The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Money is having a hard season in college football. Poor money.

“We had critical errors in all three phases,” Texas A&M Coach Jimbo Fisher said Saturday after losing to Mississippi State. (Vasha Hunt/AP)

We know money can’t buy happiness, but you would think at least it could buy some first downs. Money has struggled loudly lately in college football, as if its deafening reign over the topics of the offseason left it all egomaniacal and bloated. Poor money.

Money’s season has gone so haywire that it looks as if the football peasants will convene Saturday in Dallas, with moneyed Lilliputian Oklahoma (3-2) up against moneyed Lilliputian Texas (3-2), with the winner getting to make a boast that falls in the forest. The giants, meanwhile, will gather 432 miles north/slightly northeast in the longtime football nowhere of Lawrence, Kan., where less-moneyed TCU (4-0) visits less-moneyed Kansas (5-0).

Money talks but backward, like those ancient phonographs alleged to howl if played in reverse. Snobbery, long a key tenet of college football, has capsized here and there and over there, too.

There’s a $95 million coach at Texas A&M helming a team that looks so-so in his fifth season and a $95 million coach at Michigan State helming a team that looks sub-so-so in his third season. While some of us might spend $95 million on charity or luxury or apartments strewn from Paris to Sydney, boosters spend $95 million on riveting spasms of semi-educated guesswork about coaches. How boosters do decorate our culture.

“We had critical errors in all three phases,” Texas A&M Coach Jimbo Fisher said Saturday after a 42-24 thumping at Mississippi State, Game 53 in College Station for him. It’s 3-2 this season right now, but go ahead and chalk up a fourth season out of five with at least four losses — right after a No. 1 recruiting class — and do wonder when a staggeringly devoted fan base might reach the classic stage known to many a college town through time: simply tiring of a coach’s voice.

Maybe credit for Fisher’s national title, wrung from 2013 at Florida State, might tilt ever more toward the quarterback, Jameis Winston.

Oklahoma is in deep trouble (college football winners and losers)

Maybe Texas A&M, which departed the Big 12 for the SEC in 2012, should do something novel.

Maybe it ought to go back.

Oklahoma and Texas, of course, go Texas A&M’s way — by 2025 if not sooner. They announced this tectonic shift to the SEC in summer 2021 with promises of bringing more money to the SEC and earning more money from the SEC, stoking people to speak of money and money and money. They have gone a combined 11-11 in the Big 12 since, 1-3 this year. On Saturday came something even more gobsmacking than Kansas’s 57-56 win at Texas last November: TCU’s 55-24 annihilation of Oklahoma this October.

First-year Oklahoma coach Brent Venables, fresh off years helping steer the decorated Clemson train, sprinkled his remarks to reporters in Fort Worth with, “Incredibly, um, uh, disappointed,” and, “We’re not very good, obviously, right now,” and, “We’re just not playing with great cohesion” and “panicked a couple times” and “nobody in the same Zip code” (on defense) and “incredibly inconsistent” and so . . . “We were bad, but we’re not that bad, but it happened.”

They gave up good grief. They gave up 275 rushing yards to Kansas State on Sept. 24 at home and 361 rushing yards to TCU on Saturday on the road. They gave up 148 rushing yards and four touchdowns to a quarterback (Adrian Martinez), then 116 rushing yards and two touchdowns to a quarterback (Max Duggan). They gave up 1,177 total yards within eight days.

At Clemson, Venables long coached the defense.

Of course, Oklahoma’s defense never did carry it to those four College Football Playoffs it reached, with yards-per-play rankings through recent years of 80th, 82nd, 102nd, 63rd, 26th (in covid-shortened 2020), 79th and, before Saturday, somehow, 23rd. Then TCU hurled it back to 67th in a day. “Most concerning,” linebacker David Ugwoegbu said to a question from the Daily Oklahoman’s Jenni Carlson, “[is] just how we don’t start games as fast and as intense as I would like.”

Well, Texas did start rapidly and intensely later in the day, going up 35-7 toward a 38-20 win in Austin over West Virginia, which has begun to suggest it will rent the Big 12 basement this year. This not only looked like one of the Longhorns’ lapses into elite prowess during the muddy past 13 seasons crammed with gigantic money and 69 losses (69 more than planned) but also kept the twin defectors to the SEC from remaining winless in the Big 12.

By Saturday, one of them will take another loss, excellent preparation for the SEC. In the meantime, Oklahoma State, one of the entities spurned by the SEC and Oklahoma for not having enough money, just upturned snobbery again, scored an impressive 36-25 win at Baylor and reached an impressive 4-0 after an impressive Fiesta Bowl win last time around.

Taulia Tagovailoa keeps his poise and leads Maryland past Michigan State

Giddiness aplenty was outside the money. Nobody confuses Purdue with aristocracy, but Devin Mockobee’s 68-yard run in an upset at Minnesota became a marvel of videotape. Liberty certainly hopes to be aristocracy someday, but for now check Jaivian Lofton’s 34-yard catch with one hand so casual you might start laughing. And dabble in aristocracy because we must, because we must check and recheck the astonishing 77-yard run of Alabama backup quarterback Jalen Milroe that turned the game at Arkansas. Note how he looked like some special-effects creation, and note that Alabama manages its resources so well that it has had two major Jalens from the Houston area in the past six years, the other now playing in Philadelphia.

But more so, check the sudden mirth at TCU, where wise coach Sonny Dykes, 52, needed to remind people: “We had a lot of things go our way today. And we just have to understand that that happens sometimes [and] have to go back to work.” Or check Duggan, in his fourth season at TCU, who said, “I understand what I’m supposed to do on each play, each down.”

Or, wait, check Kansas. Always check Kansas. Its 14-11 hold-off of Iowa State looked nothing like its 55-42 win at West Virginia, its 48-30 win at Houston or its 35-27 win over Duke. It even featured an emotional thicket for any viewer who ever sympathized with Kansas (23-118 in the previous 12 seasons) but also sympathized with kickers (Iowa State missed three field goals, including one at the close).

“Like I said before the season,” charismatic Kansas quarterback Jalon Daniels said, “adversity’s going to come at some point.” That’s novel; normally a Kansas quarterback in preseason might say adversity’s going to come, sit down and hang around, but Kansas handled the adversity with less money.

Then go to the situation at Michigan State, whose contract for Coach Mel Tucker last December rocked the sport with booster profligacy all over the place and who went 11-2 nicely in Tucker’s second season but whose last three games have thudded. “The Spartans’ loss at Washington two weeks ago [39-28, not that close] was alarming,” wrote Graham Couch of the Lansing State Journal. “The defeat to Minnesota last week [34-7, not that close] a new low. Saturday’s 27-13 loss at Maryland was confirmation that MSU won’t overcome its shortcomings,” making it “probably a 4-8 or 5-7 football team.”

Money shouts, then money groans, and nothing groans quite like $95 million.

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