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A Historical Perspective on College Football (Part II -- The Power 5 and the Rest)

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Duquesne Frog

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Last week, in Part I, we discussed all of TCU's past lives; as a team in the state of Texas, and in the SWC, WAC, and Conference USA.

 

This week, we will focus on TCU's current conference, the rest of the "Power 5," and a few other conferences like the Big East and the MAC.

 

And away we go ...

 

Big 6/7/8/12/XII-II

 

TCUs current conference was always closely intertwined with its old one.  The Oklahoma schools started in the SWC before Oklahoma founded the Big 6 and Oklahoma State turned the conference into the Big 8.  Then when the SWC went belly up, half the conference merged with the Big 8 to form the Big 12.  In between, Texas and Oklahoma remained each other's primary rival, often to the chagrin of their in-state rivals.

 

The first chart shows the history of the conference after the expansion to 12.

 

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At the time of the expansion, Nebraska was dominant, playing elite MNC-level football.  Colorado was at a peak but was about the start a slow decline after the McCartney era was exposed and Bill Snyder was getting Kansas State to a pretty elite level.  A&M comes in as the best program of the Texas schools but is in decline.  

 

Then around 2002, Nebraska and Kansas State begin to decline and Texas and Oklahoma begin to rise and those two schools dominate the conference for the next decade.  It is at this point that Nebraska, Colorado, A&M, and Missouri leave, resulting in the entry of TCU and West Virginia.  Texas falls off while Oklahoma State and Baylor emerge as contenders with Oklahoma remaining pretty elite.

 

The 2005 Texas team ekes out the 2008 Oklahoma team as the best single season in the Big 12 history.  The 2014 Frogs are the highest rated team in the Big XII-II's short history.

 

The history of the Big 6/7/8 prior to the addition of the Texas schools appears below.

 

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The Big 6/7/8 started out as the original Missouri Valley Conference, with Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, and Iowa State as charter members with Drake and Washington (Mo).  Kansas State and Grinnell would join shortly after, and Oklahoma joined as Drake, Washington, and Grinnell dropped out of "big time" college football.  From 1928-1947, the conference was six teams.  The addition of Colorado (from the precursor of the WAC, see Part I) in 1948 made the conference seven, and Oklahoma State in 1960 (from the Missouri Valley) formed the Big 8.

 

During this entire time, the conference was pretty well dominated by two teams -- Nebraska and Oklahoma.  Nebraska dominated the first three decades up until WWII.  After the war, Oklahoma took over as the dominant team for two decades.  Then after the OU-NU hegemony was challenged for a few years by Missouri and Kansas in the early 1960s, Nebraska and Oklahoma vaulted to super-elite status in the late 1960s and remained there for the next two decades when Oklahoma fell apart after Barry Switzer left to coach the Cowboys and Colorado started to emerge.

 

The clear heyday of the Big 8 was the decade of the 70s when NU and OU were out-of-this-world good and even the perennial bottom-dwellers Kansas State and Iowa State put together decent programs.  Note that aside from this period, Kansas State was consistently atrocious from WWII until about 1990 when Bill Snyder came aboard.  The 1973 Oklahoma team was rated the best in conference history, but pretty much any Nebraska or Oklahoma team from 1970-1974 could have been considered one of the best of all time.

 

PAC12 (previously the Pacific Coast Conference/Athletic Association of Western Universities/PAC-8/PAC-10)

 

The schools that would become the PAC-8 started out in the Pacific Coast Conference with Idaho and Montana.  The plot below shows the conference during the PCC years.

 

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Throughout these years, Idaho and Montana struggled to be competitive, generally always comprising the bottom of the standings.  USC emerged as the dominant team in the late 1920s and early 30s, but then came back to the pack prior to WWII.  From that point on, the conference was very evenly competitive with Stanford, Cal, and UCLA all vying for championships most years and many of the other teams, at least briefly, becoming competitive.

 

In 1959, the California schools and Washington rid themselves of the Oregon schools, Washington State, and Idaho (Montana had left the PCC in 1949) and formed the AAWU.  Washington State was let back in the club in 1962 and the Oregon schools in 1964 when the conference became known as the PAC-8.  For the purposes of continuity, the following chart, which shows the conference from 1960 on, doesn't reflect these rejections and readmittances.

 

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With the official formation of the PAC-8, USC reemerged as the dominant program through the early 1980s (by which point the Arizona schools had moved over from the WAC, see Part I) followed by strong years from UCLA and Washington in the late 80s and 90s.  Note that the USC program at the time of the Sun Bowl was going through its lowest point since the early 1960s.  One of the many ways in which the football gods were smiling on us in 1998.  The Trojans once again re-emerge as the dominant team of the mid-to-late 2000s and then Oregon leveraged that Nike money to get good in the current decade.  Utah and Colorado join in the 2011 season with Utah being solid, middle-of-the-pack and Colorado mostly battling with Washington State for the cellar.

