The Most Gut-Wrenching Defeat Of The Season: 125 FBS Teams, Ranked

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Each week during college football season we put the conventional polls to shame by ranking every FBS team from 1-125, by whatever standard we see fit. As always, last week's rankings were not consulted.

1. ALABAMA (8-0). Bama is simultaneously the most high-profile team in the nation and, relatively speaking, probably the quietest. Since the Texas A&M game in September, what is there to say? In the meantime, the Tide have taken their last six by at least 25 points apiece while allowing 26 points combined, and remained above the narrative fray. Suddenly the SEC is a dog-eat-dog gauntlet with no apparent hierarchy (except for Alabama). The BCS is a jumble of viable contenders who have to justify their existence in the conversation on a weekly basis (except for Alabama). The defense is back to its usual perch in the national rankings, but doesn't have an obvious, above-the-fold star. The offense is on pace to set a new school scoring record, but A.J. McCarron's presence in the Heisman conversation is more of a token nod to a familiar face on the No. 1 team than a legitimate candidacy. The only hint of post-A&M drama has surrounded the temporary suspension of one safety and a season-ending injury to another. But the team looks exactly the same with or without any specific piece. It's always just, you know… there.


2. OREGON (8-0). A shoeless Marcus Mariota is on the cover of the latest Sports Illustrated, which also appropriates the narrative-mongering line "THEY'RE COMING FOR YOU, SEC" from the comment section beneath every Oregon article on the Internet since 2010. (Aside from Alabama, of course, the SEC in 2013 is mostly coming for itself.*) But even the dreaded jinx may be giving the Ducks short shrift, because it tacitly suggests the "redefinition of West Coast football" is all about gaudy offensive stats and gaudier uniforms. In fact, Oregon ranks among the top ten nationally in both scoring defense and yards per play allowed—ahead of Bama in the latter case—and that includes huge swathes of garbage time. Against UCLA, both of the Bruins' touchdowns in a 42-14 loss came on short-field drives in the first half (they didn't come close to scoring in the second), and QB Brett Hundley finished with just 136 yards of total offense, eclipsing the previous week's total at Stanford (219 yards) as the worst of his career. In his first 19 starts, Hundley accounted for at least 300 yards in ten of them, and was never held to fewer than 250. As long as it doesn't come down to a field goal, Ducks can ball across the board.


* Yes, I see what I did there, and it's accurate either way.

3. FLORIDA STATE (7-0). It only took one solid win for Oregon to overtake Florida State in the BCS, and given that FSU is favored by three touchdowns this weekend against Miami while the Ducks have the day off, it may only take one solid win for the Noles to take No. 2 back. But then Oregon gets Stanford in a big, Thursday-night blockbuster that will decide the Pac-12, and an Oregon win there is pretty much all she wrote for FSU unless one of the Ducks' last three opponents (Utah, Arizona and Oregon State; all respectable but unranked) has a major upset up its sleeve. In fact, Florida State may be better off in the long run if the Hurricanes put up a legitimate fight: Given that Miami is the only possible opponent in the ACC Championship Game with a shred of respect nationally - which is more than we can say right now for any of Oregon's prospective challengers from the Pac-12 South - it can't hurt to leave a little of that cachet for the closing argument in December.


4. OHIO STATE (8-0). In terms of their standing in the BCS pecking order, Saturday's 63-14 annihilation of Penn State changed nothing: The Buckeyes are a distant fourth according to both relevant human polls and the computers, and none of their remaining games offers an opportunity to make up any ground unless one of the teams in front of them walks into an ambush. But the blowout was arguably the first time this year Ohio State has really looked like a contender on the order of those teams—its first three Big Ten wins were all close games well into the fourth quarter—and if the dominoes do happen to fall their way over the next month, it made it much, much harder for pollsters to overlook the Buckeyes in favor of, say, an undefeated Baylor or a one-loss Alabama or Stanford. People like to dismiss the concept of "style points," but to be in this conversation with this schedule, leaving fringe outfits like Penn State in a bloody heap is a fact of life.

