As the first college football game of 2012 fast approaches, we turned to our gridiron guru Danny Sheridan to name the teams that are in for a disappointing season. Here is Sheridan's take on the teams that will struggle the most this year, plus his odds on who will win the Heisman and who to bet for the college football crown.
No need for a playoff system for this group. Don’t expect an at-large bid to The Foreman Forklift Bowl for them, either. These teams will have plenty of time to study for finals, as their chances of going Bowling will be over before the leaves change colors.
10. UCLA – UCLA’s film school has produced several Academy Award-winning directors. If this year’s class is looking for a senior project, perhaps they would like to film the sequel to last year’s horror show of a football program. Once upon a time, the Bruin program was a perennial Rose Bowl threat as legendary coach Terry Donahue kept the NFL well stocked with UCLA alumni. Last year, however, UCLA produced a grand total of zero players drafted by the NFL. New coach Jim L. Mora and offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone plan to throw the ball a lot. The only problem is they don’t know who’s going to throw it. Redshirt freshman Brett Hundley and senior Richard Brehaut are competing for the opportunity to star in Survivor: Southern California by escaping behind an offensive line that is made up of more character actors than leading men. Defensively, the team didn’t add any star power, giving up over 190 yards-per-game on the ground and 31.4 points-per-game, which puts them 92nd on the NCAA depth chart. It’s a good thing the Bruins play in the Rose Bowl; that’s the only hope their fans have of seeing the place for a while.
9. Kentucky – In the early days of Kentucky football, legendary coach Bear Bryant left his coaching job with nine years still remaining on his contract, primarily because he didn’t want his football program to be overshadowed by the basketball team. Even Tim Donaghy couldn’t predict the future with that kind of accuracy. While John Calipari brings in a collection of future pros to take one-year sabbaticals at UK to win national basketball championships, the football team remains like a New York City construction site: a work in progress with no apparent completion date. Senior quarterback Morgan Newton and sophomore quarterback Maxwell Smith will arm wrestle to see who gets the keys to drive this lemon of an offense. The Wildcats offense may as well move to an unmanned drone at quarterback, as it was declared a no-fly zone last season with the ball in the air for only 135.6 yards per game. A surprisingly decent defense loses six starters this year, including both starting cornerbacks to graduation; so expect to see more opposing thoroughbred receivers off to the races this year. Kent State, Western Kentucky and tiny Samford should help Kentucky get into the win column, but UK students are already counting down the days to ESPN’s Midnight Madness.
8. Ole Miss – What do you get when you lead your team to a 2-10 record and one of the worst seasons in school history? The boot! Coach Houston Nutt’s not-so-rebellious performance led to the hiring of Hugh Freeze, who brings exactly one year of collegiate head coaching experience at Arkansas State to the table. With three quarterbacks—Randall Mackey, Zack Stoudt and Barry Brunetti—returning to share snaps, Mr. Freeze decided to ice the quarterback controversy by bringing in junior college newcomer Bo Wallace to run his spread offense. Ole Miss’ run defense gave up real estate faster than a foreclosed homeowner, yielding 225 yards per game last year, including 26 one-way trips to the backyard. Highlighting last season’s debacle was losing 27-7 at home to Louisiana Tech’s WAC-attack, a definite no-no for a SEC team. Central Arkansas, UTEP and Tulane early in the season should build up the team’s confidence just in time to have it shattered by a relentless SEC schedule. If at first you don’t succeed, secede!
7. Duke – Many parents light candles and pray for their children to receive a four-year scholarship to Duke. Unless, of course, their children play football. Duke has had perfect attendance on the 10 Worst list over the last decade, and they’re sitting in the front row again with their hand raised this year. Back-to-back 3-9 seasons has ruined the reputation Coach David Cutcliffe earned at Tennessee and Ole Miss as a champion recruiter. The Blue Devils bring back seven starters on offense and nine starters on defense to give the team some continuity—a continuity of terrible football. Duke likes to throw the ball—they aired it out almost 500 times last year. Then again, that tends to be the offensive strategy when you need a lot of points and fast. The good news is senior quarterback Sean Renfree has shown some accuracy, completing 65 percent of his passes. The bad news is many of those passes are short of the first-down markers. On defense, the Dookie’s bring back several players who think a 4.0 is the minimum number of yards a runner should gain against them. With over 5,000 yards in total offense given up last year, you can expect to see some smart kids matriculating in their pants when the other team’s offense is on the field. They may have a Luck-less Stanford, NC Central and Memphis on the schedule, but even the eggheads there couldn’t create a schedule weak enough to help this team find a winning season.
6. Arizona State – When Arizona State defeated USC and Missouri last September, the future looked bright. But it was only a desert-induced hallucination. The Sun Devils would lose six out of their last seven, including an ass whipping from Boise State. Out goes Dennis Erickson; in comes Samsonite’s favorite coach Todd Graham, who has packed his bags and skipped town previously after one-year stints at Rice and Pittsburgh. Graham has inherited a bone-dry program, starting at quarterback. Talented quarterback Brock Osweiler left after the 2011 season to carry Peyton Manning’s clipboard in Denver this year. Like a college student choosing a major, Graham has said he would make up his mind on who the new quarterback will be in September. Fans will memorize the numbers of the Arizona State cornerbacks quickly this year, as they will see their backs frequently as they chase receivers to the end zone. Northern Arizona and Illinois will help Arizona State get off to a quick start again this year, but it will be a mirage. Watching this team will be as exciting and graceful as watching Madonna age.
