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HOW TO DEFINE A DIGITAL-AGE FOOTBALL DYNASTY?
October 14, 2010

SCS.com Over the course of decades and generations, college football has had some great teams and more than its fair share of memorable moments. Some teams and programs go a step further and become dynasties. While it is never easy to see a dynasty in progress, when you look back at history they stand out clear as the digital display on your smartphones. One of my fellow sportwriters Ivan Maisel posed a question this week on his podcast as to what defines a dynasty in today's college football. Maisel then followed that with a great article explaining how the digital age and rule changes in the past 25 years have affected the potential dynasties that may form. While you should definitely check out that article this week, in summary, he proposes the lowered freshman eligibility standards the NCAA passed in 2003 that allows many more talented athletes to spread out among more programs rather than going to junior college, the major emphasis on quarterbacks and a passing game, the NFL calling players, coaches moving on quickly to the next best opportunity, and the constant media attention provided to all FBS college football programs. The writing is on the wall, and dynasties may be defined much differently in history when we look back on the past decade and beyond.

With all of those reasons, it is clear why a program at the top of its game may only be consistently great over a 3-5 year period instead of a decade or more. However, the primary issue is how you define such a college football dynasty? What are the qualifications that stand out about Army in the 1940's, Oklahoma in the late 1940's and 1950's, Alabama in the 1960's and 1970's, Florida State in the 1990's, Nebraska in the 1990's, Miami in the 1980's and early 2000's, and most recently USC? Certainly each of these schools showed dominance over their respective conferences with conference titles nearly every year and national championship aspirations for multiple seasons. Furthermore, a true dynasty must be at the very top of the sport for one or more seasons. Long winning streaks are obvious signs of a dynasty, but it may be more impressive to string together 9 or 10 plus win seasons for a decade (depending on the era of 10-11 games or the current era of 12 games). Depending on what factors you find most important in defining a true dynasty, the definition may not have actually changed in recent times.

With the notable exception of Florida State from 1991-2004 and Miami from 1986-1992, every well known historical dynasty in college football has had a period of dominance that really only spans 5 or fewer years. For example, Army won the national title in 1944 and 1945 and finished number 2 in 1946, but lapsed into relativel obscurity on both sides of that run. Oklahoma had a pair of poor seasons in 1951 and 1952 between two mini-runs including a 31 game winning streak and a 47 game winning streak. Alabama's dominant runs of three national titles in the 1960's and 2 more in the 1970's happened 12 years apart. Miami won 34 straight games at the beginning of this decade but only won 1 national title in a 3 year span of dominanace and then faded fast. And Nebraska played for four national titles and won at least a share of three titles in a five year period from 1993-1997. Thus, even though these programs may have ripped off more consistent 9-10 win seasons over longer spans of time, the true height of a national-level dynasty typically only lasts 5 or fewer years.

When looking at the Digital Age (i.e., the 2000 decade), there are a few programs that stand out. Teams that have appeared in multiple national championship games include Oklahoma (1-3), Ohio State (1-2), Miami (1-1), LSU (2-0), USC (1-1), Texas (1-1), and Florida (2-0). Note that with the exception of last year's champion Alabama, these seven teams account for all nine of the other national championships! But every team that wins a national title cannot be a dynasty, so there's more than just national championships to consider. Oklahoma and Texas have won more games in the past decade than any other schools, but they are each overlooked sometimes because they knock each other out of the national title picture every single season and therefore cannot dominate their conference solely. In the same time period, Ohio State has ripped off 7 impressive years in 8 seasons including 5 straight conference titles, while USC won seven straight PAC-10 titles from 2002 to 2008 (although two of those seasons had 2 losses in conference). Obviously no team in the SEC has been able to stay dominant for long as the cycles are totally obvious in such a tough conference.

It's clear that by merely focusing on one or more major factors in a dynasty, you can define a dynasty narrowly within 5 years or more broadly. When I personally think of a dynasty, I think of a team so powerful that it is the number one game perennially for every opponent, yet the team overcomes that adversity to win a substantial amount of conference titles and at least one national title. A dynasty should be a team you never want to face, like Miami in 2001 and 2002. USC under Pete Carroll also fits that description, although the SEC took over late in his tenure on a national stage (no national title appearances after 2005). If Ohio State holds on to number 1 and wins a national title this season, I believe their dominance in all games against everyone not named SEC school or USC is too much to deny...but without a national title, there is no dynasty. No team will likely roll off 30+ consecutive wins often in the modern era, especially if the SEC continues to be the dominant national conference. When Alabama lost their game against South Carolina, it proved once again that massive winning streaks are not common anymore even for truly dominant teams. While there are some great teams and excellent programs in the seven that have won national titles in the past decade, none of the current powers (Miami and USC have passed) can be considered a dynasty in progress until more work is done over the next 2-4 years. Everyone is always looking for the next dynasty, but I would argue that college football is much more lively without one big bad guy. With regular dominant players in nearly every BCS conference, the bowl battles at the end of each season are far more compelling than watching upstarts try to knock off superior dynasty-like teams. There are candidates there for dynasty-making, but we currently have none.

