Every Saturday night, Ari Wasserman and David Ubben react to the weekend’s slate of games on “Until Saturday.” On Mondays, they revisit the biggest takeaway from Saturday night’s instant reaction. This week: Ari and David examine the 10 fan bases that should be most disappointed with the start of the 2023 season.
College football Saturdays can be filled with happiness. But not for everyone. The beauty of the sport is that horror is waiting around the corner for more than a few teams every fall, too.
No matter what Ted Lasso says, it truly is the hope that kills you. And for many fan bases, preseason hopes have given way to the crushing reality of the 2023 regular season. Which fan bases are most disappointed with what they’ve seen?
We examined the top 10.
Call the Tigers overhyped if you must, but coach Brian Kelly and the Tigers beat Alabama and won the SEC West in his first year on the Bayou. Kirby Smart played for a national title in his second year at Georgia, so why couldn’t Kelly see the year two bump that coaches like Smart, Alabama coach Nick Saban and former Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops have seen in the past?
Instead, LSU gave up a 38-3 run to Florida State in an embarrassing Week 1 loss that was only a preview of what was to come. Ole Miss scored 55 in a Week 5 win over the Tigers, and LSU needed a 15-point comeback to survive a trip Saturday to Mizzou. And superstar defender Harold Perkins’ misuse throughout the first month of the season has been maddening for anyone watching.
In a season that began with national title chatter, the Tigers look certain to take a step back this season under Kelly and need something borderline supernatural just to win the division again. Quarterback Jayden Daniels has improved, but the defense ranks an embarrassing 127th nationally in yards per play allowed.
2. Texas A&M
Maybe Texas A&M wasn’t supposed to win the SEC at this point in its build. After all, it spent the entire offseason trying to fix its dysfunctional offense, and it moved to a new quarterback. But we entered the weekend with many thinking the Aggies could (or should) win at home against Alabama.
With a win, Texas A&M would have earned the notch on its belt teams get for beating Alabama, and it would have been the favorite to go on to win the SEC West. Texas A&M has been dying to get to the SEC Championship Game, and this year should’ve been an opportunity to get there.
Instead, Texas A&M played the exact game it wanted to play and lost. Now, the Aggies have two losses — one to Miami in nonconference play — and we’re heading into mid-October with more of the same stuff from coach Jimbo Fisher. Because of Fisher’s enormous buyout of around $77 million, making a change in leadership is more complicated in College Station than it would be at other places. The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman has reported that A&M will “find that money” if Fisher doesn’t get things going.
Notre Dame nearly had Ohio State. It was the Irish’s time to go out and beat a team loaded with talent, something they were incapable of doing under Brian Kelly. For the majority of the game in South Bend, Ind., Notre Dame was in control. But Ohio State mounted a comeback and won on the last play of the game. Infamously, there were only 10 players on the field on the final two plays of the game. Ohio State barely got the ball into the end zone running to the area where the defender was absent. Torture.
Two weeks later, Notre Dame’s offense appeared completely broken in a loss at Louisville. Coach Marcus Freeman may still be in the building portion of his tenure, but there are real questions about his ability to manage the game on Saturdays. If Notre Dame can’t do it with Sam Hartman at quarterback, what’s it going to take?
Sampson: Notre Dame, Marcus Freeman must do more to help Sam Hartman
Clemson has been sliding out of the same tier as Georgia and Alabama for the past few years, but this season seemed to promise a return. Coach Dabo Swinney hired Garrett Riley to run his offense, the Tigers boasted one of the most talented rosters in the country and quarterback Cade Klubnik came in with some game experience.
Clemson began the year with an embarrassing loss to Duke — one where its offensive deficiencies from a year ago were still present — and the season began in a way that was too similar to the past two years.
After Clemson lost a hard-fought game to Florida State at home, the Tigers are sitting with two losses and are out of the College Football Playoff picture before October. It also has a head coach who seems to have a fundamental misunderstanding of how important the transfer portal is in 2023 and beyond.
The Red Raiders were a trendy pick to contend for their first Big 12 title and send Texas and Oklahoma off to the SEC looking up at those in Lubbock. Instead, Texas Tech lost at Wyoming after racing to a 17-0 first-quarter lead and dropped to 0-2 with a home loss to Oregon a week later in a game it led by nine in the fourth quarter.
It fell to 1-3 two weeks later with a road loss to West Virginia in which it mustered just three points in the first three quarters and never led. And making matters worse, quarterback Tyler Shough might be out the rest of the year with a broken fibula.
The offseason was full of such promise, but Joey McGuire’s team didn’t need to wait long to be humbled.
It’s never a good sign when the head coach deletes his social media and the first-year offensive coordinator on his second run at the program gets in hot water for sending snarky emails in response to angry fan mail.
But this is where Arkansas currently resides. The Hogs were replacing both coordinators this offseason but still had quarterback KJ Jefferson and running back Rocket Sanders returning, one of the best and most experienced one-two punches among any offensive backfield in the SEC. Coach Sam Pittman had won 16 games and two bowls in his last two seasons, but the Razorbacks’ big step back has put plenty of sudden heat underneath Pittman’s seat.
