It’s been a few months but as we enter the stretch run of summer it’s time to start thinking about the fall. With the coming of fall returns the gloriousness that is college football. In 2015 I started a series determining which teams qualified as college football “blue bloods.” I established that by the strictest definition there are eight blue blood programs that dominate the sport decade to decade and have to qualify as the elite tier of the game. Alabama, Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Texas, USC all fall into this category.
But what about those programs that are historically great, but just not in this elite tier category? We examined Tennessee and Penn State and came to the conclusion that despite some bad breaks that have kept the top eight from being a top nine or top ten, these are still historically great programs and are worthy of blue blood status. While we have a nice even ten, there are still plenty of teams that have a good claim on being a blue blood. Next up on the chopping block, the other three long time SEC powers: Auburn, Georgia, and LSU.
The first question must be, why am I looking at three of these teams at the same time?
It’s my belief that these three teams have such a similar history that they are worth analyzing together. When looking at the eight elite blue bloods I noticed a pattern. With the exception of newer conferences like the Big East or ACC, the old conferences appeared to be dominated by two teams at the top or dominated by one team with several programs vying to be number two. The Big Ten and Big Eight’s history is dominated by Ohio State/Michigan and Oklahoma/Nebraska respectively (not to say the other programs cannot find periods of success like 1930’s Minnesota or 1990’s Colorado). In the Pac-10, USC is clearly the dominate program but who would take second? UCLA and Cal have impressive histories but we also have to consider the success of Washington in the 1990’s and Oregon over the past 15 years. In the SWC the dominant team was clearly Texas but Texas A&M and Arkansas make good cases as that conference’s historic runner up.
Which brings us to the SEC.
Most conferences have a clearly defined top, a fairly well defined second tier and then things get muddy. In the SWC the cream of the crop was Texas and after them was A&M and Arkansas. But where does TCU’s impressive pre-war history stack them? What about TCU’s less than stellar post-war history? Do we punish Houston and Texas Tech for not being invited to the party until later? SMU and Baylor both had great runs in the 1980’s and even Rice in the 1950’s to counter their usual decade after decade mediocrity. How do you stack all of that?
Figuring out the SEC is a nightmare in comparison. We know that Alabama is at the top but after that it’s all mud. The conference has been around for so long, the teams have been playing each other forever, and it’s had several notable expansions and contractions even before the recent bout of conference realignment. Looking past the on the field histories of these programs, their traditions and histories are on another level than most other programs. I personally think that Tennessee is the historic second program of the SEC but they could easily be displaced in a few seasons and any potential historic ranking of teams could be upended entirely with a well-timed national championship or 27-3 run over three seasons.
For this reason I’m discussing Auburn, Georgia, and LSU together. I could also insert Florida here but I personally think it makes more sense to discuss the Gators along with Florida State and Miami in a later breakdown.
National Titles: 2 (6 unclaimed)
Conference Titles: 12 (3 in the SIAA and 1 in the Southern Conference)
Win-Loss Record: 742-421-47 (.633)
Heisman Winners: 3
National Titles: 2 (4 unclaimed)
Conference Titles: 14 (2 with the SIAA)
Win-Loss Record: 786-413-54 (.649)
Heisman Winners: 2
National Titles: 3 (5 unclaimed)
Conference Titles: 14 (2 with the SIAA and 1 with the Southern Conference)
Win-Loss Record: 770-404-47 (.650)
Heisman Winners: 1
It’s amazing how similar these teams are when you consider that they’ve played each other for years and their histories date back to the 1890’s. Despite all of the history between these three they are within 44 wins of each other, possess a similar number of claimed and unclaimed national championships, and have comparable individual accolades (Auburn makes the only real separation here with its lead in All-Americans). They all have two SIAA conference championships for crying out loud. If it wasn’t for the decades of visceral hatred I wouldn’t be shocked if these three started confusing themselves. I’m a little surprised Georgia didn’t take the field in a random game against Kentucky with purple and gold jerseys or a drunken LSU fan scream “Geaux Eagle” tailgating before an Ole Miss game.
While we can definitely establish that these teams are similar, the looming question before us remains: are these programs blue bloods?
I have to say that they are. Sure these three have not yet hit the 800 win benchmark yet but they have all the other aspects the elite teams have. None are lacking in national championships. Auburn and LSU had championship seasons within the past decade and UGA won one as recent as 1980. All have had transcendent players come through their programs over the decades as well as hall of fame coaches. In short, none are lacking in history or tradition even if their competitive history does not rise to that elite tier level.
I’d say the real question is not whether these programs are blue bloods but whether one can separate and challenge Tennessee for the second spot in the SEC, especially considering the Vols struggles in recent years. LSU has added considerably to their legacy since the early 2000’s. Like Florida which rose to new highs beginning with Steve Spurrier the run the Tigers have been on an extended run that has rewritten their program’s history. The recent success of Auburn has also contributed that program’s status. Only the Bulldogs have not won a national championship since the BCS era began though they have come exceedingly close. The SEC has five teams with a solid claim to the ying to Alabama’s yang. It’s hard to see any one of them separating when they have all had nearly a century to separate themselves in SEC play alone. Especially considering how often they play and try and outdo each other. By the strictest definition only Alabama is a blue blood. By a common sense definition these three with their lengthy histories and tradition certainly fall in this category as well.
Next up: Florida, Florida State, and Miami