The Worst College Football Programs in America

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Published on July 27, 2021

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Millions of Americans attend college football games each autumn, ready to cheer on teams that boast winning records and provide hours of excitement. NCAA Division I Football Bowl Series (FBS) favorites like University of Michigan, University of Alabama, and University of Southern California rank among the most winningest teams. The prestige of these victorious teams contrasts heavily with the frustration and defeat experienced by schools that have never been able to garner that level of success -- or much success at all.

The worst college football programs go beyond the occasional bad season or rough few years of games; these schools maintain losing records year in and year out, never able to develop what it takes to triumph on the football field. Despite their best efforts, the worst college football programs in American lose consistently.

Kent State University at Kent View School Profile Kent, OH

Kent State University offers its more than 28,000 students undergraduate and graduate programs that emphasize teaching, research, and experiential excellence. Founded in 1910, the Kent State football tradition began four years later, although attempts to maintain a football team failed until 1920. The Kent State Golden Flashes did not win their first game until 1925 (outside of a forfeit in 1920). For their first 14 games, the Golden Flashes remained scoreless and did not have a winning season until 1928.

After a hiatus during World War II, the Golden Flashes returned to the field with more success but only won one conference championship during the 20th century. Their Mid-American Conference championship in 1972 was accompanied by a trip to the Tangerine Bowl that same year, although they lost to the University of Tampa, 21-18. Kent State's only other bowl appearance during the 20th century was in 1954 when they lost the Refrigerator Bowl against the University of Delaware, 19-7. In 2012, the Golden Flashes made their third trip to a bowl game, losing the GoDaddy.com Bowl to Arkansas State, 17-13. Overall, Kent State's record is 321-500-28.

Florida International University View School Profile Miami, FL

Florida International University opened in 1972 on a revamped, abandoned airfield. The school now has more than 57,000 students. The football program began in 2002, but FIU did not become a Division I contender until 2004.

In their first six seasons, the FIU Panthers suffered losing records; they didn't win a single game during the 2006 season. The team's crosstown rivalry with the University of Miami began the same year when a fight broke out during their game. FIU lost the match-up and two players were later kicked off of the team. In 2010, the Panthers won the Sunbelt Conference and played in the Little Caesar Bowl against the University of Toledo but lost their game against Marshall University at the Beef O'Brady Bowl the following year. In 2017, FIU lost against Temple University in the Gasparilla Bowl. During its short tenure, the FIU football program's overall record was 61-118.

Eastern Michigan University View School Profile Ypsilanti, MI

Founded in 1849, Eastern Michigan University offers more than 350 undergraduate and graduate programs to its student body. The EMU Eagles enjoy state-of-the art football facilities, including an indoor practice field and Rynearson Stadium. With an overall record of 431-530-47, the EMU Eagles appear strong but have only won 148 out of their 488 games since 1975.

The EMU Eagles, previously known as the Normalites and the Hurons, experienced varying degrees of success during the twentieth century, vacillating between winless and undefeated seasons regularly. Despite ten conference wins and a California Bowl victory over San Jose State in 1987, EMU has never been ranked on a national poll and holds one of college football's longest losing streaks thanks to 27 losses in a row during the 1980-1982 seasons.

University of Louisiana at Monroe View School Profile Monroe, LA

The University of Louisiana at Monroe Warhawks started playing football in 1931, although they were playing for Ouachita Junior College at the time. Renamed ULM in 1999, Monroe's football teams have had many names throughout its history but the losing football tradition remained more or less consistent.

When the Warhawks (then known as the Indians) began Division I football in 1975, they brought with them weak Division II records of 88-137-4. As a Division I-A FBS team, the Warhawks have had only three winning seasons. Between 1982-1993, ULM stepped down to Division I-AA Football Championship (FCS) status where the Warhawks won the Division I-AA National Championship title in 1987.

