How many NCAA titles would Bobby Bowden have won if he had the college football playoff?

Is it easier or harder for a head coach to win a national championship in college football now than it was years ago? College football analyst Kirk Herbstreit stated he believe it was easier today for a head coach to win a national championship because of the college football playoff which gives more teams an opportunity to win the national championship.

If we were still using the old poll system, Alabama would not have played for the national championship in January of 2018 and Nick Saban would not had the opportunity to win his sixth national title. Think about that. Alabama would have been on the outside looking in on the national championship picture and would not have played for a national championship but instead just played in a bowl game.

A school that didn’t even win its division, let alone play for a conference championship, won the national championship. That would have never happened in the pre-BCS, pre-playoff era. National championships were harder to come by because of reduced opportunities, poll politics and bowl affiliations.

In today’s current format, all you need to do is finish in the top four and you have a shot at a national championship. In the past, before the playoff system and the BCS, a team could be ranked #2 and not had a shot at a national title if the #1-ranked team had a conference-affiliated tie-in to a bowl game or for that matter, if the #2-ranked team did as well. The #2-ranked team had to hope the #1-ranked team lost as they seldom met in a bowl game to decide the national championship.

For example, years ago, if Alabama was #2 and USC was #1, USC would have faced the Big 10 Conference representative in the Rose Bowl as the Rose Bowl had automatic tie-ins to the PAC-8, 10 or 12 and the Big 10 conferences. Therefore, if USC won, Alabama could not prove on the field head-to-head versus USC who the real national champion was.

A counter argument is teams now play more games and therefore have additional opportunity to lose those games, but you can win a national championship today without winning your division or even playing in your conference championship game. Alabama did it in 2017. Ohio State made the four-team playoff in 2016 without winning the Eastern division of the Big 10 conference.

Florida State finished ranked fifth or higher in the final football polls for an incredible 14 seasons in a row (1987-2000) and it leads one to wonder, how many final fours would Florida State been in under Bobby Bowden? Let’s look at the years Florida State would have been in a four-team college football playoff.

Florida State won a national title in 1993 and 1999 and it would be difficult for anyone to deny that Florida State wasn’t the best team in the country those years. In addition, the Seminoles remarkably had three other opportunities to play for the national championship in bowl games in 1996, 1998 and 2000 for what amounted to appearing in five national championship games in eight seasons. However, Florida State came up short on the field of play those three years so we can rule out those years as possibly ending with a national championship.

To recap those seasons, Florida State was undefeated at 11-0 and ranked #1 at the end of the 1996 regular season and faced #3-ranked Florida in a rematch in the Sugar Bowl. The Gators turned the tables on the Seminoles and captured the national title winning 52-20. The Seminoles finished the season ranked third.

In 1998, Florida State was ranked #2 and faced #1 Tennessee in the Fiesta Bowl for the national championship and the Volunteers prevailed 23-16. The Seminoles finished with an 11-2 record and ended the season ranked third in the final AP poll.

Two years later it was another number one versus number two battle for the Seminoles as Florida State again was ranked #2 and squared off against the #1 team in the country, this time the Oklahoma Sooners in the Orange Bowl. Oklahoma won 13-2 over Florida State and the 11-1 Seminoles finished fifth in the season-ending poll.

What about the other years Florida State finished in the top four of the final regular season poll and did not have an opportunity to play for the national championship?

In 1979, Florida State was ranked fourth after the final regular season poll behind Alabama, USC and Ohio State. The Seminoles would lose in the Orange Bowl 24-7 to number-five ranked Oklahoma 24-7 so winning the national championship via a four-team playoff would have been unlikely.

The following year, 1980, Florida State was ranked second before the bowl games behind Georgia, with Pitt ranked third and Oklahoma fourth. With only a one-point loss to Miami (10-9) earlier in the season and despite beating then number four-ranked Pitt 36-22, Florida State lost 18-17 in the Orange Bowl again to Oklahoma. Florida State would finish the year with a 10-2 record and ranked fifth.

