Easier: Winless or Undefeated?
Brian Curtis and Eric Sorenson slug it out over the most pressing football questions
|Brian Curtis, CSTV Senior Editor||Eric Sorenson, CSTV.com Analyst|
WINLESS. College football history is rife with winners. The Oklahomas, Notre Dames, Nebraskas, Armys and lately, USCs of the world. Lest we forget, those that have come before us, who also made history by going through a season without winning a single game. Pick a decade, pick a conference, and there they sit, 0-something.
Let's take a quick refresher course in losing football teams. The all-time greatest has to be Prairie View, which lost 80 straight games, including 1991 when it managed to score a whopping 48 points. There's also the Northwestern Wildcats of 1979-1982, who lost 34 games in a row or theColumbia Lions, who managed to play 44 games without a win from 1983-88. The ACC is not immune to inefficiency. Duke may have a great basketball team but its football program is one of the nation's worst, suffering a 23-game losing streak from 1999-2001. There's also the University of Virginia, which went 0-10 in both 1959 and 1960.
Times have changed, and the late 1950s are a stretch. Still, Duke was just a few years ago and Prairie View not long before that. Northwestern's stretch was mainly in the 1980s. And as recently as 2003, Army went winless. The game of college football is much different today, but as of Oct. 28, four teams are well on their way to joining the illustrious list of losers. Rice is 0-6, Buffalo and New Mexico State, which lost 27 in a row from 1988-90, are both 0-7. Temple is 0-8. And these are not Division III schools or from obscure conferences. Last year, George O'Leary's UCF squad went winless but already has three wins in 2005.
So how hard is it to go winless? Not hard at all. If it were, so many teams from so many conferences over so many years could not have accomplished the feat. The blueprint is easy: don't be good and take the money and run. Many teams, particularly in the non-BCS conferences, agree to go on the road and take on the big boys for a nice guarantee, which can range in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. That money helps support the athletic departments at their schools. So in an 11-game schedule, chalk up three automatic losses for a school. The other eight games are against conference foes, and we have seen a multitude of teams run the league winless. Poor talent, poor coaching, poor facilities, for some reason they just can't win. Which leads us to the Catch-22.
The more games a team loses, the harder it is to win one. Start off a season 0-4 and the players, and staff, begin to give up. They see their hard work going down the toilet so they don't practice and play as hard and frankly, give up. This, in turn, leads to more losses and you can easily see why losing seasons can turn into years of futility.
It's hard to go undefeated. That's why in most years, just a handful of teams run the table out of 119 Division I schools. To increase a strength of schedule, top teams are now adding some risky non-conference games, which can lead to upsets. And the parity has become greater, particularly in the major conferences such as the Big Ten, where anybody can beat anybody (except for maybe Illinois). To go undefeated, you have to be good and lucky and coaches who have experienced such a season can attest to that.
So, have no fear, 2005 will end with at least one winless team. And it wasn't that hard getting there.
Why? Because of what happened in June 2004 and May 2005. AKA, the darker days of college football.
It was during these two time periods that the BCS and the NCAA allowed Division I-A teams to quit having any cajones.
In June of '04, the BCS decided to take the strength of schedule component out of its system of determining their ratings. Yep, one of the most important factors of formulating the national championship was mind-numbingly left in the post-season landfill.
Then, in May of this year, the brainiacs at the NCAA also decided that, instead of counting one win over a I-AA opponent every four years toward their bowl eligibility, teams now can count one win over a I-AA opponent every year (I hear you cheering from here, Kansas State).
Thus, is it any surprise that last year we saw five teams go unbeaten in the regular season? USC, Oklahoma, Auburn, Utah and Boise State all went through their slate with no scars. Of the five, only USC faced a non-conference opponent that finished in the Top 20. Heck, Boise State and Utah didn't face a single opponent the whole regular season, conference or not, that finished ranked in the Top 20.
Do you see what this all means? There is no incentive for a team to schedule tough non-conference opponents any longer.
That's why you see teams like Auburn in 2004 dropping mid-major monster Bowling Green and adding The Citadel. And Nebraska in 2005 dropped a trip to Houston to start the season and instead plugged an instant W over I-AA Maine in its place.
It's no longer going to be the best teams that go unbeaten. No, from here on out it will probably be good teams with the smartest Athletic Directors. There's no incentive to play tough teams, so why do it? Why should Texas go to Ohio State and risk losing a game when it can simply schedule a money-making home game against sacrificial lambs like Rice, or Texas State, or hell, Sul Ross State.
I applaud Texas and OSU for keeping that game on the schedule this year and in 2006, but classics like that are going to get fewer and farther between in the coming years. That's why I say it's easier to go 11-0 in this day and age. Especially if you've got a good team and your conference is in a down cycle (I.e., like Utah last year or Texas this year).
Of course, the up side of all this is, with increased unbeatens somebody is going to be left out of a title shot year-in, year-out. So the BCS will only get more and more hate mail in the coming seasons. Personally, I'll take a few more boring Septembers in the non-conference department as long as it leads to more unbeaten teams in December, more chaos in January and ultimately, the BCS going the way of the buffalo - where it should be.