College Football Programs Heading Downhill in 2013
20 College Football Programs on the Decline
Like pop songs, fad diets, and fashion trends, the college football programs that are “in” or “out” vary from year to year.
Sure, there are some programs that have a strong enough brand identity (Oklahoma, Texas, Michigan, USC, Georgia, to name a few) to weather the inevitable peaks and valleys across decades of football, but name recognition isn’t everything. It sells a lot of merchandise, but it doesn’t win football games.
While some programs are more or less consistent from year to year, others are upstarts, often outside the major conferences, trying to bust into the BCS like the Northern Illinois Huskies did this season.
When a mid-major program bursts into the polls, only to disappear the following season, it’s sometimes due to a few standout recruits (like Boise State’s Kellen Moore) graduating or moving on to the NFL. Sometimes it’s because the structure of the current BCS system favors teams from the BCS conferences, which is why some schools like TCU have jumped to other conferences. But it can also be partly attributed to coaching, because when a mid-level team has major success, the head coach gets national recognition, and often, a better job at a bigger program.
The coaching changes of the last few seasons are starting to pay off for some schools, like Notre Dame and UCLA, and they’ve already soured at others, like Tennessee and Colorado.
As the landscape continues to change this offseason, here’s a look at twenty college football programs that are either already on the decline or could be headed that way as early as 2013.
The Buffaloes' move to the Pac-12 has only made the team's recent struggles that much more visible to the rest of the nation. The program won the National Championship in 1990, but it hasn't been bowl eligible since 2007.
Colorado fired its last coach, alum Jon Embree, after just two seasons, which may have scared some potential replacements away from taking their shot at reviving the once-proud program. Current Cincinnati coach Butch Jones was the Buffaloes' rumored choice, but Jones not only shot down rumors that he was leaving the Bearcats, but he shot down Colorado's job offer. The Buffs are lagging behind in this year's competitive search for a new head coach, and with a tough rebuilding project and not much job security, it's unlikely CU will be able to land the caliber of coach it'll take to turn things around in Boulder.
The storied Volunteers have become a running joke since firing longtime coach Phillip Fulmer in 2008. His replacements - Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley - did nothing to bring the program back to prominence. Kiffin didn't stick around long enough, and he caused too many problems with the NCAA that the Vols are still paying for, and Dooley just didn't have the coaching chops to go headset to headset with the likes of Les Miles and Nick Saban.
The Tennessee job looked like one of the best available positions this offseason, but so far, no one seems to want it. The Vols could luck out with a stellar coach who wasn't their first or second or even third option, but it seems more likely they'll end up settling for someone who'll get the boot in another few seasons.
The Mountaineers' decline started partway through the 2012 season, when the team won five straight and climbed the polls, then dropped the following five games. Instead of another Orange Bowl exhibition, WVU is headed to the New Era Pinstripe Bowl to face former Big East foe Syracuse.
The Mountaineers have to figure out how to hold up against the Big 12 schedule (defense will help), and they'll have to do it without at least two of their top offensive playmakers, QB Geno Smith and WR Tavon Austin. WR Stedman Bailey, third in the nation in receiving yards, is a junior and could also be gone next season, so don't expect to see WVU back in a BCS bowl in 2013.
Virginia Tech is used to winning the ACC; every season begins with Orange Bowl expectations, if not better. The Hokies underperformed this season, though, finishing just 6-6 and barely continuing their 20-year streak of bowl eligibility. They'll face Rutgers in the Russell Athletic Bowl, and the Hokies' worst season in 20 years could end with a losing record. The team could improve next season when QB Logan Thomas returns for his senior year, but on the other hand, how much longer can Frank Beamer and his staff sustain their success?
Despite the school's L.A. location, the USC Trojans didn't get a Hollywood ending to this season. They started the year focused on "Unfinished Business" and "Prep not Hype," but when National Championship hopes die in a 7-5 free fall out of the polls and into the Sun Bowl against a team with a losing record, something's wrong.
The Trojans will lose QB Matt Barkley and center Khaled Holmes to the NFL - and everyone found out just how critical Holmes was to the team when he missed the Stanford loss. There will be a new defensive coordinator, which will hopefully help, but installing a new scheme could force a step back next season as the players adjust. There needs to be a new offensive coordinator as well; USC was ridiculously talented on offense in 2012, and several of those players, including star WR Marqise Lee, will be back, but if the coaches can't use them properly, the Trojans will have another average season in 2013.
The Wildcats were one loss away from the BCS Championship Game, and QB Collin Klein is still in the running for the Heisman. But Klein won't be back in Manhattan, Ks. next season, and Kansas State will miss him dearly. The Wildcats' success over the past two seasons, especially, has been largely due to Klein. Coach Bill Snyder won Big 12 Coach of the Year, and deservedly so, but Klein's the one who was responsible for nearly 70% of the team's offensive yards this season. It's rare to replace a player like that without taking a big step back.
The Cavaliers followed up 2011's 8-5 campaign with a 4-8 year in 2012. Head coach Mike London played musical quarterbacks all season, but that might not be an issue moving forward since one, Michael Rocco, has had enough of the uncertainty and announced he will transfer. He's not the only person who won't return to Charlottesville next season. Four members of the defensive coaching staff were fired earlier this week, including defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator Jeff Hanson, running backs coach Mike Faragalli, who were with London during his FCS Championship run at Richmond. The defense did take a nosedive from the previous season, but that seemed more due to the loss of key players than the coaching, which makes the drastic moves seem a bit dangerous heading into next year.