 

Aside from an extended two decades of bad play from Oregon State at the end of the last century, the PAC has been a pretty competitive conference throughout.  The best ever single season was the 1972 USC team and the highest program marks were reached by the Pete Carroll USC teams of the mid 2000s and the USC teams of the early 1930s.

 

SEC (previously the Southern Conference)

 

If you thought the 16-team WAC was the most insane conference ever devised, you probably weren't around for the Southern Conference, which was the precursor of both the SEC and the ACC.  The teams that founded both of those conferences plus a whole bunch of other teams played together in the Southern Conference, which at its greatest extent was a TWENTY-THREE team conference.  It is not immediately obvious how scheduling was handled during this time; there were no official divisions but it does seem like the schools who would become the SEC mostly played each other and the schools that became the ACC mostly played each other.  Some schools played eight conference games; others played four.

 

The chart below shows the ridiculous history of the Southern Conference up to the time when the SEC split in 1933.  I don't expect you to be able to figure out which squiggle belongs to which school.  Just trust me when I tell you that the top squiggles chronologically are Vanderbilt (yes, Vanderbilt was once good in football), Auburn, Georgia Tech, Alabama, and Tennessee.  The 1917 Rambin' Wreck was the dominant single season team of the era.

 

large.SEC_ACC1.png

 

The conference at this time also included schools like Tulane, Sewanee, Washington and Lee, and the Virginia Military Institute.  The last two of these teams were left out of the SEC  but remained in the Southern Conference along with most of the teams that would become the ACC.

 

Next we see the early years of the SEC.  Sewanee hangs on until 1939, battling Mississippi State for the cellar.  Tulane is initially quite competitive, with a 5-year MAV that generally hovered just below Alabama, Tennessee, and an emerging LSU up until WWII.  After the war, Tulane falls off, replaced by Georgia and Georgia Tech, the latter of which became the clear dominant team in the mid-1950s.  Mississippi, which was a clear bottom-feeder in the Southern Conference caps off a slow ascent and becomes the top program in the conference in the late 1950s and early 60s when Alabama takes over. 

 

large_SEC2.png

 

It is at this point that Georgia Tech and Tulane leave the conference; Tech still very competitive (Tulane not as much).  It is also at this point that Kentucky, Vandy, and Mississippi State set up shop as the bottom programs in the conference, a distinction they will maintain through most of the remaining history of the conference.

 

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Alabama remains the dominant team of the 70s and early 80s when the retirement of Bear Bryant marks the beginning of their decline as a program (although still good enough to grab an MNC for Gene Stallings in 1992).  During Bama's decline, Florida, Ole Miss, and Georgia rise until the early 1990s when Florida and Tennessee pull ahead of the rest of the conference where they will stay for about a decade.  South Carolina and Arkansas join the conference at this time, staying firmly middle-of-the-pack throughout their history.

 

As we all know, Alabama has re-emerged as the dominant team in the conference over the last half decade, during which time A&M and Missouri join the conference, also shoring up the middle of the conference.

 

The best ever single season for the SEC was the 1971 Alabama team and 1975 marked the pinnacle of the Alabama program, although another few strong years from Nick Saban might get the most recent incarnation of the Tide in the same rarefied air.

 

ACC (preceded by the same Southern Conference)

 

For the first three decades in the history of the ACC, refer to the first chart in the SEC section above.  Trust me, they're in there.  After the SEC splits, the Southern Conference becomes a little easier to digest.

 

large_ACC2.png

 

You'll note that at the time of the SEC split, the top programs in the Southern Conference were most of the ones that left, with the notable exception of Mississippi State.  In the vacuum left by the SEC schools, Duke and UNC rose quickly, and in particular Duke (yes, Duke) was the dominant force in the Southern Conference up until the ACC formed in 1953.  Schools were added to the conference in the wake of the SEC split including Wake Forest and then Virginia left after 1937 only to return after the ACC formation.  Once again, the newly formed conference split from the poorer performers as Davidson, Richmond, Virginia Tech, the Citadel, VMI and Furman, many of whom had been added with Wake Forest back in the late 1930s.

 

Compared to the other 'Power 5' conferences, the ACC has easily the least auspicious beginnings.  Maryland emerges as the first dominant team in the ACC but falls off quickly and then the conference slides into a pretty mediocre state.  Duke, NC State, and UNC all take turns as the "top" program in the conference but by 1970 (the year South Carolina leaves and goes independent) the ACC has more teams with below average MAVs than above average.  If I were to tell you in 1970 that between the ACC and SWC one conference was going to collapse and the other was going to become one of the five elite conferences in college football, I think most people would have put their money on the ACC for the collapse.  But the conference made some very strategic moves that the SWC didn't make. Like ...

