We’ve made it through seven weeks of a college football season unlike any other. Major conferences like the Big Ten and Pac-12 have yet to take the field, while some teams have played as many as six games.
From what we’ve seen so far, several teams with significant preseason expectations have fallen well short of those projections. Below, in alphabetical order, we’ve highlighted several of the most disappointing teams of the college football season so far.
Auburn (2-2): It looks like Auburn is in for another good-but-not-great season. And that may be optimistic. Last year, Auburn had a stout defense and a lackluster offense. This year, both sides of the ball are completely mediocre. Bo Nix, the Tigers’ acclaimed five-star quarterback recruit, does not appear to have taken many strides as a passer. That was on display in Saturday’s 30-22 loss to South Carolina, a loss that dropped the Tigers to 2-2 on the year. And if it weren’t for a questionable officiating decision in last week’s win over Arkansas, Auburn could very well be 1-3.
Louisville (1-4): Scott Satterfield getting Louisville to eight wins in his first year cleaning up Bobby Petrino’s mess was a tremendous accomplishment. But it now appears that the lack of roster depth is catching up to UL. The Cardinals are off to a 1-4 start and have been plagued by lackluster defense in most of those losses. The losses against Miami (47-34) and Georgia Tech (46-27) were especially ugly. Saturday’s effort, a 12-7 loss to Notre Dame in South Bend, showed some positive signs, though the usually explosive offense really struggled.
LSU (1-2): Last week, we highlighted the very real chances that LSU goes down as the worst defending national champion in college football’s modern era. LSU lost so much talent from that unbelievable 2019 team, but nobody expected such a staggering drop-off on defense with Bo Pelini in the fold as defensive coordinator. The Tigers were embarrassed 44-34 by Mississippi State in their opener, a loss that looks even worse given MSU’s recent performances. The 45-41 loss to Missouri was bad, too. Not only did Mizzou put up 586 yards of offense, it stuffed LSU on four plays from the 1-yard line in the final minute to seal the win.
Oklahoma (2-2): Oklahoma’s five-year Big 12 title streak is in serious jeopardy. OU is working in a first-year starting quarterback and is missing its usually reliable talent at the skill positions. Those factors, coupled with a defense that sometimes looks like it’s allergic to tackling, has the Sooners off to a 2-2 start. OU dropped back-to-back games to Kansas State and Iowa State, blowing leads in both games. Those losses marked the first time OU lost consecutive regular-season games since 1999. If it wasn’t for a 4OT win over Texas, Lincoln Riley’s group would be in even worse shape.
Mississippi State (1-3): Mississippi State, in its first year under Mike Leach, was the talk of college football when it upset LSU in Leach’s SEC head-coaching debut. In a 44-34 win, KJ Costello threw for an SEC-record 623 yards. Since then, though, things have been really, really rough for the Bulldogs. MSU has lost its next three games, scoring a combined 30 points in the process. Before the fourth-quarter TD the Bulldogs scored in their 28-14 loss to Texas A&M on Saturday, the offense had gone an absurd 28 consecutive drives without reaching the end zone. For a Leach offense, that’s unthinkable.
Tennessee (2-2): Last week, Tennessee was riding high. The Vols were ranked No. 14 in the country and on an eight-game winning streak entering a high-profile matchup against No. 3 Georgia. Tennessee even led UGA 21-17 at halftime. Since then, Tennessee has fallen back down to earth. Maybe crashed back down to earth is more accurate. In the six quarters since, the Vols have been outscored 61-7. Georgia stormed back last week and won, 44-21, forcing three second-half turnovers in the process. And on Saturday against Kentucky, the Vols were blown out, 34-7. The offense turned the ball over four more times and has a serious quarterback problem. Jeremy Pruitt has undoubtedly improved the talent on the Tennessee roster, and done so significantly. But the last few weeks have shown just how far the Vols have to go in order to compete for an SEC East title.
Texas (2-2): Texas starting 2-2 in Tom Herman’s fourth season as head coach is pretty difficult for UT fans to accept. That’s especially true with the way the Longhorns have been losing. Herman has had the time to build a roster and 16 starters were back in the fold from a 2019 team that played pretty well late in the year. Instead of playing like an experienced group, UT has been plagued by turnovers, penalties, poor tackling and special teams issues. Worse, position groups like wide receiver and offensive line continue to be weak spots for the program. The Longhorns had a bye this week, so perhaps we’ll see a more disciplined team when they next return to the field.
UCF (2-2): How do you reconcile putting up 798 yards of offense and still losing? UCF is faced with that question this week after Saturday’s 50-49 loss to Memphis, a loss that dropped the Knights to 2-2 on the year. UCF had second-half leads of 35-22 and 43-29, but still allowed Memphis to come back and win. Memphis scored two touchdowns in the game’s final four minutes to overcome a 12-point deficit. Both of UCF’s losses feature blown leads. Two weeks ago, UCF led Tulsa 23-5 late in the first half, but ended up losing, 34-26. The UCF defense has been an issue, no doubt, but the Knights have also been the most-penalized team in the country. Whether the Knights can get back into the AAC race remains to be seen.
