This story is part of USA TODAY Sports’ 25 days to college football countdown.
The easiest preseason projection in college football — yes, even easier than choosing Alabama to win the national championship — is picking Kansas as the worst team in the Power Five.
Since 2010, the Jayhawks have cycled through five permanent head coaches and won just six games in the Big 12. No program in the Football Bowl Subdivision, Power Five or otherwise, has been as predictably pathetic.
But there is some good news: Kansas has hired former Buffalo coach Lance Leipold, providing at least a glimmer of hope heading into what is shaping up to be another dismal regular season.
For now, the Jayhawks remain an easy choice to top a preseason list of the worst teams in the Power Five. Here are the names keeping KU company at the bottom:
Leipold has an outstanding track record across two levels of competition, most recently transforming Buffalo into the best team in the MAC and a contender for the USA TODAY Sports AFCA Coaches Poll. He’s brought in some familiar faces from his time with the Bulls, which will have the secondary benefit of helping holdovers get up to speed with the Jayhawks’ new offensive and defensive schemes. This is a multiple-year rebuilding process.
The Wildcats have the thinnest roster in the Pac-12 and the league’s smallest number of all-conference contenders. For new coach Jedd Fisch, there’s also the challenge of life in the Pac-12 South, which has four teams — Southern California, Utah, UCLA and Arizona State — capable of finding a home in the Top 25.
The trend continues: Vanderbilt has a new head coach, Clark Lea, and a plan for turning the SEC doormat into an annual bowl contender. Unlike his predecessor, Derek Mason, Lea has hit the ground running in recruiting and may eventually build the sort of roster needed to win three or more games in the nation’s nastiest conference.
Bret Bielema returns to the Big Ten, only this time at the head of a program with zero identity, almost zero track record of consistency and a roster that lags behind even the league’s muddled middle tier. In other words, this isn’t Wisconsin. However, his familiarity with the conference and ability to recruit the area gives Illinois a shot at rising up the East division ladder. In other words, this isn’t Arkansas, either.
Take out Syracuse’s terrific 2018 season — the Orange went 10-3 and were the only real threat to Clemson — and Dino Babers is 14-33 overall and 5-27 in the ACC. Surrounded by four seasons of seriously poor results, that one breakthrough looks far more like the exception than the rule. This year’s team is one giant step from being competitive for a bowl bid in the ACC.
The opener against Oregon State could tell the story of Purdue’s season. With winnable games against Connecticut and Illinois in September — along with an almost certain loss at Notre Dame — a win against the Beavers could set the tone for a 3-1 opening month before hosting Minnesota to begin October. The schedule is pretty rough from there: at Iowa, vs. Wisconsin, at Nebraska, vs. Michigan State, at Ohio State, vs. Northwestern (in Chicago) and vs. Indiana.
David Cutcliffe’s program always has the capacity to surprise, and a non-conference slate of Charlotte, North Carolina A&T, Northwestern and Kansas gives the Blue Devils a shot at building some momentum heading into ACC play. But there’s also no proven option at quarterback, where Duke is breaking in its third starter in as many years, and a distinct lack of experience compared to the rest of the conference.
Much like Kansas, the Gamecocks are hinging their hopes of SEC contention on a first-year coach, Shane Beamer, who brings along great energy, terrific success as a recruiter and the tricks of the trade learned during stints as an assistant under some of the biggest names in the past 30 years of college football. It won’t be an overnight fix.
In a bizarre switch, the Red Raiders head into 2021 feeling secure in the makeup of the defense but somewhat concerned over the state of the offense. Yes, the defense looks solid: Tech returns eight starters and adds at least three Power Five transfers with the potential to contribute from the start. But the offense needs to pick up the pace to lift this team into the top half of the Big 12.
Michigan State and Maryland
With Rutgers surging under Greg Schiano, one of these teams is destined to finish last in a brutal Big Ten East division. Both should be underdogs in more games than not but both also are capable of an upset or two, especially given Maryland coach Mike Locksley’s success on offense and the influx of talent reeled in by Michigan State coach Mel Tucker via the transfer portal.
Follow colleges reporter Paul Myerberg on Twitter @PaulMyerberg
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College football: Kansas, Arizona among 10 worst teams in Power Five