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January 10, 2008

SCS.comThe nominees sit anxiously at their practice facilities, awaiting the news.

They know it could be them.

They just hope itís not. Could they be the team that earned the honor of SouthernCollegeSports.comís Worst Team award?

The tension is close to that of Selection Sunday for a bubble team. Now, for some details on this unknown award. First, the team has to come from one of the six ďBCSĒ conferences. Itís always fun to make fun of North Carolina Central (1-19) or New Jersey Technical Institute (0-17), but that just seems cruel.

Besides hailing from a power conference, the team must show a consistent trend of losing in embarrassing fashion, often to inferior opponents.

Time to meet the nominees. Some teams listed may surprise you because of past success, but other teams can never seem to avoid lists such as these.

The Candidates

Iowa (6-8, 0-2)

Todd Lickliter walked into a bleak situation after bolting from Butler for the Big 10. Back at his old school, he left behind a program in fantastic shape, but at his new home, things arenít so great. The Hawkeyes actually won their first four games, before dropping four straight games, including a loss to Louisiana-Monroe (Nick Saban can relate).

Both Iowa State and Drake dispatched of their in-state rivals, but at least Iowa did beat Northern Iowa.

Why this team is worthy: Iowa has played a lot of teams similar to it, and canít beat any of them. Louisiana-Monroe is an embarrassing loss.

Why this team isnít worthy: Lickliter has absolutely nothing to work with but has somehow avoided a complete meltdown. Without any talent, the Hawkeyes have still not been blown out in any game this season, and even put up a fight against Indiana and Wisconsin.

Kentucky (6-7, 0-0)

Surely this canít be the Kentucky, right? Not the same Kentucky with seven National Championships in its history? Not Adolph Ruppís Kentucky, or Rick Pitinoís Kentucky, or even Tubby Smithís Kentucky?

Actually, itís Billy Gillispieís Kentucky and itís been about as bad of an inaugural year as a coach could have. Inheriting the bulk of the players from last yearís NCAA tournament squad, the Wildcats have been nothing short atrocious. Gardner-Webb was supposed to be an anomaly. Two losses against Indiana and North Carolina had some fans groaning. A loss to UAB after leading much of the game had fans looking back to that Gardner-Webb game in early November. Then, a blowout on the road at Houston and a baffling loss to San Diego put Gillispie officially on the fansí hot seat.

And I didnít even mention the loss to arch-rival Louisville.

Why this team are worthy: Maybe you think Iím being unfair associating Kentucky with these other teams. In reality, the San Diego and Gardner-Webb losses are as bad as any other loss in this column.

Why this team is not worthy: Losses to Indiana and North Carolina are obviously understandable. Even UAB, Houston, and Louisville are not horrible losses.

Louisiana State (7-7, 0-0)

To be fair to LSU, this team has suffered several critical injuries, including one to forward Tasmin Mitchell. Still, everything has been a struggle this season for the Tigers. A win over lowly McNeese State was only by four points. The Maui Invitational proved to be a disaster, with a loss to a sub par Oklahoma State team, an ugly win over Division II Chaminade, and a loss to Arizona State. It got worse, however, when the Tigers blew a gigantic second half lead in a loss to Villanova, got run out of the building by a mediocre Wichita State team, and fell to Tulane on the road.

Why this team is worthy: The way LSU has lost (and even won, in some cases) is the key here. Huge lead squandered against Villanova. Blown out by 8-6 Wichita State? Tulane?

Why this team is not worthy: The injuries provide somewhat of an excuse for head coach John Brady. Also, LSU at least competed with some major conference teams, even though teams like Oklahoma State and Arizona State are far from powers in their respective conferences.

Michigan (4-10, 0-2)

You just have to feel for John Beilein right now. He did win his first two games at Michigan against Radford and Brown, but thatís been the highlight of the season so far. Losing to former Wolverinesí coach Tommy Amakerís Harvard team didnít please Michigan fans, and neither did a home loss to Central Michigan.

