5 Worst Preseason No. 1 Teams in College Football History

Lane Kiffin's 2012 USC team went from No. 1 to unranked by season's end

Clemson, the defending national champion, will open the 2019 college football season where it finished — ranked No. 1 in the country. While no one is expecting Dabo Swinney's team to lose a bunch of games this season (far from it), the reality is that not every preseason No. 1 team has lived up to the billing.


Here are the five teams that started the season No. 1 but their seasons went so poorly that the ranking became a black mark. These are listed, fittingly, in reverse order of disappointment.


5. 1984 Auburn Tigers

Finished: 9-4, beating Arkansas 21-15 in the Liberty Bowl

Final Ranking: 14

The 1983 Tigers went 11-1, finishing third in the rankings, and with Bo Jackson and other starters returning, the ’84 team was a surefire pick for No. 1. However, the Tigers put a lot on the line early and lost. First they lost to defending national champion Miami 20-18 in the Kickoff Classic. Then they lost the following week to Texas in Austin on their way to a 9-4 season. To be fair, this was the year BYU won the national title so Auburn was not alone in its failure to live up to expectations, but that does not exempt the Tigers from this list.


4. 1960 Syracuse Orangemen

Finished: 7-2

Final Ranking: 19

The defending national champion Orangemen won their first five games before losing back-to-back contests to Pitt and Army. The implosion derailed a shot at repeating for the title and was magnified by the nine-game season of the 1950s and ‘60s.


3. 1961 Iowa Hawkeyes

Finished: 5-4

Final Ranking: Unranked

In 1960, Iowa looked amazing as it went 8-1 and finish the season ranked No. 2. The 1961 team seemed to pick up where its predecessor left off, starting the season 4-0. Then the Hawkeyes lost four in a row, dropping from preseason No. 1 to out of the Top 25.


2. 1964 Ole Miss Rebels

Finished: 5-5-1, losing to Tulsa 14-7 in the Bluebonnet Bowl

Final Ranking: Unranked

Ole Miss had won the SEC championship the year before and entered the season ranked No. 1. That didn’t long, however, as the Rebels were upset 27-21 by Kentucky in their second game. Ole Miss would lose three more regular season games and finish seventh in the SEC. Incredibly, the Rebels were still invited to the Bluebonnet Bowl, where they were beaten by Tulsa.


1. 2012 USC Trojans

Finished: 7-6, losing to Georgia Tech 21-7 in the Sun Bowl

Final Ranking: Unranked

The 2012 Trojans returned 18 starters from a team that finished 10-2 and finished sixth in the final AP poll. USC started off its 2012 campaign 6-1 before completely falling apart and losing five of its last six games. No preseason No. 1 team has ever produced such a disappointing season in the modern football era.


— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.

Event Date: 
Tuesday, August 8, 2017 - 07:02
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