There is a difference between bad teams and unwatchable bad teams. Teams that lose games can be wildly entertaining, and if you don't believe us go back and watch Bill Lynch's 2009 and 2010 Indiana Hoosier teams. Like good fish on the hook, they were doomed but feisty, and at least pretty spirited in their death throes.
Unwatchable teams, on the other hand, are both bad and devoid of value, something less than football and worse than bad community theater. The list below is by no means comprehensive or objective: unwatchability is in itself a judgment call. For instance, we'd put Mississippi State under Croom on here, but to be perfectly honest watching their passing offenses was so bad it was amusing, and we'd never put a team that had Michael Henig throw six interceptions in a game in the condemnable pile. I had too much fun watching how horrible they were, and owe them a debt of gratitude for it.
These six teams, however, could vanish from the record books without a whimper of regret from us, or from humanity as a whole.
MINNESOTA 2007. So many angles of badness exist here. You went to three overtimes as a BCS program, Minnesota 2007. That by itself says little, but when we include the detail of those three teams being Bowling Green, Miami of Ohio, and a .500 Northwestern team playing one of the easiest schedules in college football? And that you lost two of those games, including your lone win for the season against the MAC's Redhawks? Now you're smelling the atrocity Tim Brewster put on the field in 2007, and getting a hint of just how deep the horror really ran.
I'll be honest, Joe. I have no idea how to make the football.
1-11 is bad, but details matter. Details like Rusty Smith of Florida Atlantic throwing for 463 yards and 5 TDs against Minnesota's secondary in a 42-39 loss to the Sun Belt's finest team named after nocturnal birds. Details like Rusty Smith throwing for more yards in that single game against the Gophers than an any other game he would play that year against a full Sun Belt schedule. Details like giving up 394 yards rushing to FCS North Dakota State just to change up the monotony of only bleeding out through pass defense every game, or even repeating the trick by allowing Illinois to run for 448 yards two weeks later against Illinois.
My theory is that Minnesota athletics, caught in a cash crunch, had to choose between basketball or football, and simply decided that their scholarship money would be best spent on basketball players. Then, when the football team complained, they compromised by having them play on the starting defense of the football team. This would explain so much, especially why on many key plays* that season safeties made contact with onrushing opponents, fell backwards, and looked to the refs for a flag for an offensive charge.
In related news, the coach of that defense is Everett Withers, the interim coach for the UNC Tarheels this year. We have no idea how people hire coaches, but it must involve a dartboard, a bucket of vodka, and nude pictures of athletic directors having sex with people they are not married to and are not supposed to be having sex with whatsoever.
*We kid! There were no key plays for Minnesota 2007. They would have gone 1-11 in the WAC that year, and were horrible.
SYRACUSE 2005. Say this for Syracuse 2005: you never got the impression with Syracuse that they lacked for effort. They tried hard. They blocked as well as they could. It's just that what they were being told to do was stupid, oh, so mind-bogglingly stupid in every way. You would watch this team enthusiastically blitz six or seven against full protections. You would see DBs looking in the backfield for balls already soaring downfield to open receivers. You would see Perry Patterson drop back, attempt to execute a reasonably mediocre play-action fake, only to look up and see a defensive tackle nanoseconds away from concussing him. On several occasions we remember Patterson throwing passes directly into the sides of receivers' heads. This could not have been on purpose, because nothing happened on purpose with Syracuse 2005.
A word about that offense from 2005 that now, in the distance, is funny in the manner that jokes about long-forgotten plane crashes are. Their coordinator was Brian Pariani. He has been a position coach in the NFL for the past five years, and that means he's likely on the Sylvester Croom plan. That plan: one day, an AD looking for a coach wakes up with low blood sugar and accidentally hires you. When he realizes what he has done, the AD plays along and hopes it works out for the best. It never does.
Anyway, this is what Blue Gray Sky wrote about him in a 2005 preview.
Pariani appears to have little practical experience running an offense...
The offense that Pariani and offensive line coach Bob Wylie have brought with them from the NFL is a hodgepodge of setups.
A hodgepodge, you say? If anyone says anything like "we're going to run the West Coast offense" in a college setting, leap headfirst into a dry gully filled with broken glass, because it means the people running your team have no idea what they are doing. Syracuse's offense was bad, their defense slid slowly backwards, and Greg Robinson finished his career citing "The Little Engine That Could" while Syracuse officials tapped their toes and waited for him to return his keys to the office. He did not, because he had eaten them in a futile motivational speech weeks earlier, because he is Greg Robinson and nothing he did as Syracuse head coach made sense.
MEMPHIS 2009-2010. Remember that we are not discussing teams that played hard, and so that means we can keep on talking here about Memphis 2011. Some teams lose with valor, and are thus fun to watch in the way that reading a Hemingway short story is: you know this ends with blood poisoning killing the narrator, but the drinks and stoic bitterness along the way will give it all a kind of sepia-toned dignity.
"What the hell is this crap?"--Tommy West, in a fake quote he probably really thought 20,000 times in 2009
That would not describe the only multi-year nominee here, the package deal of the 2-10 2009 Memphis Tigers team that got Tommy West fired and the 2010 1-11 team Larry Porter took to familiar depths the following year. I knew something was special about this Memphis team from the start, and knew it from personal experience. I had stayed in their hotel for their trip to the St. Petersburg Magic Jack Bowl in 2008. They spent most of the night and some of the morning before the game attempting to pick up middle aged ladies from a sorority reunion downstairs with lines like "Wassup, Claire Huxtable," and that's when I thought: "We have a special group of young men here. They're going to do spectacular things."
