Cigar Aficionado

The Worst 16 Teams In College Football, 2017 Edition

The Worst 16 Teams In College Football, 2017 Edition
Photo: Ed Zurga/Getty Images
University of Kansas coach David Beaty received a lucrative contract extension that doubled his salary from $800,000 to $1.6 million, despite the team's 2-10 record.

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.

Sheridan's Odds: Conference Winning The National Championship

5. University of California

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.

When Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey is not playing a one-man version of “Survivor” behind the line of scrimmage, he has shown promise.
When Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey is not playing a one-man version of “Survivor” behind the line of scrimmage, he has shown promise.

8. Syracuse University

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.

Sheridan's Odds: Heisman Trophy

10. Texas Tech University

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.

The Cyclones defensive line loses three starters on a unit that wasn't exactly blowing opponents off the line of scrimmage to begin with. Their failure to pressure the quarterback means receivers will continue to keep running until they get lost in the cornfields. Like an actual cyclone, Iowa State's forecast for this year continues to be a disaster waiting to happen.

Sheridan's Odds: National Championship

12. University of Virginia

Coach Bronco Mendenhall left BYU on a mission to turn the Virginia program around. But after taking a 4-8 team and making them 2-10, Mendenhall may be rethinking why he left his safe space in Utah. Only a token win against Duke kept Virginia from getting blanked in the ACC. The Cavaliers are pinning their hopes on East Carolina transfer quarterback Kurt Benkert, who managed to throw for over 2,500 yards and 21 TDs when he wasn't running for his life behind a very cavalier offensive line.

The transition from the 4-3 to 3-4 defense was so poorly executed, special prosecutor Robert Mueller is investigating whether Jared Kushner was involved. With eight starters back, Virginia is hoping to keep their opponents from scoring 34 points per game as they did last season. But there's only so much Mendenhall can do with the limited talent he has on the roster. If it gets any worse, Virginia may have to secede from the ACC. It's a good thing that Virginia is for lovers, because you're definitely going to need something else to keep you busy on Saturday afternoons.

13. Arizona State University

Annually among the top party schools in the country, it was time to celebrate last year when Arizona State got off to a 5-1 start. But there's nothing like losing the last six games of the season to kill everyone's buzz. It may be a dry heat in the desert, but it doesn't make the hot seat any more comfortable for Coach Todd Graham, who finished with a 2-7 record in the Pac-12 after a promising start to the season. Phil Bennett has been brought in from Baylor as defensive coordinator to solve the mystery of how you can give up 511 rushing yards in a game to your hated rival, Arizona, who happens to be the worst scoring team in the Pac-12. Bennett has to work with a defense that gave up over 40 points in eight different games last year. Gamblers haven't seen this much over-40 action since they visited Key West.

The Sun Devils are also on their third offensive coordinator in three years with Billy Napier, the former Alabama wide receivers coach. Conveniently, he'll get to work with Alabama transfer Blake Barnett at quarterback. The team's lone bright spot, kicker Zane Gonzalez, heads to the NFL, where he'll see plenty of long distance action as the Cleveland Browns' kicker. It's safe to say that without some divine intervention, the Sun Devils are headed for another year of hell.

Sheridan's Odds: The Playoffs

14. University of Arizona

What do you give a head coach who turns a 7-6 bowl team into a 3-9 laughing stock? Unfortunately, if you are the Arizona Wildcats, you give him one more chance. Rich Rodriguez is back to answer all the big questions that Wildcat fans have, such as why did he bench previous starting quarterback Anu Solomon and let him transfer to Baylor in favor of playing the erratic Brandon Dawkins? Dawkins can certainly run with the football, but it's hard to see the upside when he completes only 54 percent of his passes with a mere eight touchdowns and six interceptions. The Wildcats will rely on a ground-and-pound offense, if the diminutive J.J. Taylor can survive the schedule. Last year, Taylor showed promise with 261 yards in four games before a season-ending injury. The Wildcats wide receiver corps continues to come up short with three starters under six feet, which in today's college game will leave you six feet under.

On defense, the team spent enough time on the field to get a sunburn thanks to an equally diminutive front line. The team only has one returning linebacker in DeAndre Miller, and he gets hurt more than a nudist at a cactus convention. After giving up 44.8 points per game in eight conference losses, it only gets worse from here for a Wildcat team that lacks the size to compete in the Pac-12. So which is the real Arizona? Is it the bowl-bound team that Rodriguez coached when he first came to the team? Or is it the Pac-12 bottom dwellers that we've seen more recently. From the looks of it, it's the latter. Any chance of seeing a bowl game for this desert team is only a mirage.

15. Michigan State University

Flat-Earth truthers have finally found a college football team to root for in Michigan State. After a stellar 12-2 season in 2015, the Spartans sailed right off the face of the planet with a disastrous 3-9 season. Given the success Coach Mark Dantonio has had with the program, he deserves a little room to navigate. But when you lose at least a dozen players to transfers, suspensions and even criminal charges, you have to wonder who's running this asylum? The Spartans turn the keys to the offense over to sophomore quarterback Brian Lewerke. Though Lewerke's season ended early last year with a broken leg, he looked good passing and even running the ball, with 149 rushing yards on 21 carries. He may need to run some more behind an offensive line that has more holes than Sonny Corleone's corpse.

The defense loses eight starters this year, including their entire secondary. After going from a stingy plus-14 in turnovers in 2015 to a very generous minus-5 last season, it looks like that negative trend will continue. Michigan State once had Magic (as in Johnson), but this year it's more likely that they will get sawed in half by opposing teams.

16. Vanderbilt University

For a moment, it looked like the Commodores had finally turned the ship around. After a 4-6 start to the season, the Commodores blew out Ole Miss and handled Tennessee to squeak out a 6-7 record and a bowl appearance. So what if NC State gave them the worst bowl beating since Martha Stewart used to make her own cake batter? Vanderbilt was making hay in the SEC! But like a great work of impressionist art, the closer you look, the more you wonder how they actually did it. What do Lionel Richie's Commodores, the Commodore 64 and the Vanderbilt Commodore offense have in common? They are all quaint reminders of the past that bear no relevance in the present. With an average of 281 yards of total offense and 18.1 yards per game, these Commodores may want to ditch the boats and build an air force for the 21st century. Nine passing touchdowns for an entire season isn't going to cut it in the SEC's navy. Ralph Webb is solid at running back, coming off a season with 1,283 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. But his chances of running outside this year are about as good as Charles Manson's, as the o-line will be a work in progress.

The defense was strong last season, giving up 24 points per game against bruising opposition. But as star linebacker Zach Cunningham and top pass rusher Adam Butler have moved on to wealthier pastures in the NFL, a command performance is highly unlikely. Yes, Vandy fans, just like the stock market, the SEC is very good at sobering corrections. But at least that means when your team is getting its ass beat, you'll still be able to use your favorite cheer to opposing fans, "It's alright! It's OK! You're going to work for us someday!"

Dishonorable mentions
Teams from the Power Five conferences that will underachieve by winning four to seven games: Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia Tech, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi State, Missouri, Nebraska, Ole Miss, Oregon State, Pittsburgh, South Carolina, Texas A&M, UCLA, Utah, Wake Forest & West Virginia.