John Cooper is not a name that gets brought up often anymore in college football, but he represents a very specific period in history that many younger fans don't remember and cannot conceive.
Cooper coached the Ohio State Buckeyes for 13 seasons, an undeniably long run in which he won three Big Ten titles, posted five top-10 finishes and twice finished as national runner-up. In 1996, Cooper won every game (including a classic Rose Bowl over Jake Plummer-led Arizona State) except one.
The lone loss was to Michigan.
Cooper, in fact, lost quite a lot to the hated Wolverines. Too much, as it turned out. Despite all his success, a 2-10-1 record against Michigan defined his entire era and ultimately cost him the job. After a 38-26 loss in 2000, Cooper was done.
The one thing we know for sure is that Ohio State will never let that happen again. No Buckeyes coach will ever match 2-10-1 against Michigan because they’ll be fired long before they’re allowed to.
WEEK 13 WINNERS, LOSERS: Michigan thrives, while Ohio State and Clemson dive
It's hard to believe that history is suddenly relevant again at Ohio State, but it’s certainly worth remembering after the Buckeyes lost to Michigan for the second consecutive year, 45-23, in a game that shaped both the Big Ten and College Football Playoff races.
Ryan Day is now 45-5 as Ohio State’s coach. It is hard to do much better. But never has Day’s position felt more tenuous than right now, as he is now responsible for the first two-game losing streak to Michigan since Cooper’s firing.
And it’s not just the losses, either. It’s the nature of them. Michigan has been the more physical team, the more disciplined team and the better coached team the last two years. No matter how good Ohio State looks against the Big Ten dreck it faces on a week-in, week-out basis, it reflects poorly on the entire program when the offense and defense both short-circuit against a real opponent.
Right now, the only conclusion to be drawn is that Jim Harbaugh has Ohio State’s number at the moment. And that’s a very uncomfortable place to be for a Buckeyes program that has a lot of advantages over Michigan, including a better roster.
What good does a talent advantage do, however, if the other team plays with more purpose and toughness the way Harbaugh has coaxed out of Michigan the last two years?
That fundamental reality, combined with the impossibly high standards of the Ohio State fan base, will put Day on notice. He officially enters 2023 on the hot seat, and the Buckeyes end the 2022 season as the final No. 1 in the Misery Index, a weekly measurement of which fan bases are feeling the most angst about the state of their favorite program.
Four more in misery
Oklahoma: On the same night former Sooners coach Lincoln Riley completed an 11-1 regular season and former Sooners quarterback Caleb Williams all but locked up the Heisman Trophy, Oklahoma fans had to watch their team straggle through another ridiculously disappointing performance in a game that didn’t really matter to the College Football Playoff picture.
After a 51-48 overtime loss to Texas Tech, the Sooners end the regular season 6-6 – the worst showing since 1998 when John Blake went 5-6 and was fired.
A year ago, when Riley made the shocking decision to take the USC job, a lot of Oklahoma fans were bitter. But as all fan bases do, they eventually convinced themselves that not a lot would change under Brent Venables, who had proven himself as one of the best defensive coordinators of the modern era during his tenure at Clemson.
In reality, though, Venables is not on Riley’s level as a head coach – not right now, anyway, and probably not ever. Riley is a unique talent. Venables, to this point, looks like just another guy struggling to make the transition to the head coaches’ chair.
Certainly a lot of it has to do with personnel. When Williams transferred to USC and a few other key players left the program as often happens during coaching changes, it put Oklahoma in a bind. But 6-6 is hard to fathom for a program that has won 10 or more games in 13 of the last 16 seasons. If Venables doesn’t show progress next year, Oklahoma might have some tough conversations about where the program goes from here.
Oregon: If there were a Hall of Fame for sports meltdowns, the Ducks’ collapse against Oregon State would be a strong candidate for direct entry. Leading 31-10 after a 42-yard field goal late in the third quarter, it seemed Oregon was all set to wrap up a spot against in the Pac 12 title game. Even if the Ducks weren’t going to make the Playoff, it would have been a fairly satisfying season for first-year coach Dan Lanning. But after Oregon bungled the fourth quarter of this game, losing 38-34, it will be hard for fans to feel good about the Ducks finishing 9-3.
When you’re up by that many points with so few possessions remaining, all you have to do to win the game is avoid fatal mistakes on offense and force the opponent to use up time when they have the ball. Oregon was not successful on either front.
The Beavers’ four scoring drives that flipped the game took 1:49, 1:33, 11 seconds and 1:28. Meanwhile, Oregon punter Alex Bales dropped a snap at his own 2-yard line, and the Ducks did not convert fourth-and-1 from the Oregon 29 with 9:39 remaining despite leading 34-31.
The former was an execution mistake. The latter was a panic call by Lanning, whose decision-making was also questionable when Oregon blew a lead and lost 37-34 to Washington two weeks ago.
Lanning is young and inexperienced, and perhaps he will learn how to better handle these situations. But for now, it’s pretty hard for Oregon fans to stomach blowing a three-touchdown lead to an in-state rival with so much on the line.
Clemson: Dabo Swinney likes to talk. Put a microphone in front of his mouth, and you never know how long he’s going to filibuster or what he might say. Last week, he delivered a pretty provocative quote about Tennessee’s flop against South Carolina, essentially saying the Vols took for granted how difficult it would be to win their last two games and get into the College Football Playoff.
"They’re like, OK we beat South Carolina, we beat Vandy, they’re in the playoffs. They’re flipping burgers at the house having a cold drink watching the championship weekend, saying, 'What are we 3 or 4? Where we going?' And next thing you know, you forget you've gotta go play."