5. BAYLOR (7-0). No one gets "style points" like the Bears, whose resumé to date is nothing but style points against the bottom rungs of the Big 12. That changes beginning next Thursday against Oklahoma (the same night as Oregon-Stanford, marking the pinnacle of regular-season football on a work night), the first of three straight games against conference rivals ranked in the top 20. Get to Thanksgiving with that record intact, then we'll get around to gauging their place in the bigger picture.


6. STANFORD (7-1). The defense had eight sacks against Oregon State and otherwise throttled a prolific Beaver offense, because that's what Stanford's defense does, but this offense going into the Oregon game is a red siren. Through eight games, the offense is barely distinguishable from the offense at the same point in 2012, which was beginning to look like such a liability after eight games that coaches pulled the plug on the starting quarterback, Josh Nunes, in favor of a redshirt freshman, Kevin Hogan; the move paid off in a defensively-driven upset in Eugene, a Rose Bowl bid as Pac-12 champs and a top-ten finish in the polls. Against Oregon State, though, Hogan was 8-of-18 for 88 yards, and the offense as a whole ranks in the bottom half of the conference in both yards and points per game. (It's mediocre according to more advanced measures, too.) At this rate the Cardinal are banking on the defense shutting down Oregon two years in a row, when it only got them out by the skin of their teeth last time. That and Ty Montgomery on kick returns can only get them close.

7. MISSOURI (7-1). Saturday's loss to South Carolina was the most gut-wrenching defeat of the season for any team, on multiple levels. In terms of how the Tigers lost, they blew a 17-0 lead in the fourth quarter, then gave up a desperate, 4th-and-15 touchdown pass in overtime, then doinked a short field goal to tie off the upright to lose. Then there was how much they lost. Never mind the BCS stuff: With a win, Missouri would have moved two games ahead of Carolina, Florida and Georgia in the SEC East standings with head-to-head tiebreakers over all three, leaving a huge cushion for clinching the division against Tennessee, Kentucky, Ole Miss and (if necessary) Texas A&M. After the loss, there's no margin for error in that stretch at all; if South Carolina takes its last two conference games against Mississippi State and Florida—both at home—a single Missouri loss gives the East to the Gamecocks. That's a good problem to have for a team that was picked to finish fifth in the division over the summer; for a team that was one play away from 8-0, at home, not so much.


8. MIAMI (7-0). Two weeks in a row, Miami has trailed by double digits and only managed to salvage its perfect record on a pair of do-or-die, game-winning touchdown drives in the closing minutes. Against certain opponents, that would be a sign of perseverance and grit and inherent clutchitude, etc. Against North Carolina and Wake Forest, it's a strong indication the Hurricanes are nowhere near ready for the primetime spotlight against Florida State, a team that does not dick around with a lead. In their last three games, the Noles have outscored Maryland, Clemson and N.C. State in the first half by a margin of 90 to 7.

9. CLEMSON (7-1). If it holds serve in November, this could go down as the best Clemson team in more than 30 years, going all the way back to the 1981 national championship. But it will never get past the humiliation against FSU, which is going to linger for a long time.


10. OKLAHOMA (7-1). Trust the Sooners at your own risk, but they did more to advance their cause over the weekend than anyone else in the top 25, burying their bizarre flop against Texas with a 38-30 win over Texas Tech. Assuming the Red Raiders' 7-0 start was not a mirage (although their track record after fast starts may suggest otherwise), it was as close as Oklahoma has come in two years to looking like a serious frontrunner in the Big 12, and the first time anyone in the league has given any indication at all it might be up to hanging with Baylor.

11. AUBURN (7-1).

12. SOUTH CAROLINA (6-2). Connor Shaw limped off the bench at Mizzou with a bad knee, a sore shoulder and a touch of the flu, and almost singlehandedly saved Carolina's season from a 17-0 deficit. His teammates actually carried him off the field on their shoulders. I guarantee you that somewhere in South Carolina there is at least one person committing the comeback to canvas as we speak; if the Gamecocks wind up playing for the SEC title, by the time Shaw comes back to campus in 2022 as the new quarterbacks coach there will be a mural depicting him emerging from the back of an ambulance in a blizzard, beneath a scoreboard that reads 42-0 with like 3:52 to go. If they win the SEC title, screw the coaching career because he's a senator.


