I've been wallowing a little bit this week. That loss to Vanderbilt really took it out of me. It took everything I had to pick a conference game of interest, much less a national game of interest. Even though I picked what I thought would be interesting match-ups, I voted "Football is dead to me" in each of the polls.
So here we are, five days out from that heartbreaking loss, trying to figure out what to pick as our National Game of Disinterest. I can't tell you how tempting it is to pick college football and glibly list all of the sport's many problems. The article practically writes itself: the NCAA is a toothless and inconsistent governing body; the new targeting rules are applied erratically and may actually make the game less safe; the BCS is yet again probably going to leave an undefeated team out in the cold, and yet the four-team playoff may already be just as controversial; etc...
It actually took me less than two minutes to come up with that list. I'm sure you could add your own points.
But what good would that article do? Everyone knows that college football isn't perfect. And, more importantly, despite many of us selecting "Football is dead to me," we were still picking that option from a poll on a college football website. Deep down inside, we still love football. So what's really so frustrating to us? It's this week's actual National Game of Disinterest: the blame game.
Let's get this out of the way: The defense has not played well this year. We're second to last in the conference and 100th nationally in terms of points allowed per game. The offense hasn't played well the last two weeks, either. We didn't score a single offensive touchdown in the second half of last week's loss to Vandy, and we only managed a punt and two interceptions during the fourth quarter of the loss to Mizzou. I don't have to tell you how bad it's been on special teams.
We could have played better, and everyone in red & black wishes we had. But we also could have played much, much worse.
We've faced the most difficult schedule in the country so far. No other team has had to face five ranked teams. Not one. Our schedule is so front-loaded that despite playing Florida (4-3), Appalachian State (1-6), Auburn (6-1), Kentucky (1-5), and Georgia Tech (4-3) in the coming weeks, we still have the second toughest slate in the country. The other 9 teams in the top-10 toughest schedule club are a combined 28-34, and only one of them has a record better than 4-3. (That team is LSU, by the way, and we looked pretty good against them back in September.)
It's also nearly impossible to overstate just how big a role injuries have played. According to the NCAA's official statistics, we are the 7th most injured team in the country. The average team has about 6.6 injured players who missed the last game or may miss the next one. We currently have 14. For all of the other lawyers who aren't so good at math, that's more than double the national average.
And it's not like these were bit-players or practice-teamers. We've lost our top 2 wide receivers and our #2 RB for the season. We've also been playing without our starting tailback and another starting receiver for the last two weeks.
We certainly haven't played as well as we could have, but we were also playing a lot of very tough opponents while operating well below full strength.
Earlier this week Aaron Murray addressed the team during the Monday meeting for the first time in his career. His message to each of the players was simple: do your job. "Whether it’s throwing the ball, running the ball, tackling, catching, blocking, snapping, kicking. Just focus in."
The same goes for us fans. Let's stop trying to diagnose what's going wrong on the field. That's the coaches' job. Let's stop playing the blame game and focus on our job: getting ready to cheer our boys on to a big victory over Florida in Jacksonville next weekend.