Swinney wasn’t exactly being disrespectful to Tennessee, he was accurately assessing a state of mind that can get teams beat. But unfortunately for Swinney, his own team didn’t get the message. After a 31-30 loss to the same Gamecocks, knocking Clemson out of the playoff picture for certain this time, the Tigers will head into a crucial stretch in the sustainability of their program as a national contender.
Sure, 10-2 is a good season with a possible ACC title to come. But this has been a clear fall from the level Clemson was playing at between 2015-2019, and a microscope will have to be put on the staff Swinney surrounded himself with. Swinney values loyalty and familiarity, so it was no surprise he promoted from within on offense (Brandon Streeter) and defense (Wes Goodwin) when his staff got raided. But it’s also true that the biggest transformation at Clemson happened a decade ago when Swinney went outside to hire Chad Morris and Brent Venables as coordinators. Can Clemson get back to the elite level without a major shakeup? The way Swinney approaches this offseason will reveal a lot about his state of mind because this season and this loss to South Carolina was no fluke. After dominating the rivalry between 2014-21, Clemson’s defense gave up 414 yards while its passing game floundered (8-of-29 for 99 yards). That's not an acceptable result for Clemson, and something needs to change.
Mississippi: It would be difficult to mangle a week of coaching carousel rumors worse than Lane Kiffin. After going back-and-forth with reporters on Twitter while alienating fans with some wishy-washy comments about whether he’s actually a candidate for the Auburn job, it’s not a great look to then lose the Egg Bowl, 24-22, at home in Oxford no less.
It was fairly clear that Kiffin and his representatives at Creative Artists Agency, led by super agent Jimmy Sexton, were leveraging Ole Miss and Auburn against each other to get the maximum value out of his next contract. And that plan delivered: Kiffin is staying at Ole Miss on an extension that is expected to be six years at $9 million per year with rollovers that will effectively make it an eight-year contract.
Should Ole Miss fans be happy or upset about this? Honestly, it could go either way. Kiffin is a pretty good coach who understands how to quickly rebuild rosters through the transfer portal, and winning 18 games over the last two years is solid work overall.
But it is a ridiculous contract, and Kiffin's 8-4 record this year was a scheduling mirage. The best team the Rebels beat was Kentucky, and they sputtered to the finish with four losses in their last five games including a no-show against Arkansas (42-27) and the ugly loss to Mississippi State. Odds are that this contract will look like pure administrative incompetence in three years.
Miserable but not miserable enough
Miami: No fan base is happier this season has ended than the Hurricanes, who have endured a string of unacceptably lopsided losses. In finishing 5-7, Miami lost by 14 to Middle Tennessee, by 24 to Duke, by 42 to Florida State, by 30 to Clemson and finally by 26 to Pittsburgh. You’re not supposed to commit $80 million to a big name coach and get worse, but Miami has actually pulled it off under Mario Cristobal. Who knows what the future holds, especially if Cristobal recruits the way his track record suggests? But his first year has undeniably been a bust, and it will take something special early in Year 2 to get that fan base to buy in again.
Northwestern: This team really went all the way to Ireland for its opener, won the game against Nebraska, then came back and lost 11 in a row on U.S. soil. Assuming Pat Fitzgerald survives – and there's little reason to think Northwestern is considering a coaching change – it’s time for a serious re-evaluation of pretty much every aspect of his program. Being pretty good in the 2010s does not mean much if you are completely embarrassing in the 2020s. And going a combined 4-20 over the last two seasons with wins over Indiana State, Ohio, Rutgers and Nebraska is the embodiment of failure.
Memphis: There will be some chatter around Memphis in the coming days about whether the school needs to fire Ryan Silverfield, whose tenure has seen the Tigers go backward from a team that was regularly contending for a New Year’s Six bowl game to 6-6. But do the Tigers really want to pay a roughly $5.6 million buyout to a coach when the bottom hasn’t fallen out completely? Memphis might be more motivated after a dispiriting 34-31 loss at SMU in which the Tigers had first-and-goal at the SMU 9 with 48 seconds left and never even got the chance to kick a tying field goal as quarterback Seth Henigan threw an interception.
Florida: The most baffling part of the Gators’ 6-6 season is that there’s chatter quarterback Anthony Richardson could turn pro after completing 9-of-27 passes for 198 yards in a 45-38 loss to Florida State. This would not be a good look for first-year coach Billy Napier because it would suggest that Richardson, who is clearly nowhere close to NFL-ready at this point, thinks it would be too risky to his future earning potential to stay and develop. Napier might get some grace for being a first-year coach, but the Gators are closer to Missouri and Vandy than Georgia and Tennessee in the SEC East hierarchy. That isn’t where they’re supposed to be, no matter who the coach is.
Rutgers: Greg Schiano, Part 2 is not going well. The Scarlet Knights’ 4-8 season ended with an uncompetitive 37-0 effort against Maryland, which means Rutgers was out-scored 202-48 over five consecutive losses. Since Schiano came back to campus, he’s 6-21 against Big Ten teams and is looking increasingly like a coach whose best days are behind him. Competitively, moving from the Big East to the Big Ten was always going to be a difficult proposition for Rutgers, but it simply must be better than this. Every other Big Ten program – even Indiana – has shown signs of life in the past decade. Rutgers is still comatose, and if the best coach in school history can’t do it, you have to wonder who can.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ohio State's Ryan Day has two-game losing streak against Michigan