My Lou Holtz story

In the late ‘80s, I was working for the Division of Nursing Care Facilities and on certain days, it was my turn to answer incoming calls. Occasionally the husband of one of our nurses that went out to inspect nursing homes in the area would call asking to speak to her. For this story, I will call him Bud.

I would put Bud on hold to see if his wife was available and if she happened to be on the phone, she would often say, “tell him to hang on a few minutes.”  I would tell Bud her response and he and I would often then start to chat about the weather, the news, daily events, or sports. I discovered that he was as Irish as the Blarney Stone and a big Notre Dame football fan. I could relate to that as growing up and coming home after Sunday Mass, the first thing I did when I got home was turn on the tv to watch Notre Dame football highlights with Lindsey Nelson saying, “We now take you to further action.”

I had never been to a Notre Dame home football game and Bud would often tell me that I needed to make a trip out to South Bend for a football weekend. “John, you got to go. There’s no other place like it. You have to do it. You’ll love it.” It wasn’t like today where one can go anywhere and buy a ticket on a secondary market like Stubhub on your smart phone within hours of kickoff.

When Bud would call on a Monday in fall, we would often rehash the Notre Dame and Pittsburgh Steelers games of the past weekend as well as the upcoming weekend’s opponent. Bud was always very jovial, and it often seemed like when he called, he would chat longer to me than he did his wife whenever I would put his call through to her.

Unfortunately, Bud’s health started to decline, and it was just one medical issue after another. He had suffered a heart attack and then learned that he had cancer.

Wanting to do something to help lift his spirits I took a chance and wrote to Lou Holtz at Notre Dame telling him about Bud’s health situation and asking if he could send him a brief note of encouragement and that I was sure it would lift his spirits while he went through his health struggles. I knew Bud’s address as sometimes his wife would ride the same bus home I did from work and everyone was in the phone book back then.

I thought that if that Lou were ever to write Bud, it would happen after the regular season as the demands and time constraints of the head football coach at Notre Dame during football season must be incredible.

The very next week, I got a thank you letter from Lou with a copy of the letter of encouragement he sent to Bud. He even sent another one to Bud later in the year and Bud won his bout with cancer. Not long thereafter, I took another job position and my path and Bud’s would cross only every few years or so, but my Lou Holtz story doesn’t end there.

I’m not one to have dreams come true. I have never had a dream come true. I haven’t won the lottery.  Jennifer Aniston isn’t looking for a middle-aged guy rocking a dad bod. Not yet anyway. (Jen, I’m on Facebook and Twitter!) One night in Fall of 2008, I had a dream where I met Lou Holtz. In the dream, I saw him from a distance and wave to him to come to me. I cannot believe I even had the nerve to do such a thing. I keep waving and sure enough Lou starts walking towards me.

 

When he got close, I told him thank you as I wrote to you asking if you could write to a friend of mine that was having some health issues and your letters really lifted his spirit. Lou said, “Thank you for bringing it to my attention and happy to do so.” I wanted to ask him for his autograph but did not have anything with me for him to sign.

Then I woke up and realized when am I ever going to see Lou Holtz? The best chance would be maybe on Notre Dame’s campus if they were having some anniversary celebration of the 1988 national championship team. I certainly would not be in Bristol, Connecticut, visiting ESPN studios on a college football Saturday where Lou was an analyst along with Rece Davis and Mark May. There are times even my subconscious can distinguish what is realistic and what is not, and I never gave that dream a second thought.

It just so happened that later that week, Auburn was playing at West Virginia on a Thursday night game on ESPN. Thinking how infrequently an SEC team travels this far north and when would I ever have another opportunity to see Auburn play, I decided to make the 100-mile drive to Morgantown for the game.

I get there a few hours before kickoff and with time to kill, I decide to walk around the stadium, and as I’m walking around, I notice ESPN’s production truck and as I look towards it, who do I see in the distance but Lou Holtz! I learned later that ESPN had Lou in the broadcast booth for the game as he was born in West Virginia. Follansbee, West Virginia to be exact.

Just like I had dreamt only a few days before, I’m waving to Lou Holtz to come towards me.

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He pauses and then, just like in my dream, he starts walking towards me.

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When he gets close, I tell him thank you as years ago I asked if you could write a friend of mine that was having some health issues and that your letters really lifted his spirit, and just like I dreamt Lou said, “Thank you for bringing it to my attention and happy to do so.”

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Not having anything else to ask him to sign, I asked him if he could sign the Pittsburgh Steelers cap I was wearing.

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Bud had passed away a little more than two years prior to that in June of 2006 at the age of 69. Since my first chat with Bud, I have made the six and a half-hour drive to South Bend more than a dozen times and I think of Bud every time I have been there. He was right, there’s no place like Notre Dame.

 

 

 

 

The All-Time USC-Notre Dame Football Team

USC-Notre Dame. One of the most storied rivalries in all of college football. Just saying USC-Notre Dame conjures up memories of famous gridiron battles between these two college-football blue bloods: 55-24, the Green Jersey Game, the Bush Push, etc.

Each school had so many great players, it would be difficult to pick an all-time team for each. Passion and loyalty run so deep within each fan base, if you asked fans of each school which players would comprise a combined all-time USC-Notre Dame football team, objectivity might be lacking. That’s where I come in. If it isn’t difficult enough to pick an all-time team for each school, I’ll give it a shot and pick an all-time USC-Notre Dame football team.

QUARTERBACK: Ask Fighting Irish fans who was Notre Dame’s greatest quarterback and your replies could be: Johnny Lujack, Angelo Bertelli, John Lattner, Joe Theismann, Joe Montana, Brady Quinn, etc.

Would you select a quarterback that threw 25 touchdowns and 25 interceptions (yes, the same number of touchdowns as interceptions) while completing 52% of his passes and that never made All-American in his college career as your school’s greatest quarterback? Or would you select one that was a two-time All-American that finished in the top four of Heisman Trophy balloting twice and threw 95 touchdowns to 39 interceptions completing 58% of his passes for nearly 12,000 yards? It would appear to be a pretty obvious choice would it not? Well, those two quarterbacks are Joe Montana and Brady Quinn respectively, and yet stating that they’re only considering only their college playing careers, many Notre Dame fans and experts will pick Montana as Notre Dame’s greatest quarterback. However, despite that one-sided statistical comparison, who would you want as your quarterback if your team was trailing in the fourth quarter?

Ask a USC fan who was USC’s greatest quarterback and most will say Matt Leinart. Leinart, USC’s second three-time All-American, was sixth in the 2003 Heisman Trophy balloting, won the Heisman Trophy in 2004 and finished third in 2005. Leinart led USC to consecutive national championships and nearly a third throwing for 99 touchdowns in his USC career and passing for 10,693 yards. Leinart’s career interception percentage of 1.85% set an NCAA record. It was no surprise that Leinart was named to the PAC-12 Conference All-Century Team.

CHOICE: It doesn’t matter which Notre Dame quarterback you choose, the choice is Leinart, USC.

RUNNING BACK:  Fighting Irish fans can debate whether Allen Pinkett, Vagas Ferguson, Jerome Bettis, Autry Denson or even George Gipp would be Notre Dame’s two greatest running backs.

Denson rushed for three-straight 1,000-yard seasons finishing with 4,318 yards which is first in all-time rushing in Notre Dame football history. Pinkett, a two-time All-American, also rushed for three-straight 1,000-yard seasons and finished with 4,131 career rushing yards. Ferguson had two 1,000-yard seasons and rushed for 1,437 yards and 17 touchdowns his senior season. For those that want to choose Bettis as one of Notre Dame’s all-time starting running backs, consider that Bettis never rushed for a 1,000-yards in a single season.

No matter who one might choose as Notre Dame’s two all-time running backs none can compare to USC’s Heisman Trophy-winning running backs Marcus Allen and O.J. Simpson.

In 1981, Allen became the first collegiate running back to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a season rushing for a staggering 2,427 yards and 22 touchdowns. Allen led the NCAA in all-purpose running in 1980 and 1981. Allen was named a starter on the PAC-12 Conference All-Century team and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Simpson gained over 3,400 yards in his two seasons at USC and was runner-up in the Heisman Trophy balloting in 1967 and won it in 1968 and like Allen, was named a starter of the PAC-12 Conference All-Century team and is also in the College Football Hall of Fame. Simpson was the nation’s leading rusher in both 1967 and 1968 and won Walter Camp Award as the nation’s best collegiate player both years. His 1,880 yards rushing in 1968 was an NCAA single-season record.

CHOICE: Allen and Simpson, USC

OFFENSIVE CENTER: Notre Dame’s all-time center is Dave Huffman. A two-time All-American which sets him apart from other centers at Notre Dame, Huffman was the center of Notre Dame’s national championship team in 1977 and a consensus All-American in 1978.

USC’s all-time center is Ryan Kalil. An All-American and finalist for the Rimington Award in 2006, Kalil was the center for USC’s great teams under Pete Carroll.

CHOICE:  Huffman, Notre Dame

OFFENSIVE GUARD:  The choice for Notre Dame’s all-time offensive guards are Bill Fischer and Quenton Nelson. Fischer was a two-time All-American and won the Outland Trophy in 1948 and is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame. Nelson was also a two-time All-American and is considered one of the best linemen in Notre Dame history.

For USC, their all-time offensive guards are Bruce Matthews and Brad Budde. In 1979, Budde became the first USC Trojan to win the Lombardi Award and is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and was also named to the PAC-12 Conference All-Century Team. Matthews was an All-American in 1982 and helped open holes for Marcus Allen’s record-setting rushing season. Matthews was also named to the PAC-12 Conference All-Century Team.

CHOICE: Budde, USC and Fischer, Notre Dame

OFFENSIVE TACKLE:  Notre Dame had such stalwarts as Jim Martin, George Kunz, Mike McGlinchey and the best of them all – Aaron Taylor. Taylor was named an All-American as a guard in 1992. The next season Taylor moved to tackle and won the Lombardi Award. That’s how good Aaron Taylor was. George Connor played tackle at Notre Dame and was the first recipient of the Outland Trophy as the nation’s best interior lineman. Martin, Kunz and McGlinchey were all All-Americans with Martin in the College Football Hall of Fame. Connor would seem to be the pick to go along with Taylor, but Connor is also considered as one of Notre Dame’s greatest defensive tackles. We’ll go with Taylor and Martin as a result.  

USC’s formidable duo at offensive tackle are Ron Yary and Tony Boselli. Both Yary and Boselli are members of the College Football Hall of Fame and were both named starters on the PAC-12 Conference All-Century Team. Boselli was a two-time All-American and Yary was a two-time All-American and winner of the Outland Trophy in 1967. USC also had three-time All-American tackle Sam Baker.

How can an offensive lineman that never made All-American be named to many all-time college football anniversary teams? He did not win the Outland Trophy nor the Lombardi Award. That just goes to show how those so-called “experts” are influenced by what that player did in the NFL and mistakenly pick someone for all-time college football teams. That player is none other than USC’s Anthony Munoz. Munoz, who went on to become one of the greatest offensive tackles in NFL history, was so often injured in college that he was never named to an All-America team.

CHOICE: Yary and Boselli, USC

TIGHT END:  USC’s Charles Young set the record for receptions by a tight end at USC and was a unanimous All-American in 1972 and a member of the PAC-12 Conference All-Century Team. Fred Davis, USC’s first Mackey Award winner, merits consideration as well as he is also on the PAC-12 Conference All-Century Team. Young also averaged 16.1 yards per catch compared to Davis’ 12.0 yards per catch. With that and Young being in the College Football Hall of Fame we’ll go with Young at tight end.

Notre Dame’s Ken McAfee was a three-time All-American and like Young played in a run-dominated era. McAfee was so dominant that he is still second all-time in career receptions and career receiving yards for a tight end at Notre Dame despite having played more than 40 years ago. McAfee was so good that he won the Walter Camp Award in 1977 as the Collegiate Player of the year.

For those that might have thought Dave Casper as Notre Dame’s all-time tight end, Casper played primarily offensive tackle his sophomore and junior seasons. So much so, that he only caught a total of two passes for 18 yards those two seasons.

This is a choice between two College Football Hall of Famers, Young for USC and McAfee for Notre Dame.

CHOICE: McAfee, Notre Dame.

WIDE RECEIVERS:
USC has to choose from Lynn Swann, Keyshawn Johnson, Dwayne Jarrett, Marqise Lee and Mike Williams. With so many outstanding receivers, USC has a rightful claim to being Wide Receiver U. Swann, Johnson, Lee and Williams were all named to the PAC-12 Conference All-Century team. Choosing two as USC’s best will be a very difficult task.

I think one has to pick Marqise Lee as one of USC’s wide receivers and here’s why: He was USC’s first Biletnikoff Award winner, is second in school history in receptions with 248 and is USC’s all-time leader in reception yards with 3,655. Lee had two 1,000-yard receiving seasons and in his 2012 All-American monster season, Lee had 118 receptions for 1,721 yards and finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy balloting, the highest finish ever for a USC wide receiver in the Heisman Trophy voting.

The other choice is Mike Williams. Even though Jarrett, USC’s first two-time All-American wide receiver had perhaps the finest career of any USC wide receiver and is also USC’s all-time leader in touchdown receptions, Williams was more dominant at the position. In just 26 games over two seasons, Williams caught 176 passes for 2,579 yards and scored 30 touchdowns. In 2002, his freshman season, Williams set NCAA freshman records for receiving yards (1,265) and touchdowns (14).

