There are 128 total FBS college football programs. Some are brand new (Charlotte), others old with rich traditions and bright futures (Ohio State). Many of them play each season without great expectations. Usually, that is because those programs are part of a mid-major conference, and don't have the pressure to win and recruit at a high level. If they win big, great. If they lose, well, it isn't the end of the world.
But for the FBS schools regularly expected to challenge for premier bowl berths, conference and national titles, and bonanza recruiting classes, things aren't always that easy.
We’ve compiled a list of the ten most tortured fan bases in college football. Not all are on here for the same reasons, but all of them leave their fans consistently wanting more.
10. Clemson Tigers
Clemson's program has been around since 1896, and has definitely been successful more often than not. The TIgers have won 60 percent of their games all-time, captured 20 conference championships, achieved five undefeated seasons and won a national championship in 1981. More recently, Clemson has consistently churned out NFL talent and has posted double-digit victories each of the last four seasons.
So why then, you ask, are the Tigers on this list? Well, for all the program has to its credit, there is always the sense around college football that it should have more. Clemson has been handled head-to-head by Florida State in league play the last three seasons, and in turn has been unable to get over the hump and truly enter the national championship conversation. Tiger fans are a proud bunch, but many couldn't help but wince as each of the last three seasons played out in eerily similar, Groundhog Day-like fashion.
But this season, Clemson has a relatively favorable schedule, with arguably its three toughest games (Notre Dame, Georgia Tech and FSU) all at home. Could they finally take the next step (and in turn get off this list in 2016)? We shall see.
9. Wisconsin Badgers
There are some similarities between the Badgers and the team that preceded them on this countdown. Like Clemson, Wisconsin is a perennial top-25 team and a conference title contender. The Badgers have actually won their league, the Big Ten, five times in the last 17 seasons. These are all outstanding credentials.
Now comes the not-so-good parts. Wisconsin has lost six of its last eight bowl games (thought it did win the Outback Bowl last season) and has always been left just outside the national championship race. Last year, the Badgers were routed 59-0 by Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game.
This year, expect the Badgers to be a Big Ten contender and a top 25 program once again. Also, they should possess one of the best rushing attacks in the country, as they typically do. But the boisterous and loyal fans at Camp Randall Stadium are aching for the team to get over the proverbial hump, and until they do, they remain on our list.
8. UNC Tar Heels
North Carolina is a basketball school, yes, but unlike other hoops-heavy institutions (think Kansas, Kentucky, Indiana, Duke pre-David Cutcliffe), the Heels football program isn't a yearly doormat and is often picked by prognosticators to be a team to watch in the ACC.
Perhaps that's what makes this stat from ESPN's David Hale so astounding. Since 2000, only three Power 5 schools haven't recorded a nine-win season. They are Indiana, Kentucky and...North Carolina.
That's an incredible fact considering UNC did register six consecutive winning seasons from 2008-2013. But the first several seasons of the 21st century were a wasteland for the Heels, as they won just 31 games from 2001-07.
Last year, UNC finished 6-7 and got thumped 40-21 in the Quick Lane Bowl by the next team on our list.
7. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Rutgers is the oldest FBS program, having defeated Princeton 6-4 in the inaugural college football game back in 1869. The Scarlet Knights also fielded some respectable teams in the 1940s, 1950s and 1970s, playing as an independent.
But from 1983-2004, Rutgers' resume is pretty much a black hole. The program failed to reach a single bowl game, and finished with a losing record in 16 of those 22 seasons. Among those 16 ledgers were four two-win seasons, three one-win outputs and a winless campaign in 1997.
That's plenty of futility for one fan base to deal with, and thankfully for the scarlet faithful, Rutgers has been a solid outfit since 2005. They've reached a bowl game nine of the last 10 seasons, won nine or more games four times including an 11-win season in 2006, and escaped the death trap of the Big East/American Conference for the green pastures of the Big Ten. But while the losing has tapered off, the torture and disappointment has remained, and that's why they're on this list.
Twice, RU had BCS bids in its grasp only to come up short in de-facto Big East title games in 2006 and 2012. They were also blown out at UConn in the final regular season game of the 2011 slate, when a win would have kept their conference title hopes alive. Despite an 8-5 record and a bowl win in the program's inaugural Big Ten campaign last year, RU has struggled to keep major New Jersey recruits at home.
All this has left many Rutgers fans dissatisfied at the program's inability to take the next step from respectability to perennial contender. Can head coach Kyle Flood do that starting in 2015?
6. South Carolina Gamecocks
Sure, the Gamecocks have been a quality team since Steve Spurrier took over as head coach in 2005, reaching nine bowl games and winning the last four they've played in. Lou Holtz also led the program to back-to-back Outback Bowl wins in 2000 and 2001.
But South Carolina has never won the SEC, hasn't played in an Orange, Sugar, Fiesta or Rose Bowl,and still largely remains in the shadow of in-state rival Clemson. The program's lone conference championship came in ACC back in 1969.
As long as the Head Ball Coach Is in charge, the Gamecocks will be relevant. But is that enough for the team's fans?
5. Mississippi State Bulldogs
MSU is coming off one of the best seasons in program history. The Bulldogs went 10-3, only the program's second time winning 10 regular season games, have the preseason first-team All-SEC quarterback in Dak Prescott, and are coming off of a trip to the Orange Bowl. Where does Mississippi State stand, with all of that positive momentum from 2014?
