College football itself is, in my estimation, our most subjective sport. This has little to do with the poll-based approach to determining a national champion for much of the sport’s history and more to do with isolation and the number of FBS teams.
I went to Auburn’s spring game over the weekend. Driving through Alabama, of course you’re awash in Crimson Tide support. Most cars you see feature some sort of proclamation of Alabama fandom, but once you get a little southeast of Birmingham it starts to change. Auburn flags and stickers start showing up. Once you’re between the Talladega and Tuskegee National Forests it’s almost exclusively blue-and-orange. You’re in Tiger country, the pocket of the nation where the world revolves around Auburn football. Pockets like that exist for every major college football program.
Those pockets make any best/most/worst list involving college football a potential lightning rod because the perception of any program almost always differs greatly in-pocket versus out-of-pocket and it’s almost impossible for a person in one of those places to totally understand the thinking of a person in the other.
That’s why when I saw Tom Fornelli of CBSSports.com had a new “most tortured fan base” list I wondered if Nebraska was in contention for such a list. In-pocket, the Huskers’ conference-title drought occasionally feels like the death rattle of a once-proud program. Out-of-pocket? In this case at least, Nebraska didn’t qualify as one of the 10 most-tortured. Not yet.
Here’s how Fornelli explained what defines “tortured”:
Well, it means different things to different people in the context of sports. To come up with this list, I had a few parameters I tried to follow. The biggest thing for me was that you’re a fan of a team that has some success, but only so much to make you crave more, and it never quite comes. Like, if you’re a fan of a team that’s awful year in and year out, you become a bit numb to it over time. But if you’re a fan of a team that just can’t get over the hump, the wound stays real.
Also, I leaned toward schools who don’t have much success in the other revenue sport: college basketball. Like, if you’re a North Carolina football fan, you may be a bit tortured by the fact your program never seems to take that next step, but you also have a bunch of basketball titles to help ease the pain. So you may be tortured, but you’re not tortured enough.
Using those parameters, Fornelli’s top five included Oregon, Oklahoma State, Miami, Texas A&M and Georgia. How much you agree with that list depends largely on scope. When you think of college football do you think of the BCS era on or do you look at the whole thing?
Oregon and Oklahoma State are interesting inclusions. Both have poured a ton of resources into football. Enough resources that both have been close to national titles this century. The fact that they don’t have one, I guess, could be considered tortuous to fans of those programs.
I tend to look at those two, however, like this: Twenty years ago Oregon ranked 67th nationally with an all-time winning percentage of .524. Oklahoma State was 88th at .488. Since then (the last 19 seasons), Oregon ranks fifth (.731) and Oklahoma State 28th (.614). That level of winning over 19 years has bumped Oregon up 24 spots and Oklahoma State up 20 spots on the all-time list. I look at that, out-of-pocket of course, and say, “These are high times for the Ducks/Cowboys.” Ducks and Cowboys fans might look at it wonder when their team will ever get over the hump.
Miami is an interesting one. The Hurricanes’ current title drought is pretty similar to Nebraska’s and, again if you look at this from an all-time perspective, Miami feels a little like Oregon/Oklahoma State except the rise to national-power status started 30 years earlier.
Texas A&M and Georgia? Yeah, I can see that. Those are two programs that have won better than 60 percent of their games all-time. That ranks in the top 25 for winning percentage all-time, but the two schools only claim five national titles between them. All of A&M’s were pre-World War II. Georgia hasn’t won one since 1980.
Colorado, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Tennessee and UCLA all earned honorable mention here. The Volunteers conference-title drought and all-time winning percentage are pretty close to Nebraska’s, but the rest of the honorable-mention teams tell me that the Huskers may not be that close to making the cut.
That’s the difference between in-pocket to out-of-pocket, I guess.
The Grab Bag
- ICYMI: A big series from Ben Miller helped the Huskers to a big series win over a ranked Maryland team.
- Looks like P.J. Fleck is offering behind-the-scenes access to Minnesota football for a potential TV series and ESPN might take him up on it.
- Purdue held its spring game over the weekend. Tom Dienhart offers five observations.
- Speaking of Auburn, I left the Tigers’ spring game thinking Auburn is going to be pretty good in 2017. New quarterback Jarrett Stidham was pretty sharp and, more importantly, looked like a perfect fit for that offense.
Today’s Song of Today
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.