After carefully evaluating the upcoming college football season, the most likely outcome I see for Mike Riley’s maiden voyage out on the high Husker seas — is a National Friggin’ Title.
Burdensome expectations for the newly minted captain of Memorial Stadium, you say? A reckless forecast sure to undermine the confidence of a Corvallis crew all too used to Pac-12 participation trophies?
Yeah, well. Whatever.
If you want to rhetorically hold Riley and company’s hands through the tunnel walk on Saturday, start your own damn blog.
Big Red Fury expects Mike Riley to take the helm like the second-coming of Bob Devaney who saw a 200% increase in wins his first year at Nebraska over the previous season.
Granted, for Mike Riley to do the same, he will need to win 27 games in 2015 — a mathematical impossibility, unfortunately. But he can go another route to match the phenomenal improvement Devaney brought with him in 1962. The BobFather produced four fewer losses in his first season than Bill Jennings produced in his last.
As luck would have it, Bo Pelini left Mike with the exact number of losses he would need to match Bob’s improvement. Only this time, should Coach Riley strike the same lightning, it will mean a 15-0 record.
And a National Damn Title.
But, but, but — I can hear the carping now. Bob Devaney didn’t win a National Title in his first year at Nebraska. Bo Pelini didn’t put the ball on a tee with a 3-6-1 out-going record. And the atmosphere is just plain different now. College football of 2015 is a lifetime removed from college football of 1962.
Ix-nay on the ucking-fay excuses-ay. That’s right, I’m bringing Pig Latin to this here itchbe.
So maybe you wonder when was the last time a Division 1 college football team actually went 15-0? After all, the Buckeyes didn’t even do it when they picked up their 14-1 Championship last year.
The answer is Penn University in 1897.
Oh, some teams have come agonizingly close with 14 wins and no losses. Florida State in 2013. Auburn in 2010. Alabama and Boise State in 2009. Ohio State in 2002.
But come four and a half months from now — unless my crystal ball is in need of some Windex — Nebraska will stand shoulder to shoulder with the mighty 1897 Penn Quakers as the only 15-0 Division 1 football teams in the entire history of the sport.
Tall order? Sure. If you say so.
But what if Mike and his Corvallis mechanics stumble up somewhere while pimping out this Big Red Lamborghini they’ve been bestowed?
Like — and I know this is going to sound ridiculous — what if Michigan State comes to town and pulls out an inspired performance, while SIMULTANEOUSLY Nebraska plays a little bit flat?
It’s conceivable then, yeah sure, Sparty might actually sneak out a win while in Lincoln. Crazier things have happened, right?
So then Nebraska gets back on track, blows out Rutgers and Iowa and heads off to Indianapolis 11-1 to face, probably a 12-0 Ohio State.
No worries. We’re in like Flynn.
Nebraska then manhandles the Buckeyes. While Coach Riley goes to waggle Urban Frank Meyer III’s humiliated little grip at midfield, Mark Banker takes Meyer from behind, chucks him to the ground and puts his boot on his trachea.
Just to let him know the new pecking order.
Nebraska then goes on to the playoffs, tosses off some SEC champ like a gamy bit of ground squirrel, then pounds the hapless PAC-12 champ like a Sharknado slamming into the Santa Monica pier. VOILA! 14-1 National Champs, just like those tallywackers from Columbus last year.
Okay. So let’s say Nebraska bowls through its regular season 12-0 (or, at worst 11-1) and then loses (I’m just asking you to humor me here) to Ohio State and is then LEFT OUT of the playoff. Would that then derail Nebraska’s 2015 National Title run?
Absolutely not. And that’s one of the things I love about college football. Titles are subjective. It’s the only sport that has a long history of letting multiple champs stand together on the same gold medal podium in the same year.
Quick — who won the 1970 National Title? Depends on who you ask. A Nebraska fan will say, “Nebraska, of course.” And out the corner of their mouths, they’ll add, “And Texas, I guess.” If you ask a Texas fan the same question, they’ll say, “Texas! And some other team. Nebraska, maybe? Did we even play them that year?”
And the truth is they’re BOTH right. But ask an Ohio State fan, who won the 1970 National Title, they’ll say, “Buckeyes.”
What? The same Ohio State team that went 9-1 and lost 27-17 to Stanford in the Rose Bowl? National Champs over 11-0-1 Nebraska? And 10-1 Texas?
Indeed. Turns out a little organization called the National Football Foundation got all hair-triggered and awarded Ohio State college football’s 1970 crown in the afterglow of the Buckeye’s 20-9 win over 4th ranked Michigan, without bothering to see how things played out in Pasadena.
What’s remarkable is that this Championship sits just fine with historically attuned Buckeye fans who unabashedly count that year as a notch in their title belt. Likewise, Texas fans are equally cool with their 1970 Title despite that the Longhorns also lost their bowl game (handily by 13 points to Notre Dame). The Coaches Poll was also prone to premature National Title ejaculation back then.
