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A history of college football’s 44 last-place games, from 1869 to 2019

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Here’s one way of finding every season in which the two worst major-level CFB teams played each other.

USA Today. Banner Society illustration

You’ve heard of a Game of the Century, college football’s informal term for when a #1 faces a #2 during the regular season.

Well! It’s time we pay homage to the opposite: when the two worst teams in FBS (or whatever its equivalent was at the time) happen to meet. I’ve gone through the entirety of major CFB history and found the 44 times it’s happened, based on a couple metrics I’ll explain as we go.

2019 UMass 37, Akron 29

The process for finding these games in the BCS/Playoff era: reviewing the Massey Composite (a combination of almost every noteworthy computer rating and poll into one ranking) and finding seasons in which the two worst FBS teams faced each other.

Seeing as this article was written during the 2019 season, this game is the oddity on this list, since we have no way of knowing if these two teams will finish the season ranked #129 and #130. But that’s where they ranked at time of kickoff, so it’s on the list for now.

2014 New Mexico State 34, Georgia State 31

The Aggies roared to their first 2-0 start since the 20th century, capturing their first road win in almost exactly three years. The Panthers followed a thrilling (it helped produce this big blog post and was the most fun I ever had in an empty Georgia Dome) win over FCS middleweight Abilene Christian by continuing to postpone their first-ever FBS win until their third year in FBS.

GSU’s first-ever FBS win: 34-32 revenge in Las Cruces. This is among college football’s greatest two-game rivalries.

2010 Akron 22, Buffalo 14

This was Rob Ianello’s only FBS win during his two years as Akron’s head coach. It came on Black Friday, meaning the Zips got to end a season that included everything from five blowout losses to two overtime losses with a little pride. In fact, Gary Pride was the Zip who scored the decisive touchdown.

2008 North Texas 51, Western Kentucky 40

Todd Dodge went 6-37 as North Texas’ head coach, with half of those wins coming against WKU. Shortly after firing him, the Mean Green carried on his legacy by beating WKU.

Honorable mention: Washington at Washington State in the 2008 Crapple Cup, just about the closest we’ve ever come to power-conference rivals facing at the bottom of FBS, though the Egg Bowl will not rest until it unlocks that achievement.

2000 UL Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns 21, Louisiana-Monroe Indians 18

One would soon become the ULM Warhawks. The other was amidst developing 317 ways to say the name of its university. They were both about to take their BATTLE ON THE BAYOU rivalry into the Sun Belt Conference’s new football experiment. I don’t really have a way to wrap up this paragraph.

1994 Akron 24, Ohio 10

For 1997 and all older seasons, the Massey Composite runs out, so I found worst-place teams via the SRS team ratings at Sports Reference. It’s the same idea, just with one rating instead of dozens, and it goes all the way back.

To this point in reverse chronological order, Akron has appeared in half of all worst-place games. That probably describes a lot about Akron football.

Meanwhile in this era, Ohio has far more bottom-two rankings than the rock-solid Frank Solich regime would lead the modern fan to presume.

OHIO’S BEST RESULT IN 1994 WAS A 5-0 LOSS AT HOME TO A 3-8 UTAH STATE.

1984 West Texas A&M 21, New Mexico State 13
1983 Drake 36, West Texas A&M 26
1979 Columbia 12, Penn 7
1978 Illinois State 14, Eastern Michigan 13

These qualify as FBS-equivalent, but it’s a gray area. In 1978, Division I began splitting into FBS and FCS (they had different names, and some people like to sound old-school by calling them by those names, and that’s fine), and almost all of these teams were about to head down, but are still recorded as majors by the NCAA. So that’s why there’s an atypical burst of last-place games in this span.

For example, the original Missouri Valley Conference straddled the FBS/FCS line until 1985, meaning we had such curiosities as the FCS-quality West Texas A&M Buffaloes (the football program that might lead the nation in pro wrestlers produced) being judged in history by FBS standards.

Also, Drake managed to defeat the Buffaloes three years before he was even born!

1972 Xavier 14, Marshall 0

Marshall football was still recovering from a tragic plane crash in 1970, so let’s focus on Xavier here.

Xavier went 2-10 against 1972’s 126th-hardest schedule, which included a 34-0 loss in the Quantico Marine Base Devil Dogs’ last-ever football game. I feel it goes without saying that Xavier dropped football a year later.

1966 Richmond 24, Furman 14

Some conferences were basically FCS or lower, but considered majors by the NCAA, as there were only two distinctions (“University” level and “College” level), not our current four.

The SoCon, birthplace of the SEC and ACC, limped along until the DI split, then dominated the late-‘80s and the ‘00s in FCS.

1953 Davidson 21, The Citadel 17

Meanwhile, Citadel men’s basketball was in the midst of a school-record 30-game losing streak — except 60 years later, someone discovered the records were wrong, and Citadel basketball had in fact interrupted the losing streak by beating ... folks, they beat Davidson.

