Misery Index message for Ole Miss' Lane Kiffin: Maybe troll less, coach more

Lane Kiffin has been a college coach for 134 games. When’s the last one that left you saying, "Man, that’s an incredible win. I don’t know how he pulled that one off?"

Here’s the answer: At the end of the 2011 season, when Kiffin was coaching Southern California, he took a team in the middle of a postseason ban and won on the road at Oregon, which was ranked No. 4 and right in the national championship race.

Putting that aside, could you name Kiffin’s next-best win by ranking? It was at the end of the 2020 season when Ole Miss beat No. 8 Indiana in the Outback Bowl. Indiana, folks. Indiana.

The point of this historical exercise is that there’s a pretty large sample size now suggesting that Kiffin − who wins a solid 65% of his games − will beat most of the teams he’s supposed to beat but basically never delivers the kind of program-changing or even credibility-building victory that most coaches need to get even a fraction of the publicity he does.

Mississippi coach Lane Kiffin walks off the field after his team's 24-10 loss to Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Mississippi coach Lane Kiffin walks off the field after his team's 24-10 loss to Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

To be clear, it’s hard by definition to beat top-10 teams. It's not something you can expect all the time, especially at a place like Ole Miss that is often middle-of-the-pack in the SEC.

But doing it once in awhile would be nice. And Ole Miss is the most miserable fan base in America this week because he’s in his fourth year and it hasn't happened yet.

The Misery Index, you see, is not about identifying the worst teams in the land. It’s about digging deep into the psyche of people who live and die with their program and figuring out who hates their entire existence because of a college football game in a particular week.

Ole Miss fans often live in this territory because of the school's status as one of those programs that can occasionally tease greatness only to be smacked back to reality by one of the SEC’s bluebloods. You kind of get used to it after awhile. But this time, against arguably the weakest Alabama team of the last decade, Ole Miss fans could have rightfully believed they could win this game.

And they didn't come particularly close.

Ole Miss’ 24-10 loss was a Nick Saban statement game: Alabama might make a lot of mistakes, and it might not have the most dynamic offense these days. But it’s still a lot better at winning football games than Kiffin’s team, whose offense was bottled up most of the game and also botched opportunities to make big plays when they were available.

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Kiffin, who was Saban’s offensive coordinator from 2014-16, might have lost the game at the beginning of the week when he made a comment suggesting he believed cornerbacks coach Travaris Robinson was calling Alabama’s defense instead of coordinator Kevin Steele based on film.

Why would he do that? Maybe he simply believed it was true and couldn’t help himself from saying it out loud. Maybe he was trying to be provocative and play mind games with an Alabama staff that had its hands full after a couple bad performances this season. Maybe he was trying to take pressure off his own team by finding a topic that would suck up all the oxygen during game week.

Regardless of the reason, it was a bad idea. Kiffin should know by now you never, ever, ever give Saban and Alabama a villain. And given his horrendous record in these kinds of games − not just against Alabama but pretty much any good team − maybe it’s time to think about trolling less and coaching more.

Four more in misery

Notre Dame

Let's start with this. On the most important play of Notre Dame's season and of Marcus Freeman’s coaching career thus far, the Irish had 10 players on the field. After a timeout that was called by Notre Dame to get organized on defense. When all the Ohio State needed to win was one yard. How does that happen? How do you live that down unless you win a national championship? In the game of the year thus far, that numerical advantage at the line of scrimmage was very possibly the difference between Notre Dame securing a truly monumental win and eating a 17-14 loss. There were plenty of other sliding doors moments down the stretch, including questionable clock management on the Irish’s previous offensive possession, a dropped interception and Notre Dame choosing to rush three on third-and-19 three plays before the winning touchdown. But that’s all 50/50 type football stuff. It happens. Having 10 on the field when you need to stop a run up the middle or you lose the game? That’s unacceptable and an expensive lesson for the 37-year-old Freeman. “It's on us. We gotta be better,” he told the media. More specifically, you have to be better.

Clemson

For the second time in the last three seasons, the Tigers’ College Football Playoff hopes are over by the end of September. After making the CFP for six consecutive years before that, it’s a change Clemson fans aren’t going to particularly enjoy. But it's also the new reality of being replaced at the top of the ACC by Florida State, which went into Death Valley, got outplayed for the majority of the game and still won 31-24 in overtime. Given all the attention on Dabo Swinney’s rejection of the transfer portal as a roster-building mechanism, it was probably fitting that the game-winning touchdown came via receiver Keon Coleman, who was plucked out of the portal after two seasons at Michigan State.

But more of the focus will be on Swinney's game management, which is fair. Clemson played poor situational football from questionable calls in key spots to clock management issues to the overtime where quarterback Cade Klubnik made a poor choice to throw the ball on third-and-1 when Swinney wanted a running play (maybe, in the future, that should be made clear instead of giving him a run-pass option). Oh, and Clemson’s kicking situation was so dire that this week it brought back Jonathan Weitz, a former walk-on backup who had left school and was about to start a new job in New York. He ended up being asked to make a 29-yarder with 1:45 remaining to take the lead and, predictably, could not do it. Everything Swinney touched turned to gold from 2015-2019. Now, it seems like he can't do anything right. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, but the bottom line is that at 2-2, the rest of Clemson’s season is merely playing out the string.

