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Worst Football Team in the Land: A Study

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Is it Oregon State? Kansas? Some very sad small-conference school? Let's break this down.

Stanford v Oregon State Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

For a handful of schools, football in 2017 is over.

Sure, for 82 of the 128 FBS teams there are still bowl games to be played. There are the big bowl games, the playoff bowl games: the Rose Bowl and the Allstate Sugar Bowl. The lesser—but still really big—bowl games, the bowl games that can be program changers: the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl and the Capital One Orange Bowl, among others. Then there are a number of even lesser bowl games, games that might be exciting or might feel like consolation prizes or might even be a little bit disappointing to be playing in. These are bowl games like the Hyundai Sun Bowl or the Valero Alamo Bowl or the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl (yes, that's the name of an actual bowl game).

But for those other 46 teams, the teams that failed to win more games than they lost, there is no more football to be played. While there is a 4-team tournament that determines the official Best Team in the Land, there is no tournament that determines which team is the saddest in the land, the most miserable in the land, the official Worst Team in the Land.

As someone who pays close attention to one of the teams that might truly have a legitimate claim to being the Worst Team in the Land, I feel that it's my duty to explore the competition. Who are the worst Conference Non-Champions? Which teams were the most inept, the most ineffective, the most inclined to drive their fans towards inebriation?


The Contenders (FBS teams with two or fewer wins in 2017):

  • AAC: Tulsa (2-10 overall, 1-7 in conference)
  • ACC: no eligible teams (their worst—North Carolina—had three wins)
  • Big 12: Baylor (1-11 overall, 1-8 in conference) & Kansas (1-11 overall, 0-9 in conference)
  • Big Ten: Illinois (2-10 overall, 0-9 in conference)
  • C-USA: Charlotte (1-11 overall, 1-7 in conference), Rice (1-11 overall, 1-7 in conference), & UTEP (0-12 overall, 0-8 in conference)
  • MAC: Bowling Green (2-10 overall, 2-6 in conference), Kent State (2-10 overall, 1-7 in conference), & Ball State (2-10 overall, 0-8 in conference)
  • Mountain West: San Jose State (2-11 overall, 1-7 in conference)
  • Pac-12: Oregon State (1-11 overall, 0-9 in conference)
  • SEC: no eligible teams (their worst—Tennessee and Arkansas—had four wins each)
  • Sun Belt: Georgia Southern (2-9 overall, 2-5 in conference), Coastal Carolina (2-9 overall, 1-6 in conference), & Texas State (2-10 overall, 1-7 in conference)

That gives us just 15 teams that won two or fewer games in all of 2017: Tulsa, Baylor, Kansas, Illinois, Charlotte, Rice, UTEP, Bowling Green, Kent State, Ball State, San Jose State, Oregon State, Georgia Southern, Coastal Carolina, & Texas State.

We'll use a very complicated and scientific process to eliminate some of the pretenders and find out who's truly the best—at being worst.

Step 1: Head-to-head. Did any of our worst play each other during the season?

Baylor beat Kansas, 38-9. No way that Baylor—even with only a single win—can be the worst if they won a game by more than four touchdowns. They are off the list.

Baylor v Kansas Photo by Brian Davidson/Getty Images

Illinois beat Ball State, 24-21. Illinois was terrible this season, beating just two teams from smaller conferences by a combined total of 16 points and losing their other 10 games by a combined total of 209 points. But they did beat Ball State, which takes them off the list.

Rice beat UTEP, 31-14. This was Rice's only victory of the season, but a 17-point win is convincing enough for me since it was over another contender for this year's Worst Team in the Land. Rice—you're out of this contest.

Bowling Green beat Kent State, 44-16. Bowling Green can't be the worst if they were better than another of our contenders by four touchdowns. Bowling Green is off the list.

Texas State beat Coastal Carolina, 27-7. Get out of here, Bobcats. You don't get to be the worst.

On December 4th, Georgia Southern will play Coastal Carolina in each team's final season game. By the head-to-head rule, the winner of that contest doesn't get to be the worst.

Our list, revised: Tulsa, Baylor, Kansas, Illinois, Charlotte, Rice, UTEP, Bowling Green, Kent State, Ball State, San Jose State, Oregon State, (Winner of) Georgia Southern/Coastal Carolina, & Texas State.


The nine remaining teams: Tulsa, Kansas, Charlotte, UTEP, Kent State, Ball State, San Jose State, Oregon State, loser of Georgia Southern/Coastal Carolina.

Look, this process takes time. It's super complicated, and very scientific. Let's keep plugging away.

Step 2: Decent Wins. The remaining nine teams did win a couple of games. They also lost a lot of games—by a large margin. But were there any inspired efforts that indicate unfulfilled potential? A singular dominant performance? A close loss to a bowl-bound opponent? Or to a team that simply won more games than it lost?

Tulsa beat Louisiana 66-42 and also beat Houston 45-17. Louisiana is currently 5-6 overall, and would become bowl-eligible with a win over Appalachian State in their season finale on December 2nd. Houston finished 7-5 on the season and will definitely participate in a bowl game. Because Tulsa beat at least one bowl-eligible team, and possibly two once Louisiana finishes up, I can safely say: Tulsa, you're not good, but you're not the worst.