Notre Dame’s greatest wide receivers were Tim Brown, Michael Floyd, Will Fuller, Tom Gatewood, Raghib Ismail, Jeff Samardzja, and Golden Tate. At first glance, many think Brown and Ismail as Notre Dame’s two best. For those that think Ismail should be one of the two choices as Notre Dame’s greatest wide receiver, he only caught four touchdown passes in his college career. I repeat – four touchdown passes his entire college career. If you look at Brown’s numbers at Notre Dame, his best year he caught 45 passes for 910 yards and five touchdowns. One might want to say well you can’t compare those numbers to today and I won’t. How about let’s compare those numbers to receivers that played at Notre Dame long before Brown did? Tom Gatewood in 1970, when passing wasn’t nearly as predominant as when Brown played, caught 77 passes for 1,123 yards and seven touchdowns. Jack Snow had 60 receptions for 1,114 yards and nine touchdowns in 1964! Those receiving numbers for when they occurred are far more impressive than Brown’s. Don’t let Brown and Ismail’s returns and running from scrimmage influence you here.

Notre Dame’s two all-time receivers are Michael Floyd and Golden Tate. Floyd is by far Notre Dame’s all-time leader in receptions, yards and touchdowns. He had 271 receptions for 3,686 yards and 37 touchdowns. Fuller has the only 100-reception season in Notre Dame history and two 1,000-yard receiving seasons to his credit. Tate also has two 1,000-yard receiving seasons before passing up his senior season to go to the NFL. In Tate’s junior year he had 93 receptions for 1,496 yards and 15 touchdowns. Tate’s 1,496 yards receiving in 2009 is a Notre Dame single-season record and more than 200 yards beyond Will Fuller’s 1,258 receiving yards in 2015.

CHOICE:  Lee and Williams, USC

DEFENSIVE TACKLE: Notre Dame’s two finest defensive tackles were Chris Zorich and George Connor. Both are members of the College Football Hall of Fame. Zorich won the Lombardi Award and was a two-time All-American and was a crucial part of Notre Dame’s 1988 National Championship season. Connor won the Outland Trophy in 1946. Frank Leahy said, “In the line, we never coached a player superior defensively to tackle George Connor.”

USC’s all-time defensive tackles would be a pair of two-time All-Americans in Sedrick Ellis and Tim Ryan. Ellis earned All-America honors in 2006 and 2007. In 1989, Ryan had 28 tackles for loss including a school-record 20 sacks and would finish his USC career with 55 tackles for loss. Ryan also had three seasons of 100 or more tackles as a defensive tackle for the Trojans and was runner-up for the Lombardi Award.

CHOICE:  Zorich and Connor, Notre Dame

DEFENSIVE END: For USC, their all-time defensive ends would be Leonard Williams and Willie McGinest. In his freshman year, Williams had 13.5 tackles for loss, and he followed that up with back-to-back All-American seasons. Williams was named to the PAC-12 Conference All-Century team. Even though McGinest was never an All-American, he still was named to the PAC-12 Conference All-Century team. Kenechi Udeze was an All-American in 2003 and tied for the most sacks per game that season and deserves consideration as well.

Notre Dame’s all-time defensive ends would be Ross Browner and Leon Hart. Browner and Hart were so good that Willie Fry and Alan Page would be backups on Notre Dame’s all-time team. Browner was a two-time All-American in 1976 and 1977 and won the Outland Trophy in 1976. In 1977, his final season at Notre Dame, Browner was awarded the Maxwell Award and the Lombardi Award. Hart, a three-time All-American, also won the Maxwell Award and is only of only two linemen to win the Heisman Trophy. Both Browner and Hart are in the College Football Hall of Fame. Alan Page, an All-American in 1966, and Willie Fry, a two-time All-American, were also outstanding defensive ends at Notre Dame.

CHOICE: Browner and Hart, Notre Dame

LINEBACKERS:  Notre Dame greats at linebacker include Manti Te’O, Michael Stonebreaker, Bob Golic, Bob Crable and Jim Lynch. Golic, Crable and Lynch are all in the College Football Hall of Fame.

The choices for Notre Dame’s all-time three linebackers would be: Crable, Golic and Te’O. Crable was a three-time All-American and holds the school record for tackles with 521. Golic, a two-time All-American is second all-time in tackles in Notre Dame history with 479. Lynch won the Maxwell Award in 1966 as the Collegiate Player of the Year but one has to pick Manti Te’O as one of Notre Dame’s three greatest linebackers. Te’O was a three-time All-American and is third all-time on Notre Dame’s tackle list with 437. Te’O, in 2012 his senior season, was runner-up for the Heisman Trophy, won the Maxwell Award, the Bednarik Trophy, the Lombardi Award, the Lott Trophy, the Nagurski Award, the Butkus Award and the Walter Camp Award.

USC’s three best linebackers were: Richard Wood, Chris Claiborne and Junior Seau. Freshman were ineligible to play in Woods’ first year in 1971 and he made the most of the next three years earning All-American honors each season. His debut foreshadowed what was to come as in his first game as a sophomore Wood recorded 18 tackles. Wood was USC’s first three-time All-American, named to the PAC-12 Conference All-Century team and is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame. In 1998, Claiborne was the first USC Trojan to win the Butkus Award as the nation’s top collegiate linebacker. Claiborne was also named to the PAC-12 Conference All-Century Team. Seau was named an All-American in 1989 and despite playing only two seasons at USC, Seau was named to the PAC-12 Conference All-Century Team.

CHOICE: Te’O and Crable, Notre Dame and Wood, USC.

CORNERBACKS: When it comes to cornerbacks at Notre Dame, how can one not pick a three-time All-American and the Fighting Irish’s career pass interception leader (17) Luther Bradley? Bradley started out as a safety in 1973 and intercepted six passes as a freshman and then made All-American in his three seasons at cornerback.

The other choice at cornerback for Notre Dame is Todd Lyght, a two-time All-American. Lyght intercepted 11 passes and had 161 tackles in his college career. Consideration also needs to be given for John Lattner. In an era when passing was almost a last resort, Lattner managed to intercept 13 passes in his college career.

USC’s all-time cornerbacks would be: Adoree Jackson and Joey Browner. Jackson won the Thorpe Award as the nation’s finest defensive back in 2016 and Browner was selected to the PAC-12 Conference All-Century team despite never being named an All-American.

CHOICE: Bradley and Lyght, Notre Dame

SAFETIES: One of Notre Dame’s two finest safeties was Johnny Lujack. Lujack is remembered for tackling Army’s Doc Blanchard in the open field to preserve a 0-0 tie against the Cadets.

The other choice for safety at Notre Dame is one for debate. Many Notre Dame fans think of Luther Bradley. Bradley did play safety his freshman year at Notre Dame and intercepted six passes and is also remembered for separating Lynn Swann from his helmet on USC’s first offensive play of the game. However, Bradley moved to cornerback after his freshman season.

Three other safeties to consider next to Lujack each made All-American namely Dave Duerson, Jeff Burris, and Tom Zibkowski. Duerson has 12 interceptions while at Notre Dame, Burris intercepted 10 passes and Zibkowski intercepted eight passes and had 230 tackles in his three seasons for the Fighting Irish. No matter who you choose, they won’t be the equal of USC’s all-time starting safeties.

For the past 50 years, no school had more All-Americans at safety than USC. Without question, Ronnie Lott will be one of the two starting safeties on the All-Time USC-Notre Dame team. Lott, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, was voted the PAC-12 Conference Defensive Player of the Century and a member of College Football’s 150th anniversary team. Another outstanding Trojan safety was Troy Polamalu. Polamalu was a two-time All-American and is also a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and the PAC-12 Conference All-Century team. Polamalu edges out three-time All-American Taylor Mays for USC’s second safety position.

CHOICE: Lott and Polamalu, USC

KICKER:  Many USC fans fondly remember Frank Jordan as USC’s all-time placekicker. Jordan kicked a game-winning field goal against USC’s two biggest rivals, UCLA and Notre Dame, each with only two seconds left on the clock. Jordan, however, made only 91% of his extra-point kicks and 64% of his field goal attempts. Those numbers were slightly better for his younger brother Steve, making 97 % of his extra-point kicks and 67% of his field goal attempts. David Buehler was a good kicker that made 98% of his extra-point tries and 79% of his field goals, numbers which are slightly better than Quin Rodriquez at 95 and 75 percent respectively. The choice here however is Mario Danelo. In his two years at USC’s placekicker, Danelo missed two field goals, that’s it – two, one each season. Danelo made 95% of his extra-point attempts and his 93% field-goal conversion rate is outstanding.

Ask an older Notre Dame football fan who was their best kicker and they’ll likely say John Carney. Carney made some big kicks but also missed some as well. No one’s perfect nor expected to be. Tell that to a placekicker. Carney made 93% of his extra-point attempts and 74% of his field-goal attempts. Justin Yoon’s numbers are superior to Carney’s. Yoon made 97% of his extra-point tries and 81% of his field goal attempts going 59-out-of-73 versus Carney’s 51-out-of-69 attempts. Notre Dame’s best kicker all-time, may well be their current kicker, Jonathan Doerer. Doerer has made 98.4% of his extra-point tries and 86% of his field goals, making 18-out-of-21 attempts. This season may well determine Doerer’s place amongst Notre Dame placekickers all-time.

CHOICE: Danelo, USC

PUNTER: For USC, it came down to Tom Malone or Des Koch as USC’s all-time punter. Malone averaged 44.04 yards per punt from 2002-2005 and Koch averaged 44.05 yards per punt but did it a nearly 70 years ago from 1951-1953. Imagine if Koch had today’s nutrition, training equipment and foot ware. Koch is USC’s all-time punter.

For Notre Dame, it was Craig Henrich edging out Tyler Newsome. How close are they in comparison?  Henrich is Notre Dame’s career punting average leader at 44.1 yards per punt. Newsome averaged 44.0 yards per punt, but since Henrich averaged that nearly two decades earlier than Newsome (1989-1992 vs 2015-2018), Henrich is Notre Dame’s all-time punter.

CHOICE: Tie

KICK RETURNER:  Here you have two all-time great ones. Rocket Raghib Ismail for Notre Dame and Anthony Davis for USC. Let’s look at the numbers, shall we? Ismail returned five kickoffs for touchdowns in 46 returns during his collegiate career and averaged 27.6 yards per return. Davis returned six kickoffs for touchdowns in 40 returns and averaged 34.0 yards per return. What about Reggie Bush? Bush had one kickoff return for a touchdown in 67 returns and averaged 22.72 yards per return. The numbers don’t lie, and it is clearly Anthony Davis.

CHOICE: Davis, USC.

PUNT RETURNER: Allen Rossum is Notre Dame’s single-season punt return average record holder and also the career punt return average record holder and is tied for the most punt returns for touchdowns doing it in fewer attempts than any other punt returner in Notre Dame history. Rossum’s three career punt returns for touchdowns came in 27 attempts and he averaged a Notre Dame career-best 15.8 yards per return. Tim Brown returned three punts for touchdowns in 36 attempts and had a 13.2 yards per return average. Ricky Watters returned three punts for touchdowns in 34 attempts and averaged 13.4 yards a return. Nick Rassas returned three punts for touchdowns in 39 returns and averaged 15.7 yards a return. What about the Rocket? Ismail returned 25 punts averaging 13.4 yards per return and returned one for a touchdown.

USC’s Nelson Agholor returned four punts for touchdowns in 37 returns and his career return average is 14.59 yards per return. What about Reggie Bush?  Bush returned three punts for touchdowns in 44 returns and his career punt return average is 12.70. Those numbers are not as good as Agholor’s punt return numbers.

CHOICE: Rossum, Notre Dame.

There you have it, the All-Time USC-Notre Dame football team and no doubt with choices both sides will argue about.

Notre Dame Stadium Photo credit: Ken Lund on Visual hunt / CC BY-S

USC’s Tommy Trojan Statue Photo credit: Ken Lund on VisualHunt / CC BY-SA

John Baranowski is a sports historian and contributor to newspapers, sports publications and sports websites. This and other articles written by him can be found on his blog: https://johnbaranowski.wordpress.com/

 

The All-Time Ohio State-Michigan Football Team

Ohio State-Michigan. Just saying those two schools in succession stirs up memories of battles on a crisp, Midwestern-autumn afternoon on the last Saturday in November on the gridiron. It would be difficult to come up with each school’s all-time team as both had so many great players but imagine picking an all-time team using players from both schools.

Passion and loyalty run so deep within each fan base, if you asked fans of each school which players would comprise a combined all-time Ohio State-Michigan team, objectivity might be lacking. That’s where I come in. If it isn’t difficult enough to pick an all-time team for each school, I’ll give it a shot and pick an all-time Ohio State-Michigan football team.

QUARTERBACK:

Who was Michigan’s greatest quarterback is certainly one for debate. Chad Henne owns the school records for completions (828), passing yards (9,715) and is far-and-away the leader in touchdowns with 87, but I’m going to go with Rick Leach. Leach finished in the top 10 in the Heisman Trophy balloting twice finishing eighth in 1977 and third in 1978. Leach’s combined 82 touchdowns were an NCAA record and Leach still is the Wolverine’s leader in touchdown pass percentage and career yards per completion. Leach was also an All-American in 1978 whereas Henne was never an All-American. Other than Leach, Jim Harbaugh is the only other Michigan quarterback named All-American since 1970.

