So far the programs we have looked at have all had some level of sustained success over the course of decades. But what happens when a program has a poor early history followed by consistently stellar decades later in the university’s life? What happens when three such schools are all located in the same state and make the jump at relatively the same time? This is the case in the state of Florida where after many years of poor showings before WWII and even after, all three of the major schools: the Florida Gators, Florida State Seminoles, and the Miami Hurricanes all exploded onto the college football scene changing everything along the way.
There is no question that even with a relatively short period of massive success these programs have etched themselves into the fabric and history of college football. There is a reason that “The U” is one of the most popular 30 For 30 films and guys like Steve Spurrier and Bobby Bowden are household names. But are these schools bluebloods? Heck the very term “blueblood” evokes imagery of old money stiffness and exclusivity and these programs are decisively new money. Miami is about as far from stiff as one can get. But at what point does year after year sustained success elevate one to another level? How many years does it take for that new money to become old?
National Titles: 3
Conference Titles: 8
Win-Loss Record: 701-404-40 (.630)
Heisman Winners: 3
The Gators hold the distinction for playing football the earliest of these three with their first year of play occruing in 1906. By no means has Florida been bad in its history. The Gators actually experienced early success in those first years with a 5-0-1 season in 1911 and not having a losing season until 1916. Even when UF was down in the late 1910’s they bounced back with an impressive stretch in the 1920’s. Then the Southern Conference fell apart and gave way to the SEC. Florida posted two winning seasons from the start of the conference until 1956. Florida didn’t even play in a bowl game, the Gator Bowl, until 1952 which it won. Then Ray Graves took over in 1960 and the mediocrity began to evaporate. The Gators posted three nine win seasons under Graves but also managed to drop a few games along the way. Doug Dickey, Charley Pell, and Galen Hall had similar ceilings. From the 1960’s and until the 1990’s the Gators seemed to be a team with a nine win ceiling, prone to occasional very good teams, prone to occasional very bad teams, usually somewhere in the middle, and never elite. As the 90’s began Florida had a mixed record in bowl games, had never posted a ten win season, and never won a conference title. Miami had surpassed them and Florida State was on the cusp. Their trophy case had one high water mark, quarterback Steve Spurrier’s Heisman Trophy.
Who knew the former Heisman winner would save the program?
Enter Spurrier in 1990 who shattered the nine win ceiling. His floor became the nine wins make the Gators had been unable to break for nearly a century and he rattled off six SEC titles in eight title game appearances and brought home the Gator’s first national title in 1996. The rapid rise made Florida an overnight premier coaching destination and after Spurrier left for the NFL the Gators haven’t struggled to land elite coaching talent. Urban Meyer won two SEC titles and two national titles. The fates of Will Muschamp and Ron Zook are proof of how high expectations have risen in Gainesville. In the 80’s their results would have led to decade long careers. Zook didn’t even last three full seasons.
Florida State Seminoles
National Titles: 3 (5 unclaimed)
Conference Titles: 18
Win-Loss Record: 522-241-17 (.680)
Heisman Winners: 3
Contrary to the Gators, the ‘Noles didn’t even start playing football until after World War II. Granted they came out swinging, winning three Dixie Conference titles from 1948 to 1950 under Don Veller but once FSU went independent the good times came to a close. From 1951 until 1977 their peak was one nine win season in 1964. Vaunted Florida State was more likely to post a losing season than a winning one. Like Florida, FSU needed someone to start the engine. Unlike the Gators who needed a jump start to kick into that extra gear, FSU needed a new engine altogether.
Enter Bobby Bowden in 1976 who, after a losing first season, built the Seminoles from the ground up. FSU hasn’t had a losing season since that first year. Bowden posted six double digit wins seasons until the 1990’s when his lowest win total was 10-2. FSU won nine ACC titles in a row and 12 total under Bowden. They won two national titles in 1993 and 1999. More impressively, once Bowden was out the FSU machine plugged Jumbo Fisher in who has kept the machine running right along. Fisher has won three ACC titles in six years, made the conference title game once more and won the 2013 national championship.
National Titles: 5
Conference Titles: 9
Win-Loss Record: 604-347-19 (.632)
Heisman Winners: 2
Miami split the difference between FSU and UF for when they started playing football in 1927. Miami was very Gatorish for decades, a middling team with lots of mediocre seasons, a few bad seasons and a few good seasons. Like Florida and Florida State they could never break the ten win barrier until the school hired the coach that brought life the program and led to it’s rapid rise to success. Howard Schnellenberger didn’t see the two year turn around that Spurrier and Bowden brought to their respective Sunshine State schools but he posted back-to-back nine win seasons and blasted the door open with an 11-1 national championship season in 1983.
