By MARK KNUDSON @MarkKnudson41 Special to WoodyPaige.com
According to the Urban Dictionary, the term “Blue Blood” derives from the Medieval belief in Europe (among other places) that the blood of the royalty and nobility was blue; since the royal family and aristocrats were wealthy and powerful enough to pay commoners to labor in the fields for them, their skin was translucent and pale enough for their blue veins to stand out.
In other words, if you’re a “blue blood” you’re one of the elites. Being so is not, however, any kind of guarantee of success in this day and age…especially in collegiate athletics.
With another school year and college football season on the horizon, the prognosticators are once again out in full force, telling us well ahead of time which teams will be in the hunt for conference titles and the College Football Play-off. The same thing will happen in October when they start predicting basketball’s Final Four, and even again in the spring when team’s aspiring to make the College World Series will be touted.
Some blue bloods will be missing from those lists in all three cases.
Hard to predict ahead of time what college baseball teams will be favored next February, but recent history tells us that three very familiar names won’t be mentioned: Texas, Arizona State and USC. Between them they have 23 national titles, but none since the Longhorns won the CWS in 2005.
Texas has the most all-time appearances in Omaha with 35, having won six titles. But they haven’t been back since 2014 and have ceded power in the Big 12 to TCU. Still, they have a better recent history that one-time powerhouse USC, which has won 12 CWS titles including five straight in the early 1970’s. The Trojans haven’t been back to Omaha since 2001 and won their last title in 1998. Then there’s Arizona State, pipeline to the big leagues. ASU made it to Omaha in 2010 for their 22nd appearance, but the most recent of their five championships came way back in 1981.
It’s a little easier to project who the top teams will be in Men’s hoops – Kentucky, North Carolina and Duke are almost as reliable as the sunrise and certainly have earned blue blood status over the long haul. But so have Kansas, UCLA and Indiana…and those three can’t get over the hump.
To be fair, the Jayhawks have been very very good in recent seasons to be sure. They’ve been a regular in the NCAA tourney and have 14 Final Four appearances on the ledger. The last was in 2012…and yet the last time KU cut down the nets was a decade ago, in 2008.
That seems like yesterday to the Bruins (last title in 1995) and the Hoosiers (who last won the NCAA tourney in 1987.) UCLA has an amazing 11 national titles and 18 Final Four appearances, but their last championship was more than 20 years ago. Indiana (with five national titles) has had an even longer drought. The “third most valuable collegiate basketball program” according to a 2017 study is tied for fourth in all-time wins going into next season…but hasn’t made a Final Four in 15 years.
And finally, if the football pickers are right, it will be another year without a title of any sort for at least two of the five winningest programs in College Football history. Neither Notre Dame nor Nebraska is given much of a chance of holding a trophy at the end of the 2017 season. Another blue blood (top 10 in all-time wins) who has endured some major setbacks off the field in recent years, Penn State, emerged to win the Big Ten last season and has high hopes for this year as well. But the Nittany Lions have some catching up to do. They haven’t won the big prize since 1986.
Nebraska last won a conference title way back in 1999, wrapping up a decade of unprecedented success (including three national titles in four seasons) unmatched until Alabama’s dominance this decade. The Huskers have won five national titles overall, and have the highest winning percentage of any team over the last 50 years. But the current conference title drought looks very much like it’s likely to reach an unprecedented two decades. Nebraska football has been the essence of ‘meh’ since the turn of the century.
Then there’s “the most iconic and successful program in college football history” according to one source. They have 21 national championships, seven Heisman winners, 50 former members of the program in the College Football Hall of Fame…and yet Notre Dame doesn’t have a single championship trophy (they stubbornly remain an independent in football, making a conference title unattainable) since the final year of Ronald Reagan’s presidency, 1988. Think about that.
What does all this show us? That at the college level, a school can have literally everything – huge fan base, big pocket donors, sparkling facilities and full stadiums – but if that school does not have THE right coach, nothing else matters. Not location (as some very misguided recruiting “experts” like to tout) not population base, and not climate. It’s all about who the head coach is.
If you doubt that, ask yourself where Notre Dame would be at if Urban Meyer had taken that job a decade ago instead of going to Florida (where he won two national titles.) Ask yourself where Alabama would be if Nick Saban had stayed in the pros? Or gone to Texas? Don’t think the Longhorns would have a few extra titles with ol’ Nick?
Given THE right coach, all of these ‘blue blood’ programs would be national title contenders every season.
There’s an arms race still going on in college athletics (and not just in football.) Every school wants to have the best facilities and resources to attract the best recruits across all sports. But at the college level in team sports, it’s not as much about what’s in the refrigerator as it is who’s in charge of cooking the meal.