Perhaps the most likely year Florida State would have benefited from a college football playoff was 1987. At the end of the regular season, the top four ranked teams in the country were: Oklahoma, Miami, Florida State and Syracuse. The only loss the Seminoles suffered was a one-point loss to Miami 26-25. Florida State would go on to defeat fifth-ranked Nebraska 31-28 in the Fiesta Bowl and finish the season 11-1 and ranked #2 behind only Miami. How would Florida State have fared in a rematch against Miami? No doubt Bowden and the Seminoles wish they had that opportunity.

At the end of the regular season in 1988, the top four teams in the country were: Notre Dame, Miami, West Virginia and Florida State.  The 1988 season saw Florida State finish the season ranked third after defeating seventh-ranked Auburn 13-7 in the Sugar Bowl. The Seminoles finished with an 11-1 record with the one loss coming in Week One to Miami 31-0. Notre Dame and Miami were, in all likelihood, the two best teams in the country in 1988, therefore, a realist would not think the Seminoles would have fared well in a playoff.

In 1992, the top four teams in the final regular season poll were: Miami, Alabama, Florida State and Texas A&M. Again, the only loss that season for Florida State was against the Hurricanes in Miami by a 19-16 score. Florida State defeated 11th-ranked Nebraska 27-14 in the Orange Bowl to finish the season 11-1 and ranked second in the final poll. Alabama beat favored Miami 34-13 in the Sugar Bowl to win the national championship.

At the end of the 1997 regular season, the four highest-ranked teams were: Michigan, Nebraska, Tennessee and Florida State. The only loss the Seminoles suffered was a 32-29 defeat in Gainesville to the Florida Gators. The Seminoles defeated ninth-ranked Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl 31-14 and finished the season third in the final poll.

One could state that Bowden’s impressive 22-10-1 record in bowl games bolsters the argument that he could have likely won more than the two national titles under the old poll system and in a college football playoff format but that’s mitigated by the three-national championship bowl game losses.

The best chance may well have been in 1987 for Florida State and legendary coach Bobby Bowden for another national championship in a four-team playoff format like today.  If only it existed then. 

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:


Southwest Pennsylvania – Breeding Ground for the NCAA and the NFL

For a region not as heavily populated as some areas of the country, Southwest Pennsylvania has produced a large number of college and pro football greats over the years. Not only does Southwest

Pennsylvania lay claim to the birthplace of professional football, but throughout the years it has also served as a fertile breeding ground for college and professional football.

The players that have come from Southwest Pennsylvania reads like a who’s who of college and pro football greats. In breaking it down by position, an All-Southwest PA team might look something like this:

No part of the country has produced more great quarterbacks and no position is as deep on this squad as quarterback. The starting signal caller would be Joe Montana, thought of as the greatest quarterback in NFL history till Tom Brady, and the backups aren’t too bad either. One would be Johnny Unitas, the greatest quarterback in NFL history before Joe Montana. In 1999, The Sporting News ranked Joe Montana the third greatest football player ever and Unitas fifth. The other backup quarterback is none other than Dan Marino, and Marino retired as the NFL’s all-time leading passer in yards thrown, touchdowns and completions and may have been the best pure passer ever.

Quarterbacks earning honorable mention would include NFL Hall of Famers Joe Namath and Jim Kelly; Gus Frerotte, who threw for over 21,000 yards and made a Pro Bowl; Johnny Lujack, a Heisman trophy winner at Notre Dame; Sandy Stephens, an All-American at Minnesota and Big 10 Conference MVP who led the Golden Gophers to a national championship and is in the College Football Hall of Fame; Terry Hanratty, who led Notre Dame to a national championship and finished eighth in the Heisman Trophy balloting; Chuck Fusina and Richie Lucas, who both went to Penn State and both were runner-up for the Heisman Trophy, and Lucas is in the College Football Hall of Fame; Babe Parilli, a two-time All-American that led Kentucky to Sugar and Cotton Bowl victories and finished in the top four of the Heisman Trophy balloting twice and was the 4th overall pick in the first round of the 1952 NFL draft; Charlie Batch, a three-year starter for the Detroit Lions, and Terrelle Pryor, who led Ohio State to two BCS bowl victories and was MVP of both the Rose and Sugar Bowl.