The choice for Ohio State’s greatest quarterback is an easy one. It can only be their only Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Troy Smith. It doesn’t matter if Michigan picks Rick Leach, Chad Henne, or even Tom Brady, none were the equal of Ohio State’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Troy Smith in college. Smith compiled a 25-3 record as a starter and set an NCAA record for passing efficiency (157.1) for quarterbacks with 400-499 career completions. Smith threw 54 touchdowns to only 13 interceptions and completed nearly 63% of his passes.

CHOICE: Smith, Ohio State

RUNNING BACKS:

Michigan had some very good running backs in Tom Harmon, Jamie Morris, Mike Hart, Chris Perry, the A Train Anthony Thomas, and Tyrone Wheatley.

The choices for Michigan’s starting backfield would be: Mike Hart is the school’s all-time leading rusher with 5,040 yards rushing. Hart rushed for more than 1,000 yards in a season three times and had the most 100-yard games (28), 150-yard games (12) and 200-yard games (1) in Michigan history.

Hart’s backfield mate would Anthony Thomas, the A Train. Thomas rushed for 4,472 yards, third on Michigan’s all-time rushing list, and his 55 touchdowns are a school record. Thomas is second in school history with 22 100-yard games and second in 150-yard rushing games with nine and is the career leader in receiving yards for a running back at Michigan.

Ohio State boasts a pair of Heisman Trophy winning running backs in Archie Griffin and Eddie George. Griffin is the only player in college football history to win the Heisman Trophy twice. Big 10 defenses were designed to stop Griffin in Woody Hayes’ three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust offense, and they still couldn’t do it. Griffin set an NCAA record of 31 consecutive 100-yard games on his way to setting a-then NCAA career rushing record of 5,589 yards. Griffin was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and was named to College Football’s 150th Anniversary team.

George rushed for 1,927 yards and 24 touchdowns in his senior season that earned him the Heisman Trophy in 1995 including three games with more than 200-yards rushing and a school-record 314 yards against Illinois. Like Griffin, George was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Unless you are USC or Texas that can match a pair of Heisman Trophy-winning running backs like Ohio State, the Buckeyes are going to win this position.

CHOICE: Griffin and George, Ohio State

OFFENSIVE CENTER:  Ohio State LeCharles Bentley and Pat Elfein won the Rimington Trophy as college football’s best center as did Billy Price. What sets Price apart was that he was a two-time All-American and was good enough as a freshman to start on Ohio State’s national championship team in 2014. Price also set a school record for starts and consecutive starts with 55.

Michigan: David Baas and David Molk both won the Rimington Award as the nation’s best collegiate center. Baas was a co-winner of the Rimington Award. Either would be a good choice as Michigan’s all-time center but we’ll give the edge to Molk as he played well enough to be a finalist for the Rimington Award in 2010 before winning it in 2011.

CHOICE: Price, Ohio State

OFFENSIVE TACKLE: Michigan has two first-rate all-time offensive tackles in Dan Dierdorf and Jake Long. Long was a two-time All-American and Dierdorf, an All-American in 1970, is in the College Football Hall of Fame.

Ohio State’s all-time offensive tackles just happen to be better. Orlando Pace was perhaps the greatest offensive tackle in college football history and is the only player in college football history to win the Lombardi Award twice, first as a sophomore and then as a junior bypassing his senior season for the NFL. Pace was the first sophomore in college football history to win the Lombardi Award. Pace finished fourth in the Heisman trophy balloting his junior season. Pace also won the Outland Trophy and was named to the College Football 150th Anniversary team.

John Hicks is a narrow choice over Long or Dierdorf. Why? Hicks was an All-American his junior season in 1972. In 1973, Hicks won the Outland Trophy and the Lombardi Award and finished second in the Heisman Trophy balloting. I repeat, an offensive lineman finished second in the Heisman Trophy balloting. Does that tell you how good John Hicks was?

CHOICE: Pace and Hicks, Ohio State

OFFENSIVE GUARD: Michigan’s two starters on their all-time team at Offensive Guard would be: Steve Hutchinson, a two-time All-American at Michigan, and Albert Benbrook another two-time All-American. Reggie McKenzie, an All-American in 1971, and a member of the College Football Hall of Fame would be a good third choice.

One of Ohio State’s starting guards on their all-time team would be Jim Parker. Parker was a two-time All-American, and the first Buckeye to win the Outland Trophy in 1956 finishing eighth in the Heisman Trophy voting. Parker was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and was chosen for College Football’s 150th anniversary team.

Ohio State’s other all-time guard would be Warren Amling. Amling, an All-American in the mid ‘40s is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame. In 1945 playing guard Amling was named All-American and finished 7th in the Heisman Trophy balloting. Amling was so good that the following season he moved to tackle and again was named All-American and was named to Ohio State’s All-Century team.

CHOICE: Parker, Ohio State and Hutchinson, Michigan

WIDE RECEIVERS: There are few if any receivers that were better in college football history than Michigan’s Anthony Carter. A three-time All-American and College Football Hall of Famer, Carter still is second in all-time receiving yards and touchdown receptions in school history nearly 40 years after playing in Bo Schembechler’s run-oriented offensive system.

Michigan’s other all-time wide receiver would be Braylon Edwards. Edwards is the only Michigan wide receiver to win the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top collegiate receiver. Edwards also is the career receptions and receiving yards leader by a significant margin over every other wide receiver in Michigan football history. Edwards had 252 receptions for 3,541 yards and 39 touchdowns, all school records and is the only wide receiver to have three consecutive 1,000-yard receiving yard seasons in Big 10 history.

Ohio State’s first all-time wide receiver would be Cris Carter. Carter, Ohio State’s first All-American wide receiver, held nine receiving records at Ohio State despite not playing his senior year due to being suspended for signing with a sports agent. Carter held Ohio State’s career and single-season records for receptions and touchdowns and was the first receiver in Buckeye history with more than 60 receptions and 1,000 yards receiving in a season.

Ohio State’s other all-time wide receiver is truly up for debate. Is it Terry Glenn, David Boston, Michael Jenkins, Joey Galloway or Paul Warfield? The choice here for Ohio State’s other all-time wide receiver is David Boston. Boston, an All-American in 1998, holds the school record with 191 career receptions and 34 touchdowns. Boston set a single-season reception record of 85 catches that lasted 20 years and his yards receiving record of 1,435 yards in 1998 still stands today.

CHOICE: Anthony Carter, Michigan and Cris Carter, Ohio State

TIGHT END: The Wolverines had quite a few very good tight ends through the years such as Jerame Tuman, Ron Kramer, Bennie Joppru, Jim Mandich and Jake Butt.

A name not enough Wolverine fans know is Ron Kramer. Kramer helped make the tight end position more than just another offensive lineman but also an offensive weapon. His offensive statistics from the mid-50s wouldn’t seem impressive today, but Kramer was a two-time All-American and was so good that in 1955 he finished eighth in the Heisman Trophy balloting and in 1956 he finished sixth. Kramer was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and is only one of six Michigan players to have his number retired. Number 87 was special.

One could also make a great argument that Michigan’s greatest tight end was Jim Mandich. Few tight ends meant more to their team and their offense than Mandich did during his years in Ann Arbor. Despite playing in Bo Schembechler’s run-oriented offense, Mandich is second all-time in receptions and receiving yards for a tight end in school history and his playing days in a Wolverine uniform ended more than 50 years ago in 1969! Mandich was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2004.

Ohio State’s two best tight ends were Ricky Dudley and John Frank. Frank is Ohio State’s all-time tight end leader in receptions and yards, and the choice as Ohio State’s best tight ever. However, when it comes down to Frank and Kramer or Mandich….

CHOICE: Kramer or Mandich, Michigan

DEFENSIVE TACKLE: Michigan boasts two two-time All-Americans as their all-time defensive tackles, one being Mark Messner. By a wide margin, Messner is Michigan’s all-time leader in sacks, tackles for loss and tackles for yards lost.

The other is former U.S. Marine Alvin Wistert who played for Michigan after his Marine military service. Think he was tough? Wistert served four years overseas in World War II and became the oldest collegiate player to be named All-American at age 32 and the following season he upped that to age 33 being named All-American again. Wistert’s number 11, that was also worn by his two brothers Albert and Whitey at Michigan, is one of Michigan’s six retired jersey numbers.

Ohio State’s most decorated defensive tackle is Jim Stillwagon. Stillwagon was the first player in college football history to win the Outland Trophy and the Lombardi Award in the same year 1970. Stillwagon was a two-time All-American and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1991.

The Buckeyes’ other all-time defensive tackle would be Bill Willis. Willis played for Paul Brown in the early ‘40s, and was a two-time All-American, and inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1971.

CHOICE: Stillwagon, Ohio State and Messner, Michigan.

DEFENSIVE END: Perhaps Michigan’s two finest defensive ends were Lamar Woodley and Brandon Graham. Woodley and Graham were both first-team All-Americans for the Wolverines with Woodley winning the Lombardi Award and he is the school’s all-time leader in fumbles forced with 10. Graham ranks second in career sacks and tackles for loss in school history.

They are however, no match, for Chase Young and Joey Bosa from Ohio State. Young and Bosa were so good that they beat out two-time All-American Mike Vrabel. Bosa was a two-time All-American and passed up his senior season to play in the NFL. Young finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy balloting his junior year and had the second most first-place votes to LSU quarterback Joe Burrow. Young set a single-season sack record with 16.5 in 2019 despite missing two games and still won the Bednarik Award as the nation’s top collegiate defensive player. Like Bosa, Young also passed up his senior season to play in the NFL.

CHOICE: Young and Joey Bosa, Ohio State

LINEBACKERS: Looking at Michigan’s all-time linebackers, the choices would be Ron Simpkins, Erick Anderson and Jarrett Irons.

Simpkins had three seasons with more than 150 tackles and was a first-team All American in 1979. Simpkins is Michigan’s all-time leader in tackles with 516 and had the most tackles in a season with 174 and the third most in a season with 168.

Anderson is the only Michigan linebacker to win the Butkus Award as the nation’s best collegiate linebacker. He led the team in tackles all four years that he played at Michigan and finished with 428 tackles. Irons, an All-American in 1996, is second all-time in tackles in Michigan history with 440.

Ohio State had some great linebackers through the years: Randy Gradishar, A.J. Hawk and Andy Katzenmoyer, just to name a few, and those three are not our picks as Ohio State’s greatest linebackers! The choice here is Chris Spielman, Tom Cousineau, and James Laurinaitis.

Spielman, a two-time All American and member of the College Football Hall of Fame, had 512 tackles which ranks third in Buckeye football history. Spielman’s 205 tackles in 1986 ranks second for most tackles in a season at Ohio State and he shares the school record for most tackles in a game with 29 versus Michigan in 1986. Spielman then went on to win the Lombardi Award as the nation’s top lineman or linebacker in 1987.

Cousineau, a two-time consensus All-American, set a school record in 1978 with an amazing 29 tackles in a game and set a record for tackles in a season with 211. Cousineau also had a 28-tackle game in 1978. Cousineau’s 569 career tackles rank second in Buckeye history.

Laurinaitis is the most decorated linebacker in Ohio State history. Laurinaitis was a three-time All-American and winner of the Nagurski Award, the Butkus Award and the Lott Trophy.

CHOICE: Spielman, Gradishar and Laurinaitis, Ohio State

CORNERBACKS: Certainly at one cornerback position for the Wolverines will be all-time college football great Charles Woodson. Woodson won the Heisman Trophy in 1997 along with the Walter Camp Award, the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, the Chuck Bednarik Award and the Jim Thorpe Award. Woodson had 18 interceptions as a Wolverine and was selected to the College Football 150th Anniversary All-Time team.

There are a few players that could be considered as a starter at the opposite cornerback position on Michigan’s all-time team. Marlon Jackson earned All-American honors at both safety and cornerback. Jourdan Lewis was a two-time All-American as well. The choice here however is Ty Law. Law, was an All-American in his junior year in 1994. Law passed up his senior season to play in the NFL.

Ohio State’s pair of all-time cornerbacks would be a pair of Jim Thorpe Award winners as the nation’s top defensive back. Antoine Winfield won the Thorpe Award in 1998 and was a two-time All-American and in 1997, became the first Ohio State cornerback to lead the team in tackles. Winfield was also the first defensive back in Ohio State history to record at least 200 solo tackles.

Ohio State’s other cornerback and Jim Thorpe Award winner was two-time All-American Malcolm Jenkins. Jenkins won the Thorpe Award in 2008.

CHOICE: Woodson, Michigan and Winfield, Ohio State.

SAFETIES: Michigan boasts two outstanding safeties on their all-time team. Tom Curtis is the school’s single season and all-time interceptions leader with 25 and is in the College Football Hall of Fame. Curtis’ 25 interceptions are seven more than the next Wolverine on the all-time interception list, Charles Woodson. That’s some serious ball-hawking skills. Three of Michigan’s top five single-season interception marks belong to Curtis. What’s amazing about Curtis’ interception numbers are that they occurred in the late ‘60s in a run-first three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust Big 10 era.

Michigan’s other great safety is two-time consensus All-American Dave Brown. Brown, like Curtis, is also a member of the College Football Hall of Fame. One would be remiss, however, not to consider two-time All-American safety Tripp Welborne as one of Michigan’s all-time safeties.