— Sam Cooper
Here are this week’s winners and losers:
Clemson: The No. 1 Tigers couldn’t stop scoring against Georgia Tech. Clemson beat the Yellow Jackets 73-7 on Saturday as 10 different Clemson players had a carry and 16 different Clemson players had a catch. Trevor Lawrence threw for a career-high 404 yards and five touchdowns — 391 of those yards came in the first half — as Clemson turned a 7-7 game in the first quarter into a 52-7 halftime lead. The win moved the Tigers to 5-0 on the season and Clemson has now won its four ACC games by an average of 33 points.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks forced seven turnovers in a 33-21 win over Ole Miss. Six of those were interceptions of Ole Miss QB Matt Corral as Arkansas defenders were fearless in jumping in front of Ole Miss receivers when reading Corral’s eyes. The win pushes Arkansas to 2-2 though Hogs fans will gladly tell you that Arkansas should be 3-1 after the SEC’s officiating blunder cost the Razorbacks a win at Auburn a week ago. Additionally, Arkansas’ social media department gets a big shout out for this tweet.
Kentucky: Kentucky beat Tennessee at Neyland Stadium for the first time since 1984 on Saturday, and did so in blowout fashion. The Wildcats defense forced four turnovers, including returning two interceptions for touchdowns in the 34-7 win. It was an impressive performance for the Wildcats, especially when you consider Tennessee’s dominance in the series. Kentucky coach Mark Stoops was going to soak it all in. This quote says it all.
BYU: The march toward New Year’s Six consideration continued on Friday night for No. 14 BYU. The Cougars trailed 26-14 to Houston in the third quarter but reeled off 29 consecutive points for a 43-26 win. Zach Wilson was 25-of-35 passing for 400 yards and four touchdowns and also led the team with 40 yards rushing. Wilson’s completion percentage of 71.4 was his lowest of the season as he keeps showing how he could be a potential first-round pick in the 2021 NFL draft.
Virginia Tech: The No. 23 Hokies got blown out a week ago at North Carolina and bounced back nicely with a comfortable 40-14 win over Boston College. Virginia Tech was dominant on the ground as QB Hendon Hooker had 18 carries for 164 yards and star Kansas transfer Khalil Herbert had 18 carries for 143 yards. Hooker ran for three touchdowns and added another through the air as VT scored the final 23 points of the game to turn a close one into a rout.
Coastal Carolina: It’s time for Coastal Carolina to be ranked in the Top 25. The Chanticleers went on the road and upset No. 21 Louisiana 30-27 on Wednesday night and are now sitting pretty as the lone undefeated team remaining in the Sun Belt at 4-0. Coastal Carolina pulled out the win via a 40-yard field goal by Massimo Biscardi in the final seconds. It marks the first win over a ranked opponent in program history. CCU is in its fourth season at the FBS level and had just a combined 13-23 (6-18 Sun Belt) record in its first three years. Now it is one of the favorites to win the Sun Belt title.
Memphis: What a comeback for the Tigers. Memphis outscored UCF 21-6 over the final 12:40 to win 50-49 and snap a 13-game losing streak against the Knights. The go-ahead TD came when Calvin Austin III caught a four-yard TD pass from Brady White with 1:08 left. UCF then missed a potential game-winning field goal with 19 seconds left. The two teams combined for an absurd 1,501 yards of offense as UCF had 798 and Memphis had 703. White was 34-of-50 passing for 486 yards and six TDs while UCF’s Dillon Gabriel was 35-of-49 for 601 yards and five touchdowns.
SMU: The Mustangs are the only 5-0 team in the AAC after a 37-34 overtime win against Tulane on Friday night. Tulane got the ball to start overtime but Brandon Crossley intercepted Michael Pratt. SMU simply played for the field goal and Chris Naggar hit a 34-yard kick for the win. It’s the second straight season SMU has started 5-0 and now heads into a huge AAC game against No. 8 Cincinnati on Oct. 24.
Georgia QB Stetson Bennett: The guy who took over as Georgia’s starting quarterback during the first game of the season looked like a player who started the season as a backup. Bennett threw three interceptions in No. 3 Georgia’s 41-24 loss to Alabama and his final two interceptions led directly to 14 Alabama points in the second half. The Crimson Tide scored 21 consecutive points in the final 30 minutes to turn a 24-20 deficit into a 17-point win as Bennett was just 18-of-40 passing for 269 yards. While Georgia’s recipe of great defense and decent passing game is enough to win most games, it’s not enough to hang with teams like Alabama.
