Michigan Football – Elite or Overrated?

ESPN and SEC Network personality Paul Finebaum is on record a few years ago as calling Michigan fans “some of the most unrealistic people that I’ve ever encountered,” and said, “When you win a championship, call me back. I have never met a Michigan fan that had an ounce of humility or didn’t think his team was the greatest of all time regardless of the record.”

When asked what is the most arrogant college fanbase in America, Finebaum responded that Michigan has won half a national championship in about 60 years and “they talk like they’re Alabama, Ohio State, USC, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Penn State wrapped into one.”

Is the arrogance by Michigan’s football fans justified? Does Michigan football walk the walk and their fans just talk the talk? I thought I’d dig a little deeper into Finebaum’s assessment and look how Michigan compares to other schools.

Yes, Michigan is recognized as the all-time leader in wins, and has a higher winning percentage than any other program. No doubt helped by 62 wins by 1929 against powerhouses Albion (17), Case (26), Mt. Union (7), Oberlin (9) and Ohio Northern (3). Those five schools compiled a 1-62-1 record against the Wolverines. That certainly boosts Michigan’s all-time winning percentage.

Credit certainly must be given to the Wolverines for beating the likes of Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota, Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin to the tune of a 357-101-8 record and a winning percentage of .775.

Michigan’s won one-half share of one national championship (’97) in the last 69 years of college football. Since 1950, and we’re not talking a small sampling size of data, we’re talking since the Korean War,  that’s 69 seasons of data. Does anyone dispute the fact that 69 years is not a small data range? Bueller? Bueller? Anyone?

Michigan’s last outright national championship was 1948. In 1997, Michigan was co-national champions along with Nebraska. That’s one-half of a national championship since 1950. According to https://www.ncaa.com/news/football/article/college-football-national-championship-history, the list of schools that have won at least a share of a national championship* since 1950 looks like this:

12- Alabama (‘61*, ‘64*, ‘65*, ‘73*, ‘78*, ’79, ’92, ’09, ’11, ’12, ’15, ’17)

7 – Ohio State (‘54*, ‘57*, ‘61*, ’68, ‘70*, ’02, ’14)

7 – Oklahoma (’50, ’55, 56’, 74*, ’75, ’85, ’00)

7 – USC (’62, ’67, ’72, ‘74*, ‘78*, ‘03*, ’04)

6 – Notre Dame (’49, ‘64*, ‘66*, ‘73*, ’77, ’88)

5 – Miami (’83, ’87, ’89, ‘91*, ’01)

5 – Nebraska (‘70*, ’71, ’94, ’95, ‘97*)

4 – Texas (’63, ’69, ‘70*, ’05)

3 – Clemson (’81, ’16, ’18)

3 – Florida (’96, ’06, ’08)

3 – Florida State (’93, ’99, ’13)

3 – LSU (‘58*, ‘03*, ’07)

3 – Michigan State (’52, ‘65*, 66*)

2 – Auburn (‘57*, ’10)

2 – Penn State (’82, ’86)

2 – Tennessee (’51, ’98)

1 – Brigham Young (’84)

1 – Maryland (’53)

1 – Pitt (’76)

1 – Georgia (’80)

1 – Syracuse (’59)

1 – Arkansas (‘64*)

1 – Colorado (‘90*)

1 – Georgia Tech (’90*)

1 – Iowa (‘58*)

1 – Michigan (‘97*)

1 – Minnesota (‘60*)

1 – Mississippi (’60*)

1 – UCLA (‘54*)

1 – Washington (’91*)

Sixteen schools have won multiple national championships since 1950, and another five have won a single undisputed national championship before getting to schools such as Michigan that have won a share of a national championship in the past 69 seasons. If Michigan fans think of Michigan as elite or upper echelon, shouldn’t the Wolverines have won more than just a half-share of one national championship in the past 69 years? Does that sound elite to you?

How about we compare Michigan to the rest of college football another way? Let’s look at a list of schools and how many seasons since 1950, that they had one loss or less (we’ll allow for ties even Michigan’s three in 1992), and won a major bowl game (Cotton, Fiesta since 1987, Orange, Peach since 2014, Rose and Sugar) or a playoff game that season. For this discussion, let’s call that a “very good year.”