Ohio State’s Jack Tatum was a two-time All-American and Defensive Player of the Year as a senior and placed seventh in the Heisman Trophy balloting that year. Tatum was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and was selected to the College Football 150th Anniversary All-Time team.

Who is Ohio State’s other safety?  That would be three-time All-American Mike Doss. Doss didn’t shy away from contact. Doss had 331 tackles in his four-year career at Ohio State, which ranks first all-time among Ohio State defensive backs.

CHOICE: Tatum, Ohio State and Curtis, Michigan.

KICKER: Michigan’s all-time kicker would be their only one to be named an All-American and that’s Remy Hamilton and that distinction gives Hamilton the slightest of nods over Garrett Rivas. Hamilton set a Big 10 Conference record for field goals made in a season with 25 and set a school record making 14 consecutive field goals.

Ohio State’s Mike Nugent was a two-time All-American and won the Lou Groza award in 2004 as the nation’s top kicker and what a season he had. In 2004, Nugent made 24 of 27 field goal attempts, including five-of-six from 50 yards or longer. Nugent made eight field goals of longer than 50 yards in his career, made 72 field goal attempts, converted on 24 consecutive field goals and had a career field goal percentage of .818.

CHOICE: Nugent, Ohio State

PUNTER: The choice for Michigan’s all-time punter is Zoltan Mesko. Mesko is second in Michigan history with a 42.5 yards per punt punting average. Mesko gets the nod over Monte Robbins because he is the only Wolverine punter to be named an All-American.

Ohio State: Strong cases can be made for Tom Skladany, B.J. Sander, Andy Groom, Tom Tupa, or Cameron Johnston. Tupa had the two highest season punting averages at Ohio State, averaging 47.1 in 1984 and 47.0 in 1987. Tupa’s career punting average is 44.7 and is third all-time in Ohio State history. Andy Groom is Ohio State’s all-time punting average leader at 45.0. Cameron Johnston averaged 44.9 yards per punt. Sander won the Ray Guy Award averaging 43.3 yards per punt in 2003.

The choice here is Tom Skladany. Why Skladany? He led the nation twice in punting and is one of only eight three-time All-Americans in Ohio State history. His punting averages of 45.7 in 1974 and 46.8 in 1975 are better than most punters 45 years later and are in the top five single season punting averages in Buckeye history. Consider the last two years at Ohio State, four and a half decades after Skladany, Drue Chrisman averaged 43.2 and 44.3 yards per punt respectfully.

CHOICE: Skladany, Ohio State or Groom, Johnston or Tupa, Ohio State

KICK RETURNER:  The player with the highest career kick return average in Michigan history is none other than Desmond Howard. Howard is also the only player in Michigan history to return two kickoffs for touchdowns in their college career. Howard average 26.9 yards per return and returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in 45 returns.

The pick for Ohio State’s kick returner would be Ted Ginn, Jr. Ginn averaged 26.6 yards per return and returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in his 38 returns.

CHOICE: This one is pretty much a tie, but if forced to choose, can anyone deny that two touchdowns in 38 returns is better than two touchdowns in 45?

Ginn, Ohio State

PUNT RETURNER: The choice for Michigan’s all-time punt returner is a rather easy one. It’s Steve Breaston. Breaston is the Wolverine’s season and career leader in punt return yards and is tied with the most punt returns for touchdowns in school history with four.

Breaston’s four punt returns for touchdown in his career is a lot. Ted Ginn, Jr. did that in one season at Ohio State in 2004! Ginn returned six punts for touchdowns in his career which is twice as many punts for touchdowns than any other player in Ohio State history. Ginn has a higher career punt return average than Breaston 14.1 vs. 12.6 and Ginn returned a punt for a touchdown every 11 returns whereas Breaston returned a punt for a touchdown once every 32 returns. The numbers don’t lie.

CHOICE: Ginn, Ohio State

There you have it, the All-Time Ohio State-Michigan football team with choices both sides will argue about.

Michigan Stadium M  Photo credit: Ken Lund on Visualhunt.com / CC BY-SA

Ohio State Phone Wallpaper Photo credit: buckeyekes on Visual Hunt / CC BY-SA

John Baranowski is a sports historian and contributor to newspapers, sports publications and sports websites. This and other articles written by him can be found on his blog:

https://johnbaranowski.wordpress.com/

 

Which school is Running Back U?

Growing up in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s and even through the early ‘80s, I heard over and over that USC was Tailback U or Running Back U because of all the All-Americans and Heisman Trophy winners that USC produced at that position: Mike Garrett, O.J. Simpson, Charles White, Ricky Bell, Marcus Allen, etc.

A few years ago, I wondered if USC was still Tailback U as they had only two All-America running backs since 1982 (Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush in 2005 and Ronald Jones II in 2017).

I began doing some research and used the following criteria to determine which school is truly a position U:

  1. All-Americans only. One can certainly debate how good a player was in college. However, when it comes to being named an All-American, there is no debate. If a player was named an All-American, he had to be very good. Rather than add to a school’s claim of being “position U” with players who weren’t All-Americans, and debate how good they were, such as the University of Miami’s quarterbacks Jim Kelly and Bernie Kosar or Auburn’s running backs William Andrews, Joe Cribbs, James Brooks, and Lionel James, only 1st, 2ndand 3rd-team All-Americans factored into the selection and evaluation process.
  2. Only a player’s collegiate performance was taken into account and not what they accomplished as a professional. If a Heisman Trophy winner or an All-American was a bust in the NFL, that doesn’t diminish what they accomplished at the collegiate level. Their performance as a pro did not factor in or influence the selection process.

Also, occasionally a position change occurs for a player from his college to professional career so which position does the school get credit for? For example, should Terrelle Pryor count as a wide receiver for Ohio State?  That’s absurd. What if a university had seven consecutive Heisman Trophy winners but they were all busts in the NFL, but one tiny college turned out a superstar NFL quarterback, then that tiny school would be Quarterback U because one player had success in the NFL? That’s why I felt that only their college career should count towards a being a position U.

If it’s all about production in the NFL, does Barry Sanders’ 15,269 yards count towards Oklahoma State? I always thought those yards always counted towards the rushing statistics of the Detroit Lions and not the Oklahoma State Cowboys. Do the 3,556 yards Sanders rushed for in college count towards his high school being Running Back High? Those yards counted towards Oklahoma State’s offense not Wichita North High School didn’t they?

The result was this article: https://johnbaranowski.wordpress.com/2018/06/09/is-usc-still-tailback-u/

However, not everyone looks at a position U that way. They go by what those players do in the pros. I get that.

Being open-minded and basing it on production in the pros, then what would be the determinant for what school was Running Back U? It would have to be rushing yards, wouldn’t it? You could have a huge offensive lineman score 20 one-yard touchdowns that wouldn’t make his school Running Back U.

I found each school’s rushing total on www.profootballreference.com and I then subtracted each school’s quarterbacks rushing yards from their grand total.

Which school has gained the most yards rushing all-time in the NFL you ask? The answer might surprise you. Looking at schools that have produced many professional running backs, and then starting with the lowest number of yards to the highest (for suspense purposes), they are listed below. I listed, for the sake of article length, only those running backs for that school that gained 3,000 yards or more in their pro career.

SMU 31,652 – Eric Dickerson 13,259 and Wayne Morris 3,387. I know you’re wondering didn’t Craig James gain 3,000 yards in his NFL career? No, he did not. James rushed for 2,469 yards.

Michigan State 33,768 – Le’Veon Bell 6,125, Lorenzo White 4,242, Clarence Peaks 3,660, and Jess Phillips 3,568.

Wisconsin 38,945 – Melvin Gordon 4,240, Alan Ameche 4,045, Ron Dayne 3,722, Michael Bennett 3,703, Dan Lewis 3,205, and Pat Harder 3,016.

Florida State 42,194 – Warrick Dunn 10,967, Marion Butts 5,185, Edgar Bennett 3,992 and Devonta Freeman 3,972.

Michigan 43,178 – Tyrone Wheatley 4,962, Ron Johnson 4,308, Leroy Hoard 3,964, Anthony Thomas 3,891, and Justin Fargas 3,369.

Syracuse 43,320 – Jim Brown 12,132, Larry Csonka 8,081, Floyd Little 6,323, Joe Morris 5,585, and Jim Nance 5,401. Those five provided 37,522 yards or 86% of the Orange’s total professional yards rushing. Only one other Syracuse back gained more than 1,000 yards total in his professional career and that was Jack Hinkle with 1,067 yards.

Oklahoma State 45,987 – Barry Sanders 15,269, Thurman Thomas 12,074, and Walt Garrison 3,886. If you went by a school’s top two rushers, the tandem of Sanders and Thomas is second with 27,343 yards. Which tandem is first? Keep reading.

UCLA 49,000 – Maurice Jones-Drew 8,167, Freeman McNeill 8,074, Wendell Tyler 6,378, DeShaun Foster 3,570, Karim Abdul-Jabbar 3,411, and Mel Farr 3,072.

Nebraska 49,740 – Ahman Green 9,205, Roger Craig 8,189, and Mike Rozier 4,462. One used to think of Nebraska’s vaunted rushing attack in past decades would have more running backs with 3,000 yards rushing or more in the pros. What is also surprising is the Cornhuskers had only four All-American running backs in the past 50 seasons: Jeff Kinney in 1971, Jarvis Redwine in 1980, Mike Rozier in 1982 & 1983 and Ameer Abdullah in 2013 & 2015.

Alabama 56,572 – Shaun Alexander 9,453, Mark Ingram 7,025, Wilbur Jackson 3,852, Derrick Henry 3,833, Eddie Lacy 3,614, and Tony Nathan 3,543.

Texas 60,313 – Ricky Williams 10,009, Earl Campbell 9,407, Priest Holmes 8,172, Jamaal Charles 7,563, and Cedric Benson 6,017.

Tennessee 62,086 – Jamal Lewis 10,607, Charlie Garner 7,097, Arian Foster 6,527, Travis Henry 6,086, James Stewart 5,841, and Reggie Cobb 3,743.

Auburn 65,779 – Stephen Davis 8,052, James Brooks 7,692, William Andrews 5,986, Rudi Johnson 5,979, Ronnie Brown 5,391, Joe Cribbs 5,356, and Carnell Williams 4,038. What about Bo Jackson? He gained 2,762 yards rushing.

The top ten rushing schools beginning at number ten:

10. Pitt 67,759 – Curtis Martin 14,101, Tony Dorsett 12,739, LeSean McCoy 11,071, Craig Heyward 4,301, Kevan Barlow 3,984, and Randy McMillan 3,876. If you went by just the top three rushers, Pitt’s trio of Martin, Dorsett and McCoy would be first with 37,911 yards, but notice the drop off from McCoy to Heyward. Martin, Dorsett & McCoy provide 56% of Pitt’s all-time rushing yards total.

9. LSU 71,440 – Jim Taylor 8,597, Steve Van Buren 5,860, Joseph Addai 4,453, Dalton Hilliard 4,164, Harvey Williams 3,952, Kevin Faulk 3,607, Dominick Williams 3,195, Earl Gros 3,157 and Stevan Ridley 3,102.

8. Florida 72,414 – Emmitt Smith 18,355, Fred Taylor 11,695, Neal Anderson 6,166, Rick Casares 5,797, John L. Williams 5,006, Errict Rhett 4,143, and James Jones 3,626. Florida’s tandem of Smith and Taylor surpass every other school’s top two rushers by combining for 30,050 yards.

7. Georgia 74,234 – Herschel Walker 8,225, Garrison Hearst 7,966, Terrell Davis 7,607, Rodney Hampton 6,897, Todd Gurley 5,404, Knowshon Moreno 3,616, and Charley Trippi 3,506.

6. Penn State 75,140 – Franco Harris 12,120, Curt Warner 6,844, Lydell Mitchell 6,534, Larry Johnson 6,223, Lenny Moore 5,174, Gary Brown 4,300, Dick Hoak 3,965, and Fran Rogel 3,271.

5. Oklahoma 79,604 – Adrian Peterson 14,216, DeMarco Murray 7,174, Greg Pruitt 5,672. Billy Sims 5,106, Dexter Bussey 5,105, Joe Washington 4,839, and Mike Thomas 4,196.

4. Ohio State 87,462 – Eddie George 10,441, Robert Smith 6,818, Pete Johnson 5,626, Ezekiel Elliott 5,405, John Brockington 5,185, Tom Matte 4,646, Carlos Hyde 4,370, Jim Otis 4,350, Matt Snell 4,285, and Keith Byars 3,109.

Ohio State had the most players rush for more than 1,000 yards in their professional career, 24. In addition to those listed above: Archie Griffin (2,808), Ron Springs, Raymont Harris, Beanie Wells, Fred Morrison, Bo Scott, Tim Spencer, Vince Workman, Nick Goings, Scottie Graham, Howard Hopalong Cassady, Jonathan Wells, Ollie Cline down to Bobby Watkins (1,058) all gained more than 1,000 career-rushing yards.

3. USC 88,582 – Marcus Allen 12,243, O.J. Simpson 11,236, Reggie Bush 5,490, Mike Garrett 5,481, Sam Cunningham 5,453, Jon Arnett 3,833, Clarence Davis 3,640, Frank Gifford 3,609, Justin Fargas 3,369, Charles White 3,075, and Ricky Bell 3,063.