North Carolina: So much for the dream of an undefeated regular season for the No. 5 Tar Heels. UNC was down 31-7 to Florida State before mounting a valiant comeback. That comeback wasn’t enough, however, and UNC lost 31-28. The offense did its part; Sam Howell threw for 374 yards and UNC rushed for 184. But Florida State gained 241 rushing yards on 36 caries as both La’Damian Webb and Jordan Travis rushed for over 100 yards apiece.
Auburn QB Bo Nix: Interceptions thrown by Bo Nix directly led to 21 of the 30 points South Carolina scored in its 30-22 win over Auburn. Nix threw three interceptions and all three of them gave South Carolina’s offense a short field, resulting in touchdown drives of 29, 49 and 8 yards. Nix’s third interception came late in the third quarter and allowed the Gamecocks to extend their lead from 20-19 to 27-19. Nix’s issues didn’t end with interceptions. He missed plenty of throws and made bad decisions, continuously holding onto the ball for far too long. It happened on the final play of the game, a fourth-down play when Auburn needed a touchdown to keep its hopes alive. Instead, Nix did this.
Notre Dame’s passing game: If you didn’t watch Notre Dame’s win over Louisville you didn’t miss much at all. The No. 4 Fighting Irish won 12-7 in a game where 13 of the 19 points were scored on back-to-back drives in the third quarter. Louisville’s defense entered the game allowing nearly 390 yards per contest but Notre Dame couldn’t really take advantage. Ian Book was just 11-of-19 passing for 107 yards. The Irish did, however, continue to be one fo the best rushing teams in college football. Notre Dame ran 49 times for 232 yards and ended the game with a 14-play, 57 yard drive that took the final 7:55 off the clock.
Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi: Pat Narduzzi once sent his field goal unit out on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line with under five minutes left in regulation when his team trailed its rival by a touchdown. So it shouldn’t have been surprising when he opted for a field goal on fourth-and-3 from the Miami 12-yard line when his team trailed 28-16 with 31 seconds left in the third quarter on Saturday.
Instead of trying to cut a two-score deficit to a one-score deficit, Narduzzi instead wanted to cut Miami’s lead to just nine, 28-19. Predictably, Pitt’s offense would not even enter Miami territory the rest of the way in an eventual 31-19 loss. Narduzzi’s explanation after the game did not make much sense, either. He also claimed the decision came “early” or in “the middle” of the third quarter, when it actually came in the final minute of the quarter.
“You want to go for it on one hand, but you want to take points,” Narduzzi said. “It’s still early in the third quarter or middle of the third quarter, I think. There’s still plenty of time left and I think you got to take the points.”
Ole Miss QB Matt Corral: Saturday was a rough day for several SEC quarterbacks, but nobody had a worse day than Ole Miss’ Matt Corral. Corral had been tremendous through the Rebels’ first three games, combining for 1,080 yards, nine touchdowns and just one interception on 76.1 percent throwing. Corral’s stats looked much different in Saturday’s 33-21 loss to Arkansas: 20-of-38 for 200 yards, two TDs and six interceptions. Yes, six interceptions. On the heels of such a stellar performance against Alabama, Corral had the worst game of his career against the Razorbacks.
Syracuse: Things are not going well in 2020 for Syracuse. The Orange dropped to 1-4 on Saturday with yet another loss, and this one came in the team’s lone non-conference game of the year: a 38-21 defeat at the hands of Liberty. It was an ugly loss, too. The Orange defense allowed the Flames to gain 338 yards and four TDs rushing, including 170 yards and two scores on just 10 carries from Shedro Louis, a sophomore whose previous career high was 57 yards.
Yes, Syracuse played this game without starting QB Tommy DeVito, but the games he has played have not gone much better. It’s fair to start wondering about the direction of the program under Dino Babers. Syracuse went 10-3 in 2018, but that year is starting to look like a significant outlier. Syracuse is 14-27 in Babers’ four other seasons.
South Florida: USF took a 31-20 lead late in the third quarter at Temple on Saturday, but ended up blowing that lead in a 39-37 loss. Temple scored three touchdowns, including a scoop and score off a USF turnover, to flip that 31-20 deficit to a 39-31 lead. USF had a chance to tie the game, though, after scoring a touchdown with 1:03 to play. All that USF needed was a two-point conversion play, but the play call failed miserably and USF fell to 1-4.
Western Kentucky: What’s happened to the Hilltoppers? WKU lost 37-14 at UAB on Saturday to fall to 1-4 on the season. A once-powerful offense struggled again as the team rushed for just 88 yards on 32 carries and Kevaris Thomas threw for just 162 yards on 35 pass attempts. WKU’s only win came over hapless Middle Tennessee State and while a gimme game against Chattanooga is on the schedule next, WKU’s next two FBS opponents are No. 14 BYU and Florida Atlantic.
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