Michigan State rebuilding after Mel Tucker suspension, Washington … – USA TODAY

Had Mel Tucker simply been a bad football coach, instead of a coach who pursued an inappropriate relationship that is likely going to cost him his job, this would be a lot easier for Michigan State to shrug off. 
The Spartans have survived bad hires before. They’ve won and lost and always bounced back. They’ve been coached by an all-time great like Nick Saban and a small-college legend like Muddy Waters who was in over his head at the highest level. 
But they’ve never been in a situation like this one, where Tucker’s personal foibles have led to a suspension without pay and an uncertain future for the program. 
The revelation last week that Tucker has been accused of making unwanted sexual comments and masturbating during a 2022 phone call with Brenda Tracy, a rape survivor and activist who had been hired by Michigan State to speak to the team about sexual violence, is the kind of development for which there is no playbook. 
Tucker obviously had to be suspended immediately until the investigation wraps up. And given the evidence, including the things he’s admitted to, it’s hard to see how he ever coaches another game in East Lansing. He crossed a line that can’t be crossed. 
But from a team and program standpoint, following that news with a truly embarrassing 41-7 loss at home to Washington suggests that the program has been rotting for a long time. 
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Just two seasons ago, Michigan State finished 11-2 and was ranked No. 8 in the US LBM Coaches Poll. That earned Tucker a contract extension worth $95 million over 10 years.
But there’s been zero follow-up in on-field performance. The Spartans went 5-7 last year and there was nothing to suggest this year was going to be any better.
If the players in the program were inclined to rally around Tucker, however, you have to imagine they’d put up a better effort at home than getting out-gained 713 yards to 261 by Washington. Instead, it appears they’ve let go of the rope very early in the season. 
At this point, how the end of Tucker’s tenure happens is immaterial. Michigan State fans should be totally focused on what comes next. But a performance like Saturday suggests that the coach after Tucker is going to be in for a very difficult rebuild. That’s why the Spartans are 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. 
Mike Gundy’s legendary “I’m a man, I’m 40” rant will celebrate its 16th anniversary this year. That means Gundy has been coaching at his alma mater for a very long time, especially for someone who is a relatively young 56. That makes Gundy tied for the second-longest tenured coach in college football, behind only Kirk Ferentz at Iowa. 
Is it too long? Maybe. 
In 2021, Oklahoma State celebrated one of its greatest seasons when it went 12-2 and beat Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. But since then, the Cowboys are just 9-7 including Saturday’s 33-7 loss to South Alabama. 
If you’re the big picture fan, this might be viewed as merely part of the natural cycle that occurs at a program without blueblood status. But with all the changes in college football − including name, image and likeness rights and the premium on success in the transfer portal − this could also be interpreted as a program struggling to adapt to a new style of roster-building after doing things a certain way for more than a decade. It doesn’t help that the coach’s son, Gunnar, is part of a quarterback rotation that isn’t producing, including just 114 passing yards against South Alabama. 
With 10 finishes in the Top 25 in the last 16 seasons, Gundy is in no immediate trouble. But the Cowboys’ fan base is not going to enjoy the taste of a loss to South Alabama, especially after an ugly 27-15 win over Arizona State and a truly heinous 27-13 win over Central Arkansas. 
There comes a moment for each fan base when the overwhelming emotion shifts from an angry “How could we be this bad?” to a more self-loathing “Maybe this is who we are.” The Hokies are in the middle of that moment right now. If the Justin Fuente era was about understanding how difficult it is to replace a legend, the Brent Pry experience is a window into how fragile a program’s standing can be. Even if you didn’t like Fuente’s style, his standoffishness or his lack of interest in recruiting, his program never looked like one of the worst in America. 
But right now? Virginia Tech unquestionably looks like the bottom of the barrel among all power conference schools. When you lose at home to Purdue, then back it up with a 35-16 loss to Rutgers, you are a very bad football team. The explanation for how Virginia Tech got to this awful place is undoubtedly long and complex, and there’s enough blame to go around for multiple coaching staffs. But if anything, Virginia Tech seems to be in worse shape now than it was at any point under Fuente, whose 10-11 record over his final two seasons was a scandalous affront to the consistent greatness of the Frank Beamer era. If the Hokies’ current trajectory is any indication, a .500 record might be something to aspire to.  
On the list of unpleasant things that human beings can experience for a 24-hour period, food poising has to be pretty high. So full credit to Cyclones quarterback Rocco Becht, who was reportedly among several Iowa State players to suffer from that ailment on Friday night but managed to get on the field Saturday against Ohio. But it’s been that kind of season for Iowa State: If it’s not a gambling investigation taking out multiple players, it’s an all-night date with the porcelain throne.
