SI Vault
John Underwood
September 04, 1985
There's a new order—some would say disorder—in college football, and it's making life very difficult not only for the game's traditional giants but also for pigskin prognosticators
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September 04, 1985

The Slings And Arrows Of Raging Parity

There's a new order—some would say disorder—in college football, and it's making life very difficult not only for the game's traditional giants but also for pigskin prognosticators

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Like most everything the NCAA does, 30/95 was an economic consideration, aimed at cutting costs, not improving the competitive balance. Pay no mind to the diehards who argue that the talent is now so diluted that the quality of play is down. To the contrary, talent that used to wallow on the benches in such prominent stockyards as Norman, Austin and Tuscaloosa has been put to vital use elsewhere. So now, coaches can neither load up with the players they need, nor grab those they think the other guys might need—and thereby discourage any populist uprisings.

Tryhard coaches now make the fat cats work harder to find talent, creating better competition all around. Thus have come to the fore a whole battery of "better" coaches, with names like James, Edwards, Schnellenberger, Ford, Dye, Collins, White and Fry, to join Osborne, Switzer, Dooley and Paterno in the executive suite. And now applying: Joe Morrison of South Carolina, Jack Bicknell of Boston College, George Welsh of Virginia, Ken Hatfield of Arkansas and Bobby Ross of Maryland. And who knows who else the decade will bring.

From 1980 through '84, 26 different teams made AP's final Top 10. Many of them—Clemson, North Carolina, BC, Oklahoma State, for example—were recent strangers to paradise. Clemson reached No. 6 in 1978, but you had to go back to 1950 to find the Tigers in the Top 10 again. North Carolina hadn't cracked the Top 10 since Charlie Justice's junior season in 1948. Oklahoma State hadn't been there since 1945, when it was known as Oklahoma A & M. BC's last Top 10 finish was in 1942, 20 years before Doug Flutie was born.

Is all this upheaval good for college football? Why, of course. It's great for college football. And what happened to that old Gang of Nine? Check the chart. The same group that had occupied 66 of the 100 available Top 10 places in the '70s has accounted for only 18 of 50 in the '80s. The same group that won nine of 10 national championships has combined for one—count 'em, one—in the '80s. Note how many blanks. Note how many double digits.

And look what happened when those coaches who hustled in to fill the void actually filled it: They often won without exceptional talent or, more accurately, without talent that other people—i.e., other coaches and the so-called recruiting services—thought was exceptional. Rating even college seniors is a chancy business. Rating a still-developing 17-or 18-year-old against others his age from farflung areas of the country is, at best, a high-risk business. Just consider how often the NFL, with all of its sophisticated scouting, "misdrafts" 22-year-olds.

BYU made its passing reputation with quarterbacks—Gifford Nielsen, Marc Wilson, Jim McMahon, Steve Young and Robbie Bosco—who were not highly rated or widely sought. Nielsen, in fact, was a wishbone quarterback in high school. Miami's Bernie Kosar was not actively pursued by even his home state school, Ohio State, and he was rated 32nd at his position by the recruiting service that says it "has no competition." The class of 1979, which formed the nucleus of Penn State's championship season, wasn't highly regarded, either. Paterno didn't get the quarterback he wanted (Dan Marino) and wasn't sure how good Todd Blackledge could be. As it turned out, he was very good. Wideout Greg Garrity, who made the title-winning catch against Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, was a 5'9" walk-on. His father had to implore Paterno just to take a look at him.

Not even a good beg would have gotten the 5'9" Flutie a football scholarship at most schools. Boston College took a chance with its last one. The result was one of the most memorable continuing sports stories of recent years. So, here's to all those schools that take a chance this season and thereby keep college football tilted on its axis.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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