Which schools had the most very good years (1 loss or less & a major bowl game or playoff win) since 1950?

16 – Alabama (’61, ’62, ’65, ’66, ’75, ’77, ’78, ’79, ’92, ’09, ’11, ’12, ’15, ’16, ’17, ’18)

12 – Oklahoma (’53, ’55, ’57, ’58, ’67, ’71, ’75, ’78, ’79, ’83, ’86, ’00)

(’54 and ’56 could not make consecutive bowl appearance as conference champion.)

12 – USC (’52, ’62, ’67, ’69, ’72, ’74, ’76, ’78, ’79, ’03, ’04, ’08)

10 – Texas (’61, ’63, ’64, ’68, ’69, ’72, ’81, ’04, ’05, ’08)

10 – Ohio State (’54, ’57, ’68, ’73, ’96, ’98, ’02, ’14, ’15, ’18)

(’61 opted not to go to Rose Bowl and in ’10 wins were vacated)

8 – Florida State (’87, ’88, ’92, ’93, ’94, ’97, ’99, ’13)

8 –  Nebraska (’63, ’70, ’71, ’82, ’94, ’95, ’97, ’99)

8 –  Penn State (’68, ’69, ’71, ’73, ’82, ’86, ’94, ’05)

8 – Washington (’59, ’60, ’77, ’81, ’84, ’90, ’91, ’00)

7 –  Miami (’83, ’87, ’88, ’89, ’91, ’00, ’01)

7-   Notre Dame (’70, ’73, ’77, ’88, ’89, ’92, ’93)

(’53 and ’66 Notre Dame chose to not go to a bowl game)

5 –  Clemson (’50, ’81, ’15, ’16, ’18)

5 –  Georgia (’59, ’66, ’80, ’83, ’02)

5 – Tennessee (’50, ’70, ’85, ’89, ’98)

4 – Auburn (’83, ’87* tie in Sugar Bowl, ’04, ’10)

4 – Florida (’96, ’06, ’08, ’09)

4 –  LSU (’58, ’61, ’62, ’03)

4 –  Arkansas (’64, ’68, ’77)

3 –  Michigan (’64, ’92, ’97)

3 – Michigan State (’53, ’55, ’13)

(’66 could not go to the Rose Bowl consecutive years as conference champion.)

3 – Wisconsin (’93, ’98, ’17)

Look how far down the list one must go to find Michigan. Since 1950, 17 schools have more 1-loss or less seasons with a major bowl victory and/or won a playoff game that year than Michigan. 17 schools! In only three of the past 69 seasons has Michigan had one loss or less and won a major bowl game that same season. Three out of 69, and I’m including 1992 in which Michigan had three ties that season.

As you can see, some schools have done it many, many more times than Michigan. Ohio State, Michigan’s rival, has done it three times as many as Michigan’s three times, accomplishing the feat 10 times. Arkansas, Michigan State and Wisconsin also match Michigan with three one-loss or less seasons with a major bowl victory over the past 69 years. Does that strike you as being elite?

We’ve looked at national championships and very good years since 1950. I’ll even lessen the criteria on this next comparison. Since 1950, how many 10-win seasons with a bowl victory, any bowl victory, it could have been the Poulan Weedeater Bowl, it doesn’t matter, just so it’s a bowl victory has Michigan had compared to other schools.

For this discussion, let’s call a 10-win season with a bowl win, any bowl win, a “good year.” I think most schools would consider that a good year, although granted, a 10-win season at Alabama isn’t looked upon the same as a 10-win season at UCLA, but one would think a 10-win season and a bowl win shouldn’t get a coach fired. Although winning nine games is not always good enough, just ask Les Miles at LSU or Frank Solich at Nebraska.

We know Michigan seemingly can’t beat Ohio State to win a conference title, but they still could and should win 10 games in a season and then go on to a bowl game and meet an opponent that had an equivalent amount of success that season. You’re no longer playing against the likes of Illinois, Indiana, Purdue, etc.  Which schools had the most good years (10 wins & a bowl game win or playoff win) since 1950?

