The 5 most disappointing B1G teams (relative to preseason expectations) in the Playoff era
It doesn’t always work out. This is a good time of year to remind everyone that.
Preseason expectations often aren’t met for one reason or another, and we look back wondering where we went wrong. It’s a cycle that repeats itself every college football offseason.
With a 5-year sample size of the Playoff era, I thought it’d be interesting to look back on some of the disappointing B1G teams we’ve had in that stretch. And by “disappointing,” that’s relative to preseason expectations. Sorry Illinois and Rutgers, but your preseason expectations aren’t high enough to warrant a spot on this list.
The 5 teams who made the cut had Playoff hopes that were dashed in crushing fashion.
Here are those 5 teams:
5. 2017 Michigan
Preseason AP ranking: No. 11
Final AP ranking: Unranked (8-5, 5-4 vs. B1G)
Did we think that the 2017 Michigan squad was going to win the national title? No, but is it fair to say that was a floor Jim Harbaugh was hoping not to reach? Absolutely. While Michigan lost an unprecedented amount of talent to the NFL Draft the previous year, there was still hope that the Wolverines could upend the Buckeyes and win a division title with that game in Ann Arbor.
But the injury to Wilton Speight didn’t help Michigan, who turned into a disastrous offensive team in Year 3 of the Jim Harbaugh era. The Wolverines went 0-3 against the likes of Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State, which always makes for a disappointing year, especially when 2 of those games are at home. The Outback Bowl loss to South Carolina was a microcosm of Michigan’s 2017 collapse.
4. 2016 Michigan
Preseason AP ranking: No. 7
Final AP ranking: No. 10 (10-3, 7-2 vs. B1G)
Yes, the finish was only 3 spots lower than where the Wolverines started. But considering what they returned from a talent standpoint and what Ohio State lost to the NFL Draft, this was the perfect year for the Wolverines to get past the Buckeyes and get to the B1G Championship. Yes, they were an extremely controversial call away from doing that.
As it stands, though, falling apart late in the season prevented Michigan from living up to preseason Playoff aspirations.
It felt like a major opportunity missed for Harbaugh considering all of the future draft picks he had on that 2016 team. Ask any Michigan fan about that 2016 season and a groan of frustration will always follow.
I can’t say I blame them.
3. 2016 Michigan State
Preseason AP ranking: No. 12
Final AP ranking: Unranked (3-9, 1-8 vs. B1G)
“Siri, show me how not to follow up a Playoff season.”
We expected MSU to take a slight step back in 2016. Instead, the Spartans turned around and sprinted in the complete opposite direction. Anyone who picked MSU to make the Playoff probably wasn’t feeling great when the opener against Furman was a struggle. But after a then-impressive win at Notre Dame in Week 2, the wheels completely fell off. A 1-9 finish — with the lone win coming against Rutgers — was easily the worst season of the Mark Dantonio era.
In the same way the 2015 season gave MSU a new ceiling, the 2016 gave MSU a new floor. The Spartans were undisciplined on and off the field, and the result was one of the more head-stratching seasons of any team in the 21st century. It’s easy to say we were too high on a team that lost 5 key players to the NFL Draft, but Dantonio was riding 3 straight top-6 finishes having gone 22-2 against the B1G and 36-5 overall.
Nobody could’ve seen 2016 coming.
2. 2018 Wisconsin
Preseason AP ranking: No. 4
Final AP ranking: Unranked (8-5, 5-4 vs. B1G)
What kind of idiot would predict that last year’s Wisconsin team was going to make the Playoff? This idiot. I was high on the Badgers all offseason. With that returning offensive line blocking for Jonathan Taylor and a defense that held on to coordinator Jim Leonhard, I was sipping the Kool Aid. I also bought into the belief that Alex Hornibrook would improve.
An injury-plagued team, especially on the defensive side, wasn’t helped by the Badgers’ inability to add anything offensively to complement Taylor. That was evident in a mammoth upset loss to BYU at Camp Randall.
The Badgers were held to 17 points or less in 4 of their final 7 games, including a stunning 37-15 home loss against Minnesota to end their 14-year win streak in the rivalry. Sure, they got to 8 wins by beating a defeated Miami team, but from potentially playing in the Playoff to playing in the Pinstripe Bowl was a major letdown for a program that rarely gets that kind of preseason buzz.
1. 2015 Ohio State
Preseason AP ranking: No. 1
Final AP ranking: No. 4 (12-1, 8-1 vs. B1G)
What if I told you that the first unanimous No. 1 team in the history of the AP poll would fail to win its own division and battle for a Playoff spot in a conference championship? You’d say that’s extremely disappointing.
The preseason hype surrounding that 2015 OSU team was “repeat or bust.” Some, myself included, thought it could be one of the great teams of all-time with Ezekiel Elliott, Joey Bosa and J.T. Barrett/Cardale Jones back from that 2014 team. The feeling was that the 2014 Buckeyes squad that surprised everyone by winning it all was a year early.
But for whatever reason, that 2015 squad never reached that kind of gear. They barely beat Northern Illinois at home, Indiana nearly pulled off the biggest upset in its history and Minnesota hung around way longer than many expected. That, of course, all culminated with that rain-soaked loss to Michigan State — who was without Connor Cook — that prompted Elliott to blast the coaching staff for his lack of second-half touches.
Many will point to the way Ohio State finished the season with blowout wins at Michigan and against Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl and wonder where that group was all year.
So yes, even though it was a 1-loss team that won a New Year’s 6 Bowl, 2015 Ohio State will forever be remembered as a massive disappointment.