Misery Index Week 4: Miami still mediocre despite massive investment in Mario Cristobal

The competition for No. 1 in this week’s Misery Index was perhaps as fierce as it’s ever been. So many schools regretting the choices that led them here, so many athletics directors and boosters who had the wool pulled over their eyes. You think inflation is bad at the grocery store these days? The same college football mediocrity that would have cost $10 million to pull the plug on 15 years ago is now a $70 million-or-more proposition. 

It’s a vicious cycle, too. Sink in a lot of money, realize the results aren’t changing, sink in more money and hope. But desperation does not usually lead to great decisions, which brings us to the decision Miami made last December.

It is perfectly justifiable for any college football program to hire Mario Cristobal. Very good recruiter, good guy, and a coach who is unlikely to embarrass you. But the reason Miami hired Cristobal is largely because he’s one of them: A Miami native, a Hurricane alum, a guy who knows every nook and cranny of South Florida.

To lure Cristobal, Miami had to reportedly lay out at least $80 million over 10 years – nearly double his Oregon salary – along with other major financial commitments that the school was previously reluctant to make. That makes sense if you’re getting Nick Saban or Urban Meyer. If you’re doing it for the guy who was merely pretty good at Oregon, it’s a gamble that might well suck your program deeper into the vortex of despair.

Mario Cristobal's Miami team lost 45-31 to Middle Tennessee on Saturday to fall to 2-2 on the season.
Mario Cristobal's Miami team lost 45-31 to Middle Tennessee on Saturday to fall to 2-2 on the season.

There has been no larger gap between investment/expectations and results this season than Miami, which lost 45-31 to Middle Tennessee on Saturday. There’s no way to spin this: It’s a putrid loss for the 2-2 Hurricanes, who look no different (and maybe a bit worse) than the teams of the last couple years that got Manny Diaz fired.

Everything about this performance was bad for Miami, which entered the game as a 25½-point favorite and immediately fell behind 17-3. Tyler Van Dyke, considered a potential all-ACC quarterback in the preseason, was benched in the third quarter. Miami had a window of opportunity to get back in the game but didn’t convert a fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line to start the fourth quarter and then gave up a 98-yard touchdown pass on the very next play.

When you’re allowing 16.3 yards per passing attempt to a Middle Tennessee team that lost 44-7 to James Madison earlier this year, that’s a problem. When you’re only able to run it 38 times for 60 yards against a Conference USA-quality defense, that’s almost unforgivable.

The team’s energy was bad. The crowd in Hard Rock Stadium was bad. The coaching was bad. It was the exact same Miami script of the last decade and a half, only at a much higher price and with a team that was projected to be solidly in the top 25.

HIGHS AND LOWS: Winners and losers led by Clemson, Tennessee

WHAT YOU MISSED: Texas A&M, Kansas State top the five biggest things

LETTER GRADES: Our report card looks at the best and worst of Week 4

MISERY INDEX: Miami still mediocre despite massive investment in Cristobal

TOP 25 RUNDOWN: Scores and results from the biggest games in Week 4

That’s why Miami edges out the field for the top spot on 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

Michigan State: Speaking of investments and contracts that are unlikely to yield the desired result, the Spartans making Mel Tucker one of the sport’s highest-paid coaches with a 10-year, $95 million contract looks ludicrous at the moment.

Tucker obviously did a terrific job in 2021, leading the Spartans to an 11-2 record and No. 8 ranking. But it was only his third year as a head coach, including a 5-7 season at Colorado in 2019 and a 2-5 record in 2020 that was difficult to measure because of the COVID-19 situation. Maybe Tucker will turn out to be one of the game’s elite coaches. Or maybe 2021 was a complete fluke. Either way, Michigan State was so worried about Tucker being poached by LSU or some other blueblood job that it gave him a contract so far above the market he couldn’t say no.

That’s not Tucker’s fault, obviously. But when you sign that kind of deal, the minimum expectation is competence.

Michigan State, at the moment, does not look like a competent football program after losing 34-7 to Minnesota in a game that was never competitive. On the heels of Sparty’s 39-28 faceplant last week at Washington – a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score – it would be natural if there’s some buyer’s remorse. But given that Tucker is owed 100% of his contract if he's fired, the reality is he’s going to have to find a way to make things work or else it’s going to be very uncomfortable in East Lansing the next few years.

Texas: Pointing out ways in which the Longhorns are not “back” is a hobby for all college football fans, but there’s a pretty clear trend that is holding them back from being, well, back. They just can’t finish. In Steve Sarkisian’s 16 games as head coach, he now has nine losses after falling 37-34 in overtime at Texas Tech. But in four of those nine, Texas has held a double-digit lead late in the third quarter. In another earlier this season, Texas led Alabama 19-17 with 1:29 remaining but gave up a 61-yard drive for the winning field goal.