13. LSU (7-2).

14. TEXAS A&M (6-2). He doesn't get the ball quite as often as some other All-America types, but for sheer, visceral dominance, Mike Evans is within sight of the elusive Fitzgerald-Johnson Zone, reserved the most unstoppable college receivers since the turn of the century. (When it does come his way, Evans averages 23 yards per catch and scores on nearly one in four. More importantly, his most over-the-top games have come against Alabama and Auburn, not some random scrubs.) If you want to impress your next date when you're complaining about what manufactured, herd-mentality bullshit the Heisman race is, offer him as an alternative to the quarterbacks, including his own.



16. TEXAS TECH (7-1). In a strange turn, FOX moved the end of the Red Raiders' weather-delayed loss to Oklahoma to FOX News to avoid conflict with the start of the a baseball game or something, thereby preempting FNC's usual programming in that time slot, Huckabee. I have no idea how any of that can be blamed on Obamacare, Benghazi or Saul Alinsky, but I am certain that somewhere, it definitely was.



18. ARIZONA STATE (5-2). As I've explained before, to establish a baseline for each week's rankings I begin by taking the average of a handful of numbers (winning percentage, strength of schedule, Jeff Sagarin's "Predictor" rating), and based on that number Arizona State consistently comes out much, much higher than it would based on anyone's intuitive assessment. In the mainstream polls, the Sun Devils aren't ranked at all in the Coaches' poll or the BCS standings, and barely make according to the Associated Press, at No. 25. My number puts them in the top 15, easily; last week, they started out in the top ten. The only way I can justify dropping them this low in the adjustment phase is to think of their ref-aided escape against Wisconsin as a kind of "half-win," which is at least as sketchy a concept as the sequence of events at the end of that game. Anyway, compared to everyone else Jeff Sagarin's computer thinks the Devils and Badgers are both pretty damn awesome.


19. BYU (6-2).

20. UCLA (5-2).

21. MICHIGAN (6-1).

22. NOTRE DAME (6-2).

23. MICHIGAN STATE (7-1). Can we trust the Michigan State offense? In September, the Spartans were a punchline, but they hit the conference schedule with a new starting quarterback, Connor Cook, and subsequently averaged 414 yards and 31 points per game in October. (Saturday, Cook was 15-of-16 passing with three touchdowns against Illinois, and the team converted on 14 of 15 third-down attempts before a kneeldown to end the game.) On the other hand, the apparent leap forward came at the expense of Iowa, Indiana and Illinois, and the worst team in the Big Ten, Purdue, held MSU to 14 points. The jury is out until this weekend's season-defining visit from Michigan.


24. OLE MISS (5-3).

25. TEXAS (5-2). I warned after their out-of-nowhere thrashing of Oklahoma that the Longhorns are manic, undependable and never to be trusted, and now I'm a little concerned that allowing them back in the top 25 after a 30-7 romp over TCU is a sign of an abusive relationship. I know what I said then, but now they're 4-0 in the Big 12 and really seem to have their act together! Even in the bad times, I could see so much potential…


26. FRESNO STATE (7-0). If BCS bids were handed today, Fresno State would be in for an automatic invitation under BCS rules, which provide for a "mid-major" conference champion to crash the party if a) It's ranked in the top 12 of the final standings, or b) It's ranked in the top 16 of the final standings, and ranked higher than at least one champion of a major conference with an automatic bid. Fresno is ranked 16th in the latest standings, while BIG AMERICA frontrunner Central Florida is ranked 23rd; ergo the Bulldogs would make the cut. (Recall that Northern Illinois crashed the Orange Bowl last year under the same provision.) Assuming they're still undefeated when the actual process unfolds in December, the highlight of the Bulldogs' resumé will be either a one-point win over Rutgers in the season opener, in overtime; a one-point win over a thoroughly mediocre edition of Boise State; or an overtime escape at San Diego State, where they won on Saturday night despite blowing a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter. Proving again that qualifying for a BCS bowl and being qualified for a BCS bowl are not remotely the same thing.