As for the starting running backs, this lineup has two of the NFL’s all-time greats: Tony Dorsett, a Heisman Trophy winner at Pitt and NFL Hall of Famer; and another NFL Hall of Famer in Curtis Martin. Few backs were as good as Dorsett in college football history. Dorsett broke the record for most yards rushing in NCAA history, and upon his retirement from pro football, he was second all-time in NFL history in career rushing yards with 12,739. Dorsett was the first player ever to win the Heisman Trophy, a national championship, a Super Bowl and be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Martin, who also went to Pitt, retired as the fourth leading rusher in NFL history with 14,101 yards.

Running backs that earn honorable mention include Larry Brown, who was selected to four Pro Bowls,  rushed for over 1,000 yards twice and was the NFL’s leading rusher in 1972; Chuck Muncie, a three-time Pro Bowler that rushed for more than 1,000 yards twice in his career; Cookie Gilchrist, the first player to rush for over 1,000 yards in the AFL and league MVP and is a member of the Buffalo Bills Wall of Fame; Mercury Morris, who rushed for over 1,000 yards in a season with the Miami Dolphins, Dick Hoak, who played 10 years in the NFL was named to a Pro Bowl; Fran Rogel, who played eight years in the NFL and was also named to a Pro Bowl and Ed Modzelewski, an All-American at Maryland and Sugar Bowl MVP and was the sixth overall pick of the first round of the 1952 NFL draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

One would think having so many great quarterbacks from Southwest Pennsylvania there would also be a lot of great wide receivers as well, but that’s not the case. The best would be Steve Breaston, a 1,000-yard receiver in 2008 in his six-year NFL career; Brian Baschnagel, a nine-year NFL veteran and Greg Garrity, a seven-year NFL veteran. Currently, Tyler Boyd is in his third year with the Cincinnati Bengals.

With Southwestern Pennsylvania having been known for steel mills and hard-working, blue-collar jobs, one would think the offensive line would be very good, and it is. The starting offensive line would consist of: NFL Hall-of-Famer Russ Grimm, Rich Saul, a six-time Pro Bowler in the NFL; Bill Fralic, a four-time NFL Pro Bowler and a three-time All American at Pitt and one of college football’s all-time greatest offensive lineman and the second overall pick of the 1985 NFL draft; Jeff Christy, a three-time Pro Bowler and Jimbo Covert, a two-time NFL Pro Bowler.

The offensive linemen that would earn honorable mention would include: Ron Saul, who played 12 years in the NFL; Al DeMao, who played in the ‘40s and ‘50s and was voted one of the 70 greatest Washington Redskins; Steve August, the 14th overall pick of the 1977 NFL draft and played eight years in the NFL; A.Q. Shipley, winner of the Rimington Award at Penn State as college football’s best center and current member of the Arizona Cardinals; Dan Mozes, winner of the Rimington Award at West Virginia; Jim Wilson, an All-American tackle at Georgia in 1964 and Stefan Wisniewski, an All-American at Penn State currently playing for the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles.

If any position on this team symbolizes western Pennsylvania’s hard work ethic, it would be tight end. Two players stand out above the rest with two others currently making his mark in the NFL. The first would be Mike Ditka, a Pitt All-American and NFL Hall of Famer, and Ted Kwalick, a Penn State All-American and a three-time NFL Pro Bowler. Both Ditka and Kwalick were voted to Sports Illustrated’s NCAA All-Century Team. Having attended Woodland Hills High School, New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is a force in the NFL and current Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Jesse James merit honorable mention.

The kicker would have to be the ageless one, Hall of Famer George Blanda. When Blanda retired at the age of 48, he was the NFL’s all-time leading scorer and was a very good quarterback in the AFL. The backup kicker would be Fred Cox, who played at Pitt and was the Minnesota Vikings placekicker in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Cox was selected to one Pro Bowl in his 15-year career with the Vikings and was one of the last of the straight-on kickers.

