Back in 1979, a New York Times reporter wrote an article about the gang of nine. http://www.nytimes.com/1979/09/16/archives/an-appeal-to-break-up-that-ol-gang-of-nine.html?_r=0 . It’s a great article, but if you don’t want to read it, I will paraphrase it real quick. Going by the rankings, 9 teams had dominated college football. It would be easy for a college football fan to name them, Alabama, Penn State, Michigan, Notre Dame, Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, USC, Michigan, and Ohio State. These teams won a large majority of the championships, and were much more likely to finish in the top 10. He went on to predict the season, guessing Michigan would challenge Ohio State for the Big Ten title, Georgia would battle Bama for the SEC and so on. His only basis was that the gang of nine always win. The final top 4 were Alabama, USC, Oklahoma and Ohio State. Kinda proving his point.
A New Era, or At Least A Few Additions
Enter the 80s, and you added a few teams to the gang of 9. Florida State and Miami in particular. Florida State finished in the top 4 14 straight seasons. Miami finished 1 or 2 in 10 out of 20 seasons. Florida won a title in 96 and was close a few more times. With the split championship the traditional powers were still winning titles. So did the new kids on the block out of Florida, and even Georgia Tech, Clemson, Georgia, Washington and BYU got titles, or at least a share of one. Then came the BCS. It was your gang of 9, the new kids on the block and LSU, Auburn and Tennessee winning the titles. 3 programs that were well regarded from the SEC, a traditionally strong conference.
Enter The Playoffs, Where We Settle It on the Field!
We are now into our third season of the playoff era. Sure, the first two playoffs were won by two of the original gang of nine, but that was just a fluke, wasn’t it? I mean there is unprecedented parity in college football. FCS teams have knocked off top 15 teams multiple times, and took others to over time. It barely raises the meter when a non power 5 knocks off a power 5. After watching Louisville smash Florida State, it would be easy for their fans to dream of bringing home the trophy. And this could happen. It probably wont. Whether by design, or by the landscape of college football, more people will be invited to the dance, but it just got easier for your traditional powers to win it all.
In the old days, you needed to win all your games, or possibly have 1 explainable loss. This was very difficult to do for all but the most loaded of teams. It’s the nature of football and 20 year old kids. They don’t give 100% every week in practice, or even in every game. Having numbers really upped those odds. Now, you still have to do it, though a loss can be more forgivable. The real problem comes in for the “lesser” schools once the end of the regular season hits. Most will have to play a conference championship game against a ranked opponent. Then, if they manage that win, they have to win back to back games against a top 4 opponent. That’s hard for anyone to do, but much harder for a team that is at a depth disadvantage to begin with. Ohio State famously won the first playoff with a backup QB, after the original back up QB went down with injury. Does anyone on the planet really believe Louisville would be within 50 of Bama if Louisville is on their third string QB at that point?
Match ups are a huge part of college football. There are pro style teams. There are hybrid teams that run a pro style offense out of the pistol. There are triple option teams, and teams that run every other type of offense you can think of. There are just as many defenses. A schematic advantage lets David beat Goliath. If David then has to follow that win up with another Goliath, but a Goliath with a schematic advantage, we’ll be burying poor David. Recruiting rankings don’t matter much in one game. In a three game stretch against championship caliber opponents, it means everything. Having a bigger pool of players lets a coach lessen a schematic disadvantage, lessen injury problems and lessen focus problems. Kids that want to win championships generally don’t go to Louisville. It’s easy to see how a kid could be happy just making it to the playoffs, or securing a spot in the NFL. Or, gasp, being happy with the education he is receiving, and just soaking up the moment.
If I had a vote, I would vote Louisville number 1 right now. Predicting them to win the championship? I would almost guarantee it’s not going to happen..Without looking too much into it, it would be easy to pick Alabama, Michigan and Ohio State to win the playoff. Then I would pick Michigan State, Stanford, Wisconsin, LSU, Georgia and Tennessee over Louisville. While they are not as good as football teams at week three, they are deeper.