27. NORTHERN ILLINOIS (8-0). The only realistic way Fresno may be left out in the cold if it wins the rest of its games—poll voters aren't going to collectively vote down a winning team on reassessment of its strength of schedule, forget about it—is if it gets passed at some point by NIU, which is only one spot behind the Bulldogs in the BCS standings and ranks slightly higher according to the computer polls. (The best line on the Huskies' resumé, by far, is a three-point win over Iowa in the season opener.) For some indication of how fucked up the rules governing the computers really are, take a look at the latest Sagarin rankings, one of the six computer polls in the BCS formula. In Sagarin's "real" rankings, the ones he actually stands by, Northern Illinois ranks 51st and Fresno State 52nd. In the rankings he submitted to the BCS, which are forbidden from considering margin of victory, Fresno ranks 14th and NIU third. (Seriously, third.) That's just broken.


28. LOUISVILLE (7-1).

29. GEORGIA (4-3).

30. WISCONSIN (5-2).

31. WASHINGTON (5-3).

32. ARIZONA (5-2).

33. OREGON STATE (6-2).

34. HOUSTON (6-1). The Cougars are leading the nation in turnover margin at an amazing clip of +2.86 per game, on pace for the second-highest margin on record. (According to the NCAA, the all-time mark for turnover margin belongs to the 1952 UCLA Bruins, who were +4.0 per game, although the fact that they're the only team prior to 1978 on the official list casts some doubt on the exhaustiveness of that title.) At any rate, Houston is as coming out way, way ahead of the curve: The last team that finished even +2.0 over a full season was the blue-chip Miami outfit that obliterated everything in its path back in 2001.


35. DUKE (6-2). The Blue Devils were objectively terrible Saturday at Virginia Tech, finishing with one touchdown, zero third-down conversions and four turnovers, and somehow left Blacksburg with the program's biggest win in decades. (Four Hokie turnovers helped just a bit.) Ugly as it was, the win was Duke's first over a ranked team since 1994, before many of its players were born, and its first over a ranked team on the road since 1971. With that, the Devils are bowl-eligible for the second year in a row, but still need another win to deliver an elusive winning season. Last year, a 6-2 start ended an extended bowl drought, but was followed by five consecutive losses to close the year by an average margin of 23 points.

36. VIRGINIA TECH (6-2). It's natural to blame quarterback Logan Thomas for the offense's misfortune, especially when he's betraying his obvious talent in such egregious fashion as throwing four interceptions against Duke. But so much of that stems from the fact that Thomas is the offense: He set school records for total yards in each of his first two seasons a starter, and currently accounts for a little over 72 percent of the team's total offense, the same number as last year. With this defense, just a little support from the bit players would go a long way.


37. USC (5-3).

38. FLORIDA (4-3).

39. GEORGIA TECH (5-3).

40. UTAH (4-4).

41. BALL STATE (8-1).

42. IOWA (5-3).

43. MINNESOTA (6-2). On a handful of occasions Saturday, the Gophers clearly outmaneuvered Nebraska, including a ballsy, 4th-and-10 touchdown pass in the first half, some well-time play-action strikes and a couple of minor but very effective formation quirks. For the most part, though, they just kicked ass. Altogether, Minnesota pounded out 271 yards rushing in a 34-23 upset, the vast majority coming between the tackles, its best number on the ground against a Big Ten defense since November 2005.


44. NEBRASKA (6-2).

45. BOISE STATE (5-3).

46. TENNESSEE (4-4). Freshman quarterback Joshua Dobbs came on Saturday for a late, garbage-time touchdown drive against Alabama, making him the first opposing QB to lead his team to the end zone in Bryant-Denny Stadium since Jonathan Football Manziel last November. (In six home games in the meantime, Bama allowed a grand total of nine points on three field goals.) Under most circumstances, that's a throwaway line. With the Volunteers' quarterback situation, it was enough to make Dobbs the new starter against Missouri, their third of the season.


47. VANDERBILT (4-4).



50. PENN STATE (4-3). The massacre at Ohio State was the worst beating any Penn State team has endured in well over a century, since a 64-5 loss to the Duquesne Athletic Club on Nov. 25, 1899. (That was during the William McKinley administration. The forward pass wouldn't be legalized for another seven years, and Joe Paterno wouldn't be born for another 27.) In the intervening 114 years, no other opponent before the Buckeyes put up 60 points on Penn State, and only two—West Virginia in 1988 and Navy in 1944, with a loaded wartime roster—managed to score 50. A truly Victorian defeat if ever there was one.


