Sunday, July 30, 2006

Let's dig a bit deeper

It's good to see that I prompted a healthy discussion with my last post concerning who the greatest college football program of all time was. Unfortunately, it got interpreted as an 'I-hate-Notre-Dame-party' from yours truly ... or, as Paul put it, an 'I-want-to-suck-up-Michigan-extravaganza.'

Both are wrong ... particularly the latter. I've got nothing personal against Michigan, but I'm just not a fan. There's no incentive for me to say Michigan is better than Notre Dame, and there's no real reason for me to poormouth the Irish. It's a good program with a ton of tradition. However, my original intent was to push through all of that aura and show how Notre Dame is just like everyone else when it comes to successful college football programs.

So let me go on record as saying I'm perfectly content in letting an Irish fan argue that the tradition and pageantry of Notre Dame football is perhaps the greatest in all the land - though even that could be questioned ... they've obviously never heard "Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer" at an Alabama game.

Before leaving the Alabama discussion, however, let me also say how absurd it is to say one of the three winningest coaches of all time isn't one of the best of his era. Dude, the coach of the year award is named after this guy.

Also, let me rise to the defense of Southern football again. I get absolutely frustrated with the whole notion that Alabama's national championships - or those of any other Southern team - are not on par with Notre Dame's or another school's because the schedule was overwhelmingly against Southeastern programs. That's an insult to this region's football which, as evidenced by the success of Miami, Florida State, Georgia, Alabama, Auburn, Tennessee, LSU, Florida and a whole host of other programs, is, without a doubt, among the best in the country. Players from the Southeast litter the rosters of schools like Notre Dame and Michigan and Southern Cal and Oklahoma, so to say it's not same caliber is laughable.

Furthermore, can we drop once and for all, the concept that you have to play outside of your region or conference to qualify for national title contention? Consider Auburn in 2004, which was shut out of the BCS Championship Game because of a 'soft' out-of-conference schedule. Southern California faced two quality teams in Virginia Tech and California, while Oklahoma defeated Texas. Auburn was penalized for its non-conference games, but defeated No. 6 LSU (the defending BCS national champion), No. 10 Tennessee and No. 8 Georgia in the regular season. The Tigers then beat Tennessee again to win the SEC championship and knocked off No. 9 Virginia Tech, the ACC champion, in the Sugar Bowl.

They may not be much for the book-learnin' ... but Carnell Williams and the 2004 Auburn Tigers could play.

The competition level in the SEC is considerably more rigorous week-in and week-out than any other conference in the country. This isn't to take anything away from the Big Ten and ACC, which are two fine conferences in their own right.

Now, as I nudge my soap box to the side, let's get back to the task at hand. Xon made the valid point of suggesting we look at what we perceive the 'modern era' of college football to be, say, after 1950. I thought this would do a disservice to Notre Dame considering how successful the program had been in the 1940s, so I decided to examine from 1940 on.

I also broke it down even further to examine the success of programs from 1980 on, seeing how this is now a complete quarter-century and allows us to evaluate the remarkable successes the Florida schools have compiled.

I had reached a tentative conclusion that, if nothing else, Michigan deserved to be at least mentioned with Notre Dame as one of the top programs of all time. So we'll start with the Wolverines.

From 1940 to the present day, Michigan has rolled up a 513-183-16 record, punctuated by three national titles. Notre Dame, in the same time span, compiled a 503-201-18 record with an astounding nine national titles, four of them captured in the 1940s. Head-to-head, the Irish lead the Wolverines 13-10-1 in this time span.

So it's a tough call. Surely Notre Dame's national championships, coupled with its impressive number of All-Americans and Heisman Trophy winners, appear to give the Irish a slight edge. However, All-Americans and Heisman Trophies are, by in large, political things and voters tend to give Notre Dame student-athletes a little more recognition than other schools (Paul Horning anyone?).

Seriously, I don't mean that as a slight, but it does make it a kinda tough category to factor in. It's a close race with Michigan having actually won more games and racking up 18 10-win seasons to Notre Dame's 11. Still the Irish hold the head-to-head advantage and a wide lead in recognized national championships.

