There is nothing worse as a fan than hearing a narrative attached to your program time and time again, only to have it reinforced by events that occur shortly thereafter.
Regardless whether it's true or not, the narrative about the recent run of Vanderbilt football success is that it began when James Franklin stepped on campus and ended when he left for Penn State.
Never mind that Franklin actually won with players recruited by his predecessor, Bobby Johnson. Never mind that Vanderbilt was likely going to take a big step back this year regardless after some key personnel losses and a roster that was trending much younger. Never mind that Franklin's record was somewhat inflated by a weak SEC East and pedestrian (at best) non-conference scheduling. Never mind that from a facilities and commitment standpoint, the program is actually set up much better to compete now than it was just a few years ago.
The facts are that Franklin went to bowl games each of his three years at Vanderbilt and twice won nine games, and his successor lost 37-7 at home to Temple in his first game as a head coach. That's what people see when they look at Vanderbilt, and until Derek Mason proves otherwise that's what they're going to think.
Still, the Misery Index was a bit taken aback this week by the level of panic within the Vandy community over that performance.
After years of being beaten down by the SEC, Franklin ignited something within them, made them believe anything was possible. But after seeing how bad the Commodores looked in their first game under Mason, it's almost as though the fan base reverted right back to the "SOV" – Same Ole Vandy – mentality. Message boards are aflame. Fans are questioning whether Mason is in over his head. They are cursing offensive coordinator Karl Dorrell. Some are even conceding a return to the dark days before Franklin when a loss to Temple would barely register a shrug of the shoulders.
In other words, Vanderbilt fans are indeed overreacting just like every other fan base in America. Congratulations! You've made it!
(Disclaimer: This isn't a ranking of worst teams, worst losses or coaches whose jobs are in the most jeopardy. This is simply a measurement of a fan base's knee-jerk reaction to what they last saw. The way in which a team won or lost, expectations vis-à-vis program trajectory and traditional inferiority complex of fan base all factor into this ranking.)
1. Vanderbilt: No major conference team performed worse on opening weekend than the Commodores. Not South Carolina, not Wake Forest, not Syracuse, not Iowa State. Temple may turn out to be a lot better than people think, but Vanderbilt was pathetic. That doesn't necessarily mean anything long-term. It was one game. Stuff happens. The long weather delay may have been a variable they didn't handle very well.
But what was most concerning about that performance is that Vanderbilt played with zero energy or toughness. None at all. Mason is a very different type of personality than Franklin, but that's fine as long as certain intangibles translate from Mason's time at Stanford. David Shaw isn't a big rah-rah guy either, but the Cardinal play with toughness and confidence. That's not what Vandy looked like against Temple. In fact, the Commodores looked soft. If Mason's teams play soft, that isn't a good indicator that the Stanford formula is working in Nashville.
2. South Carolina: Is it possible to go from legitimate dreams of an SEC title to sky-is-falling panic faster than the South Carolina fan base did on Thursday night? After nearly a decade of Steve Spurrier, there are two things Gamecocks fans can usually count on: Beating Clemson and almost never getting blown out. The first is still in tact at least for a few more months, but the second was obliterated by Texas A&M. How do you lose 52-28 at home? Can you think of a top-10 team that has ever looked worse in a season opener?
It was so bad, even Spurrier was left to mock the preseason hype about his team. Somehow, everyone just bought into the idea that South Carolina could lose the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft in Jadeveon Clowney and another terrific SEC defensive lineman in Kelcy Quarles and not really feel the impact. Yeah, that was dumb. South Carolina is certainly better than it showed against A&M, but the fact that South Carolina fans can't even hold onto those fantasies for one week is crushing. We'll see if the Gamecocks can recover, but whatever their fans thought this team could be is probably impossible now.
3. Florida International: It may be a big leap here to assume that FIU has fans, given that announced attendance for its opener was 14,053 and there were certainly fewer actual bodies in the stadium to witness a 14-12 loss to Bethune-Cookman. But what few remain after so many missteps by this athletic department in recent years have to be absolutely horrified at the state of the program. What's more embarrassing: That FIU lost to Bethune-Cookman or that Vegas actually had them as underdogs in the game?
Meanwhile, FIU generated national headlines this weekend for a petty spat with the only news organization in the world that cares enough to cover them, refusing to issue a credential to Miami Herald beat writer David Neal. From the way it dismissed a highly-respected and successful coach in Mario Cristobal to earning a basketball postseason ban for APR issues, everyone in the industry knew long ago that FIU was a Mickey Mouse operation. Now the secret is out.
4. Boise State: Remember when the Broncos used to be good? Remember when they showed up for those big season-opening games and routinely made major conference programs look foolish for scheduling them? Well, those memories may be fading quickly for the rest of us but Boise State fans remember – and they can't be pleased with a 35-13 loss to Ole Miss that pretty much dooms them to irrelevance the rest of this season. The sad part for Boise State is that Ole Miss didn't even play that well.
But the Broncos couldn't take advantage of three Bo Wallace interceptions and 14 Ole Miss penalties, looked laughably inept in the red zone and continued a trend of mediocre quarterback play ever since Kellen Moore left campus. The façade of being a nationally elite program is falling apart, and even if first-year coach Bryan Harsin is great, it's impossible for him to look great in comparison to what Chris Petersen accomplished. Boise may be a very good Mountain West program, but the Ole Miss game emphasized that is indeed all they're capable of being this year and probably beyond.
