- Senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com
- 2-time Sports Emmy winner
- 2010, 2014 NMPA Writer of the Year
[Editor’s note: The Big 10 and Mountain West conferences are finally returning for the 2020 college football season, but first, the ACC makes a major Bottom 10 statement.]
Inspirational thought of the week
You’ve got me captured, I’m under your spell
I guess I’ll never learn
I have your picture, yes, I know it well
Another page is turned
I’ll wait ’til your love comes down
I’m coming straight for your heart
No way you can stop me now
As fine as you are
— “I’ll Wait” by Van Halen
Here at Bottom 10 Headquarters, located in the beaker cleaning room of the laboratory where Nick Saban’s coronavirus tests are processed, we have spent October in mourning and waiting. Mourning, as we have had Eddie Van Halen guitar solos on repeat since his untimely death, and waiting for the calendar pages to turn like the one David Lee Roth is creepily leering at in “I’ll Wait.”
Waiting and mourning. And also waiting on morning, as in this Saturday morning, when the buses of the Big Ten and Mountain West start rolling toward actual football stadiums carrying actual football teams. We know they are only the latest wave of the convoy that will keep on coming all the way through mid-November, soon to be followed by the big rigs of the MAC and Pac-12.
But before we move into this brave, new … OK, actually … old world of traditional Bottom 10 contenders, arriving from Piscataway to Las Cruces, let’s pause and pay tribute to the teams that have volunteered as tribute, stepping up (or is it down?) to occupy these rankings here and now. Some will stay, but others will surely vanish as they are replaced by the returning weeknight and late-night creatures who have long been accustomed to this corner of the college football multiverse.
No matter what happens, these 10 teams were brave enough to step into the breach during this strangest of times. But, ultimately, we always knew they were doomed to be remembered as nothing more than placeholders until the first, better options finally got their acts together and returned to their rightful places. In other words, these are the 2020 Bottom 10 OGs, as in “Oh God, are we the Gary Cherones of the Bottom 10?!”
With apologies to Edward Lodewijk Van Halen and Steve Harvey, here’s this week’s Bottom 10.
1. ULM (pronounced “uhlm”) 0-5
The Warhawks lost via a late field goal against the Fightin’ Byes of Open Date U. They now travel to face the South Alabama Redundancies in a game many preseason college football magazines predicted would determine last place in the Sun Belt West. By many preseason magazines, I mean I wrote it on some Post-it Notes and stuck them inside those magazines. That did no editorial harm because, hey, most of the information in those magazines went into the shredder three months ago with the original 2020 schedule. Actually, U-S-A is in first place in the Sun Belt West right now, thanks to last week’s 30-20 win against Texas State. Sure, they’ve played only the one conference game, and everyone else in the division has played two or more, but uhlm, like, so what?
2. FI(not A)U (0-2)
As promised, I showed up for last weekend’s Pillow Fight of the Week: FIU playing at the near-my-house Charlotte 1-and-2ers. I was eager to broadcast “Bottom 10 GameDay” using my dad’s old VHS camcorder and a mascot head I stole from my daughter’s high school, which is, in fact, a Panther. Alas, the FIU Panthers never showed up, as this was their third pandemic-postponed game. It was also the third affected game for Charlotte after two postponements and a cancellation. This game will be rescheduled for a TBD December date, so my plan is to stay in my Charlotte parking spot until then. In related news, I have discovered that a mascot head turned upside down can hold so much chips and dip. You might think that’s gross, but have you ever worn a mascot head? It already smells like chips and dip in there.
3. Muddled Tennessee (1-5)
The Blue Raiders, or as my old Tennessee roommate used to pronounce it, “the MTSU Beraters,” made a big jump out of the bottom two into the top bottom half of these rankings after winning the last game FIU actually played. This week, they leapt back up/down into the top/bottom three after getting meanly greened by North Texas 52-35. Now, the Beraters travel to Planet Houston to face Rice, which will be making its fourth attempt at a season opener after postponements dating all the way back to an originally scheduled Week 1 contest on Sept. 3. Maybe the Owls are auditioning for the Big Ten?
4. US(not C)F (1-4)
The Bulls faced a different flock of Owls, losing to Temple 39-37 when they failed on a would-be game-tying 2-point conversion against a team that was finally playing its second game of the season. But even having played only one game, Temple has the same number of wins as USF, which has played five. Temple’s first game was against Navy, who used to battle pirates, and the second was against USF, who have a pirate ship in the stadium. Meanwhile, the East Carolina Pirates lost to Navy one week after winning in the shadow of that USF pirate ship, and Temple will play those Pirates in one month, too. Man, I really need to stop writing these rankings while I’m drinking Captain Morgan.
5. UNC Tore Heels (3-1)
Carolina was ranked in the AP top five for the first time since 1997 and was anointed by many as the best chance for an ACC team to make a dent against Clemson. Then the Heels lost as 13½-point favorites to a then-one-win Florida State team that has spent most of 2020 as a Bottom 10 team. Meanwhile, Virginia got stomped by then-one-win Wake Forest, Duke fell to an NC State team that lost its starting QB, and Georgia Tech lost a squeaker against Clemson 73-7. What we’re saying is that the ACC Coastal is still the ACC Coastal, even during a season in which there is no ACC Coastal.
6. Kansas Nayhawks (0-4)
Kansas’ regular-season finale trip to 1-3 Texas Tech on Dec. 5 is looking more and more like it could be the 2020 Bottom 10 Pillow Fight of the Week of the Year Mega Bowl. As a result, we have reset the giant countdown clock at our Bottom 10 offices for that game. We just duct-taped a big KU and TT over the permanently painted names of UTEP and Rice.
7. Texas State Armadillos (1-4)
You know stuff isn’t going your way when your upcoming schedule has BYU, Louisiana and Coastal Carolina during the one season in which all three of those teams not only have been ranked but also have received some quirky College Football Playoff love. Also, I just decided that “Some Quirky Playoff Love” will be the name of my new solo album.
8. Southern Missed (1-3)
The Golden Eagles travel to Liberty this weekend, which is great timing because, with a 1-3 record and two straight weekends of postponed games, they could use a little more faith healing.
9. Western Can’t-ucky (1-4)
When the FCS season was postponed to spring, Chattanooga Mocs head coach Rusty Wright went to Twitter and defiantly posted: “Wanted: Football games. In-Conf/Out of Conf/FCS/G5/P5 doesn’t matter. Have team, will travel. DM me. #GoMocs #myguyswanttoplay.” This weekend, the Mocs will play the only team that dared to slide into Wright’s DMs, Western Kentucky. Perhaps it seemed like a better idea in August, before WKU knew it would be 1-4 and favored by only 14 points against an FCS team that hasn’t played a game in 336 days.
10. UMess (0-1)
On Saturday, my daughter and I stood in the backyard and watched a bright, white dot silently moving across the night sky. It rose from behind our house, streaked through the stars and disappeared into the horizontal tree line, gone as quickly as it had appeared. My sweet child broke the silence of the moment, her tone electrified by wonderment. “Dad, was that the International Space Station?” I put my arm around her shoulder as I stared longingly toward the spot where the light had just vanished from view and wiped a tear from my eye. “No, sweetie, that was UMass. They just lost the only game they have scheduled this season 41-0.”
Waiting List: Needs More Cowbell (1-3), EC-Yew (1-3), Vanderbilt Commode Doors (0-3), UVA Cave-in-liers (1-3), Texas Wreck (1-3), Charlotte 1-and-2-ers, Syra-cursed (1-4), Lou-ugh-vile (1-4), Duke Bedevileds (1-5), COVID-19
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