However, perhaps we have all spoken to soon. As we take a look at some of the other 'Big Eight' teams, we see a couple rise to the top. Oklahoma compiled a ridiculous 543-181-16 mark in that time span with seven national championships. It's true the Irish did run up an 8-1 record against the Sooners, but most of those victories came in the 1960s when Oklahoma was going through a down cycle in between the coaching stints of Bud Wilkinson and Barry Switzer.

Nebraska, likewise, went 507-225-10, with most of their losses coming in the 1940s and 1950s before Bob DeVaney and Tom Osborne took the program to new heights. The Cornhuskers won five national championships, including the 1995 team which, in my opinion, is the greatest national champion of all time. Nebraska went 3-2 against the Irish, but again most of those games came in down years for both programs.

Alabama compiled a 517-209-21 mark with seven national championships (including the much-debated 1973 one), but the Crimson Tide struggled against Notre Dame in the bowl games.

And, in an omission which is sure to bother both Michigan and Notre Dame fans, Penn State has gone 520-185-12 since 1940 with two national championships and six undefeated seasons. The Nittany Lions also hold an 8-5 advantage over the Irish, but are on the short end of an 8-3 deficit to the Wolverines. As an aside, I think it's completely unfair Penn State gets looked down upon for their successes in the 1960s and 1970s. The played competitive schedules which, according to my research, routinely featured two or three ranked opponents.

Also, something to please Notre Dame fans, why in the world does Southern California get so much credit? The Trojans have a 491-219-29 mark since 1940, including a 24-35-4 record against the Irish. If it wasn't for the impressive 48-4 run the past four seasons, Southern California would be idling in the middle of the pack. As a result, I'm bumping the Trojans from the 'Big Eight' and replacing them with Penn State.

Fellas, if it wasn't for this guy, you'd be stuck with the memories of Rodney Peete.

Georgia, for what it's worth, has gone 484-239-24 with two national championships. I'd argue it's got the second-best historical program in the SEC, but we can get into that another day.

However, as I began to take a look at this, I felt this format was a bit unfair to the Florida schools which have dominated the college football landscape since 1980. The trio of Florida, Florida State and Miami have combined to win eight national championships, send hordes of players to the NFL and instigate numerous brawls in the tunnels in the past quarter-century.

Still, since 1980 Nebraska has compiled the most wins, running up a 262-63-4 mark and winning three national championships. Miami is close behind with a 255-57 record and five national championships, while Florida State is 252-63-4 with two national titles. The Cornhuskers have run up 17 10-win seasons, the Seminoles 16 and the Hurricanes 14.

Against Notre Dame, Miami is 6-4 since 1980 (but 7-15-1 overall), Florida State is 4-2 and Nebraska is 2-0.

Penn State has gone 223-88-2 with a pair of national championships, 11 10-win seasons and an 8-4 advantage over the Irish. Florida has run up a 230-83-4 record with nine 10-win seasons and a national championship.

Georgia, by the way, is 221-87-5 with 10 10-win seasons, five SEC championships and one national title.

As for Notre Dame, the Irish have gone 204-102-4 with one national championship and six 10-win seasons.

Like it or not Irish fans, one of those 10-win deals came under this guy.

It's hard to pick who's the best. Surely since 1980, there's little to suggest Miami has performed at the most consistent level. At their heyday, playing the Hurricanes was like climbing into the ring with Mike Tyson in his prime. Teams were intimidated, and the Hurricanes' dominance supports that. Five national championships is impressive.

Nebraska's run from 1994 through 1998 is perhaps one of the best five-year runs in college football history, up there with Notre Dame's success in the 1940s, Oklahoma's in the mid-1950s and Southern California's the past few years. The Cornhuskers, however, might have been the best dynasty over a short period of time. Those guys humiliated teams week-in and week-out. They abused them, and we may never see a stretch like that again.

Since 1940, though, I'm not sure if I can make a clear judgement. I can't in good faith say that Notre Dame is the premier program because I don't believe the statistics support it. If anything, I'd say rank Michigan, Notre Dame and Oklahoma evenly at the top, with Alabama, Nebraska and Penn State hovering on the second level.


