Things are getting a little more interesting now in this rundown of the college football bluebloods. Up until the Florida three every program we have analyzed has really qualified as a blueblood at least by a loose standard. Even by a loose standard I’d consider Florida and Florida State to be bluebloods with Miami an interesting case that comes close to a blueblood by a loose definition. But I don’t think any of these three are bluebloods by the strict definition and now we are starting to draw our lines.
One of the big knocks against the Florida schools is that their rise to greatness is very recent and we still aren’t sure it’s because the programs are self-sustaining juggernauts similar to USC or Ohio State or because of outstanding coaching hires and like Miami, UF and FSU are a bad hire away from regressing back to the mean. But what about those schools that are decidedly “solid”? What about those schools that have impressive histories in their own right, many over the course of college football history, but might not rise to that elite level?
I call this the .600 Club because these are the programs that have a .600 or better winning percentage but they might not have that elite level of success you see from Notre Dame or even Tennessee or LSU. These are programs with a national championship or two, all of which occurred years ago, storied football histories with proud traditions, and more than capable of busting out a great season every few years. These are all programs that feel like they are a few good hires away from making a jump. After all is a school like OU a self-sustaining juggernaut or does the OU administration just insanely lucky with their coaching hires? Maybe being a blueblood has nothing to do with the school and everything to do with the ability to select and hire coaches?
This is an interesting level because by a strict definition I don’t think any of these teams are bluebloods. Judging by a loose definition however, that gets a little trickier.
National Titles: 2 (3 unclaimed)
Conference Titles: 15
Win-Loss Record: 703-440-50 (.610)
Heisman Winners: 0
Seems hard to believe now but Washington, not Oregon, was once the premier program of the Pacific Northwest. And they weren’t just the best team up there, they were one of the best programs in the country. I knew Washington claimed the 1991 national championship. I didn’t know they claimed a title in the 1960’s and had three other unclaimed titles. I also didn’t know they were so competitive in bowl games with seven Rose Bowl wins and an Orange Bowl victory. I also didn’t know the Huskies have been playing football since 1889. They didn’t start consistently playing more than a few games in a season until the early-mid 1900’s but they had several impressive runs in these early years. From 1908 to 1916 the Huskies didn’t lose a game. They hit a speed bump when they joined the Pacific Coast Conference but then won the conference four times from 1916 until 1936 while enjoying winning seasons all but one year from 1923 until 1937. Then the rollercoaster that is Washington took a downward turn through the 40’s and 50’s with a host of mediocre seasons (fun fact Darrell Royal coached Washington to a 5-5 record for one year in 1956).
Then the PCC died and foundations of the Pac-10 were formed with the Athletic Association of Western Universities. Washington took full advantage of the conference change and made the leap. They went 20-2 from 1959 to 1960 winning the conference twice and claiming their first national title in 1960. They won the Rose Bowl both years. As quickly as it began the Husky rollercoaster went haywire. They won the conference in 1963 and posted several eight win seasons intermixed with a three, two and one win season. This chaotic mediocrity continued until 1977 when Don James took the reins and got UW back on track. Under James they posted seven double digit win season from 1977 until 1991 including seven conference titles from 1977 until 1992 and three national titles (only one of which they claim). While Washington hasn’t retained that peak they enjoyed in the 1980’s and early 1990’s subsequent coaches Jim Lambright and Rick Neuheisel posted good seasons and won conference titles. Since 2000 there was a slow decline culminating in a winless season in 2008. Steve Sarkisian and Chris Peterson have brought the Huskies up to a seven win floor but they still aren’t close to their consistent world beater status.
This is actually an impressive history over a long period of time with two very high peaks in the 1960’s and late-80’s/early-90’s. If Washington had been able to maintain itself as even an occasional “ten win season” type program I think they’d be a shoe in for a blueblood. But the streakiness has to matter. Washington has more ups and downs than the stock market and several decades of mediocrity intermixed with several high level decades. By a strict definition I would say the Huskies are not a blueblood, though they are close and I think you can make the argument. By a loose definition I’d say they are easily a blueblood. If Chris Peterson can recapture what he had at Boise State in Seattle then UW could make it very interesting. After all even the elite level bluebloods have had down stretches, the key is their down stretches are shorter than other programs and when they bounce back they bounce back into championship form. Right now Washington has had two championship peaks and several relatively long stretches of mediocrity. A national title and kicking Oregon off the regional pedestal would go a long way towards padding that resume and providing further proof that even when Washington does go down they do come back up and compete with the best at the highest level. That is what being a blueblood program is all about.
Virginia Tech Hokies
National Titles: 0
Conference Titles: 10
Win-Loss Record: 712-451-46 (.608)
Heisman Winners: 0
Let’s jump right to it. Even by a loose definition I don’t think the Hokies are a blueblood. They aren’t close by a strict definition. Virginia Tech is a poor man’s Florida State albeit with a longer history. The problem for the Hokies is Frank Beamer never won a national championship whereas Bobby Bowden won several. All of the ACC titles in the world don’t make up for that. Now, Virginia Tech is a very good program and I would not be surprised at all if Justin Fuente found rapid success similar to the transition seen at FSU from Bowden to Jimbo Fisher but we don’t even have evidence of that transition yet. It’s very possible the Hokies are a one coach program that spends the next 15 years struggling to recapture its success. College football is littered with these types of programs. It’s also very possible that Beamer jump started a program that will find continued success under Fuente. Establishing that era-to-era greatness is the key. For a school that was very mediocre until Beamer’s arrival and that didn’t win a bowl game until 1986, they just don’t have that breadth of greatness to draw from.
