ARLINGTON, Tex. — Woe, that familiar element in the jampacked lifeblood of college football, has gone venturing into frontiers. It has sprinkled itself across the land into places that haven’t dwelled with it and don’t know it so well. Cup your ear. Hear the fresh wails.
Woe has reached Florida State, which has a new coach and stands a dismantled 1-2, with even the lone win an indictment and an escape at home against FCS Samford, wedged between routs by Virginia Tech and now S-S-Syracuse. Woe has plunged even more deeply into Nebraska, which has a new coach and stands 0-2, with home losses to Colorado and the admirable mood-killers of Troy.
Woe has settled firmly enough to enjoy the weather at UCLA, which has a new coach and stands 0-3, with home losses to Cincinnati and now Fresno State, both hardy sorts from the sneered-at Group of Five. And woe has begun to build a mansion at Arkansas, which has a new coach and stands 1-2 after a right mauling by 44-17 at home against North Texas, which pulled off a fake fair catch for a 90-yard touchdown, after which the actor and scorer said of the defenders, “One of them actually asked me, ‘Why didn’t they blow the whistle?’ I didn’t say anything.”
Woe is deep and serious.
This isn’t the woe that visits, say, Ole Miss against Alabama. That woe has stuck around for eons. Ole Miss sinned against nature by beating Alabama in 2014 and 2015, so it has spent 2017 and 2018 atoning by a combined 128-10 after the 62-7 loss of Saturday, which featured Ole Miss grabbing a lead it held for 80 seconds before that lead vanished in the 81st and then proceeded to stay profoundly vanished from there. That’s time-honored woe.
There’s woe at Wisconsin, which suffered Brigham Young’s impressive 24-21 win-of-the-day, but that’s the woe of being plucked from the heavens of the mock College Football Playoff lists. There’s woe at Auburn, which again saw a lead (this time 21-10) wither against LSU, which won on Cole Tracy’s gutty 42-yard road field goal at closing time, but that’s the woe of the good-but-not-great. There’s woe at Rutgers, which just lost 55-14 at K-K-Kansas, but Rutgers knows some woe even if nobody knows woe like 55-14-to-Kansas woe. There’s woe at Northwestern, which lost 39-34 at home to Akron, which didn’t get to play Nebraska on Sept. 1 because of lightning, which might come as a whew to Nebraska, but Northwestern has seen some major woe in its days, if not particularly lately.
No, the unfathomable woe at Florida State is the fresh and harder kind. So after a 30-7 annihilation at Syracuse, the Tallahassee Democrat reported: “Eight different GoFundMe accounts have been created to pay for Willie Taggart’s buyout if he were to be fired this season,” with Taggart being Florida State’s new coach, three games in.
Continuing, there came a sentence of an even more profound sadness: “There’s a combined $10 in the accounts.”
“Please don’t give up on this football team,” Taggart told fans, via reporters, in Upstate New York, where Southern teams don’t tend to go to get drilled.
Next comes Northern Illinois, at home, which becomes a match of strange intrigue to be witnessed by a number not all that relatively much more than several. After that come trips to Louisville and Miami. How deep could go the woe coming off the presumed-woeful 7-6 season from which Jimbo Fisher fled to Texas A&M? Remember, many of those beholding it lived consciously during the 1990s, when Bobby Bowden’s Florida State went 109-13-1, or through the 14 seasons (1987-2000) during which it won no fewer than 10 games.
Others, wee children back then, may not recall it but have had it embedded into their systems enough to feel jolted. They know it’s a disruption of self-identification decorated diabolically with penalty flags (11 on Saturday).
The woe at Nebraska follows upon the 4-8 of last year, and upon 14 years of so-so woe, which just entrenched itself further when the Cornhuskers lost, 24-19, Saturday at home to Troy. From here: at Michigan (ooh), Purdue at home, at Wisconsin (ooh). Scott Frost, that desperately craved new coach: “It’s always darkest before the dawn.”
Here’s a strand of woe the generations from the mid-20th century on never imagined: A coach from Troy (the excellent Neal Brown) kindly provided encouragement Saturday with, “I want to say to the Nebraska fans, you’re going to be fine. Those guys over there, like Scott Frost, and those guys he has on defense, that staff in particular, they’re going to get it done here.”
So said the coach from a place so many could not pinpoint on a map, so here: It’s about midway between Montgomery and Dothan in eastern Alabama. It has almost 20,000 residents, 14,000 students. It has the motto, “Educate the mind to think, the heart to feel and the body to act,” but it ought to add to that, “and the football team to sadden tens of thousands of home fans in distant kingdoms.”
There have been 189,239 such fans at LSU in 2017 and Nebraska in 2018, unworried tailgaters and others who have headed into stadiums to see Troy gain 17-0 leads on their lads both years, then hold on both years, then both years stoke the fine cheek of Troy’s Twitter account, which on Saturday went: “Oops, we did it AGAIN!!!”
“Well, at first, I was kind of nervous being back there,” Troy’s Cedarius Rookard told reporters of his early, tone-setting, 58-yard punt return, “probably just because it’s Nebraska. I’m not saying that they, like, scare me or anything, but it was just nervous because of me being back there by myself.”
His nerves steeled, as did any nerves belonging to Fresno State, which walloped UCLA, 38-14, at the Rose Bowl, or North Texas, which destroyed Arkansas at the Hallowed Home of Hog. UCLA must go to Colorado, welcome Washington, go to California, then welcome Arizona in a bowl of misery. Arkansas must — and some of this is almost unspeakable — go to Auburn, welcome Texas A&M, go to Alabama.
“No one feels sorry for you,” all-the-rage new UCLA coach Chip Kelly said, even as some of us kind of do.
“We’ll start off by looking right in the mirror,” new Arkansas coach Chad Morris said, while wishing he could look around the implement to find a player such as one he once recruited to Clemson, Deshaun Watson.
Loud on Saturday were the achievers from that second-tier Group of Five, the woe-wreakers: Brigham Young, Troy, North Texas, Fresno State, San Diego State (which beat Herm Edwards’s Arizona State). Fresno State Coach Jeff Tedford: “I never get caught up on the Group of Five or Power Five.” North Texas Coach Seth Littrell: “I don’t think it’s an upset.”
Louder still are those bigger places unaccustomed to the woe, for they have more woe-wearers. Somehow, this coming Jan. 1 will mark 25 years since the 1994 Orange Bowl and de facto national-title game in which Florida State nudged Nebraska, 18-16, and the tension surged even if the scoreboard didn’t, and teams combined to try three field goals (two good) in the final 76 seconds. Nebraska would win 2½ national titles the ensuing four seasons, Florida State two in the 1990s. In homage now, they could bring back Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward and Tommie Frazier and Bowden and Tom Osborne et al., stash them on the sidelines as a poignant backdrop, invite in Florida State and Nebraska, call it the Woe Bowl. It’s one of the few bowl names not yet taken.
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