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Tuesday, December 25, 2012
Just short of a dynasty

By Ivan Maisel
ESPN.com

If the defining characteristic of a dynasty is three national championships over a span of uninterrupted dominance, then it's pretty easy to say which programs qualify and which do not. That is, until you read the details of the teams that didn't win three national championships. Florida State is not the only program that came within a game or two of being a dynasty.

Blaik
Earl Blaik won two titles as coach of Army in the 1940s and '50s.

Take the Army teams from 1944 through 1950. In those seven seasons, the Black Knights had a record of 57-3-4 (.922). They won the national championship in 1944 and 1945, and went 9-0-1 in 1946, the blemish being a 0-0 tie with undefeated Notre Dame.

Army went into that game No. 1, Notre Dame No. 2. They came out of the game the same way. But in the last week of the season, Navy, which had a record of 1-7, took mighty Army to the very last play. With the Black Knights leading 21-18, the Midshipmen drove to the Army 4-yard line, where time expired before Navy could get off a play.

Army won the game but lost the national championship. Notre Dame, in the middle of a four-year unbeaten streak, moved to No. 1 in the final poll. As well as Army played in those years at the end of and immediately following World War II, it couldn't win that third title.

In 1950, the Black Knights came to their season finale with an 8-0 record and No. 2 ranking. In his autobiography, Army coach Earl "Red" Blaik looked back on the week of that game in wonder.

"We had put together one defeatless string of 32 games and we now had another one going which ... reached twenty-eight," Blaik wrote. "The way it looked, we could go on and on."

A Navy team with a 2-6 record stunned Army 14-2, and the Black Knights fell hard. In the ensuing offseason, West Point dismissed 90 cadets, including 37 football players, in a cheating scandal. Army went 2-7 in 1951.

Ohio State won national titles in 1954 (Associated Press) and 1957 (coaches). In 1961, the Football Writers Association selected the Buckeyes ahead of Alabama, which won the AP and coaches' polls. However, in the interim seasons, the Buckeyes barely won two-thirds of their games (29-13-3, .678) and even had a losing record in 1959 (3-5-1). Sorry, that's not a dynasty.

Texas won 30 consecutive games from 1968 to 1970. But the streak didn't begin until after the Longhorns began the 1968 season 0-1-1. They finished that season No. 3, won everything in 1969 and shared the national title with Nebraska in 1970. But Texas went 9-3 in 1971 and didn't finish No. 1 again until 2005.

Penn State, like the Army teams a generation before, beat nearly everyone it played over a long period. From 1968 to '73 under young, fiery coach Joe Paterno, the Nittany Lions went 62-6 (.912). But the poll voters revealed their reservations about Penn State's Eastern schedule by withholding their votes. The Nittany Lions went undefeated in 1968, 1969 and 1973, but finished second, second and fifth(!) in those AP polls.

"I can't think of a year when picking a champion by poll was more absurd" than 1973, Paterno wrote in his autobiography.

In the past decade, Miami and USC each put together 34-game winning streaks over three seasons. But they won a total of three national titles between them (Miami in 2001; USC in 2003 and '04).

As it turns out, assembling a dynasty is a marathon, not a sprint.