The Worst 16 Teams In College Football, 2017 Edition
Posted August 4, 2017
Photo: Ed Zurga/Getty Images
You won't find any fake news here. Welcome to the Russia-free edition of the worst 16 teams in college football's Power Five Conferences—where the only reds we care about are redshirt freshmen that can help our crappy teams win a few more games. Don't expect any scientific conversations either. The only proof of climate change we need are 16 overpaid coaches on the hot seat. You want to talk health care? Plenty of teams are going to keep their records healthy by playing the teams on our list. So drop junior off at soccer on Saturday mornings, get your bets in early, and enjoy the most wonderful time of the year. Because if there's one thing that we can promise you, it's that no amount of foreign interference is going to get these 16 teams a bowl victory.
1. University of Kansas
A colorful but fraudulent wizard once said, "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain." The Kansas football team has done just that. For no matter what mastermind coach the team has chosen to pull the Jayhawks' levers—Turner Gill, Charlie Weis (who finally stopped getting paid to sit at home in 2016), Clint Bowen, or current head coach David Beaty—the perennial "under construction" sign on the yellow brick road has put Kansas atop my list as the worst Power Five program for an unprecedented third consecutive season. Yet, for raising the team's futility from 0-12 to 2-10 last year, coach Beaty received a lucrative contract extension that doubled his salary from $800,000 to $1.6 million. (Another move like this and James Dolan may hire athletic director Sheahon Zenger for the Knicks' front office.)
This year, Beaty will ask himself the existential question, "When nine starters return from a terrible offense, will it make a difference?" Talented junior college transfer Peyton Bender may finally solidify the quarterback spot for the Jayhawks. On defense, however, the apocalypse is now. Most of the team's linebackers and secondary players have matriculated their way off the field for slightly higher paying jobs. That leaves junior linebacker Joe Dineen and sophomore safety Mike Lee as the only starters in the defensive backfield who have gotten their cleats dirty. We can't say if the Jayhawks football team will find the heart, brains and courage they've been looking for over the last 10 years. But with a record 41-straight road losses, close your eyes, click your heels three times and say it Jayhawk fans, "There's no place like home."
2. Purdue University
Boilermaker fans can now rejoice that the Darrell Hazell era/error has ended at Purdue. Hazell showed about as much skill at picking talent as your aunt does for selecting winning Powerball numbers. After going 9-33 over the last three-plus seasons, Purdue decided to bring in Jeff Brohm, who was most recently 30-10 at the helm of Western Kentucky. Purdue hopes Brohm's offensive-minded game planning can bring back the Drew Brees glory days. But Brohm may want more than a shot and a beer before he sits down to sort out the mess his predecessor left him. David Blough was the lone offensive bright spot at quarterback last season, averaging 279.3 yards passing and throwing for 25 touchdowns. If Coach Brohm can help Blough eliminate a few of his 21 interceptions, the offense may start to see some improvement.
Unfortunately, the team's offensive line and receivers have about as much experience in their roles as Donald Trump's Cabinet. All three starting wide receivers are gone this year. And Blough might list his offensive line as a pre-existing condition as they surrendered 11 sacks in the spring game this year. The literature majors watching the game gave the o-line an A-plus for their clever use of foreshadowing to illustrate the impending doom this fall. On the other side of the line, opposing offenses couldn't get to the end zone any faster if they called Uber. Do you know how hard it is to give up an average of 38.2 points per game? Purdue sure does. And with their first four games against Louisville, Ohio, Missouri and Michigan, expect the Boilermakers to get off to a slower start than War and Peace.
3. Rutgers University
How much lower can it get for New Jersey? They've got a governor who is more interested in arguing with Mike from Montclair about the Mets than talking to his own constituents. They have Real Housewives going to jail for conspiracies to commit bank fraud. And the once proud Scarlet Knights football team lost to Big Ten rivals Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State by a combined score of 224-0 last season. It's enough to make Jimmy Hoffa spin in his grave underneath the end zone of MetLife Stadium.
Head coach Chris Ash seems to have cleansed the program of the scandals that have plagued it in recent years. And he's almost as good at recruiting decent in-state talent as Tony Soprano once was. But with an 0-9 conference record and a 2-10 season last year, the help will not arrive soon enough for a team that averaged only 15.7 points on offense and gave up 37.5 points on defense. Rutgers has brought in former Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill to scare the crap out of the offense, and they'll need it.
