Forde-Yard Dash: Hot seats starting to melt (and ADs that could go down because of it)

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (Buyer’s remorse sold separately in Baton Rouge):

More Forde-Yard Dash: Oklahoma reigns | Contender or pretender? | AAC scheduling snafu

FIRST QUARTER: YOU BREAK IT, YOU PAY FOR IT

More than ever, athletic directors tie their own fates to the high-profile coaches they hire. An AD may survive one bad hire in football or men’s basketball, but likely not two. And for some of them, one major miss might be enough to send them both packing.

Which is why this is an uncomfortable Sunday for a couple of ADs at what were once football powerhouses. After terrible losses Saturday, fans aren’t just mad at their coaches – they’re mad at the guys who hired those coaches.

Start at Nebraska, where Mike Riley (1) is entering the danger zone – and bringing athletic director Shawn Eichorst (2) with him. Riley has started his third year 1-2, following a shaky victory over Arkansas State with a loss at Oregon and then a dreadful performance in a home loss to Northern Illinois on Saturday. There was a time when losing to NIU was no shame, but that time has passed – the Huskies came to Lincoln having lost 11 of their last 17 games. They also came to Lincoln without their starting quarterback, who was out with an injury.

But Northern Illinois returned two interceptions of Tanner Lee for touchdowns in the first quarter, pieced together one long scoring drive and then sealed the game with a third interception of Lee. After four games of surrendering 36 points or more, dating back to last year, it was time for the Nebraska offense to fall apart.

That loss drops Riley’s winning percentage at Nebraska to .552 (16-13), which lags far behind fired predecessor Bo Pelini (.713) and is right in line with the regrettable Bill Callahan (.551). Which should make Eichorst more than a little squeamish, since he went Lone Ranger to hire Riley away from Oregon State in 2014 – an outside-the-box move that was a personality upgrade from sourpuss Pelini but a competitive downgrade thus far.

The Omaha World-Herald reported last week that Riley was given a one-year contract extension through 2020 last winter – something the school had kept under wraps for whatever reason. Now the talk will be more about buyouts than extensions.

Eichorst made a postgame appearance Saturday to answer questions from the media and apparently didn’t pull punches. “I don’t think there’s any question that it’s not acceptable,” Eichorst said, according to the Omaha World-Herald.

Head coach Mike Riley watches pregame action before Nebraska lost to Northern Illinois. (Getty)

If Riley can’t turn it around in Big Ten play, he and the guy who hired him will both be under fire.

The same dynamic is in the early stages of development at LSU, where the infinitely questionable Ed Orgeron (3) hire looks worse and athletic director Joe Alleva (4) will feel the heat if there are many more Saturdays like this last one.

The Tigers were pummeled 37-7 by Mississippi State, the worst loss LSU has ever had to the Bulldogs. This was a more-of-the-same loss, with LSU every bit as unproductive offensively as it had been in the latter stages of the Les Miles Era. What was supposed to be a more creative and explosive offense produced 137 yards passing and 270 yards total, with just one play from scrimmage going for longer than 19 yards.

There also was a continuation of undisciplined play from LSU: Nine penalties for 112 yards, raising the Tigers’ total to 30 flags for an SEC-high 272 yards in three games.

Amid that carnage, a couple things to keep in mind: Mississippi State might be really good, and we’re only three games into Orgeron’s full-time tenure. But you won’t find anyone who believes LSU has inferior talent to the Bulldogs, and you won’t find many outside the LSU bubble who believed Louisiana native Orgeron was more than a comfort hire.

Alleva’s last high-profile comfort hire, of former Dale Brown player and assistant Johnny Jones to head the basketball program, was an unequivocal bust. Football fans will be much less patient with squandering talent than their basketball brethren.

With four SEC road games remaining, there is no comfort at LSU right now.

A DIFFERENT DYNAMIC AT TENNESSEE

At another school where the fans would qualify as severely crabby, the athletic director is by no means tied to his embattled coach. Tennessee’s John Currie (5) is a new arrival, and can evaluate Butch Jones (6) without concerns for his own job security.

The Volunteers lost to Florida in breathtaking, Hail Mary fashion Saturday, snatching defeat from the jaws of overtime. They gave up a 63-yard bomb on the last play, making a folk hero out of freshman Gators quarterback Feleipe Franks and a goat out of Jones.

The Vols’ defensive alignment – five defensive backs on the field instead of six – on the final play made no sense. But then again, neither did some of Tennessee’s short-yard play calls on offense in a game of remarkable ineptitude for both teams on that side of the ball.

Tennessee never led in regulation in the opener against Georgia Tech and never led against suspension-depleted Florida. The Vols have showed some gumption to win the former and nearly win the latter, but they’ve also underachieved to be in those positions. Again. Unless Tennessee plays better, Currie will have a decision to make later this season.

FOUR FOR THE PLAYOFF

Here’s how The Dash sees the College Football Playoff picture after three weeks of play. Teams that are in:

Oklahoma (7). The Sooners are still riding the romp at Ohio State to the top spot. They rolled Tulane after a predictably sluggish start, winning 56-14, with Baker Mayfield again performing at a high level (331 passing yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions). Next: at winless Baylor on Saturday, in what could be another mismatch.

Alabama (8)
. The Crimson Tide had another in a long series of workmanlike wins over a non-Power Five opponent, beating Colorado State 41-23. Quarterback Jalen Hurts might have had the best game of his young college career, throwing for 248 yards and two touchdowns and running for another 103 and a score. Next: At Vanderbilt, which is a salty 3-0, Saturday.

Clemson (9). Nobody had a better win than the Tigers, who went into Louisville and dominated the Cardinals, 47-21. It was a complete performance by the defending national champions, with starting quarterback Kelly Bryant shining in his first road start and the Clemson defense frustrating Lamar Jackson all night. Next: Home against Boston College in what should be a low-stress affair.

Oklahoma State (10). The Cowboys make their first appearance in the playoff bracket after obliterating Pittsburgh on the road, 59-21. They rolled up 49 points in the first half, flexing their offensive muscles, and coasted in from there. While Pitt certainly is not good, Oklahoma State handled the Panthers more easily than Penn State the week before – and USC’s narrow home escape over Texas opened the door for the Cowboys. Next: Home against undefeated TCU in a game that could have significant implications, in Big 12 play and beyond.

Dropped out of the playoff bracket: USC.

Also considered: USC, Penn State, Mississippi State, Michigan, TCU, California, Georgia, Oregon.


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