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February 13, 2008

Nobody wants underachiever label

Some college football teams seem to play best when under pressure. Some excel as underdogs. Some are under scrutiny, underfunded, underestimated or underappreciated.

Several factors can come into play in how a team is perceived, but it's generally understood that none want to be labeled as underachievers.

Defining an underachiever isn't easy. There are no strict criteria because more is expected from some than others. It's like a parent who raves over a struggling child makes a "B" on a report card but rants at a brilliant one who receives the same grade.

Having superior talent obviously is the primary element in fielding a successful team, but there are other issues. A dominant program usually has a strong tradition, great fan interest and support, excellent facilities, deep pockets and the geographic advantage of being located in or near an area that routinely produces high-caliber athletes.

So, programs with all or most of those elements have greater expectations than others. That's why seven wins can be seen as successful year on one campus and reason to fire a coach on another.

With that in mind, here's a list of perhaps the nation's five most underachieving programs over the past five years. Next week, we'll rank the overachieving teams.

5. North Carolina: OK, there's the "Basketball School" issue to deal with. However, there are tons of athletes to recruit in the Carolinas and Kenan Memorial Stadium is an exquisite venue. Mack Brown proved football can be successful in Chapel Hill with 21 victories and top-10 finishes in 1996 and '97. But the Tar Heels are just 20-39 since 2003, with no bowl appearances. It's bad enough that North Carolina couldn't take advantage of the ACC's apparent decline the past two seasons. What makes it worse is that state rival Wake Forest - a private school with limited resources - has emerged as a burgeoning league power.

4. Notre Dame: Outstanding facilities, a nationwide fan base and its own TV deal. So how is it the Irish are coming off a three-win season? Yeah, the Irish won 10 in '06 and nine in '05, but then they were beaten handily in bowls by Ohio State and LSU. In South Bend, two losing seasons in the past five, a .500 finish in '04 and a 33-28 record since 2003 is akin to a straight-A student getting a "D" on a report card. That's astonishingly poor for a program that posted no fewer than nine victories a year from 1988-93 and is the most celebrated in college football history.

3. Alabama: Perhaps only Notre Dame can claim a more glorious college football history, but the Crimson Tide has fallen on even harder times. Alabama has the fan support, the recruiting base, incredible facilities and certainly the money. However, it posted seven wins or fewer in four of the past five seasons - and that includes two losing seasons. Alabama is 2-2 in bowls in the past five years, but those bowl games were the Music City, Cotton and Independence (twice). That's hard to bear in Tuscaloosa.

2. Syracuse: The Carrier Dome isn't the greatest venue and the fan support can be iffy, but the Orange went 10-3 as recently as 2001 and posted 15 consecutive winning seasons from 1987-2001. Yet in the past five seasons, Syracuse is 19-40 and has failed to post a winning record. The Orange's lone bowl appearance in that span resulted in a 51-14 loss to Georgia Tech in the 2004 Champs Sports Bowl.

1. Washington: The Puget Sound area won't challenge Texas as a breeding ground for blue-chip prospects, but the Huskies did well enough to post 26 consecutive non-losing seasons from 1977-2002. That includes a 1991 national championship and an 11-1 No. 3 finish in 2000. The Huskies have gone just 18-41 and have not managed a winning season in the past five years.

Trivia Question

What team from a BCS conference has gone the longest since a bowl victory? (Answer at the end of the column.)

Quick hits

  • Former Maryland wide receivers coach Bryan Bossard has been named wide receivers coach at Pittsburgh. Brossard coached the past three seasons at Maryland but was fired after the Terps' loss in the Emerald Bowl. He replaces Aubrey Hill, who left Pittsburgh for Miami.

  • Kansas named Joe Bob Clements as its new defensive line coach last week. Clements most recently held the same position at San Diego State. He replaces Bill Young, who now is defensive coordinator at Miami.

  • Cincinnati offensive tackle Trevor Canfield has been suspended after he was arrested and charged with assault last Sunday.

  • Louisville and Memphis have agreed to renew their rivalry. Louisville will play at Memphis on Oct. 10, with Memphis making a return trip in 2010. Memphis and Louisville were Conference USA rivals before Louisville joined the Big East in 2005.

  • Long-time Iowa running backs coach Carl Jackson announced his retirement, ending a 46-year coaching career. Jackson spent 22 seasons at Iowa and was part of five teams that won Big Ten championships.

  • Northwestern has named Marty Long its defensive line coach. Long, who was most recently at Washington State, replaces Eric Washington, who accepted a coaching position with the Chicago Bears.

  • Arizona special teams coach Joe Robinson is leaving Tucson to take a similar position at LSU. Robinson is a Louisiana native.

  • The NCAA granted LSU defensive end Kirston Pittman a sixth year of eligibility. Pittman missed both the 2005 and '06 seasons with foot and ankle injuries.

    Trivia answer

    Big Ten member Northwestern's last bowl victory was in the 1949 Rose Bowl, 20-14 over California.

    Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.

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