Earlier Friday, I looked at three teams that have proven the preseason prognosticators wrong with strong starts to the year. Now it’s time to to look at the three teams that have done the exact opposite by stumbling out of the gate despite lofty preseason goals.
Auburn (4-2, 1-2 SEC)
Projected by many as the No. 2 team in the SEC, a team many thought could contend for a conference title with new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp in the fold, Auburn dropped its first two conference games by an average margin of 16 points.
Coach Gus Malzahn’s squad also was a late score away from losing to FCS Jacksonville State and nearly squandered a 24-point lead against Louisville in the season opener.
“I know our fans are disappointed,” Malzahn said of the season in late September.
Under Muschamp, the Tigers were projected by ESPN’s Football Power Index to have the No. 15 defense in the country in terms of efficiency. They currently rank outside of the top 70, ranking second to last or last in the SEC in rushing defense, scoring defense, third-down defense and total defense.
There was no shortage on expectations for War Eagle heading into 2015: Two writers at Sports Illustrated predicted Auburn would win the national title this year, and 14 of ESPN’s experts said they would qualify for the College Football Playoff. This season was supposed to be the year Malzahn vaulted his team back into national title contention after a tepid 2014 campaign, but he’s off to the worst start in his three-year run with the school and the Tigers are now predicted to win fewer than seven games this season. Even that might be a tall order.
From No. 6 in the AP preseason poll to nowhere near it, the Tigers must climb from the SEC West’s basement to salvage the 2015 season.
Oregon (4-3, 2-2 Pac-12)
Ranked No. 7 in the AP preseason poll and expected to reload after the departure of Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota, the Ducks are merely treading water.
Although Coach Mark Helfrich’s club is squarely in the middle of the Pac-12 North race, they’ll weave their way to another conference title game appearance only if they run the table, vanquishing Stanford and Arizona State on the road in the process and getting help from others in the process. That’s a lot of ifs for a team that was projected by many to win the Pac-12 this season with an electrified presence at quarterback in Vernon Adams Jr., who some said could be a Heisman candidate in his first year with the school.
After nearly beating Michigan State on the road in early September, Oregon proceeded to get blown out at home by Utah, fall out of the polls for the first time since Chip Kelly was running the show and lose at home to Washington State for the first time in nearly a decade.
To be sure, Oregon isn’t operating as well offensively as it has in years past, but a majority of the program’s issues are on the defensive end. The Ducks rank 111th in scoring defense — their 36 points per game allowed are by and away the most of any Pac-12 team — and ESPN has them pegged 81st in defensive efficiency.
ESPN’s FPI metric pegged Oregon as No. 6 in the preseason, but the Ducks have since fallen to 33rd, a fairly steep drop.
Helfrich’s team still appears bowl-bound, but it was immediately apparent that this team wasn’t ready for top 10 status. The Ducks might be on the outside looking in when it comes time for the conference title game, a far cry from where many expected them to be.
Georgia Tech (2-5, 0-4 ACC)
After consecutive games with at least 60 points to start the season, the Yellow Jackets have dropped five straight to all but end any shot at the ACC title. Last year’s surprising 11-3 season, which culminated in an Orange Bowl win, now seems a distant memory to Coach Paul Johnson.
Georgia Tech’s perennially potent, always-threatening triple-option hasn’t eclipsed 31 points since Sept. 12. “I’ve never experienced anything like that in my coaching career,” Johnson said this month, “to be this inept on offense.”
ESPN’s Football Power Index projected them to have the No. 8 offense this season; they’re currently ranked 39th in efficiency and last in the ACC in third-down offense.
With games remaining against No. 9 Florida State, Miami and Georgia, a four-win campaign could be what Johnson ends up with in November. Georgia Tech, for context, has won at least six games in every season since 1997.
Josh Planos has been published at the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, the Guardian, the Pacific Standard and VICE, among other publications. He has been heard on CBS Sports Radio, Fox Sports Radio and ESPN Radio. Planos is currently a Digital Editor at KETV NewsWatch 7 and a freelance writer.