College Football Misery Index 3: Auburn, Cal, and the Office Space of West Virginia

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images Stanford

It’s best to start out by reiterating a point made in our first installment of the College Football Misery Index: it’s the national pastime because no other sport has an economic and cultural stratification that more accurately reflects the American populace. This rings even more true as the college football season hits the midway point, and with the upper and lower classes clearly establishing themselves in their respective cozy lofts and asbestos-stuffed shacks, we have the quiet desperation of the middle class. The teams that currently sit at 4-3, 2-5, or something similar can’t afford even the dignity of a failed midseason crisis. There’s rarely any reward for a coach who lets his underclassmen get more snaps in preparation for the future, unless he wants to watch them on Saturdays from the comfort of his own home. And it’s not like Missouri or whoever gets a better shot at picking up top recruits if it just decides to tank the rest of the season rather than hanging on for a Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas berth. In fact, a serious jag at the end of the season means they’ll end up losing the ones they actually have.

The quest for the brass ring is allowed to transpire because bowl season is the American Dream in its most attainable, and therefore dullest form — instead of the Kia Sedona and the picket fence, you get the Christmas vacation in scenic Detroit or Shreveport. You deserve better. Or, you deserve at least something a little weirder. So, this week’s Misery Index isn’t about talking teams or fans off the ledge. Instead, it’s telling them to jump, to let go of the cliff’s edge, to dust off the Bowflex, pepper their water cooler talk with name-drops of “hot new bands” like Vampire Weekday or LSD Soundstereo, and buy that sports car with the “LIVIN” vanity plate.

SEC: Auburn

Threat Level: Looper

What would you do if you knew exactly how long you had to live? This isn’t a spoiler, and I must acknowledge the bias of a small sample size, but the moment Joseph Gordon-Levitt and his associate future assassins find out their contracts are closed and thus have 30 years left to live, they mostly just do tons of drugs at a Kansas strip club and get to see Piper Perabo naked. Which sounds like the sort of thing I’d do if I had like 10 minutes left to live, so I don’t see how the potential for 30 years of that is grounds for an existential crisis.

Obviously, that isn’t a reflection of Auburn’s actual state of being, but more a suggestion. I know it’s 2012 and James Franklin is slowly building up Vanderbilt to a point where it’s known for something other than being the place where bros like Jay Cutler and Aaron Rodgers’s brother can thrive. But if you’re an embattled SEC coach — and, really, “embattled” is an adjective used for no other purpose — “closing the loop” is the euphemism for “losing to Vanderbilt in October” that we’ve been looking for all these years.

Look, there is absolutely no saving this Auburn season, at least not by conventional methods such as a December beat-down of some future Big East team or a competitive showing against a rival. Since no one on the Tigers’ coaching staff is going to be working for Auburn the moment the final whistle blows against Alabama, why not celebrate in style? Aren’t the Auburn fans owed something other than a gutty, two-point loss against LSU? Why not run the triple option for the rest of the year or just refuse to punt, ever? Why not cancel a game last-minute without telling the other team and just go play mini-golf instead? Why not invite Bo Jackson and Cam Newton back at the same rates they were being paid while at Auburn? Would anyone really notice?

ACC: Virginia

Threat Level: Freddy Rumsen
Once again, no shortage of candidates here — nearly every single student on the Virginia Tech campus wasn’t even born the last time the Hokies lost four games by October, but right now they’re too in shock to actually be depressed about it. Boston College? Well, they won’t have Frank Spaziani to kick around for much longer, but what then? I’m just reminded of Danny DeVito’s divorce in that, yeah, they’re on the hunt again but so much of their legacy is tied into succeeding despite a lack of height. How much does that mean on the open market?

