It's the most wonderful time of the year! No, not Christmas. This is the gift that keeps on giving: out-of-whack point spreads, marching bands embarrassing themselves with terrible versions of Lorde songs—college football has returned.
But unfortunately for these schools, they are as likely to see a bowl game as Kim Kardashian is to receive a MacArthur Fellowship. And sure, if you go to one of these schools, you'll likely be crushed with student debt for the rest of your life, but at least your school will owe you something back—an apology! Because you had the unfortunate timing of going there while they were fielding one of the worst 10 teams in college football.
Mike Tyson once famously proclaimed, "Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth." And while head coach Bret Bielema is as solid as they come, it's hard to imagine a tactical solution to the five-knuckle tooth extractions Arkansas will receive courtesy of their SEC opponents. Give the Razorbacks a few points for bravery. Already having to go through a SEC West schedule that left the team a tidy 0-8 in conference last season, this year's slaughterhouse schedule adds on Georgia and road trips to Missouri and Texas Tech. Quarterback Brandon Allen was shakier than Shakira's hips and nowhere near as pleasant to watch, completing less than 50 percent of his passes last year. The defense wasn't much better as the Razorbacks needed to employ a fifth defensive back for virtually the entire game to help chase down receivers. Until coach Bielema gets a little more talent on the roster, expect the rest of the SEC to pig out.
"48! 48! 59!" No, those aren't quarterback signals at the line of scrimmage. Those are the points Kentucky gave up last year to Alabama, Missouri and Georgia, respectively. The Mark Stoops era began with a bang, as he brought in a solid recruiting class last season. But maybe Stoops needs to bring in John Calipari's dribble drive motion offense to outscore opponents. Another solid recruiting class comes in this season, but can any of them throw? Last year's starter, Jalen Whitlow, transferred out when he was politely asked to move to receiver. Maxwell Smith can play, but he's about as injury prone as Maxwell Smart. Freshman Drew Barker may take over the offense as soon as he's finished putting his One Direction poster up on his dorm room wall. The talent is beginning to pile up in Wildcat country. But like a senior citizen with an iPhone, it remains to be seen how quick Mark Stoops can figure out how to use it.
8. Wake Forest
The origin of the "Demon Deacons" nickname goes back to the 1920s, when Mayon Parker, the editor of the school paper, remarked on the university athletes' "devilish play." But it's sinful to think what has happened to a program that showed so much promise just a few years ago. Former Bowling Green head coach Dave Clawson would like to import one of the nation's most efficient passing attacks to his new team. And they'll need it. With just 18.3 points per game last season, the Deacons scored about as much as actual deacons do. Wake Forest has four candidates for the starting quarterback job, which is high, even by LinkedIn's standards. How fast will Clawson be able to get his new recruits to remember the playbook remains to be seen. Though the team was solid defensively last year, their entire front line has moved on to the underemployed real world, leaving only 29 tackles worth of experience up front. Like a dad with a gun permit, a strong defensive backfield will hopefully keep the other boys from scoring too much. This season's hell will be hotter than the only girl at a sci-fi convention, and you can't blame that on global warming.
New Jersey may be the home of guys who like to make offers you can't refuse. But the invitation to join the Big 10 may have been something Rutgers should have reconsidered. This could be a record-setting year for the Scarlet Knights as they become the first team to finish 14th in the Big 10. In four consecutive weeks, Rutgers will see Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin. Even Gene Hackman and his tape measure won't be able to convince this team that they are playing the same game they were in the Big East. Quarterback Gary "stupor" Nova's turnover issues got him benched for a few games. Expect to see head coach Kyle Flood change quarterbacks more often than Rihanna changes clothes for Instagram. The entire offensive line is back, but since they gave up 35 sacks last season and only average 3.7 yards per rushing attempt, perhaps some new recruits would have helped. The hits this team's offense will take would make Tony Soprano wince. Bowl game? Fugheddaboutit!
In college football, a four-win season is likely to earn a coach a severance package. But in Colorado, second-year coach Mike MacIntyre might be appointed Secretary of the Interior for saving these Buffaloes. The four wins last season matched Colorado's victory total in the previous two years combined. Yet in the state of "high hopes," even the highest of Colorado students has little faith in the team doing much more this year. Last year, the Buffaloes opponents stampeded to the end zone for 468 yards and more than 38 points a game. The one offensive weapon the team had, wide receiver Paul Richardson, has shuffled off to the NFL. After taking on tackling dummies Colorado State, Massachusetts, Hawaii and California in the first four games, the schedule gets much more unforgiving. So much so, that the student body has started a new chant. "CU! Next Year!"