Unlike UF and FSU, Miami has had lots of coaching turnover during its run but everyone found various levels of elite success. Jimmy Johnson, Dennis Erickson and Larry Coker all won national championships while Butch Davis came close multiple times and won three Big East titles. During this stretch from 1983 to 2003 there were few teams scarier, talented and more boisterous than the Hurricanes. When Miami joined Virginia Tech and Boston College in jumping from the Big East to the ACC there were fears that Miami with greater resources would be unstoppable.
The good times were over as quickly as they began though. Three years after winning the 2001 national championship with one of the most talented teams ever, two years after making a national championship game appearance and one year removed from an 11-2 season with an Orange Bowl win…Miami posted back-to-back nine win seasons and began a steady drop. Since joining the ACC the Hurricanes are 2-7 in bowl games, have peaked with four nine win seasons, posted two losing seasons and began plagued by scandal. The school administration refuses to support the program and they left their long time stadium to play in the Dolphin’s NFL stadium.
Whether or not the rise can be attributed to a multitude of good coaching hires, the conference affiliation or maybe the fall was just bad hires or bad luck is tough to say. What we do know is that for 20 years Miami was as unstoppable a program as college football had ever seen.
But do these accomplishments make these programs blue bloods? By a strict definition, I’d say they don’t. FSU and UF are probably on the cusp of being bluebloods with Florida the closer of the two. The ability to consistently win games and conference titles and compete for national championships under multiple coaches over multiple eras is what makes a blueblood what they are.
UF and FSU are well underway but we cannot discount how close these schools still are to their respective greatest coaches ever. Fisher has only been at FSU for six years and Spurrier was still coaching last season (albeit at South Carolina). If these teams are competing at an elite level into the 2020’s and beyond they could probably be considered a blueblood even by a strict definition. Indeed their resumes are roughly on par with team’s like Georgia and LSU. The consistency is the key, LSU, Georgia and Auburn have been great for a long time; UF and FSU have been great recently and we still need long term evidence that such successes can be sustained. If I were a betting man I’d say they would be and if we are judging bluebloodedness by a loose definition based on resume it’s hard to keep them out at this very moment.
But what about Miami? If we consider UF and FSU bluebloods by a loose definition but not a strict one, what happens when you’re mediocre for most of your history, had 20 years most college programs, even some very good one’s would kill for, and then collapse back into mediocirty?
Calling Miami a blueblood even by a loose definition would essentially force our hand and make us say programs with insane stretches are the elite of the elite. I would never take away from the runs we have seen from TCU and Boise State in recent years, or Virginia Tech’s run under Frank Beamer but it’s hard to say a good stretch makes you one of the very best programs of all time. We cannot however discount that Miami won five national championships in that 20 stretch. The Hurricanes built a resume worthy of an elite team in 20 years but the timeframe is still a factor. Yes 1983-2003 are amazing years for the Hurricanes but bluebloodness is about consistency and success across multiple eras. Pre-1983 must be considered and perhaps even more damming is the state of Miami post-2003. By a strict definition I wouldn’t consider any of these Florida schools to be a blueblood though UF and FSU are close, perhaps a decade more of success close. I’d also say UF and FSU are just barely bluebloods from a loose definition based on resume and impact to the game and their apparent ability to keep the success going. Miami is neither.
Right now Miami needs another great stretch run to make up for the nearly 15 years of mediocrity they have put up since joining the ACC. Even by a loose definition where resume matters more than anything they still have work to do. Five national championships do not make up for the fact that the Hurricanes had a very mediocre history before the 1980’s nor for the fact that Miami has floundered in the ACC, a conference many consider the weakest of the Power Five.
This leads me to my final point, bluebloodedness is not the same as greatness. Florida, Florida State, and Miami are all great programs. Yes, even with Miami’s current struggles it will take more than 15 years to erase the impact their 20 year stretch run had on the sport. Bluebloodedness is about sustained greatness. UF and FSU need a little more time before we can call their success sustained. Miami, based on their struggles in the ACC, is proof that even powerhouses struggle to maintain greatness. All three of these schools are great, all three are what makes college football what it is, but the new money smell is still there, even if its clearing from UF and FSU, and that is the crux of what makes a blueblood program a blueblood.