In the world of college football, it’s not about where you start the season; it’s about where you finish. That’s why certain coaches get paid the big bucks. No matter the obstacles these individuals may face, including how many players they lose to the next level, they still find a way to keep their programs competing year after year.
We saw this happen firsthand in 2016. All across the country, many of the nation’s top teams made a goal, stuck together, and took care of business. Unfortunately, for some schools, the exact opposite happened. These programs buckled under the pressure and, as a result, failed to live up to preseason expectations. In our opinion, these 11 college football teams disappointed more than the rest.
1. Notre Dame
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish started off the 2016 season as the No. 10-ranked team in college football. Unfortunately, that was as good as it would get for Brian Kelly and company. The Irish finished with a 4-8 record, which included a 45-27 beatdown at the hands of USC in the final game of the year, and failed to make a bowl game. A few more years like this one and, who knows, change could be coming to South Bend.
With Leonard Fournette back and ready to dominate, the Tigers, who received one early first-place vote, held the No. 5 spot in the preseason AP poll and were expected to compete for a national championship. Instead, long-time head coach Les Miles was fired four games into the season and the Tigers finished with a 7-4 record, ranked No. 19 in the last AP rankings of the regular season. If only playing against Louisville in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl was a sufficient consolation prize.
3. Michigan State
Last season, Mark Dantonio and Michigan State were competing in the College Football Playoff. This year, not so much. After starting 2016 ranked No. 12 in the preseason AP poll, the Spartans went 1-8 in Big Ten play, finished 3-9 overall, and endured an embarrassing seven-game losing streak during the season. The above picture pretty much says it all.
Ranked No. 15 to start the year, the Houston Cougars climbed as high as No. 6 in the AP poll. Unfortunately, Tom Herman and company couldn’t sustain the momentum. The team finished the year with a 9-4 mark, falling out of the AP Top 25 in the process. At least things worked out for Herman; the head coach will begin his “dream job” at Texas next season.
Despite starting the year as the No. 8-ranked team in college football, running back Christian McCaffrey and Stanford failed to make much of a splash in 2016. The Cardinal never climbed higher than No. 7 in the AP standings, finishing the regular season with a 9-3 record (No. 16 in the country) and an upcoming date with North Carolina in the Sun Bowl. Not head coach David Shaw’s finest performance at the helm.
In his first season on the job, coach Kirby Smart had the Georgia Bulldogs as high as No. 9 in the AP poll. It was all downhill from there. The Bulldogs went 4-4 in the SEC, finished 7-5 in the regular season, and had to settle for a berth in the Liberty Bowl against TCU. And this is what former head honcho, Mark Richt, died for. Full disclosure: Richt didn’t actually die. He’s alive and well at the University of Miami (FL); it’s just an expression.
7. Ole Miss
Unlike many of their SEC counterparts, the Ole Miss Rebels don’t even get to play in a bowl game. Instead, Hugh Freeze and company had to settle for a 5-7 campaign that featured quarterback Chad Kelly’s college career coming to an end with a knee injury. After a season like this, Freeze better watch his “Blind Side.”
After beginning the season unranked, the Texas Longhorns jumped all the way to No. 11 following a 50-47 opening-game win against Notre Dame (then ranked No. 10 in the country). However, what started off as a promising 2016 campaign quickly spiraled out of control. The Longhorns went 5-7 and head coach Charlie Strong got the axe after three seasons in charge. Hopefully Herman doesn’t suffer the same fate.
The Tennessee Volunteers were a top-10 team at multiple points this season. But as we noted before, it’s all about where you finish. And the team in Knoxville finished out of the top 25 with an 8-4 regular-season record and has to settle for a date with Nebraska in the Music City Bowl. Face, meet palm.
Baylor may have begun the year as the No. 22 team in the country and climbed all the way to No. 8 in the AP poll, but with the disastrous way former coach Art Briles’ tenure ended, you always got the sense that karma would inevitably catch up to the team in Waco. In the end, the Bears would conclude the regular season with a 6-6 record and settle for a berth in the Cactus Bowl. Your move, Matt Rhule.
The Oregon Ducks were an absolute mess in 2016. Two seasons removed from a berth in the CFP national title game, this year’s squad went 4-8, never made it higher than No. 22 in the AP poll, and couldn’t even earn a trip to a bowl game. And that’s why Mark Helfrich (pictured above) is no longer calling the shots.