Look, most of us have been Kansas fans for a long time. Most of the time, we have not seen a very good product on the gridiron. Sure, we've had our moments - 2007 will live on forever in my mind, that
home game at Arrowhead notwithstanding.
You think things have been bad lately? Honestly, you have no idea. In fact, according to the metric(*) I'll be using, 2014 only ranks as the 16th-worst season in KU history, while 2013 ranks 11th, 2012 ranks 17th, 2011 ranks 27th, and 2010 ranks 10th. So yeah, the last four years have been bad - awful even - but not necessarily historically bad.
(*) - Per Matt Brown at SB Nation: The best tools for comparing teams don't always go back far enough, so I looked at three different data points.
- The SRS. On Sports-Reference, each team is given an SRS ranking, or Simple Ranking System. From SR: "The rating is denominated in points above/below average, where zero is average, although it should be noted that margin of victory has been assigned a lower bound of 7 points and an upper bound of 24 points". Teams with large negative rankings are substantially below average. More details on the ranking can be found here.
- The Sagarin Ranking. Sagarin's numbers, which go back to 1998 on the USA TODAY site, are a widely adopted computer ranking system that used to be part of the BCS. It's not perfect, but it's also one of the few ranking systems that includes both FBS and FCS teams, which can provide useful context when we're looking at terrible FBS programs.
- F/+ rankings. Perhaps the most popular advanced stat in recent memory, F/+, from Football Outsiders, looks at efficiency stats and goes beyond wins, losses, and total yards. These rankings go back the 2005 season.
In its history (well, since 1901), KU only has one winless season. (Actually, the Jayhawks were quite good in the late 1890s. But we're only considering seasons after 1900.) The Jayhawks have won only one game six times, and won only two games 14 times. 9+ win seasons you can count on one hand (5) - and one of those was in 1905. With all those fun statistics in mind, let's take a look at the six worst KU football teams of all time.
6.1986, 3-8 (0-8 Big 8), -10.65 SRS
Coached by Bob Valesente in his first year at Kansas, these Jayhawks started off 3-1, beating
powers such as Utah State, Indiana State, and Southern Illinois before going winless in conference play. Led by guys like Mike Orth (QB), Arnold Snell (RB), the '86 'Hawks finished 104th of 105 teams in points per game (10.2), and 92nd of 105 in points allowed per game (29.7). KU was shut out three times (North Carolina, Nebraska, Missouruh) and allowed 40+ points three times (Oklahoma 64, Nebraska 70, Missouruh 48).
5.1942, 2-8 (1-5 Big 6), -12.15 SRS
Coached by Gwinn Henry in what would be his final season at KU, these Jayhawks started 0-5 before picking up their first win of the season over Kansas State. KU would later defeat Washington (MO) that season as well. The first game of the year was a 61-0 debacle in Lawrence at the hands of Iowa Navy Pre-Flight (which would become quite the national power in its three years of existence). These 'Hawks only scored 7.7 points per game (108th of 121) while allowing 24.8 points per game (117th of 121). KU was shut out four times that year (Iowa Navy, Marquette, Denver, Oklahoma).
4.1987, 1-9-1 (0-7-1 Big 8), -13.22 SRS
Coach Bob Valesente's second (and final) year at the helm of the Jayhawks went worse than his first. After picking up a win in the fourth game of the season, a 16-15 barn burner vs Southern Illinois, the hapless Jayhawks continued onward toward what would become known as the Toilet Bowl vs K-State. The Jayhawks blocked a field goal at the end of the game to preserve a 17-17 tie, and both teams went on to lose their last two games. Valesente would get canned, K-State coach Stan Parrish would last only one more year, the Wildcats would then hire Bill Snyder, and the rest is history, as they say. Anyway, the '87 Jayhawks, while only getting shut out once that year, still finished 101st out of 104 in points per game (12.3) and 99th of 104 in points allowed per game (36.2). Five teams would score 40+ on the Jayhawks: Auburn (49), Nebraska (54), Iowa State (42), Oklahoma (71), and Oklahoma State (49). 1987 saw the eighth-most points allowed by any KU team, ever (398).
3.1954, 0-10 (0-6 Big 7), -14.44 SRS
The first year of the Chuck Mather regime was, well, it was KU's only winless season in school history. The Jayhawks only cracked double-digits on the scoreboard four times. The closest game was a 36-18 loss to SMU in Dallas, and the closest conference game was a 41-20 loss to Nebraska in Lawrence. KU only got shut out twice, but still finished 102nd of 111 in points per game (9.3) and dead last, 111th of 111, in points allowed per game (37.7). 1954 saw the 12th most points allowed by any KU team, ever (377).
2. 2002, 2-10 (0-8 Big 12), -14.87 SRS, #132 Sagarin
Mark Mangino's first year at the helm of the Jayhawks saw a team that played hard but just didn't have much to work with. KU handled Missouri State and home and knocked off a bad Tulsa team (-18.44 SRS, #166 Sagarin) on the road for their only two wins. Although Mangino did find some pieces to work with in Bill Whittemore, Clark Green, and Mark Simmons that he would use to take KU to a bowl the very next year (2003), don't fool yourself, this team was bad. The defense gave up 30+ points in every game but one, and gave up 40+ in six games. The Jayhawks were only shut out once, at home vs K-State, when
the honorable Bill Snyder put his first team defense back in the game after KU finally crossed midfield late in the fourth quarter. Kansas finished 96th of 117 teams in points per game (20.7) and 115th of 117 in points allowed (42.2). 2002 saw the second-most points allowed of any KU team, ever (507).
1. 1988, 1-10 (1-7 Big 8), -15.45 SRS
The cupboard was pretty bare for Glen Mason in his first season in Lawrence, and that would show in not only the metric we used but also on the scoreboard. The Jayhawks only won once (K-State) and allowed 40+ points in 8 of 11 games. Baylor, Colorado, and K-State were the only three squads that couldn't crack 40 on KU that year. Therefore, it's not surprising that Kansas finished dead last, 105th out of 105, in points allowed per game (45.1), and 90th of 105 in points per game (17.2). 1988 saw the third-most points allowed of any KU team, ever (496).
Honorable mention goes to the 1989 football team (4-7, 2-6 Big 8), who at #9 in the SRS gives the late 1980s (86, 87, 88, 89) four the top nine worst squads in school history. Although, that '89 team did knock off KState and Missouruh that year, Glen Mason's second year at KU.
Oh, and in case you were wondering - the most points allowed by any KU football team, ever? That would be the 2011 squad under Gill with 525.
Perhaps unsurprising if you think about it, three of the six seasons we looked at featured head coaches in their first year (Valesente 1986, Mangino 2002, Mason 1988). The six "worst teams in KU history" went a combined 2-3-1 versus K-State, which shows the doldrums in which the two schools have spent most of history.