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Misery Index notebook: Colorado State's clock management fails; Penn State, Clemson crumble

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Virginia Tech leads this week's Misery Index after a 41-36 loss to Syracuse. Here are the others that made the index, a weekly measurement of knee-jerk reactions based on what each fan base just watched:

FOUR MORE IN MISERY

Colorado State: Steve Addazio didn't bother to hire a special teams coach for the Rams when he was hired a couple years ago, choosing to handle some of those duties himself. Which makes Colorado State's 26-24 loss to Utah State on Friday a double-whammy of incompetence that can be laid right at Addazio's feat since both the person responsible for managing the clock and the person responsible for the field-goal unit totally melted down with the game on the line.

After Colorado State got a first down with 12 seconds left and the ball on the 24-yard line, the obvious next play was for the quarterback to line up, spike it and have a full play clock for the field-goal team to set up for a game-winning kick. Instead, it was total chaos for the Rams as the field-goal unit ran onto the field and tried to get a snap off in a hurry while the game clock ticked to zero. Meanwhile, offensive players had to sprint off the field and there was all kinds of shifting going on with the offensive line before everyone got set. It didn't look like a team that was confident and ready for the game-deciding play. And predictably, the kick was missed pretty badly, dropping the Rams to 3-4.

Addazio, who got the job at CSU largely because Urban Meyer recommended him, has had clock management issues before — notably in 2015 when his Boston College team ran out of time near the goal line because it tried to run the ball into the end zone rather than pass it with no timeouts left and fewer than 20 seconds to work with.

Colorado State fans and players deserved better than what they got Friday night. But given Addazio's history in these situations, it shouldn’t have been a surprise.

WHAT'S NEXT?: How USA TODAY Sports AFCA Coaches Poll could look after Week 8 with two more top-10 upsets

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Penn State coach James Franklin reacts to a call during the Nittany Lions' game against Illinois at Beaver Stadium in University Park, Pennsylvania on Saturday, Oct. 24. (Rich Barnes, USA TODAY Sports)
Penn State coach James Franklin reacts to a call during the Nittany Lions' game against Illinois at Beaver Stadium in University Park, Pennsylvania on Saturday, Oct. 24. (Rich Barnes, USA TODAY Sports)

Penn State: As a fan, if you're going to lose to a team like Illinois, you'd rather it happen like a maximum-strength band-aid being pulled off a hairy leg. You know what it's going to feel like, you can brace yourself for the pain, and you know it's going to be over quickly. But for the Nittany Lions, it was impossible to know when their 20-18 loss to Illinois was going to end or how frustrating the process of getting there might be. Even worse, despite the game being decided on one of the NCAA's awful gimmicks, there was no injustice done here. Penn State, which had just 227 offensive yards, absolutely deserved to fall to 5-2.

The only thing that made this game notable was the use of the new overtime procedure where the regular possessions from the 25-yard line end after the second overtime and the teams just attempt two-point conversions until there's a score and a stop (or a stop and score) to end the game. In theory, this was instituted to ensure that teams wouldn’t have to play several real overtimes, potentially endangering player safety.

But this wasn't an exciting finish. Instead, it was a tedious slog as the teams failed to score on their first five two-point conversion attempts. Finally, in the ninth overtime, Illinois got a stop and scored to put this awful game out of its misery.

Had this loss happened against a better opponent, Penn State fans might have been able to chalk it up to bad luck. With quarterback Sean Clifford clearly not himself (19-for-34, 165 yards) after suffering a rib/midsection injury two weeks ago against Iowa, generating offense was probably going to be dicey no matter what.

But if Penn State was as good of a program as coach James Franklin should have built by now, they could have withstood this one and bought more time for Clifford to get healthy. Instead, fans had to watch one of the most impossibly drawn-out offensive nosedives in college football history.

Clemson: Over the past six years, the Tigers didn't just upgrade their house, they bullied their way into the most exclusive neighborhood in the country. But one of the defining characteristics of that subdivision is that its residents don't typically have huge ups and downs. For the Alabamas, Ohio States and Oklahomas, some years are better than others. But unless there's some highly unusual circumstance, you never see a drop-off to actual mediocrity.

With a 27-17 loss to Pitt, though, it's fair to question whether Clemson's program still belongs among the group that it worked so hard to join.

What we're seeing from Clemson right now seems deeper than inexperience or the ball bouncing someone else's way. The Tigers are 4-3 because that's about how good they are, even in a weak ACC. Their across-the-board drop-off from the championship level they reached between 2015 and 2019 is palpable at nearly every position on the field. Their coaching has lacked imagination and boldness. Their satisfaction with who they are and what they do now looks like complacency in a marketplace where things constantly change.

"We are what we are right now," coach Dabo Swinney told reporters. "We're very immature, we're very young and we're a very unconfident offense."

Youth isn't an excuse. Ohio State and Alabama have had young teams, but they never spiral this dramatically. Against six FBS opponents, Clemson has reached 20 points just once this year in a 27-21 loss to NC State. When you recruit at the level the Tigers do year after year, that should never happen.

It's easy to pin a lot of the blame on sophomore quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei, who hasn't developed as expected (12-for-25, 128 yards, two INTs) and was benched for a stretch against Pitt. But Clemson as a team hasn't really improved much from Week 1, which should be a big red flag for their fans that it'll take more than a few tweaks here and there to get back to national-title contention.

TCU: Coach Gary Patterson's defense mechanisms are working better than his actual defense these days, and it's turning him into a somewhat embarrassing spectacle as he reaches the latter stages of a Hall of Fame career. After a spat with SMU that lasted several days over accusations of post-game classlessness, Patterson this week felt the need to go after a TCU grad named Matt Jennings, who wrote a blog post on Medium detailing the program's myriad on- and off-field issues over the past few years and making the case that it was time for major changes, including perhaps the head coach himself.

