[NOTE: Just to be clear, you should vote for the team you think was WORSE. We're trying to figure out the worst of the worst. Better team gets to go home. Worse team has to stay and keep playing.]
(11) 2017 Nebraska Cornhuskers 4-8/3-6 vs. (6) 2004 Illinois Fighting Illini 3-8/1-7 (2-8 vs. FBS)NEBRASKA
The Huskers started off 3-2/2-0, but wins over Rutgers and Illinois weren’t fooling anybody, not when one of the L’s was at home to N. Illinois. This was no auto-bid, the Huskers earned their way into the tournament.
Why they were better than you think: Four wins is four wins. It’s more than most teams here can brag about. Included was a win over bowl-bound Purdue. Additionally, they showed some moxie by coming from 21 down @ Oregon to only lose by 7 in a tough road environment.
Why they were worse than you imagine: Any moxie had dissipated by their 0-4 November. Surrendering 166 points in your last three games is a sure sign that you’re a pretty bad team, and perhaps under-seeded at 11. If the late season Huskers show up, there could be a
Cinderella ugly stepsister run coming.
When your school gets nine bids, it’s hard to distinguish each entrant, but know this: 2004 Illinois was bad. Subtract the win over Florida A&M, and you’re talking a 30-27 fourth quarter comeback win over a Western Michigan team destined to finish 1-10, and a 26-22 fourth quarter comeback win over fellow entrant 2004 Indiana.
Why they were better than you think: They spotted Indiana a 19-0 lead before outscoring them 26-3 the rest of the way. So, against the level of competition they’ll face here, they have already shown the ability to shine, occasionally.
Why they were worse than you imagine: Did you miss the part where you were told they needed a TD with 1:02 to play to win a home game against the last place team in the MAC? The 45-0 loss @ Minnesota (who went 7-5) is further evidence that this squad is just as capable of not showing up as anybody else in the field
(10) 2000 Indiana Hoosiers 3-8/2-6 vs. (7) 2013 Illinois 4-8/1-7 (3-8 vs. FBS)INDIANA
Averaging 30.6 ppg, this is the most prolific offense in the field. Since they’re in the field, though, that must mean their defense was total trash. It was. If you surrender 40+ points in 8 of 11 games, you can hang with anybody else’s worst.
Why they were better than you think: 45-33 over Iowa; 51-43 @ #22 Minnesota. The Hoosiers also scored 33+ four times in losses, and were only held under 20 points twice. Between Antwaan Randle El and Levron Williams, you’ve got the makings of a 10-win offense.
Why they were worse than you imagine: We already touched on the defense. Take away the 42-6 win over Cincinnati, and they gave up 42.1 ppg. As it was, they were 114th of 116 teams in scoring D. Additionally, Randle El was 10:14 in TD:INT, so if there’s a defense in this field that can stop the Hoosier run game (not a sure thing, of course), then this Indiana squad is helpless, as evidenced by the 58-0 loss to MichiganILLINOIS
Averaging 29.7 ppg, this is also one of the most prolific offenses in the field. Nathan Scheelhaase’s stellar senior campaign saw the Illini break 30 points on seven different occasions (if you include the game against FCS Southern Illinois). They have the firepower to keep up with Indiana...and the defense to lose a 63-42 shootout.
Why they were better than you think: Like their opponent, they also beat a bowl-bound Cincinnati team. They also hung tough with a ranked Washington squad in Soldier Field. Maybe Ohio State was just bored, but Illinois also put up 35 on the #3 Buckeyes, and only trailed 47-35 midway through the 4th quarter.
Why they were worse than you imagine: They went 1-7 in Big Ten play and the victory was over 1-seed 2013 Purdue. You never turn down a road win, but, against one of the very worst teams in this field, the Illini were tied entering the 4th quarter. If Illinois was too good to belong in this field, they could’ve proven it against fellow entrant 2013 Northwestern in the season finale. Instead, the Wildcats--who entered the game winless in conference play—overcame a 4th quarter deficit to notch the road win. THAT is how you clinch a spot in the field, Illini.