Arkansas lost at home to Liberty last season, lost at home to BYU this year and is mired in a four-game losing streak as it prepares to travel to Alabama. The Hogs coughed up a winnable game at LSU, too. Despite all the experience and proven ability on offense, Arkansas under coordinator Dan Enos ranks last in the SEC in offensive yards per play, in part because of major struggles along the offensive line. That doesn’t play well with fans when the head coach is an offensive line coach by trade. Arkansas’ only FBS win is over a depleted Kent State team that hasn’t beaten an FBS team this season. A loss to Alabama would mark Pittman’s first five-game losing streak in Fayetteville.
Two years ago, Dave Aranda was hoisting a Sugar Bowl trophy and celebrating a Big 12 championship. Now, the Bears have a case as the Big 12’s worst team. Uncompetitive losses to Texas Tech and Texas followed a lopsided loss to Texas State and a fourth-quarter home debacle against an injury-riddled Utah team. It’s already been a nightmare on the Brazos, but the slow decline of the program has been curious — and a concern, especially in a year Baylor was picked to finish sixth in the 14-team league.
In the only win over an FBS team this season, Baylor needed to erase a 35-7 deficit against a UCF team that has yet to win a Big 12 game and is in its first year in the league.
Baylor has missed bowl games only twice since 2010, in the first seasons under former coach Matt Rhule and Aranda. But this Bears team looks a lot like some of the Baylor teams that became accustomed to being the Big 12 doormat in the early years of the league and didn’t play in a bowl game from 1994 to 2010.
The Roadrunners won 23 games the past two years and were a trendy pick to compete for a New Year’s Six bid after moving up to the AAC this season. Star receiver Zakhari Franklin’s late defection to Ole Miss came as a surprise and a huge blow, but Jeff Traylor’s team is 2-3 with losses to Houston and Army and a 31-point loss at Tennessee where the Roadrunners were barely competitive. Star senior quarterback Frank Harris missed the Army and Tennessee games, and the reasons the year has gone awry are easy to pinpoint. But this was a young program’s first and best shot to break through to mainstream success, and it’s clear it won’t be happening this year.
Can someone explain how coach Mario Cristobal had a hard-fought win over Georgia Tech in the bag and single-handedly blew it for his team and fan base? Instead of taking knees to end the game, Cristobal ran offense and handed the ball off. His running back fumbled the ball with fewer than 30 seconds remaining. Georgia Tech recovered. A few defensive breakdowns later, Georgia Tech found the end zone and a win.
Miami started 4-0, which included a win over Texas A&M, and it was about to go to 5-0. But fundamental misunderstanding of how the QB kneel works (he hasn’t kneeled all year) cost it a win and derailed all of its momentum.
Miami is dying for a winner. It may have been on the way to getting one. Then its head coach lost a game in inexcusable fashion.
Miami’s mind-numbing loss to Georgia Tech defies explanation. Now what?
Former Notre Dame and Boston College quarterback Phil Jurkovec came to Pitt to reunite with offensive coordinator and QBs coach Frank Cignetti Jr. Instead, Jurkovec is exploring a move to tight end.
Coach Pat Narduzzi had won 20 games and an ACC title in the past two seasons and finished in the Top 25 in both seasons. It was a bit lofty to expect to compete for an ACC title this year, but no one expected the Panthers to be flirting with the basement of the league. The Panthers don’t have an FBS win but did lose to first-year Cincinnati coach Scott Satterfield and rival West Virginia. They also suffered a pair of 17-point conference losses to North Carolina and a meager Virginia Tech team.
Pitt skidded into its idle week on a four-game losing streak, but the program’s face plant has been hard to believe. The ACC preseason media poll had Duke and Pitt tied for sixth place.
Dishonorable mention: USC
USC is 6-0, what do Trojans fans have to be upset about? Well, they know the bear is coming for them.
They may feel a little sense of comfort in the fact that USC is undefeated, but after barely skirting by Arizona in triple overtime late Saturday in Pac-12 After Dark action, it is clear yet again that the Trojans don’t play defense. Heck, if Arizona coach Jedd Fisch would have gone for it at the end of the first overtime, there is a legit chance Arizona would have won.
Go look at the back half of USC’s schedule. Five of its last six games in the regular season are against opponents that came into the weekend ranked. Notre Dame, Utah, Washington, Oregon and UCLA are all waiting. And they are salivating watching coordinator Alex Grinch’s defense give up big play after big play.
Everyone loves to talk about how awesome Lincoln Riley is with quarterbacks, and it’s true. But is there a bigger waste of talent than what USC is bound to do with Caleb Williams? He’s a generational quarterback prospect, and he’s likely going to miss the College Football Playoff in both years in Southern California.
Williams won a Heisman Trophy and will be the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft, but what could USC have been this year or last with a semi-functional defense?
(Photo of LSU coach Brian Kelly and quarterback Jayden Daniels: Michael Chang / Getty Images)