We’re only three weeks into the season, but it’s clear that some teams have not lived up to the expectations placed on them in the preseason. Unexpected losses, lackluster wins and problems at certain positions can all contribute to a squad performing below the level fans and analysts thought they were capable of this summer. While it’s not too late for those teams to turn things around and possibly even make a run at the College Football Playoff, their margins for error have been reduced significantly and they may need help from other squads in other conferences. Our panel of writers and editors each identified one team that has been the most disappointing.
Andy Staples: USC
At this point, it's USC. The Trojans don't seem to be doing much with all that talent on the roster. Maybe switching to Sam Darnold at quarterback will be the answer, but this week's trip to Utah will be very tough. Like Stanford, Utah beats up opponents on the line of scrimmage, and you can bet the Utes want revenge for the whipping the Trojans laid on them last year in Los Angeles.
Pete Thamel: USC
Helton went on a rant before the season about how much he hated the word talent. He said he'd rather have players who are fundamental, technical and tough. So far, the Trojans remain the same group of underachieving five-stars they were under Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian, but without the excuses of scholarship restrictions. It isn't just losses to Alabama (52-6) and Stanford (27-10), but rather the tenor of them. The eight penalties for 56 yards against Stanford don't speak well to the job Helton and his staff are doing maximizing the talent.
Lindsay Schnell: Oklahoma
Granted, it seems like every time we expect something of the Sooners they let us down (and conversely, when we think they're left for dead, they make runs to the playoff). Still, I thought Baker Mayfield & Co. wouldn't look THIS bad in September, tough schedule aside. I know they lost a lot on both sides of the ball, but come on: What is going on with the defense? Oklahoma is ranked sixth in the conference in total defense behind defensive juggernauts like ... Kansas. I did not even make that up.
Brian Hamilton: Oklahoma
It may turn out that the two teams to beat the Sooners so far both make the playoff. If that occurs, "disappointment" is relative. But to lose to Houston at a neutral site, and by flopping in the second half, did not speak well. Getting throttled at home by Ohio State said something even worse. This was allegedly a team poised to make a run at another playoff bid, and it hasn't come close to looking like it.
Joan Niesen: Oklahoma
Of course the Sooners had a tough early-season schedule, with Houston in Week 1 and Ohio State in Week 3, but the preseason No. 3 team needed to win at least one of those matchups, and it failed. To make matters worse, neither game was even close (Houston won by 10, Ohio State by 21) and Oklahoma loses even more credit there.
Colin Becht: Notre Dame
I had the Fighting Irish pegged for the playoff before the season started, so they’re clearly my biggest disappointment. It’s easy in hindsight to look back and say, “Why didn’t I expect the defense to be a problem?” It’s true this is a rebuilt unit that lost key pieces like Jaylon Smith, KeiVarae Russell, Sheldon Day, Romeo Okwara and Joe Schmidt, but for a program with the recruiting prowess of Notre Dame, it’s inexcusable for the defense to be this bad: 101st in yards allowed per play (5.99), 121st in yards allowed per pass attempt (9.1), zero sacks in three games. What’s particularly disappointing is the Irish are wasting one of the top quarterback talents in the country. DeShone Kizer has completed 63.3% of his passes for 715 yards with nine touchdowns and two interceptions while also rushing for 126 yards and four scores. Coach Brian Kelly contributed to Notre Dame’s season-opening loss to Texas by switching in Malik Zaire for a few possessions, while Kizer’s performance in the the Irish’s defeat to Michigan State (344 yards passing, four total touchdowns) was simply squandered by defensive mishaps.
Gabriel Baumgaertner: USC
Few, if any, were expecting this team to win more than eight or nine games this season, but did anybody think there would be player-coach infighting, transfers, practice fights, and eight-man PAT defenses by Week 3? The Trojans look like they’ve quit on the season and Clay Helton has lost control of his team … and it’s not even Week 4! Perhaps Ed Orgeron was not the right long-term man for USC, but he’s the best coach the Trojans have had since Pete Carroll. At least the players liked him.
Chris Johnson: Oklahoma
When the Sooners walked onto the NRG Stadium turf for their opener against Houston, they looked like the Big 12's best bet to make the playoff. Three weeks and two losses later, and it’s clear either Bob Stoops's team was overrated or Ohio State and Houston are really, really good. But still, it would have been reasonable to expect Oklahoma to take at least one of those two non-conference tilts. Now it finds itself entering conference play with really long odds of making the CFP. The schedule doesn't get much easier from here, either, as the Sooners trip to fellow Big 12 contender TCU on Oct. 1 before the Red River Shootout with Texas the next week. And while Texas looks less formidable after falling at Cal on Saturday, we all remember what unfolded in the Cotton Bowl a year ago. For Oklahoma, the first month of the season amounts to a stunning descent from preseason national title threat to middling Power 5 outfit fighting for a second-tier bowl game.
Ben Estes: Oklahoma
The fact that Notre Dame’s losses probably could’ve been avoided with better coaching decisions makes its start especially painful. But the Sooners get the nod because of how they’ve looked in going from preseason No. 3 to already out of the playoff. Before the season, it wasn’t inconceivable they’d lose to Houston and Ohio State. But to lose by 10 points to the Cougars, and to look like they didn’t belong on the same field as the Buckeyes? It’s hard to imagine a more disappointing start.