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THE SLINGS AND ARROWS OF RAGING PARITY
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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'GANG OF NINE' IN THE '70s

Team

'70

'71

'72

'73

'74

'75

'76

'77

'78

'79

Oklahoma

20

2

2

3

1

1

5

7

3

3

Alabama

4

7

4

5

3

11

2

1

1

Michigan

9

6

6

6

3

8

3

9

5

18

Nebraska

1

1

4

7

9

9

9

12

8

9

USC

15

20

1

8

2

17

2

13

2

2

Ohio State

5

9

2

4

4

6

11

4

Notre Dame

2

13

14

1

6

12

1

7

Texas

3

18

3

14

17

6

4

9

12

Penn State

18

5

10

5

7

10

5

4

20

The AP final Top 20 rankings show how much...

Before you settle too comfortably into this story, we ask that you please leaf ahead 26 pages and see if you can tell us who's missing from the various in-depth analyses that presage the 1985 college football season. Take your time, we'll wait. (Hmmmm-mmmm. De-de, te-tum, hmmmm.) O.K., that's enough leafing. Whatcha got?

Texas? Right, Texas is missing from the SI Top 20. Good for you, too bad for mighty Texas. Who else?

Penn State. True, true. The mighty Nittany Lions are also out for the first time since 1967. And Michigan. Right again. Bo Schembechler will be hard to live with. Any others?

Why, of course. Alabama. Practically moments ago, the Crimson Tide was the mightiest of them all, and now 'Bama is among the discards. Bear Bryant has been hard to live without. Pittsburgh is absent, too, as are Clemson and Miami. And, oh my, where's Georgia?

O.K., settle down. If you have been paying attention, you know that college football has been succumbing to an onslaught of parity. As trends go, this one is firming up like ice on a pond and, alas, turning the forecasting game into an ever more perilous crapshoot. Don't be shocked if Washington, our choice for No. 1, fails to survive in that rarefied air much past the September equinox. We certainly won't be.

Ah, the wonderful, slaphappy world of college football. Once more it has been tilted on its axis. But bear with us, and you'll see that in the end, it's much better this way. If you aren't loving it now, you're going to—provided you're not living, say, in Gerry Faust's shoes, or Fred Akers's. We will explain presently.

Take Georgia, Clemson, Penn State, Miami and Brigham Young, the five national champions of the '80s. At mid-decade only BYU is judged worthy of SI's Top 20. It is an uncertain judgment, to be sure, given the current state of the art, but that's not to say it is lightly considered. What's more, BYU, which we have gingerly placed at No. 13, is hardly a lock to end up in the Top 20. The Cougars' first three opponents are Boston College, UCLA and Washington.

Such a rapid disintegration of the ruling class has never occurred in college rankings. For example, the first five national champions of the '70s, according to the Associated Press poll, were Nebraska (twice), USC, Notre Dame and Oklahoma. Not only did all four make AP's preseason Top 20 in 1975, but they made its Top 10 as well. Check the start of any other decade, and you'll find much the same thing. Check almost any preseason before the '80s, and you'll find that some poll or selection board somewhere pinpointed the eventual champion.

The AP poll, representing the nation's sportswriters, is the best reference for these comparisons because it is the oldest (SI began its weekly Top 20 in 1981) and most widely recognized. At no time in the AP poll's 49-year history has it suffered such flux as it has in the '80s. Alabama, the 1978 and '79 national champion, made AP's final Top 10 in 1981, slipped under in 1982 and hasn't resurfaced. Penn State won the national title in 1982 but missed the Top 20 the next two years. Clemson was No. 1 in 1981, dropped to eighth in '82 and hasn't been heard from since.

Preseason predictions in the '80s might as well be printed on wet tissue. Three of AP's No. 1 choices—Ohio State in 1980, Michigan in '81 and Auburn in '84—didn't even make its final Top 10. Pitt, AP's pick in '82, barely got its toes over the line, in 10th place. Only Nebraska, AP's top choice in '83, came close to fulfilling its promise. The Huskers finished No. 2 that year.

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