After returning to Division I-A FBS games in 1994, the Warhawks have faced an uphill climb. ULM earned a bowl game in 2012, although they lost the Independence Bowl to Ohio University, 45-15. Currently, the Warhawk's record stands at 392-447-21.

New Mexico State University View School Profile Las Cruces, NM

New Mexico State University was founded as Las Cruces College in 1888, was renamed New Mexico A&M in 1890, and renamed a third time as New Mexico State University in 1960. The football program for the NMSU Aggies began in 1893 and, for the first few decades, the team boasted winning seasons. In 1935, the Aggies tied in the first-ever Sunbowl against Hardin-Simmons.

By the late 1940s, the Aggies record had shifted and the team experienced losing seasons until 1958. After two Sunbowl wins in 1959 and 1960, the team's performance was once again lackluster, and it was not until the 1970s that the Aggies would see another conference title. The Aggies did not have another bowl berth until 2017 when they bested Utah State at the Arizona Bowl, 26-20. Overall, NMSU has a record of 422-617-30.

University at Buffalo View School Profile Buffalo, NY

The University of Buffalo was founded in 1846 and has an enrollment of over 30,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The football program began in 1894 and lasted until 1970 when the student body voted to stop funding it. Reinstated in 1977, the Buffalo Bulls football team did not have a winning record until 1983.

Buffalo's first winning season as a Division I football team occurred in 2008. During the same year, the Bulls won the Mid-American Conference and played in the International Bowl against the University of Connecticut. The Bulls lost 20-38 but made another bowl appearance at the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in 2013. They lost to San Jose State, 49-24. The Bulls' record currently stands at 370-492-28.

Indiana University-Bloomington View School Profile Bloomington, IN

The Indiana University Hoosier football team consistently underdelivers on the field. Founded in 1820 and the flagship school of the Indiana University system, Indiana University Bloomington includes almost 2,000 acres with historic buildings and elaborate athletic facilities throughout. The Hoosiers play home football games at Memorial Stadium, which seats more than 50,000 fans.

During 120 football seasons, the IU Hoosiers won the Big Ten Conference in 1945 and 1967 -- although the latter was a co-championship with Purdue. The Hoosiers have won three out of their eleven bowl game appearances, most recently defeating Baylor at the Copper Bowl in 1991. The amount of money IU puts into its football program is approximately $5,800,000 per game, but the Hoosiers have not had a winning season since 2007. Overall, their record is 479-672-44.

The University of Texas at El Paso View School Profile El Paso, TX

The University of Texas El Paso Miners played their first season in 1914 but did not begin Division I play until 1935. UTEP, also founded in 1914, is the second-oldest institution in the University of Texas System and overlooks the Rio Grande River and the U.S.-Mexico border. UTEP offers more than 170 undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral programs its majority Latino/a population.

During the late 1940s and 1950s, the UTEP Miners had eight winning seasons and three Sunbowl wins in 1949, 1953, and 1954. The team won the Sunbowl again in 1965 and 1967 but have not won a bowl game since. With only two winning seasons since 2005, the Miners have only earned two conference championships. In 1956, UTEP won the Border Conference and in 2000, they shared the Western Athletic Conference championship with the Texas Christian University Horned Frogs. UTEP's overall record stands at 385-575-28.

University of Alabama at Birmingham View School Profile Birmingham, AL

The University of Alabama Birmingham only recently got its football team back after a hiatus in 2014. After a financial audit of the program in 2014, the school cut the UAB Blazer football program, only to reinstate it in 2015 and field a new team in 2017. The UAB began as an extension of the University of Alabama and transitioned to a four-year school in 1966, with Blazer football starting in 1991.

UAB football began as a Division III program that worked its way to Division I-A FBS play in 1996. The team joined the Conference USA in 1999 but has yet to win a conference championship. The UAB Blazers lost to the University of Hawaii at the Hawaii Bowl in 2014 and to Ohio University at the Bahamas Bowl in 2017. The overall record for the Blazers stands at 125-157.

