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Dr. Saturday

The Dreadful Dozen: Counting down the doormats of 2011

Matt Hinton
Dr. Saturday

Projecting the nation's worst teams. Part of Mid-Major Week.

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12. San Jose State (1-12 in 2010)
If you sat down to write a literal recipe for disaster in college football, the 2010 Spartans would be your model. Take a perennial bottom-dweller, add a first-year head coach, flash-fry it in a killer schedule that includes five ranked opponents in the first seven games, stir in the most injury-riddled lineup in the nation, and voila: Out comes a team that barely survived a 16-11 struggle against Southern Utah for its only win.

San Jose's 10-game losing streak is the longest in the nation going into the season, and it may well be battling those demons with a freshman quarterback. But four of the final five defeats in that streak came by a touchdown or less, and every starter is back from a defense that can't possibly be worse. The Spartans' luck can't be any worse, either, which ought to be enough to lift the win total into the "multiple" range by itself.

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11. Wyoming (3-9 in 2010)
Exhibit A: The Cowboys lost back-to-back games last November against Mountain West rivals New Mexico and UNLV, teams that combined to go 0-20 against the rest of college football. (See below.) Exhibit B: Two scholarship quarterbacks have fled Laramie with eligibility remaining since the end of last season, leaving two true freshmen as the only remaining options for an offense that already ranked among the worst in the nation. Exhibit C: The first two games on the schedule are against I-AA/FCS gimmes Weber State and Texas State, and neither looks like an actual gimme.

Verdict: After the cushy start, don't be surprised if Wyoming doesn't win again.

10. Western Kentucky (2-10 in 2010)
The newest addition to the I-A/FBS ranks managed to snap a 26-game skid with not one but two wins in the span of a few weeks last November, and could have had more if not for blown fourth-quarter leads against Sun Belt rivals Florida Atlantic, Louisiana-Monroe and Middle Tennessee — the latter two both double-digit collapses. Still, a last-place finish in the Sun Belt with a 33-6 loss to North Texas is a last-place finish in the Sun Belt with a 33-6 loss to North Texas, glaring evidence that the Hilltoppers aren't ready to claw their way out of the dregs of the nation's dreggiest conference yet.{YSP:MORE}

9. Louisiana-Lafayette (3-9 in 2010)
There's much respect and maybe even some semblance of excitement in L'Acadiane for new coach Mark Hudspeth, a big winner in his previous stop at Division II North Alabama. Maybe someday. For now, Hudspeth inherits a team that was two points away from closing 2010 on a double-digit losing streak and has to replace virtually its entire offensive line.

8. New Mexico State (2-10 in 2010)
The Aggies finished 1-7 in the WAC, failed to top 30 points in any game for the second consecutive season, lost by an average margin of three touchdowns and only managed to win at all courtesy of a) A late field goal against New Mexico and b) A touchdown at the gun against San Jose State, two teams that combined to go 2-23 themselves. (See above and below.) You know coach DeWayne Walker was telling the truth about his chances of landing the Texas defensive coordinator job, because if it was anything more than a rumor, he may have resigned on the spot.

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The good news for Year Three of the Walker era is that he gets back the most experienced lineup in the WAC, including all three quarterbacks. The bad news: That trio combined to lead the worst attack in the conference in terms of passing, pass efficiency, total and scoring offense, a year after a completely different rotation of QBs landed at the bottom of the same well in 2009.

7. Florida Atlantic (4-8 in 2010)
The up-and-coming optimism that followed back-to-back winning seasons in 2007-08 came crashing down in a hurry with back-to-back losing seasons the last two years, and 2010 was dangerously close to rock bottom: Three of the Owls' four wins came by one point, two of them (over Western Kentucky and UL-Lafayette) against outfits that also appear on this list. The long-awaited on-campus stadium finally opens this year, but with the greenest lineup in the Sun Belt, five straight road trips to open the season and Howard Schnellenberger likely on his farewell tour, the happy days are still well into the future.