2. Notre Dame 91,152 – Jerome Bettis 13,662, Ricky Watters 10,643, Julius Jones 5,068, Greg Bell 4,959, Dorsey Levens 4,955, Ryan Grant 4,148, Nick Pietrosante 4,026, Rocky Bleier 3,865, and Paul Hornung 3,711.

The number one school for rushing yards gained in the NFL is the U, the Miami Hurricanes with 104,043 – Frank Gore 15,347, Edgerrin James 12,246, Ottis Anderson 10,273, Clinton Portis 9,923, Willis McGahee 8,474, Chuck Foreman 5,950, Lamar Miller 5,864, Pete Banaszak 3,772, Tom Sullivan 3,142 and Don Bosseler 3,112.

Miami had five running backs gain more than 8,000 yards in the NFL. No other school comes close to matching that. The Hurricanes’ trio of Gore, James and Anderson trail Pitt’s Martin, Dorsett and McCoy by 45 yards, 37,911 to 37,866 for the most combined rushing yards by three running backs from the same school.

Miami had seven running backs gain more than 5,000 yards in the NFL and the next closest to that number is Auburn and Oklahoma with six. Miami had 21 running backs rush for more than 1,000 yards in their career which is second only to Ohio State’s 24.

The other Hurricane running backs with more than 1,000 career-rushing yards are: Cleveland Gary, Albert Bentley, Donnell Bennett, Najeh Davenport, Woody Bennett, Duke Johnson, Gus Edwards, Keith Griffin, Alonzo Highsmith, Warren Williams, and James Jackson.

The success and depth of Miami’s running backs over the years in the NFL is amazing especially when you consider that the Hurricanes had only four All-America running backs since 1968: Chuck Foreman in 1972, Cleveland Gary in 1988, Willis McGahee in 2002 and Duke Johnson in 2014.

If you go by production in the NFL to determine which school is Running Back U, there’s no doubt – it’s the U.

John Baranowski is a sports historian and contributor to newspapers, sports publications and sports websites. This and other articles written by him can be found on his blog:  https://johnbaranowski.wordpress.com/.

University of Miami Logo Wallpaper Photo credit: jcsizmadi on VisualHunt / CC BY-SA

University of Notre Dame Golden Dome Photo credit: Paul J Everett on Visualhunt / CC BY

Ohio State University Logo Wallpaper Photo credit: buckeyekes on VisualHunt / CC BY-SA

University of Oklahoma Logo Wallpaper Photo credit: xploitme on VisualHunt / CC BY-SA

Penn State University Nittany Lion statue Photo credit: apardavila on VisualHunt / CC BY

USC Tommy Trojan statue Photo credit: Ken Lund on VisualHunt / CC BY-SA

 

 

 

How has Pitt Football fared against the Big 10 Conference?

In 1939, the University of Chicago discontinued its football program as it had not won a Big 10 Conference game since 1936, and the university decided to de-emphasize athletics, and in 1946, the University of Chicago withdrew from the Big 10 Conference.

With nine members, schools such as Iowa State, Marquette, Michigan State, Nebraska, Notre Dame and Pitt, yes, Pitt were hoping to become the conference’s 10th member.

Pitt coveted joining the Big 10 and began playing Big 10 schools in earnest. In the 1940’s and early ‘50s, Big 10 schools were frequent Pitt opponents on the gridiron. In 1941, 1946, 1949, 1950, and 1951, Pitt football played four Big 10 teams each season. In 1945, Pitt played five Big 10 schools, and in 1947, Pitt played six Big 10 teams, and just like the University of Chicago, Pitt fared poorly against Big 10 teams. From 1940 through mid-way through the 1947 season, Pitt lost 24 consecutive games against Big 10 teams. In 1950, Michigan State was added to replace the University of Chicago as a conference member.

Pitt football fans often deride the Big 10 as being overrated in part to not give any credit to their hated rival Penn State for playing in a more difficult football conference, but how has Pitt fared against each team from the Big 10 Conference since 1972 as well as all-time?  I selected 1972 as that year the Panthers under Head Coach Johnny Majors became relevant and respectable and would go on to have the Panthers greatest years since the 1930’s.

ILLINOIS – Pitt is 2-6 all-time against the Illini, but since 1972, Pitt has a 2-0 record against Illinois with the last meeting taking place in 1982. Pitt won the last two games in 1981 and 1982, but in the prior five meetings from 1944-1967, all Pitt losses, Pitt never managed to score more than seven points against the Illini.

INDIANA – Another one of the weak sisters of the Big 10 yet Pitt all-time is only 2-7 against the Hoosiers – in football! Go figure. The last time Pitt faced Indiana was in 1952 with Pitt winning 28-7 at Pitt Stadium.

IOWA – Against the Iowa Hawkeyes, Pitt all-time is 3-4 and only 1-3 since 1972. Iowa has won the last three meetings between the two schools with the last game taking place in 2015.

MARYLAND – The Maryland Terrapins joined the Big 10 Conference in 2014 and have not played Pitt since 1992. Pitt is 2-3 all-time against Maryland and lost their last meeting to Maryland 47-34 at Pitt. For a school that’s relatively close for fans of both schools to make this road trip, it’s surprising Pitt hasn’t faced Maryland in over 25 years and only six times total all-time.

MICHIGAN – It’s only 283 miles from the Big House in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to Heinz Field. With Pitt often clamoring for help with attendance, it would seem having Michigan Wolverine fans come visit Pittsburgh would happen occasionally. That is not the case whatsoever. Pitt has played Michigan only twice all-time, both times in Ann Arbor, with the scores being 40-0 in 1941 and 69-0 in 1947 in Michigan’s favor. Apparently, being defeated 109-0 taught the Panthers not to play the Wolverines ever again.

MICHIGAN STATE – Who doesn’t love a former assistant coach going up against his former boss and head coach?  Michigan State would certainly spark that intrigue in having Pitt Head Coach Pat Narduzzi going up against his former boss and Michigan State Head Coach Mark Dantonio. Current Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi was Dantonio’s defensive coordinator before taking the head coaching job at Pitt. Pitt has a 0-6-1 all-time record against Michigan State with the last meeting taking place in 2007. Since 1972, Pitt is 0-2 against the Spartans.

MINNESOTA – The Minnesota Golden Gophers could well be Pitt Panthers midwestern sibling. Both play in a city of comparable size that has a long-established NFL team. Minnesota had great success before World War II as did Pitt. The University of Minnesota stopped playing in their on-campus stadium in 1982 and began playing in the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome and demolished their on-campus football stadium in 1992 and came to regret having to play in an off-campus professional football stadium. Minnesota learned the error of their ways and returned the football program back to campus where it belongs and built a beautiful on-campus stadium in 2009. Pitt has a 3-9 record all-time against Minnesota and is 2-0 since 1972 with the last meeting in 1992.

NEBRASKA – Nebraska is 15-6-3 all-time against Pitt but only joined the Big 10 Conference in 2011 and has not played Pitt as a Big 10 member. The Cornhuskers have visited Heinz Field and won both of their recent two meetings against Pitt in 2004 and 2005. Prior to that, Pitt last faced Nebraska in 1958.

NORTHWESTERN – A perennial doormat from the early ‘70s to the mid ‘90s until Gary Barnett took over at Northwestern in 1995, the Wildcats have defeated Pitt in four of the seven meetings between the two schools all-time. Since 1972, Pitt is 1-2 having against Northwestern losing in 1972 and again in their most recent meeting most recently, in the 2016 Pinstripe Bowl 31-24. Pitt defeated Northwestern 21-14 in 1973.

OHIO STATE – Along with Michigan, Ohio State was the other half of the big two little eight for so many years in the Big 10. Pitt is 5-19-1 all-time against the Buckeyes, but only 1-6 since 1972 with the last game between the two schools in 1996 in which Ohio State won 72-0. Much like the blowout losses against Michigan, Pitt has wanted no part of Ohio State since 1996. It’s a shame because Buckeye Nation would certainly bring a lot of fans to Heinz Field.

PENN STATE – Even before the four-game series with Penn State took place, I predicted and wrote in: https://johnbaranowski.wordpress.com/2017/01/14/the-pitt-penn-state-rivalry-vastly-overrated/ that the Nittany Lions would lose the first game of the four-game series and then win the next three as Penn State head coach James Franklin improved Penn State’s recruiting and that Pitt’s recruiting was not keeping pace and it became evident on the field in three consecutive losses.

Pitt is 43-53-4 all-time against Penn State but only 2-6 since 1997 when Penn State started playing a Big 10 schedule. Pitt has lost 10 of the past 12 games against Penn State and Pitt’s last win at Beaver Stadium was seven games and 31 years ago.

PURDUE – Pitt has a 3-4 record all-time against the Boilermakers and has a 2-0 record against Purdue since 1972 winning in 1985 and 1986.

RUTGERS – Pitt is 22-8 all-time against its former Big East foe Rutgers but since Rutgers has joined the Big 10 in 2014, the Scarlet Knights have not faced Pitt on the gridiron. The last time these two schools met was in 2012 and Pitt was victorious 27-6.

WISCONSIN –  Pitt’s next scheduled taste of Big 10 football will be when the Panthers visit Camp Randall in 2026 and the Badgers come to Heinz Field in 2027.  No need to remind Pitt fans that the Badgers are coached by former Pitt Head Coach Paul Chryst and what an interesting storyline that presents provided Chryst is still head coach at Wisconsin. The Panthers are 3-0 all-time versus Wisconsin all-time and last faced the Badgers in 1967 in Madison, Wisconsin.

Pitt’s overall record against the Big 10 since 1972 is 11-19 for a winning percentage of .367. To recap Pitt versus the Big 10 since 1972: Illinois 2-0, Iowa 1-3, Michigan State 0-2, Minnesota 2-0, Northwestern 1-2, Ohio State, 1-6, Penn State 2-6 and Purdue 2-0.

Pitt, while playing in the Big East Conference, often called the Big Least Conference, only managed to win one conference title in 22 seasons (1991-2012) and that was in a four-way tie for first place in 2004.  If that’s all the success Pitt could manage against the likes of West Virginia, Connecticut, Syracuse and Boston College, imagine how would Pitt fare against Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State every year?

If Pitt were in the Big 10 Conference, Pitt would obviously be in the Big 10 East division and instead of playing Georgia Tech, Miami and Virginia Tech as they do every year in the ACC, in addition to facing Penn State, the Panthers would play Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State annually. Pitt’s record against those three schools since 1972 is 1-8 and 5-27-2 all-time. The winning percentage for that is .111 since 1972 and .176 all-time. If you include the games against Penn State, another Big 10 East team that Pitt would certainly play annually instead of Duke, since 1972 Pitt is 3-14 against those four Big 10 East schools for a winning percentage of .176. Pitt fans should be very thankful they’re in the ACC Coastal division and not in the Big 10 East.

When Pitt fans discredit the Big 10 Conference, they look like the 98-lb. weakling saying they could beat a professional wrestler. Talk is cheap and if Pitt fans are going to talk-the-talk, they should at least be able to back it up and walk-the-walk and past and recent history has shown that they have not done that against Big 10 teams recently or for that matter, ever.

 John Baranowski is a sports historian and contributor to newspapers, sports publications and sports websites. This and other articles written by him can be found on his blog:  https://johnbaranowski.wordpress.com/

Photo credit: pennstatenews on Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-ND

The Flaw in Claiming the 2001 Miami Hurricanes are the Greatest College Football Team Ever

When the discussion comes up about which is the greatest college football team of all-time, some college football fans will say it was the 2001 Miami Hurricanes team. If you ask them why, invariably you will hear, “Look at all those players that went on to play in the NF….” Stop right there!

What does that have to do with how the 2001 Miami Hurricanes performed on the field in 2001? Absolutely nothing. You judge a team on what it did on the field THAT year and THAT year alone. Period. Future performance does not influence or change any game results that took place in the past.

Some of those players on that team may have become farmers, plumbers, accountants, janitors, or 400-pound slobs. That doesn’t detract what happened on the field in 2001. Nor should what any players from that team accomplished after 2001 aid in judging that team.

All that matters when you’re judging a team from a particular year is what they accomplished THAT YEAR and nothing else. Nothing else. Why is that such a hard concept to understand? Yet so many use that argument in trying to claim the 2001 Miami Hurricanes were the greatest college football team of all-time.

Using that same argument, if some little league team had Mike Trout and Bryce Harper on it, then that team had to the be the greatest little league team ever having two future major league baseball stars on it, right? Or in the Hurricanes’ case, how does what some of their players did in 2010 make what they did in 2001 better?

Florida State University quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward opted to play in the National Basketball Association rather than the National Football League. Does that in any way diminish what he accomplished in college?

Then how and why does what someone did after their college career, in this case the Miami Hurricanes football team in 2001, affect the results of what occurred and how those performances and results are evaluated? It shouldn’t and to those that think it does, that is a fallacy and a misperception. What occurred after 2001 should not influence how the 2001 Miami Hurricanes are judged.

Spare me the “look at all those players they had that went on to play in the NFL” argument like Willis McGahee who only rushed for 314 yards for the Hurricanes in 2001 or tight end Kellen Winslow who had only two receptions in 2001. Those future NFL players were non-factors on that 2001 Miami squad.

