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College Football's Quest for Perfection

Paul FulwilerCorrespondent INovember 1, 2016

“One minute was enough,” Tyler said,

a person had to work hard for it, but a

minute of perfection was worth the

effort.  A moment was the most you

could ever expect from perfection.


~Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club



It’s the ultimate goal, every season, for every NCAA Division I football program. 


To be perfect.  To go undefeated.  To have no losses, no ties, and leave no doubt as to who is the best team in college football.


It’s an admirable goal, but just how realistic is it?  How often is it really ever attained?  And as a fan, are you asking too much to demand perfection from your team?


Take the Pac-10 Conference.  Made up of some of the most storied Universities in the nation.  In the 30 years since its current form took shape back in 1978, the Pac-10 has had just two undefeated teams:


The 1991 Washington Huskies, who after going 12-0 still had to share their National Title with the Miami Hurricanes.


And the 2004 USC Trojans, who went 13-0 and were unanimous National Champs.  That’s it.


I’m not making excuses for teams that lose.  I’m not asking you to accept mediocrity.  What I am saying is that for something that is so rarely achieved you might want to be a tad more realistic about your team’s chances.  And perhaps enjoy the ride a bit more.


Even looking past 1978, going all the way back to Cal’s first season in 1885, the teams that now make up the conference have played 1,132 combined seasons.  And even including such “remarkable” runs as Oregon’s unblemished 1895 season, going 4-0 with two wins against Willamette University.


And also including Washington’s “miraculous” stretch from 1909-1913 without a loss, and with victories over the likes of Evergreen High School, Lincoln High School and a 55-0 thriller over the Bremerton Navy.


Even with all that, in the 1,132 potential chances for perfection, spanning 123 years, these 10 Universities have managed to do it just 41 times.  And just eight times in the last 50 years.


And during the 30 years of the Pac-10, only six times has a team gone undefeated in Conference games: USC three times (1988, 2004, 2005), Washington (1991), Arizona State (1996) and UCLA (1998).  And all six teams went 8-0.


Since 2006, when the league went to a full round robin schedule (with each school playing all of the other nine schools) the conference champ has finished at 7-2 each season.



*—when Pac-10 was formed


And what does all this mean?  Whatever you want to make of it, I guess.  For me, it’s confirmation of just how difficult, and perhaps unrealistic, the task of going undefeated is.  Of being perfect.


Gone are the days of scheduling cupcake after cupcake (or high school after high school if you want to go way back).  Or winning 5 or 6 games and calling it good.  The schedules are demanding.  And the task of perfection is borderline impossible.


It means that perhaps we should expect, or at least hope for, our team to compete and have a chance to win each time out.


Because expecting that the team you root for practice hard, play hard, and leave it all out on the field is one thing.  Expecting perfection is another.



An artist’s only concern is to shoot
for some kind of perfection, and on
his own terms, not anyone else's.


~Jonas Salk

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