Texas has only been blown out a couple times under Sarkisian – early in 2021 at Arkansas and at Iowa State. Every other game has been very winnable, and yet the Longhorns haven’t won a lot of them.

Saturday, Texas blew a 31-17 lead and needed a brilliant sequence by quarterback Hudson Card at the end of regulation to drive 46 yards in 21 seconds for the tying field goal. But then, even with all the momentum, star running back Bijan Robinson fumbled on the first play of overtime. Until Texas can figure out how to hold leads and win close games, the idea of being “back” will continue to sound like a tired joke.

Missouri: Curses are not real, but Missouri football sometimes makes you believe they might be. Anyone associated with that program can give you the laundry list of near-misses, self-inflicted collapses and bizarre debacles that have robbed them of glory.

From the “Fifth Down” that allowed Colorado to beat the Tigers in 1990 to Nebraska’s kicked deflection touchdown in 1997 as time expired while fans flooded the field thinking they had won, Missouri specializes in dread and self-loathing.

We can be honest that the stakes Saturday at Auburn were not quite as big. The only implication of this matchup was which coach would leave on shakier ground. Still, it was a very Missouri moment to lose 17-14 in overtime after Harrison Mevis, their All-American kicker, missed a 26-yard field goal on the final play of regulation. And that was only a prelude to the hilarity that ensued in overtime when running Nathaniel Peat was a step away from the winning touchdown but extended the ball toward the goal line and fumbled it out of the end zone before he crossed the plane. Even with all the cruel losses Missouri fans have experienced, that is something they’ve never seen before.

Boise State: It has happened gradually, and somewhat quietly. But Boise’s long run as college football’s favorite off-brand powerhouse is over. What began as a minor fall-off from Chris Petersen to Bryan Harsin has become a spiral to the bottom. It has happened under Andy Avalos, who was one of the best players in Boise history but is on track to be the program’s least successful coach since the team's transition to the Football Bowl Subdivision in the mid-1990s.

Avalos is now 9-7 as head coach after a 27-10 loss at UTEP on Friday night. The next day, he fired offensive coordinator Tim Plough and replaced him with Dirk Koetter, the head coach from 1998-2000 who started this entire run before moving on to Arizona State and the NFL.

It’s a desperate move for sure, but it might be the last card Avalos has to play before the school has to take drastic measures

Boise State bucked the odds for a long, long time in this sport, posting 10 top-15 finishes in 13 seasons under three different coaches. Harsin was ultimately not quite as successful as his predecessors, but he still managed to win three Mountain West titles and keep the Broncos nationally relevant. The further Boise strays from that era, the harder it’s going to be to get the mojo back. 

Miserable but not miserable enough

North Carolina: There was a lot of hype about Mack Brown bringing Gene Chizik back to Chapel Hill to run the defense, given some moments of relative success in that role in 2015 and 2016 as well as their successful partnership years ago at Texas. But this iteration is going poorly to say the least. The Tar Heels gave up 335 yards to Florida A&M, 649 to Appalachian State and 421 to Georgia State, but it didn’t really bite them until Saturday in a 45-32 loss to Notre Dame. The Irish, which hadn’t scored more than 24 points in any game this season, exploded for 576 yards. North Carolina seems to still be a long way from contending for anything significant.

Oklahoma: Maybe the Sooners are leaving the Big 12 to get away from Kansas State. For the third time in the past four years — and the second straight time in Norman — Oklahoma stumbled against this vexing opponent, 41-34. If you’re an Oklahoma fan, though, it’s worth wondering why a program that hasn’t sniffed a Big 12 title in a long time has suddenly become a terrible matchup against a supposed College Football Playoff contender. And why defensive guru Brent Venables hasn’t been able to get much done on that side of the ball.

Virginia Tech: It’s hard to know how to apportion the blame between former coach Justin Fuente, who left a pretty talent-deficient roster, and new coach Brent Pry, who isn’t doing much with it. Either way, the Hokies are a very bad football team that seems miles away from changing its reality after a 33-10 spanking from West Virginia.

SMU: There’s nothing wrong with hard feelings when your coach leaves for the school across town, but the poster at an SMU tailgate of Sonny Dykes sitting with Osama bin Laden might be taking things just a bit too far. And for bitter SMU fans, losing 42-34 to Dykes will not make the pain go away anytime soon. That said, it’s not the first time this rivalry has overheated. It would be better for everyone to take the temperature down in the future.

Georgia Tech: As awful as the Yellow Jackets have been, they actually had a chance to beat UCF and mounted a breakout offensive performance with 438 yards. But the fact they only scored 10 points to show for it in a 27-10 loss underscores why head coach Geoff Collins will likely be deposed sooner rather than later. Not only did Georgia Tech turn it over three times in the red zone, they also missed 32- and 37-yard field goals and had a punt blocked and returned for a touchdown. Georgia Tech has had four punts blocked in four games, which on its own should be enough to make fans find another team to root for.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Mario Cristobal's first season leading Miami hits low in loss to MTSU