The Biggest Disappointments of the 2019 College Football Season so Far

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystSeptember 12, 2019

The Biggest Disappointments of the 2019 College Football Season so Far

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    Tennessee QB Jarrett Guarantano
    Tennessee QB Jarrett GuarantanoWade Payne/Associated Press

    College football teams cannot win a national championship in September, but they sure can lose them.

    While there hasn't been much carnage near the top of the rankings through the first two weeks of the 2019 season, several teams and position groups have sorely disappointed.

    Texas and Syracuse were supposed to rank among the best defenses in their respective conferences, but they are at or near the bottom of the barrel. Miami's offensive line has done a convincing impression of Swiss cheese, while South Florida's offense smells like Limburger.

    And Tennessee.

    Oh, Tennessee.

    These disappointments are listed in no particular order aside from saving the woeful Volunteers for last.

Syracuse's Defense

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    Syracuse DB Andre Cisco
    Syracuse DB Andre CiscoWill Newton/Associated Press

    In Alton Robinson and Kendall Coleman, Syracuse got back a pair of double-digit sack artists from last season. The Orange also retained one of the country's best defensive backs in Andre Cisco. It's primarily because of that trio that Syracuse was expected to have one of the top defenses in 2019.

    That appeared true following the season-opening win over Liberty. The Orange won 24-0, recorded eight sacks and forced four turnovers, dominating an opponent that had averaged 33.3 points per game the previous season.

    The 63-20 beatdown from Maryland painted a much different picture regarding the supposed second-best team in the ACC.

    The Terrapins scored touchdowns on seven of their first eight possessions and still ran 11 plays on the lone non-scoring drive. It didn't much matter if they were passing or running. Heck, it didn't matter which player was doing the rushing or the receiving, as 10 different Terps had either a run or a catch that went for at least 14 yards. Syracuse forced one turnover and got one sack and was powerless to stop a team that wasn't even supposed to finish in the top half of the Big Ten's East Division.

    The Orange could rewrite the script by shutting down Clemson in Week 3, but they'll be written off if they can't pull off that miracle.

South Florida's Offense

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    Charlie Strong
    Charlie StrongJon Barash/Associated Press

    Nearly three years ago, South Florida hired Charlie Strong, who inherited an 11-win team with a high-octane offense led by quarterback Quinton Flowers.

    Things have gone downhill ever since.

    The Bulls did win 10 games in Strong's first season at the helm (Flowers' last year on the roster), but that was arguably the product of playing one of the weakest schedules imaginable. Their yards-per-play rate dropped from 7.17 to 6.15. They started 7-0 the following year (2018) against another pithy slate before forgetting how to move the ball on offense and finishing the season on a six-game losing streak.

    They have since extended that skid to eight straight losses thanks to what is the worst FBS offense in terms of both points (5.0) and yards (209.0) per game.

    Granted, by starting the year with matchups against Wisconsin and Georgia Tech, the Bulls are playing this game at a much higher difficulty level than usual. Still, the statistics are putrid.

    Their top running back, Jordan Cronkrite, is averaging 1.4 yards per carry and does not yet have a rush that went for more than six yards. Their starting quarterback, Blake Barnett, has by far the worst passer efficiency rating (73.6) among players who have attempted at least 20 passes. They have fumbled eight times, losing three. They have almost committed as many penalties (18) as they have achieved first downs (20).

    These numbers should improve drastically in the next three games against South Carolina State, SMU and Connecticut, but don't let that fool you. This offense is a disaster. And the strangest thing is that Texas' offense improved throughout Strong's three-year run there. Abysmal defense got him fired from that gig.

AJ Dillon, Boston College

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    Stew Milne/Associated Press

    AJ Dillon hasn't been bad. He has rushed for at least 80 yards in each of Boston College's two wins, scored four times and already has more receiving yards (63) than he did in his first two seasons combined (41).

    However, Dillon was a consensus top-four running back in the preseason along with Jonathan Taylor, Travis Etienne and D'Andre Swift, and there is no question that he has made less of an impact than those peers:

    • Dillon: 40 carries, 167 yards, 3 TD, 4.2 YPC; 3 receptions for 63 yards and 1 TD
    • Taylor: 35 carries, 237 yards, 5 TD, 6.8 YPC; 5 receptions for 65 yards and 3 TD
    • Etienne: 28 carries, 258 yards, 3 TD, 9.2 YPC; 5 receptions for 55 yards
    • Swift: 22 carries, 214 yards, 2 TD, 9.7 YPC; 1 reception for 9 yards

    It's the paltry yards-per-carry rate that jumps off the page, especially considering Dillon has faced a subpar FBS rush defense (Virginia Tech) and an FCS team (Richmond). Against a similar draw (Vanderbilt and Murray State), Swift has put together the second-best rushing average among players with at least 20 carries.

    Dillon has always been more of a workhorse than a burner. He averaged 5.3 yards per carry as a freshman and 4.9 last year. But he has dropped considerably in both yards per carry and yards per game. Meanwhile, teammate David Bailey has emerged as a solid second fiddle with a YPC of 5.4, so it's not like the offensive line is to blame.

