Can you believe there are just two weeks left in the 2019 college football regular season?
As the season winds down and we start looking more and more at conference championship games and the College Football Playoff, the conclusion of Week 12 is a good time to assess some teams who won’t be making their conference title games or the playoff this season despite starting the season with legitimate postseason aspirations.
Here are some of our most disappointing teams of the 2019 college football season. While many of them will finish with winning records, none of the teams on this list can say this season was a successful one.
When Texas was able to reach the 10-win mark with an impressive win over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl at the end of the 2018 season, it took the usual hype surrounding the Longhorns to a new level entering 2019. All offseason, we heard that Texas was a legitimate College Football Playoff contender despite the number of contributors it lost from its defense. The high level of recruiting would keep the momentum rolling and Texas was set to return to glory in Tom Herman’s third year, right? Wrong.
After losing 23-21 to Iowa State on Saturday, Herman’s team dropped to 6-4 on the year and is meandering toward a middling bowl game. The way Texas performed on Saturday — in the first half especially — didn’t much resemble the team that played LSU tight back in Week 2. Since then, UT lost to Oklahoma, TCU and Iowa State, and it needed last-second field goals to beat Kansas and Kansas State.
Herman has always pointed to the hole he needed to dig out from previous coaching regimes to get Texas back on top of the Big 12 and beyond. He still has a long way to go — if it’s something he can do at all.
Speaking of preseason hype, Nebraska’s may have been even more overblown than Texas. We had Nebraska at No. 23 in our preseason rankings, so we forecasted an improvement for the Huskers in Year 2 under Scott Frost, but did not think they were good enough to win the Big Ten West. As it turns out, they won’t even be good enough to make a bowl game.
Hours after a contract extension was curiously announced for Frost, the Huskers lost 37-21 at home to Wisconsin. It marked the fourth straight defeat for the Huskers, who are now 4-6 on the year. That comes on the heels of a 4-8 record in Frost’s first season as the head coach at his alma mater. Nebraska should be favored on the road at Maryland next week, but will need to upset Iowa to become bowl eligible. With the way the Huskers have been playing — especially the consistently questionable decision-making of heralded QB Adrian Martinez — that feels like a long shot.
Could we be seeing the end of the Mark Dantonio era? Just four years ago, Michigan State won 12 games, a Big Ten title and made it to the College Football Playoff. But it’s been all downhill since then. In the years since, the Spartans have a combined 24-24 record with a 15-19 mark in Big Ten play.
The last two seasons have been mired in mediocrity. In 2018, MSU spoiled a tremendous defense by being completely inept on offense. Ahead of the 2019 season, Dantonio made no changes to his offensive staff (other than shifting their titles) and finds himself in an even worse spot. After a 4-1 start to the season, MSU has now lost five consecutive games thanks to Saturday’s 44-10 beatdown at the hands of rival Michigan. And now the Spartans need to win their final two games just to reach a bowl.
Reports out of East Lansing say the Michigan State brass won’t fire Dantonio, the most successful coach in program history. But Dantonio, 63, may just decide the program will be better off in the hands of somebody else.
The Huskies (6-4, 3-4 Pac-12) entered 2019 as a team that many expected to compete for the Pac-12 North title. That hasn’t happened. Washington’s first loss of the season came in Week 2 in a 20-19 Cal win delayed for hours by thunderstorms that ended so late that it was even past people’s bedtimes on the west coast.
Three consecutive wins followed that game, including a win over a ranked USC team. After that, it’s been suboptimal. First, Washington lost to a below-average Stanford team. After shellacking Arizona, Washington then lost to Oregon and Utah in consecutive games after holding leads in both.
It’s not unfair to say that as QB Jacob Eason goes, the Huskies go. Eason has thrown seven interceptions in 2019. Five of them have come in the four losses and the only Washington win where Eason threw a pick was against Oregon State. With games remaining against Colorado and Washington State, Washington has a good shot at 8-4. But this team could and should have been 10-2.
