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Five Once-Great Programs that are no Longer Feared

No longer feared

No longer feared

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Which big-time brands across the country lack their former persona?

College football is very cyclical, where the nation's dominant programs go into droughts, lose their predator edge, and become the prey of their leagues. The following five may have prolonged droughts or a recent dry spell that has made them no longer feared by their competition.

No Longer Feared: Miami

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Since the 2005 Peach Bowl demolition against LSU 40-3, I can count on multiple occasions that "The U" was proclaimed back.

  • 2009 against a Sam Bradford-less Oklahoma Sooners, The U won 21-20
  • 2013 when The U started 7-0 when they were in the primetime game. Full nostalgia was in full force that Al Golden got the Hurricanes swaggers back. The difference is in this game; the eventual National Champion Florida State Seminoles issued a Hurricane Warning in a very forgettable 41-14 disaster for the Hurricanes.
  • 2017 Hurricane alumnus Mark Richt in his second season back in Coral Gables, got the base galvanized with the "Turnover Chain." The Canes started the season 10-0, including a very "U-Esque" classic beat down of the Fighting Irish 41-8. A season-ending upset at Pitt 24-14 ruined any playoff chances for the Canes and started a downward spiral that would see Richt lose 9 of his final 17 games before resigning to health reasons.

We are now due for the next wave of The U being back, this time with another U-alum in Mario Cristobal. With the Hurricanes now in favorable positions with NIL and a fertile recruiting ground, it will be up to Mario to masquerade poor facilities until the new $100 million facilities are built. They may be coming off this list sooner rather than later, but keep in mind the mixed results of how favorite sons Kirby Smart (Georgia), Jim Harbaugh (Michigan), and Scott Frost (Nebraska) have fared for these programs. Nothing is a lock for Mario. 

No Longer Feared: Penn State

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For generations of fans, Penn State was defined by how its leader Joe Paterno led them on the field in their classic blues and black tops. Great line play, great defense, and fantastic running game were the characteristics of great Penn State teams. Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1993. While the Nittany Lions have won 4 Big Ten Championships, they have been lost in the mix of Michigan being that dominant program in the first decade Penn State was in the league. In the last two decades, Ohio State has become that league-defining program. Penn State seemed to modernize and change philosophies under James Franklin, who led Penn State to 3 NY6 Bowls in 4 seasons. However, since the 2019 Minnesota game, Penn State is 12-14 in its previous 26 games.

During the 2021 season, after the collapse against Iowa, Penn State went 2-6, including the disaster 9 OT debacle against Illinois. The Nittany Lions failed to complement the #6 scoring defense with the 90th scoring offense nationally. Penn State averaged 107.8 yards per game on the ground last season, which was good for 118th nationally out of 130 teams. Penn State "rewarded" Franklin with a new contract extension for stability, and with a monster 2022 recruiting class coupled with, as of this writing, a highly regarded 2023 class, Franklin might be righting the ship. Still, as of right now, a program that is 1-7 against Ohio State, 2-14 versus Top 10 teams, and 10-21 versus ranked teams since 2014, Penn State is not a feared program.

No Longer Feared: Auburn

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When November 2017 concluded, Auburn was riding about as high as a program could be. They were 10-2, and in the previous three weeks to end the month, Auburn defeated two undefeated SEC juggernauts in Georgia and Alabama on The Plains. Gus Malzahn seemed to have his 2013 mojo back. Auburn was in talks of a contract extension with Malzahn and had the backing of ESPN if they had won the SEC Championship, with close losses earlier in the season at both Death Valleys (Clemson 14-6 and LSU 27-23) that they should be the first two-loss team in the College Football Playoff.

