Toe to Toe: Karr Vs. Schmidley (Schmidley)
There's never a shortage of football topics this time of year, so Ryan and I decided that yet another pigskin column was the way to go. Today we'll be giving our opinions on what college football team has had the most disappointing season. There are a number of good options to choose from.
Auburn University entered the season as a fringe top-10 team and has been dismal since. The Tigers have lost an astonishing five of seven conference games, including an embarrassing loss -- one that seemed to doom their season -- to a young and struggling Arkansas team that has since gone on to lose the rest of its conference games.
The team seems to have room for growth next year, with its future in the hands of Kodi Burns, its ultra-talented, quick-footed signal caller, who needs to blossom as a passer before Auburn gets competitive again. For now, though, Burns is a work in progress, and the Tigers must bear the burden of being labeled one of the most underachieving teams of 2008.
In the end, though, the Tigers can't be labeled the most disappointing, because despite their high preseason ranking, they're not as loaded with talent as some of their peers in this discussion.
A case can be made for West Virginia, too. The Mountaineers entered the season with very high expectations and a good deal of momentum after crushing a loaded Oklahoma team to finish out last season.
To add to the fervor in Morgantown, the team's breakthrough performance seemed to be strongly related to Bill Snyder taking the reigns just prior to the bowl game. A look at West Virginia's year thus far yields some confusing information. If you told anyone prior to the season that West Virginia would be unranked as we neared the end of the year, they would had to have concluded that one or both of Noel Devine and Pat White were either hurt or having down years. Neither is the case, though. Devine has well over 1,000 yards and is averaging almost seven yards per carry, and Pat White has been his usual self. Even in two of the team's three losses, both of them have performed pretty well.
Ryan's choice in this debate, the University of Michigan, is a tempting pick also. After starting the season in the top 25, Michigan has been just plain awful, winning only three of 12 games thus far. Things looked mildly promising after the Wolverines took down the University of Wisconsin, but as the season progressed, we learned what many already knew: Wisconsin was very, very overrated. Penn State crushed the blue and gold, 46-17, and the team's recent blowout at the hands of the Ohio State Buckeyes officially made the Wolverines' season a complete disaster.
I can't pull the trigger and crown Michigan because, while I do think they've haven't performed up to their potential, I think they've done so a lot less than people think. Rich Rodriguez was a prized acquisition, but with his hiring came a catch: He would be implementing a new offensive system, and it might take a while to get the ball rolling. He's a far cry from the conservative Lloyd Carr, and it has showed this season.
When one considers the departures of a couple key players -- particularly the heartbeat of the team in its four prior seasons, running back Mike Hart -- it shouldn't be all that surprising that Michigan was left in the dust.
Other teams in the mix include Virginia Tech, Wisconsin and Kansas. Though these teams are talented, their preseason rankings were too high. The nod in this discussion goes to a team that, based on talent alone, should have been given a higher preseason ranking.
In my opinion, by far the most disappointing team of 2008 is Clemson. The Tigers are absolutely stacked on the offensive side of the ball. Cullen Harper has far more athleticism than your average quarterback, and he's got a rocket arm. His primary targets -- Jacoby Ford and Aaron Kelly -- are two of the most talented receivers in the ACC. Ford is one of the quickest players in the league and Kelly combines size and athleticism in a way that few can.
What really is baffling, and tragic for that matter, is how under-utilized the team's two super talented running backs are.
James Davis is a tremendous natural runner and a true workhorse back, and CJ Spiller is just downright nasty. Yet the two have only a combined 218 carries on the season -- far too few. The bottom line is, if you've got two backs with that kind of talent, you build your offense around them.
The now departed Tommy Bowden never bothered to do this, and things have not improved since. I don't pretend to know precisely what "system" should have been implemented.
Nor do I think that getting the most out of players like Harper, Kelly, and Ford would be easy with the emphasis put on Spiller and Davis. But I do know that it should have been a priority for Clemson to get these guys the ball more, and they've failed miserably. Spiller and Davis have had good careers, but Clemson has wasted much of their talents. This obvious mishap makes Clemson's season the most disappointing, and it's not really much of a contest.