The 7-3 Knights are, at best, the fourth-best team in the American Athletic Conference this season. That’s a far cry from the undefeated teams of 2017 and 2018. UCF’s regular-season winning streak came to a halt with a 35-34 loss at Pitt. And then the Knights lost 27-24 at Cincinnati. Both of the losses were explainable.
What wasn’t explainable was a 34-31 defeat to Tulsa on Nov. 8. The Knights self-destructed in the fourth quarter and gave up 10 fourth-quarter points to lose 34-31.
A big reason for UCF’s struggles? Turnover margin. After ranking second in the category in 2018, UCF has turned the ball over 14 times and forced just 13 turnovers itself. Nine of those 14 turnovers have come in the three losses. When UCF holds onto the ball, it does just fine. It just fails to do that often enough.
Houston’s season has been an absolute disaster. Though that’s what happens when you ask your best players to redshirt.
The Cougars had a chance to be one of the better teams in the AAC but after losses to Oklahoma, Washington State and Tulane in the first four games the plug got pulled on the season. And that’s been a disappointment. Houston, now 3-7, has lost three straight games after a 45-27 defeat to Memphis on Saturday and we’ve all been deprived of seeing QB D’Eriq King on the field since he’s one of the players redshirting for the Cougars.
We have no idea if King will be in a Houston uniform in 2020. He’s an enticing graduate transfer option for any program in need of a quarterback. What we do know is Houston could have gone to a bowl this year with him at QB. Instead, the Cougars are guaranteed to have just two more games left in the season.
Here are this week’s winners and losers:
Clemson: No. 3 Clemson is hitting another gear as it prepares for another postseason run. The Tigers improved to 11-0 on Saturday by demolishing Wake Forest, 52-3. It was the fourth straight game with at least 52 points for the Tigers, who have been destroying teams on a weekly basis since that near-upset to North Carolina back on Sept. 28. Since then, Clemson has won its next six games by an average margin of 42.8 points. The Tigers have a bye next week before facing rival South Carolina with an undefeated regular season on the line.
Utah and Oregon: Utah and Oregon are still on course to play one another in the Pac-12 title game. And what a title game it will be. Utah took care of business at home Saturday night, trouncing UCLA 49-3 behind another stellar effort from Tyler Huntley. Huntley completed 14-of-18 passes for 335 yards and two scores to help his team improve to 9-1. Later Saturday, Oregon beat Arizona 34-6 — its ninth consecutive victory — behind a 333-yard, four-touchdown performance from Justin Herbert.
Penn State: No. 9 Penn State had its hands full against Indiana on Saturday. At 7-2 and ranked in the AP Top 25 for the first time since 1994, this is a much-improved Hoosiers team. And when IU cut PSU’s lead to 27-24 with 10:45 to play, it looked like the Nittany Lions could be in for their second straight loss. Instead, Sean Clifford led the PSU offense on an 18-play, 75-yard scoring drive that took 9:01 off the clock and culminated in a one-yard Clifford TD run on fourth-and-goal that sealed a victory. The win improved PSU’s record to 9-1 heading into Columbus with first place in the Big Ten East on the line.
Michigan: No. 15 Michigan has been playing at a high level over the last month. UM’s second-half rally in a 28-21 loss at Penn State has carried over into its ensuing games — wins over Notre Dame, Maryland and Michigan State by a combined 96 points. Saturday’s 44-10 win over rival Michigan State saw the best performance of the year from QB Shea Patterson, who threw for 384 yards and four touchdowns. The Wolverines, now 9-2, travel to Indiana next weekend before hosting rival Ohio State in the regular-season finale. Can Michigan play spoiler?
Louisville: A year after a 2-10 season, Louisville is going to a bowl game. After the level of dysfunction that plagued UL’s final season under Bobby Petrino, that’s an extremely impressive turnaround and a credit to the job Scott Satterfield is doing. The Cardinals improved to 6-4 on Saturday by beating NC State 34-20 on the road. And with Syracuse and Kentucky left on the schedule, 8-4 is very realistic for the Cardinals.