Blogger Paul said...


Your original post wasn't about "since 1980" or "since 1950." You are throwing away the original argument and starting a whole different one.

Here is what you said, emphasis added: "[N]othing about Notre Dame's history jumps out and says the Irish deserve the pedestal they've been given." That is what I called you to task on in your original. My other comments (for example, about Alabama barely leaving the state to win a NC) were made to parallel your arbitrary decisions about what "facts" to emphasize.

7:55 PM  
Blogger Jmac said...

Wait, wait, wait ...

This additional post was done in response to objections raised by a variety of individuals in the original thread. For instance, I cited Michigan's 18-14-1 advantage over Notre Dame in the overall series, and you, along with others, said 'well that doesn't really count since a lot of this happened way back when.'

Other made similar arguments (such as how much longer Michigan has fielded a program than Notre Dame), so upon the recommendations of a variety of folks, I have here suggested, as an aside, we take a look at the record from 1940 on, with the 1980-to-present portion being a further aside I voluntarily brought up.

The more this goes on, the more it seems to me that it's the Notre Dame fans who keep making up excuses to justify their beliefs. The goalposts keep being moved back to make the playing field uneven for the rest of the major programs, all in the name of preserving Notre Dame's lore.

8:21 PM  
Blogger Jmac said...

Plus ... let's say we go back and include all of college football history, than you're going to find that it's Princeton (24 national titles) and Yale (19 national titles) who deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as Notre Dame.

Heck, the Bulldogs from up north have won 831 games to boot, so why not just end this whole thing and say Yale is the greatest college football program of all time?

8:42 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

No, no, no. Now you are missing the point.

The "facts" are not going to get anybody case your first post, with its spin to get to a conclusion, and those silly comments following your first post didn't prove that already.

You said "nothing about" ND's "history jumps out." That was an absurd statement which you, yourself, have since proved wrong. Throwing out your vague "intangibles," do the Fighting Irish deserve the pedestal based strictly on wins, winning %, heismans, NCs, All-Americans, college HOFers, NFL draft picks, and pro HOFs? I say "Absolutely." You now say, "Well, with two other teams, especially if we look in the 'modern' era." That is a long distance from your "nothing" and I want you to recognize that.

8:46 PM  
Blogger Jmac said...

Now we're contorting my words to reach your own conclusion.

The intent of my statement that 'nothing jumps about Notre Dame's history' goes hand-in-hand with my statement about them deserving the pedestal they've been placed on.

Perhaps I was unclear and the wrong impression was given, and for that, I offer a mea culpa.

However, my original meaning was that nothing about Notre Dame's statistical history jumps out as more important or more impressive than other college programs (like Michigan or Oklahoma), therefore the Irish don't deserve to be placed upon some pedestal as the end-all, be-all of college football.

The pedestal is the one Notre Dame puts itself on, alone ... without even a passing thought of considering someone else deserves to share that spot with them.

I never said, nor did I intend to give the impression, that Notre Dame wasn't one of the greatest programs of all time, based on the evidence I laid out. My point was this idea they alone have some birthright to college football royalty is misguided.

I thought I had made that clear in the resulting thread of comments, but perhaps I did not. So, to the Notre Dame Nation, please cast your divine grace on me for my apparently unclear and unintentionally misleading words.

8:57 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

I don't see where I am contorting your words. I am quoting them verbatim.

Your logic in your original post was badly flawed and failed to prove your hypothesis. Your use of hyperbole did not help your point. It was the hyperbole I had a problem with. The other stuff, if done properly, simply becomes a matter of weighing the different facts. Your Michigan case, even in this newest post, still fails to hold up. Alabama or Oklahoma are fine choices...just ones I disagree with and that I think the facts do not support.

This concept that playing only a regional schedule is somehow unimportant in this debate is also faulty. As a PR person, you clearly realize that it is better to be seen and known outside your region than only in it...especially if you are trying to make a case of "top" status based on games played in the era of radio and 3 b/w TV networks.

The idea that Notre Dame puts itself on a pedestal is silly. There is no birthright in college football. More hyperbole.

