Pre-season polls don’t mean much, but they do afford us an opportunity to highlight the teams that disappointed the most.
Notre Dame (Pre-Season AP #10, Finished 4-8)
The fighting Irish came into the season with high expectations due to their high-powered offense. With DeShone Kizer back at QB, the offense was thought to be good enough to cover up some weaknesses on defense. It was not.
Injuries and dismissals decimated the Irish defense. Five freshman played in the two-deep just in the secondary! The losses to bad Texas and Michigan State teams didn’t seem as bad as they were when they happened and the losses to Duke and NC State were just as bad as they looked at the time.
Fortunately for the Fighting Irish, they made a strong hire to replace the departed Brian VanGorder at Defensive Coordinator, bringing in Mike Elko from Wake Forest.
Michigan State (Pre-Season #12, Finished 3-9)
After a multi-year stretch of in-state dominance and a playoff last season, the Spartans came crashing down. While they were expected to be a notch below Ohio State and Michigan they weren’t expected to be a notch below Northwestern and Maryland too.
Their offense was outside the top 70 (S&P+) and their usually great defense was only okay. The Big 10 was particularly strong disallowing them from racking up six wins against bad teams. With Michigan’s rise to power, Michigan State’s window may be closed and upside may be limited.
Ole Miss (Pre-Season #11, Finished 5-7)
Ole Miss had a very tough schedule, playing Florida State and Memphis on top of being in the good half of the SEC.
A tough schedule can’t be completely blamed though. The Rebels lost five of their final seven games and surrendered 34+ points in each of those losses. While their offense was dynamic at times, their 77th ranked defense (S&P+) failed to hold up its end of the bargain.
The Rebels lost to Arkansas, LSU, and Auburn in succession. They’d lose QB Chad Kelly to injury late in the season and fold as they lost to Vanderbilt and Mississippi State to close the season and miss a bowl game. Fortunately, they have top recruit Shea Patterson ready to take the helm at QB so if sanctions from paying players don’t hit they should get back to competitiveness soon.
Baylor (Pre-Season #23, Finished 6-6)
Baylor started 6-0, and while it was against mostly weak competition, it included a win quality over Oklahoma State. The Bears suffered their first loss in an upset to Texas.
It was about this time that assistant coaches put a synchronized message out on social media supporting the dismissed Coach Art Briles. Setting aside the sexual assault aspect of that message, it undercut interim head coach Jim Grobe in a rather classless way. Further, fans were buying #CAB (Coach Art Briles) shirts outside one of their games. The distraction was embarrassing and unnecessary.
Their schedule then stiffened and they got blown out in four straight Big 12 games, giving up 34 points or more in each one. Then they went on the road and played a solid WVU team close, but lost to make it six straight losses.
Baylor entered the year with high-hopes and at 6-0 seemed to be in good position for at least a respectable season, but it all fell apart in an embarrassing year for the program. Fortunately, they hired Matt Rhule from Temple, which seems like a stabilizing move.
Houston (Pre-Season #15, 9-4 bowl loss to SD State)
The Cougars won nine games and beat both Oklahoma and Louisville, so how are they on a list for most disappointing teams?
Well, after beating Oklahoma to start the season, Houston’s schedule was wide open. A New Year’s Six bowl game was highly likely and a playoff bid wasn’t completely unrealistic. The Cougars only had to get past two eventual bowl teams (Navy and Tulsa) to get to their home showdown with the Cardinals with a perfect record.
Houston split with those teams and added a loss to Chad Morris’s SMU Mustangs. This took much of the hype from the Louisville game. Nevertheless, they thoroughly dominated the Cardinals in a blowout win. With the season the Cougars had in 2015 now coupled with two huge wins in 2016, rumors that head coach Tom Herman would leave for LSU or Texas heated up.
Riding high following their win over Louisville, Houston lost to Memphis. Tom Herman then took the head coaching position at Texas and Houston went to the Las Vegas Bowl where they lost to San Diego State.
At the start of the season, it would have been hard to imagine how Houston could beat both Oklahoma and Louisville and have a disappointing season. When those big wins catapult their star head coach to Texas, they drop three AAC conference games, and then lose in a mediocre pre-Christmas bowl game, that qualifies as a disappointment.