If you want to say they were the most-talented college football team ever, I have no qualms about that. Perhaps they were. They were a great football team but they struggled against 14th-ranked Virginia Tech barely winning 26-24 with Ed Reed making a game-saving interception erasing Virginia Tech’s last threat.

The Hurricanes also struggled against an unranked Boston College team winning 18-7 in a game that was much closer than the final score indicated. Would the greatest college football team of all-time be held without an offensive touchdown in a game against an inferior opponent?  Miami failed to score an offensive touchdown in the entire game against Boston College and the Golden Eagles played without William Green, the nation’s leading rusher, and gave “the greatest college football team of all time” all they could handle.

With Miami clinging to a 12-7 lead in the game’s final minute, BC drove to Miami’s nine-yard line but quarterback Brian St. Pierre’s pass was intercepted by defensive tackle Matt Walters. Reed took the ball from Walters and ran it back for Miami’s only touchdown with only 13 seconds left in the game.

A team laden with that kind of talent shouldn’t have struggled against any team they faced. The highest-ranked team Miami faced was fourth-ranked Nebraska which had a largely one-dimensional offense. The Cornhuskers were the only top-ten team the Hurricanes faced that season. That’s not Miami’s fault but that’s just how their schedule played out.

If you believe that the 2001 Miami Hurricanes are the greatest team in college football because of what their players did in the NFL, then you must also believe that Tom Brady was the greatest college quarterback of all-time, and you would be mistaken on both counts.

You judge a team solely on what it did that year on the field of play and by that criteria, the 2001 Miami Hurricanes were great, but by no means were they the best college football team of all-time.  

John Baranowski is a sports historian and contributor to newspapers, sports publications and sports websites. This and other articles written by him can be found on his blog:

https://johnbaranowski.wordpress.com/

Photo credit: jcsizmadi on VisualHunt / CC BY-SA

 

Big Mo, Little Mo and Cookie

On Sunday, September 8th, the Valley News Dispatch published a letter to the editor I had submitted regarding the Highlands School District not recognizing Cookie Gilchrist, Dick Modzelewski and Ed Modzelewski and the 1953 Har-Brack Tigers football team.  The Valley News Dispatch has a 250-word limit for publication which limits additional description and greater detail.

As a side note, I sent the letter to each member of the Highland School Board and never received a response from anyone. Below is the letter in its entirety as originally written:

It is a fairly common practice that school districts recognize outstanding achievements by their students and sports teams often in trophy cases, with photos, signs and/or on the high school gymnasium wall, etc. Some communities display signs as well welcoming visitors and displaying, “Welcome to (town name), Home of (the individuals name or their school district’s team’s accomplishment.)

There are three individuals that grew up within the Highlands School District in the small towns of Natrona and Brackenridge, that reached the highest level of their sport, and to my knowledge there is no displayed recognition of their accomplishments within the Highlands School District. Those individuals are: Cookie Gilchrist, Dick Modzelewski and Ed Modzelewski.

The list of their accomplishments are as follows:

Cookie Gilchrist

Five-time Canadian Football League All-Star

Four-time American Football League All-Star

First 1,000-yard rusher in AFL history

Led the AFL in Rushing in 1962 and 1964

1962 American Football League Most Valuable Player

Set AFL single-game rushing record with 243 yards against the NY Jets

Member of the All-Time American Football League Team.

Member of the Buffalo Bills Wall of Fame

 

Dick Modzelewski – “Little Mo”

Two-time Football All-American at the University of Maryland

1952 Outland Trophy winner as the nation’s premier college lineman

Named to the National Football League Pro Bowl 1964

Set NFL record playing for 180 consecutive games

Coached in the NFL for 12 years

Elected to the College Football Hall of Fame 1993

Member of the National Polish Sports Hall of Fame

 

Ed Modzelewski – “Big Mo”

Football All-American University of Maryland 1951

1952 Sugar Bowl Most Valuable Player

1952 First Round draft choice of the Pittsburgh Steelers and sixth pick overall in the draft

The Highlands School District is remiss in not recognizing these individuals for their outstanding athletic achievement. I’m unaware of any visible recognition within the football stadium or on school district grounds recognizing their achievements.

If one counters that was then as Har-Brack and it is now Highlands, let me point out that the Pittsburgh Pirates recognize outstanding players from the Homestead Grays and the Pittsburgh Crawfords as well as former Pirates that never set foot in PNC Park. These three gentlemen were born, raised and attended school within the school district.

How many outstanding Division One collegiate and professional athletes has a larger and incorporated Highlands School District produced? I’m unaware of any, yet here are three from Natrona and Brackenridge that go unrecognized that could serve as inspiration to our current and future student- athletes that the highest levels of achievement are indeed attainable.

This is not just an opportunity to honor these former residents of the community but also an opportunity to inform, educate and inspire the young people of the district that they too can reach the highest level of their chosen profession, and isn’t that what school districts are supposed to do?

That also applies for the 1953 Har-Brack football team, a team that was Co-WPIAL Class AAA champion in 1953. How many WPIAL championship football teams has Highlands produced?  None.  Perhaps if the players knew it has been done by their predecessors it might serve to inspire them that it can be done again.

Perhaps a sign could be displayed on the football stadium press box or beneath the electronic scoreboard, paid for by sponsors and/or donors so that the school district bears no cost, that recognizes these three individuals and the 1953 Har-Brack football team for their outstanding athletic achievements.

It’s never too late to do the right thing.

Sincerely,

John Baranowski

Highlands Class of ‘80

John Baranowski is a sports historian and contributor to newspapers, sports publications and sports websites. This and other articles written by him can be found on his blog:

https://johnbaranowski.wordpress.com/

 

 

Penn State Football’s Home Games of the Decades

With the last year of this decade upon us and another football season rapidly approaching (although to college football fans, not rapidly enough), this gives us an opportunity to consider which Penn State home game at Beaver Stadium is the reigning game of the decade going into 2019. While we’re at it, what home games were the game of the decade for the past four decades as well?

Working in chronological order, we’ll begin with the ‘70s. The choice goes to: 1978 Penn State 17 Pitt 10. In the midst of the zenith of this Eastern-football rivalry, 15th-ranked Pitt came in looking to knock off #1-ranked Penn State that had national championship aspirations and a date with #2 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day.

In a cold, swirling wind Penn State would come back from a 10-7 deficit and score 10 points in the fourth quarter breaking a 10-10 tie with Mike Guman scoring on a two-yard run on fourth and two and the Nittany Lions would remain ranked number one in the country and undefeated with an 11-0 record. Penn State’s defense held Pitt to 181 yards of total offense on the day. It was the first time the Nittany Lions finished the regular season ranked number one.

Honorable Mention: 1973 Penn State 35 North Carolina State 29. The sixth-ranked Nittany Lions trailed 14-9 at halftime, but Penn State would hold off the upset-minded Wolfpack and hang on for a 35-29 victory largely on the legs of John Cappelletti who carried the ball 41 times for 220 yards.  Cappelletti’s third rushing touchdown of the day midway in the fourth quarter broke a 29-29 tie to keep the Nittany Lions undefeated.

The ‘80s: 1982 Penn State 27 Nebraska 24: In one of the most memorable games in Beaver Stadium history, this game had everything: two outstanding top 10 teams with back and forth action, a last- minute comeback and controversy.

Nebraska came into Happy Valley ranked number two in the country with Penn State ranked eighth and portable lights were brought in for the game could be televised nationally. The Nittany Lions jumped out to a 14-0 lead on two second-quarter drives. Nebraska’s high-powered offense couldn’t be denied with stars such as Turner Gill, Mike Rozier, Roger Craig and Irving Fryar and Gill scored on a one-yard run to give the Cornhuskers a 24-21 lead with only 1:18 left in the game.

Quarterback Todd Blackledge led the Nittany Lions with a 65-yard scoring drive in the final minute of play. With only 13 seconds left Blackledge hit tight end Mike McCluskey with a pass to the two-yard line that appeared to be out of bounds. On the following play, Blackledge hit tight end Kirk “Stonehands” Bowman in the end zone with four seconds left to give Penn State a dramatic come-from-behind victory.

Honorable Mention: 1982 Penn State 19 Pitt 10: Curt Warner rushes for 118 yards on 22 carries in a come from behind win for the second-ranked Nittany Lions against fifth-ranked Pitt and ensured themselves a shot at the national championship against number-one ranked Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.

The ‘90s: 1997 Penn State 31 Ohio State 27. In a heavyweight battle of two top 10 teams, it was number two Penn State against seventh-ranked Ohio State and the game lived up to its billing. In a game of big plays where neither team ever led by more than 10 points, none was bigger than Curtis Enis’ 27-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to put the Lions ahead to stay. Enis would run for 211 yards on 23 carries against the Buckeyes.

Honorable Mention: 1995 Ohio State 28 Penn State 25. This game made ESPN Classic as 12th-ranked Penn State jumped out to a 10-0 first quarter lead over the fifth-ranked Buckeyes. Ohio State would respond with 21 unanswered points to lead 21-10 in the third quarter.

Penn State quarterback Wally Richardson would bring the Nittany Lions back putting them in front 25-21 in the fourth quarter. Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George would provide the winning margin on a six-yard run with only 1:42 remaining in the fourth quarter. George would rush for 105 yards on 24 carries but was bested by Penn State’s Curtis Enis’ 146 yards on 25 carries in a losing effort.

The ‘00s: 2005 Penn State 17 Ohio State 10: Led by a Whiteout Student Section and Zombie Nation over the loudspeakers and with 109,839 in attendance, Beaver Stadium rocked like it never did before. With GameDay on hand, this game showed that Penn State was back with an upset victory over sixth-ranked Ohio State.

With only 1:21 left in the game and Ohio State on Penn State’s 45-yard line, Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith was sacked by Tamba Hali, and fumbled that was recovered by Scott Paxson that ended the last hope for Ohio State. The image of Tamba Hali sacking Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith is one of Penn State-Ohio State lore. Linebacker Paul Posluszny was a heat-seeking missile registering 14 tackles on the night.

Honorable Mention: 2001 Penn State 29 Ohio State 27: Down 18-0 in the third quarter, Penn State freshman quarterback Zach Mills took off bouncing off Ohio State defenders on his way to a 68-yard touchdown run. Mills’ run ignited a comeback as he would throw for two touchdown passes as well.

Defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy blocked Ohio State’s 32-yard field goal attempt with under three minutes remaining in the game and the victory was Joe Paterno’s 324th making him the all-time winningest head coach in Division I football history surpassing Bear Bryant.

The ’10s: 2016 Ohio State @ Penn State. In front of a night-White Out crowd of 107,280 fans, this game propelled Penn State towards a Big 10 championship in defeating number two-ranked Ohio State. The Buckeyes came into the game as 20-point favorites.

Penn State battled back from a 21-7 deficit at the start of the fourth quarter and with less than five minutes to play, Marcus Allen blocked an Ohio State field goal attempt and Grant Haley picked up the football and returned it 60 yards for a touchdown to give the Nittany Lions a 24-21 lead that they never relinquished. As time expired, the white out in the stands descended upon the playing surface as thousands of fans celebrated the upset victory.

Honorable Mention: 2013 Michigan @ Penn State 43-40 In one of the most thrilling games in Beaver Stadium history and the longest game, a four-overtime affair in which saw the Nittany Lions come back from a 34-24 deficit in the fourth quarter in front of 107,884 fans.

In a game known for Penn State’s version of “The Catch,” a leaping grab by Allen Robinson on a 36-yard pass from freshman Christian Hackenberg to the one-yard line with less than a minute remaining in the fourth quarter. Hackenberg’s subsequent one-yard touchdown run and Sam Ficken’s extra point tied the game at 34-all with only 17 seconds left on the game clock.

Finally, in the fourth overtime and trailing 40-37, Coach Bill O’Brien eschewed kicking a field goal to tie the game gambling on fourth-and-one and Bill Belton ran for three yards and a game-extending first down. Two plays later, Belton scored from two yards out to give the Nittany Lions a dramatic win. The teams were so evenly matched that Penn State gained 390 yards of total offense to Michigan’s 389.

Will this year’s Michigan White Out game provide another thriller? It would take quite a game to be considered one of the best games of this decade at Beaver Stadium.

John Baranowski is a sports historian and contributor to newspapers, sports publications and sports websites. This and other articles written by him can be found on his blog:

https://johnbaranowski.wordpress.com/

Pitt Football’s Home Games of the Decades

With the last year of this decade upon us and another football season rapidly approaching (although to college football fans, not rapidly enough), this gives us an opportunity to consider which Pitt home game at Heinz Field is the reigning home game of the decade going into 2019. While we’re at it, what home games were the game of the decade for the past four decades as well? Working in chronological order, we’ll begin with the ‘70s.

1975 Pitt 34 Notre Dame 20. Those in the sellout crowd of 56,480 that hoped to see Pitt finally snap an 11-year losing streak to the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame not only had their wish granted but they got to see history made as well.

It was 6-3 Pitt versus ninth-ranked Notre Dame with a 7-2 record. On Pitt’s first drive, Tony Dorsett broke off a 57-yard run foreshadowing what the Fighting Irish defense would face all afternoon. Later with Pitt trailing 10-7 in the first quarter, Dorsett sprinted 71 yards to the end zone to give the Panthers a 14-10 lead. At this point, Dorsett had rushed for 151 yards – in four carries!

