Photo courtesy of Alabama athletics
We’re more than a week away from the start of bowl games, but, for the most part, the 2019 season is in the rear view mirror. The College Football Playoff will feature three undefeated teams in LSU, Ohio State, reigning national champion Clemson, along with 1-loss Oklahoma. Throughout the Power 5 conferences however, there were a number of teams that exceeded expectations and others who came up short. Let’s take a look at the most pleasant surprise and the biggest disappointment in each Power 5 conference.
Most Pleasant Surprise: Louisville
After going 2-10 in 2018 and not notching a single win in ACC play, Louisville finished the regular season 7-5 and 5-3 in conference in the first season under head coach Scott Satterfield. The Cardinals weren’t good defensively, but there is a strong offensive foundation with quarterback Micale Cunningham, running back Javian Hawkins and wide receiver Tutu Atwell. Louisville ranked third in the ACC in scoring offense at nearly 33 points per game.
Biggest Disappointment: Syracuse
It seems like ancient history now, but Syracuse was a ranked team and coming off a 10-win season to open 2019. The combination of Eric Dungey and Jamal Custis proved to be too big of shoes to fill. The Orange were the last team in the ACC to earn a conference win en route to a 5-7 finish. Syracuse ranked 13th in the ACC in total defense and allowed 50 sacks this season. Among FBS teams, only Akron and Old Dominion yielded more.
Most Pleasant Surprise: Baylor
Few questioned Matt Rhule’s ability to coach, but even fewer predicted that Baylor would be playing for a playoff spot. The Bears will head to a bowl game with a record of 11-2 – both losses at the hands of Oklahoma. The Bears let a 25-point lead slip away in the first of those losses before falling to the Sooners in overtime in the Big 12 Championship. Baylor led the Big 12 in scoring defense and won five games decided by a single score.
Biggest Disappointment: Texas
Fresh off its first appearance in the Big 12 Championship since 2009 and its first major bowl victory since 2008, many thought 2019 could be the year where Tom Herman’s Texas team supplanted Oklahoma in the conference. That would not be the case. The Longhorns finished 7-5 overall and 5-4 in conference. Texas dropped three of its final five games.
Most Pleasant Surprise: Minnesota
In the third year under head coach P.J. Fleck, Minnesota won 10 games for the first time since 2003 and ascended to as high as No. 7 in the AP Poll. Led by Tanner Morgan on offense and Antoine Winfield Jr. on defense, the Golden Gophers made their biggest statement in a long time with a 31-26 victory over Penn State on November 9th. Minnesota lost two of its final three games after a 9-0 start, but playing for a spot in the Big Ten Championship on the final weekend of the regular season was beyond what most could have imagined.
Biggest Disappointment: Nebraska
Like Syracuse in the ACC, Nebraska was a ranked team to begin the season under second-year head coach Scott Frost. The Cornhuskers finished the season with a 5-7 record and just 3-6 in Big Ten play. Nebraska’s three Big Ten wins came over teams that combined to go 6-21 in conference.
Most Pleasant Surprise: Oregon State
Oregon State fell short of missing a bowl for seventh straight season, but the Beavers did improve their win total by three – both in conference and overall. The 5-7 finish was the best for Oregon State since 2014 and the 4-5 record in Pac-12 play was the best conference mark since 2013. Oregon State notched two wins over bowl-bound teams and suffered three of its losses by three points or fewer. Optimism is high in Corvallis under second-year head coach and former Beavers’ quarterback Jonathan Smith.
Biggest Disappointment: Stanford
Stanford started the season ranked No. 25 in the AP Poll, but for the first time since 2008, the Cardinal will not be bowling. Stanford finished the year with a 4-8 record and managed only one win over a winning team. Known for being tough and physical under head coach David Shaw, Stanford ranked 11th in the Pac-12 in rushing and seventh in total defense.
Most Pleasant Surprise: Tennessee
There were few shocking developments in the SEC, but for the first time since 2016, Tennessee is bowl bound. They finished third in the SEC East behind Florida and Georgia in the SEC East. It looked like it would be another tough year in Knoxville under second-year head coach Jeremy Pruitt, as a 1-4 start with losses to Georgia State and BYU made the Vols the laughingstock of the nation. Tennessee rebounded and won six of its final seven games. With a 5-3 record in SEC play, this was only Tennessee’s second winning season in conference play in 12 years.
Biggest Disappointment: Alabama
Nick Saban has set the bar so ridiculously high at Alabama that a 10-win season and Top-15 national ranking makes the Crimson Tide qualify as the biggest disappointment in the SEC. Alabama was ranked No. 1 for much of the season, but after losing star QB Tua Tagovailoa to injury, the offense couldn’t overcome their defensive issues. This led to late losses to LSU and Auburn, and so the Crimson Tide missed the College Football Playoff for the first time ever. Alabama also won’t play in a major bowl game for the first time since 2010.