In fact, college football is so over-run with multiple national champions, there are actually 356 claimed titles despite there having only been 146 total seasons. Other sports aren’t quite so communistic. There have been 110 World Series and 110 Major League champions. There have been 94 NFL seasons. 94 NFL Champions. 76 NCAA Division I Mens Basketball seasons. 76 NCAA Division I Mens Basketball Champions. 64 NBA seasons. 64 NBA Champions.
You see where this is headed?
So “open-to-interpretation” are college football title claims, some programs have declared themselves champions of particular seasons decades after the fact. Alabama, Notre Dame, and USC are especially adept at retroactive trophy collecting. And some of their hardware requires assertions so outlandish, they’d make Baron Munchausen stand up and scream — LIAR!
So, back to our 2015 scenario. Nebraska beats everybody on the regular season slate. But then they go to Indianapolis and get beat by the Urbhio State Buckmeyers and the playoff selection committee does not ring up Mike Riley’s phone.
Shit out of luck?
We simply need to refer to anything after the regular season as an “exhibition game.” As long as Nebraska survives the regular season with no more than 1 loss, what happens in the exhibition portion of the year is irrelevant. Per college football history.
Outside of the 5 seasons in which Nebraska was declared National Champions, my favorite year of college football was 1960. For no other reason than the leeway its sheer lunacy provides in allowing titles to be doled out to just anybody.
As some of you may already know, the Minnesota Golden Gophers were at one time college football juggernaut. This reputation stems largely from Minnesota’s four AP National Titles — including the very first Associated Press Title handed out in 1936.
AP titles are the longest running order of fully recognized “legit” championships and it is a pretty big deal to be awarded one. Even when you include the results of the 1960 football season.
As it turns out, the Associated Press changed their voting system in 1960 as a response to the embarrassment of the previous season in which 200 AP voters split their first place votes among SEVEN different schools. Syracuse was the overall winner in 1959, but Mississippi, LSU, Texas, Georgia, Wisconsin and Alabama all had enough merit to garner at least one media cheerleader in their corner for the final assessment of the season.
By the way, look how showered the SEC was with media love even back in 1959.
Now, to avoid such future logjams of varying opinions, the Associated Press trimmed their voting block down to the ballots of just 48 sports writers for 1960. And it was the first year in which they implemented the weighted vote of 20 points for first place, 19 points for second place, 18 points for third and so on. But still, the final vote would happen at the end of the regular season.
The result was, balls out, the most ridiculous AP champion of all time. The 8-2 Minnesota Gophers.
Minnesota’s AP trophy came after beating just one team with a better than 5-4 record — Iowa, who ended the year 8-1 and ranked #3 but did not compete in any a bowl game because of a Big 10 rule in which conference teams could only play in the Rose Bowl. And, as head-to-head winners, that trip belonged to Minnesota.
After beating Iowa, Minnesota subsequently lost to 4-4-1 Purdue by 9 points. They then beat a sub .500 Wisconsin, standing at 8-1, they picked up their AP National Title trophy and then headed to Pasadena where they were nearly skunked by PAC-8 Champion, Washington, to the tune of 17-7.
When all “exhibition” games were finished for 1960, these following teams all had better records than the Gophers: 11-0 Missouri (finished #5), 11-0 New Mexico State (finished #17), 10-0-1 Mississippi (finished #2), 10-1 Washington (finished #6), 8-1 Iowa (finished #3), 8-1 Rutgers (finished unranked) 9-2 Florida (finished #18), 9-2 Navy (finished #4) and 9-2 Utah State (finished the year unranked).
If the votes were cast after the Bowl games, it would be hard to see ranking Minnesota better than 4th or 5th for that year. The title would have probably gone to either Washington, Missouri or Mississippi.
And yet, the record book still says “Minnesota: 1960 College Football National Champions.”
This is the kind of racket Nebraska can get in on in 2015.
All we need is for Mike Riley to kick off his baptismal Husker season with an 11-1 or 12-0 run. And then have an organization declare a 2015 champion before the conference championship games.
That’s where Big Red Fury comes in.
I propose a new college football award organization. The Big Red Fury Collegiate Gridiron Association or: BRFCGA. This organization will be a panel of any such people willing to vote in a college football champion at the conclusion of the regular season — and unwilling to consider any team for the top spot not named Nebraska.
The panel will consist of the three members of Big Red Fury plus Jason Peter, Tommy Lee and Larry the Cable Guy.
Jason and Larry will, no doubt, be in the tank for the Huskers. Heck, we may even get a #1 vote from Larry with three losses. Who knows? Tommy may take some cajoling to avoid throwing his vote away on somebody like San Jose State or Wake Forest. We just need to remind him that Dear Old Nebraska U is his alma mater for the three-week stint he had in Lincoln back in 2005. It’s quite possible that he doesn’t remember that far back, but showing him pictures of himself decked out in drumline gear ought to trigger some kind of cogitation.
As for the three Big Red Fury voters, at least one of us will be on board from the opening kick-off. The rest is up to Mike Riley’s orchestration.
So, sit back. Enjoy Nebraska’s 2015 National Championship run and give a little toast to the 1960 Gophers. Thanks to their precedent, we’ve got this thing in the bag.