Saturday, September 14, 2013

Football Programs

I had the impression that a somewhat different collection of colleges were football powerhouses in the 1950's but that things had been pretty stable since 1965 or so, when I first started paying attention.  This turned out to be nearly true.  The changeover occurs pretty early in the 1950's. A few now-unfamiliar programs hang on a bit longer, and after 1960 the same names recur year after year.

It was in the 1940's that Duquesne, Fordham, and St Mary's all had a run at not only the top 20 but the top 5, and various wartime training bases fielded teams that were highly ranked.   Notre Dame, Michigan, and Oklahoma were already making yearly appearances high in the rankings, but there were still Ivy League schools, especially Princeton, in the mix in the 1940's. (The last Ivy to make it to the top 20 was Dartmouth in 1970. I should remember something about that, as I was a football fan and attending the high school that was nicknamed the Little Green in deference to Dartmouth's Big Green. But it was a complete surprise to me.  College football ceased being that big a deal in the northeast long ago*.  We are mildly happy about Boston College playing with the big boys and sending people to the NFL.) Army and Navy hung on through the 50's, gradually fading. Syracuse and Maryland still get themselves a top team once in a while, but not like the old days.

Since 1960, Michigan and Nebraska have been in the final Top 20 forty times each, Ohio State and Alabama 38 times, or more than 70% of the time.  I was surprised Texas and Notre Dame weren't next, but not shocked to see Penn State in at 36.

6. Oklahoma 33
7. USC 33
8. Texas 32, and then a mild drop-off to 28 times for Florida State, ND, and Georgia.
11. Florida at 27 and then we're already down below 50%.

After that there's some ebb and flow, but the only interest for me was seeing schools clearly making a conscious decision to start spending lots more money and compete, and see them climb up over the years: First Miami, then Va Tech and BYU, most recently Boise State.

The schools are nearly all those that are named after states and then farther down, parts of states (USC) or cities (Auburn, Syracuse, Houston.)  Lots of colleges in America are named after individuals, but those don't tend to be football colleges.  The notable exceptions would be Notre Dame, BYU, Stanford. William & Mary, not so much.  Being named after two people - see also Washington & Lee, Franklin & Marshall - doesn't seem to inspire schools to athletic greatness.

*Announcer Dan Dierdorf repeatedly explained to the fans after a young receiver was declared out-of-bounds that you needed to get two feet down in the NFL, not like in college, where one is enough.  "It's a two-foot-down league!  Both feet have to be in bounds!" As this was the New England-Buffalo game, these were the precise people in the country for whom this information was least necessary.  It is more likely that we will be surprised that it is different in college.  But I see that Dan went to Michigan, so that explains it.


Luke Lea said...

Around 1900 a tiny liberal arts college in Tennessee, Sewanee, was one of the football powers. Don't ask me how, or why. I only know that one of my lateral relations was the water boy -- and was proud of it!

Luke Lea said...
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