In case you haven’t noticed, things are slooooow in the college sports world right now. Most college football camps won’t commence until either the weekend or early next week, and just about all the major conference media days are over by now (the Big East excluded).
So this seems the time to begin the promised countdown of all 120 major college programs. A version of this will run in our college football preview in another month; I say version since I’ll tweak my rankings between now and then, and my top 25 will be displaced with the one drafted by colleague (and AP voter) Barker Davis.
But as alluded to in the last few days, everybody loves rankings —- even when it involves bad teams.
And there’s no reason to mince words: The first few installments will exclusively feature bad teams. Some of these teams have hope for the future. Some even have a good player or two.
In general, though, their present is not so fun. Which is why they land in the triple digits.
So the inverted rankings get underway with. …
120. Idaho. First, the good news for the Vandals. They have a coach in back-to-back years. That hasn’t happened since 2004-05. More good news: They play Idaho State and fellow WAC doormat Utah State in September. A 2-2 start (and a legitimate move out of the basement) is plausible.
Now here’s the bad news. The defense is not-so-good. And in a conference where offense rules, Idaho managed just less than 350 yards a game. But all 11 starters are back! This is one of many cases where experience might not be the greatest thing in the world.
Robb Akey, who took over after football mercenary Dennis Erickson’s one-year stint, survived a 1-11 season to start his career. Maybe the Vandals double that win total. But even if they’re not the worst team in major college football, they’ll be a lot closer to the bottom than the top.
119. North Texas. Introducing the worst scoring defense (45.1) in the former Division I-A, your North Texas Mean Green. There’s not too many teams that could score 62 points in regulation and still lose, but North Texas pulled it off last year.
That was the debut season for former high school coach Todd Dodge, who found the transition to the college game was a wee bit painful. The year ended with a thud, a loss to a Florida International team that had gone two years without experiencing a win.
Now, there’s two reasons to believe North Texas won’t be mired at the very bottom of the Sun Belt. One, the Mean Green weren’t frequent victims of all-out routs last year (Oklahoma, Arkansas and Troy smacked them around pretty good). Two, when your turnover margin is nearly -1 per game, chances are you got a little unlucky.
But with Kansas State, Tulsa and Louisiana State (shudder) to start, things could be very ugly in September.
118. Utah State. What in the name of Charlie Weatherbie and John L. Smith happened here? Things didn’t used to be so bad, but the Aggies have won 12 games in the last five years. That is below average.
Utah State did manage to feel good about itself at the end of last season, beating New Mexico State and Idaho in its final two games to cap a 2-10 year. Both of those teams come to Logan this year, and they seem like the best chances for the Aggies to get a win.
The nonconference schedule is a problem. The Aggies do the in-state roundrobin with Utah and Brigham Young, and also play at Oregon. Their opener is at UNLV, another program that is perpetually aspiring for mediocrity.
This was a team that ranked 115th in total offense and 106th in total defense last year. They could get vastly better and still only go 3-9. Maybe there’s a bump from the end of last year, but there’s no reason to count on it.
117. Florida International. The Golden Panthers won a game to finish last season. Unfortunately, it was their first win since 2005.
A brutal nonconference schedule didn’t help (Penn State, Maryland, Kansas, Miami and Arkansas), though it isn’t quite so terrible this time around (Kansas, Iowa, South Florida, Toledo and Western Kentucky). It’s still a rebuilding team, and it’ll be a while before the Golden Panthers join their fellow Sun Belt/Sunshine State rival Florida Atlantic as a bowl game participant.
116. Eastern Michigan. I still remember the headline the great Andrew Levine came up with during our days at the Diamondback after Maryland ripped Eastern Michigan early in Ralph Friedgen’s first season: Roasted EMU.
It’s been a popular dish in the Mid-American Conference for more than a decade. The Eagles have suffered through 12 straight losing seasons, and they’re a nickname removed from their last bowl appearance (1987 as the Hurons).
Eastern Michigan’s performance last year probably merits a slightly higher ranking. But since the Eagles are annually entrenched somewhere in triple-figures, and the difference between roughly 105 and 120 really isn’t that much, they’ll land here for now. But of the five teams listed today, Eastern Michigan is easily the one that could vault up a few spots for the final version in late August.
—- Patrick Stevens