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Today's Tidbit... Changes In The College Football Landscape Since 1954
I’ve previously looked at how the mix of teams playing college football at its highest level has changed over the years, yet when I find a document that illustrates those changes in a new (or old) way, I’m compelled to share it. This time around, we’re looking at parts of a 1954 composite football schedule used as a premium or giveaway by SWS Chevrolet, “your convenient downtown Chevrolet dealer for 32 years” in Dayton. Their tagline tells us the dealership was founded in 1922, so it was nearly as old as the NFL and opened the same year Red Grange first took the field for Illinois’ varsity.
The giveaway included the 1954 schedules for 117 college teams in its national schedules section. Across eight pages, it provided the school name, team nicknames, location, head coach, and the scores of the 1953 games for opponents remaining on the schedule. How they chose the 117 schools is unclear, but we’ll look at the schedules to see what has changed in the last 69 years.
The first page shows limited differences compared to today. Arizona State, surrounded by a green oval indicating a name change, no longer refers to its teams as the Lumberjacks. Boston U and Bradley, designated by red ovals, no longer play football. Seeing Earl “Red” Blaik as Army’s coach is also fun.
[A reader commented that the Arizona State Lumberjacks circled above are now the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks and play at the FCS level.]
There’s more happening on page two. Nine of fifteen schools have green stars, indicating they now compete at the FCS level. Colorado A&M now goes by Colorado State, while Colgate and Dartmouth eliminated their nicknames referencing Native Americans.
Sid Gillman was Cincinnati’s coach but left soon thereafter to take the Los Angeles Rams job.
Page three shows Denver, Detroit, and George Washington, each of which has dropped football. Dayton, Drake, Fordham, Furman, Harvard, and Holy Cross now play FCS football, while Furman also changed its nickname from the Hurricanes to the Paladins. Ol’ Hardin-Simmons still plays the game but does so at the DIII level.
If you were a major football school with a name beginning with the letters I through M, you likely still play with the big boys. Only Marquette faded from gridiron glory, while the Lafayette Leopards showed their true spots and dropped a level.
As previously mentioned, it was good to be an M or even an O school back in 1954 because you likely remain big time today. Mississippi State saw a nickname change, New Mexico A&M opted for New Mexico State, and the Grizzlies lost weight on their way to FCS.
Woody Hayes and Bud Wilkinson were early in their tenures at Ohio State and Oklahoma, while Darrell Royal left Mississippi State for a spot where everything is twice as big.
Page six shows three nickname changes, one school name change, and Pacific dropping from the football ranks. The Oklahoma A&M Aggies did a double take, becoming the Oklahoma State Cowboys. At the same time, Oregon went from the Webfoots to the Ducks, and Rutgers was way ahead of its time by transitioning from the Queensmen to the Scarlet Knights. On top of that, Joe Paterno spent another eleven years as Rip Engle’s assistant before taking over in Happy Valley.
The changes on page seven are few. All fifteen teams play FBS football today, though Texas Western became Texas at El Paso, while Stanford and Utah both shed Native American nicknames. Bear Bryant, newly arrived at Texas A&M, was about to put his Junction Boys through some things.
Page eight reveals that Virginia Tech was more commonly known as the Gobblers, Wichita State was a football school, and Villanova, WMI, William & Mary, Xavier, and Yale were in their pre-FCS days. Washington & Lee generally made its way to DIII.
In case you did not keep a running score, here it is:
81 of 117 top-level teams in 1954 still play big-time ball
26 are now FCS, 2 play DIII ball, and 8 dropped the sport
Of course, FBS will have 133 teams in 2023, meaning 51 programs, or 38 percent of the teams we now consider major college programs were not on the list in 1954. The most notable schools missing from the list included:
BYU played in the Skyline Conference then and starts Big 12 play this year.
Florida State was independent in 1954 when seven of its opponents made the list. Since then, they’ve claimed three national titles.
Besides the schools that have ascended to Power Five status, others that are now FBS teams include:
Five American Conference teams
Nine of the eleven Conference USA teams
All twelve Mid-American Conference programs
Nine of the twelve Mountain West Conference teams
All fourteen Sun Belt Conference programs
At least seven schools that now play FBS football did not exist in 1954, and eight did not have football teams in 2000, so we’re not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy.
It’s fun to look back at a lifetime’s worth of changes in the college football landscape. Several factors drove those changes, including U.S. population migrations, the massive growth in public universities, and television and related monies. More challenging is to look ahead and forecast what college football might look like 69 years from now.
Will the ball still drop in Times Square on New Year’s Eve 2092?
Will the Time Square revelers watch college football on New Year’s Day?
Which schools will play on New Year’s Day, and which will have left football behind?
The odds are Football Archaeology will not be around in 2092, but perhaps someone or something will look back on those seven decades to tell a small piece of the story once again.
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