Before I get onto the games of the week, everyone is beginning to focus on the BCS Standings which come out after this weekend's games. Here's the rub...while the BCS Standings are interesting during the latter half of the season, they simply do not matter until the last two weeks of the season. Keep taking care of business and winning games like the 13 remaining undefeated teams in FBS football, and most likely, things will take care of themselves (2009 was a fluke with five undefeated teams). But the BCS draws focus every year to the computer rankings and the human polls that comprise the total ranking. Each has weaknesses that are partially balanced out by the other and by redundancy with 6 computers and 2 separate human polls, but the flaws in the system start at the base, that being the human polls. This week is yet another example of the absolute hypocrisy of pollsters who simply do not pay attention and do not adequately think things through line-by-line. Pollsters remain too stuck on their previous rankings, simply moving teams up without thinking about whether those moves are deserved. There also seems to be some rule that a top 3 ranked team cannot drop out of the top 10 with a loss. Midway through the season, we are just now learning what some of the top 10 teams are made of as they take on conference opponents, and pre-season impressions should not mold the polls 6 weeks in. Yet that is exactly what has happened largely.

Now while I do not consider myself anywhere near perfect on ranking teams, the obvious mistakes that proliferate in the national polls are quite embarrassing. While Oregon does have a nice win over Stanford and Ohio State has a nice win over Miami, there's absolutely no doubt which team has played the toughest schedule and dominated to this point in the season, and it is Boise State. That is a fluid situation that will change as BSU plays poor competition in the WAC, but for right now, it is silly to have Boise continuing to fall in the rankings. South Carolina thoroughly domianted a number 1 ranked Alabama team and yet the magical bubble of only dropping 6-7 places tops kept Alabama at #8 while South Carolina sits at #10. They each have one loss and South Carolina just dominated Alabama, so how could one possibly rank those two so closely and not notice that they are in the wrong order? No offense to the crazy nature of the Mad Hatter and his escapes, but if you think Florida is a top 25 team right now coming off two losses, that is seemingly crazy. The same goes for the small amount of people still ranking Texas. Do your job and pay attention to more than just the name on the uniforms, folks. It will not be fair if Boise State gets left out compared to a one-loss SEC team, but the scenario looks more and more likely the way the Broncos and other "name" teams have been treated in the polls thus far. The BCS is a great idea with no way to actually execute it properly to pick the right 2 teams. On the bright side, the debate continues annually!

Turning to the top games of the week, the first game of the week is Iowa at Michigan (sorry Texas, but Nebraska is just too good on defense to merit a top 3 game mention). Speaking of good defenses, Iowa probably has had the best defense in the nation except for maybe Alabama over the past year and a half. After shutting down Penn State two weeks ago, Iowa looks to keep on rolling in a place where little success over time has been found: Ann Arbor. The Hakweyes only give up 10 points per game, but their defense will face a bigger test than ever before in Denard Robinson, a true Heisman contender who has 1223 passing yards to go with 991 rushing yards at midseason. Nobody has ever come close to 2000 yards passing and rushing in one season, and for Robinson to do just that, he will need to continue producing against much better defenses like Iowa and Ohio State in the back half of the schedule. WR Roy Roundtree is Robinson's favorite target, but Iowa will not be able to sleep on any of Michigan's talented receivers. The key to this game will be getting pressure with the defensive front four, and with Adrian Clayborn on the line, the Hawkeyes will likely do just that. This will free up the linebackers to stay in open space and make plays no matter what Robinson chooses to do. On the other side of the ball, look for QB Ricky Stanzi to have a field day like Ben Chappel and Kirk Cousins have had in Michigan's first two Big Ten games. Michigan will score some points, but the Hawkeyes will have one of their best days offensively and that will be more than the 17-21 points Michigan will manage. Iowa by 10.

