Predicting Which Team Will Finish Dead Last in Every College Football Conference
Less than a month ago, I made a far-too-early prediction on who would win every FBS conference in 2014. Today, it is time for the far-more-pessimistic converse of that article.
A look at who will finish dead last!
For the purposes of this prediction, nonconference games were not taken into account. It is only a look at who will finish last in conference play. A 4-8 team with zero league wins would finish last behind a 1-11 team that beat a conference opponent. That makes more sense.
Also taken into account was the form of each team last season, the amount of turnover on the roster, new members of the coaching staff and—perhaps underrated—whom they get to play at home and on the road during the conference schedule.
Sound off below and let me know where you disagree.
Note: I didn't feel the need to waste a slide on the Independents, which only have four teams in 2014. Notre Dame, BYU and Navy are all quite good. Army is not. Army is my choice to finish last.
Bob Diaco arrives at UConn with the Brian Kelly stamp of approval, having served as Notre Dame's defensive coordinator the past four seasons and having won the Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant when the Irish made the national title game in 2012-13.
Unfortunately, the roster he inherits in Stoors is pretty barren. And the depth of the AAC is surprisingly not awful.
Of the C-USA newcomers, Tulsa won 11 games two seasons ago, East Carolina won 10 games last season, and Tulane is coming off a successful bowl campaign.
They should all be better than the Huskies in 2014.
Of the residual AAC bottom-feeders, Memphis was better than its 3-9 record in 2013 and returns the conference's best defensive lineman (Martin Ifedi), while Temple returns the league's best linebacker (Tyler Matakevich) and should improve in Year 2 under Matt Rhule.
It should be said, though, that this one could go either way.
ACC: Wake Forest
Dave Clawson is a good coach and a great hire by Wake Forest. With time, he is the right man for the job of turning this program around.
Because if his resume is any indication, he is not a one-year rebuilding type of coach. During his first year at Fordham, the Rams went 0-11; during his first year at Richmond, the Spiders went 3-8; during his first three years at Bowling Green, the Falcons went 14-23.
He works himself into a rhythm.
Worse yet, last year's ACC bottom-feeders—North Carolina State and Virginia—should both improve a bit in 2014 now that the former has a viable quarterback (Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett) and the latter has a couple of 5-star freshmen (Andrew Brown and Quin Blanding).
Patience is required in Winston-Salem.
Big 12: Kansas
The back part of the Big 12 should catch up with the middle next season—i.e., the range between the fourth-place team and the 10-place team will not be as wide as it has been in recent years.
Kansas, for example, will not be as awful as it was in 2013 and 2012.
The receivers are actually pretty good, and the team as a whole has slowly—slowwwwly—started to coalesce under head coach Charlie Weis. It won't be an abomination to the sport.
Unfortunately, the Jayhawks' main competition for the Big 12 cellar should also be better in 2014. West Virginia has some offensive weapons and is playing for Dana Holgorsen's job, and Iowa State won back-to-back games at the end of last season.
Kansas is still the safest choice to finish last.
Big Ten: Rutgers
Rutgers is not the worst team in the Big Ten. That distinction will likely go to Illinois or Purdue—once again.
However, Rutgers is a safer bet to finish with the worst record in the conference based on its schedule.
Unlike the Illini and the Boilermakers, the Scarlet Knights have the bad fortune of being placed in the new Big Ten East. That means their division schedule includes the much more difficult grouping of Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State, Michigan, Maryland and Indiana.
Their intradivision games, which could have included the likes of Illinois, Purdue and Minnesota, are instead against Wisconsin and Nebraska. Terrible fortune once again.
For Rutgers in 2014, winning two games in conference play would be considered a success. Not because it stinks—it doesn't, although it also isn't great—but because the deck is stacked so heavily against it.
C-USA: Southern Miss
Todd Monken did his best to replace Ellis Johnson in replacing Larry Fedora, but the result was more of the same.
When Fedora left, the Golden Eagles had just completed an 11-2 season and finished in the top 20 of the final national polls. Since then, they have lost 23 of 24 football games.
Florida International was the worst FBS team in the country last season, per the Football Outsiders F/+ ratings, and remains a threat to finish last. But according to Phil Steele, it returns 18 starters this season and should make some decent strides. How could it not?