The teams exchanged field goals and Dorsett took a pass from quarterback Matt Cavanaugh and went 49 yards for another Panther touchdown to go up 24-13 at the half. Dorsett would have three receptions for 74 yards on the day. After a Carson Long field goal in third quarter, Notre Dame’s Rusty Slager would hit Ken McAfee with a touchdown pass to cut Pitt’s lead to seven, 27-20. Pitt would add a final touchdown in the fourth quarter to close out the scoring.

Dorsett’s 303 yards rushing against Notre Dame (on just 23 carries) is still the most rushing yards gained by an opponent against Notre Dame 43 seasons later. This was not just the game of the decade. Like Johnny Miller’s 63 at the final round of the U.S. Open at Oakmont in 1973 and Secretariat at the Belmont that same year, this was a performance of a lifetime.

Honorable Mention: 1970 Pitt 36 West Virginia 35. This is one game you may hear Pitt fans say, “I was there,” which should be followed up with, “but did you stay till the end?” In one of the legendary games of the Backyard Brawl, Pitt trailed at halftime 35-8. In what was truly a tale of two halves, Pitt ran 67 plays in the second half and did not punt in the third or fourth quarter and Pitt’s defense shut out the Mountaineers allowing for the legendary comeback. Pitt quarterback Dave Halvern threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to Leslie Block with just 27 seconds left in the game.

Many fans had left the Pitt-West Virginia game as it was so one-sided in the first half that many left early and did not see the comeback with some fans scrambling back to Pitt Stadium when they heard Pitt was coming back. It taught Mountaineers head coach Bobby Bowden to never sit on a lead again.

The ‘80s: 1982 Pitt 16 West Virginia 13. In front of a crowd of 57,251, number one-ranked Pitt came back from a 13-0 fourth-quarter deficit to defeat fourteenth-ranked West Virginia 16-13. Early in the fourth quarter, West Virginia linebacker Darryl Talley blocked a Pitt punt and recovered it in the end zone to extend West Virginia’s lead to 13-0 in what was a defensive slugfest to that point. Pitt running back Bryan Thomas would get Pitt on the board with a three-yard touchdown run and with 6:04 to play Dan Short recovered a missed snap by Mountaineer quarterback Jeff Hostetler. With under four minutes to play, Pitt quarterback Dan Marino threw a six-yard touchdown pass to Julius Dawkins and the extra point gave Pitt a 14-13 lead. A subsequent safety by Bill Maas of Mountaineers quarterback Jeff Hostetler increased the lead to 16-13.  With seven seconds left in the contest and a chance to tie the game, West Virginia kicker Paul Woodside was just short on a 52-yard field goal attempt. It was Woodside’s first miss after converting on 15 consecutive field goal attempts.

Honorable mention: 1989 Pitt 30 Syracuse 23. This could be Pitt’s version of the Marvin Hagler-Tommy Hearns fight with each team trading bombs right from the start. On Syracuse’s first play of the game, wide receiver Rob Carpenter hit a wide-open Rob Moore for a 69-yard touchdown pass off a reverse. On Pitt’s first play from scrimmage, quarterback Alex Van Pelt hit Henry Tuten for a 61-yard touchdown pass and the score was 6-6 just 32 seconds into the game!

Syracuse came into the game ranked 13th and Pitt was ranked 14th and the first quarter would end Pitt leading 16-13. Pitt led 23-13 at the half and opened the second half with a 70-yard drive capped by one of Derrick Lewis’ three touchdown runs on the day. Syracuse would answer back scoring the next 10 points and on their final possession, the game ended on a Louis Riddick interception inside Pitt’s 10-yard line as time ran out. It was only the third loss for the Orangemen in their last 27 games and snapped Pitt’s five-game losing streak to Syracuse.

The ‘90s: 1999 Pitt 37 Notre Dame 27: Could it be anything other than the final game ever at Pitt Stadium on November 13, 1999, in which Pitt defeated Notre Dame 37-27 before 60,190 fans? Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Bob Smizik wrote, “It was an epic encounter between Pitt and Notre Dame and it was merely one of the greatest games played in the 74-year-old facility.”

Pitt quarterback John Turman threw the first of his two touchdowns on the day to Antonio Bryant in the first quarter to give Pitt a 7-0 lead. The Fighting Irish would battle back after each Pitt score and saw the game tied at 10 and 17-all in the third quarter. Following a Pitt field goal, Turman hit Bryant for a 28-yard touchdown pass to give Pitt a 10-point lead. Notre Dame would answer with a touchdown to make it 27-24 at the end of the third quarter. Both teams traded field goals with the score 30-27 midway in the fourth quarter.

On Notre Dame’s next possession Pitt’s safety Ramon Walker struck Notre Dame wideout Joey Getherall so hard the ball popped into the air and linebacker Scott McCurley made the interception. Pitt running back Kevin Barlow would then carry the ball nine times in a 10-play drive and score his second touchdown of the game on a two-yard touchdown run to make it 37-27 with 1:41 left in the game.  Notre Dame had won the previous eight games against the Panthers but not on this day. This was Pitt’s day.

Honorable mention: 1997 Pitt 21 Miami 17. On a Thursday night in front of an ESPN audience, Miami opened the scoring just 1:05 into the game on a swing pass to Carlo Joseph that turned into a 57-yard touchdown pass. Pitt quarterback Pete Gonzalez would bring Pitt back throwing two touchdown passes in the game and accounting for 250 yards of offense, 63 of those on the ground. With Pitt clinging to a four-point lead, the Hurricanes got to Pitt’s 34-yard line with 1:25 left and on fourth-and-five, Ryan Clement’s pass was intercepted by John Jenkins. It was the second interception for Pitt’s defense that night to go with four sacks, three turnovers and holding Miami to 76 yards rushing. This game made a lot of Pitt fans believers of first-year head coach Walt Harris as it was Pitt’s first win over Miami since 1976 ending an eight-game losing streak. Anytime goalposts are torn down, it must have been quite a game.

The ‘00s: 2009 Cincinnati. 45-44. That’s all you need to see and you know which game I’m referring to. The game was for the Big East Conference crown and a trip to the Sugar Bowl. No game at Heinz Field before or since had as much at stake as this one. A light, steady snowfall fell upon a packed Heinz Field as 63,387 in attendance witnessed what turned out to be a game for the ages.

Pitt led comfortably 31-10 late in the second quarter but made the mistake of kicking it to Cincinnati’s Mardy Gilyard. Gilyard would go 99 yards to bring Cincinnati within 14 points going into halftime and the game’s momentum now belonged to the Bearcats. In a brilliant individual performance, Gilyard had 256 return yards on the day to go along with 118 yards receiving. Pitt running back Dion Lewis did all he could in a losing-effort carrying the football 47 times for 194 and three touchdowns.

Lewis’ third touchdown of the game gave Pitt a 44-38 lead against the fifth-ranked Bearcats but the ensuing extra point hold was dropped which gave Cincinnati a chance. Cincinnati quarterback Tony Pike needed only 64 seconds to tie the game and the Bearcats made the extra point and were Big East Conference champions.

Honorable mention: 2003 Pitt 31 Virginia Tech 28. In front of 66,207 fans, Pitt quarterback Rod Rutherford completed 24 of 31 passes for 303 yards and two touchdowns as Pitt wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald caught eight of those passes for 108 yards and a touchdown. With 54 seconds remaining in the game, Pitt running back Lousaka Polite scored from the two-yard line for the game-winning score over the fifth-ranked Hokies. It was Pitt’s first win over a top-five team at home since beating fourth-ranked Notre Dame in 1987.

A second honorable mention: 2007 Navy 48 Pitt 45 2OT. This one was the longest game ever played at Heinz Field with both teams combining for 915 yards in total offense in which no team led by more than seven points throughout the contest. Navy led by a field goal in the second overtime and rather than kick a chip-shot field goal to tie the game and force another overtime, Pitt Head Coach Dave Wannstedt elected to go for the win. Instead of giving the ball to LeSean McCoy who led all rushers with 165 yards on 32 carries and three touchdowns, freshman quarterback Pat Bostick overthrew tight end Darrell Strong in the end zone.

The ’10s: 2016: Pitt 42 Penn State 39. It was a long-awaited renewal of an old rivalry and a game that was highly anticipated for years that lived up to its hype with Pitt hanging on to beat Penn State 42-39 in front of 69,983 fans, the largest crowd to ever watch a Pitt home game.

Pitt’s offensive line bludgeoned Penn State’s defense rushing for 341 yards with James Conner gaining 117 of those yards. Pitt led 28-7 in the second quarter and held on as Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley threw for 332 yards and Saquon Barkley would score five touchdowns.

A dropped McSorley pass for a touchdown off the fingertips of Penn State wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton was followed by a Ryan Lewis interception with just over a minute to play in the game to preserve Pitt’s lead for good.

Honorable mention: 2016: Pitt 76 Syracuse 61. This one must be listed as it was the highest scoring regulation game in FBS history with a score often greater than when these two schools meet on the hardwood, Pitt outscored 76-61 in a defensively-challenged contest in 2016. The two teams combined to score 47 points in the fourth quarter and 1,312 yards of offense in the game. That was with opposing defenses on the field. Seriously.

The 2019 season will open with a key Coastal Division match-up with Virginia and will be the first of seven Pitt home games in 2019. Will this season provide this decade’s game of the decade?

Photo courtesy of: University of Pittsburgh Athletic Department

John Baranowski is a sports historian and contributor to newspapers, sports publications and sports websites. This and other articles written by him can be found on his blog:

https://johnbaranowski.wordpress.com/

Do you remember low Tide, the most recent losing year for Alabama Football?

Do you remember low Tide, the most recent losing year for Alabama Football? For the University of Alabama and other top college football programs, their most recent losing season occurred within the past 15 years. Many, in the last 10 years.

2018 –  Florida State, Nebraska, Tennessee, USC

2017 – Florida

2016 – Notre Dame, Texas

2014 – Miami, Michigan

2012 –  Auburn

2011 – Ohio State

2010 – Clemson, Georgia

2009 – Texas A&M

2006 – Alabama

2004 – Penn State

2001 – Wisconsin

1999 – LSU

1998 – Oklahoma

Here is a look back on low Tide and the most recent losing year and consecutive losing years for college football’s winningest programs:

Alabama (2006)

Do you recall low Tide?  The down years for the Alabama Crimson Tide football program? That occurred BCNS. That’s Before Coach Nick Saban. Under Mike Shula, it wasn’t Roll Tide, it was more like low Tide. Shula took over for Dennis Franchione and from a 10-win season in 2002, Shula went 4-9 in his first year at Alabama.

In 2004, there was some improvement to a 6-6 record but losing to Minnesota in the Music City Bowl wasn’t what Alabama fans were accustomed to. A 10-win season and a Cotton Bowl victory over Texas Tech followed in 2005, but in 2006, Alabama finished under .500 with a 6-7 record. They say it’s always darkest before the dawn. Unlike the Mike DuBose hiring, this time Alabama got it right. Did they ever.

When was the last time the Crimson Tide had back-to-back losing seasons?  1956 and 1957 with Jennings Whitworth as head coach. The Crimson Tide went 2-7-1 each year. That was truly low Tide and then mama called out to Bear Bryant. The rest as they say is history.

Auburn (2012)

As a head coach, how much leeway does winning a national championship give you?  Apparently, two years at Auburn. After winning the national championship in 2010, after going 3-9 in 2012, head coach Gene Chizik was fired by Auburn.

The last two-year stretch of losing seasons at Auburn was in 1998 and 1999. Head coaches at Auburn are on a short leash and should be renters not house buyers. After going 10-3 in 1997 with a Peach Bowl victory over Clemson, head coach Terry Bowden’s Auburn Tigers got off to a 1-4 start in 1998. Never mind that those four straight losses came to three teams ranked in the top seven in the country! A loss to #7-ranked LSU, then #3-ranked Tennessee, a loss at Mississippi State followed by a loss at fifth-ranked Florida.

Bowden was fired and Bill Oliver was named interim head coach for the rest of the season and the Tigers went 3-8 on the year. Tommy Tuberville was hired and in his first season at Auburn went 5-6 before setting Auburn back on their winning ways.

Clemson (2010)

In 2009, his first full season as head coach, Dabo Swinney had a 9-5 record. The following season, Clemson went 6-7 with a loss in the Meineke Car Care Bowl. His predecessor Tommy Bowden never had a losing season. Swinney replaced Bowden after six games in 2008. 2010 was the first losing season at Clemson since Tommy West was head coach and the Tigers went 3-8 in 1998. Cause for concern?

2010 proved to be but a pothole in the road for Swinney and Clemson. Since 2011, Clemson has won 10, 11, 11, 10, 14, 14, 12 and 15 games respectively with two national championships in the past three years. The last time Clemson had two losing seasons in a row was 1975 and 1976 going 2-9 and 3-6-2 under head coach Red Parker.

Florida (2017)

The 2017 season is one Gator fans would like to forget. With a 3-1 record under head coach Jim McElwain, Florida then lost five straight games. After going 19-8 in his first two seasons at Gainesville, the Gators finished 2017 with a 4-7 record. There would not be a fourth season in Gainesville for McElwain.

Only four years earlier, in 2013, Will Muschamp won only four games against eight defeats. Before that one would have to go all the way back to 1979 to find a losing season. For the Gators, that year, Charley Pell and Florida suffered the most defeats in their football history. Pell’s first season as head coach resulted in a 0-10-1 disaster. Not many coaches today would get a second year after that kind of season. That made Doug Dickey’s 4-7 season in 1978 look good by comparison.

