Louisiana-Monroe in danger of dubious achievement, even by 2020 standards
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USA TODAY Sports’ Paul Myerberg breaks down the latest Amway Coaches Poll.

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While Louisiana-Monroe has not been immune to the coronavirus-caused disruptions that have impacted schedules for nearly every team in the Football Bowl Subdivision — the program had one game canceled and another postponed in November — the Warhawks have managed to play nine games this season at 60 minutes a pop, with no overtimes or extra snaps needed, for a total of 540 minutes during this challenging year.

There’s been a close game and many not-close games, somewhat competitive games and very noncompetitive games, but every game has ended the same. At home and away, across nine games and counting, the Warhawks play and lose.

“In terms of our progression, I think in terms of the injuries we’ve had and the kids that have opted out, I think we haven’t really had consistency in terms of getting better each week,” said coach Matt Viator.

Louisiana-Monroe has two games remaining: against Arkansas State this Saturday, in the rescheduled meeting of that game postponed last month, and against Troy on Dec. 17 to end the regular season.

There’s some pride at stake, along with opportunities to develop a sense of momentum heading into winter conditioning and snap a losing streak that dates to the end of last season. (Finding any way to incentivize seemingly meaningless games is one of the hallmarks of the regular season’s home stretch.)  

The Warhawks also will have the chance to avoid becoming a footnote in college football history. While winless seasons aren’t necessarily uncommon — there have been more winless (19) than unbeaten (18) seasons in the FBS since 2000, in fact — ULM is in danger of accomplishing a dubious achievement: playing an entire season without leading in any game.

The Warhawks have been tied for 53 minutes and 56 seconds of the 540 minutes played. The longest non-losing stretch for Louisiana-Monroe came in the season opener against Army, an eventual 37-7 loss, which remained scoreless for the game’s first 10 minutes and 33 seconds. Appalachian State’s 31-13 win on Oct. 31 was scoreless for 9 minutes and 48 seconds. The Warhawks’ 31-6 loss to Texas-El Paso on Sept. 26 was scoreless for the game’s first 7 minutes and 20 seconds.

The deepest into a game ULM has been tied came Sept. 19 against Texas State, which was even at 7 with 44 seconds left in the first quarter. Three times this season ULM has fallen behind for good in the game’s first four minutes: against Georgia Southern on Oct. 3, Georgia State on Nov. 7 and Louisiana-Lafayette this past Saturday. ULM has been outscored 129-31 in the first quarter and 246-79 in the first half.

“I mean, you look up and we’re at least 14 down early in the game,” Viator said. “And then we battle back.”

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That leaves 486 minutes and 4 seconds when the Warhawks have been behind, or roughly 90 percent of the nine games.  

In all, ULM has scored more than 20 points twice and lost by fewer than 18 points just once. Three opponents have held the Warhawks to single digits. Saturday’s 70-20 defeat to Louisiana-Lafayette was the largest margin of defeat in the rivalry’s history.

There are several teams in contention for being seen as the worst in the sport’s modern era, according to Jeremy Swick, the historian at the College Football Hall of Fame.

►Virginia Tech in 1950 was outscored 430-72 and lost every game by a double-digit margin.

►In 1955, Alabama went 0-10 and scored only 48 points in the program’s lone winless season since the 19th century. The Crimson Tide’s primary quarterback, Bart Starr, finished with one touchdown against nine interceptions as a senior.

►Northwestern in 1981 finished last in the FBS in points scored and allowed per game, losing two games by 64 points and another by 52. (After losing to Michigan State 61-14 on Nov. 7 in the Wildcats’ 29th straight defeat, Northwestern students stormed the field, tore down the goalposts and chanted, “We’re the worst! We’re the worst!”)

►Kent State went 0-11 in 1989, completed just 44.3% of its pass attempts and lost seven games by 20 or more points. Almost a decade later, the 1998 Golden Flashes also went 0-11, were outscored by more than 300 points and allowed more than 310 rushing yards per game.

If the Warhawks’ trend continues in the final two games, Louisiana-Monroe would become the first team since at least 1999 to go an entire season without holding a lead. (There have been 22 winless teams since the 1999 season.)

The frequency of winless records had declined as the ability to schedule an additional regular-season game gave teams the opportunity to arrange more guaranteed wins against opponents from lower divisions of competition. There were 13 winless seasons from 2000-2009 and just six since.

However, this year’s widespread removal of non-conference play and the rocky offseason has left an increased number of struggling teams and created this strange dynamic: Even while headed for an unwelcome distinction, ULM may not be the worst among the 127-team FBS.

Thirteen teams are winless across three or more games played. Three of those teams — Akron, Bowling Green and Massachusetts — have not led, but each has only played four games. The Warhawks are being outscored by an average of 25.1 points per game; Akron has been outscored by an average of 31.1. The Minutemen have notched one touchdown, one field goal and one safety across four games. 

Kansas, the current benchmark for college football futility, has been outscored in Big 12 play by an average of 36.3 points per game and ranks no higher than 67th nationally in any single offensive or defensive statistical category measured by the NCAA.

ULM won six games under Viator in 2018 and came within a one-point loss to Louisiana-Lafayette in last year’s finale of reaching bowl eligibility in back-to-back years for just the second time since transitioning into the FBS in 1994. Before being hired in 2015, Viator went 78-33 at McNeese State with four appearances in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.

And several mitigating factors may have contributed to this season’s downturn. Defensive coordinator Mike Collins resigned less than two weeks before the opener. More than a dozen players have left the program since the end of spring practice, several as coronavirus-related opt-outs. Like many FBS programs, ULM has twice needed to shut down all team activities due to COVID-19.

“It’s been like that for other people. I’m not making excuses,” Viator said. “Losing’s tough. It’s tough on everybody.”

Follow USA TODAY Sports colleges reporter Paul Myerberg on Twitter @PaulMyerberg

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