Tortured Fan Bases: SEC vs. the nation
Every fan base feels as if they’re the most-maligned program in college football history, unless your allegiances align with the likes of, say, Ohio State or Alabama. Even then, you still might hear a small smattering of belly-aching (Pick-six!?! Only us).
The SEC is no stranger to tortured fan bases — including being home to the consensus No. 1 program for ripping out and stomping on its fans’ hearts.
Here’s a look at three of the more cursed fan bases in the SEC and how they compare nationally to other programs that can empathize when it comes to letting down it fans over and over and over and over again.
3. TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS
There is zero truth to the rumor that Tee Martin sold his soul in exchange for Tennessee’s 1998 national championship. In fact, I just made that up now. But the clichéd metaphor isn’t totally unbelievable considering the Volunteers recent streak of futility — or should we say “streaks.” Tennessee has an amazingly-rich history. But the Vols’ have struggled since earning college football’s ultimate hardware, winning 10 games or more just four times in the interim – and not since 2007.
The most painful part of Tennessee’s ineffectiveness is the manner in which they’ve been losing, and routinely and at the hands of conference foes. Butch Jones’ program entered the season with six losing streaks to SEC teams of at least three games. Florida has beaten them 11 straight times to Alabama’s nine. Auburn (6 games) and LSU (4), as well as Missouri (3) and Arkansas (2) also have established winning streaks over the Vols. In fact, Tennessee entered this season having lost their last contests against 10 of its 2015 opponents. Things are turning around in Knoxville, but the Volunteers are still very much a program looking to learn how to close out opponents and win back the trust of some fans.
COMPARABLE: WEST VIRGINIA
West Virginia is still the new kid on the block in the Big 12 and their new conference foes have been treating the Mountaineers as such. Between 2002 and 2011 the Mountaineers never failed to win less than eight games per year as they trampled their fellow Big East opponents. But a move to the Big 12 hasn’t been kind to a fan base that already felt the frustrations of a lack of national titles.
West Virginia gives you hope, such as winning the 2008 Fiesta Bowl over Oklahoma to finish No. 6 in the nation, while still managing to disappoint — considering they began that season ranked No. 3 in the country. Like Tennessee, the Mountaineers have flustered fans by repeatedly getting owned by the conference’s elite teams. Both the Sooners and Kansas State own four-game win streaks over West Virginia, who joined the Big 12 in 2012. Do the math. Even Texas has a two-game winning streak over Dana Holgorsen’s program.
2. SOUTH CAROLINA
South Carolina’s Week 7 contest against Vanderbilt marked the first time since 1998 where the Gamecocks didn’t have a College Football Hall of Fame coach patrolling their sidelines. Lou Holtz and Steve Spurrier infused life into South Carolina, turning the Gamecocks into an annual contender and began making Columbia a destination for top-flight recruits. The duo won 58 percent of their games with a combined 119-86 record. Spurrier and Holtz took the team to more bowl games total (11) than every other Gamecock coach in history combined (9 bowl games).
However, South Carolina continues to be its own worst enemy when it comes to getting over the proverbial hump and winning a postseason game that isn’t the Outback Bowl. With the program back in doldrums in the wake of Spurrier’s departure, the fans aren’t likely to see their frustrations alleviated any time soon.
COMPARABLE: OREGON DUCKS
Chip Kelly couldn’t win the big one. Marcus Mariota couldn’t win the big one. Mike Bellotti couldn’t win the big one. Mark Helfrich couldn’t win … you get the idea. The name, faces and uniforms rotate but the results are the same for an Oregon program that might be known as the perennial bridesmaid of the BCS era. The Ducks will need to earn a bowl berth this season to run their streak of double-digit win seasons to eight.
Oregon takes its fans to the apex of the sport — two national title game losses in five years — only to always fall short. Just like South Carolina, the true “torture” is a relatively new one. Both the Ducks and Gamecocks were middling programs with mediocre expectations every year before being rescued by a Hall of Fame coach. In Oregon’s case, it was Bellotti (who debuted in 1995 in Eugene) playing the doppelganger role of South Carolina’s Lou Holtz, who arrive in Columbia in 1999.
1. GEORGIA BULLDOGS
The term “tortured” is a relative one. It’s impossible to precisely calculate another fan base’s tolerance for pain. No one’s invented one of those 0-to-10 pain scale charts — the kind used by medical professionals to gauge a patient’s agony — for college football heartache, yet. But if they did, the scale would go from 0-to-Georgia Bulldogs. Athens’ home team is No. 1 on every list you can find across the internet that attempts to put a value on the suffering of college football fans.
Georgia got a taste of the good life in 1980 as Herschel Walker powered the Bulldogs to their last national title. For more than 40 years, Georgia has been among the best teams in the nation, cracking the AP poll in all but four seasons dating back to 1975. The Bulldogs have won 71 percent of their games (298-124) in the years after winning that championship. Since taking over the Bulldogs in 2001, head coach Mark Richt (141 victories) has won more games in the SEC than Nick Saban (138, granted in two more seasons). All of which sounds amazing until you figure that Georgia hasn’t won a SEC title game in a decade, let alone a national title game.
The school will introduce UGA X – aka “Que” – on Nov. 21 before its game with Georgia Southern. Will the new bulldog mascot be able to help reverse the curses of early-season implosions or will the Georgia continue to be among the winningest-teams to not win?
COMPARABLE: VIRGINIA TECH
Frank Beamer might be a slightly northern version of Mark Richt. The Virginia Tech head coach has amassed a 234-120 record since taking over for Bill Dooley in 1987. The Hokies have ascended college football’s hierarchy during that time rising from an independent to the Big East before landing in its current ACC home — which they’ve won four times.
There have been 22 bowl games, six BCS bowl games and a BCS title game loss in to Florida State in 2000 under Beamer. But for all the accolades and wins with the 69-year-old Beamer at the helm, a lack of a national title continues to confound a disgruntled fan base in Blacksburg.