UCLA

No game is over after one play from scrimmage, but if you are a Bruins fan, you could have turned off the television Saturday and comfortably predicted what was going to happen over the next 59-plus minutes against Utah. And none of it was good. The Utes’ 14-7 win was about as commanding and comfortable as you will ever see in a game decided by one score, and it was probably destined to be that way as soon as highly touted freshman quarterback Dante Moore threw a pick-six on the first snap. From that moment on, UCLA did not look like a team with much chance to do anything offensively, which isn’t supposed to happen when Chip Kelly is your coach. Though the Bruins did finally put together a long drive midway through the fourth quarter to get points on the board, the rest of their possessions added up to 152 yards on 58 plays. Moore should have a lot of good days as a college quarterback, but it’s not so easy when the other team is physically overwhelming. Utah was pretty much everywhere, and Moore didn’t have much chance to come up for oxygen. UCLA is going to win some games this year, but against any team with a good defense, it’s going to be pretty tough to watch.

Virginia Tech

Now that Tennessee is good again, apparently college football needed a new Tennessee. What we mean is a program whose fan base grew up with a lot of success in an era that is no longer relevant to what matters now, and the memory of that success is making everyone confused about what the expectations should be and what's necessary to get out of a multi-year spiral. Much like Tennessee, Virginia Tech has few natural advantages other than the passion of its fan base. There are a lot of good players in the state of Virginia, but convincing them to come to a small, somewhat remote college town in the mountains isn’t the easiest task. The Hokies’ previous coach, Justin Fuente, was not good at this particular part of the job. And it has left their program in a very bad place as they spin the coaching wheel for a second time since Frank Beamer’s retirement. But at a time when you can flip rosters pretty quickly, it’s reasonable to ask why Brent Pry is losing 24-17 to Marshall having already lost to Purdue and Rutgers. Performances like this put Virginia Tech firmly in the running to be the worst team in the Power Five

Trending toward misery

Deion Sanders

For the first time ever, the Misery Index is including a fan base that is not actually of a school. Actual Colorado fans who have watched years and years of bad football understand what happened in Oregon’s 42-6 victory and can't be too upset about it because this is all gravy right now. But Prime fans, the ones who never really watched or cared about college football before he went to Boulder, are completely melting down about how the Ducks used all the attention on Colorado as motivation and rubbed it in with fake punts from their own side of the field, unnecessary fourth-down conversions and bravado from coach Dan Lanning. Sorry to break it to you, but Colorado is still a long way from being a top-level team despite its magical 3-0 start. And Oregon made sure everyone knows it. But here’s some reality: There will be some more days like this. College football is not going to just lay down and clear the path for Deion’s championship parade. This is competition, folks. Get used to it.

GET US NOW: Deion Sanders has message after Oregon loss

Minnesota

With a touch more than 17 minutes remaining, the Gophers led Northwestern 31-10. Against a team that has been dealing with all sorts of off-field dysfunction in the wake of coach Pat Fitzgerald being fired this summer, Minnesota probably felt it was in pretty good shape. It did not feel that way at the end of the game, having blown the entirety of that lead before the humiliation of a 37-34 loss in overtime. Minnesota fans do not ask for much, which is why it’s a great spot for P.J. Fleck to be treated like a hero for winning eight or nine games without much scrutiny on his “Row the Boat” culture, which has always seemed a little contrived but seems to be generally effective. But it would be perfectly acceptable if Minnesota fans asked him not to lose games like that to the worst team in the Big Ten.

Texas Tech

If you can’t score two touchdowns, you should not be allowed to call yourself an Air Raid program. Texas Tech, which was one of the Air Raid originals under the late Mike Leach, didn’t do much Airing or Raiding at West Virginia. In fact, Texas Tech completed just 15-of-43 passes in a 20-13 loss that puts them at 1-3 on the season. Granted, the weather conditions were tough with rain and some wind. But they were tough for both teams. Texas Tech managed to lose despite having a 321-256 advantage in total yards and finishing plus-2 in the turnover battle. It also didn’t help that starting quarterback Tyler Slough suffered an early injury and couldn’t return. But backup Behren Morton has enough experience to expect that Texas Tech would be better than 2-of-18 on third down. The Red Raiders have lost all three games against FBS opponents this year by one score.

Connecticut

The Huskies were one of the nicer stories last season, reaching bowl eligibility in Jim Mora’s first season. The hope it generated was even enough to get UConn onto the Big 12 expansion radar, which many fans were excited about even though the current situation of playing independent football and being a Big East member in everything else was working pretty well for its men's basketball program. But fast-forward a few months, and it’s pretty clear that UConn doesn’t need its schedule to be more challenging anytime soon. After a 41-7 loss to Duke at home in front a few thousands people to drop to 0-4, this is more like the UConn that convinced the school’s administration to give up dreaming big in football and instead focus on sports where it can win.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss smacked by Alabama. Maybe troll less, coach more