Who's the greatest? How Alabama stacks up with Nebraska & Miami as collegefootball's best dynasty
Kirk Herbstreit said during the national title beat down that Alabama was in the midst of the greatest college football dynasty in his lifetime. He added that we are just partially through it and that we can expect more dominance to come. As I heard him say that I was thinking what Roll Tide has done the last few years:
- Obviously they smashed Notre Dame to pieces, 42-14, for the 2012 national title in game that wasn’t nearly as close as the score.
- They beat No. 1 LSU in BCS Title Game rematch, 21-0, for the 2011 National Championship Game.
- They beat up Texas in the 37-21 BCS Title Game in 2009, winning the National Championship.
- In their three BCS title game appearances in the last four years, they are 3-0 and have allowed six first-half points.
- From 2008 to present, Alabama is 61-7 with two national titles, a Heisman winner (Mark Ingram) and a 4-1 bowl record, including 3-0 in BCS title games.
- Of the seven losses, two came against national champions with supernovas at quarterback (2008 to Florida and Tim Tebow, 2010 to Auburn and Cam Newton), and a third came to the current Heisman winner (Johnny Manziel).
That’s about as impressive as it gets. Herbstreit and I are close in age and we have seen the same football programs rise and fall over the years. Being a national analyst, he probably doesn’t have the same overt biases I do. (The white-hot rage and hatred of all things oklahoma, the rise of Aggie pride and arrogance (deserved or not) and the firm belief that even a mediocre Texas team can beat anyone, anywhere at any time if I have the right baseball cap and want it to happen badly enough.)
But we are almost on the same page when talking about the current Alabama Crimson Tide program. Almost.
I agree that Alabama is on a run that we haven’t seen in years and it’s something no one playing college football ever remembers seeing. Heck, half the coaches in college football now were probably in college themselves the last time we saw a team so dominant. But there were others.
I don’t mean Army of the 1940s or anything like that, but teams in the (fairly) modern era of bowl games and big recruiting classes and TV exposure that were doing the same things Bama is doing right now. Two come to mind: the Miami Hurricanes and the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Everything Miami is doing these two programs have also done. Let’s take a look at other dynasties of modern college football.
I have to tell you, as a Texas Longhorns fan, the Miami Hurricanes crushed my spirit on a very cold New Year’s Day in 1991. “The U,” as the guys on Sunday Night Football like to say when introduced, burst on the scene in 1983 when they upset the No. 1 ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Orange Bowl and won the national title.
Head coach Howard Schnellenberger moved on to the USFL and Miami hired Oklahoma State head coach Jimmy Johnson to replace him. Miami went 6-5 in 1984 with the two biggest highlights actually being lowlight — Frank Reich leading Maryland back to win from a 31-0 deficit and, of course, the Hail Mary. But Miami was taking off.
Jimmy Johnson did not concern himself with what most college coaches at the time deemed important. He didn’t care about tattoos, or earrings or brash behavior. In fact, he liked that braggadocios swagger and encouraged it from his players. A player could talk all the trash he wanted, celebrate a big play all he wanted, showboat all he wanted; but he had to back it up with terrific play and hard work in practice.
That approach struck a nerve with the kids, especially the local kids in Miami, and Johnson quickly locked down the talent in the Miami area. After JJ took his talents to the NFL, Dennis Erickson continued Johnson’s attitude of be yourself, but wipe the floor with your opponent’s face.
On the field that talent exploded and the Hurricanes did work. The taskmaster Johnson let his guys act however they wanted as long as they produced on the field. And they did. They talked, they danced, they taunted. It looks tame now, but this was controversial. And they won. A lot.
- The first requirement of a dynasty is rings. Miami won the national title in 1987, 1989 and 1991 (split with Washington). They played for and lost the title in 1986 and 1992. Five title game berths in seven seasons.
- From 1986-1992, Miami went 78-6. I’ll say that again: In 7 years, Miami lost six games and averaged a shade over 11 wins a year in a time when bowls games were the 12th game of the season.
- Miami never finished lower than No. 3 from 1986-1992.