But with Virginia, there’s a very specific sort of personnel issue that no one’s going to want to face but needs to be addressed immediately. I understand that when a team is riding a six-game losing streak, sweeping changes on the special teams front isn’t the place most people would start. Like Freddy Rumsen, UVA special teams coach Anthony Poindexter is a tremendous liability, but one whose value is almost entirely tied into the specific place he works and not at all transferable — before a devastating knee injury, Poindexter was quite possibly the greatest defensive player to ever set foot in Charlottesville prior to Chris Long, and he remains so much of an asset on the recruiting trail that … well, they gotta put him somewhere. And I would equate Virginia’s special teams play with ol’ Freddy peeing his pants before the Samsonite meeting, but I’m reminded of something my old school bus driver used to say: “Being a bus driver is like peeing yourself in dark jeans — it gives a warm feeling, but nobody notices.” Aside from what that says about my school district’s hiring process, if nearly half of an AP report on a game between 2-5 and 2-3 teams focuses on one’s special teams miscues, it’s not impossible to not notice. It might be best for Mike London to put Dex out to pasture for a year or so for the same reasons Don Draper made an example out of Rumsen — he makes the mistakes of his superiors look a little less raging.

Pac-12: California

Threat Level: Nelly
To the untrained eye, “following rap news on Twitter” is an impermeable, all-consuming sadness. Ah, but there really is a “saddest part about following rap news on Twitter,” and that’s when any rapper whose popularity peaked while I still had a Winamp player becomes a trending topic. That’s because there’s a good chance he’s either dead, in jail, or has just signed to Ca$h Money Records, all of which have about an equal effect on one’s career.

But when Nelly became a news item? Well, it’s been a long-ass time since the energy drink/song known as “Pimp Juice,” but I just figured he either landed a reality show or was trying to co-opt another Cardinals playoff run for his artistic benefit, like when the Astros got to the World Series and Chamillionaire made a song about it; I can assure you that both of those things actually happened as recently as 2005. I always trusted the artistic adaptability of Nelly — he made one video that cast Sherman Hemsley as an umpire, another that co-starred Tim McGraw, and another that became BET Uncut’s pièce de résistance by including a scene where he slid an ATM card through a stripper’s ass crack. How many rappers can say they did all of that? Maybe four or five, tops.

As it turns out, Nelly’s tour bus got busted with enough drugs to keep the student body of Sarah Lawrence College occupied for at least a long weekend. Nelly was obviously shocked to find out he had heroin and guns on his bus, which seems like the right thing to do; then again, my limited experience with either heroin sale and/or usage leads me to believe a literal assload of heroin isn’t the sort of thing that just “turns up” somewhere without someone frantically looking for it.

Did I say 2005 was a long time ago? Yeah, that ties in with California, who I always assumed had the same kind of adaptability that marked the storied run of the St. Lunatics. Aaron Rodgers aside, Jeff Tedford is at least known as a quarterback guru. And Cal’s in the unique situation of being an academic powerhouse that has no moral issue with taking jucos on the regular. Chalk it up to the rise of Stanford, but Cal’s slow fade into irrelevance is all but complete after another gloomy loss in The Game — the memories of Marshawn Lynch, DeSean Jackson, and Justin Forsett are as distant as “Air Force Ones” (Nelly’s last truly great song) and Tedford’s in the “dead/jail” trending topics of college football head coaches, i.e., “Sleeping Giant Programs” and “Coaches on the Hot Seat.”

Big 12: West Virginia

Threat Level: Peter Gibbons

Who hasn’t pictured West Virginia AD Oliver Luck walking into Dana Holgorsen’s office, asking him about defensive game plans, and being suffered none too gladly, like he was popping off about TPS reports? Holgo is totally wasting some poor suckers in Dishonored during this scenario as well. It didn’t look like it was going to last, but at the outset, it was actually thrilling to see this guy subvert the idea that gritty Rudy types have any place in the great game of college football. Holgorsen became a cause célèbre for who those who really wish college football more resembled its video game incarnation, and I’m pretty sure Geno Smith got to watch kung fu flicks with Jennifer Aniston. Though I may be mixing things up, forgive me … still paying for the Great Cisco Trials required to endure Virginia’s 2006 and 2007 seasons.

But obviously, the Office Space hero’s plan started to unravel quickly once a minor miscalculation accumulated enough ill-gotten earnings to be noticed. While losing by a combined 76 points in the past two weeks isn’t exactly the punishment threatened to Peter Gibbons by his attorney, it does put Holgorsen in a situation where he might come close to blowing up the joint and working construction as an exit strategy.

