At times, it can be hard being a college football fan. Programs, just like professional sports franchises, go through their ups and downs in both recruiting and on-field success. Fans often have to endure a number of disappointing campaigns in a row - even if they root for an all-time great football school. Things like coaching changes, NCAA violations and poorly-timed losses can set a program back for years.
For some supporters, it's been a frustrating 21st century. A number of programs that were once national powers have fallen back to the middle of the pack - or worse. We've gone through and picked out the seven most disappointing of the time frame. Remember, this isn't just a list of bad teams - there are plenty of those. To truly have a disappointed fan base, there have to be at least semi-high expectations.
7. Miami Hurricanes
Miami is the only team on the list that actually won a national championship in our time frame - the 21st century. The Hurricanes crushed Nebraska in the 2002 Rose Bowl, played after the 2001 season, for their first national title in a decade. The next season, Miami again steamrolled the competition until the national championship game, this time against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. As we all know, the Buckeyes prevailed in overtime after a tough pass interference call gave them life.
Miami actually had a solid 2003 campaign as well, posting an 11-2 record and an Orange Bowl victory. But since, the Hurricanes have been a very average program. Former head coach Larry Coker was fired in 2006 following a 6-6 regular season at the helm. Randy Shannon, his replacement, lasted just four years after four mediocre campaigns and three bowl game losses. Al Golden led the school to nine wins this past year, but hasn't returned the school to elite status.
Miami has not finished the regular season ranked in the top ten since 2003. But perhaps the most telling statistic deals with NFL production. From 2001 until 2004, Miami had 19 players drafted in the first round of the NFL draft. In the decade since, it has seen just six former stars taken in the first 32 selections. There are certainly schools that have had worse centuries, but Miami's fall from grace has been tough to endure for supporters.
6. Syracuse Orange(men)
Sadly, there is an entire generation of sports fans who don't realize that Syracuse was actually once good at both basketball and football. Prior to the 2002 season, SU had posted 15 straight winning seasons, including five in the double-digit category. In the 2001 season, the Orangemen (back then) finished with a 10-3 record, a No. 14 ranking and an Insight.com bowl win. Suddenly, the wheels came off. Former coach Paul Pasqualoni, in 2004, was axed after three sub-par seasons in a row. That's when things got rough.
Syracuse hired Greg Robinson, former Texas defensive coordinator. In his four years, the school won just three games in the Big East, and never more than four games in an entire season. He was fired after the 2008 season, finishing with a 10-37 record as head coach. To say that the Robinson era set back SU - especially with recruits - would be an understatement.
Syracuse, under Doug Marrone (who left for the Buffalo Bills) and now Scott Shafer, has somewhat rebounded. The Orange have posted winning seasons in three of the past four years and taken home three bowl game trophies. But they're still nowhere near what they once were - a formidable program that nobody wanted to travel to upstate New York to play.
5. Colorado Buffaloes
For much of the 1990s, Colorado was the best program in the Big 12. In 1990, it won a share of the national championship. Between 1989 and 1996, the school won 10 or more games five times. Even as recently as 2001, the Buffaloes won 10 contests, played in a Fiesta Bowl and finished with a top-ten ranking. But over the last decade, the program has completely tanked.
Much of the collapse can be attributed to recruiting issues and bad coaching hires. In 2005, Gary Barnett was technically let go because the program's on-field product was heading in the wrong direction - but it didn't help that there were recruiting scandals attached to his name. His eventual replacement, Dan Hawkins, never posted a winning season in five tries. Jon Embree won four games in two years. Mike MacIntyre is now tasked with returning the program to glory - but he's off to a lackluster start (1-8 in the Pac-12 last year) as well.
Colorado's move to the Pac-12, long term, was probably a good decision by both parties. But it would probably help if the Buffaloes started making some noise.
4. Nebraska Cornhuskers
Nebraska, simply put, is one of the most successful college football programs in history. In the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s, the Cornhuskers were virtually always highly ranked and always a threat to win the national championship. In fact, they claim five of them - 1970, 1971, 1994, 1995 and 1997. Between 1963 and 2001, the program finished the season ranked in the top ten of either the AP Poll or the Coaches' Poll an astonishing 30 times.
