Forde-Yard Dash: Where historic losing streaks go to die

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Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (“Road Warriors” T-shirts sold separately in Lawrence):

[More Dash: 4 playoff picks | Contender or pretender? | G5 teams on the rise]

SECOND QUARTER

Good things come to those who wait … and wait … and wait

Late Saturday night, John Clay of the Lexington Herald-Leader filed a story that was unlike any he had ever written before: Kentucky (11) beating Florida (12) in football.

In 1986, Clay wrote a sidebar from the Wildcats’ 10-3 win over the Gators. The following season, he began an arduous tour of duty as the UK football beat writer for the Herald-Leader. He was later promoted to columnist. Between that November day in ’86 and Saturday night, Clay had covered every single one of the Wildcats’ 31 consecutive losses to the Gators.

“I don’t think anybody in their wildest imagination thought in ’86 that Kentucky wouldn’t beat them again for 31 years,” Clay told The Dash.

In between those wins, he wrote about blowouts (73-7 in 1994 and 65-0 in ’96, when Steve Spurrier was at his sadistic peak in Gainesville). He wrote about gut-busting losses when Kentucky snatched defeat from the jaws of victory (28-27 last year, 36-30 in three overtimes in 2014). The one that stands alone: 1993, when Florida won in the final seconds because Kentucky inexplicably left Gators receiver Chris Doering wide open in the middle of the field — a game in which Spurrier’s quarterbacks threw seven interceptions.

“Seven interceptions, and you still don’t win the game,” Clay said. “That was the worst loss.”

Thoroughly conditioned to chronicle defeat when the ‘Cats meet the Gators, Clay figured this meeting would be more of the same. Kentucky had missed a great opportunity last season by the narrowest of margins, and this game was in The Swamp, and Dan Mullen had arrived to improve the Florida product.

But there was Kentucky, controlling the game, taking a 21-10 lead into the latter stages of the fourth quarter. Then Florida mounted a 99-yard drive to score, and as the Gators lined up for their two-point conversion attempt, the usual thought process began in the press box.

“You’re going through in your head, ‘OK, how are they going to lose this?’ ” Clay said.

Kentucky Wildcats wide receiver Lynn Bowden (1) celebrates with teammates during Kentucky’s win over Florida. (Getty)
Kentucky Wildcats wide receiver Lynn Bowden (1) celebrates with teammates during Kentucky’s win over Florida. (Getty)

But when Florida QB Feleipe Franks never looked at two open receivers on the conversion attempt, throwing unsuccessfully to the other side of the field instead, Clay entertained the idea that Kentucky might win.

And then it did. And then coach Mark Stoops (13) gave the game ball to offensive line coach John Schlarman (14), a father of four who is undergoing chemotherapy treatments to battle cancer — a former Wildcat himself, who had been part of four straight losses to Florida from 1994-97. And there was a lot of joy after a game that had produced nothing but misery for the previous 31 meetings.

And, at last, a different story to write.

“I thought it would come eventually,” Clay said. “I didn’t know if I’d be around to see it.”

Hoosiers, you’re on the clock

With Kentucky ending the longest active losing streak in the nation against a single opponent, the burden of being the Most Owned Team in America now falls upon Indiana (15). Times two.

The Hoosiers are 2-0 this year, but they’re also working on a pair of 22-game losing streaks: one to Ohio State and one to Michigan. Indiana hasn’t played either opponent annually, but it has played the Buckeyes the last nine seasons and the Wolverines the last five. With all three teams in the Big Ten East, they are on the schedule against one another for the foreseeable future. Here’s a look at each game:

Indiana at Ohio State, Oct. 6. Last time the Buckeyes didn’t win: 1990, when the two teams tied at 27 in Bloomington. Just four of the 22 games since then have been decided by a single score, most recently 34-27 in 2015. Biggest blowout: 44-3 in 2016. Chances of an Indiana victory this year: Exceedingly slim.

Indiana at Michigan, Nov. 17. Last time the Wolverines lost: 1987, when the Hoosiers improbably beat both Michigan and Ohio State. Since then Indiana has come within a single score of the Wolverines seven times, including the past two meetings in Bloomington — both of which went into overtime. Biggest blowout: 58-0 in 2000. Chances of an Indiana victory this year: It’s possible, if not probable. Hoosiers had great shots in 2015 and ’17, but haven’t won in Ann Arbor since 1959.

Vanderbilt (16) also has lost 22 straight to Alabama between 1985 and last year. The two don’t meet this season — unless it’s in the SEC championship game … hahaha.

Three more streaks with no end in sight

The Dash identifies three annual series that could become the next experience in endless misery for the losing side:

Rutgers-Ohio State (17). Current streak: Five wins in a row for the Buckeyes (the only five meetings between the two). The Scarlet Knights’ arrival as Big Ten cannon fodder has been especially brutal when facing Ohio State. Combined score of the five meetings: 271-27, including a 52-3 bludgeoning Saturday in Columbus. You know it’s bad when that 49-point loss is your best showing in the series in the past three meetings. You also know it’s bad when the closest you have come is a 56-17 loss in the first meeting.

Kansas-Oklahoma (18). Current streak: 13 wins in a row for the Sooners, dating back to 1997. The two have played annually since 2011. Since the end of the Oklahoma Dark Period, a five-year stretch of non-winning seasons in the mid-1990s under three different coaches, this has not been a competitive matchup. Closest game has been 15 points, and not even KU’s brief flurry of competence under Mark Mangino more than a decade ago was enough to beat the boys from Norman. The Jayhawks haven’t even reached double figures against Oklahoma since 2014.

Oregon State-Stanford (19). Current streak: eight wins in a row for the Cardinal, dating back to 2009. This is a bit of a reach, since a 1-11 Oregon State team nearly beat the Cardinal last season. But on the whole this is a series that has trended solidly in Stanford’s favor for a while now. As long as David Shaw sticks around Palo Alto and continues to recruit as successfully as he has, the Cardinal will maintain its current streak of nine straight winning seasons — and maintain its mastery of the Beavers.

Streak busted, part 2

On the same day Kentucky was beating Florida, Kansas (20) was beating somebody — anybody — on the road. Specifically, it was Central Michigan. The Jayhawks went into formidable Kelly/Shorts Stadium and, before an announced crowd of 18,127, ended a nine-year road losing streak in emphatic fashion.

Kansas’ 31-7 victory snapped an FBS-record string of 46 consecutive road losses dating back to a triumph over UTEP in 2009.

What a great day for basketball powers that are not powerful in football.

“It was very important for all of us to end that,” Kansas coach David Beaty told the Kansas City Star Saturday. “Our fans deserve better. I’m glad it’s over.”

A week after not playing in a home loss to FCS Nicholls, touted Jayhawks freshman running back Pooka Williams rushed for 125 yards and two touchdowns on just 14 carries against Central Michigan. (He might have come in handy against Nicholls.) Williams likely supplanted Kahlil Herbert — perhaps the greatest one-hit wonder in college football history, rushing for 291 yards against West Virginia last year and a total of 651 yards in the other 20 games of his career — as Kansas’ feature back.

Brimming with fresh confidence, Kansas will next attempt an actual winning streak when Rutgers visits Lawrence for a pillow fight Saturday. Last time the Jayhawks won two in a row: September 2011. There might be no stopping them now.

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