Rutgers averaged 100 yards less on offense than they did the season before. Ash's reputation as a defensive guru will be put to the test, as the team loses three fifth-year starters up front. It won't be easy for the Scarlet Knights to joust with the high-powered offenses of the Big Ten. With games like Ohio State at home and Michigan and Penn State on the road, Rutgers has a brutal schedule. But it could be worse, Rutgers. It's not like your governor is on the radio for four hours a day talking about what a terrible team you are, right?
4. University of Illinois
You could understand the surge of optimism when Lovie Smith was hired to coach the Fighting Illini in 2016. After all, he was a former defensive coordinator and NFL head coach that had taken two different teams to the Super Bowl. But before taking the reigns at Illinois, like Mariah Carey, Smith's ability to recruit talent peaked in the mid-90s. There wasn't much fight in an offense that finished 122nd overall (out of 128 teams) and scored a mere 19.7 points per game. Illinois quarterbacks were slightly more accurate than Election Day polls, throwing for only 13 touchdowns last season. Injury-prone quarterback Wes Lunt finally limped off the field for the final time in 2016, leaving Chayce Crouch and Jeff George Jr. to fight for a job that's almost as desirable as being a North Korean travel agent. Star wide receiver Mike Dudek hopes to make it through the season on two legs, after suffering a second season-ending ACL injury last year.
On defense, the Fighting Illini somehow managed to give up 35 rushing touchdowns when they weren't allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete over 60 percent of their passes. With all four defensive linemen leaving the scene of that crime, Smith will have to scheme with even more inexperienced players to handle Big Ten offenses. If things continue to trend as they did last season (Illinois' final five losses last year were by an average of 30 points), the Fighting Illini may want to resort to diplomacy instead of the battlefield. Unlike the NFL, tanking doesn't get you the number one pick and a star quarterback. It gets you fired.
There will be no more Sonny days at Cal, where Coach Sonny Dykes has been replaced with former Oregon and USC assistant Justin Wilcox. Also missing will be the superstar quarterback they've grown accustomed to having. With Jared Goff long gone to the Los Angeles Rams and Davis Webb out the door this year to hold the clipboard for Eli Manning in New Jersey, the Golden Bears will need a new hero. But just like your iPhone battery, some things are just irreplaceable. Wilcox hopes to bring a more balanced offensive attack to Cal this year, and they'll need to be, as four inexperienced quarterbacks are gunning for that number one spot.
More pressing for Wilcox is solidifying a defense that finished 127th, surrendering an average of 42.6 points per game. The Golden Bears were slower than a freelancer's check in the mail in stopping the run, yielding over six yards per carry. The team is switching to a 3-4, but no matter how you rearrange those deck chairs on the Titanic, the ship is still sinking. Wilcox will need some time to stabilize the mess that Sonny Dykes left behind. Be patient, all your Berkleyites. In the meantime, you might as well smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.
6. University of Maryland
Coach D.J. Durkin managed to make Maryland fans a little less crabby last year as he doubled the team's wins from 3-9 in 2015 to 6-7 last year. But that improvement may be deceiving when you consider the Terrapins got shucked by Michigan and Ohio State with a combined score of 121-6. The quarterback situation is about as murky as a politician's tax returns. North Carolina transfer Caleb Henderson and true freshman Kasim Hill looked poised to compete for the job, as all the other candidates have failed to pass. A miniature receiving corps may leave the Terrapins spread offense a bit too thin this season.
The news isn't much better on defense, where Maryland's idea of stopping the run was taking the ball from the opposing running back after he crossed the goal line. The Terrapins surrendered nearly 2,800 yards and 31 touchdowns last season, so bringing nine starters from the defense back is like asking DeAndre Jordan if he'd like to try a few more free throws. Durkin has the team moving in the right direction. He brought in a top recruiting class this season, but it's going to take a while to get these Terrapins up to speed.
7. Boston College
A win in a bowl game versus Maryland may have saved Coach Steve Addazio's job, but it didn't spare the Eagles from the Worst 16 list. Addazio did make David Copperfield envious by pulling seven wins out of a golden helmet with the 127th ranked offense in college football. That tends to be what happens when you don't have a tailback or wideout that can get you more than 600 yards of total offense in a season. The Eagles haven't had a solid quarterback since the 2007 BC team with Matt Ryan. Things are so dire behind center, the Jesuits are praying that redshirt freshman Anthony Brown will take over the job and become the new savior of the team.
