execute it as soon as possible. 

Memphis: Over the past few years, a basketball-crazy town has grown to love its college football team. Memphis has been a lot of fun under Justin Fuente and now Mike Norvell, shedding its former reputation as one of the worst programs in the country and becoming one of the most watchable teams among the Group of Five conferences. But for the first time since the program turned around, Memphis fans are experiencing the disappointment that comes from expectations — and failing to live up to them.

The Tigers got torched by Missouri 65-33 just a week after getting their hearts broken by UCF and three weeks after a resounding loss at Tulane. In other words, the 4-4 Tigers will probably still make a bowl game, but there will be far more interest in which basketball recruits Penny Hardaway is going to sign. 

Western Kentucky: The Hilltoppers had quite a run of head coaches starting with Willie Taggart, followed by a year of the Bobby Petrino redemption tour, followed by Jeff Brohm, who went 30-10 in three seasons and now looks like a coaching superstar at Purdue. But Western Kentucky fans are now questioning whether they finally struck out on a hire after dropping to 1-6 this season (0-3 in Conference USA) under Mike Sanford. Only 36, Sanford is considered a bright offensive mind but has suffered four losses this season by a field goal, including Saturday to Old Dominion, 37-34. It’s a fine line, but an unmistakeable trend. 

Wake Forest: If you’ve rooted for the Demon Deacons the last two years, you’re likely quite satisfied with getting to consecutive bowl games and the notion that Dave Clawson has replaced a huge mess with a respectable product. But for a program like Wake Forest, squeaking into bowl games can offer a false sense of security that you’re on an upward trajectory when, in fact, it’s the ceiling. Clawson is a good coach, but going from three wins to seven to eight did not mean Wake Forest was going to stay there. In fact, you have to fear that Wake has fallen out of the ACC’s middle class and is now back to cannon fodder status.

TOTALLY REAL AND IRRATIONAL MESSAGE BOARD THREADS

“Ohio State is the new ‘Clemsoning’ ” — bucknuts.com

“CANCEL permanent cross division rivalries” — GoVols247.com 

“Is Elite Football Still a High Priority for USC? — WeareSC.com

“We are watching Bill Lynch 2.0” — peegs.com (Indiana)

“Does that qualify for ‘with cause?’ Asking for a friend…” — WKUInsider.com

Urban Meyer et al. standing in front of a crowd: Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer on the sideline in the fourth quarter of the Buckeyes' loss to Purdue.

Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer on the sideline in the fourth quarter of the Buckeyes' loss to Purdue.
© Thomas J. Russo, USA TODAY Sports


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