Given time, Beilein will surely rebuild this program. But right now, Michigan is taking a real beating, especially from some of the nationís better teams. Georgetown, Butler, Boston College, Duke, UCLA, and Wisconsin have all beaten the Wolverines by double digits. At 4-10, Michigan has the worst record of all the candidates.

Why this team is worthy: Losing to Havard is bad enough. Losing to Tommy Amakerís team is about as bad as it gets.

Why this team isnít worthy: Michiganís schedule has been brutal. Had they been playing weaker competition, their record would likely be much improved.

Northwestern (5-6, 0-2)

Forty-two point losses, even to formidable opponents, are always humiliating. So just because Virginia was the team that dealt Northwestern a 94-52 loss doesnít mean the game is any less embarrassing. What stands out on the Wildcatsí schedule is the loss to Brown. What is it with Ivy League opponents and the Big 10? First, Harvard beats Michigan, now Brown beats Northwestern. Canít wait to see who finishes last in the Big 10 - Northwestern, Iowa, or Michigan. The race will really come down to the wire.

Why this team is worthy: It doesnít get much worse than losing to Brown.

Why this team is not worthy: Brown is the only bad loss, and Northwestern has taken care of business against all other inferior opponents.

Oregon State (6-8, 0-2)

The season began with promise. Until the games began. Then, the Beavers promptly lost two straight in the Top of the World Classic to open their season. The first loss came at the hands of Colorado State, which is not at all embarrassing considering Oregon Stateís next loss. Somehow, Division II Alaska-Fairbanks, the host of the tournament and the Top of the World Classicís version of Chaminade, edged the Beavers by two points in a thrilling finish. Except there was no Ralph Sampson to be found on Oregon Stateís roster.

The struggles did not end there. Oregon State was blown out by Tennessee Tech, whose loss to North Carolina Centralís gave them their lone win. Montana State got in on the fun as well with a one point victory.

Why this team is worthy: The Alaska-Fairbanks loss was really a resume builder for this award. That, coupled with Tennessee Tech, really boosts the Beaversí chances here.

Why this team isnít worthy: The Beavers actually battled Arizona for the better part of the game last week. Plus, they completed a recent 8 game stretch with a 6-2 mark (before losing four straight, of course).

Rutgers (8-7, 0-2)

Look, itís a winning record! Of course, Rutgersí 8-7 record can be attributed to playing some of the worst teams Division I has to offer. Wins over Tennessee Tech, North Carolina Central, Dartmouth, Princeton, and New Jersey Technical Institute are nothing to brag about.

At least the Scarlet Knights have won some games. The only problem is both St. Peterís and Rider handed Rutgers losses early on. Good thing it loaded up on weak opponents early, because the Scarlet Knights probably will not win more than one or two Big East games.

The Final Verdict:

Iím sure youíve all been waiting for this: Who is the worst major conference team in the nation? is proud to present its Worst Team award, and it goes to:

Oregon State Beavers

Congratulations, Oregon State. Youíre worse than any other team in the Pac-10, Big 10, Big East, Big 12, ACC, and SEC. How did I come to this conclusion? With the criteria for the award being, and I quote, ďthe team must show a consistent trend of losing in embarrassing fashion, often to inferior opponents,Ē the Beavers did exactly that. Alaska-Fairbanks, Tennessee Tech, and Montana State can be thanked for Oregon Stateís newest award. Winning zero Pac-10 games is not out of the question here. This may be the only award head coach Jay John has ever won at Oregon State. And itís probably the last one he ever wins.

LSU fits the ďlosing in embarrassing fashionĒ condition, so the Tigers, after reaching the Final Four two seasons ago, finished in second place. Surprisingly, the Kentucky Wildcats finished in third, and not just because of their storied history and fall from grace. Itís because of Gardner-Webb and San Diego, because of the blown lead against UAB, because of the blowout at the hands of Houston, and because of the overall humiliation this team has brought its fan base.

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