Handling the punting duties would be Ohio State great Tom Skladany. Skladany was a two-time All-American in college and a Pro Bowler in the NFL. His backup would be Pat McAfee, an All-American at West Virginia, who played eight years for the Indianapolis Colts in the NFL.

In turning to the defense and beginning with the defensive line: Hall-of-Famer Jason Taylor, a six-time Pro Bowler and two-time AFC Defensive Player of the year. Taylor was also named to the NFL 2000’s All-Decade team and recorded 139 ½ sacks in his career; Aaron Donald, NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2017 and a four-time Pro Bowler in his four seasons in the NFL. Donald won every major award that a defensive lineman possibly could except the Heisman Trophy in his final season at Pitt.

Dick Modzelewski, an All-American at Maryland and the Outland Trophy winner in 1952. Modzelewski played on the great New York Giants teams in the ‘50s and set a then-NFL record for durability, playing in 180 consecutive games; Leon Hart, a Heisman Trophy winner at Notre Dame and the last lineman to win the Heisman Trophy. Hart also won the Maxwell Award while at Notre Dame and was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame and was an NFL Pro Bowler in his eight-year career in the NFL.

Honorable mention:  Sean Gilbert, an NFL Pro Bowler who played 11 years in the NFL: Bruce Clark, a Lombardi Award winner at Penn State who played in one Pro Bowl in the NFL; Greg Meisner, who played on some of the University of Pittsburgh’s greatest teams and played 11 seasons in the NFL and Leo Wisniewski, who played three years in the NFL.

Linebackers:  Joe Schmidt, NFL Hall of Famer for the Detroit Lions and was named to the 1950’s NFL All-Decade team and was a 10-time Pro Bowl selection. In 1999, Schmidt was ranked number 65 on The Sporting News’ list of the 100 greatest football players. Schmidt played for Pitt and was also inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. We have another NFL Hall of Famer at linebacker in Bill George, who played for the Chicago Bears and was an eight-time first team All-Pro selection. George, like Schmidt, was also named to the 1950’s All-Decade team. In 1999, The Sporting News ranked George number 49 of the 100 greatest football players. Lavar Arrington would round out this position as a three-time Pro Bowler and a Butkus and Bednarik Award winner while at Penn State.

Honorable mention:  Myron Pottios, a three-time Pro Bowl selection in his 11-year NFL career; Paul Posluszny, a two-time Bednarik Award winner at Penn State, and selected for the Pro Bowl once in his 11-year career; Brandon Short, an All-American at Penn State and made the Pro Bowl once in his seven-year NFL career; Mike Lucci, named to one Pro Bowl in his 12-year NFL career; Jim Laslavic, who played 10 years in the NFL; Rich Milot, who played nine years in the NFL; John Skorupan, an All-American at Penn State and had an eight-year career in the NFL; Eric Ravotti, who played three years in the NFL and Sean Lee, who was named to the Pro Bowl in 2016 and is in his ninth season with the Dallas Cowboys.

At defensive back, we have Darrell Revis, one of the greatest cornerbacks in NFL history, and at the other cornerback spot we have Ty Law, a five-time Pro Bowler with 53 career interceptions in a 15-year career. The two safeties would be Tom Flynn, who had a five-year NFL career, and Mark Kelso, who played eight seasons with the Buffalo Bills.

As for the coaching staff, you have your pick of three Super Bowl-winning head coaches. There’s Da Coach, Mike Ditka, who coached the Chicago Bears to a Super Bowl victory. There is also Bill Cowher, former head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers who coached them to victory in Super Bowl XL, and there’s Mike McCarthy, current head coach of the Green Bay Packers, that coached the Packers to a Super Bowl victory. Two other head coaches that deserve mention are Marty Schottenheimer, who won 205 regular season games and his teams qualified for the postseason 13 times, and Chuck Knox, who amassed 193 wins in the NFL with his teams qualifying for the playoffs 11 times.

It’s unlikely that any region less populated than Southwest PA could produce a lineup that could match this one.

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:

Photo credit: fabfiver5 on Visual hunt / CC BY