(12) 2006 Northwestern Wildcats 4-8/2-6 (4-7 vs. FBS) vs. (5) 2008 Indiana 3-9/1-7 (2-9 vs. FBS)NORTHWESTERN
One of the Last Four In, Pat Fitzgerald’s inaugural squad both started and finished with 2-1 bursts of competence. However, that means they went 0-6 in the middle half. And, if you looked carefully at their record, you know something awful lurks behind that "merely mediocre" façade.
Why they were better than you think: A 21-7 win @ (bowl-bound) Iowa in November suggests a team that was finding its stride. A defense that only allowed 26.2 ppg in a strong year for the conference (this is the year when Michigan and OSU both started 11-0) means that the Wildcats may be too good to stick around for long.
Why they were worse than you imagine: Let’s start with the 34-17 home loss to FCS New Hampshire. Yes, UNH was a very good FCS team, but still, what are you, 2007 Michigan? Come on. And let’s talk about that six game losing streak, shall we? How bad does it have to be that being held to 10 points or less four times in five games is NOT the most embarrassing part? That’s right. THIS was the team that blew a 38-3 lead to a Michigan State squad that was winless against the rest of the Big Ten. If you can do that against somebody else in this field, you can make a run here, 12-seed or not.INDIANA
This is not Antwaan Randle El’s Hoosiers. Take away the 45-3 win over FCS Murray State and you have a team that averaged 18.3 ppg. Indiana just missed a first-round bye, but, make no mistake, this was a bad team.
Why they were better than you think: Furthering the 12-5 upset possibilities is the fact that this Hoosier squad already boasts a win over a much better Northwestern team. Yes, 2008 NW went 9-2 in their other regular season games, yet, somehow this bunch of Hoosiers was able to notch that signature win.
Why they were worse than you imagine: The upset over NW was their only conference win. Among seven losses were defeats by 27, 32, 35, 36, and 52 points. They allowed 47 ppg in their 0-4 November run, and that includes a home loss to Central Michigan. While the 62-10 loss to Purdue was to a hyped-up Boilermaker squad in Joe Tiller’s final game, ANY 52 point loss to a 3-8 opponent is sufficient to demonstrate that you have the makings of a contender in this bracket.
(9) 2013 Northwestern 5-7/1-7 (4-7 vs. FBS) vs. (8) 2015 Rutgers Scarlet Knights 4-8/1-7 (3-8 vs. FBS)
Here is the aforementioned 2013 Wildcat squad. Certainly one of the biggest roller coaster rides of any team in the field. 4-0 and a 4th quarter lead against #4 Ohio State. Did any other team in this field hit such a high? But here they are.
Why they were better than you think: Plenty of bad luck, including with injuries. The quick start was no fluke, and the 5-7 performance is the best record of any at-large team. That Northwestern was only outscored by 11 for the whole season tells you that they were capable of better play than most anybody else here.
Why they were worse than you imagine: The only conference win was against fellow entrant 2013 Illinois. The 4-0 start included a win over FBS Maine, and two wins over teams that finished 1-11 (California and Western Michigan). That leaves a win over a 7-6 Syracuse squad to crow about. When you scratch beneath the surface, maybe this team lived off of 2012 in September and was never really that good. If so, this is just the place for them.
The Kyle Flood era looks good in retrospect, but don’t let that fool you. His final team earned its spot here. Much like their opponent, Rutgers’s wins amount to much less than meets the eye, and include FBS Norfolk State, a 2-10 Army squad, and a 0-12 Kansas team. On the wrong day, this team could out-suck the 1-seeded 2003 Illini. But first, they have to get past Northwestern.
Why they were better than you think: The win I didn’t mention was a 55-52 shootout over Indiana, where the Scarlet Knights overcame a 52-27 deficit. And this was a bowl-bound Indiana team. Add in a 46-41 loss to fellow entrant, 2015 Maryland, and Rutgers is at least more entertaining than the majority of teams in the field.
Why they were worse than you imagine: Defenses no better than 2013 NW shut this team down as five times Rutgers was held to 16 points or less. And five Big Ten opponents hung 46 or more on the Scarlet Knights…including fellow entrant, 2015 Maryland. If you surrender 46 at home to somebody else in the field, it’s not a fluke that you’re here.
[ed. note: we're working on front-paging these permanently and adding more polls -- I guess vote in this one and then talk about how bad these teams were? Sorry to KOBNR for the inconvenience, and thanks to him for the awesome idea! --MNW]