 

large_ACC3.png

 

... making wise expansion choices.  The ACC initially added Georgia Tech in 1983.  Georgia Tech was not immediately a big player in the conference and Maryland, UNC, and Clemson all made big improvements in play in the late 70s and early 80s.  Then everybody except Clemson fell off and the conference started looking pretty mediocre again until they scored Florida State who would thoroughly dominate the ACC from 1992 until their next expansion move in 2004.  This move was the first of two death blows the ACC landed on the Big East, grabbing Miami, Virginia Tech, and BC.  This immediately added two teams that would become mainstays at the top of the conference, even if Miami would never replicate their Big East success.  Then they ACC landed the second blow, adding Pitt, Louisville, and Syracuse.  Combined with Duke and Wake showing some improvement of late making the bottom of the conference not look so atrocious, the ACC is now a clear "Power 5," even if arguably the weakest.

 

The best ever ACC team was the 1993 Florida State team.

 

B1G

 

The Big 10 began with seven teams in 1896 (shown below back to 1892 because the data was there) -- Purdue, Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Northwestern, and U of Chicago.  Indiana and Iowa joined in 1899 and Ohio State in 1912, giving the league ten actual teams until Chicago left in 1939.  The chart below shows the conference for this era.  The conference was pretty equitable during its first 5 decades with Purdue and Minnesota dominating the 1890s, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Chicago the 1900s, Minnesota the 1910s, Michigan the 1920s, and Minnesota, Purdue, Ohio State and even Northwestern all vying for supremacy during the Depression.  Only Indiana never really maintained a competitive program at any point of the conference's early years.  Clearly, by WWII, the University of Chicago was struggling to remain competitive.

 

The 1940 Michigan and Minnesota teams edge out the 1917 Minnesota team as the best single-season teams during this era.

 

large_B1G1.png

 

Once Chicago drops, the Big 10 had nine teams for 14 years until Michigan State was added in 1953.  It's not only the modern Big 10 that can't seem to maintain the correct number of teams. 

 

After WWII, Michigan has the first extended era of dominance from 1942 through 1952.  Parity reigned again through most of the 50s and 60s with Michigan State, Ohio State, Iowa, and Purdue all staking a claim to the top program in the conference during the period.  Once again, Indiana is really the only program never to get consistently into the upper echelon during this period. 

 

large_B1G2.png

 

By 1970, several Big 10 programs have taken severe downturns, including Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, and most notably Northwestern which goes from a MAV of 15 in 1962 to -10 by 1980, about where the U of Chicago was when they dropped out of the conference 40 years before.  In a trend of one- or two-team dominance that is noticeable in most of the major conferences in the 1970s (Texas and Arkansas in the SWC, Oklahoma and Nebraska in the Big 8, Alabama in the SEC, USC in the PAC-10), the Big 10 is dominated by Michigan and Ohio State throughout the decade.  The 1947 Michigan team, 1973 Ohio State team, and 1944 Ohio State team were the best of the era.

 

Ohio State, and to a lesser extent Michigan, come down to the pack a little in the 1980s as Iowa, Illinois and Michigan State improve.  In the 90s, the conference becomes a three-headed monster with the admittance of Penn State in 1993 (making the Big 10 eleven), the resurgence of Ohio State, and continued elite play of Michigan throughout the decade.  The new millennia sees Penn State decline leaving Ohio State and Michigan at the top.  Michigan finally starts to decline in the late 2000s, replaced by Penn State and Wisconsin as Ohio State's primary competition over the last decade.  Wisconsin's resurgence in the 1990s is stark, going from bottom-dwellers (with Northwestern) in 1990 to top-tier status in two decades.  During this time, Northwestern, Illinois, Minnesota, Purdue, and of course Indiana are never particularly competitive.

 

Also during this time, the conference adds Nebraska (2011), Maryland (2014), and Rutgers (2014).  Only Nebraska is above average since joining.  The 1994 Penn State team is the top team of the era.

 

large_B1G3.png

 

Big East and the Eastern Independents

 

The Big East started as a basketball conference in the 1979 but in 1991 became a football conference.  The conference was formed from the Big East basketball schools that played D1-A football (BC, Syracuse, and Pitt) and from a number of other eastern independents (Miami, WVU, Rutgers, VaTech, and Temple).  Notre Dame, while never football member of the Big East, is included here because they were among the eastern independents from which the conference was born and played in the conference in other sports.  Army and Navy are also included in these charts for any years where they weren't parts of other conferences (e.g., Army in CUSA starting in 1998)

 

large_BE1.png

 

The conference was immediately dominated by Miami, coming into the conference at their zenith.  Lou Holtz had Notre Dame riding high at this point as well.  By 2000, Miami had come down a little and Syracuse and Virginia Tech emerged as serious contenders.  Then in 2004, the Big East's two bellwethers at the time, Miami and Virginia Tech left for the ACC, followed by Boston College the following year.  Those schools were replaced by UConn (a Big East basketball school moving up to play D1-A football), and Cincinnati, Louisville, and South Florida from CUSA, but the death spiral had begun.  WVU emerged as the class of the conference during these final years before leaving for the Big XII-II after the 2011 season.  Pitt, Syracuse, and Louisville leave for the ACC the following year and the conference folds.

