Texas and Florida are the top two football powers in the country, but their last few seasons have been more than disappointing. Can they still be elite?
The “top 25 college football” is a list of the top 25 teams in the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision. Texas and Florida are two traditional powerhouses that have recently been struggling, but could they be at their lowest point?
It’s a hectic time at the Bottom 10 offices. It’s always the case. Because, as the Bible says, there is no rest for the gloomy… um, tired. And these days, as the 2021 college football season trudges into the oasis (or, most likely, a mirage) that is December, there is SO much tired, and therefore SO little rest to be found.
But, for once, we’re not looking at the typical culprits in the Bottom 10. You’re familiar with the sorts. Those mid-major teams who have trouble holding off FCS opponents that are smaller and weaker. Or a multi-time Bottom 10 champion like Kansas, which was rated at the top/bottom of our rankings only a week ago, partly due to the Jayhawks’ continued road woes, with a record of 56 Big 12 defeats away from Lawrence.
Instead, as last Saturday unfurled like wax paper origami, our gaze was diverted elsewhere. First, a Florida team that came within a quarter of winning the SEC title a year ago became one of those teams we’ve seen before, the ones who can’t stop a typical FCS attack.
Then we saw the Kansas game, but we weren’t paying attention to it. That historically bad road streak came to an end in overtime, with a one-point victory on the home field of the once-proudest of all Big 12 rivals, the University of Texas. We were peering through the Bottom 10 looking glass, seeing Dan Mullen and Steve Sarkisian, like Eddie Murphy in “Beverly Hills Cop,” fall through it.
In case you’re curious, the Bible scripture in question is from the Book of Lamentations, chapter 5, verse 5: “Our assailants are on our tails. We are exhausted and unable to sleep.” Lamentable, to say the least. From the Day-Glo drapery of Florida’s Swamp to the charred, nay burned out colors of Texas’ DKR Memorial Stadium, mischief was draped in two very different shades of orange.
Seven national championships, 40 conference crowns, five Heisman trophies, approximately 1,700 victories, nearly 100 consensus All-Americans, and 103 bowl appearances have been shared between Florida and Texas.
Despite this, they are a combined 9-11 with two weeks left in the regular season, and both will spend their next two regular-season games attempting to win the eligibility that would grant them their 104th and 105th bowl trips, respectively.
Despite this, the Gators found themselves in a rope-a-dope predicament against FCS Samford last weekend. With a 4-5 record and a fifth-place finish in the Southern Conference, the Bulldogs arrived in Gainesville with high expectations.
Despite this, they scored 42 points in the first half, a Florida opponent record. Even though they lost 70-52, they tied for the most points scored by an FCS club against an FBS school since the NCAA split the two divisions in 1978, with 530 yards of offense, the most an opponent has placed on Florida’s defensive stat sheet this season.
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Sarkisian could have gone onstage with a fire extinguisher every time he stood to the platform in the last month and a half. He has lost five consecutive games as the school’s fourth head coach in less than a decade. So his postgame press conferences have been spent addressing game losses, transfer losses, players lost to injury (star running back Bijan Robinson was announced Monday as being out for the season) and a reported loss of locker room morale, an issue exacerbated by an assistant coach’s Quentin Tarantino-esque f-bomb rant on the team bus after one of those losses, which was recorded and posted by a Longhorns player.
It’s the ideal illustration of what occurs when a high-profile football team like Texas loses a bunch of games. Since the days when teams boarded railroads and horse-drawn carriages, assistant coaches have been chewing down players on the way home following losses. When everything is operating well, it’s a fleeting memory that the outside world either never notices or dismisses if it does.
But when you’re losing, everything becomes a thing, to steal a term from a friend of mine who lives in a home full of teens. Replacement rumors, rumors about approaching NFL possibilities, rumors about rumors about rumors that someone suggested may become rumors. There is a thing for everything.
“What we forget in these circumstances is how it impacts the players, who are all still kids,” said Roman Harper, a former Alabama All-American who went on to play 11 years in the NFL and is now an SEC Network commentator. “How your coach handles things when things go difficult is important.”
Harper should be aware of the situation. He was recruited by head coach Mike DuBose, played for Dennis Franchione until “Coach Fran” shocked the team by leaving for Texas A&M after two seasons, spent a few months under Mike Price before being fired for using his corporate credit card for adult purposes before coaching a single game, and finished with two seasons under Mike Shula, who was fired one season after Harper left for the pros.
Midseason firings of assistant coaches can work if done correctly, but not if they come across in the locker room as haphazard, emotional decisions made with no explanation to the players themselves — the people who were recruited by those assistants and who also work in position rooms with them every day. It’s a far closer bond than they’ve ever had with their head coach.
Harper continues: “That’s when, as a teenager working 24 hours a day, they begin to wonder, “Where do I truly belong in here?” It’s impossible to give all you’ve got for that man if you don’t feel like you’re all in this together. As though they were a genuine squad.”
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In other words, that’s a terrific way to go from almost defeating No. 1 Alabama at home in Week 3 to being a hot mess unable to defeat South Carolina or Samford less than two months later. Alternatively, from a 4-1 squad that came within a touchdown of defeating then-No. 6 Oklahoma in Dallas on Oct. 9 to a club that hasn’t won a game since.
Only the folks who work in those locker rooms in Gainesville and Austin are aware of the true nature of the environment. It’s all about the air being blown in and out of the room.
“Outside noise isn’t a concern, according to coaches in such circumstance. If they tell you that, they aren’t telling you the truth “Lou Holtz, who has had seven head coaching positions, six of them in college, says. “The greatest counsel I can offer them is to speak to previous head coaches who have been in their positions, men who have had high-profile jobs, men who have lost their jobs, and men who have kept their jobs under dire circumstances. You don’t know what you don’t know, and you won’t know till you’ve been there.”
Mullen and Sarkisian don’t have to search far to find people who understand how to lose and live. They may begin with us, those of us who have spent our lives in the Bottom 10 multiverse. They don’t even have to inquire about instructions to get here. They’ve already started hammering on the door.
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