Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (Illinois bandwagon tickets sold separately, at escalating prices):
FROM TOP 25 TO DUMPSTER FIRE: THE SAD SIX
They began the season as ranked teams, with plenty of reasons for optimism. It hasn’t worked out. Here’s what’s become of the six Top 25 teams from August that now have losing records:
Michigan State (32). Preseason ranking: No. 18 AP, No. 20 Coaches. Now: 4–5 overall, 2–4 in the Big Ten, on a four-game losing streak.
The Spartans were bad offensively early in the season. Now they’re bad defensively. Mostly they’re just bad. The current four-game skid coincides with a distinct drop-off in the play of quarterback Brian Lewerke: he had a pass efficiency rating of 139.8 through Michigan State’s 4–1 start; since then his rating is 92.2. Most surprising was the State defensive collapse after taking a 28–3 lead on Illinois; the Spartans gave up 369 passing yards, the most the Illini have thrown for in three years.
If Michigan State loses to Michigan Saturday, it will at least have closing games against Rutgers and Maryland to ensure reaching bowl eligibility. But 6–6 wasn’t what anyone in green and white had in mind when this season started.
Nebraska (33). Preseason ranking: No. 24 AP, unranked Coaches. Now: 4–5 overall, 2–4 in the Big Ten, on a three-game losing streak.
Ranking the Cornhuskers is the fault of the media more than anything, which should have known better. This program had a long way to go after last year’s 4–8. It hasn’t covered much ground. Defensively, Nebraska is just about as bad as it was last year, allowing 5.8 yards per play in 2018 and 5.5 now. The offense is slightly less productive, in part due to injuries to quarterback Adrian Martinez—the Cornhuskers have thrown just one touchdown pass in the last five games, after throwing seven in the first four.
With games remaining against Wisconsin and Iowa, a second straight losing season seems highly likely. Scott Frost may get the thing turned around, but it’s not happening as fast as anyone hoped for.
Syracuse (34). Preseason ranking: No. 22 in both polls. Now: 3–6 overall, 0–5 in the ACC, on a four-game losing streak.
Hard to believe this program won 10 games last year. The Orange probably won’t win half that number this time around. Syracuse has beaten Holy Cross, Western Michigan and Liberty—in other words, nobody. When you give up 63 points to a three-win Maryland team and 58 to 5–5 Boston College, there are defensive issues—which is why head coach Dino Babers made an in-season coordinator firing. But there are offensive issues as well, with Syracuse on pace to average its fewest points per game (24.1) since 2014.
Stanford (35). Preseason ranking: No. 25 AP, No. 23 Coaches. Now: 4–5 overall, 3–4 in the Pac-12.
Injuries have decimated the offensive line and led to three different starting quarterbacks. That’s led to predictable problems on that side of the ball. Less foreseeable has been the downfall of a defensive unit that is on pace to surrender the most points per game (26.7) since 2008 and most yards per play (6.08) this century.
Three times, the Cardinal have followed a promising win with a dispiriting loss. Now they have to win two of three against Washington State, California and Notre Dame to go bowling for the 11th straight season.
Washington State (36). Preseason ranking: No. 23 AP, No. 21 Coaches. Now: 4–5 overall, 1–5 in the Pac-12, last place in the North Division.
When the Cougars blew a 49–17 lead and lost at home to UCLA, it broke the season. They were 3–0 at that point, steaming to 4–0, and nothing has been the same since. Wazzu has lost a pair of heartbreakers on the road, on a touchdown with 34 seconds left against Arizona State and on a field goal at the gun against Oregon. Like a lot of teams, Wazzu’s margin for error is slim: the Cougars are plus-nine turnover margin in games they win and minus-10 in games they lose.
Northwestern (37). Preseason ranking: No. 25 Coaches, unranked AP. Now: 1–8 overall, 0–7 in the Big Ten, on a seven-game losing streak, last in the Big Ten West.
The Wildcats’ complete collapse has taken some of the glare off the lousy season in East Lansing, because this is THE debacle in the Big Ten (non-Rutgers Division). One season after winning the West, Northwestern’s only win is against UNLV and is fielding the worst Power 5 offense in America. The Wildcats are last nationally in yards per play (3.9) and pass efficiency (80.6, 20 points behind the second-worst passing offense). They are next-to-last in scoring (11.7 points per game). Pat Fitzgerald has stubbornly stood by offensive coordinator Mick McCall, but that stance is no longer tenable.
COACH WHO EARNED HIS COMP CAR THIS WEEK
Odell Haggins (38), Florida State. Thrust into the interim head coach role after the firing of Willie Taggart, the old Seminoles defensive lineman summoned some pride within his team Saturday. Playing a cold-weather game at Boston College that would be a predictable time for FSU to quit, the Noles instead rallied from an 11-point first-half deficit and had two long, late touchdowns for a 38–31 victory. It was a feel-good moment in a feel-bad season for Florida State.
COACH WHO SHOULD TAKE THE BUS TO WORK
Walt Bell (39), Massachusetts. Bell left Taggart’s staff after one season as offensive coordinator to become the head man at UMass—and while staying at FSU could have earned him a pink slip after this season, the experience with the Minutemen hasn’t been too great, either. Simply put, UMass is threatening Connecticut’s 2018 claim to the worst defense in FBS history.
UMass is allowing 53.1 points per game. UConn set the record last year by allowing 50.4 points. Saturday will mark the ultimate pillow fight: Northwestern’s inept offense against UMass’s invisible defense. If you want to know how bad the Minutemen are on that side of the ball, Northwestern is a 39-point favorite—and Northwestern hasn’t scored more than 30 points in a game all season.
When hungry in the college football bedrock city of Birmingham, The Dash recommends a meal at Five Points Public House and Oyster Bar (40). Try the pappardelle with pork and any of a host of local beers. (Kudos to Fairhope Brewing for best beer name on the menu: I Drink Therefore I Amber.) Thank The Dash later.