Rice University View School Profile Houston, TX

Rice University held its first classes in 1912, although its history dates back to the Rice Institute founded in 1891. Formally named Rice University in 1960, the school abides by a strict honor code and offers 120 undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral programs. However, Rice University football failed to deliver a strong football program for almost fifty years, leading to declining attendance and apathy among fans.

The Rice Owls won their first bowl game with a Cotton Bowl victory over Colorado in 1937, an additional Orange Bowl victory in 1946, and two more Cotton Bowl wins in 1949 and 1953 -- but the Owls didn't win another bowl game until 2008. When it comes to conference championships, the Owls won the Southwest Conference several times between 1934-1957, but the next conference title occurred in 1994 when five teams tied for first place. Rice's record stands at 463-582-32.

University of Nevada-Las Vegas View School Profile Las Vegas, NV

Established in 1957, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas began as an extension of the University of Nevada, Reno. Once University of Nevada, Las Vegas became its own entity in 1968, the Rebels football team took shape and played as a Division II program until 1978, when they became Division 1.

The Rebels played winning seasons between 1978-1981 and again in 1983-1984. They also played and won the California Bowl against the University of Toledo in 1984 but had to forfeit their entire season, Big West Conference title, and their bowl win for the year after fielding seven ineligible players. In 1994 and 1999, UNLV won the Las Vegas Bowl but have not won a bowl game since. Since 2000, the Rebels have only one title to their name, one winning season, and one even-record season. The Rebel's overall record is 235-335-4.

Iowa State University View School Profile Ames, IA

Iowa State University was founded in 1858 and held its first classes eleven years later. Officially named Iowa State University of Science and Technology in 1959, Iowa State's football team dates back to 1892 when the school was known as the Iowa Agricultural College.

Iowa State University started on a high note when the team defeated University of Iowa during their first sanctioned season in 1894. The Cyclones boasted an above-average record until 1945, after which they had one winning season over the next fifteen years. The Cyclones lost their first four bowl games during the 1970s and did not appear in a bowl game again until they defeated University of Pittsburgh at the Cactus Bowl in 2000.

Since 2001, the Cyclones have lost five of eight bowl games, and it has been more than a century since they won a conference title. Currently, Iowa State's record stands at 420-631-46.

Northwestern University View School Profile Evanston, IL

Established in 1851, Northwestern University grew along the shore of Lake Michigan during the early 1850s and offered classes to its first students in 1855. Northwestern fielded its first football team in 1876 and in 1896 became a founding member of the Western Conference, precursor to the Big Ten Conference.

The played their first bowl game in 1948, defeating the California Golden Bears at the Cotton Bowl. The Wildcats did not enter another bowl game until 1995, when they lost nine bowl games between 1995 and 2012. The Wildcats also experienced a losing streak of 34 games between 1979 and 1982. A Gator Bowl victory in 2012, a Pinstripe Bowl win in 2016, and a Music City Bowl win in 2017 signaled a postseason turn around for the team. The Wildcats have ten conference championships to their name (although only two are held without co-winners), and their all-time record holds at 504-642-44.

Wake Forest University View School Profile Winston-Salem, NC

Wake Forest University was originally founded in Wake Forest, North Carolina, in 1834 and moved to Winston-Salem in 1956. First established as a manual labor institute, Wake Forest University now has more than 8,000 students.

The Wake Forest Demon Deacons began competing in 1888 as an intercollegiate team but did not start Division I play until 1908. The Demon Deacons earned their first winning season in 1923, and they made their first bowl appearance in 1945, winning against the University of South Carolina at the Gator Bowl, 26-14. Their next bowl victory came in 1992, but since 1999, the Demon Deacons have won six of eight bowl appearances. When it comes to conference championships, Wake Forest has only two titles in its 130-year history: the Atlantic Coast Conference in 1970 and again in 2006. Overall, Wake Forest's record is 450-647-33.