Utah is another program that dropped off slightly when it moved to a major conference. The Utes were just 5-7 this year, missing out on a bowl game for the first time since 2002. It's the team's first losing season under Kyle Whittingham, who predicted growing pains with the adjustment to the Pac-12, but probably didn't expect the team to fall from 2008 Sugar Bowl Champs to the bottom half of the new conference so quickly.
The Yellow Jackets' last conference championship was so recent that Georgia Tech's senior class remembers winning the ACC title. Those seniors' final experience as players for GT will be at the Sun Bowl, for which the Yellow Jackets had to petition to be eligible. The team finished the regular season 6-6, but because the two Coastal Division teams in front of it were under sanctions, GT got to go to the ACC Championship Game, where the team lost, big time, to Florida State. The team fired defensive coordinator Al Groh partway through the season, but he wasn't the team's only problem, and Georgia Tech will still be looking for a fix next year.
Two weeks into 2012, Syracuse was touted as the best two-loss team in the nation, with an overtime loss to Northwestern on opening weekend followed by a close game against USC. The Orange continued to play well throughout the season, finishing 7-5 with a big November win over then-undefeated Louisville. Much of the team's success was due to QB Ryan Nassib and WR Alec Lemon, both seniors who will leave big holes in the Orange offense that Syracuse will struggle to fill next season.
Mississippi State benefited from a season in which the SEC wasn't as stacked from top to bottom as we've been accustomed to seeing. Still, the Bulldogs finished fourth in their division, behind Alabama, LSU, and Texas A&M. A&M will continue to be a force in the SEC West with head coach Kevin Sumlin and a few more years of Johnny Manziel, and it's unlikely Bama or LSU will relinquish their strongholds near the top of the conference either. With new coaches coming in to energize the programs at Arkansas and Auburn, which were strong until this season, the road is only going to get rougher for Coach Dan Mullen and Mississippi State.
Former head coach Mario Cristobal built FIU's program up from nothing and was one of the hottest up and coming coaches until a down year in 2012. A victim of his own success, Cristobal was canned abruptly this week. The next coach will have a solid foundation, thanks to his predecessor, but that kind of rash, ill-advised decision-making from the administration isn't a positive sign for the program moving forward.
The Missouri Tigers had some growing pains after they moved to the SEC from the Big 12, finishing 5-7 - their first losing season since 2004. The Tigers had been successful in the Big 12 for several seasons, and they might eventually become a force in the SEC, but they have a lot of work to do to become more competitive in arguably the nation's toughest conference.
In 2006, the Demon Deacons made it all the way to the Orange Bowl. Since then, they've had just two winning seasons. Wake Forest has all the tools to be average but with the improvements from other ACC teams like Florida State and Clemson, it'll be tough for them to play average and win enough conference games to get back on the positive side of the win column.
Iowa had a rough 4-8 year in 2012, and as other Big Ten teams bounce back from down years, the Hawkeyes could get lost in the shuffle. Their record this season was their worst since 2000, and the team headed into the offseason with a discouraging loss to Nebraska, in a game Iowa led. Many have speculated that the only reason coach Kirk Ferentz is still with the team is because he's too darn expensive to buy out, but there's a very good chance the school will have to bite the bullet and pull the plug if the team continues at this pace.
Since their Fiesta Bowl loss to Oklahoma two years ago, the Huskies have had two 5-7 seasons. QB Chandler Whitmer, a transfer from Iowa, struggled to adjust to his starting role, and he and the rest of the team were hit hard with injuries in 2012. It's tough to build a successful football team at a university that's crossing off the days until basketball season starts, and under Paul Pasqualoni, the Huskies haven't looked like they're ready to win over the student body's attention.
Does it get any more "downhill" than a winless season? Head coach Norm Chow waited his entire career for a head coaching position, but after all that time, maybe he still wasn't ready. It is possible to win at Hawaii, but it takes a special combination of recruiting, talent, and luck, and none of that came together for the Rainbow Warriors in 2012. The team has a long way to go to get to a winning record from they type of disastrous season it just endured.
Formerly exiled from the Big East, the Temple Owls regained their strength under former head coach Al Golden, now at Miami. The Owls came back to the Big East, went to a bowl then belly-flopped in 2012. Despite the team's 4-7 losing record, second-year head coach Steve Addazio was able to land the same job at Boston College when it opened up. The coaching change, on top of the down year and the new conference opponents, have set the Owls up for a difficult run.
Mark Dantonio is one of the most solid coaches in the business, but his squad is on the verge of a losing season if it doesn't beat TCU in its bowl game. The team was at the top of the Big Ten a few years ago but has struggled of late, and the team might not reach the same talent level as a top team like Ohio State.
Baylor just gave head coach Art Briles a big contract extension, but the team struggled this season without RGIII. Without a dynamic playmaker like Griffin III, it's hard to imagine the Bears overcoming enough conference opponents like Texas, Oklahoma, and even TCU to get to a prime bowl - or even a finish that's better than 8-4.