 

The 2001 Miami team was the best single season in Big East history.

 

Prior to the formation of the Big East, most of the eastern schools, particularly in the north and mid-Atlantic where the ACC and SEC didn't have a footprint, played as independents.  In some respects they were in a de facto conference as most of these schools played each other on a yearly basis, or nearly so, but they never officially formed.  Not until the Big East.

 

The military academies and Penn State had SRS numbers dating back to the 1890s.  Army is the dominant team in these early years, followed by Pitt and Notre Dame starting around 1915.  Knute Rockne had Notre Dame as the dominant force in the northeast during the 1920s and early 30s when Pitt emerges again just before WWII.  The war drives Pitt into a prolonged funk that lasts until they recruit Tony Dorsett and Dan Marino but launches Notre Dame and the military academies, particularly Army, to stratospheric heights.

 

large_BE2.png

 

After the war, Notre Dame and the academies come back to Earth (albeit Notre Dame more slowly) and by 1960 the northeast is lacking in many good programs.  Syracuse and Penn State are the best of a tepid lot.  Rutgers, as always, is terrible at this time.  Then in the late 1960s, Ara Parseghian returns Notre Dame to elite status while Penn State, Pitt, and Florida State all emerge by 1980 into serious national contenders.

 

The 1943 Notre Dame team was the greatest team of the Independent era and arguably the best of all time.  I'm not sure why Notre Dame got so much talent during the war when so many other non-military academy schools struggled, but alas they did.

 

SBC/CUSA

 

The Sun Belt, much like her other "mid-major" brethren, has been turned over, almost entirely by the ACC/Big East/AAC/CUSA/WAC upheaval of the last few years, and so their chart is also a bit of a mess.  The SBC was created in 1976 but didn't become a D1-A/FBS conference until the 2001 season. with Arkansas State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Middle Tennessee, New Mexico State, North Texas, Idaho, and Louisiana-Monroe as the founding football members.  Utah State and Troy joined in the following two years.  Then the shuffling started.

 

In 2005, Utah State, Idaho, and New Mexico State left to join the WAC after the MWC pilfered the WAC to replace TCU, Utah, and BYU.  The Sun Belt adds Floridas Atlantic and International, then Western Kentucky in 2009.  Eight years later, the SBC sheds MTSU, FIU, FAU, and UNT when all leave to go to CUSA after the AAC forms with mostly CUSA teams.  Western Kentucky follows suit a year later.  New Mexico State and Idaho return after the WAC collapses and are joined by Texas State, Appalachian State, South Alabama, Georgia Southern, and Georgia State during the 2013-2014 seasons, most of whom playing their first FBS football.

 

So the chart below has all of these teams, plus the teams that are still remaining in the current version of CUSA.  It is a mess.  Make what you will of it ...

 

large_SBC.png

 

MAC

 

And last but not least, we take a look at the history of MACtion.  The MAC was formed in 1946 and became a D1-A conference in 1962 with Ohio, Miami (OH), Western Michigan, Toledo, Kent State, Bowling Green, and Marshall and the seven initial members.  Marshall was booted after the 1969 season then Eastern Michigan, Central Michigan, Ball State and Northern Illinois were all added between 1971-1975.  During most of this time, the conference was led by Miami, interrupted by a brief meteoric rise and fall of Toledo around 1970.

 

After 1980, the conference as a whole started a slow decline with no program having a better than average MAV from 1982 until 1997.  During this time Central Michigan, Bowling Green, and Miami all vied for the top spot in the conference.  Northern Illinois left after the 1985 season, replaced by Akron in 1992.  Then in 1997, Northern Illinois and Marshall returned, with Marshall immediately becoming the top team in the conference until the left again to go to CUSA in 2005.  Buffalo was added in 1998.  The conference then had brief experiments with Central Florida, Temple, and Massachusetts from 2000-2015, during which time conference play improved and NIU, CMU, and Toledo emerged as the top conference teams.

 

The best ever MAC program was the Ben Roethlisberger-led Miami Red Hawks in 2003.

 

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Another great entry. 

 

I'm pretty sure Bootlegger's Boy had been retired for a while by the time Jerrah called him and began the active destruction of the franchise. There were John Blake, Gary Gibbs and Howard Schnellenberger eras before Stoops came along. I believe Blake was coach when we beat OU in Norman in 1996. 

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