Tulane University of Louisiana View School Profile New Orleans, LA

As a private research institution, Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, began as a medical college in 1834 and now offers over 1,700 classes to students. The Tulane Green Wave football team played their first game in 1890 and began intercollegiate play three years later. With Riptide the Pelican as its mascot, the Green Wave plays at Yulman Stadium, a facility that seats 30,000 spectators.

Since 1902, Tulane Green Wave has played in eleven bowl games and won four. Their first bowl appearance came in 1931 when they lost against University of Southern California, ending their winning streak. Tulane made no bowl appearances between 1939-1970, and the team has not won a conference championship since 1998. Out of its nine total conference titles, five are shared with other teams. Since 1999, Tulane Green Wave has had three winning seasons, and their overall record is 518-642-38.

Temple University View School Profile Philadelphia, PA

Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, began as a school for students that could only attend classes in the evening, or "night owls." From this, Temple gained its mascot -- the Owl -- and became a degree-granting institution by 1907. The Temple Owls football team can trace their history to 1894, but football did not really begin on campus until 1925. The Owls played their first bowl game in 1934, losing to Tulane at the Sugar Bowl; out of seven bowl games, the Owls have won three.

Between 1938-1963, Temple had only four winning seasons. The drought picked up again in 1991, after which the Owls experienced losing seasons for eighteen years in a row. During the 2004-2006 seasons, the Owls lost twenty games in a row and have only won their conference twice -- once in 1967 and 2016. Overall, Temple's record stands at 463-599-52.

Kansas State University View School Profile Manhattan, KS

Kansas State University was founded in 1863, and its football team developed 33 years later, holding its first official game in 1896. Kansas State houses the Bill Snyder football stadium and a state-of-the-art indoor practice facility for the Kansas State Wildcats football team. The KSU Wildcats won the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference championship in 1909, 1910, and 1912 before joining the Missouri Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Association in 1913.

The Wildcats thrived during the 1920s and 1930s, winning the Big Six Conference in 1934, but failed to earn another conference title until 2003. The Wildcats suffered a 28-game losing streak from 1945-1948 and didn't make their first bowl appearance until 1982. Twenty bowl appearances since 1993 led to nine bowl victories, but it is only recently that the Wildcats turned their record around. The Wildcats have a all-time record of 528-641-41.

Colorado State University-Fort Collins View School Profile Fort Collins, CO

Colorado State University began as a small, 30-acre institution in 1870. Once Colorado became a state six years later, the school became the Colorado Agricultural College, transitioned to Colorado A&M in 1935, and became Colorado State in 1957.

The Colorado State Rams trace their origins to 1893, although the team won fewer than ten games total until the 1912 season. The Rams lost their first bowl game at the Raisin Bowl in 1948, and they did not appear in a bowl again until 1990. They have won 6 out of the 17 bowl games they have played and experienced a 26-game losing streak from 1960-1963. The Rams hold an overall record of 508-554-43.

Duke University View School Profile Durham, NC

Duke University was founded as the Brown School in 1838, later renamed the Union Institute in 1841, Normal College in 1851, Trinity College between 1859 and 1924, and finally as Duke University in 1924. The Trinity College Blue and White football team, later known as the Duke Blue Devils, competed on and off until 1922 and joined the Southern Conference in 1928. Duke played in two Rose Bowl games in 1938 and 1941, hosting the latter at Wallace Wade Stadium. They lost both and did not win a bowl game until the Sugar Bowl in 1944. The Blue Devils have played 13 bowl games but won only five. Duke has not won a conference championship since 1989 when it shared the title with the University of Virginia. Duke's overall record is 475-493-31, though the team has shown some signs of improvement and promise.