But here is the thing Hokies, you have an excellent foundation with which to work. Beamer failed to win a national championship and the Hokies are lacking in the individual hardware department but no one can deny the run they’ve had even in Beamer’s waning years. Thirteen double-digit winning seasons since 1995, a slew of ACC titles and making a bowl game every year since 1993 is a resume many programs would kill for. Virginia Tech is located in a recruiting hotbed and while the ACC is no longer as winnable as it once was with Florida State and Clemson surging and Louisville acting as a darkhorse it’s still an easier path than other conferences. More importantly, Virginia Tech plays in the Coastal Division which is the easier of the two. If Fuente can keep the engine humming, and perhaps even return the Hokies to regularly winning 10 or more games, the foundation suddenly starts to look like a long-term trend which is exactly what Virginia Tech needs to be considered a blueblood program.
National Titles: 1
Conference Titles: 21
Win-Loss Record: 703-455-45 (.603)
Heisman Winners: 0
When deciphering Clemson’s history I found myself very confused. How could a school go from such long periods of mediocrity to such sudden explosions of excellence? The Tigers seem to have Washington Husky Syndrome which is a medical diagnosis I just made up in which the symptoms are insanely low floors and insanely high ceilings and little consistency. The good news is its not terminal and a Clemson fan will likely spend a good chunk of their life satisfied with the accomplishments of the team while the other half is spent in rank frustration. The bad news is that lack of consistency is a big hit against being considered a blueblood program.
In Clemson’s earliest years they won two conference titles under John Heisman, one of the legendary football personalities of all time, and saw two undefeated seasons. Then from 1910 until 1928 everything blends together in a slew of six or less wins. Then the rollercoaster begins. Three eight wins seasons from 1928 to 1930 gave way to a one win season in 1931. In 1932 the Tigers finished in 21st place in the massive Southern Conference. They then proceeded to finish second in that conference twice a few years later (including winning the 1939 Cotton Bowl after their 9-1 1939 season (their lone loss being a one point loss to Tulane who fell to Texas A&M in the national title that year). They then collapsed across the 1940’s before surging back to 11 wins in 1948, winning the conference and the Gator Bowl. They immediately fell to 4-4-2 in 1949 before surging to 9-0-1 in 1950 and winning the Orange Bowl. Their history follows this pattern for years including three inexplicable ACC title from 1965 to 1967 with 5-5, 6-4, and another 6-4 seasons. Something that should be noted in this chaos, Clemson did breach double-digit wins from 1948 until 1978. Clemson’s best stretch began that 1978 season and from 1978 until 1990 the Tigers went 116-32, went 7-2 in bowl games, won the AC six times and won the 1982 national championship. Since then Clemson has experienced two losing seasons, a handful of six and seven win seasons and a slew of eight and nine win seasons. Dabo Swinney is well underway in establishing the Tigers as a powerhouse. He has led the Tigers to five straight double-digit winning seasons, two ACC titles, the ACC title game four times, and a national championship game appearance this past year. He is 5-4 in bowl games with huge wins over LSU in 2012, Ohio State in 2014, and twice against OU in 2014 and 2015.
As we have established, bluebloodedness is about consistency. Clemson has era-to-era greatness having impressive stretches before and after World War II, the late 80’s and now the early-mid 1010’s. The consistency is the issue. The 90’s and 2000’s were alright to Clemson but nothing special. The 60’s and 70’s were borderline bad for Clemson and their early pre-war years are a rollercoaster of poor seasons and sudden surges upward to be met with a just as sudden collapse. Like I said at the top of this article, Clemson is not a blueblood from a strict definition. By a loose definition, the argument could be made but I don’t think so either. However I will say that the gap is narrow. A few more great Dabo years, perhaps with a second national title would go a long way to establishing Clemson as a blueblood. Maybe not at that elite of the elite surefire status but certainly in the mix.
Michigan State Spartans
National Titles: 6
Conference Titles: 11
Win-Loss Record: 681-441-44 (.603)
Heisman Winners: 0
As with all of the teams in this tier, the issue with the Spartans is consistency. When Sparty does well, they kick ass. When Sparty isn’t kicking ass they are very very mediocre. By my count they only really have about five or so terrible years since they started playing football in 1896. They also have a great early history with two conference titles and multiple no loss and one loss seasons until Chester Brewer utterly dropped the ball in 1917 when MSU went 0-9. From that point on, Michigan State has finished between four and eight wins 70 times (note a few of these seasons are upper end seasons when eight wins took MSU to the 1937 Rose Bowl and an 8th and 3rd place finish in the 1950 and 1957 AP Polls). For most of its post-war history though, Sparty has been “alright.”
The peaks for MSU though are incredible. The Spartans have won back-to-back national titles twice in 1951 and 1952 and again in 1965 and 1966. Under Mark Dantonio they have rolled off five of the last six seasons where the floor was 11 wins. They won the Rose Bowl and the Cotton Bowl in 2013 and 2014. They have been national title contenders for the past few years and should be once more going into 2016. Suddenly MSU has three great era, the 50’s, 60’s and now 2010’s.
By a strict definition this isn’t enough to get the Spartans into the club.Very high highs do not make up for a slew of mediocrity in the 20’s, 40’s, 70’s, 80’s and 2000’s. For every Mark Dantonio and Duffy Daugherty they hire there is a Muddy Waters and John L. Smith lurking in their past. By the loose definition however, I’d say MSU has to be in the club. Even some of the best programs of all time haven’t gone back-to-back in national championships much less twice. MSU’s long history and ability to peak decades after a previous peak are a testament to the school’s commitment to its football team. That era-to-era greatness is characteristic of a blueblood and while MSU isn’t “great” enough of the time to be in the club by a strict sense I’d say they definitely belong in a loose sense.
There is one more .600 win program that I almost discussed in this post. However that article ended up being about the size of all of the above so I have saved them for tomorrow.