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It was another great week in college football narratives. New scripts are being written, folks!
Each week, the College Football Narrative Watch will list and track narratives permeating college football, and add new ones when they arise. Keep in mind, the Narrative Watch will neither attempt to create narratives, nor purport to agree with all of the narratives listed (it may agree with all or some) it is simply a list based on the study of reactions of fans, media, and players, from week-to-week, of prevailing thoughts flowing through the college football landscape. People may feel that some of the narratives are false. That is okay. Just like life, narratives are not always fair. Regardless of their veracity, they exist. (Check out Week 1’s Narrative Watch here)
GEORGIA AND ALABAMA ARE ON THEIR WAY TO ATLANTA
After Alabama thrashed Louisville and Arkansas State the past two weeks, and Georgia impressively destroyed South Carolina in Columbia Saturday, the consensus has penciled in Georgia and Alabama as the respective SEC division winners that will meet in December’s SEC Championship Game in Atlanta:
— Saturday Blitz (@SaturdayBlitz) September 10, 2018
We’ve all seen such premature declarations go south before. Like last year:
— News-Herald preps (@NHPreps) October 3, 2017
But this year seems different. Georgia winning the SEC East is probably the safest bet in the country right now. The rest of the SEC East looks like a dumpster volcano. Alabama has it a bit tougher in the West. The Tide still has to compete with LSU and Auburn. Last year, the Barners beat Bama and knocked them out of the SEC championship game. However, this season, the Iron Bowl is in Tuscaloosa and Alabama will (barring injury) have “human cheat code” Tua Tagovailoa at quarterback, who, as the Narrative Watch discussed last week, makes Alabama “unstoppable” and “unfair.”
JOE MOORHEAD IS ALREADY BETTER THAN DAN MULLEN
Last week’s Narrative Watch highlighted the lingering narrative that Penn State head coach James Franklin is overrated and owes his recent run of success to former offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead, who took over as head coach of Mississippi State last November. Franklin looks to have Penn State back on track after a bludgeoning Pitt 51-6 Saturday. As for Moorhead, his Bulldogs passed their first real test Saturday, beating Kansas State convincingly 31-10 in Manhattan. The victory was enough for the MSU faithful to confirm their underlying suspicions that they have upgraded from previous coach Dan Mullen, who had seemingly been trying to get out of Starkville since 2015, and finally did in November when he left for Florida.
Moorhead>Mullen. Cohen>Stricklin. Thanks Florida, we really appreciate it.
— Bulldog Recruiting (@MSU_DawgPound) September 9, 2018
Dan Mullen tried to be cool. Joe Moorhead is cool.
— State Football (@mwnfootball) September 10, 2018
Thank you for taking Dan Mullen away from Starkville
— DN (@damnorcross) September 9, 2018
I’m willing to bet that many Bulldog fans believe that if Mullen was the coach, MSU would have lost to Kansas State. The icing on the cake to Mississippi State’s stellar Saturday was when Mullen’s Gators lost to Kentucky later that evening.
‘An oh did Starkville celebrate Dan Mullen’s misfortune’
– Moorhead 3:16
— Ryan Phillips (@JournoRyan) September 9, 2018
Florida comes to Starkville at the end of September in a game that has been circled by Mississippi State faithful since the day Mullen left.
The Narrative Watch suspects that the Moorhead superiority campaign will experience an extraordinary surge if Mississippi State wins that game.
DAN MULLEN HAS A MUCH HARDER JOB THAN PEOPLE THOUGHT AT FLORIDA
Speaking of Dan Mullen, few expected Florida to be great this season. However, few expected them to lose to Kentucky as 14-point underdogs at home to snap the Gators 31-game win streak over the Wildcats. That is what happened Saturday night. Regardless of the fact that Florida is rebuilding, the loss is not a good look for the new Gators’ coach. The offense, Mullen’s forte, looked pedestrian, and the defense was absolutely abysmal, allowing 303 rushing yards. When Mullen came back to Gainesville in November, the tenor around the college football landscape was that he had some good pieces and that he would be looking at a pretty quick turnaround. Now, after one bad loss, the blame-shifting to the mess left by previous coach Jim McElwain has begun:
The previous #UF staff was an abject failure on many levels, particularly recruiting. There is no magic dust that can turn average players into great ones. This is the biggest rebuild in G’ville since 1978-80. Mullen and Co. will have to be on their game recruiting wise. https://t.co/5DZqmYbFpV
— Keith Niebuhr (@Keith247Sports) September 9, 2018
Can’t fix toughness and size overnight. Mullen has a looooooong way to go but I think he’ll be fine
— Edward Aschoff (@AschoffESPN) September 9, 2018
True or not, this type of rationalization will only hold water for so long. Disclosure: I am a die hard Florida fan and alum. I know the fanbase. Florida fans must see dominance at football. Call it delusional or ridiculous, it is true. The expectations in Starkville are nowhere close to what they are in Gainesville. If there is any sense that the program trajectory is not moving toward the direction of being one of the top programs in the country, the alumni and fans will turn on Mullen fast. The Kentucky loss should not be the Gators fan’s biggest concern. What should be unsettling is Mullen’s recruiting thus far. His 2018 class, albeit with only two months on the recruiting trail, was less than satisfying on paper. In his first full cycle, the Gators are currently ranked #14th on 247sports.com’s composite team recruiting rankings. Mullen will have a very hard time trying to compete with Alabama, Georgia, and Florida State with mediocre talent.