Patterson wasn't happy about the piece and spent several minutes of his weekly news conference steaming over its contents, even referring to himself in the third person at one point and sarcastically suggesting that Jennings should win a Pulitzer Prize.

"At the end of the day, those people out there that think I'm riding into the sunset would be wrong," Patterson said.

But a grumpy, stubborn and vindictive Patterson isn't doing much to help the real issue: With a 29-17 home loss against West Virginia, the Horned Frogs are 3-4 and in real danger of finishing below .500 despite for the second time in three years. In fact, going back to 2016, TCU is just 38-31 — including an 11-win season.

So if we're going to be as honest and direct as Patterson is with his players, it's totally fair to say that the Horned Frogs have become a middling Big 12 program despite lots of assistant coaching changes, different approaches, returning starters and transfers brought in to fill holes.

It seems unlikely that Patterson's job would be in trouble after 21 seasons, many of them crazy successful. There's a statue of him in front of Amon G. Carter Stadium for goodness sakes. But has he been at TCU too long? Has he gotten too comfortable, too powerful, too inflexible to adapt to the modern game and modern players?

These are fair questions, not hot takes. And the more Patterson lashes out at the people who ask them — while not backing it up with wins — the more this looks like this great run could eventually come to an ugly conclusion.

WINNERS AND LOSERS: Oregon escapes, Penn State falls out of playoff race

TRENDING TOWARD MISERY

Arizona: We need to start thinking about whether the Wildcats could end up as the worst offensive team of the last decade in college football. Not only did Arizona lose its 19th consecutive game on Friday against Washington, 21-16, but it continued its perfect record of failing to score 20 points under head coach Jedd Fisch. Whether it's rolling up a lot of yards but committing five turnovers against Oregon, or blowing a 13-0 halftime lead over Washington, the result is the same. At this point, the Wildcats look like a good bet to lose at least 10 games in a season for the second time in school history.

Texas Tech: With a backloaded schedule that gets really tough right about now, the Red Raiders needed to bank as many wins as they could before Halloween to make the most out of this year and potentially give coach Matt Wells some breathing room before the fans start calling for his job. Instead, Texas Tech blew a 24-10 halftime lead against Kansas State and lost 25-24 at home to an opponent that had previously lost eight Big 12 games in a row. They did it with their offense scoring no points and gaining just 103 yards in the second half. They did it with their defense giving up 220 yards after halftime and bailing out Kansas State with a personal foul penalty on third-and-34 that ultimately led to the go-ahead touchdown with 6:09 remaining. This is a familiar story for Texas Tech fans. Wells is just 6-7 record in games decided by a touchdown or less, with two of those wins coming against FCS teams. And at 7-16 in Big 12 games, Wells has a worse winning percentage in the league (30%) than predecessor Kliff Kingsbury (35%).

NC State: If you want to understand what a tortured existence it's been for this fan base, consider that the last time the Wolfpack won an ACC title was 1979 — and they didn't even get invited to a bowl game that year. Until Saturday, this season represented arguably the best chance they've had since then, having already beaten Clemson to get the upper hand in the Atlantic Division. But after falling 31-30 at Miami, the Wolfpack is now one game behind Wake Forest in the loss column and the sense of "Same Ole NC State" has returned.

The Wolfpack was poised to get the ball back with more than two minutes left and a chance to let quarterback Devin Leary go win the game for them after he threw for 310 yards. Instead, NC State’s defense allowed Miami to convert a third-and-16 that effectively allowed the Hurricanes to run out the clock. For a team that had been hailed as the best of coach Dave Doeren's tenure, 5-2 doesn't look all that impressive.

UNLV: The Rebels got a nice pop of publicity last week for putting a large slot machine on the sideline for home games. The $60,000 piece of equipment, which was custom made by IGT, is bright and bold and certainly screams Las Vegas. But why would UNLV want to draw any attention to itself with gimmicky props until it at least wins a football game? The Rebels haven't done that yet under Marcus Arroyo, who was hired on Dec. 11, 2019. That's 0-13 to start a head-coaching career after this week's 27-20 loss to San Jose State. If you want to spin it positively, UNLV's past four losses are by a combined 26 points and they've had chances to win all those games. But until they close the deal, the slot machine represents the futility we've all felt in that town of putting in a $20 bill and watching it disappear in a matter of minutes.

UTEP: The Miners did not play this week, but they represent the angst of conference realignment leaving a program behind that doesn't really deserve it. In the middle of their best season in years at 6-1, UTEP fans learned this week that six of Conference USA's 14 programs are leaving for the American Athletic Conference and three others could be abandoning them for the Sun Belt. UTEP has a real fan base and an important part in the history of college sports, winning the 1966 NCAA basketball title as Texas Western with five Black starters against an all-white Kentucky team. But they're something of a geographic outlier, have never been able to form strong alliances with other Texas-based schools and have never been able to get any interest from the Mountain West. As a result, UTEP is stuck in a dying C-USA that will have to pull multiple schools up from the FCS level just to remain viable. Even as UTEP celebrates a tremendous football turnaround in the present, it has reason to worry about the future.

TOTALLY REAL AND IRRATIONAL MESSAGE BOARD THREADS

"Envious of Wake Football…’nuff said" — techsideline.com (Virginia Tech)

"There are children who play Madden but understand clock management better." — ramnation.com (Colorado State)

"Can you pick up a head coach through the portal?" — bluewhiteillustrated.com (Penn State)

"Pretty pumped about the Dukes Mayo bowl" — tigerillustrated.com (Clemson)

"Tear down the statue" — killerfrogs.com (TCU)

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Colorado State mishandles clock, Penn State spirals: Misery Index

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