Your original intent may very well have been that, minus the "intangibles" (your word, not mine), "nothing about Notre Dame's statistical history jumps out as more important or more impressive than other college programs." But that wasn't what you actually wrote. And wasn't what you proved.

And your religious references, with the tone of sarcasm, are over the top and shocking coming from you. I hope you were just trying to be ironic and not mean.

9:38 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

This little tidbit also deserves its own comment: "However, All-Americans and Heisman Trophies are, by in large, political things and voters tend to give Notre Dame student-athletes a little more recognition than other schools."

That may be the silliest of all your caveats so far. Proof, please? And Hornung, as one case, does not count as proof. "There is bias because there must be for them to have so many" is also not proof.

The knock on Hornung aside...(and Lombardi called him "the most versatile man who ever played the game"...) go back and count the number of Heisman trophy winners that made their renown by helping their team to beat (even mediocre) Notre Dame teams.

10:19 PM  
Blogger Xon said...

"I don't see where I am contorting your words. I am quoting them vebatim....Your original intent may very well have been that, minus the "intangibles" (your word, not mine), "nothing about Notre Dame's statistical history jumps out as more important or more impressive than other college programs." But that wasn't what you actually wrote. And wasn't what you proved."

This is, perhaps, part of your problem in this discussion, Paul. JMac has already tried to clarify his original intention in posting on this topic. For you to keep jumping up and down and saying, "That's not what you originally said, that's not what you originally said!" is beating a dead horse if I've ever seen one.

"The idea that Notre Dame puts itself on a pedestal is silly. There is no birthright in college football. More hyperbole."

You honestly don't get a sense from Notre Dame fans that Notre Dame is supposed to be held up as the Platonic ideal of college football? That Fighting Irish passion, pageantry, and players are to be held in a special esteem as compared to all other teams, even the other truly great programs like Michigan or Oklahoma or Alabama? Nobody (I'm sure) is claiming that all Notre Dame fans are this way, but fans who root for someone other than the Irish generally pick up on something to this effect.

Even if you are correct, though, that nobody really puts Notre Dame on a pedastal all by themselves, then at best you are simply accusing JMac of writing a post that didn't need to be written. He's trying to refute a non-existent Golden Domer argument. But your reaction goes well beyond that.

As far as your failure to be impressed by JMac's contention that Heisman and other popularity contests have tended to disporportionately favor the Irish (I would include USC here as well), perhaps I know now for the first time what non-white minorities feel like in this country. It is so obvious to non-Notre Dame fans, yet you are nonplussed. In fact, to prove your point, you point out that even when non-Irish players win the Heisman, it is often to some extent based on the fact they beat the Irish in that season. Ah, the Almighty great that you have to beat them if you are to have any legitimacy in the eyes of the national press! And this proves, of course, that the Irish just really are that great, not that the national press gives them a bit more credit than they deserve compared to other teams. Of course.

"This concept that playing only a regional schedule is somehow unimportant in this debate is also faulty. As a PR person, you clearly realize that it is better to be seen and known outside your region than only in it...especially if you are trying to make a case of "top" status based on games played in the era of radio and 3 b/w TV networks."

Since, presumably, none of us in this conversation are gullible fans or media members who make our decisions only based on teams we see within a particular region of the country, I don't see how this is relevant. Sure, playing outside your own region might help you in the eyes of the press throughout the country, but it doesn't really have anything to do with how good you actually are. I thought we were having a discussion about the latter topic, not whether Notre Dame has done a good job of strutting on-stage during the national beauty contest. If you want a concession that UND is good at that sort of thing, then I'm sure most of us will be happy to give it to you.

11:35 PM  
Blogger Jmac said...

It's called having a bit of a sense of humor done with no malicious intent. Perhaps I should have included the obligatory smiley faces, so here they are a tad late - :) Paul I hope you know me better than to think I would be deliberately mean or insulting in my discussions over anything, let alone football.

Apparently anything involving a discussion of Notre Dame football is supposed to be devoid of a touch of sarcasm or wit, so I'll make sure to avoid any from here on out. :)

However, I fail to see how my logic was 'badly flawed.' My intent, as you have conceded, was to point out that Notre Dame isn't the only premier program in college football. That if you strip away the myth and lore that surround the program, which I conceded is among the most (if not the most)magical in all of college football, you find a 'great' program whose historical evidence is on par with that of Oklahoma and Michigan and other premier programs.