Tulsa v Houston Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Charlotte only had one win in 2017, but it was a 25-24 victory over UAB. Now I know that it was by the slimmest of margins, but UAB went 8-4 on the season—good enough for 2nd in C-USA's West division. Because UAB is a bowl-bound team and Charlotte defeated them, Charlotte is not the worst.

Ball State beat UAB 51-31 and also beat Tennessee Tech 28-13. Tennessee Tech is an FCS team that went 1-10 on the season, but that 20-point win over UAB is what eliminates Ball State from being the worst. As we just learned, UAB went 8-4 overall, and will be going bowling. Because Ball State beat a bowl-eligible team, they aren't the worst.

San Jose State beat Cal Poly 34-13 and beat Wyoming 20-17. Cal Poly is an FCS team that went 1-10, but Wyoming will be going to a bowl game after finishing 2nd in the Mountain West Conference with a 7-5 record. As was the case with Tulsa and Ball State above, because San Jose State beat a bowl-eligible team they cannot lay claim to being the worst.

Our list, revised: Tulsa, Baylor, Kansas, Illinois, Charlotte, Rice, UTEP, Bowling Green, Kent State, Ball State, San Jose State, Oregon State, loser of Georgia Southern/Coastal Carolina, & Texas State.


From 15 teams down to nine, from nine down to five: Kansas, UTEP, Kent State, Oregon State, loser of Georgia Southern/Coastal Carolina.

But who's the worst? Let the scientific method decide!

Step 3: Not-So-Decent (But Still) Wins. The remaining teams have six total wins among them, but over teams that aren't much to brag about. A few of them lost some close games, even if against poor competition. Let's get those competitive teams eliminated.

Kent State beat Howard 38-31 and also beat Miami (Ohio) 17-14. Of their 10 losses, only Buffalo (by 14) and Akron (by ten) were by 14 or fewer points. As sad as that is, the Miami (Ohio) team that Kent State beat did go 5-7 on the season, and the FCS Howard team they beat took down an FBS school, beating UNLV to kick off their season. There is enough quality incompetence here for me to eliminate Kent State from being the worst.

loser of Georgia Southern/Coastal Carolina - Regardless of which one of these two programs has made it this far, they each have a case for being very close to the worst but not quite the worst. Georgia Southern won two games—including a 52-0 beatdown of South Alabama—and had three losses by 10 or fewer points. Coastal Carolina also won two games, and had five losses by eight or fewer points. These teams are really really bad, but they were competitive in at least half of their games. They aren't the worst.

Our list, revised: Tulsa, Baylor, Kansas, Illinois, Charlotte, Rice, UTEP, Bowling Green, Kent State, Ball State, San Jose State, Oregon State, loser of Georgia Southern/Coastal Carolina, & Texas State.


And then there were three. Kansas, Oregon State, and UTEP. In fact, these are the only three teams in the entire country that failed to win a single FBS game.

Step 4: Direct Comparison. Three teams left. Two total wins. Zero FBS wins.

Kansas: 1-11 overall. Their only win was over a Southeast Missouri State team that went 3-8 at the FCS level. Kansas only had two losses by 14 or fewer points, losing 42-30 to 8-4 Ohio and losing 30-20 to 7-5 Kansas State. Kansas lost their other nine games by an average of 33 points.

Oklahoma v Kansas Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

UTEP: 0-12 overall. They didn't win a single game. Like Kansas, UTEP had two losses by 14 or fewer points, losing 35-21 to 8-3 Army (who still has to play Navy before their regular season is done) and losing 15-14 to 6-6 Western Kentucky. Minus those two games, UTEP lost their remaining ten games by an average of 28.5 points.

Oregon State: 1-11 overall. Their only win was a three-point win over an 0-11 Portland State team that went winless at the FCS level. Oregon State had three losses by 14 or fewer points, losing 36-33 to 5-7 Colorado, losing 15-14 to 9-3 (and current-ranked #14) Stanford, and losing 37-23 to 5-7 California. Outside of those four games, Oregon State lost their remaining eight games by an average of 31.6 points.


Step 5: Final Verdict.

Oregon State's win is meaningless because it was over a winless FCS school. But: they had at least one more competitive game than either Kansas or UTEP, their one-point loss was against the current #14 team in the country, and they played four ranked teams total. The Beavers are not worse than either Kansas or UTEP.

Kansas also had a near-meaningless win, as it was over an FCS school that had a terrible record. Unlike Oregon State, Kansas' competitive games did not include any ranked opponent, and they lost their other games by the largest margin out of the three bottom-feeders. Kansas did play three ranked schools though, so while the Jayhawks are the worst major-conference team, they are not the worst of them all.

UTEP won zero games, while playing in a lesser conference than either Kansas or Oregon State. They played one ranked team, and only had two games that could be considered competitive. The Miners of UTEP are, officially, The Worst in the Land.

UTEP v Florida Atlantic Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images

Of course, we could have just looked at their overall record to see that.