    Again, though, Dillon hasn't been bad. If nothing else, he has been an effective decoy, drawing the attention of opposing defenses and opening avenues for quarterback Anthony Brown to operate. But we included Dillon here to point out that Boston College is 2-0 in spite of worse-than-anticipated production from its star.

    If he finds his stride during the next four weeks against Kansas, Rutgers, Wake Forest and Louisville, the Eagles could be a dangerous team heading into the second (and much more difficult) half of their schedule.

Nebraska Cornhuskers

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    Adrian Martinez
    Adrian MartinezDavid Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Nebraska's lofty preseason national championship odds always felt a little out of place, but no one was expecting the Cornhuskers to look this disjointed in their first two games.

    Their season-opening win over South Alabama was far from convincing. They only won by a two-touchdown margin and scored three times via defense or special teams. Nebraska averaged a meager 4.2 yards per play on offense against a Sun Belt defense that allowed 4.7 YPP this past weekend against Jackson State. Huskers quarterback Adrian Martinez was unimpressive and was written out of the Heisman Trophy conversation after just one game.

    Martinez was much better in Week 2 against Colorado, but the Cornhuskers turned the ball over three times for the second consecutive week and stopped playing defense toward the end of the third quarter. Aside from taking a knee at the end of regulation, the Buffaloes scored on each of their final six possessions (four touchdowns, two field goals) to come back from a 17-7 deficit for a 34-31 victory.

    Not only is it highly unlikely that the Cornhuskers reach the College Football Playoffit's feasible if they run the table from here, though good luck with that based on their first two gamesbut it's also fair to wonder if they'll even qualify for a bowl game.

    They still need to play four games against currently ranked teams (Ohio State, Wisconsin, Maryland and Iowa) and have road matchups against Minnesota and Purdue, which are both projected losses, according to ESPN's Football Power Index. Even if they bounce back with wins over Northern Illinois and Illinois in the next two weeks, a 5-7 record is a realistic possibility.

    A couple of preseason AP Top 25 teams usually fail to become bowl eligible, and Nebraska is looking like the top early candidate for that unfortunate distinction.

Army Blows Another Massive Opportunity in September

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    Kelvin Hopkins Jr.
    Kelvin Hopkins Jr.Tony Ding/Associated Press

    Michigan fans aren't disappointed about this one, but those thirsty for early chaos were left with a "close but no cigar" feeling from Army for the second consecutive September.

    Last year, the Black Knights went into Norman, Oklahoma, and neutralized Kyler Murray and the Sooners by bleeding the clock on long drive after long drive. Were it not for an interception thrown in Oklahoma territory with two minutes remaining in a tie game, Army might have won in regulation and would have ended Oklahoma's quest for a CFP spot before it had much of a chance to begin. Instead, the Sooners escaped in overtime at home.

    Proof that history has a way of repeating itself, Army had Michigan on the ropes in the Big House on Saturday. But the Black Knights threw a third-quarter red-zone interception and missed a 50-yard field goal at the end of regulation, allowing the Wolverines to stay alive into overtime during a 14-14 game. Zach Charbonnet and Co. eventually snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in the second overtime when a strip-sack ended Army's dream of an upset.

    Michigan dropped three spots in the subsequent AP poll to No. 10 andcoupled with a lackluster showing against Middle Tennessee in Week 1lost a lot of respect. But the Wolverines remain very much in the hunt for the CFP. It would have been next to impossible for them to finish the season in the Top Four if they had lost.

    On the flip side of that coin, Army entered Week 2 having won 25 of its last 30 games and has a ridiculously easy schedule the rest of the way. Had the Black Knights won, they would have vaulted into the AP Top 25 with a realistic shot at finishing 13-0 to go with a major feather in their cap. It was never likely that they would sneak into the CFP conversation, but it was at least a possibility. Not anymore.

Texas' Secondary

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    Caden Sterns (7)
    Caden Sterns (7)Tim Warner/Getty Images

    During the 2018 recruiting cycle, Texas head coach Tom Herman made it clear that improving the secondary was his primary concern. The Longhorns signed three of the top six safeties in that year's class, including 5-star guys Caden Sterns and B.J. Foster. They also inked three of the top 15 cornerbacks. In all, they added six of the top 115 overall recruits to their defensive backfield.

    While it wasn't immediately an elite unit last season, many assumed the young secondary would be the strength of a defense that had to replace its entire starting front seven—similar to the preseason expectations for Clemson's D, which has been excellent.

    Things haven't gone according to plan for the Longhorns.

    They comfortably won the opener against Louisiana Tech, but they allowed 340 passing yards and two touchdowns through the air. And it's not like the Bulldogs are renowned for their aerial assault. That was their highest yardage mark against an FBS opponent since 2016, and they only threw for 220 yards the following week against Grambling.

    Then LSU's Joe Burrow ate Texas alive, throwing for 471 yards and four touchdowns while beating the Longhorns in Austin.