Perhaps I wrongly came to the original conclusion that Michigan was 'better' than Notre Dame. Upon further examination, I have revised my findings to find that the trio of Michigan, Notre Dame and Oklahoma are on (pretty much) equal footing in terms of historical evidence.

The contortion of the words comes from you deriving a completely different meaning from what my original intent was. Again, I have conceded (in this very thread) though that may have been the impression conveyed, that was not my intent. If anything, I didn't articulate myself clear enough in my original post, but my initial belief - that other programs are on equal footing in terms of historical evidence - remains unchanged.

I feel that both Xon and I have adequately debunked the 'regional vs. national' argument, though you remain unwavering in your allegiance to your original position. This is fine, despite our disagreements.

Had Notre Dame played a regional-intensive schedule (which, in all fairness, it by in large does, with games primarily against Big Ten schools, its annual rivalry with Southern California notwithstanding), I still wouldn't fault it for it. If those opponents were top-notch opponents - and to be sure a slate of teams like Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State and Ohio State would be most rigorous - than the Irish would be most deserving of respect.

I just don't understand how mixing in a North Carolina (as Notre Dame will do next year) or Syracuse or Pittsburgh or Boston College makes the Irish that much more credible than, say, a Florida who runs through Tennessee, Auburn, LSU, Georgia and Florida State in a given year.

And this type of argument can be used to defend teams from Big Ten or Pac-10. When you face a conference schedule of eight to nine games, and each game week-in and week-out is pivotal, why would you want to schedule someone like a Texas or UCLA as your non-conference opponent? I don't think this is a sign of weakness by any means, particularly for programs in the ACC or SEC or Big Ten, who face grueling in-conference stretches.

Now, as a fan, I'd love to see Georgia take on a Notre Dame or Michigan or Texas. It'd be a fun game. But because the Bulldogs don't, it doesn't mean that I think they are a 'less' of a team. I know that they have to play Tennessee, Florida, Auburn and Georgia Tech each year, and Alabama or Arkansas or LSU every other year. Those are quality programs, three of whom have won national titles since 1996 with another compiling an undefeated, untied season.

So, yes, Notre Dame is guilty of having worked excellent PR. They negotiated a TV contract separate from the rest of the NCAA, travel to exotic places like Provo, Utah, during the regular season and work hard to play up their legend and 'wake up the echoes.'

Still, I just don't understand how that means they are more deserving than an SEC team or Big Ten team. Typically, the Irish square off against two quality programs per year in Southern California and Michigan, pick up a random one (like a Tennessee or Nebraska) every so often, but then devote the remainder of their schedule to teams like Navy or BYU or Syracuse.

I don't mean this as knock, but rather I ask why is it that because the quality programs happen to come from different geographic regions, the Irish then play the 'better' schedule?

But let's focus on what you say is my use of 'hyperbole.' You say I used hyperbole to claim that Notre Dame puts itself on a pedestal, however Notre Dame fans have used the overwhelming majority of this thread, as well as the previous one, to defend this pedestal which you now claim doesn't exist.

Heck this whole discussion wouldn't be taking place if Notre Dame fans didn't believe they were already on this pedestal - whether earned through victories on the field or through some mythical birthright - or if fans from Michigan or Georgia or Oklahoma or NE Louisiana State didn't think the same thing.

For this to be pure hyperbole, you would have to complete disavow my concession that Notre Dame does enjoy some sort of magical, non-statistical lore (like the Gipper or Touchdown Jesus) and instead argue the Irish are like every other college football program.

So we get back to what I meant and what I wrote, and I just don't know how to be more clear about it. I intended one thing, which I think I have defended fairly well, but the impression I gave, apparently, led to something else.

There is little else I can say other than 'that wasn't my intent ... I'm sorry if I gave that impression ... here's what I'm trying to say.' As far as to not proving it, I'm just not sure how I haven't because it hasn't been pointed out to me how my latest findings are faulty. I'm told they're wrong, but I'm not shown why they're wrong. If they are, than point those out and we can go from there.

