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College Football: Traditional Powers Try To Make It Back on Top

Justin HokansonSenior Writer IJune 23, 2009

SOUTH BEND,IN - SEPTEMBER 13:  Head coach Rich Rodriguez of the Michigan Wolverines runs onto the field with his team before the game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on September 13, 2008 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

The great thing about college football is there are more than a handful of traditionally strong programs across the nation.

It provides the opportunity to have a few big time powers struggle, as they look to regain their supremacy, however, this leaves more than a few teams ready and able to pick up their slack.

Every big time program goes through their own peaks and valley's. Right now Oklahoma, Ohio State, Texas, Florida, and Southern California, are a few premier programs that are at the top of their games, and then there are a few that are trying like heck to get back to that plateau.

The first team that comes to mind is the Michigan Wolverines. The Maze and Blue record the last four years is 30-20, which isn't terrible, but by Michigan's standards, it isn't all that great either.

Most of the focus is on last year's record of 3-9 for first year coach Rich Rodriguez. When you take into account the change in offensive systems and philosophy, added with players transferring out, these were all factors that resulted in the struggle that was 2008.

Michigan has now lost five of their last seven bowl games going back to 2002. Going back in recent history, Michigan had produced double digit wins in five of their last seven seasons from 1997-2003, they've only got one double digit winning season in their last four seasons.

Michigan's 20 losses in the last four years are the most for the Wolverines since 1965-1968, where they lost 18 games.

Michigan will turn it around though, and quick. Their recruiting class last year was solid, and they added some real speed at key positions, the kind of speed that the Big Ten just doesn't see on a regular basis.

One of Michigan's key rivals, Notre Dame, is another obvious pick. The Irish, maybe the most historically rich program in the nation, have produced a 29-21 record over the last four years, and an even worse 10-15 record the last two seasons.

One of the most disturbing trends is losses in nine of their last ten bowl games. Their bowl win last season actually broke a nine-year losing streak in bowl games, a streak that spanned from 1995-2007.

Notre Dame is a program that usually feasts on the lesser programs that they face every year, but in the last two years the Irish have lost to Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Air Force, and allowed Navy to break a 43 game winning steak over the Midshipmen in 2007.

It's not just Notre Dame itself though, Charlie Weis is fighting for his legacy as well. As of now, only three Notre Dame coaches historically have a worse winning percentage than Weis does. It's now or never for the Irish as Weis has put together some very good recruiting classes the last few years. You should begin to see some results in 2009, or Weis will be in serious trouble.

When was the last time Nebraska produced a player the caliber of Tommy Frazier? Lawrence Phillips? Ahman Green? The Cornhuskers are another team that is looking to regain the dominance they had in the 70's and the 90's. The Huskers are 31-20 over the last four years, never losing less than four games in that span.

Obviously you can't expect the run like they had in the 90's where they won three national championships and had a stretch of nine of eleven double-digit winning seasons from 1993-2003. However, the Cornhuskers are moving in the right direction with Bo Pelini, and a win last year over Clemson in their bowl game was a nice momentum builder for a program that hasn't finished the season ranked since 2005.

Well thanks to the NCAA, Florida State's recent record now looks much different in the official record books, but for the sake of argument, let's just take their on the field records anyway and not pay attention to the vacated wins.

Of the teams mentioned in this article, the Seminoles actually are the only one that doesn't have a losing record in the last four years, but they have also lost six games twice, and hold a 31-21 record since 2005. Their previous worst four-year span of losses was from 1973-1976 where they lost 35 games.

Then Bobby Bowden got that program rolling in the 80's and 90's like nobody else could. Florida State actually went to a BCS bowl, or what is now a BCS bowl, in 12 of 14 seasons from 1992-2005, an incredible streak.

Now, the Noles have a 3-4 record in their last seven bowl games, and haven't made a January bowl game since 2005, where they lost five games that season.

The question is can the Seminoles turn it around to ACC champion status before Bowden hangs it up. With the NCAA vacating the Noles wins, the all time coaching record is probably not within reach for Bowden.

The last of the five programs that are looking to get back on top are the Tennessee Volunteers. The Vols were an absolute NFL factory in the 90's, but have since fallen off resulting in the firing of Phillip Fulmer and the hiring of Lane Kiffin.

The Vols sport a 29-21 record the last four years, and have only made two bowl games in that same span, winning only one. Even worse, the Vols are only 3-5 in their last eight bowl games. Before 2005, the Vols went 15 years in a row making a bowl game.

Another recent historical trend is losing to Florida. Tennessee hasn't had a lot of success against Florida in the last 20 years, but they have lost four in a row and seven of ten to the Gators. That's extremely important because if the Vols want to turn it around to national prominence, beating their division rival is an absolute must.

Goal one for new coach Kiffin, is find and develop a quarterback. Kiffin has put together a very good staff and they are showing they will recruit well. Honestly though, any program in the same division that Florida is in right now has a big hill to climb.

Looking at those five programs, I'd say Florida State and Tennessee look like they can make the quickest climb back to a BCS bowl, with Notre Dame in third.

The Noles and the Vols have the richest recruiting areas to take advantage of, and are a quarterback away from being very competitive.

Notre Dame just needs their quarterback to live up to billing, and recruit some speed on defense. The next two years could be very promising for the Irish as some top-notch recruits should start rising to the top.

Nebraska and Michigan to me have the longest rise back to national prominence. The Cornhuskers are a good team this year, but being in a conference with Oklahoma and Texas makes being successful a huge hill to climb, and unfortunately, there is not enough talent in the Midwest to help them overcome those two teams.

Michigan has a unique opportunity though, as the Big Ten isn't known for speed, but Rodriguez's offense is predicated on speed, and the Wolverines dipped down into Florida last year to grab some real speedsters. In a year or two they could be an extremely dangerous team in that conference.

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