51. RICE (6-2). Rice was beating Texas-El Paso so badly Saturday that it decided to bring on Jayson Carter, a 4-foot-9, walk-on running back, for his first career carry in the fourth quarter. In retrospect, it's too bad the Owls were never far enough ahead against Florida Atlantic earlier in the year to get Carter on the field in that game, only for the fun of watching FAU coach Carl Pelini trying to gauge just how fucking stoned he is.


52. EAST CAROLINA (5-2).

53. MARYLAND (5-3).

54. KANSAS STATE (3-4).

55. RUTGERS (4-3).


57. TOLEDO (5-3).

58. OHIO (6-2).

59. NAVY (4-3).

60. PITTSBURGH (4-3). I have no idea what the point spread was, but anyone who bet on anything other than Pitt losing to Navy on a last-second field goal doesn't know shit about Pitt.


61. INDIANA (4-3).

62. BOWLING GREEN (5-3).

63. UTAH STATE (4-4). Utah State is this week's occupant of the CRATER OF MEDIOCRITY, the depressing hole at the dead center of the rankings. In the spirit of the honor, the Aggies are 3-0 against opponents with losing records, 0-3 against opponents with winning records, and 1-1 against opponents who (like the Aggies) are right at .500. It's a kind of perfection, really.


64. TCU (3-5).

65. WEST VIRGINIA (3-5).


67. WAKE FOREST (4-4).

68. SYRACUSE (3-4).

69. ILLINOIS (3-4). An early blowout over Cincinnati threw us off the trail, but it's clear enough now the Illini are exactly who everyone thought they were when they were unanimously picked to finish dead last in their division. (Whichever one it is.) Saturday's embarrassing, 42-3 loss to Michigan State was Illinois's 17th in a row in Big Ten play, a streak dating back to October of 2011 under Ron Zook.


70. ARKANSAS (3-5).


72. TULANE (6-2). Holy shit, Tulane is going to a bowl game. Saturday's win over Tulsa moved the Green Wave to 4-0 in Conference USA, and to six wins overall for the first time since 2002, when the quarterback was soon-to-be first-rounder J.P. Losman. The starting QB this year is Nick Montana, who (despite his last name) almost certainly isn't going to be drafted, but when the defense is third in the nation in takeaways, it certainly doesn't take a Hall-of-Fame arm to gravitate toward the top of Conference USA.


73. BUFFALO (6-2).

74. CINCINNATI (5-2).

75. SAN JOSE STATE (4-3).

76. NORTH TEXAS (5-3).

77. MARSHALL (4-3).


79. UNLV (5-3). The Rebels are still one win away from bowl-eligibility, and two wins from clinching a winning record, so we don't want to jinx anything here. Just noting that UNLV has enjoyed all of three winning seasons in the past 25 years, and none since 2000. At some point in the next month you may find a resumé from Bobby Hauck in your inbox, and you should probably consider hiring him.


80. NEVADA (3-5).

81. TROY (5-3).

82. COLORADO (3-4).

83. N.C. STATE (3-4).

84. VIRGINIA (2-6). Last week, Mike London defended himself as "the right man for the job" after Virginia blew a 22-point lead against Duke. This week, London fended off questions about the Cavs' failure to score from the goal line just before halftime in an eventual 35-25 loss to Georgia Tech, their fifth in a row. Next week, he'll claim to be the only one in the room who doesn't notice the grim reaper tapping him on the shoulder after an inevitable debacle against Clemson. Gotta stay positive.


85. TEXAS STATE (5-3).




89. SAN DIEGO STATE (3-4).

90. IOWA STATE (1-6).

91. KANSAS (2-5).

92. KENTUCKY (1-6).

93. CALIFORNIA (1-7).

94. PURDUE (1-6).


96. SMU (3-4). Garrett Gilbert is still known best as the blue-chip bust who flamed out as Colt McCoy's heir apparent at Texas, but he's finally settling into his second act at SMU pretty nicely. Saturday, he accounted for 635 yards of total offense and six touchdowns in a 59-49 win over Temple, making him the first FBS player this season—and only the sixth in the past decade—to crack the 600-yard barrier in a single game. (His total on Saturday comes in at No. 7 on the all-time list.) With that, he's also the only FBS player averaging 400 yards per game for the season.