Or, in the case of Saturday’s 10-7 loss to a Mid-American Conference opponent, it’s also a controversial missed field goal. With 7:23 remaining and the Cyclones trailing 10-0, Chase Contreraz missed a 37-yard field goal, according to the officials. But replays showed that the kick might have actually been good − or, at least, close enough that it should have warranted a closer look. Make no mistake, Iowa State only gained 271 offensive yards and didn’t play well enough to win, which is a concern enough on its own. But when your program is already dealing with major off-field issues, food-borne illness and bad calls are the last things you need. 
It’s never fun to get beat, but it’s easier to stomach when the opponent does everything right. How does it feel, however, when the other team does everything wrong but still wins anyway? Awful. Just awful. 
That has to be the emotion for Kansas State after Missouri’s Harrison Mevis − known colloquially as the “Thicker Kicker” − booted through a 61-yard field goal to upset the Wildcats 30-27. But as much as you have to tip your cap to Mevis for making a very long, low percentage field goal in such a clutch situation, it’s a tough loss for Kansas State to swallow because Missouri got rewarded despite complete chaos on the Tigers’ sideline in the final seconds. Eli Drinkwitz, who has had multiple clock management issues as Missouri’s coach, had things all set up for Mevis to kick the winning field goal. But Missouri lost track of time with six seconds left and got hit with a delay of game penalty, pushing Mevis to the very fringe of any kicker’s range. 
It was a cardinal sin by the Missouri coaching staff, only to get bailed out by Mevis. Kansas State has plenty to regret from its own sideline, including a final drive that completely stalled after crossing midfield in the final minutes. But when the opponent royally messed up and you feel like overtime should be the worst-cast scenario, a walk-off loss is pretty tough to take. 
In the entire Nick Saban era, there’s never been a win quite like 17-3 over South Florida. Coming off a loss to Texas that made Alabama seem stunningly ordinary, the Tide’s performance in Tampa showed that the flaws are real and might be too comprehensive to overcome this season. After benching quarterback Jalen Milroe, who won the starting job coming out of camp, Alabama gained just 310 yards − only 107 through the air − and was as hopeless offensively as we’ve ever seen a Saban team look. Had Alabama played a decent opponent instead of an under-talented South Florida team with a first-year coach, it very well might have lost. Maybe Milroe wasn’t the answer, but Ty Simpson and Tyler Buchner − a combined 10-of-23 passing − didn’t cover themselves in glory either. Where does that leave the Tide? Alabama is 2-1 and not technically out of the playoff race, but this current Crimson Tide team is a long way from playoff-caliber unless they can figure out the quarterback position. 
This was a reality check week for the Seminoles. After beating LSU in the opener and looking like a team with significantly more offensive pop than anyone else in the ACC, Florida State went to Boston College and was quite fortunate to come away with a 31-29 win. Why fortunate? Because BC committed 18 penalties for 131 yards and was still in the game. Because the Eagles racked up a 457-340 edge in yards. Because Florida State’s energy, preparation and play calling was not up to standard − oh, and quarterback Jordan Travis got knocked around pretty good in completing just 15-of-24 passes.
With plenty of opportunities throughout the game to land a knock-out blow, Florida State instead had to hold on and get a late stop to escape Chestnut Hill with its perfect record intact. That should send the message inside the locker room and throughout the fan base that return to the playoff isn’t going to be easy. 
At Central Florida, Year 3 was the moment when Josh Heupel went from toast of the town to a guy on the verge of being run out of town. But instead of having to endure a hot seat season in 2021, Heupel ended up getting hired at Tennessee where his offense was an instant hit and led to a $9 million annual contract extension. But what if the Heupel magic has a time limit? That’s what Tennessee fans have to be worried about after a 29-16 loss at Florida
After two seasons, the SEC has film on Heupel’s up-tempo offense. Tennessee isn’t taking anyone by surprise. So perhaps it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that the Vols are finding it much more difficult to score points this season than it was before. Some of that might be personnel, as Joe Milton is not as polished or productive as Hendon Hooker at the quarterback position.
But at Florida, the Vols fell way behind and looked pretty ordinary for most of the night before a small rally in the fourth quarter. For a team that was ranked in the top 10, it was a pretty limp performance against a Florida team that flopped two weeks ago at Utah. And it might suggest that last year wasn’t as much a breakthrough as it was the high point of the Heupel era. 
Jim Mora’s arrival and his immediate impact on the won-loss record restored some of the legitimacy UConn football had lost over the last several years. In fact, there was even a push this summer to get the Huskies into the Big 12 — primarily because of its national title-winning basketball programs, but also because the school had leaned into the narrative that its football product wouldn’t be a complete embarrassment in a high-quality league. But maybe getting left out of the Big 12 was a blessing in disguise. The Huskies’ 24-17 loss to Florida International, dropping them to 0-3, shows that the margin for error is razor thin. Under the school’s current setup where it plays an independent football schedule, there may be years where a bowl bid and a 6-7 record make everyone feel good. But even a small drop-off will reveal that UConn can’t operate in any way other than on the periphery of FBS, where the talent gap with the likes of Florida International doesn’t exist in the first place. 


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