The Best of the 0-3 NCAA Teams
Ahead of the final weekend of September there are nine winless teams in college football. Some of those squads are going to be tough to back in any circumstance this season even with elevated underdog spreads. There are three 0-3 squads that look worthy of consideration in upcoming weeks however and the poor starts in the win column may lead to attractive pricing in the conference season.
(17-19 loss to UC-Davis, 23-28 loss at Oklahoma State, 20-41 loss at Ohio State)
Tulsa went 6-0 in American play in the regular season last season before falling by three points vs. Cincinnati in the AAC championship game. The other two losses in a 6-3 season came on the road at Oklahoma State and in bowl action vs. Mississippi State in close games. A similar path of success in conference play is possible again this season for the Golden Hurricane.
The past two weeks Tulsa has not looked out of place on the road against high-quality major conference teams. Two weeks ago, Tulsa lost 28-23 at Oklahoma State in a game they led 14-7 through three quarters and 17-14 later in the final quarter. Tulsa had more yardage in the game and missed on several opportunities as they reached Oklahoma State territory in each of the first four drives of the game without scoring.
Last week Tulsa lost by 21 in Columbus, but it was a seven-point game in the fourth quarter until Ohio State scored twice in the final four minutes. Tulsa put up 501 yards of offense on the road against the Buckeyes while producing several big plays in the passing game.
Tulsa’s overall profile will be downgraded from the two-point loss to UC-Davis at home in the opening week, but Tulsa had 448 yards in that game but lost the turnover battle 3-0. Davis is an FCS team but one of the top-rated FCS teams, and a team that would be favored over about half of the power five teams according to recent power ratings.
Close losses have been common in now the seventh season under Philip Montgomery, as the former Houston and Baylor offensive coordinator has been given more time than most coaches these days even with his record now at 31-43. Tulsa should pick up its first win this week vs. Arkansas State but 1-4 seems like a possibility with a difficult AAC opener against Houston.
From there Tulsa could find some momentum with a winnable home game vs. Memphis and two favorable opportunities to close out October. The team may still be underrated in the final month when they could see underdog spreads with road games in November at Cincinnati, at Tulane, and at SMU. A winning season may be a long shot with the tough start, but Tulsa should be considered a much stronger team than its record.
(38-41 loss vs. Notre Dame, 17-20 loss vs. Jacksonville State, 14-35 loss at Wake Forest)
The Seminoles have been an easy team to ridicule and Jay Norvell may have a tough time surviving a 3-9 start to his career in Tallahassee. The valuation of Florida State may be at rock bottom in the coming weeks however and this is a group that could surprise in the ACC season with a few upsets or competitive results as a significant underdog. Last season Florida State won only three times but one of those wins was against an undefeated North Carolina team that had climbed to #5 in the polls.
There was a great build-up for the opening game vs. Notre Dame and Florida State competed well, staging a great comeback bid before losing in overtime against a highly regarded team that remains undefeated and was in the CFP last season. Florida State’s loss to Jacksonville State was inexcusable but it was on a short week following the Sunday night primetime opener and the Seminoles did enough to win that game with a 17-7 lead with five minutes to go before the miracle finish.
The 21-point loss to Wake Forest in the ACC opener can be pinned on six turnovers as Florida State did move the ball effectively in the passing game. The quarterback situation is a concern as Jordan Travis played most of the Notre Dame game, but McKenzie Milton provided a spark in the comeback. Milton has been given the lead role the past two games even though Travis has performed better and adds depth to the playbook with his rushing ability.
Florida State will face several suspect defenses in the next few weeks as the offense has the potential to keep pace in contests with Louisville, Syracuse, and North Carolina. The final five games are all difficult and Florida State will likely take a losing record into games with Clemson, NC State, Miami, Boston College, and Florida to close the season. The points may be alluring for a Seminoles team that has the potential to be the team that competed well in the opener on the national stage, yet this will be a team that may get minimal marketplace support with all the negative headlines.
(17-38 loss at Arkansas, 7-44 loss vs. Houston, 0-58 loss at Texas)
The numbers are terrible for Rice, but the Owls have faced one of the most difficult schedules in the nation facing three high-quality teams. Rice finished just 2-3 last season in five Conference USA games, but they delivered a stunning 20-0 shutout at Marshall and played within five points against UAB in two impressive December performances. Coming into the season the defense graded very well relative to its conference peers and the offense appeared to have the potential for improvement with a few playmakers added to the roster, notably Nebraska transfer Luke McCaffrey.
Rice should find the win column this week hosting an FCS squad Texas Southern but could remain an underrated group in difficult future conference road games vs. UTSA, UAB, and Charlotte in the coming weeks. The home schedule for Rice is quite favorable this season as the Owls have the potential to turn into a winning team by season’s end even with the terrible start through a path in which most teams in the nation would have also gone 0-3 through.
The opener vs. Arkansas was also one of the more misleading scores of the season so far as Rice had a 17-7 lead in the third quarter in Fayetteville and was tied 17-17 in the fourth quarter. Arkansas added two late scores to push the final margin to 21 points, but Rice held a formidable Razorbacks offense to just 373 yards and the Owls stayed in the game despite being -2 in turnovers.
The blowout losses the past two weeks came in tough situations with the opposing team entering the game off a humiliating loss in each instance. Houston had blown a 14-point lead with a four-interception game in a loss to Texas Tech in the opening week and was very sharp against Rice in a critical game. Texas meanwhile played Rice after being embarrassed in a 40-21 defeat against Arkansas the previous week as Rice saw the best from both of those teams.
At -116 in scoring so far this season the statistics are not going to look favorable for Rice in the coming weeks but the opportunities on the schedule will improve dramatically. Most may still look at Rice as a similar team to the squad that posted a combined 8-34 record from 2017 to 2020 but Mike Bloomgren’s turnaround plan is still on schedule now in his fourth season with the program. This is a team that should compete well and produce several wins in the Conference USA season yet may rarely be favored.
Considering the other winless teams Connecticut, Ohio, UNLV, and Arizona will be difficult to support as they appear to be a long way off and are battling through recent coaching changes, though the prices may hit a tipping point in some matchups. Massachusetts has been scoring the past two weeks since a quarterback change and may have some potential for underdog covers as the Minutemen may provide some opportunities against the spread even if S/U wins are not going to be common on the horizon. Navy has looked horrible in two games, but Ken Niumatalolo’s solid past track record may leave the Midshipmen with some potential for support later this season.