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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Clippers of College Football

The success this season of the NBA's perennial punchline franchise, the Los Angeles Clippers, got me thinking of which team would be their college football equivalent: a program that was always lousy before finally putting it together to enjoy some victories and respectability.

So I did a little research on the team that came to mind: the Northwestern Wildcats. From 1972-1994, NU failed to have even one winning season, going 46-204-2 for a staggeringly bad winning percentage of .183. Remarkably, in 1995 Coach Gary Barnett's Wildcats went undefeated in the Big 10 on their way to a 10-1 regular season record (in their only loss, a 30-28 game at home vs. Miami of Ohio, NU blew a 21-point fourth quarter lead before several special teams screw-ups led to a last-seconds field goal by Miami-O.)

Northwestern pushed the Keyshawn Johnson-led USC team in the 1996 Rose Bowl before falling 41-32. If the Wildcats had managed to win that game, they would have finished the season ranked #2 in the nation. Pretty amazing for a team that hadn't had a winning season in well over two decades.

Although hardly a powerhouse, Northwestern has sustained the respectability they established in 1995. In the ten years since that magical season, NU has made four bowl appearances and has defeated Michigan and tOSU a total of three times.

So, who's going to be the next team to turn that magical corner from laughingstock to respectability?


Maize n Brew Dave said...

Man that cover brings back some memories. None of them pleasant. However, I still remember an out-classed Autrey trying to hack it as a scout team player for the bears. Every play was him getting lit up like the perverbial christmas tree. those memories I like

Yost said...

If Anthony Thomas just HOLDS ONTO THE BALL after making that first down...!

Sorry, bad flashback there myself.

CrimeNotes said...

"So, who's going to be the next team to turn that magical corner from laughingstock to respectability?"

Hopefully, us.

Otherwise, Cal has had a pretty solid turnaround, and Stanford's resources could allow it to become a major first-tier program if it wants. Neither of them is/was as far down as Northwestern used to be.

Or maybe Duke will redirect all of its lacross resources to the football team, and sweep the ACC.

Yost said...

"Hopefully, us."


The King said...

Anthony Thomas fumbled against Northwestern in '99 or '00. The NW team you're talking about in the post was '95. It's worth noting that the Miami (OH) team that gave NW their only regular season blemish that season was also the only black mark against Toledo, which went 10-0-1 that year, with the tie coming against the RedHawks. OK that's not really noteworthy at all.

It may happen again, but not likeit did with NW. There have been a few teams that have gone from major losers to big winners literally overnight (Hawaii in June Jones' first year, and UCF this last season), but those teams were mid-majors and didn't climb the mountain that NW did. Additionally, those teams weren't 20 year cellar-dwellars prior to their resurrections.

Oregon State was a pretty major loser in a major conference before their 2000 season, which famously ended with them pantsing Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. But that team was 7-5 the previous year, so that was more of a two year build under Erickson. Rutgers seems like they could grow into a force in the Big East, but again, that's been a slower buildup and they're in the completely depleted Big East.

All in all, it's hard to mimagine that happening again, but the joy with sports is that it will, someday. But off the top of my head there's only two major conference whipping posts that are historically bad enough to even pull this off: Indiana & Duke. Maybe Bayloww though they were 5-6 last season. Anyone else you can think of (your Arizonas, your Vanderbilts), have all had moments of promise sometime in the last ten years.

So it's reallly down to Indiana and Duke, and something tells me Duke is going to have trouble recruiting student athletes for a few years...so it's all on Indiana.

PeteJayhawk said...

Hate to say it, but Kansas State's turnaround was much more impressive than Northwestern's. Prior to Bill Snyder's arrival, they had nothing-zip-nada. Their facilities were worse than many high schools. They had no alumni giving to speak of. And he was in Manhattan-fricking-Kansas. 2 hours from the nearest real airport (KCI), 1 hour from civilization (Lawrence). Amazing.

The King said...

But K State didn't go to a BCS bowl in one year.

I agree that Snyder's rebuilding of that program was overall much more impressive, because it was sustained (until recently) and very nearly produced a national champion (goddamnit 98).

But in one year swings, NW will never be topped unless Duke wins the Sugar Bowl.

IC said...

Pete, though you make a good case for K-State, I agree with The King.

To make NU's achievement even more impressive, I'm pretty sure their admissions process--even if it had been eased compared to earlier years--was quite a bit more rigorous than K-State's under Snyder.

Kirbdaddy said...

"So, who's going to be the next team to turn that magical corner from laughingstock to respectability?"

Dear God, Please let it be Kentucky!

Anonymous said...

good post

Anonymous said...

How about the Oregon State Beavers, they had 3 bowless decades and were the perrenial doormat of the pac ten in the 70s, 80s and half of the 90s,finally they made the Oahu bowl, but lost, just a year or so later they had the four horsemen rolling over in their graves with a 41-9 thumping of the Fighting Irish in the Fiesta Bowl to finish the season 11-1. Their only loss that season, 33-31 @ UW , who took the Rose Bowl over Purdue the same season and finished 11-1 themselves. The Beavers came within a missed FG of going undefeated. And have been a competitive team ever since.