Big Ten: Jim Delany

Threat Level: Pulp, “Disco 2000”

By the time you’ve finished reading this, Taylor Swift will have likely sold at least 750,000 copies of Red, which isn’t all that surprising. But unlike, say, Mumford & Sons, she’s being discussed in hushed tones by the same sort of people who might be into Pulp. I have my own theories about this. You know how every high school has that one cheerleader that all the AP dudes think they have a shot at because she actually talked to them that one time? More than any pop star in recent memory, Taylor Swift has embodied that role and has a hall pass for wherever — most indie rock kids won’t let their friends say the words “indie rock records” aloud, yet she can throw it on a song like it’s nothing and who else can be lauded as relatable even while hooking up with two Kennedys at the same damn time?

But yeah, that cheerleader? They never get over it and often spend the rest of their lives expecting to be compensated for their heartbreak. That’s a paraphrase of one of Pulp’s most understandably beloved songs, “Disco 2000,” where front man Jarvis Cocker clings to the hope of winning his childhood sweetheart simply by hanging around long enough (“they said that when we grew up / we’d get married and never split up”), being nice only in the hopes of reciprocation (“I used to walk you home sometimes but it meant nothing to you / ’cause you were so popular”) and being a doormat when all else fails (“what are you doing Sunday baby? / would you like to come and meet me maybe? / you can even bring your baby”).

But in light of the relative fortunes of the Big Ten and Notre Dame, I have trouble believing it’s actually about a girl anymore. Jim Delany probably thought he’d never be out here on his own, either, with a bunch of misshapes and misfits masquerading as the proudest and hardiest football conference in the land. But the best team (Ohio State) is ineligible for the postseason and the hottest team is barely able to look itself in the mirror (Penn State). Meanwhile, the teams expected to meet in Indianapolis (Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Wisconsin) have all flopped in some way and are just hoping that Oregon finishes in the top two, because lord knows what DeAnthony Thomas would do to them in the Rose Bowl. In other words, you can picture Jim Delany sitting with his scratched copy of Different Class (pure speculation, maybe he’s a This Is Hardcore guy) wondering why he didn’t just tell undefeated defensive monster Notre Dame how he really felt about them rather than thinking a couple of nice gestures were going to be enough. And much like “Deborah,” he never thought Notre Dame would tie the knot, especially with someone like that stuck-up ACC.

Big East: Connecticut

Threat Level: Microsoft Zune
So, back in the day I knew this kid who got a Microsoft Zune for his birthday — #whitepeopleproblems, right? At least until you think of the tragicomic chain of events that had to occur for this purchase to be made. First off, the kid almost certainly asked for an iPod, at which point he explained to his parents what an iPod is. It stands to reason that his parents weren’t the most technologically savvy on the block. Then, the parents go to Best Buy, with only a vague recollection of what the kid is looking for, knowing mostly that it’s small and it plays music, and it isn’t a Discman. And with all honesty and trust in the kindness of others, they present their situation to a harried Best Buy employee who sees an opportunity to move a Zune, which makes him a hero on the sales floor. “Oh, you want this one — it’s totally what the kids are into,” he might say. “He’ll really feel special owning one of these.” Now the parents think they’ve not only given their son what he wants, but they’ve gone above the call of duty. Brandon’s gonna love his new iZoot or whatever it’s called!

The end result? The clerk grapples with the cognitive dissonance of profiting from the pain of others like it’s a Clipse song or some shit, the parents realize they’ve been hoodwinked, and here’s a kid who not only fails to get what he wants, but gets an inferior version that will only remind him of the failures of everyone involved as he watches it devalue for the next two years with no hope of it ever coming back into vogue.

On a related note, the Connecticut Huskies hired Paul Pasqualoni as a head coach in 2011 and Huskies fans would probably still take Randy Edsall back in a heartbeat.

Non-BCS: Wyoming

Threat Level: Billie Joe Armstrong
I’d prefer to not make light of what appears to be a genuine drug-fueled breakdown, even if that does seem easier in terms of pushing a new record than actually writing a song as good as “Basket Case.” But as Wyoming head coach Dave Christensen sounded off on Air Force’s Troy Calhoun in the aftermath of a chippy Mountain West game, I can’t help but think that talking shit about a guy with military experience is on par with talking shit about Justin Bieber — not only is it a bad look for a grown man, but their targets surely have guys on payroll who are capable of killing you with their bare hands.

Filed Under: College Football, Rembert Browne