Most college football rankings look at the best teams in the nation. These team performances look at the worst teams. This is the Terrible 10.
Week 1 of the 2019 college football is so long you probably already forgot just how bad the USF Bulls looked Friday night. The fact the mighty Tennessee Volunteers, of the mighty SEC, lost to Georgia State Saturday completely overshadowed Wisconsin’s destruction in Tampa, as well as many of the other ugly results stretching from Thursday to Labor Day Monday.
But were the Vols the worst team in college football on the field in Week 1? Nope. In fact, according to CFB Winning Edge Team Performance ratings, Tennessee wasn’t even worthy of a spot in our new Terrible Ten weekly rankings. How so?
CFB Winning Edge Team Performance ratings take a range of statistical factors into account, adjusts for the strength of the opponent, and assigns a final grade to each team in every game using a 60-100 scale.
Though the Vols were embarrassed by a team ranked 103 points lower in Roster Strength (a number that attempts to account for the talent potential of each player on all 130 FBS teams and adjusts for experience and production), Tennessee actually held a pretty decisive edge in net yards per play – one of the most highly weighted metrics in the Team Performance formula. The Vols gained a modest 5.69 yards per play offensively, but Jeremy Pruitt’s defense allowed just 4.57 yards on average (which would have ranked No. 8 in the country on a per-game basis in 2018, for what it’s worth).
It was a humiliating result in Knoxville, but it ranked as just the 12th worst of Week 1 with a 70.73 Team Performance rating. How did the rest of the country stack up? Here’s our inaugural Terrible Ten for 2019:
Coastal Carolina had an opportunity to host fellow Group of Five program Eastern Michigan in Week 1 and dominated the first quarter. The Chanticleers took an early 10-0 lead after new quarterback Fred Payton threw his first TD pass of the season, and the wonderfully named Massimo Biscardi added a field goal.
However, the Eagles controlled the final three quarters as Coastal couldn’t contain EMU quarterback Mike Glass III. Coastal Carolina allowed Glass to complete 20 of 22 passes, which went for 188 yards and three touchdowns without an interception, while Payton – who threw for 304 yards and two scores – was picked off four times.
Hugh Freeze coaching from a hospital bed made national news, but the story of the game between Liberty and Syracuse was the Flames’ inability to move the football. Liberty was held to -4 rushing yards on 34 carries, which was the second-worst performance for an FBS ground game of the weekend.
As a result, the Flames averaged just 3.08 yards per play (fifth-worst nationally), and though the defense held a typically explosive Orange offense to just 4.66 yards on average, the net was 1.58 yards in Syracuse’s favor. Liberty also succeeded on just three of 16 third-down opportunities and was 0-for-2 in the red zone.
It was a bad week for the SEC East, but Conference USA might have performed even worse. Though there were a few close calls, WKU was the only FBS program to lose to an FCS opponent in Week 1. The Hilltoppers failed to protect a 28-14 lead at the beginning of the fourth quarter and allowed Central Arkansas to score 21 straight points on the way to a 35-28 final. Only Tennessee had a larger talent advantage among losing teams, according to CFB Winning Edge Roster Strength ratings. Not a great start for new head coach Tyson Helton.
The Oregon State offense showed flashes in its Week 1 matchup with Oklahoma State. The Beavers moved the ball both on the ground and through the air while racking up 448 total yards.
The problem? The Beavs looked just as bad defensively in the season opener as they did in 2018. Oregon State surrendered 7.3 yards per play, including 6.8 yards per rush. The Beavers allowed 10 plays of 20 yards or longer. Only Houston (11) surrendered more.
UMass looked good early in an upset bid against Rutgers Friday, including three touchdowns of 20 yards or more in the first quarter. However, the Minutemen had no answer for Isaih Pacheco and Raheem Blackshear and finished with a -3.02 disadvantage in net yards per play.
The Scarlet Knights averaged 7.41 yards per touch, while Massachusetts ended with an average of 4.39. Over the final three quarters, Walt Bell’s squad managed just 108 total yards on 46 plays (2.35 yards per play).
Turnovers were a killer for Colorado State in its 52-31 loss to Colorado. The Rams actually outgained their archrivals 505-475 and had a 27-23 edge in first downs, but finished -4 in turnover margin on the night after losing two fumbles and tossing two interceptions. Only Purdue (-5) ranked lower among the 128 FBS teams that played through Sunday. Colorado State also surrendered 7.92 yards per play to the Buffs.
Illinois looked much improved in its 42-3 season-opening victory over Akron. The Zips were held in check offensively and managed only 2.91 yards per play. Only Tulsa (1.54), Georgia Southern (1.96) and USF (2.80) were worse.
The Zips also averaged just 1.7 yards per rushing attempt, 4.6 yards per pass, and turned the football over twice (one fumble and one interception). Third down was a major area of concern as Akron converted on just three of 13 opportunities.
CFB Winning Edge is pretty high on FIU. Even after the Panthers were blown out 42-14 by Tulane Thursday night, they rank No. 62 overall and second in C-USA in our updated Team Strength power rankings (the same spot FIU ranked in our preseason rankings).
Nevertheless, Butch Davis’ squad limped out of the gates and allowed 8.01 yards per play to the Green Wave. Only Houston (11.25) and New Mexico State (8.48) surrendered more among FBS teams in Week 1. FIU was outgained 545-267 in total offense and managed just 4.45 yards per play offensively.
USF was nearly as bad as it gets. Looking back at the 2018 CFB Winning Edge Team Performance database, only 29 teams managed a lower individual game grade than the Bulls last season. We’re talking about 1,656 individual team games, meaning Charlie Strong’s third-year debut with the Bulls can expect to rank in the bottom 1.75 percent for the entire season.
Can it get worse? Maybe. After all, UTEP finished in the sub-64 range three times.
Specifically, South Florida was outgained by an average of 3.47 yards per play, outscored by an average of 0.71 points per play and 3.5 points per possession (while being goose-egged 49-0). It also lost the turnover battle 2-0, which included a pivotal fumble return touchdown. Making matters worse, the Bulls played at home in the premium slot of the Friday night slate: primetime on ESPN, with the nation watching.
New Mexico State traveled to Washington State and played in the relative obscurity of a 10:30 p.m. kickoff time on the East Coast and the near-total obscurity of the Pac-12 Network. That might have been a good thing, as the Aggies were manhandled 58-7.
New Mexico State lost the turnover battle 3-0 and was outgained 618-317 while surrendering 25 plays of 25 yards or longer. On a per-play basis, the Aggies gained just 4.73 yards on average while allowing 8.96, for a net of -4.23. Washington State needed just 11 possessions to score its 58 points, while the Aggies managed a single score in 12 turns with the ball. In terms of net points per possession, New Mexico State found itself in a 4.69-point hole which would have ranked as the third-worst for the entire 2018 season.