Rice and New Mexico State: Sorry, Akron, you are the only FBS team without a win in 2019. Both Rice and New Mexico State notched their first wins of the season on Saturday. Rice went on the road and beat Middle Tennessee 31-28 to improve to 1-9. New Mexico State, meanwhile, needed to play an FCS team to get win No. 1. The Aggies knocked off Incarnate Word, 41-28, at home and are also now 1-9 on the year.
Casey O’Brien: O’Brien, a backup holder for Minnesota, is a four-time cancer survivor. He saw his first collegiate action earlier this season, and was front and center on Saturday when Minnesota participated in the best tradition in college football: waving to the children at University of Iowa's Stead Family Children's Hospital that overlooks Kinnick Stadium.
Bonus winner: South Carolina punter Joseph Charlton gets an A+ for self-preservation.
Kansas State: The Wildcats’ fantastic first season under coach Chris Klieman hit a massive speed bump at home against West Virginia. The Wildcats lost 24-20 on Saturday to a Mountaineers team that had lost five straight. Jarret Doege, a Bowling Green transfer, was 20-of-30 passing for 234 yards and three touchdowns in his first start as WVU scored 10 fourth-quarter points to steal the win. Kansas State’s rushing attack averaged just over three yards a carry and QB Skylar Thompson was intercepted with 43 seconds left as Kansas State’s comeback bid fell short. The Wildcats are now 6-4 and have games against Texas Tech and Iowa State remaining.
Navy: So much for Navy being competitive against Notre Dame on Saturday. The Midshipmen entered the game as a single-digit underdog and in the College Football Playoff rankings. Navy will not be ranked on Tuesday. Notre Dame won 52-20 as Navy lost four fumbles and didn’t force any turnovers. The Irish had a 28-3 by halftime with QB Ian Book throwing for five touchdowns. In the race for a New Year’s Six bowl bid, Navy is probably on the outside looking in.
Arizona State: Things have gone sideways for Herm Edwards’ program. In Year 2 under Edwards, Arizona State started 5-1 and was ranked in the Top 25. Since then, the Sun Devils have dropped four straight games and are now 5-5 on the year. ASU lost 35-34 to Oregon State on Saturday, falling a point short after opting to go for two and the lead with 1:40 to play. The two-point try was a disaster, leaving the Sun Devils in danger of missing a bowl game.
Stanford: The Cardinal look set to miss a bowl game for the first time since 2008 after a 49-22 loss to Washington State on Saturday. The Cardinal went down 19-0 early and pulled within three at 25-22 before Washington State scored 24 points to put the game out of reach. Stanford is now 4-6 with games against Cal and Notre Dame remaining. The Cardinal needs to win both to be bowl eligible. That’s unlikely. In case you were wondering, 2008 was Jim Harbaugh’s second season at Stanford. The Cardinal won eight games the following year and then 12 in 2010 before Harbaugh went to the NFL and David Shaw took over. Shaw has never won fewer than eight games in a season at Stanford — until 2019.
Duke: Syracuse entered Saturday’s game at Duke with an 0-5 record in the ACC and hadn’t scored more than 27 points in a conference game all season. Somehow, the Orange beat the Blue Devils 49-6. Things are not going well in Durham as the Blue Devils have now lost four straight games. Losses to Virginia, North Carolina and Notre Dame were defensible, though two of those three games were blowouts. Losing to an underachieving Syracuse team, however, is disastrous and sets Duke up for missing a bowl game. The Blue Devils now have to beat both Wake Forest and Miami to get to 6-6.
USF K Spencer Shrader: It’s never fun putting a kicker in the losers column, but Shrader was just 1-of-5 on field goals in USF’s 20-17 loss to No. 17 Cincinnati on Saturday night. Shrader missed from 50, 53 and 43 yards out in the first half and then his shortest miss came on USF’s final drive. He hit the upright on a 33-yard attempt with 2:07 left that would have given USF the lead. Cincinnati got the ball and drove down the field in 11 plays and Sam Crosa hit a 37-yard field goal as time expired to give the Bearcats the win. Cincy is now 9-1 and remains perfect in AAC play.
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