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What Went Wrong for 6 Power Five College Football Programs in 2016 and How to Fix Them

Hugh Freeze

Hugh Freeze

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Michigan State, Notre Dame, Oregon and Texas were far from the only major college football programs to fail to meet expectations in 2016 — they were just the biggest.

Others — such as Arizona, Arizona State, Duke, Ole Miss, Texas Tech and UCLA — were equally, if not more, underwhelming. Why? And what can be done? Here’s a crack at solving those questions.

What Went Wrong For: Michigan State I Notre Dame I Oregon I Texas

Arizona Wildcats

2015 recap: 7-6 (3-6 Pac-12)

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2016 preseason: Unranked

2016 recap: 3-9 (1-8 Pac-12)

What Went Wrong for the Wildcats

There’s no denying injuries played a big impact — 17-year-old freshman quarterback Khalil Tate ended up seeing extensive action — but this was just not a great team, especially defensively, where the Wildcats were loaded with upperclassmen and still managed to surrender 38.3 points per game, good for 117th nationally … which was still better than rival Arizona State, which Arizona beat in the finale.

How It Can Be Fixed

New linebackers coach Scott Boone from Nevada should help get his young corps up to speed, but it will be a challenge. Offensively, the future looks promising with dual-threat QB Brandon Dawkins, although he’ll have to improve as a passer.

Arizona State Sun Devils

2015 recap: 6-7 (4-5 Pac-12)

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2016 preseason: Unranked

2016 recap: 5-7 (2-7 Pac-12)

What Went Wrong for the Sun Devils

Like Arizona, ASU was hit hard on the injury front, especially at the QB position. But like Arizona, there was no fixing this mess of a defense, which ranked 123rd nationally in scoring, at 39.8 points per game. The offensive line was underwhelming, and the lack of a running game made it tough for whoever was under center to develop any consistency. It all resulted in a 1-7 finish after a promising 4-0 start.

How It Can Be Fixed

ASU has to like what it has coming back offensively, as Kalen Ballage did show promise as a runner (he scored 7 TDs in one game) and N’Keal Harry was one of the nation’s top freshmen receivers (659 yards). The Sun Devils add Alabama transfer Blake Barnett at QB, too. But nothing’s going to mean much if this D doesn’t get fixed, and quickly.

Duke Blue Devils

2015 recap: 8-5 (4-4 ACC), Pinstripe Bowl champions

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2016 preseason: Unranked

2016 recap: 4-8 (1-7 ACC)

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What Went Wrong for the Blue Devils

Perhaps Duke was due for a down year, after an unprecedented four-year run of success. Starting QB Thomas Sirk suffered his third Achilles tear just before the season, leaving redshirt freshman Daniel Jones in charge. All-everything DB and specialist DeVon Edwards missed most of the season, too. Jones played well, but the Blue Devils’ defense looked gassed at the end of the year, giving up 40-plus points to Pitt and Miami in its final two games. Duke did beat Notre Dame and North Carolina, though, and gave Louisville and Virginia Tech all they could handle.

How It Can Be Fixed

Duke may have a QB quandary on its hands, as Sirk was granted an extra year of eligibility but will have to beat out the promising Jones. Otherwise, there’s no need to really panic. Duke was young and tripped over itself a bit this past season, and the ACC Coastal Division as a whole improved a bit from previous years, too. As long as head coach David Cutcliffe and his staff continue to develop and recruit the way they have, Duke should be a regular bowl team again.

Ole Miss Rebels

2015 recap: 10-3 (6-2 SEC)

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2016 preseason: No. 11 AP, No. 12 coaches, Sugar Bowl champions

2016 recap: 5-7 (2-6 SEC)

What Went Wrong for the Rebels

A combination of QB injury, horrendous defensive play and, let’s face it, the lingering cloud of NCAA uncertainty in Oxford all likely contributed to an underwhelming season for the Rebels, who were so close to wins over Florida State and Alabama but ended up missing a bowl altogether.

How It Can Be Fixed

The talent is there, and the SEC is coming off a, shall we say, not-that-great season — at least in the non-Alabama realm. Head coach Hugh Freeze brought in a pair of new coordinators in Phil Longo (offense) and Wesley McGriff (defense), and it will be interesting to see how QB Shea Patterson builds off a promising, yet brief, freshman season and how a defense that ranked 100th in scoring and 111th in total D can make the most of its returning pieces. There are quite a few up front.

Texas Tech Red Raiders

2015 recap: 7-6 (4-5 Big 12)

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2016 preseason: Unranked

2016 recap: 5-7 (3-6 Big 12)

What Went Wrong for the Red Raiders

No game may better encapsulate Tech’s season than its 66-59 loss at Oklahoma. Patrick Mahomes was sensational all season long, throwing for 5,052 yards, but he got little help from the run game this year and even less help from the other side of the ball, which ranked dead last nationally in total defense, surrendering 554.3 yards per game.

How It Can Be Fixed

Mahomes is gone and will be tough to replace, although this may force Tech to have a more balanced offense. The D, meanwhile, has nowhere to go but up. It is young, as the Red Raiders redshirted most of their freshmen and welcome in plenty more on that side of the ball, and the unit will have much more of head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s attention, although his background is on the offensive side. Linebacker Dakota Allen is back, too, after a dismissal and stint at East Mississippi CC that followed a strong freshman campaign in Lubbock in 2015.

UCLA Bruins

2015 recap: 8-5 (5-4 Pac-12)

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2016 preseason: No. 16 AP, No. 24 coaches

2016 recap: 4-8 (2-7 Pac-12)

What Went Wrong for the Bruins

Unlike the rest of its Pac-12 brethren, UCLA cannot blame its defense, which was decent, ranking fifth in the Pac-12 in total D. Instead, the Bruins’ failures came offensively. Sophomore QB Josh Rosen being hurt didn’t help at all, but the coordinator switch from Noel Mazzone to Kennedy Polamalu didn’t work out, with Polamalu getting fired. The Bruins rushed for a ridiculously low 84.25 yards per game, which was second to last in the country.

How It Can Be Fixed

A healthy Rosen will certainly be a boost, for one. And in theory, a new OC will, too, as the Bruins hired Jedd Fisch from Michigan. That said, this will be Rosen’s third OC in three years, and the rest of the Pac-12 just seems to be getting better and better, so this is a very, very crucial year for head coach Jim Mora, whose Bruins have a tough schedule ahead in 2017 but have another strong recruiting class on deck.

— Written by Matt Fortuna, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and spent six seasons covering college football for Fortuna’s work has been honored by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and U.S. Basketball