22 – Alabama (’52, ’61, ’62, ’66, ’75, ’77, ’78, ’79, ’80, ’86, ’91, ’92, 94, ’96, ’09, ’10, ’11, ’12, ’15, ’15, ’17,  ’18) not including ’93 and ’05 both vacated.

18 – Oklahoma (’55, ’57, ’58, ’67, ’71, ’75, ’78, ’79, ’80, ’85, ’86, ’00, ’01, ’02, ’10, ’11, ’13, 16)              (’54 & ’56 consecutive bowl appearances prohibited by conference.)

18 – Penn State (’68, ’69, ’71, ’73, ’74, ’77, ’80, ’81, ’82, ’86, ’91, ’93, ’94, ’96, ’99, ’05, ’09, ’17)

17 – USC (’52, ’62, ’67, ’69, ’72, ’74, ’76, ’78, ’79, ’02, ’03, ’04, ’06, ’07, ’08, ’13, ’16)

16 – Florida State (’77, ’87, ’88, ’89, ’90, ’91, ’92, ’93, ’94, ’95, ’97, ’99, ’10, ’12, ’13, ’16)

16 – Georgia (’59, ’66, ’71, ’80, ’83, ’92, ’97, ’02, ’03, ’04, ’07, ’08, ’12, ’14, ’15, ’17)

15 – Nebraska (’63, ’70, ’71, ’80, ’82, ’84, ’86, ’94, ’95, ’96, ’97, ’99, ’00, ’03, ’09)

15 – Texas (’61, ’63, ’64, ’69, ’72, ’75, ’81, ’01, ’02, ’04, ’05, ’06, ’07, ’08, ’18)

14 – Ohio State (’54, ’68, ’73, ’86, ’93, ’96, ’98, ’02, ’03, ’05, ’14, ’15, ’17, 18)

12 – Clemson (’78, ’81, ’87, ’88, ’89, ’90, ’12, ’13, ’14, ’15, ’16, ’18)

12 – Tennessee (’50, ’70, ’71, ’72, ’87, ’89, ’95, ’96, ’98, ’01, ’04, ’07)

11 – LSU (’58, ’61, ’87, ’96, ’01, ’03, ’05, ’06, ’10, ’13, ’18)

11 – Notre Dame (’70, ’73, ’74, ’77, ’88, ’89, ’91, ’92, ’93, ’15, ’17)

10 – Washington (’59, ’60, ’77, ’79, ’81, ’82, ’84, ’90, ’91, ’00)

10 – Wisconsin (’93, ’98, ’99, ’05, ’06, ’09, ’14, ’15, ’16, ’17)

9 – Auburn (’72, ’74, ’83, ’86, ’89, ’97, ’04, ’06, ’10)

9 – Florida (’93, ’96, ’97, ’98, ’01, ’06, ’08, ’09, ’18)

9 – Miami (’83, ’87, ’88, ’89, ’90, ’91, ’00, ’01, ’03)

8 – Michigan (’80, ’85, ’97, ’98, ’99, ’02, ’11, ’15)

7 – Oregon (’00, ’01, ’08, ’11, ’12, ’13, ’14)

7 –  UCLA (’82, ’87, ’88, ’97, ’05, ’13, ’14)

As you can see, 18 schools, count them, 18 schools since 1950, have more 10-win seasons with a bowl victory than the University of Michigan. Alabama, Oklahoma, Penn State, USC, Florida State and Georgia have at least twice as many 10-win seasons with a bowl victory since 1950 than Michigan. Still think Michigan is elite? Leaders and Best? For as beloved as Michigan coaching legend Bo Schembechler was, he never won a national championship and his bowl record was 5-12.  His major bowl record was even worse at 2-10.

In the past 69 seasons, Michigan had one more 10-win season with a bowl victory than Oregon or UCLA. No one thinks of Oregon and UCLA as elite. No one. I ask you, how could a school and its fanbase rationalize that there are 18 schools with more 10-win seasons with a bowl victory than its school and consider itself elite? Is that not the definition of overrated? The very definition of overrated is having a higher opinion of (someone or something) than is deserved. They should put a picture of Michigan football and its fans next to the definition in the dictionary.

Well, what about recently? Michigan hasn’t won a Big 10 conference title in football since 2004. That’s 14 seasons ago.  Which teams have won Big 10 conference titles since 2005?