5. Houston: It's hard to know when the phrase "Coogin' it" made its way into the lexicon of Houston sports fans. Maybe it was losing the 1983 NCAA basketball final, when a Houston team with two of the top-50 players in the history of the sport lost to N.C. State. Maybe it was 1990, when David Klingler led the Cougars to No. 3 in the nation before crashing back to earth at Texas. Either way, it's scary how often this athletic department has appeared on the cusp of something big over the years before "Coogin' it" and sending their fans into trauma once again.
The latest example? Friday night. Houston opening a new $120 million on-campus stadium. A defense that returns pretty much everybody and a quarterback who looked like a potential star last year as a true freshman. Hopes of winning an American Athletic Conference title and getting into a major postseason game for the first time since the 1984 Cotton Bowl. After an entire offseason of anticipation for that, Houston laid an all-time egg, losing 27-7 to a Texas-San Antonio program that didn't even exist until 2011. Houston had just 208 yards of offense, committed six turnovers and really couldn't have looked worse. That's "Coogin' it."
6. Colorado: When a program is bad for long enough, there comes a moment when fans start to wonder if it can really be fixed. You've changed coaches. You've committed resources. You've convinced yourself 100 times that things were on the verge of turning around, only to get smacked in the face with evidence that it was a false start. What makes all of this worse for Colorado, though, is that another program in the state – a "lesser" program, if you will – has gone through a lot of the same issues over the past decade and appears much further along in fixing them.
Since 2005, when both Colorado and Colorado State made a bowl game, the two programs have more or less been equally terrible. They have each gone through multiple coaching changes. Thus, a Colorado fan has every right to wonder after a 31-17 loss to the Rams on Friday why they still appear to be miles away from competing in the Pac 12. Don't write off Mike MacIntyre yet, but this is a major setback loss for Colorado. At some point, you have to show signs that you are making up ground, and it stings to know that Jim McElwain at Colorado State is doing it much faster. Colorado will probably never regain the nationally elite status it held during the 1990s, but is being the best program in the state too much to ask?
7. Iowa State: The hard part about being an Iowa State fan is that you go into every season now in the new era of the Big 12 knowing there's really only one program in the league in worse shape than yours. (Thank goodness for Kansas, right? Of course, taking the longer view of history, Iowa State would have to beat the Jayhawks eight straight times just to pull even with them in the all-time series.) In other words, there are going to be a lot of bad days for this program between now and the end of the season. Iowa State fans can deal with that. They're used to it, and they expect it.
But Saturday wasn't supposed to be one of them. FCS power North Dakota State coming in and beating an FBS team is nothing new by this point. But still…34-14? Iowa State fans must now come to terms with the very real possibility of an 0-12 season. Even the two most winnable games on their schedule – Oct. 11 against a solid Toledo team and Nov. 8 at Kansas – are looking pretty shaky right now. And that's a pretty awful thing to have to think about on Aug. 31.
8. Northwestern: The theme from Northwestern this summer was that the program had never been more united on the heels of a disappointing 2013 and an offseason that brought plenty of off-field drama whether it was the unionization attempt or losing talented running back Venric Mark to a suspension and then transfer. But at some point Saturday during a 31-24 home loss to California, realization for Northwestern fans had to set in. The program has slipped. It's hard to pinpoint how or why, but it really looked for a while like Pat Fitzgerald's run of success was built to last.
As it turned out, smacking around Mississippi State in the 2012 Gator Bowl to finish 10-3 may have been the high point. Northwestern just hasn't been the same since a heartbreaking home loss to Ohio State last October, losing eight of their last nine overall. The energy and verve isn't there, and the execution obviously is lacking. Northwestern opened last season with a 14-point win against a California team that would go on to finish 1-11. This year, the Wildcats lose at home to the same team after falling behind 31-7 in the third quarter. Things could get even uglier next week, too when Northwestern faces always dangerous Northern Illinois.
9. Alabama: It seemed premature a year ago for Alabama fans to freak out after a very lackluster performance in the season opener against Virginia Tech. As it turned out, everything was fine – right up until Chris Davis went to the back of the end zone just in case a field goal at Auburn came up short. But this time, Alabama fans probably have good reason to worry a little. The Crimson Tide have one athletic freak after another on offense, and Blake Sims did enough in his starting debut to show that Alabama should at least be passable at quarterback. But that defense? What in the name of Courtney Upshaw and Rolando McClain has happened there?
It's not just a blip anymore. It's a legitimate concern. Alabama's secondary is still bad. The Crimson Tide still struggles with high-tempo offenses. And if West Virginia's receivers had caught half the passes they dropped Saturday, it could have been much worse. Texas A&M, LSU, Auburn and Ole Miss couldn't have minded what they saw out of the Tide.
10. Southern Miss: Last year's edition of the Misery Index took it easy on Southern Miss, and a season-ending victory at UAB to stop a 23-game losing streak at least gave fans a little bit of hope going into 2014. But Saturday's 49-0 loss at Mississippi State had to just stink for them. For years as it churned out bowl games and big victories Southern Miss desperately wanted a shot at Ole Miss and Mississippi State but couldn't get their in-state rivals to play them.
Finally when they get the chance, their program is in the tank and Mississippi State's is on the rise. There were many years when this wouldn't have been a complete mismatch, but those years now appear to be well in the past. And Southern Miss fans can only be left to wonder what could have been.