I know times are bad right now. Jobs keep disappearing faster than Deadspin posting photos of fans with creatively-shaved chest hair or Kanye West saying “I.” But there’s hope. Good times, they are a comin.’
How can I be so optimistic? It’s simple. If the dredges of college football can actually get their act together, then why can’t a floundering America rebound? It’s going to take time, and patience is needed. Chances are, things won’t improve drastically under President Obama’s tenure, whether it’s three more years or seven.
For four of college football’s worst programs, it’s been a nearly two-decade long struggle. However, slowly but surely, the feeble have risen – or at least gotten off the mat.
Since 1995, Duke, Baylor, Vanderbilt and my beloved alma mater Indiana have been the NCAA’s version of urinal cakes.
Actually, that might be putting it lightly. That quartet was probably more akin to highly-concentrated shit-slop at the bottom of an old cottage outhouse.
Records Since 1995 (not including 2009):
Seeing Duke at the bottom of the heap might provide some solace to those who harbor absolute disdain anything Blue Devil-related. (Myself included.) Since 1995, Duke has posted four winless seasons. That’s just God awful. Detroit Lions fans ain’t got nothing on Duke football. Especially since this is the most entertaining thing that’s happened at a Lions game since Barry Sanders retired.
However, there appears to be a slight sliver of hope for these consistently futile programs. Let me reiterate, I said, “slight.”
Perpetually the ass end of three of the four major BCS conferences (besides Phillips and McD, who watches the Pac-10 anyways?), Duke, Baylor, Vandy and IU will never be confused for good football teams.
But they are much, much better than we’ve been accustomed to.
Last season, Vandy put on a performance that would have made Lionel Richie and Clyde Orange proud. The Commodores beat three ranked opponents, knocked off Ole Miss on the road, added another away victory at Kentucky and went bowling for the first time since my birth year – 1982. Had Vandy not blown games at Mississippi State and a shocking home loss to Duke, the Commodores could have been looking at a nine-win season, something that hadn’t happened in Nashvegas since 1915 and the days of Dan McGugin.
Vanderbilt will be hard-pressed to match last season’s win total, especially with the difficult road ahead (home games against Ole Miss, Georgia and Georgia Tech and road games versus Florida, Tennessee and South Carolina). But the fact that Vandy’s loss last week to Mississippi State is seen as a major disappointment, illustrates how far the Commodores’ program has come.
As for Duke, the Blue Devils won four games under first-year head coach David Cutcliffe a season ago. That might not sound like much, but Duke had won four games the previous four seasons combined.
Peyton Manning’s college offensive coordinator flamed out at Ole Miss, but Cutcliffe is a much better football man than anything they’ve had at Durham since the Steve Spurrier days.
So far 2009 has gotten off to a rocky start for the Blue Devils, opening the season with a home loss to Richmond. But there’s no shame in losing to the Spiders, who won the Football Championship Subdivision national title a year ago, and should contend for another FCS championship this year. Duke bounced back with a win against Army before losing on the road to a ranked Kansas team on Saturday. Again, no shame in that.
Cutcliffe, known as a QB guru, has the Blue Devils in the midst of a quarterback regime change. He gave freshman Sean Renfree a shot Sept. 12 against Army when incumbent Thaddeus Lewis struggled. Renfree went 7-of-8 for 106 yards and threw two scores.
Against Kansas, Renfree completed 14-of-23 passes for 115 yards and a touchdown. Lewis, who earlier this season became the 14th player in ACC history to throw 50 touchdowns, was awful against Army and threw two interceptions at Kansas. Renfree, who was the 15th-best rated quarterback in the 2008 class by Rivals, has yet to throw a pick and seems like Cutcliffe’s latest protege.
Baylor, long the whipping boy of the Big 12 since the Bears joined the league in 1996, last had a winning season in 1995 when it went 7-4.
Under first-year head coach Art Briles, the Bears beat a Gene Chizik-led Iowa State and in-state rival Texas A&M, and played ranked opponents Missouri and Texas Tech close. Baylor finished with a modest 4-8 record, but considering that’s more wins in a season than they managed in any year between 1997 and 2004, it’ll play.
Briles is a former Mike Leach matey and turned the University of Houston’s program around before leaving for Waco. Baylor opened the 2009 season with an impressive road win at Wake Forest, who went 8-5 last season and beat Navy in the EagleBank Bowl (wow, that’s really a game?). A week after losing to Baylor, Wake responded with a solid victory over Stanford, lending further credence to the Bears’ effort in Week One.
Sophomore quarterback Robert Griffin showed great promise as a freshman last season and has been steady in the Bears’ first two games this season (they lost 30-22 to UConn). Junior running back Jay Finley averaged nearly six yards a carry last season, and he’s been even better this season with a 9.6-yard average on 22 carries this season.
Baylor should be 3-1 heading into Big 12 play with Northwestern State and Kent State up next. That means by Oct. 10, the Bears should be one win shy of matching last year’s total with eight games left.
In 2007, Indiana made its first bowl game since the 1993 Independence Bowl. The Hoosiers regressed last year after they kicked star quarterback Kellen Lewis off the team and finished the year at a more familiar 3-9.
Through three games, IU has already equaled last year’s win total – and surpassed my predicted season win total of one. Off to a 3-0 start this season, Indiana has a chance at Michigan -albeit slim – to reach 4-0 for the first time since 1990. Ah, 1990. The year Buster Douglas knocked out Mike Tyson. See, pipe dreams can come true.
Now, the Hoosiers haven’t really played a who’s who of college football. They needed to defend a last second Hail Mary to eek past Eastern Kentucky and they barely scraped by Western Michigan a week later. On Saturday, IU entered its contest away at Akron as 4.5-point underdogs. It should be telling that an undefeated Big Ten team was predicted to lose to a MAC team that finished with a losing record a season ago.
However, lucky for the Hoosiers, Akron suspended its starting quarterback 24 hours prior to kickoff, leaving the Zips with a redshirt sophomore making his first collegiate start. Not a good start for a school with just one Big Ten scalp in its program’s history. Thankfully, the Hoosiers came through and surprisingly manhandled an undermatched opponent for once.
Sure, one of Indiana’s wins came against a FCS school and the other two were against MAC opponents. But last year, IU lost to two MAC schools. This year, they’ve beaten them. That’s more than I can say for Purdue or Michigan State (The Boilers lost at home to Northern Illinois and the Spartans dropped a home game against Central Michigan).
Saturday’s opponent, Michigan, has beaten the Hoosiers 15 times in a row at home and 30 of the last 31 games overall. The last time Indiana won at Michigan was in 1967 – the one and only year IU went to the Rose Bowl. In the last three trips to The Big House, the Hoosiers have been outscored 131-31.
So basically I’m saying IU should get blown out. And they probably will. Since 1995, the Hoosiers are 24-88 in Big Ten play. That’s a .2143 winning percentage.
Pathetically bad, I know.
But that’s the point. These constantly pathetic programs aren’t pathetic anymore. They’re simply semi-pathetic now.