Big-Name CFB Programs Aiming for Return to Dominance
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History is valuable. Tradition is important. For every college football team, though, the “what have you done for me lately?” question is a constant battle.
Look no further than the LSU Tigers, who celebrated the 2019 national title yet fired Ed Orgeron within two years. As quickly as a contender can rise, it may fade out of the championship conversation even faster.
Returning to national relevance is a hard process, and several of the most successful teams in recent decades are still trying to claw their way back.
The choices are subjective but focus on tradition-rich programs with multiple national titles that have struggled lately.
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The good news is Florida State last won a national title in 2013.
The bad news is, among the programs listed here, only Nebraska has endured a worse half-decade.
Since 2017, the previous ACC powerhouse is just 26-33. Not only has Florida State managed bowl eligibility only twice in the span, it also crawled into both the 2017 and 2019 postseasons with a 6-6 record.
After posting an 8-13 record in his first two years as head coach, Mike Norvell is entering 2022 with tenuous job security at best.
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From the 1980s into the early 2000s, the Miami Hurricanes won more national championships than any other challenger.
And then, they stumbled into mediocrity.
Miami joined the ACC in 2004 and has mustered a single 10-win season as a member of the conference. Most glaringly, The U has never won a league crown—even appearing in the ACC Championship Game just once (2017).
Now that the university has made a serious financial commitment to the program, there is legitimate optimism for improvement in new head coach Mario Cristobal’s tenure. But it’s not like Miami would be the first school to heavily invest in football and not have it pay dividends.
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Tough run for Nebraska lately, to say the least.
Bo Pelini recorded seven consecutive nine-win campaigns from 2008 to 2014, but the university fired him because he didn’t win championships. However, the calculated risk hasn’t paid off for the Cornhuskers.
Mike Riley finished 19-19 in his three seasons, and current coach Scott Frost is just 15-29 in four years. Nebraska has cracked six victories just once since Pelini was fired in November 2014.
Nebraska last won a national championship in 1997—when Frost was the quarterback—yet not securing a conference title since 1999, when the Cornhuskers were in the Big 12, is arguably a worse gap. For good measure, 2012 is the most recent year the team appeared in the Big Ten Championship Game.
And unless Nebraska surges in 2022, Frost may run out of attempts to resurrect his alma mater.
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The blessing and a curse of being an independent—sans the pandemic-altered 2020 campaign—is that Notre Dame can be nationally relevant but never cling to a conference title.
While it’s true the Fighting Irish have a pair of College Football Playoff appearances in the last four seasons, they were minimally competitive in those letdowns to Clemson (2019) and Alabama (2021). Throw in the 28-point loss to Alabama in the 2012 national title game, and ND has fallen well short of clearing the final hurdle for many years.
Not since 1988 has Notre Dame won a national championship.
Marcus Freeman will be attempting to end that 34-year drought in his debut season as head coach.
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Few programs enjoyed as much success as Texas in the 2000s. Mack Brown guided the Longhorns to nine straight 10-win seasons, two Big 12 championships, one national title and one national runner-up finish
The last 12 years? Not so great.
Brown was forced to resign in December 2013, four seasons after the runner-up year. Charlie Strong went 16-21 in three seasons before Tom Herman’s tenure produced a 32-18 record and premature “Texas is back!” declarations. Steve Sarkisian’s debut devolved into a dismal 5-7 campaign in 2021.
Given the talent-rich recruiting area, Texas can always be a couple of classes away from surging—and just signed a top-five class in 2022, according to 247Sports. But the Longhorns need the on-field results to follow.
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The ugly truth is Tennessee has been an average program at best during the last 15 seasons.
In this span, the Vols missed bowl eligibility in seven years. That tells enough of a story, yet it’s exacerbated when considering the team’s most recent national title (1998), SEC championship (1998) and SEC East crown (2007).
Tennessee has gone from Phillip Fulmer’s last season in 2008 to the one-season Lane Kiffin era to Derek Dooley (15-21), Butch Jones (34-27), Jeremy Pruitt (16-19) and recent hire Josh Heupel. Jones and Pruitt had blips of competitiveness, but neither could sustain it.
On the bright side, Heupel brought much-needed improvement to the offense in his 2021 debut, with the unit ranking ninth after finishing no higher than 100th in the FBS in each of the past four seasons. For now, optimism is sauntering back toward Knoxville.
Navigating the SEC—one that’ll soon welcome Oklahoma, Heupel’s alma mater; and Texas to current powers Alabama and Georgia—however, will be a relentlessly difficult task.
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On the other hand, the optimism tracker at USC has basically ascended in a vertical line.
USC pulled off a shocker and swiped Lincoln Riley from a high-level Oklahoma program last November. While in Norman, he amassed a 55-10 record with four Big 12 championships and three College Football Playoff trips in his five seasons.
But as expectations rise, Riley is inheriting a team seeking its first championship since the 2004 national title that was stripped in 2011. USC has a single Pac-12 championship (2017) since Pete Carroll’s departure following the 2009 season too.
If the Trojans can break through soon, they may also become the first Pac-12 team to reach the CFP since Washington in 2016.
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