College football bowl season is officially underway. But who are the best teams that did not qualify for one of this year’s 40 events?
While it might seem as if everyone earns a bowl berth, even a few 5-7 programs, these days, 48 FBS squads will be home for the holidays over the next few weeks. Although it’s become increasingly difficult to achieve bowl-ineligibility in today’s college football landscape, a few talented teams surprisingly missed the mark in 2016. The six squads below are the best of that disappointing lot of underachievers whose offseasons started earlier than anticipated.
6. Texas Tech
Hey, if offense was football’s only barometer of success, the Red Raiders might be prepping for a New Year’s Six bowl game this month. Since it’s not, TTU has an earlier-than-hoped start to the offseason. Moreover, Kliff Kingsbury will begin 2017 on the coaching hot seat. Still, QB Patrick Mahomes fueled a 43.7-point offense during the fall and Tech knocked off three teams that are bowling, including Baylor, 54-35, in the regular season finale.
5. Notre Dame
It was a brutal year in South Bend, from start to finish. But the Irish talent is markedly better than the results, which is why Brian Kelly is barely hanging on by a thread. The roster, as usual, was dotted with next-level players, such as QB DeShone Kizer, WR Equanimeous St. Brown, O-linemen Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey and D-linemen Jarron Jones and Isaac Rochell. And that’s what makes the 4-8 mark so vexing. Notre Dame was the only team to defeat Miami over the season’s final month.
4. Michigan State
Forget for a moment that the Spartans went 3-9, their worst record since 1982. Yes, it was a shockingly inept season for Mark Dantonio in East Lansing, including hard-to-process losses to Indiana, Maryland and Illinois. However, Michigan State did flash in two of its biggest games of 2016, competing with Michigan and losing by just a point to Ohio State. Plus, the program housed enough defensive stoppers, like NT Malik McDowell and LB Riley Bullough, to put a scare into superior opponents.
The 2016 Longhorns featured a 2,000-yard rusher, D’Onta Foreman, an All-American left tackle, Connor Williams, and a mix of youth and veteran talent that should have been enough for at least six wins. It wasn’t, so Tom Herman is in Austin and Charlie Strong is in Tampa. On Nov. 6, Texas was 5-4 and coming off back-to-back wins over Baylor and Texas Tech. A postseason lock, right? Nope. Ever-inconsistent, the Horns somehow lost to West Virginia, Kansas and TCU to close the season. This program is better than what Strong was able to milk out of it these past couple of seasons.
The Bears were Berkeley’s version of Texas Tech. They could score on just about anyone, led by gunslinging QB Davis Webb and his favorite target, Chad Hansen. Forcing punts? Yeah, that was a problem for the team that yielded almost 43 points per game.
Cal posted a pair of wins over bowl-bound opponents, Hawaii and Utah, and defeated three name-brand programs that were down this season, Texas, Oregon and UCLA. For a team that finished 5-7, Sonny Dykes’ kids were dangerous, especially when playing in Strawberry Canyon.
1. Ole Miss
A Top 25 roster, without the production to back it up. The Rebels were one of 2016’s biggest disappointments, sinking from the outskirts of the top 10 in the preseason to their first losing season since 2011. Ole Miss is the team that held three-touchdown leads on Florida State and Alabama in September … yet couldn’t close in either game. The Rebs also routed Georgia and Memphis, and rallied to beat Texas A&M behind a true freshman quarterback. Yeah, Ole Miss went 5-7, capped by lopsided losses to Vandy and Mississippi State, but no one wanted to face it when it was operating at full capacity.