Telling me what I really meant and what I didn't prove doesn't really help me out too much.

My caveat regarding voting is based upon the fact that things like All-American teams and Heisman Trophies are based upon human votes, and human votes can be dictated by biases. The Hornung vote was one example, but there are other ones as well.

Consider, from a Michigan standpoint, the Charles Woodson angle. Like Xon, I happen to believe that Peyton Manning was arguably the most qualifed to win the Heisman Trophy. However, Woodson had an impressive PR machine behind him, played on a ton of national TV contests and had Keith Jackson yelling 'Whoa Nellie!' any time Woodson flinched.

Or consider Gino Torretta winning the Heisman Trophy in 1992, despite being the third-best athlete behind Georgia's Garrison Hearst and San Diego State's Marshall Faulk. Hearst easily won the Southeast vote, yet Torretta, because of Miami's prestige and playing in front of a national audience, won the award ... despite not even winning his own region.

My point being that, without taking away from how impressive it is that Notre Dame has won as many Heisman Trophies as it has and fielded so many All-Americans, it's hard to rank that as more important than another factor, one,say, determined by teams squaring off on the field. This is my humble opinion, and perhaps it is flawed.

However, you yourself acknowledge the importance of playing in front of a national audience when it comes to scheduling - as well as call for the rest of the college football world, particularly us folks in the SEC, to wake up to notion of employing a little bit of PR out there - so why would it not be shocking to consider that Notre Dame, with its own TV contract and its history and lore and prestige, probably hasn't gotten a few benefit of the doubts from voters across the country.

If you argue that the rest of the programs should grow more visable to the rest of the country, then all that means is that the media and voters only buy into Notre Dame's lore because it's marketed well. That there may be quality programs and quality players out there, but they just don't sell themselves as well by playing a globe-trotting schedule as the Irish do.

11:37 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

Umm, you guys are lawyers, aren't you?

Anyways, the only thing I have to add about the "top program" argument is that if any of the Big Eight NCs came during the world war years, they should probably be discounted.

6:02 PM  
Blogger Jmac said...

We're not lawyers ... though I don't know if that should be a compliment or insult. Regardless, welcome aboard Alex.

And ... an excellent caveat! I'll wait to see how Paul fields this one since it will directly impact Notre Dame, but I'm kinda torn on whether or not we should discount the World War II titles.

On one hand, knowing how some schools like Georgia Tech benefitted from loading their rosters with a combination of transfers from other programs and older, seasoned servicemen coupled with how some schools like Georgia suffered because they lost players like Frank Sinkwich and Charlie Trippi, it's hard to say this was the proper way to conduct the game.

However, on the other hand, these types of talent shifts happen regardless of dramatic circumstances ... like a global conflict to rid the world of Nazism. It's hard to punish someone like Notre Dame or Army just because they happened to get the best players.

6:57 PM  
Blogger Patrick Armstrong said...

The "facts" are not going to get anybody anywhere


10:30 PM  
Blogger Dante said...

""However, All-Americans and Heisman Trophies are, by in large, political things and voters tend to give Notre Dame student-athletes a little more recognition than other schools."

That may be the silliest of all your caveats so far. Proof, please?"

How many consecutive bowl games has Notre Dame lost? I'd count 8. ND is consistently being pitted against teams that are flat out better than they are and it's happening because pollsters and bowl selection committees are putting ND up on a pedestal. If ND were being matched up against equal talent during those bowl games, they'd be looking at a record somewhere in the neighborhood of 4-4. And since they are independent and therefore aren't tied into specific bowl games, they should be getting even matchups.

Just to throw out all my biases for the world to see before I go any further, my favorite teams are Georgia, SMU, TCU, and Texas in that order.

I have no love of ND and certainly no love of Oklahoma or Michigan but if we're talking about greatest all time teams, Michigan and Yale are at least on par. If you want to talk about greatest modern teams, Michigan and Oklahoma are at least on par.

8:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wait just a second. Schools outside the SEC play football?


4:00 PM  

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