1946 Idaho 20, Portland 6

The Vandals shut down for two years during World War II, and the Pilots three. Portland gave up on football in 1950, while Idaho paid the price for perseverance: watching an in-state rival go from JUCO to the Fiesta Bowl as the Vandals slipped into FCS.

1951 New Mexico State 48, Northern Arizona 12
1948 Northern Arizona 13, New Mexico State 7
1942 Northern Arizona 3, New Mexico State 0

One of these programs faced facts, downgraded difficulty, and won games — NAU reached the NAIA title game in 1958 and now makes the FCS playoffs every few years. The other will never log off.

1934 Colorado College 13, Colorado School of Mines (hereafter referred to as “Mines”) 6
1933 Mines 19, Western State 13
1930 Mines 13, Western State 0
1927 Western State 6, Northern Colorado 2
1926 Mines 10, Western State 0
1925 Mines 16, Denver 7
1919 Mines 0, Denver 0
1914 Utah State 24, Wyoming 3

The Rocky Mountain Conference faced a number of difficulties.

1919’s had one of those old-timey college pranks that sounds nothing like a “prank” whatsoever:

DU’s archrival was the School of Mines, where students so often rode through Golden firing revolvers and dropping sticks of dynamite for fun that the newspapers started calling them the ‘Blasters’ and ‘Dynamiters’ instead of the ‘Orediggers.’

So it might not have been a surprise when at 4:15 a.m. on Nov. 6, 1919, a series of huge dynamite explosions shattered the quiet DU dawn. The blasts rocked beds in Templin Hall so fiercely that residents thought there was an earthquake, according to newspaper accounts at the time. The explosions blew out about 100 windows in University Hall, the Iliff School of Theology, Carnegie Library and Memorial Chapel.

The shock wave cracked University Hall.

‘If all the dynamite planted on our campus had exploded simultaneously, it would have knocked down our buildings and destroyed life,’ Chancellor Henry Buchtel told the Rocky Mountain News.

Miraculously, no one was injured, and no buildings fell down.

Later that week, Denver students attempted to retaliate with graffiti, which led to “captured DU students dressed in POW overalls, their heads shaved and large purplish-black ‘Ms’ etched onto their scalps with silver nitrate, a caustic chemical that takes months to wear off.”

And then some World War I-veteran college students settled it all with a scoreless football game.

College football is a very normal sport.

1909 Richmond 5, Wake Forest 0

Are we surprised to discover Wake is the modern power-conference school to appear most recently on this list? We are probably not. This was only the Wake Forest College Baptists’ second year as a major, but ... things would usually only get so much better from here.

1900 Grinnell 22, Iowa State 5

Don’t laugh too hard, Iowa. Eleven years prior, the future Division III Pioneers beat you, 24-0, in the first college football game ever played west of the Mississippi River, and they did it a month after you posted a challenge in your school paper.

1897 Williams 6, Amherst 6
1896 Bowdoin 4, Tufts 0
1889 Bucknell 8, Swarthmore 0

The Amherst-Williams and Bowdoin-Tufts rivalries continue to this day in DIII’s NESCAC. That’s somehow less amazing than Swarthmore needing 111 more years to decide football isn’t necessary.

1885 Lafayette 6, Lehigh 6
1885 Lafayette 0, Lehigh 0
1884 Lafayette 34, Lehigh 4
1884 Lafayette 50, Lehigh 0

In 1884, Lafayette averaged 42 points against Lehigh and .8 against everybody else. Everyone agreed such a competition should continue forever, so it did.

And at some point, it actually became one of football’s best rivalries, drawing 48,256 to Yankee Stadium in 2014 for the 150th meeting.

1879 Columbia 0, Stevens 0

Tbh, I expected to find these last-place games becoming annual, considering there were only a dozen or so teams in these days. But they usually played relatively short schedules and sometimes played a single opponent multiple times. Whichever teams played the Stevens Institute of Technology Ducks of Hoboken usually had a shot at claiming an appearance in a last-place game.

1878 Amherst 1, Brown 0

Now we’re at the point when some teams played one game all year. Brown showed up, got shut out by the second-worst team in the country, said “I believe I’ve made myself clear,” and stopped playing football for 13 months.

1877 Rutgers 5, Stevens 0
1877 Stevens 4, Rutgers 1
1874 Columbia 4, Rutgers 1
1874 Rutgers 6, Columbia 1
1872 Columbia 6, Stevens 0
1870 Rutgers 6, Columbia 3
1869 Princeton 8, Rutgers 0
1869 Rutgers 6, Princeton 4

As with any reverse chron trip through all of college football history, the basic facts of Rutgers provide the unavoidable punchline.