Four years ago I wrote in Pigskin Warriors that my alma mater USC was the all-time greatest college football program. Not any more. I freely state that Alabama has now passed USC and Notre Dame as the all-time best collegiate football tradition.
Bear Bryant’s integration of his program created a tidal wave of minority athletes. Alabama initially dominated until the rest of Dixie caught up. In the 1980s and beyond, Auburn, Tennessee, LSU, Florida, Florida State and the Southwest Conference integrated fully. They were better off for it, on and off the field. The result was a downgrading of Western collegiate sports success. It was the Western schools that had traditionally benefited the most from segregation. They had great black athletes in their own regions. Western and Northern schools “cherry picked” black superstars like Clarence Davis from Alabama and Bubba Smith from Texas. Now, not only were they less likely to get Southern blacks, they were actually losing some. A blue chip African-American high school kid in California, in Arizona, in Michigan, might just as easily decide to play at Miami, LSU or Tennessee.
Bowl games Teams that have won national championships since World War I (1919-2006)
1. Alabama 54
2. Texas 46
3. Southern California 45
3. Tennessee 45
5. Nebraska 44
6. Oklahoma 40
6. Georgia 40
8. Penn State 39
9. Ohio State 38
9. Michigan 38
9. Louisiana State 38
12. Florida State 36
13. Arkansas 35
14. Florida 34
15. Miami 33
15. Georgia Tech 33
15. Auburn 33
18. Mississippi 31 (through 2004)
19. Washington 30
20. UCLA 28
20. Clemson 28 (through 2004)
20. Texas A&M 28 (through 2004)
20. Notre Dame 28
24. Colorado 26 (through 2004)
25. Pittsburgh 24
26. Brigham Young 23 (through 2004)
27. Syracuse 22 (through 2004)
28. Texas Christian 21 (through 2004)
29. Stanford 20
30. Maryland 20 (through 2004)
31. Michigan State 17
32. California 17
33. Illinois 14 (through 2004)
34. Minnesota 12
35. Army 4
The South had most definitely “risen again.” Between 1964 and 1996, a Southern man was elected to the presidency four times. Cities like Tampa, Charlotte, Nashville, Atlanta, became economic success stories. Professional sports teams moved in to all the major cities in Dixie. The 1996 Olympics were successfully staged in Atlanta.
There were no co-national championships in the 1980s. The AP, UPI and newly installed USA Today/ESPN polls all were on the same page. The college game had a decidedly Southern or Southwestern flavor to it, with variations. Georgia (1980), Clemson (1981), Miami (1983, 1987, 1989) and Oklahoma (1985) were all champions, as was Penn State (1982, 1986), Brigham Young (1984), and Notre Dame (1988).
In 1984 BYU captured the title with a Holiday Bowl win, which started everybody down a fourteen-year path to the Bowl Championship Series (1998). In 1986, a pre-cursor of the BCS occurred when Miami played Penn State in what was billed as the “national championship game,” not on New Year’s Day but the next night at the Fiesta Bowl. The game’s TV ratings alone (the Lions won, 14-10) were as big a reason for creating a BCS championship game as any other factor.
The 1990s started with a co-national championship; a disappointing Colorado (AP/USA Today) and Georgia Tech (UPI) split. It was a year in which traditional power Notre Dame was excellent, as was king of the hill Miami and relative newcomer Florida State. USC, after a few down years, came into the 1990 season with national championship aspirations. Their troubled quarterback, Todd Marinovich created a morass that would not be cleared up until Pete Carroll’s arrival eleven years later.
Colorado, a school with a more impressive history than most people realize, snuck in after winning a controversial “fifth down game” with Missouri. Georgia Tech’s fleeting re-emergence in glory’s light had people thinking about “Wrong Way” Roy Riegels infamous “run” that helped the Yellow Jackets beat Cal, 8-7 in the 1929 Rose Bowl.
Over the years, due to inequities, strange rules and policies, various polls, many systems, and no play-offs, the game produced a plethora of co-national championships. For many different reasons, the split share of a title, while frustrating and less than 100 percent satisfying, did not usually detract from that team’s place in history. Co-championships were dutifully counted and for good reason.
Never has the co-title been more impressively won than in 1991. Miami captured the AP version, but Washington – Rose Bowl winners, UPI/USA champions) is considered one of the greatest teams in the game’s history. A battle between the Huskies and the Hurricanes would have looked like USC and Texas in the 2006 Rose Bowl, or Oklahoma and Nebraska in 1971. It would have been a war.
Th first half of the decade was a “shake up” period. Notre Dame under Lou Holtz regained its form and enjoyed a “mini-dynasty,” but revelations from Don Yaeger’s Under the Tarnished Dome spelled the end for Holtz and down times in South Bend. They have never really been recovered from them.
Miami ran its course, at least for a while. Washington was unable to completely repeat their 1991 success. Penn State maintained the same high level that Joe Paterno set beginning in 1968, but then slipped. Oklahoma completely fell apart. The Southwest Conference curiously folded, joined the Big 8, making it the too-bulky Big 12 North and South. Some conferences went for a play-off, creating tricky new poll scenarios. Winning the conference championship game could increase the power rating of an unbeaten champion, but it could also end their national championship run. The concept of a team winning a national title absent a conference title created a disturbing dynamic. New stars in the Constellation were born: Virginia Tech, Kansas State.
Two programs fought their way through the incredibly competitive minefield of collegiate football greatness. Tom Osborne’s Nebraska Cornhuskers and Bobby Bowden’s Florida State Seminoles were major powers. Many argue with much validity that the 1994-1995 Cornhuskers were the greatest back-to-back champions ever assembled; their 1993-1995 or 1995-1997 runs the best over three seasons. Bowden’s Seminoles were 109-13-1 in the 1990s, won the national title in 1993 and 1999, and made the BCS championship games in the 1998, 1999 and 2000 seasons. Between 1987-2000, Florida State finished in the AP Top 5 fourteen straight seasons. Their toughest competition, as often as not, came within their state: Miami and to an increasing extent, Florida (the 1996 national champions).
The rise of the South, symbolic and real as it was in so many ways, manifested itself in other sports in the 1990s. In the wake of John Wooden’s retirement at UCLA, the Bruins became just another good basketball program. The Atlantic Coast Conference assumed the role of the nation’s best. The Southeastern Conference, unquestionably the best in football beginning in the 1990s, also produced champions in baseball (LSU with four). Champions in track, tennis and women’s sports increasingly came not from USC, UCLA and Stanford, but just as frequently from Georgia, Tennessee and other Southern programs.
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism