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Who’s Who in College Football—or Which OOC Team is Most Like
a Big 10 Team:
I’m interested by similarities between teams in different
parts of the country. Some teams just
should be good. Some teams just should
suck. This goes beyond who is the
current coach and the team’s record over the past five years, but extends into
areas that include demographics, recruit density, tradition, and conference
affiliation. Schools with everything
going in their favor should be strong, even if they aren’t historically, and
those who don’t shouldn’t be as good over the long run. For example, Boise State just shouldn’t be as
good as Texas—even if Boise State decided to pour the same amount of money
into football as Texas. They simply
don’t have the necessary recruiting base, tradition, or exposure to draw the
recruits required to compete with Texas—despite Boise’s relatively strong
program. With the long dark offseason upon
us, I’m thinking of some comparative projects to occupy my college football
obsession over the next eight months.
With that in mind, I’ve identified a team to match
with each team in the Big 10 from elsewhere in the country. This isn’t about who had the best and worst
records this year or even in the last five.
It’s about looking at the whole picture and determining who is most
similar to schools in the Big 10. I’ll
save Michigan for last, and I’m interested to see what everyone’s thoughts are. This isn’t meant to be a definitive list or
an insult to any school, rather something to foster discussion and force me to
learn more about the greater college football landscape.
Ohio State = Texas
To me, this is the
easiest comparison to make. Ohio and
Texas are two of the most populous states in the Union, with Ohio at number 7
and Texas at number 2. Each state has a
very large public university system, with Ohio State and Texas clearly standing
out as the flagship schools for both states (I know Miami, not that Miami, is a
solid school—but tOSU is vastly improved academically and is clearly Ohio’s
flagship school). Texas does produce
significantly more talent as a state than Ohio, but I think the top recruits
available per school are relatively similar because Texas supports so many more
BCS teams (4, 5 with TCU to 2 for Ohio).
There were 13 Rivals 100 recruits in Texas to four in Ohio last year.
The football teams are
obviously similar today and over time.
Ohio State is number 5 all-time in winning percentage and Texas is
number 3. Both teams have been elite
over time and there is no reason to think that either school will falter
soon. The programs are also considered
to be among the most valuable, according to Forbes, with Texas ranked number 1
and OSU at number 8. You could even
drill down further with the comparison.
They have had iconic coaches, Hayes and Royal, iconic players, Griffin
and Young, along with numerous titles and conference dominance. Ohio State may be coming out of a long period
of struggling against elite competition, just like Texas when Big Game Bob
Stoops was in his prime. Finally, each
team has a historically elite level rival from a smaller state that poaches
many of its best players from Texas/Ohio—Oklahoma and Michigan.
Ohio State and Texas
are elite football schools from football crazy states that should, based on
demographics, own their conferences and regions.
considered: Florida, USC
Penn State = Florida
Forget the obvious
comparison between Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno. Seriously, forget it. Despite each of those coaches building their
program completely in their image and serving as the single most recognizable
person affiliated with either school, the comparison still sticks when the
coaches are ignored or marginalized in the analysis.
Pennsylvania is the 6th
most populous state while Florida is 4th. Florida is obviously one of the great
recruiting hotbeds for football talent, with 7 Rivals 100 recruits last
year. However, Pennsylvania holds its
own with 3. Neither school is the
strongest academic school in the state.
Pennsylvania has several top schools, such as Penn and Carnegie Mellon,
while Florida and Miami are both easily stronger academically than FSU.
Beyond the coaches,
both teams are historically similar.
Both were long-time independents, and joined the Big Ten and ACC soon
after Arkansas agreed to join the SEC in 1990—signaling the death knell for the
Southwest Conference and putting the writing on the wall for independents
everywhere. By 1990, both programs were
very strong, and were expected to dominate their conference upon entry. This definitely happened in FSU’s case, but
not so much for Penn State.
As I previously stated,
I believe that FSU and Penn State are very similar without the coaches. When the coaches are incorporated, they
become extremely similar. I won’t bore
anyone with the details, but they are both great, all-time win list, etc and
the schools are both bracing for life after the program icon—with FSU having
Michigan State =
This was a tough
comparison in many ways. MSU is its own
special character, and finding it a partner wasn’t easy. Obviously, you can’t define MSU without
incorporating Michigan. MSU, perhaps
more than any team in the Big Ten is defined by its rival. While there were periods where MSU was
unquestionably better than Michigan, over time it isn’t even close. There are several schools that are
historically similar in addition to Auburn, such as Texas A&M and UCLA, but
I chose Auburn because of Michigan’s and Alabama’s (state not school)
Alabama is a much less
populous state than Michigan, at number 23 to Michigan’s 8. However, it is surrounded by (and is) very
fertile recruiting territory and is surrounded by some very populous states,
such as Florida and Georgia. This
enables Alabama to house two big time programs despite its relatively small
size. While both schools have had
periods of great success, Auburn for much of this decade and MSU in the 1960s,
both have generally been overshadowed by their in-state rival.
Both schools are
considered to be relatively strong academically, but not at the level of their
in-state big brother—although the University of Alabama appears to fluctuate
quite a bit in the rankings I looked at.
They are both public institutions and long time members of their
Auburn and MSU are also
both interesting because of their contrasting histories during the 1960s. Duffy Daugherty at MSU famously took many
black recruits that schools like Auburn and Alabama couldn’t admit, and built a
national power in the 1960s.
considered: Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, UCLA
Illinois = Virginia
Illinois and Virginia are
two of the schools whose lack of success in football is difficult to
fathom. Both are unquestionably old
money, high quality schools. The states
are relatively populous, with Virginia coming in at number 12 and Illinois at
number 5. Also, I lived in Northern
Virginia for about 18 months, and felt like Washington D.C. was almost a part
of the state. Assuming about half of the
population thinks the same thing, with the other half leaning towards Maryland;
the effective population expands to number 11 in the US. Both are long-time members of their
respective conferences, and have a solid recruiting base. Each has won two conference titles in the
last 25 years.
Given their population,
history, and status as the flagship public school in a populous state, both
schools should be much better at football.
Unfortunately for them, each has failed to keep up with their more
powerful conference members. In
Illinois’ case, Notre Dame has also made life difficult for the football
program. Virginia has always been
overshadowed by their more powerful southern cousins in the SEC.
considered: California, Arizona
Wisconsin = Colorado
Before I started this
research project, I would not have placed these two schools together. I started with the idea that Texas was very
similar to Ohio State and how similar MSU was to teams like Auburn and Texas
A&M, but I had very little to go on for the rest of the conference. First, Colorado and Wisconsin are similar in
population, ranking 22 and 20 respectively.
Neither is a hotbed of top recruiting talent, producing one Rival’s 100
recruit each in 2008. Both are good,
quality schools in pretty fun college towns.
They are pretty similar
football wise, although Wisconsin has had much more success the past 15
years. Wisconsin has six Rose Bowl
berths, two since 1998 and has emerged as a solid 3rd or 4th
team most years in the Big Ten. Colorado
was one of the stronger Big 8 teams right before the Big 12 was created,
including a national title in 1990, but has fallen on hard times recently under
Gary Barnett and Dan Hawkins.
These schools are
examples of schools that shouldn’t be very good. Both are a long way relative to their
opposition from the population centers that produce their conference’s best
recruits, Texas in the Big 12 and Ohio/Pennsylvania in the Big 10 and they don’t
have elite tradition on their side. Wisconsin
has built its niche in the Big 10 by being the only Big 10 team that still
plays classic Big 10 meat grinder football, and Colorado likely needs to find a
similar formula to build its success.
considered: Arkansas, Missouri, Nebraska
Iowa is really
hard. It is the least populous state in
the Big 10 footprint, yet it is a top 30 public school. They have solid football history, including
eleven Big 10 titles. It is difficult to
find a school that matches it demographically, is strong academically, and has
a solid football background. I picked
Arkansas for several reasons, delineated below.
Arkansas is behind Iowa
academically by about forty spots according to US News. However, it is still a solid school and has
an underrated football history, like Iowa.
Arkansas has 13 conference titles to its credit, and both schools claim
one national title. Demographically,
they are similar. Iowa is the 31st
most populous state, while Arkansas is number 33. Each is the smallest state by population in
their conference and produces similar top talent. Iowa had one top 100 player last year while
Arkansas had two. Both are traditionally
behind their more powerful rivals, but have been able to remain competitive.
Minnesota = Syracuse
Did you know both
schools didn’t always suck at football?
Both schools are northern programs far, far away from the recruiting
hotbeds in the South and West. Both
recently played in really crappy dome stadiums despite the potentially massive
advantage of playing outdoors in a northern stadium. Minnesota moved out of the Humpty Dome last
year, but the Carrier Dome still lives.
Minnesota was actually
Michigan’s first real rival, having excellent teams in the 30s, 40s, and 60s,
with the Little Brown Jug going back to 1903.
Both Syracuse and Minnesota were early beneficiaries of integration,
especially Syracuse with Jim Brown and Ernie Davis. Each have solid academic programs in very
Northwestern = Stanford
Obvious, right? The only other good options were Duke and
Vanderbilt, but they’ve shown very little inclination to be serious about
football in the last long time, even though Duke has had success in the distant past.
considered: Duke, Vanderbilt
Purdue = Maryland
Both schools are solid
schools in similarly sized states. Each
is easily overshadowed by their more powerful neighbors. Each claims one national title and several
conference titles. Both schools have had
recent success, but show no signs of breaking through and competing year in and
year out for titles.
Indiana = Washington
Both historically suck,
can you tell I have nothing to say about Indiana? The states are similarly sized, with
Washington at 13 and Indiana at number 16.
Washington produced zero top 100 players last year, while Indiana had
one. Indiana has played in nine bowl
games, while Wazzu has played in 10.
Both have losing records to Michigan (and just about everyone else) and lay claim to
fountains of unintentional comedy—Lee Corso and Ryan Leaf.
considered: Kansas, Iowa State
Michigan = Oklahoma
I really think this is
a great comparison for many reasons.
However, I want to get the glaring weakness out of the way first. The University of Oklahoma may be the best
school in the state and the best school for many, many country miles, but it is
not even close to Michigan. Enough said,
I chose Oklahoma for
Michigan over everyone else for the reasons below. However, because this is a Michigan blog, I
want to explain how I eliminated everyone else. Michigan, like every other
team, is defined partly by the demographics and history of its conference. If we accept the Big 2 (tOSU and Michigan)
premise that most years those should be the best teams in the Big Ten based on
historical success, then no one in the PAC 10, Big East, or ACC closely matches
Michigan’s situation. Each has its historical
strong school, but not two or more historical juggernauts. I could place FSU and Virginia Tech here with the ACC, but
I don’t believe they match Michigan and Ohio State’s situation because there isn’t a historical rivalry and neither has the same amount of
history. The SEC has two teams that are
close to Michigan's situation, Tennessee and Alabama.
I discounted Tennessee because their monster rival from a bigger state
(Florida) hasn’t been as good for as long as tOSU and they have only played 39
times to 106 for Michigan-Ohio State and 99 for Texas-OU. Alabama was discounted because they don’t
have a great out of state rivalry that has mattered nationally like Michigan-Ohio
schools are very similar. Both are very
old money. Each claims 42 conference
titles and many national titles. Both
schools have had some of the best coaches out there, and continue to be
relevant today. Despite their
astonishing success, neither is a recruiting hotbed. Each school must poach most of its top
players from elsewhere in their conference footprint and nationally.
I find the most
intriguing similarity to be the comparison between Oklahoma and the members of the
Big 12 to Michigan and the members of the Big 10. Both schools are either the best or second
best school in just about each meaningful modern statistic in their respective
conference: conference titles, All-Americans, wins, etc. Both schools have a much larger school to the
south that is its traditional rival, Texas and tOSU. Both schools down south hold just about every
advantage over Michigan and Oklahoma.
They are in top recruiting states and should be consistently better
based on demographics. Yet Michigan and
Oklahoma claim more conference titles and national championships than their
bigger rival. Each even has an upstart
little brother in-state that claims to be their most important rival!
Michigan and Oklahoma
defy the odds to remain relevant.
Assuming most recruits like to stay near home and a similar commitment
to football excellence by all D-1 programs, neither would be as strong as they
are. However, tradition and commitment
to excellence have kept both relevant and powerful.
considered: Alabama, Tennessee
Again, this is meant
for fun, and not as a definitive list. There is no perfect comparison, and each school is very different. I’m
interested to hear everyone’s thoughts.