Ranking the Most Disappointing CFB Seasons Since 2000
Disappointment is inevitable in every college football season. Although we can spend more than eight months preparing for the next year and usually are fairly certain what to expect, a highly regarded team will occasionally have a bad season.
And sometimes, it's straight-up disastrous.
During the last two decades, many perceived national title contenders have fallen out of the race in a matter of weeks. Worse yet, though, several of them kept on losing.
All of the teams highlighted held a Top 10 preseason ranking but ended well short of their expectations.
T-8. 2009 Oklahoma Sooners and 2017 Florida State Seminoles
Because of injuries at quarterback, 2009 Oklahoma and 2017 Florida State require an asterisk. Sam Bradford (shoulder) appeared in just three games for Oklahoma, and Deondre Francois (knee) exited the opener with a season-ending injury.
Nevertheless, both opened the campaign as the No. 3 team and finished outside of the AP Top 25.
Oklahoma fell to three ranked teams—BYU, Miami and Texas—in the first six games, and a loss to Nebraska pushed the Sooners out of the AP poll. And then, Texas Tech pounded OU 41-13. The lone bright spot, perhaps, is the Sooners still smacked Oklahoma State for the seventh of eight straight wins in the rivalry.
In 2017, Francois' injury derailed the Seminoles. They trudged to a 7-6 record, falling to Miami for the first time since 2009 and posting a 3-5 mark in ACC play. Head coach Jimbo Fisher bolted for Texas A&M prior to FSU's regular-season finale.
7. 2007 Michigan Wolverines
First, some context: Michigan closed the 2006 regular season with a "Game of the Century" clash against rival Ohio State. The Wolverines entered that contest 11-0 with a spot in the BCS National Championship Game on the line.
Despite a loss to OSU, U-M's strong year combined with the return of quarterback Chad Henne, running back Mike Hart and left tackle Jake Long resulted in high hopes for the 2007 Wolverines.
Unfortunately, they failed to live up to expectations.
Instead, they began the season with a seismic letdown to Appalachian State—then a lower-division school. The next week, Oregon hammered the Wolverines 39-7 in Ann Arbor. Michigan still had a shot at a Big Ten crown until consecutive November losses to Wisconsin and Ohio State sealed the team's fate.
Longtime coach Lloyd Carr retired with an impressive win over Florida, but Michigan had desired far more than a Capital One Bowl victory to end 2007.
6. 2015 Auburn Tigers
Oh, yes, the Jeremy Johnson Hype Train.
During his first two seasons at Auburn, the 6'5", 234-pound quarterback looked the part in his limited reps. Johnson had extended playing time in three games and threw eight touchdowns. He seemed like the obvious heir to Nick Marshall.
The transition didn't go as planned for the preseason No. 6 team.
Auburn started 2-0, but Johnson tossed five interceptions in the wins. The turnover issues set the stage for an unsuccessful shuffle between Johnson and Sean White throughout the season.
Ultimately, the Tigers unraveled. LSU blasted them 45-21 before Mississippi State won 17-9. Later in the year, Arkansas, Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama defeated Auburn—which needed a Birmingham Bowl victory over Memphis just to finish 7-6.
5. 2016 Notre Dame Fighting Irish
On either side of 2016, Notre Dame had a 10-win campaign. In hindsight, this is undoubtedly an outlier year.
But it was a terrible season for the Irish.
Ranked 10th in the preseason AP poll, they opened with the infamous "Texas is back!" loss and dropped September games to Michigan State and Duke.
In the rain-soaked conditions around Hurricane Matthew, North Carolina State managed a sloppy win. Notre Dame lost to Stanford the next week, falling to 2-5 in a season that could not be salvaged. Down the stretch, the Irish lost to Navy, Virginia Tech and USC.
They mustered a 4-8 record—the fifth-worst mark in program history.
4. 2000 Alabama Crimson Tide
Alabama had a nightmarish case of the "Trending Up" disease in 2000.
Beginning in 1997, Mike DuBose oversaw 4-7, 7-5 and 10-3 teams. In 1999, the Crimson Tide won an SEC championship and dropped a heartbreaker to Michigan in the Orange Bowl. They were ready to chase a national title, right?
Obviously, you know the answer. Alabama held a No. 3 preseason ranking but promptly exited the Top 25 because of September losses to UCLA, Southern Miss and Arkansas.
The relief of wins over South Carolina and Ole Miss quickly faded with five consecutive losses. Alabama fell to a slew of rivals (Tennessee, LSU, Mississippi State and Auburn) along with a last-second letdown to UCF—a string of events that prompted DuBose's firing/resignation.
Alabama's title hopes devolved into a 3-8 year and the Tide's fourth-lowest winning percentage ever.
3. 2010 Texas Longhorns
Texas fans enjoyed Oklahoma's pain in 2009, but schadenfreude must've had karmic retribution for the Longhorns in 2010.
That, or this offense stunk. Yeah, definitely the latter.
One year after reaching the BCS National Championship Game, the Longhorns began the season at No. 5 in the AP poll. They put together a 3-0 start but imploded in Big 12 play.
Texas trudged to 23.8 points per game (88th nationally), a minus-12 turnover margin (116th) and 55.3 penalty yards per game (76th). First-year starter Garrett Gilbert tossed 10 touchdowns and 17 interceptions, and the Longhorns went 2-6 in conference games. At least they upset No. 5 Nebraska?
2010 was the first and only losing season (5-7) in Mack Brown's tenure, and it set the stage for the fall of a once-dominant program.
2. 2005 Tennessee Volunteers
If you're a Vols fan, perhaps you've forgotten Tennessee played football in 2005. After all, that year brought the jersey retirements of legends Reggie White, Peyton Manning and Doug Atkins!
We wouldn't blame you for trying to repress 2005. In the preseason AP Top 25, the Volunteers checked in at No. 3 behind USC and Texas—the eventual matchup in a legendary national championship. Tennessee, however, flamed out and missed a bowl.
The most frustrating part is the Vols had a fantastic defense, which ceded only 18.6 points per game. But the offense scored just 18.6 points per game, which ranked 102nd in the nation.
Tennessee stumbled to 5-6, and the losing season snapped the program's 16-year bowl streak.
1. 2012 USC Trojans
During the last two decades, only 2012 USC landed the No. 1 preseason ranking and finished the year outside of the Top 25.
Lane Kiffin has rebuilt his coaching image, but this letdown was a contributing factor in his fall from grace. USC returned 18 starters from a 10-2 team—including star quarterback Matt Barkley—and entered the season on the heels of a two-year postseason ban. On paper, it was the perfect outlook.
Although Stanford upset USC in mid-September, the Trojans recovered with four straight wins and improved to 6-1.
But then, disaster struck.
Arizona knocked off the Trojans, and No. 2 Oregon followed with a 62-51 win. USC beat Arizona State but fell to rivals UCLA and Notre Dame in consecutive weeks. Championship hopes dashed and motivation long gone, USC lost to Georgia Tech 21-7 in the Sun Bowl.
What seemed like a storybook season ended at 7-6, and Kiffin only lasted five games in 2013 before the infamous airport firing.