- From ’86-’92, The U had two Heisman Trophy winners (Vinny Testaverde, Gino Torretta) and, let me count, 5 million All-Americans. Michael Irvin, Clinton Portis, Warren Sapp, Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Jerome Brown… You name a superstar from the era of Y2K in the NFL and the odds are high he played for Miami.
Eventually the renegade program rep caught up with the Hurricanes. The NCAA cracked down on celebrations, turning over-the-top into excessive celebration penalties and the freedom and excesses allowed to the players led to NCAA investigations. Erickson eventually joined Jimmy Johnson in the NFL and the university hired Butch Davis to clean up the Miami reputation and the lure of The U began to fade some.
But from 1986 to 1992, the Miami Hurricanes was the baddest kid on the block and took every opportunity to remind the rest of the country that. They were a dynasty in every sense of the word.
At its best Miami had trouble filling up their home stadium. The student body at the time was only about 12,000 students at the most and a lot of those students were from out of state and with South Beach, the Dolphins, the night life and celebrities all over the place, it was easy to forget about the college football team. A private school comprised of quite few out-of-staters that left town after graduation, the City of Miami supported the Hurricanes, but not through thick and thin.
Nebraska was the polar opposite in every way. There is no beach in Nebraska, or near Nebraska. The closest professional teams are a state away and the celebrities in the state are the college football players, both current and former. Kids grow up wanting to be Cornhuskers from birth and Memorial Stadium is packed every single game, regardless of how good the team is.
In fact, on game day in Lincoln, Memorial Stadium becomes the third largest city in the entire state of Nebraska. It’s everything to the people of the state and NU is the flagship school, where just about everyone wants to go. It was a school, a town and a state that rallied around their team, and their coach.
Tom Osborne had a wonderful career at Nebraska heading into the mid-1990s. One of the most tenured and successful coaches in all of college football, Osborne nearly got the national title in 1983 and his 20-plus years at the helm, Nebraska had won 11 Big 8 titles and had played in 22 straight bowl games.
But at the time they were known as much for being the team the national champion beat in the bowl game as they were for their record. They watched as Georgia Tech and Florida State celebrating winning a championship at their expense. That was all about to change.
Heading into the 1994 season, Nebraska was confident. And angry. The Huskers finished 11-1 in 1993, missing a last-second field goal against FSU in the Orange Bowl that would have given them the title. They were tired of hearing about how close they were getting. They were angry at being overlooked. They titled the 1994 season “Unfinished Business.”
With Tommy Frazier, Lawrence Phillips and 29 other NFL players on the roster the Huskers rolled through the regular season with the triple option and back to the Orange Bowl against Miami. This time, however, they did not wilt, but rallied for 24-17 win and a national title. It was just the beginning.
The 1995 Nebraska team, with most of those 31 NFL players back and the crazy Peter Brothers, beat the tar out of everyone. They are widely considered the best college football of team of all time. They didn’t have an opponent stay within closer than 10 points to them all season and they pasted Florida, 62-24, in the National Championship Game. They were back-to-back to national champs and added another in 1997, splitting the championship with Michigan. Their run wasn’t as long as Miami’s, but it was just as impressive.
- From 1993-1997, Nebraska won three titles: 1994, 1995 and 1997 and was a loss to Texas away in the inaugural Big 12 title game from playing for a four-peat.
- In that time Big Red was 60-3. Yes, three losses in five years.
- NFL brand names like Ahman Green, Grant Wistrom, Mike Minter and the more infamous like the Phillips and Peters 1 and 2 were everywhere on Sundays... and that isn’t including their option quarterback factory of Tommy Frazier, Brook Berringer and Scott Frost, among others.
- The Husker dynasty was over after the 1997 season, but they were very close in 1999 and played for the title in 2001, even though they never should have.
Tom Osborne retired after the 1997 season and it was essentially over, but they were very close in 1999 and played for the title in 2001, even though they never should have. How the hell do you go from 60-3 to Bill Callahan? I still can’t believe that happened.
I like Kirk Herbstreit — he knows his stuff — and I agree that Bama is on an epic run, but don’t forget about the others, who were just impressive in their day.