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College Football Streaks: Part Three
by Larry Ness - 08/14/2004
In the final segment of my three-part series on CFB streaks, losing teams take center stage. While over its illustrious history, Army has produced three national championships as well as three Heisman Trophy winners, this service academy has not beaten a top-20 team since 1972 and enters the 2004 season with not only the nation's longest current losing streak (15 games / 4-11 ATS), but also its longest current home losing streak (13 games / 2-9-1 ATS) as well.
As Army enters its final season in Conference USA, 67-year-old Bobby Ross takes over as its new head coach. Ross won a national championship while at Georgia Tech (1990) and in the NFL led the Chargers to a Super Bowl, but at West Point his main focus will be in trying to bring some sort of respectability and competitiveness to this once proud program.
Ross plans on returning the Cadets to a run-based attack and that seems smart. Back in 1998 and 1999, Army averaged 294 and 265 rushing yards per game and finished 3-8 both seasons. In 2002, Army's rushing attack averaged just 120 ypg as they went 1-11 and then in last year's 0-13 (4-9 ATS) campaign, Army's average of 63.5 ypg rushing ranked dead last among 117 Division 1-A schools!
Army returns 18 starters from last year's team, an unusually high number for a service academy. Last year the team suffered from a terrible turnover ration of minus-20 and that has to improve. Army's first real chance for a win comes in its Homecoming game on October 9 vs. Cincinnati. Last year the Cadets led the Bearcats 29-26 in the fourth quarter before losing, 33-29. Looking ahead at Army's schedule however, shows that its most winnable games are on the road.
They play at East Carolina on October 30. The Pirates beat Army last year in West Point 38-32 for that school's only win in 12 games. If like Yogi Berra you believe in deja vu all over again, then Army's game at Tulane on November 13th will be its breakthrough!
Army's last win came at Tulane (14-10) near the end of the 2002 season. Army's last home win also came versus the Green Wave, when they beat Tulane at West Point 42-35 in 2001. Tulane lost two key players from last year's team in JP Losman (a first round NFL pick) and RB Mewelde Moore, just the second player in NCAA history to gain over 4,000 yards rushing and over 2,000 yards receiving.
SMU won its final game of the 2002 season, but went winless in 2003 (0-12 straight up and 3-9 ATS) and enters this year with the nation's second-longest current losing streak. The Mustangs were one of the nation's best teams in the early 80s but after being handed the death penalty by the NCAA in 1987, have had just one winning season since! SMU averaged an NCAA-low 11.2 ppg and 260.6 ypg last year and its prospects for improvement don't look all that bright in 2004. The team's best chance for a win comes in their fourth game of the season at home vs. San Jose State. The Spartans lost a very good QB in Scott Rislov (59.7 18-5) and the team's leading returning rusher gained just 371 yards!
It's hard to believe how far and how quickly things have fallen at Iowa State. Dan McCarney led the Cyclones to three straight bowls from 2000-2002 but since reaching a 6-1 record and a No. 9 ranking in the polls at the mid-way mark of the 2002 season, the Cyclones have gone 3-16!
That includes ten straight losses (also 0-10 ATS) to end the 2003 season, losing by an average margin of 34 ppg! Iowa State expects to be greatly improved in 2004 though and will likely end its ten-game slide in its season-opener vs. Northern Iowa, a solid Division 1-AA school (10-3 last year and ranked No. 6) but not up to the task here. As far as the rest of the schedule goes, Iowa State draws Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and Baylor out of the Big-12 South this season, rather than Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech, as they did last year!
Like Iowa State, Illinois also fell hard 2003. In 2001, the Illini went 10-1 in the regular season and earned a Sugar Bowl berth opposite LSU. By 2003 however, Illinois had lost its final ten games of the year going 1-9 ATS, including nine consecutive ATS losses to end the season!
