There isn’t much in the way of thanks regarding Horned Frog football this season, save for being the best Texas-based Big 12 squad, which is something. Label me unevolved, but when I’m feeling down, the misery of others always brightens my spirits. Don’t misunderstand, football isn’t real life, and pain and suffering aren’t enjoyable in a literal context, no matter who is experiencing it. But, when it comes to college football fandom, misery loves company. So please turn your collective frowns upside down as we lurk around the NCAA searching for sob stories to numb our own agony just a bit.
Full disclosure, I descend from a Wolverine family. I wore U of M onesies and hated the Ohio State Buckeyes before I was even confident of what a buckeye actually was. But Michigan is the bluest of blue chip programs, boasting the most wins of any college football program ever. Yet as each year slides by, the No. 2 program, Ohio State, inches closer and closer from their penultimate position. Big Blue Coach Jim Harbaugh, who enjoyed great success at Stanford, has succeeded in previous seasons for all intents and purposes. Over his five-year tenure, he has logged an 8-win, 9-win, and three 10-win seasons, respectively. Michigan, like most years, began ranked in the AP Top 25 poll and won their first (albeit heavily delayed by COVID-19) game over Minnesota. Since then, they’ve lost a close game to their “little brother rival,” Michigan State, and were blown out by Wisconsin and Indiana. This past weekend, they managed to squeak past conference bottom feeder Rutgers in overtime to deliver them to a 2-3 record despite achieving a 13th AP ranking early in the season. The greatest sin for Blue faithful is their record against hated OSU. The Wolverines have beaten the Buckeyes only twice this century. Harbaugh lost an overtime spat in his second year, but otherwise most of the contests have been blowouts in which U of M have been sloppy and overmatched. If you think TCU should be consistently winning but aren’t, feel better that the winningest program ever is experiencing the same struggles.
It wasn’t my intention, but it seems I’m going to pick on the Big 10 this week. If the Wolverines are blue chip, the Huskers are red chip. Five claimed national championships and basically an entire state devoted to university athletics haven’t been sufficient to keep the fighting farmers relevant this year, or for the last several. Aside from a one-touchdown victory over winless Penn State — who should grace this list also, but we can’t talk about the Big 10 all day — Big Red has been relegated to the cellar all season, including an 18-point loss to the Fighting Illini last weekend. In many ways, the Huskers should be a cautionary tale for Frog faithful toying with the Gary Patterson eject button. Bo Pelini, the Cornhuskers head coach from 2008-14, could never push the storied program into the upper echelons where fans thought they belonged. Pelini never won more than 10 games in a season but consequently never lost more than four. Since his dismissal, the Huskers have a single winning season to crow about, and their second head coach since the changeover is probably headed straight into a combine, the harvester, not the NFL kind.
Florida State Seminoles
A modern-era premier squad, the Seminoles are known for the infamous Tomahawk Chop from fans descending from the stands and their longstanding coach, Bobby Bowden, who seemed as much a football coach as should-have-been sheriff on the television show The Dukes of Hazzard. Bowden’s 34-season tenure, which makes Patterson seem like an untenured lecturer in comparison, was wrought with incredible success, including two national championships. Current Texas A&M coach, Jimbo Fisher, added another title for FSU in 2013. Since Fisher’s departure for College Station, the Seminoles are working on their third consecutive losing record and second head coach. Aside from their cupcake win over Jacksonville State and a field-goal victory over a legitimate North Carolina squad, the choppers have been squashed by double digits against almost everyone else they’ve played, including a 42-point loss to the rival Miami Hurricanes. It’s worth mentioning that Patterson and Fisher had similar opportunities to earn more money with more storied programs, but Patterson chose to stay with TCU, a decision fans should remember and appreciate during frustrating seasons.
The best of the worst should always be savored last. Our I-35 religious rivals are faltering this season akin to the vintage Baylor bottom dwellers we all enjoyed throughout the ’90s and early 2000s. Baylor has never been a powerhouse, which makes them starkly different from the other residents of this list, but watching them stumble is like tucking into some warm pumpkin pie after an overly indulgent Thanksgiving meal. Do you need it? No. Does it hit the spot? Oh, yeah. The Bears, after former coach Matt Rhule departed for the NFL, have won only their first game of the season, against longstanding loser Kansas. The best case scenario for the Bears is that they finish this season with two wins, but even that seems a long shot at this point. If history repeats, new coaches at Baylor struggle in their early years but excel quickly. Rhule and the now infamous Art Briles both led disastrous first seasons before sharp improvement. It’s hard to imagine Baylor staying down for the long haul, but we should revel in their misery for the time being, or whenever the opportunity presents itself.
TCU is coming off a bye week but will visit Lawrence post-Turkey Day for their first game under the lights this season. The Jayhawks are always bad, but without multiple warmup opponents this season, they’re on pace to win precisely zero games. Their opening spat against Coastal Carolina was also their closest at a 15-point loss. The Hawks last took the field three weeks ago during a 53-point curb stomping to probable conference champion Oklahoma. Kansas has inexplicably challenged better TCU squads than this one, but they seem even more inept than usual during this COVID conundrum of a season. If TCU isn’t victorious by at least a touchdown, I expect some layoff talks to begin around the athletic department as this season winds down.