Did you know Minnesota claims seven national championships, including three consecutive at one point?
Did you realize Army has won three national championships (including one in 1945, regardless of an incredibly odd cry for attention by a certain school).
Were you aware Pitt has two national titles?
Let’s not forget that Georgia Tech has four.
None of these teams would be considered among college football royalty nowadays. Heck, in Army’s case, they’re not even in a power conference. In fact, none of these programs is likely remembered among college football’s elite universities within the lifespan of anyone reading these words.
This crossed my mind Saturday as I watched Nebraska struggle impotently against top-10 Michigan in a blowout 45-7 home loss. Even though I experienced their glory days first-hand in the 1990s, I suddenly realized the ‘Huskers belong in the above group of schools.
It’s all incredibly odd to me. When I was in college, the Nebraska Cornhuskers were a terror set loose upon the college football world, the likes of which few had ever witnessed. They won games simply by showing up at the stadium in their iconic white helmets with the “N” on them, which doesn’t stand for “Nowledge,” no matter how many times an OU fan tells the joke.
Opposing defenses struggled to bow up to the ‘Huskers primordial offense, which they ran out of their vaunted I-formation with multiple fullbacks ready to be the primary bludgeon … er, blocker … for the tailbacks. Equally horrifying was the idea of trying to implement a competent offense in front of bloodthirsty defense players who adorned themselves with black undershirts and sported a skull-and-crossbones logo.
When I neared high school graduation in 1992, I applied to three universities: Northeastern Oklahoma State (my grandfather’s alma mater), the University of Oklahoma (my main choice), and the University of Nebraska. Why Nebraska? Because I so envied the football program, I wanted to be a part of the school as a student.
Essentially, I was a living, breathing example of the so-called Flutie Effect.
A lot of ink has been spilled about identifying and analyzing Nebraska’s dive into the depths of the mediocrity — and beyond — so I won’t rehash it here. But I mention the saga because it’s interesting to watch the Fall of Rome happen in real time, at least in college football respects.
It was a thought I just couldn’t shake as I watched a woebegone Nebraska program struggle helplessly Saturday against what was a peer program 20 years ago. Empires fall, monoliths topple, the only constant is change.
Beyond this ‘Husker hangover — and a weird question I don’t understand from my editor regarding how often I think about the Roman Empire — here are my weekly observations on the landscape of college football:
- OU survived a sluggish start to wax Iowa State 50-20 on Saturday. In the first half, it felt more like a classic game from the Lincoln Riley years, with both offenses zooming up and down the field with little push back from beleaguered defenses. In the end, however, the Sooners gathered themselves and actually played a dominating final 32 minutes of defense;
- I think it was the best offensive performance by OU in the Brent Venables era, which I realize everyone — including myself — keeps comparing to the Lincoln Riley era. Sure, Jeff Lebby’s offense has scored more points and gained more yards in other games, but considering the opponent, I was incredibly impressed at the ease with which the Sooners moved up and down the field. Outside of two or three eye-opening misfires, Dillon Gabriel was impressive;
- What does all of this mean for the looming OU-Texas game next weekend? I honestly don’t know. My gut, my brain and all daisy-chaining of scores thus far in the season tells my impassive sportswriter-self that it will be a blowout for Texas, or at least a comfortable win for the Longhorns. At the same time, OU is improved from last season, has a legit quarterback at the helm and seems to know which way is up on defense. The Red River Rivalry is notorious for upsets. I think all outcomes, between Texas in a blowout and the Sooners in a blowout, are on the table;
- Speaking of Texas, the Longhorns fiddled a bit, but didn’t let Rome burn on Saturday against Kansas. Despite dominating every possible statistic, Texas still found itself with just a 20-13 lead late in the third quarter. The dam finally broke in the last 18 minutes of the game, though, as Kansas — playing with a backup quarterback — simply couldn’t keep up with the hometown team;
- After I made my second Roman reference of this column, my editor again asked how much I think of the Roman Empire. “A lot,” I replied, “at least relative to most normal people?” I still don’t know why he cares. “I’m a history buff and a weirdo,” I said;
- Speaking of weirdos, lets talk Lubbock. Texas Tech beat Houston 49-28 in a contest that was a bit closer than the final score showed. I’m not, however, going to use this space to talk about the game. Instead, I feel compelled to take a blowtorch to the incredible hypocrisy of the entire Texas Tech program and school using the weekend to induct former head coach Mike Leach into the program’s hall of fame. Considering Tech essentially fired Leach for what, in hindsight, seemed to be specious reasons and then hid — and continues to hide — behind obscure laws to avoid paying the remainder of Leach’s contract, the self-serving rewrite of history to hold a celebratory weekend focused on the former, and now late, head coach is epically mind-boggling;
- I certainly hope the program and school achieved their goals in touting the weekend celebration, which just happened to take place a few months after Leach died suddenly. I’m sure it all would have taken place if he was still alive. I’m also sure that if my grandma had wheels, she could have been a wagon. Mostly, I hope some of the money made off his name by the school and program ended up in the Leach family’s pocket;
- At some point, Georgia is either going to have to stop sleepwalking, or we are going to have to accept the fact they are not the no-doubt No.1 team in the country. An average Auburn team pretty much gave the Bulldogs all they wanted, until perhaps the best non-quarterback in the country — tight end Brock Bowers — took things over for Georgia in the final minutes;
- Baylor outscored the University of Central Florida 26-0 in the fourth quarter, scoring the game’s final 29 points to win 36-35 in Orlando. I really am not sure what to add to this inability to handle a big lead, except to ask whether UCF really is supposed to be one of the shining additions to the Big 12?
- The fact Alex Grinch is still employed as the University of Southern California’s defensive coordinator defies all explanation after his unit barely held onto a 48-41 victory over Colorado. At this point, blackmail might be the only excuse. Seriously, the next time Lincoln Riley is on television, he should blink four times real fast if he is being held hostage;
- Despite Riley’s USC squad jumping out to a commanding first-half lead over Deion Sanders’ Bison, the game proved exciting in the second half. Ralphie the Buffalo rumbled around the field several times after big touchdown drives from Shedeur Sanders and company, and only poor clock management by the Buffs prevented them from having more than an onside-kick’s chance at tying things up. Caleb Williams is a magical player, but it’s wild to think that his six touchdowns and 400 yards passing nearly proved not enough to win. Perhaps if Riley can ever create a high-calibre defense in California, his Trojans can write the foundation for another empire?
- Since we’re talking about Grinch, let’s talk about the defensively challenged LSU and Ole Miss game. Neither team could stop the other, and Ole Miss just happened to have the ball with a chance to score the winning touchdown with 43 seconds left. Lane Kiffin caught a lot of grief this past week for his inability to beat Alabama, but the Ole Miss head coach continues to prove he should be mentioned as an upper-tier coach with this win, unless, of course, you’re a defensive tackle approaching him about your mental health needs. Lawsuits aside, Ole Miss is relevant, has been relevant and will likely continue to be relevant under Kiffin’s watch. That’s good coaching, because the Rebels aren’t exactly known as college football royalty;
- Notre Dame scraped out a 21-14 win at Duke. When I watch the Fighting Irish, I tend to think they’re simply not as good as the sum of their parts. With Sam Hartman as quarterback, I really expected Notre Dame to be a playoff team. But after watching the struggle Saturday night, I can’t help but be convinced the Irish have another loss or two in them this year.