What played out is Georgia ending that talk in Atlanta 28-7. Auburn would return to Atlanta for a New Year's Day clash against undefeated UCF in the Peach Bowl. The undefeated Knights would beat Auburn 34-27 to claim the Colley Matrix National Championship. Auburn began to slip back to mediocrity, going 3-7 against teams that won 10 or more games (wins against 2018 Washington, 2019 Oregon, and 2019 Alabama). The COVID shortened SEC-only schedule seemed to be the backbreaker for Gus Malzahn as they did not beat a team with a record above .500, and Malzahn was fired before the bowl game.

Enter from Boise State, Bryan Harsin. Harsin started fast in The Plains going 6-2; then the bottom fell out for Auburn, dropping their final four contests against SEC West foes and the Birmingham Bowl against Houston 17-13. Harsin, this current offseason, was a target of rumors involving infidelity with his spouse and treatment of players. Auburn administration gave Harsin a quick endorsement for a second season, but most prognosticators have placed Harsin high on their preseason hot seats. There are a lot of ingredients brewing on what could sink Auburn, like how it has impacted programs in Nebraska, Tennessee, Michigan, and Southern California in recent years.

No Longer Feared: Washington

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A generation ago, the Pac-8, then Pac-10 rivalry that determined West Coast supremacy resided between Southern California and the University of Washington. The Dawg Father himself, Don James, presided over the Washington program and delivered results that the program hadn't seen before or since guiding the Huskies to 6 Pac-10 Championships, a share of the 1991 National Championship with Miami, and at the time of his resignation only Joe Paterno and Bear Bryant had more postseason victories.

Washington spent most of the mid-1990s cleaning up NCAA infractions, notably use of university meal and entertainment money by athletes and recruits above allowable amounts, one receipt for a $50,000 loan. Those penalties set Washington back through most of the 1990s. Rick Neuheisel showed up and had his best team in 2000, but when recruiting violations and partaking in a Calcutta pool were found, Neuheisel was terminated, and Washington would sink into a lower abyss. Tyrone Willingham Era was a slow decline, with the end culminating in an 0-12 disaster. Steve Sarkisian came and was mediocre for the most part before being lured back to Southern California. Chris Petersen seemed to reach the closest to restoring the Husky's pride by winning two Pac-12 Championships and leading the Huskies to the 2016 College Football Playoff.

Since Petersen's retirement, Washington's program seems to be on a tumultuous journey between not being able to compete in the Pac-12 Championship Game due to not being able to field 53 players during the 2020 COVID season, 2021 saw 5-star in-state defensive lineman J.T. Tuimoloau commit to Ohio State and spurn the Huskies, and then the season unraveled for Jimmy Lake leading to an altercation with a player and immediate termination.

2021 Washington was the 108th scoring offense in the country, this is a program that hasn't had a win against a Power 5 program that finished with ten or more wins since the 2018 Apple Cup, and with Southern Cal loading up, Oregon and Utah reloading, one has to wonder does the Washington Husky program have a more potent bark than bite?

No Longer Feared: Nebraska

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How the mighty have fallen? Most people called the 2021 Nebraska Cornhuskers the "greatest 3-8 team" ever. Those who remember Tom Osborne's Cornhuskers remember the Blackshirts, the power triple option they employed, great offensive lines, and just great running games. As you are well aware, Nebraska displayed angst and impatience to the highest degree and became a rotation of bad moves.

Firing Frank Solich after going 9-3 in 2003 and winning 58 of his 77 games in Lincoln. Nebraska then turned to a coach who once quipped that his team was "the dumbest team in America," Bill Callahan. Callahan tried to modernize Nebraska with the West Coast Offense. The offense wasn't exactly a problem that led to his dismissal, it was a defense that allowed 76 points to Kansas (and no, this wasn't a normal Big XII basketball game) and 65 to Colorado.

Bo Pelini followed Callahan, and Nebraska seemed to go on a rinse and repeat every few years when a coach couldn't win enough. He was gone. Mike Riley came next, then to the much-maligned Scott Frost. Since trying to reinvent itself post-Frank Solich, Nebraska hasn't found an identity to call its own, and until Nebraska does, it will not be relevant or strike fear into any opponent.