A View from the Cheap Seats

I know why we’ve yet to win a national championship in football.

It’s a theory I’ve developed over my many years of watching far too much college football and retaining far too much useless information. While there is nothing scientific about it, I do consider myself a foremost expert on the subject; if only I’d had the athleticism and looks, I could have been the fourth member of Gameday.

And so, in light of our recent shameful ending to a dreadful season, I am here to tell you people it’s not coaching.

Nope, the reason we’ve never won a national championship (and probably never will) is because we don’t wear traditional uniforms. This is commonly referred to by the average football fan as the Style over Substance Theory.

The principle behind the theory is really quite simple: With few exceptions, only teams that sport a traditional uniform over time have and/or ever will win a national title.

Bear with me. Since 1975, twenty-one teams have won at least a share of the national title (due to the otherwise ridiculous nature of Division I-A college football, the only NCAA-sanctioned sport without an NCAA-sanctioned tournament to determine its champion, there are split titles in several seasons):

Alabama – 1992, 1979, 1978 (split); Brigham Young – 1984; Clemson – 1981; Colorado – 1990 (split); Florida – 1996; Florida State – 1999, 1993; Georgia – 1980; Georgia Tech – 1990 (split); LSU – 2003 (split); Miami – 2001, 1991 (split), 1989, 1987, 1983; Michigan – 1997 (split); Nebraska – 1997 (split), 1995, 1994; Notre Dame – 1988, 1977; Ohio State – 2002; Oklahoma – 2000, 1985, 1975; Penn State – 1986, 1982; Pittsburgh – 1976;
Southern Cal – 2004, 2003, 1978 (split); Tennessee – 1998; Texas – 2005; Washington – 1991 (split)

You’ll notice immediately that the majority of these teams are not only traditional powerhouses but that the underlying commonality among these championship programs is that they each wore what could be arguably classified as a traditional-style uniform when they indeed won the national title. And by traditional I don’t necessarily mean “plain,” as is the case with Penn State, Notre Dame, or Alabama, but rather, “time-honored,” as is the case with Southern Cal, Oklahoma, or Florida State.

With the exception of Brigham Young, who for a time allowed Nike to butcher one of the most subtly-stylistic uniforms in college football, and perhaps Washington, which has switched between gold and purple helmets over time, very little has changed with the aforementioned teams’ uniform designs.

Minor design changes have, of course, been made to Miami’s uniforms – green pants, green jerseys, weird patterns – but most of this has come only during their most recent span of success. They won four national titles with the basic orange jerseys on white pants, as well as the well-recognized “U” logo on the helmet.
Clemson has made slight changes over the years, throwing in some purple jersey/pants combos, but the Tiger paw and a basic orange-on-white design has remained the staple of their uniform. Florida State has flirted with garnet and white pants, but only on rare occasions, and the Seminoles are still best-known for their garnet on gold pattern.

Nebraska, Tennessee, Florida, Florida State, and Colorado have all tested different striping patterns on their pants for short times, but otherwise my research has shown that there have been almost no changes made to any of the other teams’ uniforms over time.

Thus, my ad hoc research has led me to postulate that these schools rely largely on substance rather than style, which must be quite the conundrum to certain coaches and fans that believe that the only way to build a winning program and land top recruits is to show an aptitude for trendy styles. The underlying theme among the national champions of the past thirty years is that they don’t bend to the marketing whims of Nike and Adidas and Under Armour every other year to keep national exposure on their program; they rely, oddly enough, simply on winning.

On the whole, these programs consistently maximize the talents of their players and win consistently based upon superior coaching and hard-nosed, disciplined and error-free football. What kind of ridiculous strategy is that? We need Adidas to put a different trim around our auxiliary numbers if we’re going to improve as a team next year!

It’s quite the paradox, actually; winning breeds more winning.

The common theme among so many college football pundits and fans is that top south Florida recruits can only be landed through flashy offensive schemes, blaring intros, and trendy uniform designs. And yet, over the past thirty years, this philosophy just doesn’t add up. Teams like Southern Cal, Nebraska, Michigan, and Ohio State continue to win consistently without any of the flair or pizzazz.

So is there a solution to this madness?


State should cut out the fireworks and flashy, big screen intros, stop pumping noise into the stadium and simply put on what I’ve termed the “Philip Rivers” uniforms. Then, we go out onto the field and execute a well-defined game plan, hold onto the ball rather than the defensive end, and act more like Barry Sanders than Terrell Owens. We’ll define our own traditional style and get our winning ways started.

Some say it’s the old chicken or egg argument: we have to land top recruits to win and we can’t land top recruits with bland football. I just don’t buy it; winning takes care of itself, no matter how bland it is.

And with Ohio State or Southern Cal likely to be crowned the 2006 National Champion, my theory will hold true for at least another season.

Who knows, maybe Bill Cowher will read this.