With the season now halfway done, it’s a good time to assess what we’ve seen so far. With the first College Football Playoff rankings just weeks away, we’re about to get our first look at which teams the committee thinks are the serious contenders for the national title.
We’re doing a different kind of list. None of the teams listed below will be near the top of the CFP rankings on Nov. 2, though a few of them were expected to be near the summit at the beginning of the year. Here are our 10 most disappointing teams of the 2021 season so far.
Without Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne it was natural to see the Clemson offense taking a step back in 2021. But this is about 25 steps back so far. Clemson’s offense has been abysmal through the first half of the season. The Tigers have scored fewer than 20 points in four of five games against FBS opponents and squeaked past Syracuse 17-14 on Friday night.
The ACC title is still in play because of a defense that’s one of the best in the country and milquetoast teams elsewhere in the conference. But that conference title only comes with some significant offensive improvement. A game against a Pitt team that could be ranked on Sunday looms in Week 8.
The Gators have a quarterback conundrum on their hands after a 49-42 loss at a reeling and injured LSU on Saturday. Will Anthony Richardson be the starter on Oct. 30 against Georgia? The game is typically for the SEC East but that’s not the case this year. Florida needs a win to avoid going to 2-4 in the SEC.
A loss will also continue a disturbing trend that began when Marco Wilson threw a shoe against LSU last December. That 37-34 loss to the Tigers was the first of three consecutive to end the season. The Gators are just 4-6 in their last 10 games and are 2-6 against Power Five opponents in that span.
The Hoosiers lost 20-15 to Michigan State on Saturday after turning the ball over three times. Indiana had multiple chances in the second half to take the lead and simply couldn’t pull off the upset. But hey, at least the Hoosiers scored a TD against a Big Ten opponent for the first time this season?
Indiana was a sleeper contender in the Big Ten East after a 2020 that included wins over Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin. Instead, the Hoosiers are 0-3 in the Big Ten while there are three other teams in the East who are still undefeated in conference play. With Ohio State and Michigan looming in the next three weeks, a 6-6 season feels like Indiana’s ceiling.
The Tigers make this list despite a huge win over the Gators on Saturday. LSU entered that game on a two-game losing streak thanks to losses at home versus Auburn and Kentucky. The Tigers also lost in Week 1 against UCLA.
LSU has been decimated by injuries — QB Myles Brennan has yet to play, WR Kayshon Boutte is out for the year and CB Derek Stingley could be too. But the Tigers should have the depth to still be very good, especially less than two years removed from a national title. Instead, LSU is just a game above .500 with four games against ranked opponents over its final five. It’s not entirely out of the question that the Tigers finish 5-7 as questions will continue to swirl about Ed Orgeron’s job status.
This year has been cruel to the Hurricanes. Miami lost to Alabama by 31 to start the season and then lost by three touchdowns to Michigan State in Week 3. Both teams are in the top 10 right now, so they’d be excusable if they were closer. But close games have been cruel to the Hurricanes over the last three weeks too.
Miami lost 30-28 at home to Virginia two weeks ago after a game-winning field goal sailed wide. Saturday, Miami came back from an 18-point second quarter deficit and had the ball down 45-42 to North Carolina with less than two minutes to go.
Perhaps scarred by what happened to Virginia, Miami kept driving down the field instead of settling for a longer game-tying field goal. But with six seconds left, Tyler Van Dyke — in for the injured D’Eriq King — had his pass batted down at the line of scrimmage. After a brief game of volleyball it was intercepted and UNC held on for the win.
North Carolina (4-3)
It’s plainly obvious that North Carolina didn’t have the talent to replace the players who left for the NFL after the 2020 season. UNC opened the season with a loss to Virginia Tech and has lost uncompetitive games to Georgia Tech and Florida State this season.
While UNC has flashed promise — the Tar Heels beat Virginia by 20 and dominated Duke — this is a team that was clearly overrated to start the season. And could end up at 6-6. Notre Dame is next on the schedule on Oct. 30 and games at Pitt and NC State also remain.
The Longhorns are on this list after the way the last two weeks have unfolded. Texas has held double-digit leads in the second half against both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State and watched them evaporate on the way to crushing losses. Saturday’s game was especially cruel after how OU’s 55-48 win had unfolded.
Texas was up 24-13 on OSU in the third quarter before its final six drives all ended in four plays or fewer and accumulated a combined 14 yards. This is a Texas team that clearly has talent, but its inability to hold onto leads will likely cost it a chance at the Big 12 title as the Longhorns currently sit fifth in the conference.