I was not wrong. The 2-10 team in 2010 relied on one freakish game against UTEP (always good for one mind-blowing loss a year under Mike Price) and a win over FCS Tennessee-Martin to climb to the two win pinnacle. The rest was carnage, including a 55-14 loss to Houston where the entire team should have been hosed off the grass like the remnants of a herd of cattle who stumbled into a minefield.
AND YET THERE'S MORE. The Tigers fired Tommy West, hired Larry Porter, and then kept right on using the tree shredder to do routine shaving. The Tigers got worse the next year under Porter, racking up exactly one win in 2010 against Middle Tennessee State in a game so execrable footage of it causes no fewer than seven major diseases upon rewatching, all of them being some variation of CancerAIDSheartattackEbolaflu.
You could cite the rankings, sure: their 116th ranked rushing offense, 119th ranked scoring offense, 115th rank in total defense, or their 118th ranked turnover margin. Any of those would suffice, but focus instead on the only enjoyable element of Memphis football: players celebrating wildly after making marginally good plays while losing by thirty points.
STANFORD 2006. Legitimately an atrocity in cleats, the Stanford Cardinals under Walt Harris were so bad you wondered whether they understood the rules of football, and were seconds away from doing things like punting while running, carrying plays into the sidelines to use or stopping for jump balls at halfcourt. Just five years prior to Stanford winning 11 games, please remember that they spent 2006 losing every game except for a game against a 5-7 Ty Willingham, and that really shouldn't have counted since it was a team coached by Ty Willingham, and really just paying tribute to your mediocrity with a charitable karmic donation. (Because it's a Willingham team, and on the way to being 1-11 at one point.)
They weren't even disastrously fun to watch, not even when Harris--in a play he should have called "I am a fired man and hereby signal my surrender"--had his quarterback punt on third down. The only achievements of this team follow:
- They are indirectly some of Stanford's greatest heroes, since this season led to the hiring of Jim Harbaugh.
- They survived having a locker room couch with the plague.
Other than those two cardinal points (puns!), this team's memory should be buried in a sarcophogus like Chernobyl's and sealed off to protect the genes of future generations.
WASHINGTON STATE 2009. I will be very honest here; i don't know if I've ever been able to sit through an entire game played by Washington State in the Paul Wulff era, and I write about college football for a living.This may sound bad, but I know I'm not alone, because no one can stand to watch the cruelty of people playing as hard as Washington State players do with such horrendous, soul-sharting results. You might think, shouldn't that read soul-shattering? No, we mean watching Paul Wulff teams is like letting someone poop in your soul.
"Y'all don't want to see what's going on here. Turn around. Leave the stadium."
Choosing between different brain-killing vintages is difficult, but the 2009 version was by the slimmest of margins empirically worse and aesthetically even more appalling than the 2010 edition of Paul Wulff's suicide machine of a football team. I watched the Oregon team beat Wazzu 52-6 that year. I say this without regret and with utter confidence: I watched a man beat a dog badly with a iron rod once, and it was only slightly worse than watching this football game, and even then the dog bit the man savagely at the end, something the Cougars didn't come close to doing.
The lesson here is that no one should watch Paul Wulff's teams play football. Where does Washington State football hurt? Everywhere, guys. Even for totally disinterested bystanders, it hurts everywhere.
WASHINGTON 2008. Prior to the dogbeating 2009 season, Washington State had amassed a mere two wins on the season in 2008. One of those came over the 2008 Washington Huskies, the team here that may lay claim to the title of the least watchable daycare fire of all time. You might be tempted to watch film of this team sometime, because ha, boy, wouldn't it be funny to watch how badly some people could play football.
We meant it: this is like watching horses run back into a burning barn, and you do not want to see it. Daycare fire might be the best term for what happened here: a young team thrown onto the field with zero guidance whatsoever, and a coaching staff whose idea of instruction followed the cue of their coach: point, nod grimly, and then wait for something to happened. Something did happen: Washington would not win a game, Willingham would lose his job and have to go to the UFL to find work, and Jake Locker spent the offseason being pieced together with black market tissue grafts and organ replacements just to look something like a normal human being after taking a five month long beating no human should have survived.
At one point in this season, Jake Locker was actually hit by a bus on the field. I don't know how it was legal, but Rey Maualuga just stole a bus, drove it onto the field, and ran over Jake Locker. He then backed up, and then ran him over again, and then honked the horn loudly while Ty Willingham pointed, nodded, and clapped. This is not true, but it's true.
Even when Washington was competitive, this happened to them:
It's a horrendous season when one of the worst calls by the Pac-10's legendarily dada officiating corps isn't the biggest atrocity in the storyline, but oh it gets so, so very much worse. USC beat them by the score of 56-0, and Oklahoma allowed two pity TDs in a 55-14 obliteration. (Willingham, having a true sadist's streak, scheduled the Huskies to the hilt, ensuring they would take exotic and high-profile public canings.) Only an epic matchup between two ten loss teams put the Huskies in a position to be successful, and even that ended in a 16-13 loss to Washington State. If you lose the only game in Pac-10 history between two ten loss teams, you are the worst team anyone's ever seen. There is no debate over this, and Ty Willingham shouldn't be allowed to coach a team of ship rats charged with devouring a sandwich, because they would starve to death. You doubt it, but just watch it happen.