There isn’t a single college football team in history that has had great seasons year in and year out. Although I have run into several fans who seem to think their team has always been great and can do no wrong (I’m looking at you, Bama and OSU fans), it simply isn’t true.
Every elite team goes through cycles of great seasons, good years, mediocre performances, and bad seasons. No team is immune to it. In order to show this, we need to decide the difference between great, good, mediocre, and bad seasons.
I’m going to use the same criterion a lot of people use when they talk about Oregon football: If you didn’t get at least 10 wins, you didn’t have a great season. Even though the Ducks came up with nine wins in 2015, that season is still looked at as a disappointing. At best it was good but not great. So it’s only fair if I treat other elite teams the same way.
The rest is pretty intuitive. A good season consists of winning eight or nine games, a mediocre season consists of winning six or seven, and a bad season is anything below that. Keep in mind that these are the criteria for elite football teams.
We will look at each of the elite teams in each of the power five conferences, plus one other team that is worth mentioning. These teams were all considered dominant at some point in time, and many of them have won multiple national championships.
First, let’s start with the obvious: the elite SEC teams. The first team that comes to mind is Alabama. We all know that Alabama has been a force as of late, and it’s hard to picture that a program like this could have anything less than a great season. But not even Bama can stay at the top forever.
In the not-so-far-off year of 2003, the Tide had a particularly bad season and finished with a 4-9 record. Three years previously they had an even worse season, finishing at 3-8. From 1980-2005 Alabama only had 10 seasons with 10 wins or more. Alabama only had great seasons only 40% of the time over a 25 year period? Who’d have thunk?
Even the decade of 1995-2004 was mediocre for them with five seasons of seven wins or fewer.
Florida is another one of the SEC greats, but they recently had a bad season in 2013 with a 4-8 finish. They had several great seasons under coach Steve Spurrier, but for a 10-year period (from 1980-1990) the Gators didn’t have a single 10-win season.
LSU also had a nightmarish time in the 80’s as the Tigers had a total of 10 bad (five wins or fewer) seasons from 1980-1999. Let’s clarify that: LSU had bad seasons 50% of the time over a 20-year period.
Even Tennessee in the SEC was once a great team, especially in the 90’s and earlier 00’s, but have recently had a string of bad seasons from 2011-2013 where they finished 5-7.
The Big 10 is another conference with a few elite teams. Michigan only had two seasons that were not good or great from 1980 t0 2005. The same is true for Nebraska. They each only had two seasons with seven wins or fewer in the span of 25 years, yet we all are familiar with their recent struggles. Michigan finished 3-9 in 2008 and Nebraska finished 5-7 in 2007.
Ohio State hasn’t even been able to maintain a steady streak of good or great seasons. No matter how much I hate to admit it, OSU has been one of the most consistent teams in college football. Their last mediocre season was in 2011 (I am not counting their sanctioned season as a bad year) with a 6-7 finish, and their last truly bad year was in 1988 with a 4-6 record. But even with all the good years they’ve had, they still have had bad years.
The Big 12 only has two elite teams, which are Oklahoma and Texas. I’m even old enough to remember Texas winning the championship in 2005, and making it to the finals in 2009. But more recently, they have finished 5-7 for the past couple years. Oklahoma had five seasons in the 90’s with five wins or fewer.
The ACC has three elite teams: Miami, Clemson, and FSU. After dominating the late 80’s/early 90’s, Miami hasn’t been doing much since. They have had some good seasons, but their last 10-win season came in 2003. Clemson struggled in the 90’s, and only had four seasons with 8 or more wins. FSU is another consistent team, but they only had two great seasons in the 00’s.
The Pac 12 really only has one other elite team besides Oregon, which is USC. Oregon is definitely a new elite team, while USC has been playing solid football for decades. But the Trojans have also been less than stellar at times. They had a mediocre decade in the 90’s, and had a season finish of 3-8 in 1991. They also had several mediocre seasons right before and a little after Pete Carroll left (again, I’m ignoring their sanctioned seasons).
The only team outside of the power five conferences I consider to be elite is Notre Dame. Notre Dame has won several national championships, and even made it to the final in 2012. But they just finished with a 4-8 record, and had several other bad and mediocre seasons in the 00’s.
And now we can look at Oregon. Everyone, I’m sure, is familiar with our history. We have recently had some great seasons, and it’s been really fun to watch, but we just finished a bad year. It wasn’t pretty, but we got through it. And now the Ducks can look to cycle back to a good, maybe even great, year just like every other elite team has done.
So don’t worry Duck fans, we’re in good company.
Statistical Analyst for FishDuck.com
Top Photo by Craig Strobeck
Disclaimer: Readers: Every writer on FishDuck.com is allowed to express their opinion in their articles. However, articles do not represent the views of the other writers, editors, coaching consultants, management, or the principals of FishDuck.com. Charles Fischer