The Trojans have alternated wins and losses through the first six weeks of the season. A 42-28 loss to Stanford in Week 2 led to Clay Helton’s dismissal and USC appeared to respond with a 45-14 win at Washington State in Week 3. USC came crashing down to Earth in Week 4 with a loss at home to Oregon State and went into its Week 7 off week with a 16-point loss to Utah. WR Drake London is a star and the lone bright spot for USC. He has 864 catches for 832 yards and five TDs through the first six games.
The Huskies entered the season as the betting favorite to win the Pac-12 and promptly opened the season with a loss to FCS-level Montana. A loss at Michigan in Week 2 followed that and the Huskies have also lost to Oregon State.
A stagnant offense has been the culprit as Dylan Morris has completed less than 60 percent of his passes and the rushing game is nothing special. Washington’s defense has held up its end of the bargain, but conference favorites should be good on both sides of the ball. Just ask Clemson.
The Badgers got back to .500 with a win over Army on Saturday night. All three of Wisconsin’s losses have been to ranked teams but the way the Badgers have lost to those teams is disconcerting. The offense has done nothing in those defeats.
QB Graham Mertz has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns and while Chez Mellusi has been a solid running back, he’s not a star like the guys who preceded him. Iowa is the only ranked team remaining on Wisconsin’s schedule, however, so if you’re looking for a team to buy low before the second half, you can do a lot worse than the Badgers.
Here are this week’s winners and losers.
– Nick Bromberg
Oklahoma State: It’s time to start taking Oklahoma State seriously. The 12th-ranked Cowboys improved to 6-0 with a come-from-behind road victory over Texas on Saturday. OSU trailed 24-13 late in the third quarter but scored the game’s final 19 points in a 32-24 victory. During the comeback, the defense forced four Texas three-and-outs, a turnover on downs and an interception. Offensively, Jaylen Warren led the way with 193 yards on 33 carries. It’s safe to say Mike Gundy was excited about the victory.
Purdue: Purdue pulled off the upset of the day by going into Iowa City and upsetting No. 2 Iowa, 24-7. The Boilermakers dominated the game, too, putting up 464 yards of offense in the win. David Bell had a monstrous performance, catching 11 passes for 240 yards and a touchdown while Aidan O’Connell threw for 375 yards. Now 4-2 (2-1 Big Ten), Purdue may prove to be a factor in the Big Ten West race.
Auburn: Auburn has its second impressive SEC road victory of the season thanks to a 38-23 win over No. 17 Arkansas on Saturday. The Tigers, who previously won at LSU, got a big performance from Bo Nix. Nix threw for 292 yards and two touchdowns and also rushed for 42 yards and a score. Another key to the win was Auburn stopping Arkansas on three fourth-down attempts. Auburn is now 5-2 on the year with its only losses coming on the road to Penn State and against top-ranked Georgia. With Ole Miss, Texas A&M and Alabama still on the schedule, the Tigers could make some noise in the second half of the season.
Cincinnati: The third-ranked Bearcats took care of business at home against UCF, and now could be poised to move up in the rankings following Iowa’s loss. The Bearcats improved to 6-0 with a 56-21 home win. Cincinnati dominated UCF in the trenches, finishing the game with 336 yards and six touchdowns rushing. Jerome Ford led the way with 189 yards and four TDs. Next on the schedule for Cincy is a trip to Navy.
Georgia TE Brock Bowers: Georgia has a star on its hands with freshman Brock Bowers. With so many injuries at wide receiver, the 6-foot-4, 230-pound tight end has emerged as one of UGA’s top targets. Bowers caught five passes for 102 yards and two touchdowns in Saturday’s 30-13 win over Kentucky. In six college games, Bowers has 25 catches for 414 yards and six TDs.
Pittsburgh: It’s time to get Pitt into the Top 25. The Panthers improved to 5-1 and 2-0 in ACC play by beating Virginia Tech 28-7 on the road. Pitt has one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Kenny Pickett. He threw for 203 yards and two TDs and added a rushing TD in the win. He’s got 1,934 yards and 21 touchdowns with just one interception this year. The Panthers are going to be a factor in the ACC Coastal race and would be undefeated if they didn’t have a terrible home loss to Western Michigan.