5. Maryland – Terrapin fans had high hopes when UConn’s very successful coach Randy Edsall took over the program in 2011. Unfortunately, they got an Edsel instead. The team stumbled badly, winning only two games, including one against tiny Towson State. Edsall’s reign of error resulted in several players getting kicked off the team, both starting offensive tackles transferring out of town and starting quarterback Danny O’Brien graduating in three years, just to get away from his new coach. O’Brien took his ball and eligibility with him to the University of Wisconsin. CJ Brown showed some promise on the ground, running the ball 79 times for 574 yards. But sadly, he’s the quarterback and he only completed 49 percent of his passes. Maryland takes on a few contenders for the 10 Worst list this year in Temple and Connecticut. After that, they may need to road trip to DC to apply for disaster relief.
4. Minnesota – Golden Gopher fans were optimistic about Coach Jerry Kill taking over the program. After back-to-back 3-9 seasons, the team is just thankful for having Indiana to keep them out of the Big Ten’s unfurnished basement. MarQueis Gray is a big quarterback (6-foot-4, 240 pounds) but his stats are small. Sure, he ran for 966 yards and six touchdowns. But when he had to actually give the ball to someone else, they may well have put yellow tape around the scene. Gray threw for only eight touchdowns and eight interceptions. As a team, the Golden Gophers completed only 134 passes last year, so you can expect opposing defenses to bring the party to the line of scrimmage, cause ain’t nothing going on in the defensive backfield. Opponents had a great time in Minnesota’s defensive backfield with quarterbacks completing 68 percent of their passes and ball carriers averaging 4.9 yards a carry. When you look at last year’s highs (wins over Illinois and Iowa) and lows (losses to New Mexico State and North Dakota), it was a season only Vegas bookmakers could love. Maybe that’s why the team has a terrible UNLV on the schedule this year?
3. Indiana – The good news is that the Hoosiers are returning seven offensive starters and eight defensive starters. Like American Idol, however, the returning talent this season is questionable, if not downright bad, as last season was the worst in Indiana history. With only one win against miniscule South Carolina State last year, don’t expect to see Gene Hackman leading these Hoosiers to a miracle championship on the big screen any time soon. Indiana’s equal-opportunity defense did not discriminate, giving up nearly 3,000 yards on the ground and over 2,500 yards in the air. Coach Kevin Wilson inherited a recruiting mess in his first year as head coach and it will take some time before he can bring in enough players to make the program less than average. Indiana starts the season against Indiana State, UMass and a Ball State team that may have to start 65-year-old alumni David Letterman at wide receiver. After that, expect more losing than Michael Jordan at the blackjack table. Look at it this way, Indiana. At least you’re not Penn State, am I right?
2. Kansas – From the people who brought you one of the most underwhelming eras in Notre Dame football history comes your 2012 Kansas Jayhawks! Turner Gill is out as coach and Charlie Weis is in, which is sort of like trying to smother a fire with paper and then trying to drown it in gasoline. Weis brings in two transfer quarterbacks, Dayne Crist from Notre Dame and Jake Heaps from BYU. Both, like Weis, were once considered sure-fire NFL stars, but are now on their second schools battling to accomplish anything. Compared to the defense, the offense was NFL Films worthy. Kansas was the most promiscuous defense, though, in college football, as teams scored on them at will to the tune of 44 points per game. Opposing quarterbacks completed 70 percent of their passes last season, a better rate than most people throwing footballs through stationary tires at the state fair. Kansas’ athletic director may have rejoiced when he pushed respected coach Mark Mangino out of town, but he has a much heavier coach to shove this time around. Rock chalk, Jayhawk! Bet the opponent!
1. Colorado – Remember when Colorado was a mighty football program that threatened to be a championship contender? Neither do we. A program on its way down when coach Dan Hawkins took over five years ago is even more toxic now. Colorado alum Jon Embree inherits a program in meltdown since moving to the PAC-12. He may need to check Craigslist to find some skill players as his team lost every starter at an offensive skill position from last year. Even the one promising returning starter, wide receiver Paul Richardson, blew out his knee in spring practice and will miss the season. The news isn’t any better on defense, as the Buffaloes got stampeded for 37 points per game. The plan at cornerback looks to be to rotate freshmen in there who hopefully won’t get tired chasing receivers to the end zone. Colorado State, Sacramento State and Fresno State may allow Colorado to match their three win total last year, but once they get to the conference schedule, only the Department of the Interior can save these Buffaloes from getting slaughtered. If the American Indians were to give Colorado’s opponents an Indian name, it would be “Dances in End Zone.”
These are teams that I predict will under perform, and win seven or fewer games this season:
Auburn, California, Georgia Tech, Iowa, Kansas State, Miami, Missouri, North Carolina State, Penn State, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Virginia and Washington.
Danny Sheridan is a sports analyst for U.S.A. Today, for which he provides the daily odds on all sporting events for its website. He is also a frequent contributor to Cigar Aficionado. To read his picks for the 2012 NFL Season, see the August issue, on newsstands everywhere.