University of Louisiana at Lafayette View School Profile Lafayette, LA

University of Louisiana at Lafayette opened in 1901 and spans 1,500 acres. The school's Ragin' Cajun football team played its first game one year after the school opened but did not become a Division I team until 1978. By that time, the Ragin' Cajuns proved themselves to be contenders on the football field -- something the school rewarded by building Cajun Field during the 1970s. Prior to becoming a Division I team, the Ragin' Cajuns (at the time still known as Southwestern Louisiana Institute) won the first Oil Bowl in in 1943. However, the Ragin' Cajuns struggled in Division I, never winning more than seven games until things turned around and they won four New Orleans Bowls between 2011-2014. However, the school had to vacate their 2011 and 2013 victories as well as 22 games between 2011-2014 after the NCAA found them guilty of player eligibility violations. Currently, the UL Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns hold an overall 501-549-34 record.

Ohio University View School Profile Athens, OH

Ohio University has its origins in the late eighteenth century, but was officially recognized by the newly created state of Ohio in 1808. The first football team took the field in 1826, although the school did not play its first intercollegiate game until 1894. Early success in the 1940s and 1950s led the OU Bobcats to their first bowl game in 1962 against West Texas A&M. The Bobcats lost, a tradition that carried on in bowl game play until 2011 when they defeated Utah State at the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Overall, the Bobcats have won three out of eleven bowl games.

As a member of the Buckeye Athletic Association, OU dominated and won six championships between 1929-1938. Once the Bobcats became a member of the Mid-American Conference in 1946, they won the MAC championship six times between 1953-1968, though the Bobcats have not won a conference title since 1968. Overall, their record is above .500 but their dismal conference and postseason performance earns them a spot on this list.

University of Idaho View School Profile Moscow, ID

University of Idaho, Idaho's oldest public university, has more than 12,000 enrolled students. The Vandals football team voluntarily stepped down to Division I-AA FCS status in 2018 after playing in the Division I-A FBS since 1995. Prior to 1997, the Vandals never made a bowl game appearance, although they won three bowl titles between 1998 and 2016. Perhaps now that the Vandals have rejoined the Big Sky Conference, they may go back to winning conference championships, as the team snagged eight league titles between 1963-1995 during their time as charter members of the Big Sky Conference. The all-time record for the Vandals is 463-611-27.

University of Memphis View School Profile Memphis, TN

The University of Memphis started a football program in 1912, but the Tigers remained independent until 1968 when they joined the Missouri Valley Conference, which they won three times before going back to their independent status in 1973. In 1996, the Tigers became members of Conference USA, and in 2013 they became members of the American Athletic Conference.

The Tigers have won four out of ten bowl games, most recently defeating Brigham Young University in 2014 at the Miami Beach Bowl. The Tigers have an overall record of 455-507-33.

University of New Mexico View School Profile Albuquerque, NM

Founded in 1889, The University of New Mexico in Albuquerque sits on 600 acres in the heart of the city. The football tradition began three years later, but The University of New Mexico Lobos did not consistently take the field until 1911. The Lobos were independent until 1931 when the team joined the Border Intercollegiate Athletic Association, which they went on to win in 1938. When they joined the Western Athletic Conference in 1962, the Lobos dominated with consecutive conference titles from 1962-1964.

Currently members of the Mountain West Conference, the Lobos have failed to win a conference championship since 1964. With an all-time record of 483-590-31, the Lobos continue to struggle to bring in fans.

Florida Atlantic University View School Profile Boca Raton, FL

Florida Atlantic University sits near the Atlantic Ocean on a 850-acre campus halfway between Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach. Founded in 1961, FAU offers 170 undergraduate and graduate program at its main and affiliate campuses.

The FAU Owl football team did not play its first season until 2001. First a member of the Sunbelt Conference and now in Conference USA, the Owls won the Sunbelt co-championship in 2007 (with Troy University) and a Conference USA title in 2017. The Owls also won the New Orleans Bowl in 2007, the Motor City Bowl in 2008, and the Boca Raton Bowl in 2017. However, the overall record for the FAU Owls is 87-112, revealing the team's inconsistencies throughout its short history. In fifteen years, the Owls have four winning seasons and one even-record season.

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