WILLIE TAGGART IS OUT OF HIS LEAGUE AT FSU
The only thing that has gone right for Florida State head coach Willie Taggart since the start of the season is that the Seminoles won the game against Football Championship Subdivision opponent Samford Saturday night after inexplicably trailing until the last four minutes. If the FSU brass were upset with FSU getting worked by Virginia Tech on opening night at home, they are almost certainly fuming about this.
The FSU faithful were very quick to turn on former head coach Jimbo Fisher after he jumped ship for Texas A&M and a monstrous long term deal. Many folks in Tallahassee felt Jimbo was never fully invested in Florida State after his national championship run in 2013, and that he isn’t worth the bucks that the A&M is paying him. Along comes Willie Taggart, a Florida guy, to his “dream job.” Taggart is a guy who wants to be at FSU, is known for a fast, high powered offense, and has inherited a ton of returning talent. There was a positive buzz and high expectations all summer:
Desmond Howard and Lee Corso said Willie Taggart will have the most long term success of any of the new coaches in college football this year. #FSU. The Bear said the #Noles are being overlooked this year.
— Wayne McGahee III (@WayneMcGaheeIII) August 31, 2018
— ChopChat.com (@ChopChat_) July 20, 2018
Now, the excitement built up in the offseason has been all but drained in two weeks.
Florida State fans, you should be embarrassed by your program right now. Willie Taggart, through two games, is one of the biggest busts in recent coaching history. Can he turn it around? What's the problem? Call 888-573-5335 to join me on @SXMCollege 84 and the @SIRIUSXM app.
— Barrett Sallee (@BarrettSallee) September 9, 2018
Florida State should just fire Willie Taggart now.
— Greg Pollowitz (@GPollowitz) September 9, 2018
This is nothing that a few big wins can’t fix, but does Willie have the goods? The ability to repair broken programs and the ability to build championship level programs are not mutually exclusive traits. At Western Kentucky and South Florida, Taggart proved he can accomplish the former. Now, at FSU, he must convince people that he can do the latter. He’s not off to a good start.
JIMBO FISHER HAS TEXAS A&M ON ITS WAY BACK
Speaking of Jimbo Fisher, despite losing to Clemson 28-26 Saturday night in College Station, his first season at Texas A&M has started nicely in terms of the court of public opinion. The Aggies held their own against the powerhouse Tigers, and their offense appears to be in good hands with quarterback Kellen Mond. Given what Texas A&M looked like last season, Saturday night’s performance has been deemed by most as an improvement, and has convinced many that Texas A&M is well on its way to competitive football:
Texas A&M's investment in Jimbo Fisher is already paying off big-time https://t.co/0ZOfxBBQ8y
— 247Sports (@247Sports) September 10, 2018
If there is any time a loss is acceptable to a rabid fanbase, and there are not many times, this is one of them. How much longer will these types of losses be acceptable? Not sure. This will always be tricky line for Fisher, as expectations are for a head coach who is making $7.5 million over 10 years guaranteed, yet Texas A&M is in the SEC West, one of the hardest divisions in college football alongside a college football dynasty with the greatest coach in the game. But hey, if Auburn can win the division every so often, there is no excuse for Jimbo win a few, right?
SCOTT FROST WILL TURN NEBRASKA INTO A POWER
It has been a long time since coaching hire has generated as much hype as Scott Frost at Nebraska. The native son and former Huskers quarterback has been given a kings welcome back home. From the moment he was hired, the overwhelming view is that is a perfect fit in Lincoln. He worked wonders at Central Florida. After taking over a Knights program that went 0-12 the season before he was hired, he led the UCF to a 14-0 record in 2017, only his third season, including a Sugar Bowl victory over Auburn. Check out what Tim Brando said last week about Frost:
"Scott Frost is built for success and I'm going to tell you he will win multiple national titles at Nebraska, he will be competing for a Big Ten title within 3 years and he could be the next generations Nick Saban" – @TimBrando pic.twitter.com/VnBtcZcljr
— Paul Finebaum (@finebaum) September 3, 2018
One of the powers of hype is that it subconsciously pulls people to search for anything to justify it. During and after the Nebraska’s rivalry renewal game Saturday against Colorado in Lincoln, the Huskers’ performance, even in a 33-28 loss, was enough to validate, to many, that Frost will have soon have his ship rolling.
— SI College Football (@si_ncaafb) September 9, 2018
Get your licks in on the Huskers now. Won’t last long. pic.twitter.com/m6xBZ0fHGm
— Colin Cowherd (@ColinCowherd) September 8, 2018
— Michael Grey (@TheMichaelGrey) September 8, 2018
Frost’s freshman quarterback, Adrian Martinez, who unfortunately was injured late in the game last week, looks really good. Frost seems to “get it,” and with any young, vibrant successful coach, it is hard not to understand why so much excitement and hope has been infused in the program. Nevertheless, the Huskers still have to be successful on the field. The Narrative Watch will have its eyes and ears on Nebraska football in the coming months.