6 – Ohio State

3 – Michigan State (co-champion 2010)

3 – Penn State

3 – Wisconsin (co-champion 2010)

0 – Michigan

Does that strike you as Michigan being elite? Leaders and Best?

Michigan has also lost 14 of their last 15 games against their rival Ohio State. That’s hardly a rivalry, that’s more like Navy versus Notre Dame and Kentucky versus Florida. In fact, Navy has beaten Notre Dame and Kentucky has defeated Florida since the last time Michigan beat Ohio State.

In his four years at Michigan, the Wolverines’ ballyhooed head coach Jim Harbaugh has a record 1-9 vs. top 10 teams, 1-3 in bowl games, and 0-4 vs Ohio State. In each of the past three seasons, the Wolverines continued their tradition of ending the year poorly with a season-ending loss against Ohio State and then a bowl-game loss. In 2016, it was a 1-3 finish over the last four games, in 2017, an 0-3 finish, and in 2018 an 0-2 finish to the season.

For all the hubris that Michigan fans have, it’s hardly warranted compared to other schools. Michigan is the most overrated blue-blood football program. Their supporters always point to their past, but it’s been longer than 70 years ago since Michigan truly was elite. No one under the age of 75 remembers Michigan winning two national championships in their lifetime. Those that attended Michigan and experienced the 1948 national championship would now be in their 90s.

By comparison, Clemson and Alabama students still in school have experienced two national championships. If you want to watch highlights when Michigan was truly amongst college football’s elite, you will not find it on ESPN Classic. You might have to watch the History Channel because Michigan hasn’t been truly elite for a long, long time.

Photo credit:  larrysphatpage on Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-ND

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/

 

Sorry Pitt fans, Pitt is not Running Back U. Not even close.

Living in Southwest Pennsylvania, I often hear Pitt fans boast about how they are Running Back U based upon the success of Tony Dorsett, Curtis Martin, LeSean McCoy, and James Conner in the NFL. They have been successful yes, but well, that’s about it as far as Pitt goes – for the past 50 years.

Certainly, credit goes to Pitt for two of the NFL’s greatest running backs in Dorsett and Martin, but I believe that speaks to the quality of football players from Southwest Pennsylvania as much as anything else.

https://johnbaranowski.wordpress.com/2018/09/25/southwest-pennsylvania-breeding-ground-for-the-ncaa-and-the-nfl/

For those that believe that it is what a college player does in the NFL that makes up a so-called position U, I get that, but when I ask the following questions no one who follows that notion answers them:  If a college produced 10 Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks in a 15-year time period, but they all amounted to squat in the NFL, that school wouldn’t be considered Quarterback U?  That’s ridiculous, of course it should. One shouldn’t dismiss what a player accomplished in college if he didn’t do well in the NFL. Charlie Ward won the Heisman Trophy at Florida State and he opted to play in the NBA instead of the NFL, but since he didn’t choose to play in the NFL, doesn’t his winning the Heisman Trophy have any meaning to Florida State and Florida State’s quarterback history?

The other question I pose to which I never get a response from those that feel it’s what a player does in the NFL that matters is: What about players that play a different position in the NFL than in college?

For example, should Terrelle Pryor count as a wide receiver for Ohio State? It’s what a player does in the NFL that matters they’ll say, but Pryor never played wide receiver at Ohio State, so why does what he accomplishes as a wide receiver count towards Ohio State being Wide Receiver U?

What about Antwaan Randle El? Does he count towards Indiana as Wide Receiver U? He played quarterback at Indiana. What about Derrick Ramsey, the tight end from Oakland? He played quarterback at Kentucky. Should he count towards Kentucky being Tight End U?  Julian Edelman, the Patriots wide receiver played quarterback at Kent State University. Does Kent State get credit towards Wide Receiver U based on Edelman’s pro career when he played quarterback in college?

What about Matt Cassell?  Does he count towards USC being Quarterback U?  He never started a game at USC and had only 33 pass attempts and had 20 completions in his collegiate career.

That’s why to me, it’s what the players produce at that position while they’re in college that should count towards that school being deemed a position U.