6. UTEP (6-7 in 2010)
Yes, the Miners were in a bowl game last year. And yes, their head coach is fond of carrying around a pickaxe, even in the presence of small children. But even before they were blown out of the New Mexico Bowl by BYU, they'd dropped five of the last six in the regular season en route to their fifth straight losing record. Now, they've lost the leading passer in school history, three of the top four receivers, the entire offensive line and the faith of the prognostoscenti, which almost unanimously peg the Miners to finish last in Conference USA's West Division.

5. Eastern Michigan (2-10 in 2010)
Per capita, the Eagles were arguably one of the most improved teams in the country last year, rebounding from an 0-12 catastrophe in coach Ron English's debut with a pair of skin-of-the-teeth triumphs over Ball State and Buffalo in Year Two. But that still wasn't good enough to get them out of the MAC West cellar, mostly thanks to a defense that came in 119th out of 120 teams in rushing, pass efficiency and scoring D, allowing upwards of 40 points in seven different games.

You know the drill here: Regardless of the specifics, EMU still hasn't won more than four games in a season since 1995 and has given no indication of escaping the cellar in about as long.

4. Akron (1-11 in 2010)
You have to credit the Zips for persistence: After dropping eight of their first nine games by double digits — and four of the first five in the MAC by at least 30 — they fought back with legitimate chances to beat Ball State and eventual conference champ Miami (Ohio) late before breaking through against Buffalo in the finale to avoid the nation's only winless season. Unfortunately, persistence doesn't erase an average margin of defeat of 30 points for the year, or provide ready replacements for four outgoing seniors who accounted for 80 percent of the MAC's most anemic offense.

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3. New Mexico (1-11 in 2010)
At least coach Mike Locksley managed to avoid punching an assistant coach in his second season, but if not for the $1.5 million the state would have been forced to pony up to buy out the rest of Locksley's contract, he may have been the one getting KO'd. The Lobos came in among the bottom 20 nationally in every major category on both sides of the ball en route to their second straight 1-11 finish, including rock-bottom finishes in total offense, rushing defense and scoring defense. Eight of their 11 losses came by at least 25 points, and only one — a 16-14 flop against fellow Enchantment State bottom dweller New Mexico State — was within single digits.

The only reason New Mexico isn't at the top of the list is its relative experience — three veteran quarterbacks are on hand along with all of the most productive skill players and virtually the entire defense, inept as they all were. Locksley is also plugging in transfers from Ohio State (receiver Lamaar Thomas), Illinois (defensive tackle Reggie Ellis), Maryland (linebacker Javarie Johnson) and West Virginia (receiver Deon Long). As embarrassing as the Lobos have been over Locksley's first two seasons, though, even dramatic improvement leaves them well behind the pack.

2. UNLV (2-10 in 2010)
The Rebels matched a school record for losses in 2010, and they did it with gusto: All 11 defeats were by at least 15 points, six of them by at least 30. That was mitigated somewhat by the brutal schedule, but only somewhat. Vegas also came in for beatings from the likes of Idaho (30-7) and Colorado State (43-10). Now it loses its starting quarterback, most of its offensive and most of the defense, and I can't help but imagine second-year coach Bobby Hauck still dreaming of somehow getting his old job back.

1. Memphis (1-11 in 2010)
On his way out in 2009, freshly fired coach Tommy West angrily warned his former employer to be careful what it wished for in its quest for wins on the cheap. A year later, Larry Porter's initial effort drove home West's point in graphic detail: The Tigers didn't win a game in Conference USA, and after a narrow, 16-13 call against UTEP in September, didn't come close. Their other seven conference losses all came by at least 15 points, plunging the team increasing hopelessness over the course of a nine-game losing streak to close the season.

Worse, Porter's second team will be one of the greenest in the country. The offense is breaking in a brand new quarterback and four new offensive linemen in a revamped, spread-friendly scheme, opposite five new starters in the back seven on defense, which finished 2010 as the worst pass efficiency defense in the country. If the Tigers can't beat Austin Peay on Sept. 17, the lonely '1' in the win column may give way to a fat zero.

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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.

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