The defense seems to be the true miracle workers, turning opposing offense's plays into losses. All-American candidate Harold Landry returning for his senior season left BC fans about as surprised as Hillary Clinton on November 9th of last year. The Eagles don't have as much easy prey on their non-conference schedule this year, so the road to another bowl game is paved with good intentions and a lot of ACC potholes. Until the BC offense gets better, you can cancel your subscription to the resurrection.
Many military strategists have long believed that the best defense is a good offense. But when you give up ground like the Syracuse defense does, it may be time to retreat and fight another day. Giving up over 500 yards and 39 points per game for too long will get everyone fired, including the groundskeeper. Fortunately, Coach Dino Babers has weaponized the offense with an air raid attack that has made the team more of a threat to try to out-bomb the opposition. When quarterback Eric Dungey is not playing a one-man version of "Survivor" behind the line of scrimmage, he has shown promise, including an upset win over Virginia Tech.
But defensively, the Orange have absolutely no juice, finishing 108th against the run and 118th against the pass. Like your high school prom, Syracuse game days begin with the promise of plenty of action, only to end in defeat and shame. The 76-61 loss to Pitt last season is a perfect example of why orange is the new black and blue. There are some promising signs for this program under coach Babers. There are a lot of young, inexperienced players who will mature well with time. Greatness is at least a year away. But with games against programs like Clemson and LSU this year, it will be a warm December day in Binghamton before Syracuse sees a bowl game.
9. Duke University
Before last season, Coach David Cutcliffe took the Blue Devils to four consecutive bowl games. But like the McRib sandwich, all good things must come to an end. Last season's 4-8 failure means Duke needs to hit the playbooks again. And as the leaves turn brown this year, so too will the team's chances at getting back to another bowl game. The problems begin with a rushing attack that makes ISIS' ground game look high-tech—3.89 yards per carry is about how much you would get if you tripped over the line of scrimmage. It's also what you average if you're a Duke running back. Things were so dire in the backfield last year that Daniel Jones, the team's fill-in quarterback, was also its second leading rusher. Jones will helm the offense for the full year and will try to keep the ball in the air as much as possible.
The defense, which was already about as questionable as deciding to go to Taco Bell after midnight, only returns five starters. You'll see plenty of the Duke secondary this year, as they chase opposing receivers to the end zone. And the kicking game was about as dependable as having a ticketed seat on United. Freshman AJ Reed made only three of 10 field goals last season. Some think Duke's dismal season was the result of injuries and a few unlucky losses. Others think it's cosmic retribution for one of the most hated universities in the country. Nevertheless, we welcome you back to the Worst 16, Duke, faster than you can spell Krzyzewski.
How embarrassed was Coach Kliff Kingsbury with the Red Raiders' 5-7 season last year? He wouldn't even let his players wear red on campus, for fear that they might be identified as an actual football team. For the Red Raiders, 70 is indeed the new 40, as that's how many points they may need to score to win. The team gave up over 60 points three times last year, including a 66-10 loss against a brutally bad Iowa State team. When you give up over 550 yards and 44 points per game, let's say there's plenty of room for improvement. The team brought in a number of junior college transfers to smarten up the defense.
On offense, Kingsbury's high-octane passing attack will have to make due this season without star quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who was taken in the first round of the NFL Draft by Kansas City. Backup Nic Shimonek will throw as much as one of Joe Girardi's relief pitchers, especially with an offensive line that can protect about as well as the Atlanta Falcons can protect a 28-3 third-quarter lead. The team also didn't have a running back that could top 500 yards rushing last season, so running the clock out isn't an option. Everything really is bigger in Texas—even the losses.
11. Iowa State University
Matt Campbell's tenure in Iowa State is looking an awful lot like his predecessors. And we do mean awful. Iowa State hasn't won more than three games in the past four seasons, thanks to Campbell's 3-9 record. This ties Jimmy Carter's record of four consecutive years of futility. Mike Tyson once said everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face. For Iowa State, the punch came in the first game of the season with a loss against tiny Northern Iowa. After getting off to a 1-8 start, the Cyclones salvaged some street cred with a blowout win over Texas Tech, which may not look as impressive this year, given how far Texas Tech has fallen.
The good news for the Cyclones is they bring back a solid receiver corps led by All-Big 12 wide out Allen Lazard. His 69 catches for 1,018 yards and seven touchdowns make him the lone consistent offensive threat in an otherwise offensive offense. Running back Mike Warren's production dropped faster than the price of fidget spinners, as he picked up only 559 yards rushing after gaining 1,339 yards as the Big 12 Freshman of the Year.
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