The second game of the week is a SEC West showdown as Arkansas visits Auburn. Arkansas has life again in the SEC West race despite losing to Alabama, as a win here and an Auburn win over the Tide will give the Hogs an inside track to the SEC Championship. Cam Newton has been one of the surprise success stories from junior college this season for the Tigers, and if it were not for Denard Robinson, Newton's 21 touchdowns and 1800 total yards of offense would be a much bigger story. However, Newton will have to be content with team honors, which will be readily available if the undefeated Tigers can navigate the three top teams in their division, starting with Arkansas. Last week Auburn came out blazing against Kentucky and then let the lead get completely away before Wes Bynum hit another big kick to win the game. Auburn has found a way to win close games largely because of Newton and Byrum. The Arkansas defense showed some weakness against the run in the Alabama game, so expect Auburn to pound away all game to try and keep the Arkansas offense from taking over. The key match up in this game is Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett against the Auburn defensive backfield. Auburn has not been able to really stop the better offenses they have faced this season, and Mallett will find any gaps in the secondary you give him. Joe Adams and Greg childs will be tough to cover, especially with Mallett's accuracy with the deep ball this season. In Jordan-Hare Stadium, this game becomes a toss-up thanks to Auburn playing much better at home. However, Arkansas is also looking to stay in the SEC West race and this looks like too easy of a defense to score on for the Hogs to lose. Razorbacks escape with the road win by 3.

Last week the top game of the week (in retrospect) was a team in the mid-teens of the rankings knocking off #1. This week the potential is there for a repeat showing as Ohio State takes their fresh and new top ranking to Wisconsin. Although this series is well known in the past decade for tight low-scoring contests, this year may have an offensive flavor. Both teams have great balance on offense (over 200 yards per game rushing and passing) and rank among the top 25 nationally in yards and the top 15 in points. When the Buckeyes have the ball, watch whether Terrelle Pryor looks fully recovered from a leg muscle strain suffered two weeks ago at Illinois. Despite Pryor's running prowess, one would expect a team with as much defensive speed as Wisconsin has up front to rush Pryor all day and make him use his legs to beat you. This is the opposite of what teams did the past two seasons, before Pryor proved he could lead a pass-first offense. Daniel Herron has emerged as the Buckeyes' biggest running threat, but the real key will be stopping the passing game. When Wisconsin takes the ball, the focus will be on the running backs John clay (the big bruiser) and James White (the elusive speedster). The Buckeye defense has held up well against the run thus far, but Wisconsin brings a much better run-blocking line than Cameron Heyward and the OSU line has played against to date. The real risk with Wisconsin is that while defenses must load up against the run, Scott Tolzien can kill you with the play action pass. Tolzien only has 7 touchdowns, but he has thrown nearly as much and as well as Pryor this season. These teams are evenly matched up and Wisconsin has something to prove after losing to Michigan State and losing to OSU the past 3 seasons. If Pryor is not 100%, Wisconsin will contain the Buckeye offense and have just enough to win. However, I think Pryor is fully healed and ready to make a national statement, just like he did two years ago in his first big win as a starting freshman quarterback. Buckeyes find a way to win late by 4.

Other Games of the Top 25 - Week 7

(25) West Virginia defeats South Florida
(3) Boise State defeats San Jose State
(4) TCU defeats BYU
(5) Nebraska defeats Texas
(6) Oklahoma defeats Iowa State
(8) Alabama defeats Mississippi
(9) LSU defeats McNeese State
(10) South Carolina defeats Kentucky
(11) Utah defeats Wyoming
Illinois defeats (13) Michigan State
(16) Florida State defeats Boston College
(17) Arizona defeats Washington State
(19) Nevada defeats Hawaii
Texas Tech defeats (20) Oklahoma State
Texas A&M defeats (21) Missouri
(22) Florida defeats Mississippi State
(23) Air Force defeats San Diego State
(24) Oregon State defeats Washington

2010 GOTW Record: 14-4
Last Week: 1-2
2010 Overall Top 25 Record: 104-16
Last Week: 16-3

Fitz Top 10 - Week 6

1. Boise State (5-0)
2. Ohio State (6-0)
3. Oregon (6-0)
4. TCU (6-0)
5. Nebraska (5-0)
6. Oklahoma (5-0)
7. Auburn (6-0)
8. Utah (5-0)
9. Michigan State (6-0)
10. South Carolina (4-1)

Just Missed: LSU, Alabama, Nevada, Oklahoma State, Missouri

Most teams have reached the halfway point in the season, and the vast majority of the rest will play the sixth game this weekend. While there are certainly some surprises headlined by Alabama and LSU, there's still a lot more room with half a season left for absolute chaos. Thirteen undefeated teams remain, and some will be sorely tested this weekend (Ohio State, Nebraska, Auburn, Michigan State, Oklahoma State, and Missouri). While The Crimson Tide cannot be happy about a loss, it was not in the West division and so Alabama almost certainly can play their way back into at least a solid debating position with other teams still standing near the top of the heap at the end of the season. At least 20 teams still have serious national title aspirations, and it will be fun to see which players and teams step up to the challenge as the roads get much tougher and the weather gets much colder. I unfortunately will not be covering either of the games we had targeted for this weekend, so I'll be couch surfing with the best of them. Enjoy this fine weekend of college football and always remember...upset can happen to you.

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