Mythbusting: Obliterating Another College Football Fable
As much as I hate to see the end of the college football season every fall, it is always accompanied by one of my favorite myths. It's like when you were a little kid waiting for your mother or father to tell you that favorite story. You hated going to bed, but occasionally you got a great bedtime story—and the more fantastical, the better.
That late fall myth as it relates to college football is this: "If only these SEC and other southern teams had to come up north to play, they'd get crushed. They can't stand the cold weather. Put those teams in a game with inclement weather and they'd be exposed."
I don't know whether it's something that gets put in the water up north every late fall or what, but it's like the swallows returning to Capistrano. Every fall right around the time the season is wrapping up and bowl bids are coming out, the familiar refrain begins.
Often this theme will have variations on it. Something like "No SEC team would ever be willing to come to Columbus and play the Buckeyes in late November."
Well gee, you have us there. Since every team in the country is in the middle of its conference schedule in late November (including Ohio State), getting an SEC team to go and play in Columbus then is a shaky proposition. You sure have us over a barrel on that one, guys!
A year ago or so, I decided to test this theory about how automatic the wins would come for northern teams if only southern teams would have to play in the wintry weather above the Mason-Dixon line. But how to go about performing this test?
Should I go back to the early 20th century and try to find a Yale vs. Georgia game in late November in New Haven? And how would I determine the weather conditions?
I was able to determine rather quickly that the former scenario, of course, didn't exist. As to historical weather conditions, I happily found that the Famer's Almanac website has daily historical weather data going back to 1946 for every city or zip code in the country.
So I have my source for weather. Now how about the games?
I scanned the annual bowl games that have been played since the Rose Bowl got it all started back in 1902. Which cities and venues had the potential to have their games played in inclement weather?
I defined inclement for this purpose as being a day in which the average temperature was at or very close to freezing. The actual games may have been played in temperatures that were lower or higher than the average, but I used this as my watermark.
The average temperature in Columbus in November is 43 and 41 in Ann Arbor. Since no regular season games are played in those cities in December, I felt my choice for what constituted inclement was fair.
And yes, I know all about the Snow Bowl game of 1950 between Ohio State and Michigan. I suppose if there were a way to conduct this study using only games under those conditions, I would, but those games don't exist, so we're stuck with what I used. In any case, that 1950 game was a freak of an event.
I determined that the following cities and bowl games were occasionally contested in inclement weather and always in open-air stadiums exposed to the elements:
Cotton Bowl, Dallas
All-American Bowl, Birmingham (contested from 1977 to 1990)
Independence Bowl, Shreveport
Liberty Bowl, Memphis
Sun Bowl, El Paso
The vast preponderance of games played in even these venues were not played in inclement weather, but a reasonable number of them were.
In order to make the "study" make sense for its purpose, the representative games needed to be contested between traditional southern and northern teams. I also chose to use only teams from major conferences, thereby eschewing games such as the George Washington vs. UTEP Sun Bowl of 1957. Major teams. Major conferences.
Having narrowed down the criteria, and using the Farmer's Almanac website to check the weather on game days, I checked all of the games for each of the above venues that were contested between northern and southern teams.
Here are the results, in chronological order, by bowl venue:
Jan. 1, 1974
Nebraska (8-2-1) v. Texas (8-2) (Note that all records are pre-game records)
Low temperature: 17 Average temperature: 25
Final score: Nebraska 19, Texas 3
Jan. 2, 1978
Notre Dame (10-1) v. Texas (11-0)
Low temp: 25 Average temp: 31
Final score: Notre Dame 38, Texas 10
Jan. 1, 1979
Notre Dame (8-3) v. Houston (9-2) The famous Joe Montana comeback game
Low temp: 18 Average temp: 22
Final score: Notre Dame 35, Houston 34
Jan. 1, 1983
SMU (10-0-1) v. Pitt (9-2)
Low temp: 35 Average temp: 39
Final score: SMU 7, Pitt 3
Jan. 1, 1988
Texas A&M (9-2) v. Notre Dame (8-3)
Low temp: 26 Average temp: 34
Final score Texas A&M 35, ND 10
Jan. 1, 1993
Notre Dame (9-1-1) v. Texas A&M (12-0)
Low temp: 29 Average temp: 31
Final score, Notre Dame 28, Texas A&M 3
Dec. 22, 1977
Maryland (7-4) v. Minnesota (7-4)
Low temp: 27 Average temp: 33
Final score: Maryland 17, Minnesota 7
Dec. 29, 1988
Florida (6-5) v. Illinois (5-5-1)
Low temp: 24 Average temp: 35
Final score: Florida 14, Illinois 10
Dec. 18, 1972
Georgia Tech (6-4-1) v. Iowa State (5-5-1)
Low temp: 21 Average temp: 32
Final score: Georgia Tech 31, Iowa State 30
Dec. 17, 1973
N.C. State (8-3) v. Kansas (7-3-1)
Low temp: 20 Average temp: 28
Fina score: N.C. State 31, Kansas 18
Dec. 29, 1982
Alabama (7-4) v. Illinois (7-4) The Bear's last game
Low temp: 33 Average temp: 36
Final score: Alabama 21, Illinois 15
Tennessee (6-5) v. Minnesota (6-5)
Low temp: 25 Average temp: 36
Final score: Tennessee 21, Minnesota 14
Dec. 29, 1995
LSU (6-4-1) v. Michigan State (6-4-1)
Low temp: 19 Average temp: 33
Final score: LSU 45, MSU 26
Dec. 18, 1971
LSU (8-3) v. Iowa State (8-3)
Low temp: 34 Average temp: 35
Final score: LSU 33, Iowa St. 15
Cotton Bowl: North 4, South 2
All-American Bowl: South 2, North 0
Liberty Bowl: South 4, North 0
Independence Bowl: South 1, North 0
Sun Bowl: South 1, North 0
Overall total: South 10, North 4
I suppose at this juncture we could start getting into the backup argument that fans of northern teams use for these discussions: "home field advantage." I am sure there are a million reasons why fans of Georgia Tech or N.C. State have infinitely more reason to travel to Memphis than do fans of Iowa State or Kansas, but I will leave that discussion for another article.
For now, suffice it to say that in the limited, though still reasonable, sample size of these inclement weather North vs. South games, the South is far and away the victor.
Another favored myth of the Buckeye Nation (and, I am sure, many other northern fan bases) torn to shreds.
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