UAB sticks out as another potential option, especially since Southern Miss gets to host the Blazers in the final week of the season. That should help, but new head coach Bill Clark and his dominant running game should be working well enough to win a game or two in 2014.
He landed 15 JUCO players for this very reason.
I am high (relatively) on C-USA newcomers Western Kentucky and Old Dominion, so Southern Miss is my choice in a near coin flip over Florida International and UTEP. I'm confident that one of that trio will end up in last place.
I wish that I could buy the narrative. I truly, sincerely, desperately wish that I could. It would be awesome if I turned out wrong about this.
But I don't think that I am.
Mark Whipple took over the UMass football program—for the first time—in 1998 and promptly turned a 3-9 team into the Division I-AA champion. Now, more than a decade after leaving the program in 2003, he is back where the magic started, and expectations are somehow even lower than they were in the '90s.
Narrative be damned, that's a recipe for failure.
MWC: New Mexico
The Mountain West is surprisingly kind of deep.
Hawaii finished 1-11 last year but was considerably better than its record, ranking No. 82 on the Football Outsiders F/+ ratings. Air Force also went 0-8 in conference play but is a historically good program that returns 15 starters in 2014, according to Phil Steele.
Of last year's bottom three, New Mexico has the fewest reasons to be hopeful. Former Notre Dame head coach Bob Davie has had two years to turn this ship around, and the result has been 18 total losses and a 2-14 combined record in Mountain West play.
Former Irish head coaches do not have the rosiest track record after leaving South Bend, after all. No one since Lou Holtz has gone on to post a winning record elsewhere (unless you choose to count George O'Leary). Charlie Weis and Tyrone Willingham both landed power-conference jobs—at Kansas and Washington, respectively—and have combined to post a record of 15-57.
Davie is the next in that ignominious line.
Colorado or Cal? Take your pick. The rest of the Pac-12 is loaded.
One could even argue the league is as deep as—or deeper than—the SEC (although one would then be massacred below in the comments).
The Buffaloes and Golden Bears are decent analogues for each other. Each has a second-year head coach who thrived at the lower-conference level—Mike MacIntyre at San Jose State, Sonny Dykes at Louisiana Tech—and is looking to translate that to a power league.
I suspect these teams will be about even, but Cal's stability under center, where Jared Goff looks like a star in the making, and its home-field advantage when the teams meet Sept. 27 are important.
Those are the deciding factors.
For the first time in forever, Vanderbilt has gotten used to the taste of winning football games. Winning football games consistently.
So 2014 might be jarring.
It's not just that head coach James Franklin left for Penn State. That's a big part of it, but the Commodores also lost a historically productive senior class that included Jordan Matthews—the all-time leading receiver in SEC history—and cornerback Andre Hall.
Arkansas and Kentucky are other candidates for this spot, but both of those teams should be better in Year 2 under Bret Bielema and Mark Stoops, respectively. Derek Mason has an intrepid mind for defense, but this is the first time he has ever been a college head coach.
There's a learning curve to the position...even if he doesn't see it.
"My expectation is no different than coach [Nick] Saban's," Mason told Jeremy Fowler of CBSSports.com. "I want to win every game and I want to play for a national title."
All in good time, Coach Mason. But not in 2014.
Sun Belt: Georgia State
Georgia State will get there.
In time, Georgia State will get there.
But the Panthers are still a ways away from becoming a viable program. They're making strides every single year, and big ones at that, but they have yet to bet an FBS football team in their history.
It was tempting to pick someone else for numerous reasons. For one, Georgia State almost beat Louisiana-Lafayette in the second-to-last game of 2013, falling by two points, 35-33. For another, two FBS newcomers, Appalachian State and Georgia Southern, are joining the Sun Belt (along with Idaho and New Mexico State) this year.
That is a lot of potential for a cellar-dweller, and it wouldn't be a shock if any of those four teams finished behind the Panthers next season.
However, Appalachian State and Georgia Southern were two of the best and proudest FCS programs in the country, and Idaho and NMSU are still a nose ahead of five-year-old Georgia State. For now...