Illinois won't be anything special in 2004 but they have a solid chance to start 3-0! They open with Florida A&M at home on September 4th and follow that game with home games against UCLA and Western Michigan. UCLA barely beat Illinois last year out in Los Angeles (6-3) and finished its 2003 season on a five-game losing streak. As for Western Michigan, the Broncos are a long way from the team that played in back-to-back MAC Championship Games in 1999 and 2000. The 2004 edition features a new starting QB and just eleven returning starters from a 5-7 team. Illinois may not be 3-0 when Purdue visits Champaign-Urbana on September 25 but they won't be on a 13-game losing streak either!
While Army's 13-game home losing streak stands alone among college football teams entering the 2004 season, there are a number of schools that feature some pretty ugly losing streaks, as the upcoming year approaches. Leading the way with 25 straight road losses (8-17 ATS) is Eastern Michigan.
The Eagles last won a road game at Toledo (20-13), back in 1999. They open 2004 with a first-year head coach in Jeff Genyk, whose highest previous coaching experience came as a RBs coach! At least he features an excellent RB to work with in senior Anthony Sherrell, who ran for 1531 yards in 2003.
The Eagles' first road game is at Florida (forget about it) but they will have at least three chances to win on the road this year. The first comes on October 9th at Ball State, a team they beat in Ypsilanti 38-14 last year. The following Saturday, they visit Western Michigan, a team they'll surely be underdogs against but a team that is far from unbeatable. It won't help the Eagles, though, that both of these games will be Homecoming games for their opponents. They can forget about winning at Bowling Green on October 30th, but they might have a final shot at winning at Kent State on November 13th. Truth be told, the Eagles could very well make it to 30 straight road losses by the end of the season.
The Baylor Bears enter Guy Morriss' second year in Waco on a 19-game road losing streak (6-13 ATS). The Bears averaged just 15.9 ppg (ranking 110 out 117 teams) and finished 114th in total yards last season. Their defense allowed 37.9 ppg (112th) and 450.8 ypg (105th)! Baylor opens its season this year on the road at UAB on September 4th. The Bears better break through with a win there however, as they play just four more road games in 2004 and they can't expect to win at Texas, Nebraska, Texas Tech or Oklahoma State! UAB will be no gimme, though, as Watson Brown's team has an exciting QB in Darrell Hackney and 18 returning starters. Can you say 24 straight road losses!
From 1986 through 1993 under Bill Mallory, Indiana went to six bowl games. The school hasn't had a winning season since 1994! They enter the 2004 season on a 13-game road losing streak (3-9-1 ATS), having last won at Michigan State (37-28) back in 2001. Gerry DiNardo enters his third year as the team's head coach and returns 18 starters from a team that averaged just 14.8 ppg (114th) on offense, while allowing 32.3 ppg (94th) on defense.
Indiana's first road game is at Oregon but they have little chance to win in Eugene. Breakthrough opportunities seem to lie at Kentucky on September 18th (they outplayed the Wildcats in the first half last year before losing 34-17), at Northwestern on October 9th (lost at home to these Wildcats last year 37-31 in overtime) and at Illinois on November 6th (beat Illinois at home last year 17-14).
Also entering the 2004 season on a 13-game losing streak (4-9 ATS) is Vanderbilt. The Commodores last won on the road at Duke (does that count?) 42-28 in 2001. Vanderbilt will be greatly improved in 2004 with 21 of 22 starters returning from last year's team but the fact remains that the Commodores posted the school's 21st consecutive losing season in 2003 and they still have too much ground to make up in the SEC!
Of note will be Vanderbilt's road game at Navy on September 25th. Navy had quite a turnaround year in 2003 going 8-5 after a three-year mark of 3-30 from 2000-2002. Last year Navy beat Vanderbilt in Nashville, 37-27 but Vanderbilt owned the lead in the second half. One other chance for a road win could come at Kentucky on November 13th, but you can be sure the Wildcats will remember Vanderbilt's 28-17 win last year in Nashville, a win that snapped the Commodores' 23-game SEC losing streak!