Florida State (2018)

A great college football trivia question is: Who was the head coach of the Florida State Seminoles before Bobby Bowden? That’s how far back you have to go to find a season as bad for the Seminoles as the 5-7 record in 2018 under Florida State’s first-year head coach Willie Taggert. The answer by the way is Darrell Mudra and Mudra went 3-8 in 1975 and that was an improvement over his 1-10 record in 1974 which was an improvement over Larry Jones’ 0-11 season in 1973. Bowden took over for Mudra and went 5-6 in 1976 and after that would build a dynasty in Tallahassee.

Georgia (2010)

For the past 17 seasons, the Georgia Bulldogs have averaged 10 wins a season. That’s why it’s so surprising that Georgia’s most recent losing season wasn’t that long ago under long-time head coach Mark Richt. In 2010, the Bulldogs went 6-7. One would have to go back to 1996 to find another losing season and that was head coach Jim Donnan’s first year as Georgia head coach and Georgia had a 5-6 record.

Current head coach Kirby Smart has a 32-10 overall record and an 18-6 conference record after his first three seasons at Georgia. Richt had a 32-8 overall record and an 18-6 conference record after his first three seasons at Georgia. The more things change the more things stay the same?

Who is the only head coach at the University of Georgia in the past 100 years to have a losing record at Georgia? The answer is Johnny Griffith. Griffith had three consecutive losing seasons in from 1961 to 1963 going 3-7, 3-4-3 and 4-5-1. If you knew that answer, you are indeed a Georgia football fan. That was the last time Georgia had consecutive losing seasons.

LSU (1998-1999)

If the LSU administration and fans got tired of the Les Miles years, imagine what they must have been going through in 1998 and 1999 under head coach Gerry DiNardo. After three straight bowl-winning seasons finishing with wins over Michigan State, Clemson and Notre Dame, the wheels began to fall off for DiNardo at Baton Rouge in 1998.

A 4-7 season in 1998 was followed by a 3-8 season in 1999 in which DiNardo was fired after eight consecutive losses before the season finale against Arkansas in 1999. Eight consecutive losses during the 1999 season. It can’t get much darker than that.

In 2000, LSU hired Nick Saban who won a national championship in 2003. When Saban left for the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, Les Miles was named head coach and Miles won a national championship in 2007. Miles was replaced by current head coach Ed Orgeron in 2016. As you can see, Saban and Miles set the bar high at LSU.

Miami (2014)

A 6-7 year in 2014 was the last time the University of Miami was under .500 in a season and that came under head coach Al Golden.  Randy Shannon had a five-win season, going 5-7, in 2007 when he was the head coach at Miami.

The last time Miami had consecutive losing seasons you have to go back to 1975 through 1977. In 1975, head coach Carl Selmer had a 2-8 record and went 3-8 the following season. Selmer was replaced by former Buffalo Bills head coach Lou Saban and produced another 3-8 season in 1977 before going 6-5 in 1978.

Michigan (2014)

Even the winningest program in college football history has some down years, and they weren’t all that long ago. In 2014, Michigan went 5-7 under Brady Hoke and that wasn’t simply going to cut it in Ann Arbor. Especially not with the recent memory of the 3-8 record in 2008 and 5-7 record in 2009 under head coach Rich Rodriquez.

Prior to that, Michigan’s last losing season was in 1967 under Bump Elliott when the Wolverines went 4-6. Elliott turned that around in 1968 winning eight games against two losses and then Bo Schembechler took over the program.  Schembechler coached for 21 seasons without a losing season. Gary Moeller followed that with five more, and then Lloyd Carr had 13 straight seasons without a losing record. You can imagine the dismay Wolverines fans felt in 2008 and 2009.

Nebraska (2017-2018)

It was all sunshine and rainbows in the state of Nebraska under head coaches Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne. From 1969 through 2001, the Cornhuskers never won fewer than nine games in a season. Like a combine harvester in a Nebraska cornfield, the Huskers rolled through the Big 8 Conference and then Big 12 Conference year after year.

In 1998, Frank Solich replaced Osborne and won 59 games in six seasons. Averaging 10 wins a season wasn’t good enough for Nebraska Athletic Director Steve Pederson. Pederson got greedy and wanted to make his mark on the Nebraska football program and he certainly did. Pederson hired Bill Callahan and the Cornhuskers produced their first losing season since Bill Jennings went 3-6-1 in 1961. Talk about culture shock. Callahan went 5-6 in 2004, 8-4 in 2005 and 9-5 in 2006, and then had another losing season in 2007 going 5-7.

Pederson was fired and Osborne was hired as Interim Athletic Director. The Cornhuskers hired Bo Pelini and winning nine games a year wasn’t good enough. In Pelini’s seven years at Nebraska, he never won less than nine games but that also meant he was losing four games a year. So instead of seeing the glass as nine-thirteenths full, Nebraska Director of Athletics Shawn Eichorst, saw it as four-thirteenths empty. Eichorst stated that Pelini had never won a conference title or won the games that mattered.

Mike Riley was then hired and in 2015 Nebraska won only six games finishing with a losing 6-7 record. After winning nine games in 2016, Riley took Nebraska to new depths with a 4-8 record in 2017. Former Nebraska quarterback Scott Frost inherited the mess that Riley left and produced a 4-8 record in 2018 but the Huskers were far more competitive than under Riley. A third-consecutive losing season is unlikely as Cornhusker fans are talking about and seemingly expecting at least an 8-win season in 2019.

Notre Dame (2016)

In 2016, The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame had a staggering 4-8 season under Brian Kelly. This after a 10-3 record from the previous year and six straight seasons with no less than eight wins a year. Kelly and the Fighting Irish bounced back with 10 and 12-win seasons since that disaster of a season.

From Ara Parseghian through the Dan Devine years (1964-1980), Notre Dame did not have a losing season. That changed in Gerry Faust’s first year when Notre Dame went 5-6 in 1981. Another 5-6 season in 1985 brought about enough pressure to get Faust to resign. Faust went 30-26-1 in his five seasons and the fall was so great that even the turnaround was slow for Lou Holtz as he had a 5-6 season in his first year at Notre Dame in 1986.

Since Devine left South Bend, every Notre Dame head coach had at least one losing season. Faust in ’81 and ’85, Holtz in ’86, Bob Davie in ’99 and ’01, Tyrone Willingham in ’03, Charlie Weis in ’07 and Kelly in ’16. Those aren’t the echoes to be awakened in Notre Dame’s fight song.

Ohio State (2011)

The last losing season Ohio State had was surprisingly, not all that long ago. In 2011, with Luke Fickell as head coach, the Buckeyes went 6-7. What made that season so surprising was the year before under Jim Tressel, the Buckeyes went 12-1, and the year after Fickell, Urban Meyer went 12-0 leading the Buckeyes.

How consistently good is Ohio State’s football program?  The last time Ohio State had two consecutive losing seasons was 1922 (3-4) and 1923 (3-4-1) under head coach John Wilce. Wrap your head around that one.

The closest thing to a post-World War II two-year dark period for Ohio State was in 1987 and 1988 when the Buckeyes finished fifth in the Big 10 with an overall 6-4-1 record in Earle Bruce’s last year and then 4-6-1 finishing seventh in the Big 10 under then first-year head coach John Cooper. Cooper can take some solace knowing that even Woody Hayes had losing seasons in Columbus in 1959 going 3-5-1 and in 1966 with a 4-5 record.

Oklahoma (1996-1998)

1996 through 1998, better known as the John Blake years, were the darkest days in Oklahoma football since the early ‘20s. That was the last time Oklahoma had three consecutive losing seasons. During Blake’s three years Oklahoma had 3-8, 4-8 and a 5-6 record respectively. From 1922-1924, Bennie Owen’s Sooners went 2-3-3, 3-5 and 2-5-1.

1998 was the last time Oklahoma had a losing record, and only four times in the past 20 seasons under Bob Stoops and Lincoln Riley have the Sooners failed to win 10 games or more in a season.

Penn State (2003-2004)

After two consecutive losing seasons in 2000 (5-7) and 2001 (5-6), Penn State rebounded with a 9-4 record in 2002. That was followed by the worst two-year stretch (3-9 in 2003 and 4-7 in 2004) at Penn State since 1931 and 1932 when the Nittany Lions went 2-8 and 2-5.

Head coach Joe Paterno brought the Lions back to their winning ways winning Big 10 titles in 2005 and 2008 and winning 51 games from 2005-2009 with 11-win seasons in 2005, 2008 and 2009.

Penn State still holds the NCAA record for the most consecutive non-losing seasons with 49 that began in 1939 and ended in 1988 when the Nittany Lions were 5-6 that season.

Tennessee (2017-2018)

The once-proud Tennessee Volunteers football program hasn’t won 10 games in a season since 2007. In the 11 seasons since that time, the Volunteers had a losing record in seven of those 11 seasons. Tennessee fans were singing, “Where have you gone Phillip Fulmer, Vol Nation turns its lonely eyes to you, woo woo woo,” and Fulmer was brought back as athletic director in December of 2017.

If you were asked, which of Tennessee’s past five coaches did not have a losing season, one might be surprised to know the answer is Lane Kiffin. Kiffin went 7-6 in 2009 in his only year as head coach of the Volunteers.

Fulmer was 5-7 in 2008 in his final year at the head coaching helm. Be careful what you wish for when calling for a head-coaching change. After Kiffin, Derek Dooley went four straight years without a winning season. Butch Jones had a losing record in 2013 and 2017 as did his replacement Jeremy Pruitt in 2018. The last two seasons the Vols are 9-17.

Texas (2014-2016)

When Darrell Royal took over as head coach of the Texas Longhorns in 1957, little did Longhorn fans know that it would turn out better than hitting oil in an old oil well. For the next 20 seasons, the Longhorns never had a losing season. Royal built such a strong foundation that his successor, Fred Akers, wouldn’t have a losing season until his final season as the Longhorns head coach in 1986 with a 5-6 record.

David McWilliams succeeded Akers and would have a losing season in three of the next five years. John Mackovic would last six seasons and in his sixth season had a 4-7 record as the Longhorns head coach. Enter Mack Brown and a Longhorn resurgence. Brown would win nine games or more for the next 12 years. After a 13-1 season in 2009 that ended with a loss in the BCS National Championship Game to Alabama, the Longhorns went 5-7 the following season.

2013 was Brown’s last season as Longhorns head coach and then the Longhorns sunk to new depths with three straight losing years under Charlie Strong. Strong’s record in those three seasons (2014-2106) was an uninspiring 16-21. Tom Herman enters his fourth season at Longhorns head coach in 2019 and the Eyes of Texas are upon him to restore the Longhorns to the elite of college football.

Texas A&M (2008-2009)

With Jimbo Fisher now the head coach at Texas A&M and with the resources available to him, it may be a while before another losing season happens in Aggie Land. The last losing seasons the Aggies had were in 2008 and 2009 under Mike Sherman. In 2008, Texas A&M went 4-8 and in 2009, they were 6-7.

USC (2018)

One might think that after winning the 2017 Rose Bowl and appearing in the 2018 Cotton Bowl, USC fans might be a bit forgiving of head coach Clay Helton’s 5-7 season in 2018, but that was hardly the case. The last losing season before 2018 was a 5-7 record in 2000 under head coach Paul Hackett.

In case you’re wondering when was the last time USC had consecutive losing seasons, you must go back to 1960 (4-6) and 1961 (4-5-1) and the head coach was some guy by the name of John McKay. I guess USC fans had more patience back then, and McKay richly rewarded them for their patience.

Wisconsin (2001)

Older college football fans know the amazing rebuilding job Barry Alvarez did at the University of Wisconsin. How big of a rebuilding job was it? From 1985 through 1992 Wisconsin never had a winning season. In 1985 in his final season at Badgers head coach, Dave McClain went 5-6. Jim Hilles was 3-9 in 1986. Don Morton went 3-8, 1-10 and 2-9 over the next three seasons.

Enter Barry Alvarez and in 1990, Alvarez went 1-10 in his first year as the Badgers head coach and then two consecutive 5-6 seasons. It wasn’t until 1993 did he and the Badgers have a breakthrough winning season going 10-1-1 with a Rose Bowl victory over UCLA.

After five consecutive winning seasons beginning in 1996, Wisconsin dipped below .500 in 2001 with a 5-7 record. However, since that time, it’s been On Wisconsin as Alvarez, Bret Bielema, Gary Andersen and Paul Chryst had nothing but winning seasons.

A losing season for any school can be as close as losing your starting quarterback to injury. The experienced back-up quarterback you thought you’d have was lost to the transfer portal and went elsewhere to improve his chances of starting and now a head coach is forced to play an unexperienced freshman or sophomore at the most important position in football.

Other recipes for losing seasons include a coaching change with a new head coach coming in with a radically different style of offense but the players he inherits aren’t the type of players he needs to run his offense. A rash of injuries to the offensive line can also wreak havoc to an offense as well and ruin a season.

Will we continue to see long-time successful power five programs struggle with losing seasons?  Time will tell, but it’s certainly a possibility.

John Baranowski is a sports historian and contributor to newspapers, sports publications and sports websites. This and other articles written by him can be found on his blog:  https://johnbaranowski.wordpress.com/

Photo credit:  Diamondduste on Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-ND