...it's picked to finish last in the SEC West.
The SEC is stacked to the brim with teams that have a ton of history. Mississippi State lags behind in that department. The Bulldogs program began all the way back in 1895, but has just one conference title (1941), one division title (1998, co-champions with Arkansas), and no national championships. Even after an undefeated 1940 season that ended with an Orange Bowl win over Georgetown, the 10-0-1 team (known then as the "Maroons") was passed up for 8-0 Minnesota, which was named national champion by the major polls.
Mississippi State hasn't fared well against its rivals either. The Bulldogs are 43-62-6 against Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl, 34-71-3 against LSU, and 18-77-3 in the 90 Mile Drive against Alabama.
Even with all of that heartbreak and futility, and the never-ending climb up a mountain that consists of powerhouses like Alabama, Auburn, and LSU, Mississippi State fans remain a devoted and ravenous bunch, clanging their signature cowbells every Saturday, win or lose. Some day, Mississippi State may make a run to the top of the college football world. Until then, few programs will be more tortured.
4. UConn Huskies
Of the ten teams on this list, UConn has by far the least football history. The Huskies only moved up to the FBS in 2000, and joined the Big East in 2004, but they found some pretty decent success relatively quickly. UConn went to its first bowl in 2004, and then clinched four straight post-season appearances from 2007-2010, culminating in a trip to the 2011 Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma. The Huskies also won shares of two Big East championships in 2007 and 2010. They probably weren't going to be College Football Playoff contenders any time soon, but things were looking up in the Nutmeg State.
That all changed just two days after the blowout loss to the Sooners.
Long-time head coach Randy Edsall, who took over at UConn in 1999 and ushered them into FBS football, did not accompany the team back from the bowl, and two days later took the head coaching job at Maryland, choosing to inform his former players of the move via text message. Many UConn fans are still salty about the move.
Since, UConn has been left out of multiple rounds of conference expansion by the ACC and Big Ten, while former league rivals Louisville, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, and Syracuse all found safe haven in power conferences. UConn is now in the fledging American Athletic Conference, and has gone just 15-33 in the four seasons since that trip to the Fiesta Bowl.
Unlike many of these other programs, football isn't at the top of mind for many Husky fans. However, one could argue that football ineptitude is a major reason that UConn has been passed over by the power conferences, and things have only gotten worse. Last season, UConn went just 2-10, with a narrow win over FCS Stony Brook and a shocking upset of UCF. Bob Diaco may turn things back in the right direction, but he has a long way to go. And for most UConn fans, that means conference basketball games against the likes of East Carolina, Tulane, and Tulsa. That's pretty rough, for a program that has four men's and 10 women's national championships.
3. Colorado Buffaloes
The 1990s were very good for Colorado football. The Buffaloes went to back to back Orange bowls after the 1989 and 1990 seasons, and went to nine bowls total during the 90s, including two Fiesta Bowls. The Buffaloes also produced the 1994 Heisman Trophy winner, running back Rashaan Salaam. As a member of the Big Eight and then Big 12 conference, Colorado had one of the sport's best programs.
Things took a step backwards in the 2000s, during which the Buffaloes made five bowls. This decade, CU has been a disaster. After the departure of Gary Barnett in 2005, the Buffaloes have been led by Dan Hawkins, Jon Embree, and Mike MacIntyre, who have put up win percentages of .327, .160, and .333, respectively. Only Hawkins made it to a bowl, the 2007 Independence Bowl in which the Buffaloes lost to Alabama.
Even with those struggles, Colorado was invited to the Pac-12, leaving the Big 12 for greener pastures in 2011. While that move has been fruitful financially and has Colorado in a stable league, it has not worked out competitively. CU is just 4-32 in four seasons of Pac-12 play, and things aren't made easier by their placement in the conference. The Pac-12 South features Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA, USC, and Utah, all bowl teams in 2014. It is considered one of the toughest divisions in college football, perhaps only behind the SEC West.
While Colorado was just 2-10 in 2014 and went winless in Pac-12 play, there were some signs of optimism last season. Colorado played a number of teams very tough, losing overtime games to Cal and UCLA and by less than a touchdown to Oregon State and Utah. Even when Colorado looks to be gaining ground on its Pac-12 rivals, it had to go through a handful of heartbreaking losses in the same season.
There is reason for optimism as Colorado heads into 2015 after coming so close to some big wins in 2014, and we hope the Buffaloes make some progress. The awful stretch that the program has been mired in for eight years needs to come to an end at some point. We hope 2015 gives Buffs fans something to smile about, aside from Ralphie of course. Ralphie is always awesome.
2. Oregon Ducks
"Tortured" fan bases and their teams come in all forms. We just went over Colorado's nearly decade-long struggles on the field. Their Pac-12 conference rival Oregon has had no trouble winning games...except for The Big One. Oregon has entered virtually every season as a national title contender since breaking into the national conversation under Mike Bellotti and Chip Kelly, and while they've made a number of huge bowl games and two national championships games, a national title eludes the Ducks. In 2010 and 2014, Oregon made it all the way before losing to Auburn and Ohio State, respectively.