5. Iowa State
What do you call a team that gave up 36 points per game and is going to have three new starters in the secondary? You call 911. Iowa State set an all-time attendance record last year, but now it's an emergency in the Hawkeye State, where the corn may need to grow higher than a spectator's eye to avoid watching this defense. Perhaps playing in an actual cornfield can slow down opposing offenses, as the Cyclones yielded 5.4 yards per carry and a whopping 33 rushing touchdowns. But if you can't stop ‘em, outscore ‘em! The offense promises more than a congressman in a sex scandal. Former Kansas coach Mark Mangino steps in at offensive coordinator and has some assets to work with at wide receiver. And the entire offensive line is back this season, the only team in the Big 12 with that kind of continuity. Better days are ahead for Iowa State, but unfortunately this year, those days aren't Saturdays.
How can a team that goes 1-11 with an 0-8 conference record possibly get worse? This season, Purdue will attempt to answer this question. Last year's club leader in rushing touchdowns, Rob Henry, has graduated, so the Boilermakers will have to replace him... at backup quarterback! With only 464 yards rushing, senior Akeem Hunt is the winner of the world's ugliest beauty contest at running back. Purdue's run defense was even worse, as they gave up more real estate than a divorced NBA player—almost 3,000 yards on the ground. Only a narrow 20-14 win against Indiana State kept the Boilermakers from being winless last season. But like a great Andy Warhol work, Purdue has added a few more tomato cans to their schedule this year. It won't be enough, as the Big 10 (or 14) schedule is about as difficult an obstacle to overcome as Justin Bieber's self-image.
Virginia, lately, has been for sports lovers. Their basketball team reached the Sweet 16; the baseball squad went to the College World Series finals; and even the tennis and soccer teams made it to the NCAA semifinals. Surely some of that victory dust will find its way to a football team that was 2-10 last year, shouldn't it.? "If that doesn't motivate us," running back Kevin Parks said, "I'm wondering what kind of men our players are." Well, Kevin, it's one thing when your top talent graduates out of school. It's another thing when your leading receiver secedes after spring practice. That's what senior tight end Jake McGee did, leaving for Florida perhaps after he saw the future at quarterback for this team. Virginia's quarterbacks were quite virginal last season as they couldn't seem to complete a forward pass—nine touchdowns and 17 interceptions. Sophomore Greyson Lambert and junior David Watford will engage in a very civil war for the opportunity to lead an offense that ranked 89th last year into battle. The defense isn't quite as Cavalier. With several upperclassmen returning, including All-American safety Anthony Harris, they may keep opposing offenses from marching to the end zone at will. We'll see if they're good enough to protect coach Mike London's job as well.
If only Dorothy knew to head to Memorial Stadium at the first sight of a tornado-there are no Kansas touchdowns there. Remember when Charlie Weis was an offensive mastermind strategist that could rival Eisenhower D-Day tactics? Neither do we. Hence another five-year rebuilding plan for Weis in Kansas (from the director of the Notre Dame Blighting Irish.) Like a weekend golfer who blames his iron for failing him, Weis keeps looking for that quarterback that won't betray his unassailable game plan. With James Sims gone at running back, it's just another dent in a racecar offense that scored 15.3 points per game last year. Punter Trevor Pardula may be the team's most valuable defensive weapon. His booming kicks send opposing offenses to the other side of the field where it takes slightly longer to score.
The good news is that Cal's quarterback Jared Goff can really throw the football. The bad news is, well, everything else. The peace movement in Berkeley has extended to the team's offensive line, who may be eligible for conscientious objector status, given their inability to fight the war in the trenches. Having this offensive line guard Goff is like asking Rob Ryan to guard the Doritos Locos tacos for lunch. There's plenty of free love to go around on defense as well, where the promiscuous Bears allowed opposing offenses to free their minds and wide receivers to the tune of nearly 46 points per game and over 500 yards of offense. With a merciless Pac-10 schedule, students might find a different kind of grass to enjoy than California Memorial Stadium on Saturdays.
Dishonorable mentions, or The Dirty Dozen
Teams from the five major conferences that will underachieve by winning four to seven games this year (listed alphabetically): Boston College, Georgia Tech, Illinios, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Syracuse, Tennessee, Texas Tech, Utah, Vanderbilt and West Virginia.