97. WYOMING (4-4).



100. SOUTH ALABAMA (3-4).


102. KENT STATE (2-7).

103. TULSA (2-5). Kent State and Tulsa hit the stretch with two pathetic wins apiece, putting them neck-and-neck for the title of "Most Regressed." Last year, the Flashes and Golden Hurricane both finished with eleven wins and appearances in their respective conference championship games. (Tulsa won the crown in Conference USA; Kent State let the MAC title and a likely BCS bid slip away in double overtime.) This year, they're far and away the greatest underachievers relative to those records: If both teams won every game from here on, they'd still finish a combined ten games behind the 2012 curve. The only other teams at this point more than five games behind last year's win total are Kansas State, North Carolina and Air Force.


104. ARMY (3-5).

105. FLORIDA ATLANTIC (2-6). The Owls' head coach was escorted from the building by police Wednesday morning over alleged use of unidentified illegal drugs, proving again that the reality of college football is a lot closer to the batshit rumors you used to hear at frat parties than you ever realized. (The screenplay for my Carl Pelini stoner comedy calls for Carl and Howard Schnellenberger to unwittingly save campus from being taken over by a private prison company. Should I start writing with Hank Azaria in mind, or wait until he's on board?)


106. SOUTH FLORIDA (2-5).

107. LOUISIANA TECH (3-5).

108. MEMPHIS (1-5).

109. AKRON (2-7).

110. UAB (2-5).

111. NEW MEXICO (2-5).

112. AIR FORCE (1-7). Going back to last year, the Falcons have dropped nine straight and eleven of their last twelve against FBS opponents, and it's not a question of catching a few breaks: The average margin in those losses is 22 points, and only two have come by single digits. On its own, the 2013 edition is well on its way to matching or breaking the academy record for losses. Maybe they should have gone ahead and shut the season down when they had the chance, like a bizarro version of the 1994 Expos.


113. HAWAII (0-7).

114. IDAHO (1-7).

115. TEMPLE (1-7).

116. WESTERN MICHIGAN (1-8). The Broncos broke into the win column Saturday against UMass, 31-30, when the Minutemen came up empty on a two-point conversion to win with 22 seconds left. P.J. Fleck, the nation's youngest head coach at the tender age of 32, attributed his first career victory to "the mantra of rowing the boat," which only sounds marginally less ridiculous coming after a win.



118. CONNECTICUT (0-7).


120. UTEP (1-6).


122. NEW MEXICO STATE (1-7). For the record, here is how close New Mexico State came to losing Saturday on a Hail Mary by Abilene Christian, an FCS independent in the "Reclassifying/Provisional" phase in its first season up from Division II:

The tackle at the end of that clip, at the one-yard line, to prevent a loss to the most vulnerable possible opponent the NCAA allows on the schedule, is the undisputed triumph of the Aggies' season.


123. MIAMI (OHIO) (0-8).

124. GEORGIA STATE (0-8).

125. SOUTHERN MISS (0-7). I dropped in on a couple Southern Miss message boards after Saturday's inevitable Homecoming flop against North Texas, the Eagles' second loss in a row by the exact same score, 55-14, and the mood there is as desperate as you'd expect. USM just clinched back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since the Great Depression. How is it even possible for this team to be worse than last year's? If the losing streak reaches two full seasons, will support fall too low to sustain FBS status? What kind of recruit would want to be a part of this? Should Southern Miss ditch the wasteland of Conference USA and forge a reputation as kindling for hire? Is it possible to pull the scholarship of every wide receiver on the roster? Could Nick Saban win a game with these players? Oh god, how bad is this weekend going to be against Marshall? Who is to blame for this? Everyone is to blame for this! At this point, the only remotely positive spin is that there are actually a few hundred people who still care enough about the worst team in the worst conference to go on bitching about it on the Internet, and aside from maybe the guy with the Nathan Bedford Forrest avatar, the clock is running on that.


Matt Hinton writes about college football for Football Outsiders and SB Nation's Football Study Hall. Follow on Twitter, @MattRHinton.