College Football's Biggest Underachievers in 2019 So Far

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistNovember 1, 2019

College Football's Biggest Underachievers in 2019 So Far

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    The college football offseason is packed with optimism, but September and October have a nasty way of turning that enthusiasm into frustration and discontent.

    In fairness to some programs, they didn't ask for major expectations. Sometimes a hype train builds too much speed even in the face of clear obstacles. No matter the context, though, that only slightly minimizes the disappointment of 2019.

    Every team highlighted below had goals of competing for a conference title and/or a premier bowl. None of them are leading contenders in that manner anymore.

    As happens each season, a few breakout hopefuls have failed to match their billing. Others that seemed to break through in 2018 have regressed in a significant way, and a few ordinarily sturdy programs haven't lived up to their identity.

Army Black Knights

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    En route to a 3-1 start, Army put together another near-upset on the road against a top team. The Black Knights took Oklahoma to overtime last season and forced double overtime at Michigan this year.

    Army stuck in the "others receiving votes" section of the AP Top 25 through the opening month of the campaign.

    October was a different story.

    The Knights fell to Tulanenot a huge problem, Tulane is pretty good!and then followed that loss with letdowns against Western Kentucky, Georgia State and San Jose State. While each school may reach a bowl in 2019, Army was favored in every game.

    Sitting at 3-5, the Knights now are at risk of snapping their program-best three-year bowl streak.

Texas Longhorns

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    Man, this defense is horrible.

    There's no sense in burying the lede, because 5-3 Texas has a disaster on its hands. The Longhorns rank 85th in yards allowed per carry, 94th in opponent third-down conversion rate, 98th in scoring defense, 111th in yards per pass and 112th in yards per play.

    Injuries have plagued the defense, but consistent issues with ineffective blitzes and poor contain are bigger problems. Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando's aggressive nature has burned Texas this season.

    Throw out expected routs of Louisiana Tech and Rice, and the Longhorns haven't kept an opponent below 30 points all year. Unless you have a transcendent offensesee: Oklahoma in 2018this level of defensive ineptitude cannot be overcome.

Northwestern Wildcats

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    Northwestern occasionally deals with a subpar offense, but the 2019 campaign is an unquestioned low for the program.

    Heading into November, the 1-6 Wildcats have mustered a total of 75 points in seven games. So far this season, five different teams have scored more than 75 points in a single game.

    Northwestern's defense has largely been good enough for the 'Cats to compete. The unit ranks 44th nationally with 5.2 yards allowed per play and has held six of its seven opponents to 365 yards or less.

    But because of that offense, last season's Big Ten West champions likely won't be headed to a bowl in 2019.

Syracuse Orange

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    Syracuse peaked in August. That's never a good thing.

    After finishing 10-3 last year, Dino Babers' club held a No. 22 preseason ranking. The Orange began the campaign with an unconvincing win over Liberty, but at least it was a shutout!

    Maryland then ripped Syracuse to shreds in a 63-20 obliteration. And Clemson made it back-to-back blowouts the next week, cruising to a 41-6 victory in the Carrier Dome.

    It was a horrible start to ACC play, and the 3-5 Orange remain winless (0-4) in conference games.

    Babers has some serious issues to address on both sides of the ball this offseason, and the large number of departures on a senior-heavy defense will only heighten the challenge.

Stanford Cardinal

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    Perhaps the ugly part is finished. Nevertheless, 4-4 Stanford is flirting with the program's worst record in 11 years.

    Following a season-opening win over Northwestern, a Top 25 Cardinal team performed poorly in losses to USC (45-20), UCF (45-27) and Oregon (21-6). The Cardinal then stole an out-of-nowhere upset of Washington with backup quarterback Davis Mills, and the problems seemed to be subsiding.

    The next week, however, Stanford proceeded to lose at home to UCLA by 18 points. 

    The November slate includes Colorado, Washington State, Cal and Notre Dame. If the Cardinal don't finish 3-1, they'll have six losses for the first time since 2008.

Michigan State Spartans

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    Andy Manis/Associated Press

    The most accurate measure of a team is performance against top competition.

    Michigan State has failed that important test. Spectacularly.

    In October, the Spartans played Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State. That's either the toughest or second-hardest schedule within the Big Ten. Only an elite program could navigate it.

    However, getting outscored 100-17 is completely indefensible, and MSU sits at 4-4 entering the final month.

    Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio snapped at reporters when asked early in October whether it was a mistake to shuffle the offensive staff rather than hire new assistants. But after an unsightly 10-7 loss at home to Arizona State in September and a horrid October, Dantonio must be aware that changesreal, tangible changesare necessary this offseason.

Miami Hurricanes

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    The annual tradition of "how is Miami going to screw up winning a bad ACC Coastal division?" has provided a new answer in 2019.

    This year, the 4-4 Hurricanes are edging the division's better teams. However, they're coming up agonizingly short against the lower-tier sides.

    ESPN's Bill Connelly concisely summed up the bizarre season: "The Hurricanes have outgained three conference opponents and gone 0-3 in those games, and they have been outgained by two ACC opponents and gone 2-0 in those games. Figure that out."

    First-year head coach Manny Diaz has stayed optimistic because every loss has been close. But having four one-score letdownsand ceding a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime of each oneis a rather large indictment of the coaching staff.

Nebraska Cornhuskers

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    The Nebraska hype centered on two things: quarterback Adrian Martinez in head coach Scott Frost's offense, and an unimpressive Big Ten West allowing the Huskers to cover up potential defensive woes.

    The Huskers are 0-of-2 in that department.

    Martinez made a few mistakes, but he was mostly excellent while Nebraska jumped out to a 3-1 start. However, the sophomore struggled badly in a 48-7 loss to Ohio State and has since missed two gamesboth lossesbecause of a left knee injury.

    The Huskers have allowed 34-plus points in all four of their losses, and their four victories happened against teams ranked no higher than 92nd in yards per play offensively. The defense is basically only providing help when the matchup is favorable.

    That isn't a productive way to spark a proud program.


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