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The Worst College Football Game In The Worst College Football Town

Alabama vs. Auburn, Florida vs. Florida State, Michigan vs. Ohio State. Those are the types of college football rivalries from which sports legends are made. This weekend on the northern tip of Manhattan in New York City (known for having the lowest percentage of college football fans in the nation), a different type of history will be produced. The 0-8 Cornell Big Red will visit the 0-8 Columbia Lions. It’s a game sure to be memorable not because the two teams are so good, but because both of them are so bad.

I’m a Columbia Lions football fan. I listen to their games on WKCR-FM. I’m attending Saturday’s game against Cornell. I went to every home game from 1994 to 2000, and I treasure an autographed photo with then-Lions and later NFL star Marcellus Wiley.

But Columbia enters the game with statistics that resemble those of a peewee football team dropped into the NFL. Columbia has scored more than seven points in only one game this season. Last week against Harvard, the Lions suffered the ultimate embarrassment: getting shut out 45-0.

The away team hasn’t been much better. Only against Princeton has Cornell put up more than 16 points in a game, and the Big Red still managed to score fewer points in that game, 27, than Columbia’s highest point total this year (28). Last week, Cornell went down 42-7 against Dartmouth, and that wasn’t even their worst defeat of the season so far.

Not surprisingly, of the 121 teams in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS, formerly known as Division I-AA) for which the NCAA provides statistics, Columbia is dead last in offensive points per game at 8.6. Cornell is not far behind, at No. 113, scoring only 12.9 points per game. In point differential (points scored minus points allowed), Columbia ranks No. 118 with -31.2. Cornell is ranked No. 114 with -21.5.

The wretchedness goes beyond the scoreboard, though. In each facet of the game, these two teams have been exceptionally awful.

  • The Lions rank last in the FCS with 51.3 rushing yards per game (YPG). Cornell comes in at No. 117 with 88 YPG.
  • When it comes to passing, Columbia and Cornell are deceptively bad. Columbia has passed for 221.6 YPG (good for a rank of No. 52), while Cornell has passed for 179.3 YPG (good for No. 88). Of course, both teams have almost always been behind, so they have to pass in an effort to catch up. Passer efficiency, which takes into account pass attempts, completions, interceptions, touchdowns and yards, places Columbia No. 120 out of 121 and Cornell just slightly better at No. 103.
  • The defenses aren’t much better. Columbia has given up 273.8 YPG on the ground (No. 120). Cornell has done better, at 189.1 YPG, but that still ranks only 84th. In passing defense, Columbia ranks No. 100 with 246.9 YPG, and Cornell lags at No. 106 with 262 YPG. In passer efficiency defense, Columbia comes in at No. 100 and Cornell at No. 118.
  • Finally, there’s special teams. Both teams have made only two field goals all year, and both of those came in the same game for each team. Columbia and Cornell rank No. 111 and No. 112, respectively, with just 16.96 and 16.91 yards per kickoff return. In yards per punt return, Columbia ranks No. 75 with 6.80, and Cornell ranks a pathetic No. 118 with just 2.29.

All hope is not lost, however. The two teams excel in one notable category: punting. Columbia has punted an amazingly high 7.25 times per game, and Cornell has done so 6.63 times per game. Those are good enough to rank No. 6 and No. 16, respectively! And perhaps because they have gotten so much practice, Columbia has averaged 34.83 yards per punt, and Cornell 36.34. Those averages rank in the top half of the FCS, at Nos. 60 and 25.

So, if you live in the New York metro area, are a big fan of punting and want to see two teams that cannot score or stop anyone else from scoring, you’re in luck. It’s sure to be a riveting affair in a city that just doesn’t care.

Harry Enten is a senior political writer and analyst for FiveThirtyEight.

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