Thursday, November 29, 2007

Empires Fall – Part I

Part I in a series

And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

- Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1818

Empires do rise and fall, be they of nations or college football. The modern era of college football (1946 to present) has seen many such “Empires” and while some endure, others remain as but relics of their past glory.

Most college football observers know the most winning programs of the past 20 years (1987-2006) to be Florida State (81.7% winning record) and Miami (81.4% winning record), and would consider those programs “dynasties”. How many of your modern observers though would know the most winning program of the 20 years from 1950 to 1969?

That program was Mississippi.

For the 21 year period ending 1970, no team won more college football games than the Rebels of Mississippi. During that period, Ole Miss went 165-50-11 for a 75.3% winning percentage. In 1960 Mississippi was the “national” champion at 10-0-1, and the Rebels won the SEC 5 times during the period – 54’, 55’, 60’, 62’, 63’. (Notably, 1963 was the last time they won the SEC.)

What happened to Mississippi to make it the coach-firing, winless-in-the-SEC team we know today is a topic beyond this conversation. The important point is the mighty can – and do – fall.

Starting in 1946 (the modern era) with rolling 20 year periods (measured in 15-year intervals) we find different teams at the top of college football for almost every period (by winning percentage) –

46’-65’ Oklahoma
51’-70’ Mississippi
56’-75’ Arizona State
61’-80 Alabama
66’-85’ Penn State
71’-90’ Nebraska
76’-95’ Nebraska
81’-00’ Nebraska
86’-05’ Miami

Only Nebraska has endured on top for more than one of any of the periods examined. But Nebraska is a program in serious decline at the present. In the ten years prior to this season the Cornhuskers had fallen to the 11th most winning program in college football. It will get even worse once this year’s 5-7 debacle is figured in.

Can Nebraska recover? Maybe, as certainly Oklahoma has managed to from their earlier golden days. On the other hand, until this year (and maybe still) Arizona State, the dominant winner of the 1956 to 1975 period, has been barely relevant. And there is always the example of Ole Miss.

For every waning program there seems to come a breaking point at which time the best recruits no longer seek that program. Certainly that is the case at Mississippi. A new coach can perhaps turn the recruiting game back in a school’s favor, but once the luster of a program is gone – once that program can no longer essentially “recruit itself”, long term damage is inevitable.

So what of Nebraska? Our recruiting model shows the accumulated 4 year talent of Nebraska places them 21st nationally starting this season, behind conference mates like Texas (3rd), Oklahoma (9th), and Texas A&M (19th). Today’s recruits were 7 years old when the ‘Huskers last won a “national” title and, with every passing year the memories grow dimmer. Some even question now whether Nebraska is a top coaching job.

If the Nebraska program is to be turned around, the critical point is nearly passed.

Next – Those programs in danger of fading

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As far as I'm concerned Ole Miss never should have fired David Cutcliffe, and Nebraska should have hired Bo Pelini after they let Frank Solich go.

Ed Orgeron was to Ole Miss as moRon Zook was to Florida; in both cases a coach was in place who had recruiting skills but lacked the ability to coach and effectively lead their programs.