The Washington Times - October 18, 2008, 10:20PM

There was something about Clemson that suggested it wasn’t a top-10 team in the preseason.

It wasn’t the Tigers‘ Clemsonliness. No, it was a dubious offensive line.

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But across the country, it was much easier to see all of the skill position stars – guys who haven’t thrived as much as expected this year.

That said, good luck finding someone who thought Clemson would be 3-4 right now.

A national title? Ha! An ACC title? That ain’t happening.

How about a winning season?

If not, the Tigers will join an unpleasant list of a dozen other teams since 1988 that parlayed a top-10 preseason ranking into an unranked team by season’s end that couldn’t even sniff a bowl game.

Here goes…

* 1988 Texas A&M: The Aggies started off No. 10 after winning the Cotton Bowl a year earlier. However, A&M dropped its first three, and even a decent performance in the Southwest Conference didn’t save Jackie Sherrill’s job. Of course, the 7-5 season was only the final straw on top of NCAA probation.

* 1989 Louisiana State: Mike Archer’s third season in Baton Rouge began at No. 7, but the Tigers were 1-6 by the end of October. LSU salvaged three of its last four, but another losing season cost Archer his job in 1990. It remains difficult to believe the Tigers endured six straight losing seasons (1989-94) in the not-too-distant past.

* 1989 UCLA: The post-Troy Aikman era started off with a No. 9 ranking in the preseason. The 3-2 start was disappointing but did include losses to Tennessee and Michigan. Then came a 0-5-1 collapse, with a season-ending tie at Southern Cal the only bright spot in the second half.

* 1993 Syracuse: Oh, the halcyon days when Syracuse was a national power and in the midst of a seven-game bowl winning streak. One of those victories didn’t come in ‘93, when the then-Orangemen started off No. 6  but fell apart in the middle of the season. A 6-4-1 record still isn’t bad by this list’s standards.

* 1996 Southern Cal: The Trojans were a preseason No. 7 and got Penn State in the Kickoff Classic. But they got drilled, bumbled to a 6-6 season, and began a six-year run of mediocrity thanks to Act II of John Robinson and later Paul Hackett.

* 1997 Colorado: The Buffaloes were No. 8 at the start of the year and instead produced the program’s first losing season since 1984. Rick Neuheisel skedaddled a year later.

* 1998 Louisiana State: A little deja vu here. The Tigers began the season at No. 9, and even won their first three. Then the calendar turned to Octover, the bottom fell out and LSU wound up 4-7. A year later, Gerry DiNardo was looking for new employment.

* 1999 Arizona: The Wildcats never entirely recovered from this. Arizona was No. 3 in the preseason, but was throttled 41-7 by Penn State and went 6-6. Dick Tomey was ousted a later, which in turn led to the hirings of John Mackovic and Mike Stoops. Arizona, incidentally, has not played in a bowl game since this collapse.

* 1999 Ohio State: Time for another season spoiled by a Kickoff Classic loss. The No. 9 Buckeyes fell to Miami, and later lost their last three to turn in a 6-6 year. Guess what happened a year later? John Cooper was sent packing.

* 2000 Alabama: One of the most spectacular meltdowns in recent memory, the Crimson Tide went from No. 3 to 3-8 and searching for a new coach. Not the legacy Mike DuBose was looking for.

* 2005 Tennessee: The beginning of the end for the Great Pumpkin, whose Volunteers went 5-6 after starting the year at No. 3. Let it be mentioned again: Tennessee has not won an SEC title since 1998.

* 2007 Louisville: Yes, the Cardinals started off last season in the top 10. They didn’t end it anywhere near that spot, mainly because of a wretched defense.

Patrick Stevens