Since 1969, Penn State has produced 10 All-American running backs (Charlie Pittman ’69, Lydell Mitchell ’71, John Cappeletti ’73, Curt Warner ’81 & ‘82, D.J.Dozier ’86, Blair Thomas ’89, Ki-Jana Carter ’94, Curtis Enis ’97, Larry Johnson ’02 and Saquon Barkley ’16 & ’17). In that same time frame, Pitt has produced only five (Tony Dorsett ’73-’76, Craig Heyward ’87, LeSean McCoy ’08, Dion Lewis ’09 and James Conner ’14).

Pitt’s number of five All-American running backs would not even be in the top 14 of schools with All-American running backs since 1968.

The schools that have produced the most All-America running backs since 1968:

10 – Alabama, Penn State, Stanford

9 – USC, Wisconsin

8 – Ohio State, Texas, UCLA

6 – Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State

For the sake of discussion, we’ll consider that it’s what a school’s players accomplish in the NFL that matters and see if Pitt fans boasting they are Running Back U and especially so over Penn State has any validity.

I think we would all agree that 14,813 yards rushing is a lot of yards rushing. That would be good for fourth place all-time in NFL history and only 458 yards short of the career rushing total of the great Barry Sanders. Well, that 14,813 yards represents the difference between the rushing yards gained by Penn State’s running backs in the NFL and those from the University of Pittsburgh all-time.

I used both schools list of players that played in the NFL from their respective media guides. Then I entered that player’s name in https://www.pro-football-reference.com/. If there’s anyone I missed, please by all means point them out to me as a comment and their rushing yards.

The breakdown for Penn State and Pitt’s running backs yards gained in the NFL is as follows:

Penn State                          74757            Pitt                                        59944
Richie Anderson                 3149            Kevan Barlow                       3984
Saquon Barkley                   1307           Tom Brown                                29
Gary Brown                         4300            Dick Cassiano                            84
John Cappelletti                  2951            Bob Clemens                                9
Ki-Jana Carter                      1144           James Conner                        1117
D.J. Dozer                                691           Jim Cunningham                     337
Chuck Drazenovich              330           Tony Dorsett                         12739
Jeff Durkota                              66           Bill Dutton                                169
Omar Easy                                  4           Bobby Epps                               771
Curtis Enis                            1497           Carles Gladman                         29
Sam Gash                                327           Nick Goings                            1470
Mike Guman                       1286            Marshall Goldberg                1644
Franco Harris                   12120            Craig Heyward                       4301
Dick Hoak                            3965            Jack Itzel                                      11
Tony Hunt                                25            Ben Kish                                    344
Larry Joe                                  18            George Kracum                        169
Larry Johnson                     6223           Dion Lewis                               2101
Roger Kochman                    232           Curtis Martin                         14101
Tim Manoa                            938            LeSean McCoy                      10606
Eric McCoo                              54            Randy McMillen                     3876
Sean McHugh                        301           Brandon Miree                           57
Mike Meade                           261           Mike Nixon                                    5
Brian Milne                           126            Larry Peace                                   2
Lydell Mitchell                   6534            Lousaka Polite                          296
Booker Moore                       420            Billy Reynolds                          585
Lenny Moore                      5174            Curvin Richards                       181
Michael Robinson                422            Mike Sebastan                            83
Fran Rogel                           3271            LaRod Stephens-Howling      670
Evan Royster                         416            Adam Walker                           115
Matt Suhey                          2946            Heinie Weisenbaugh                59
Steve Smith                         1627
Blair Thomas                      2236
Leroy Thompson               1390
Bob Torrey                              61
Wally Triplett                       321
Curt Warner                       6844
Kenny Watson                   1651
Jon Witman                          129

Penn State running backs have rushed for 74,751 yards and Pitt’s running backs have rushed for 59,944 yards in NFL history and Penn State has produced twice as many All-American running backs. Whether you go by what players do while in college, or what they accomplished in the NFL, sorry Pitt fans, Pitt is not Running Back U by either method. Penn State is a far greater Running Back U than Pitt.

Saquon Barkley photo courtesy of: pennstatenews on VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-ND

Darrin Hall photo courtesy of:  SGSFilms on Visual Hunt / CC BY

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/.