    All told, opposing teams have completed 71.0 percent of passes and are averaging 405.5 passing yards per game against Texas. In both categories, the Longhorns rank in the bottom seven nationally. Among Power Five teams, they are dead last in yards allowed and would be last in percentage if not for UCLA (71.9 percent).

    Speaking of the Bruins...

Most of the Pac-12

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    Chip Kelly
    Chip KellyMark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    The Pac-12's dream of getting back to the College Football Playoff for the first time since 2016 already feels dead.

    Mathematically speaking, sure, there's still a chance. Utah has an elite defense. Washington State has an equally elite offense. California already picked up one of the season's most impressive wins. And USC is better than anyone expected. But even though there are six undefeated squads in the conference, no Pac-12 team has national championship odds better than 60-1, according to Caesars.

    Oregon and Washington are the reason for that. The Ducks should have won their opener against Auburn, but they blew the league's best chance at picking up a marquee nonconference win. And in the middle of the night this past Saturday/Sunday, Washington lost a home game to California to fall to 0-1 in conference play. They entered the season as the co-favorites to win the Pac-12, but they are effectively out of the CFP hunt.

    And then there's Arizona, Oregon State and UCLA, which went a combined 0-4 against Group of Five opponents. It's no surprise that Oregon State is bad. Arizona's loss at Hawaii wasn't much of a shocker, either. UCLA is a colossal disappointment, though.

    Chip Kelly was supposed to be the offensive mastermind who helped the Bruins move on from Jim Mora's tenure. Instead, Kelly has gone 3-11 and has one of the country's most anemic offenses.

    To be fair, Cincinnati and San Diego State feature two of the best defenses the Group of Five has to offer, and star running back Joshua Kelley was unavailable for the first game against the Bearcats. Still, a Kelly-led offense should be able to muster more than 14 points and at least four yards per play against opponents with drastically less recruiting pull. Ohio State had more yards (508) and points (42) against Cincinnati than UCLA had in both games combined.

    UCLA hosts Oklahoma this weekend and plays at Washington State the following Saturday, so we might as well pencil in the Bruins for an 0-4 start. With the possible exception of Vanderbilt, UCLA will be the only Power Five team with that record. If the Bruins drop to 0-5 at Arizona, it might be time to take a hard look at Kelly's $9 million buyout.

Miami's Offensive Line

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    Jarren Williams (15)
    Jarren Williams (15)John Raoux/Associated Press

    Miami's quarterback, Jarren Williams, has completed 72.1 percent of his pass attempts and has yet to throw an interception. Its starting running back, Deejay Dallas, is averaging 7.8 yards per carry. Its defense has not yet allowed 30 points in a game and has a year-to-date turnover margin of plus-three.

    And yet, the Hurricanes are 0-2 thanks in large part to the most porous offensive line in the nation.

    Williams has been sacked 14 times this season, which is three more than any other team. Some of those came because they involved a redshirt freshman who lacked the clock awareness to throw the ball away before taking a hit, but most of them were due to defenders in the backfield before Williams even had a chance to think about finding his checkdown receiver.

    Williams was running for his life for most of the night against Florida's top-notch front seven, but North Carolina was all over him, too, recording four sacks and four other sort-of sacks on which Williams was credited with a rush for no gain.

    He has been great when he has had time to make reads, but those opportunities have felt few and far between. These things can happen when your starting offensive line consists of two freshmen, two sophomores and a junior.

    It's similar to what Florida State has been dealing with for the past three-plus years: No matter how good your quarterbacks and running backs are, it's hard to win with any regularity when you don't block for them.

    Things should improve in the next two weeks against FCS school Bethune-Cookman and Central Michigan, the latter of which has just one sack through two games. But the 'Canes had better build some serious positive momentum from those presumed wins, because the ACC is loaded with talented defensive lines.

Tennessee Volunteers

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    Silas Walker/Getty Images

    It's never a good sign when your head coach is comparing your program to the Titanic, but such is the state of Tennessee football.

    En route to an inexplicable 0-2 start at home against Georgia State and BYU, the Volunteers looked OK in the first half of each game. Not great, but OK. They scored on six of nine possessions, only committed one turnover, limited the opposition to three scoring drives and led at each intermission.

    The second halves have been different stories, to say the least.

    The Volunteers have scored just one second-half touchdown, and it was a meaningless one with two seconds remaining in a 15-point game. They have turned the ball over three times on their own half of the field, each one resulting in points against the defense fewer than six plays later.

    Georgia State scored at will in the second half. And while the defense was significantly better for the first 59 minutes and 45 seconds against BYU, the Vols somehow allowed a 64-yard pass against their prevent defense to set up the game-tying field goal, followed by three-play touchdown drives by the Cougars in each of the two overtime periods.

    Just like that, second-year head coach Jeremy Pruitt is sitting on perhaps the country's hottest seat. Florida, Georgia and Alabama are lurking as three of the next five teams on Tennessee's schedule. If and when all three of those games turn into blowout losses for the Volunteers, Pruitt could be gone before November begins.

    Heck, if Tennessee loses to Chattanooga this weekend, he might not make it to Sunday with a job.

                           

    Kerry Miller covers college football and men's college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.