But since losing the 2001 Rose Bowl, which was also the BCS national championship game, the program has somewhat dipped. It's not fair to say that the Cornhuskers have tanked, but they've certainly fallen back to the middle of the pack. Since that fateful day, Nebraska has not returned to a BCS bowl game or posted a season with less than three losses. Oddly enough, Nebraska has lost four games each in the past six years - all under Bo Pelini. For many Nebraskans, many of whom want him gone, that number isn't good enough.
Make no mistake - Nebraska is one of the better programs in the country. But its fans have had a hard time adjusting to being looked at as a top-25 program instead of a top-ten one.
3. Michigan Wolverines
Yep, another Big Ten program that isn't quite what it used to be. The previous school on our list, Nebraska, is fifth in all-time college football wins. Michigan is actually first. The Wolverines also claim 11 national championships - but none since 1997. Somehow, arguably the most successful program ever never had a chance to play for a title in the BCS era - a fact that doesn't sit well with fans. But the biggest issue is actually what its rival, Ohio State, accomplished in the era.
Since 2001, Michigan has posted four seasons with ten or more wins. The Wolverines reached four BCS bowl games - winning one Sugar Bowl and losing the Rose Bowl three times. The Buckeyes, in the same time frame, scored at least double-digit wins 10 times. They also posted two undefeated seasons, won a national title and took home five BCS bowl trophies. But worst of all, Ohio State has beaten Michigan 10 out of 12 times this century.
In 2008, Michigan hired former West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez to replace long-time head man Lloyd Carr. Things didn't go so well. Rodriguez, in his three years, averaged five victories per season. He was eventually replaced by Brady Hoke, who is still trying to bring the program back to the top of the Big Ten.
2. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
You could also make a case that Notre Dame is actually the most successful program in college football history - well, at least until the BCS era. The Irish also claim 11 national championships, but like Michigan, their most recent came a while ago - back in 1988. Unlike Michigan, they did get a shot at a national title during the time frame - in 2012-2013 - but they got manhandled by Alabama, 42-14.
Notre Dame won 10 or more games three times, but never won a BCS bowl game. They've also had four coaches (five if you count Kent Baer's interim cameo) during the era - Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham, Charlie Weis and Brian Kelly. Until Kelly, each had posted at least two seasons with six or fewer victories. Weis even led a 3-9 campaign back in 2007.
Many have pointed to Notre Dame's always-difficult schedule as part of the reason for its recent mediocrity. Whatever the issues, ND has finished the season ranked in the top ten just twice this century. In South Bend, that just isn't good enough.
1. Tennessee Volunteers
Tennessee was a college football power in the 1990s - the Volunteers won an average of 9.9 games for the entire decade. In 1998, they won the national championship behind quarterback Tee Martin, running backs Travis Henry and Jamal Lewis, and wide receiver Peerless Price. They reached the Fiesta Bowl in each of the next two years as well. In reality, they were fairly competitive for a number of years in the 21st century too.
But at some point in the mid-2000s, the power structure shifted in the SEC. Tennessee went from one of the favorites to an also-ran. In 2005, then-coach Phillip Fulmer posted his first losing season in Knoxville. His second, which came in 2008, was his last. The Vols hired Lane Kiffin as his replacement, and he only stuck around for one 7-6 season before bolting for Southern California. That 2009 campaign was the last time Tennessee posted a winning record.
Derek Dooley, in three seasons, never won more than five games. The Volunteers' most recent hire, Butch Jones, seems to have the program heading in the right direction, but after another 5-7 year and a ridiculously hard schedule to look forward to in 2014, it may not be as quick a turnaround as UT fans would like. The SEC has certainly cemented itself as the best conference in all of college football over the past decade, but sadly, Tennessee hasn't really contributed to that fact. Fans will tell you - it hurts.