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Saturday, July 11, 2020

Football

Growing pains: Applewhite’s first season will not end quietly


season

Sophomore quarterback D’Eriq King could turn out to be the Cougars’ saving grace this year after leading the team to an upset victory against South Florida on Saturday afternoon. | Thomas Dwyer/The Cougar

Head coach Major Applewhite and the Cougars are like zombies who just keep coming back from the dead.

The Cougars may go undefeated the rest of the year or they could lose the remaining games. The outcome of this season shouldn’t matter. The bottom line is Applewhite won’t be perfect this season — or any season, for that matter.

After a brutal loss at home to Memphis, the Cougars came away with a 28-24 victory on the road against the previously undefeated South Florida Bulls. Despite fans’ open calls for Applwhite’s head, the beleaguered head coach emerged victorious after giving the team’s most dynamic player a shot under center.

Now, sunshine and roses have returned after the victory against the No. 17 team in the country.

A head coach’s first season is usually a test of patience for team managers or school administrators and fans who want their team to do well. Although sophomore QB D’Eriq King might be the best thing to happen to the Cougars this season, college football can be torturous for its fans. Teams can plummet from the top of the rankings or rise quickly on a weekly basis.

What is important is that the team figures out its playmakers and overall identity so it can become a dominate force in the American Athletic Conference.

Three sophomores were key players in the victory over South Florida on Saturday: King, running back Mulbah Carr and wide receiver Courtney Lark. They will likely be the future of the team through next season.

Applewhite improved to 5-3, and is a few steps closer to securing a bowl berth in his first season. In his way are East Carolina (1-6), Tulane (3-5) and Navy (5-2). Up-and-down seasons like this one make it difficult to predict if the Cougars will win the games they should against ECU and Tulane.

King changes everything for the outlook of the season, and the emergence of Carr and Lark signals a turning point for a team marred by its lack of playmakers on offense.

These key sophomores, however, don’t guarantee wins.

Applewhite has worked with a lot of great coaches, including Mack Brown and Nick Saban. In both occasions, two of the best coaches of all time trusted Applewhite with their offenses. They, too, struggled early in their careers.

Brown’s first head coaching job saw Appalachian State finish with a 6-5 record. He followed that up with a 1-10 record as head coach at Tulane the next year and then two 1-10 seasons with North Carolina.

Despite the rocky start, Brown finished his career at Texas with a national championship under his belt and 21 bowl appearances. He is now considered by many to be one of the greatest coaches of all time because of his staggering 244-122 record as a head coach and his magical Rose Bowl victory with Vince Young in 2006 versus USC.

Saban found success in college early, but when he tried his hand at the NFL, he quickly learned they are two completely different games. His NFL career lasted only two seasons and ended with 15-17 record with the Dolphins in 2006.

Saban left the NFL and came back to college football in 2007. Becoming the head coach of Alabama would be the best decision he ever made. with a staggering 213-61-1 record and five National championship trophies he is hands down considered the best coach of all time.

The expectations for Applewhite are nowhere near Saban and Brown-level now, but the point is not to give up on a coach and team because they are struggling in their first year.

Applewhite could turn out to be one of the best coaches to walk through the door for the team.

Not all is lost if the team does lose to unranked East Carolina and Tulane. Sports is as much a waiting game as anything else.

Although waiting until next season or the one after seems like agony, it will be worth it to see the team back in the national spotlight if and when Applewhite is able to shape King into a star quarterback.

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