KEVIN SUMLIN HAS RUINED KHALIL TATE AND ARIZONA
After his first two seasons at Texas A&M, Kevin Sumlin was one of the hottest coaches in the country. Here’s Outkick’s fearless leader, Clay Travis, who advocated for his beloved Titans to hire Sumlin after the 2013 season, and wrote this after Sumlin’s Aggies beat South Carolina on opening night in 2014:
“I think this was a dynasty kind of win for Kevin Sumlin’s program. Several years from now I believe we’ll point back to this win as evidence of the program’s ascension.”
That never happened. Texas A&M consistently regressed, and Sumlin was fired last November. He landed at Arizona and was handed a dynamic quarterback, Khalil Tate, who Sports Illustrated considered a front-runner in the Heisman race.
After two games, Tate’s Heisman campaign is effectively over. The Wildcats lost their first game 28-23 at home to BYU, then were boat raced 45-18 at Houston on Saturday. For some reason, Sumlin and offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, have decided to try and turn Tate, whose biggest strength is his legs, into a drop back passer. Tate only had eight rushes against BYU and seven Saturday. According to Sumlin, after the first half, an injury to Tate’s left ankle forced the Wildcats them to alter the offensive gameplan. Maybe that has been a problem all season. Regardless, to most, the blame for Tate and the Wildcats’ struggles falls on the shoulders of Sumlin:
Maybe. Sumlin and Mazzone totally misusing Khalil Tate imho https://t.co/LZ1ON2tuAC
— Andrew Adams (@AndrewAdamsKSL) September 8, 2018
Kevin Sumlin and Noel Mazzone with another baffling offensive plan. Tate has just three rushes (-5), and that pitch on fourth-and-short was out of horrific play call central casting. Just a gross effort by Arizona today.
— Pete Thamel (@PeteThamel) September 8, 2018
Kevin Sumlin Is Wasting Khalil Tate And Losing Because Of It https://t.co/aFcI4whabm
— The Big Lead (@thebiglead) September 9, 2018
While Tate’s Heisman hopes seem to be toast, Arizona still is 0-0 in conference play. Sumlin has to figure it out fast if he wants to thwart the negative narratives.
HERMAN EDWARDS HAS PROVEN EVERYONE WRONG
Meanwhile, while Kevin Sumlin is taking heat at Arizona, Herman Edwards feeling the opposite as the head man at rival Arizona State. When ASU hired Edwards in December, the lovable former NFL coach, who “plays to win the game,” they were mostly excoriated by the media (one exception being many ESPN current and former employees who worked with Edwards over the past nine years), and many Sun Devil fans.
— Mike Jurecki (@mikejurecki) November 30, 2017
So Herm Edwards is gonna be the CEO of Arizona State football? I feel a Golden Parachute buyout in a few years!
— John Patrick (@JPktik) December 4, 2017
Is there any chance Arizona State hiring Herm Edwards is not a complete failure? https://t.co/hiHpvKY7wm
— Carson Cunningham (@KOCOCarson) December 4, 2017
It was a strange hire. Edwards, who had been an NFL analyst at ESPN the past nine years and hadn’t been involved in college coaching since 1989, was plucked from the broadcast booth. But notwithstanding predictions to the contrary, Edwards has the Sun Devils 2-0 out of the gate, including a huge 16-13 win Saturday night over 15th ranked Michigan State in Tempe. This one victory was enough to get the Herm supporters gloating and some media folks eating crow. Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples has already concluded that the “Herm Edwards experiment is going to work,” that the Sun Devils should be better than they were under Todd Graham, and that “the future could be bright.” Here are some more examples of Herm love:
— Cover 3 Podcast (@Cover3Podcast) September 10, 2018
— New York Post (@nypost) September 10, 2018
So is America gonna stop mocking Herm Edwards now?
— RJ Choppy (@rjchoppy) September 9, 2018
Herm Edwards just beat Mark Dantonio in his second game at ASU and maybe he really is a genius and I can’t believe I’m typing this.
— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) September 9, 2018
The Narrative Watch will keep a keen eye on this. Since when does one out-of-conference home win justify a hire? I’m old enough to remember when folks were gushing over new UCLA coach Rick Neuhesiel in 2008 after the Bruins beat a ranked Tennessee team at the Rose Bowl in Neuheisel’s first game as head coach. The Vols ended up finishing 5-7 that season, and UCLA never really got going under Neuheisel, who was fired in 2011 after leading UCLA to a 21-29 record in four seasons. Let’s see if Herm Edwards can avoid this type of trajectory. You play to flip the narrative.
Fred Segal is an attorney from West Palm Beach, FL. He operates the popular Freezing Cold Takes twitter account (@OldTakesExposed) which highlights, among other things, hilarious unprophetic and inaccurate takes and predictions.