Baylor: Baylor is one of the most-improved teams in the country. After going 2-7 in Dave Aranda’s first season, the Bears are now 6-1 after handily beating No. 19 BYU at home 38-24 on Saturday. BU put up 534 yards of offense, including 303 on the ground, in the win. Dillon Doyle had a big game for BU. As a fullback, Doyle had a two-yard touchdown catch and a two-yard touchdown run. As a linebacker, he had four tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and a sack.
South Carolina QB Zeb Noland: Trailing Vanderbilt 20-14 with 1:36 to go, South Carolina turned to Zeb Noland to win the game. Noland, the former graduate assistant who was added to the roster during preseason, came on in relief of Luke Doty and led the game-winning drive. Noland completed 5-of-8 passes for 75 yards, including the game winner to Xavier Legette with 37 seconds to play. Sure it was only Vanderbilt, but it was still a thrilling moment and another awesome moment for Noland.
Iowa: The Hawkeyes weaknesses finally caught up with them. No. 2 Iowa entered Saturday’s game ranked 120th in total offense. Against Purdue, it showed. The Hawkeyes did not pass 200 total yards until late in the fourth quarter in a 24-7 loss. Iowa rocketed up to No. 2 in the rankings thanks to a defense that was causing turnovers at an amazing rate. The only turnover it caused against Purdue was when a Boilermakers receiver reached for the end zone, but fumbled.
Nebraska: Nebraska hasn’t played in a bowl game under Frost and it would take a big turnaround for that to change in 2021. The Huskers have played Oklahoma, Michigan State and Michigan very close, but dropped to 3-5 with a 30-23 loss to Minnesota on Saturday. The Huskers are now 1-4 in Big Ten play with Purdue, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Iowa still on the schedule. It wouldn’t be surprising at all if Frost does not last the rest of the season.
Florida DC Todd Grantham: Entering Saturday’s game vs. No. 20 Florida, the LSU offense was averaging 83.3 rushing yards per game. The Tigers nearly quadrupled that against Todd Grantham’s Gators defense, going for 321 yards and three touchdowns in a 49-42 upset victory. Tyrion Davis-Price rushed for an LSU program-record 287 yards in the win. Before Saturday he had 287 yards in six games. Florida fans are sick of Grantham as the defensive coordinator but it seems that Dan Mullen is standing by him.
Justin Fuente: Another coach firmly on the hot seat is Justin Fuente at Virginia Tech. The Hokies opened the year by upsetting North Carolina but have really struggled since. Virginia Tech has lost three of its last four games and looked especially inept on offense during Saturday’s 28-7 loss to Pittsburgh. VT went 19-8 in Fuente’s first two seasons in Blacksburg, but has a 22-21 record in the four years since. That includes a 15-13 record in ACC play.
Manny Diaz: The pressure has also turned up on Manny Diaz at Miami. After a rough 2019 season and a bad finish to the 2020 campaign, fans are not at all happy about the Hurricanes’ 2-4 start to the 2021 season. Miami’s last two losses have been heartbreakers. The Canes missed a chip-shot field goal in the final seconds to lose to Virginia. Against North Carolina, Miami threw a red zone interception in the final minute and lost 45-42. Diaz is now 16-14 as Miami’s head coach.
Missouri: Missouri is going to struggle winning games if it continues to defend the run this poorly. The Tigers are giving up over 280 yards rushing and 6.2 yards per carry through the first seven games of the season after Texas A&M rushed for 283 yards on Saturday in a 35-14 win in Columbia. The hire of former Arizona Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks as defensive coordinator has been an unmitigated disaster and games against Georgia, Florida and Arkansas still remain.
Duke: The Blue Devils started the year 3-1 but have started 0-3 in ACC play. Saturday’s loss was the worst yet. Duke was trounced 48-0 by Virginia to drop to 3-4. The Blue Devils allowed 528 yards and had four turnovers in the loss. It’s fair to wonder if we’re trending toward the end of the David Cutcliffe era.
Arizona: At this point, it would be surprising if Arizona won a game this year. In Year 1 under Jedd Fisch, the Wildcats are 0-6 following Saturday’s 34-0 loss at Colorado. With Jordan McCloud out for the year, Arizona’s two other quarterbacks struggled mightily. Gunner Cruz and Will Plummer were 20-of-39 for 153 yards and two INTs.
Liberty: Liberty lost 31-28 to Louisiana Monroe as a 33-point favorite. Malik Willis, Liberty’s star quarterback and an NFL draft prospect, rushed for 157 yards and two touchdowns in the game, but struggled in the pass game. He was 16-of-28 for just 135 yards and three interceptions. His final interception came with 1:04 remaining and sealed the upset for ULM.