The easiest part of almost any football weekend is picking out the highlights. This past Saturday will be noteworthy for Georgia’s classic 44-41 victory over LSU and for the dominating performance by Alabama’s defense in a 25-0 shutout of Mississippi. Oklahoma beat Notre Dame for the first time since 1956 when the Sooners were still coached by Bud Wilkinson and were in the midst of a 47-game winning streak. Ohio State is 17-0 under Urban Meyer after beating Wisconsin. Oregon, Washington and Stanford all won impressively in Pacific-12 play.
That’s the easy part.
But what about the lowlights? What about finding the truly bad teams who are almost breathtaking in their incompetence? Not so much the old Bottom Ten that was popular years ago but teams that have either been consistently bad for a long time or have taken a stunning dive.
Consider, for example, South Florida. Six years ago, midway through the season, the Bulls were the second-ranked team in the nation. Not in the Big East, in the nation. Coach Jim Leavitt had done a remarkable job with a program that hadn’t existed 10 years earlier.
It has been a steady downhill ride since then. The week USF rose to No. 2, it lost at Rutgers in a Thursday night game to start a three-game losing streak. The Bulls finished 9-4 that year after being crushed by Oregon in the Sun Bowl. Two years later, Leavitt was fired for allegedly grabbing a player during practice and telling players to lie about the incident. He sued, the school settled, Skip Holtz took over as coach and the program bottomed out — so it seemed — at 3-9 last season. Out went Holtz, in came Willie Taggert and the Bulls are 0-4 after losing to Miami, 49-21, on Saturday.
There is hope. After all, their new conference, the American Athletic Conference, is pretty awful.
Which is why conference-mate Connecticut could win a game or two somewhere along the way. The Huskies may have given their remaining fans some hope when they had a legitimate chance to beat Michigan 10 days ago. But that result might be more a reflection of the Wolverines not being as good as their record — they easily could have lost to Akron and the win over Notre Dame doesn’t look like such a big deal right now. Saturday, U-Conn. went to Buffalo and got hammered, 41-12, to drop to 0-4.
Paul Pasqualoni is 10-18 since replacing Randy Edsall (who has an identical record at Maryland but at least appears headed on an upward curve) and turned 64 in August. They may be rounding up a search committee in Storrs as we speak.
That’s not the case at Purdue, which, like South Florida, also has a new coach — Darell Hazell. Like Taggert, who went 14-10 his last two (of three years) at Western Kentucky, Hazell was hired (from Kent State) based on two successful seasons, most notably an 11-3 record last fall.
Purdue is 1-4 and the win was over Indiana State, a Football Championship Series team that lost to Purdue’s arch rival Indiana, 73-25, a week before losing to the Boilermakers, 20-14. On Saturday, Purdue was blown out, 55-24, by Northern Illinois — at home — in a game that wasn’t that close. Here’s a Purdue stat: Even though the school has played in the Rose Bowl as recently as January 2001, it has not won an outright Big Ten title since 1929. Purdue did win one Rose Bowl — in 1967 when the quarterback was Bob Griese.
Purdue isn’t going to win the Big Ten title this season, either. In fact, if the Boilermakers win a game in conference play Hazell may get some votes for league coach of the year.
There are also some bad teams who until fairly recently had been very good. Wake Forest was embarrassed 56-7 by Clemson on Saturday to drop to 2-3. The Demon Deacons have beaten Presbyterian (FCS team) and Army. In 2006, Jim Grobe was the consensus national coach of the year when the Deacons were 11-3, won the ACC title and played in the Orange Bowl. They were 17-9 the next two years and played in two more bowl games.
Since then, the sledding has gotten tougher. The Deacons are 21-33 since the start of 2009 and may be favored in just one game — vs. Duke at home in November — the rest of the season. Grobe has been at Wake for 13 seasons and should have a lot of equity built up because of the way he turned around what had been a moribund program. But this would be a fifth straight losing season and he’s now 61.
Larry Fedora has no such worries at North Carolina. He’s only in his second season and was 8-4 a year ago even though the school was saddled by NCAA sanctions left over from the Butch Davis era. Still, no one in Chapel Hill can be happy with a 1-3 record after a 55-31 whipping at home by East Carolina on Saturday. The Tar Heels’ next two games are at Virginia Tech and at home vs. Miami. They could be 1-5 before their schedule eases.
Virginia, believe it or not, has what is almost a must-win game on Saturday and it won’t be easy. Ball State is 4-1 with a talented, experienced senior quarterback. The Cavaliers, after all their offseason coaching changes, looked awful on offense on Saturday in losing 14-3 to a Pittsburgh team that had given up 55 points to Duke a week earlier. The Wahoos have likely wins ahead of them in Duke and Old Dominion but every other game looks challenging.
Finally, there are the losers who top (or bottom) all the other losers. Next Saturday, Florida International will play at Southern Mississippi. Talk about a must-win game. Both teams are 0-4. FIU has been outscored 187-23; included in that is a three-touchdown loss to Bethune-Cookman, an FCS team that lost 54-6 at Florida State a week later. The (not-so) Golden Panthers have lost five straight dating to last season, which is nothing compared to Southern Miss. The (not-so) Golden Eagles have lost 16 straight since Fedora left for North Carolina. They have already fired one coach (Ellis Johnson for going 0-12) and the new coach, Todd Monken, is 0-4 after a 60-7 loss Saturday to Boise State.
The best news for both teams is that they play one another this week. Someone has to win. Right?
For more by John Feinstein, visit washingtonpost.com/feinstein.