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In the middle of a decade ruled by bluebloods, the 1976 season belonged to Pitt

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In the middle of an unprecedented decade of blueblood dominance, Pitt not only won a national title but totally deserved it.

Pitt pulled off only its second top-15 finish in 18 years in 1975, and while the Panthers had Tony Dorsett and were getting ready to unleash six top-10 finishes in seven years, this was still relatively out of nowhere.

Unlike a lot of up-and-comers, though, the Panthers' title wasn't based on close wins or a particular upset. Pitt was just really really good. Johnny Majors' team started the year with a 31-10 win over No. 11 Notre Dame and finished it with a 24-7 win over No. 16 Penn State and a 27-3 win over No. 5 Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. Granted, the schedule was relatively easy in between, but only one opponent stayed within single digits. Pitt handled its business.

Granted, Pitt also benefited from a less-than-elite title pack. Michigan was the only team that crossed the 98th percentile, and in the middle of total dominance, Bo Schembechler's Wolverines figured out a way to lose to Purdue. Meanwhile, most of the rest of the ruling class suffered through at least partial down years (or at least down weeks). USC was awesome but lost to Missouri. Ohio State was awesome but lost to Missouri and got stomped by Michigan. Oklahoma lost twice. Notre Dame was mostly strong but lost three road games of varying quality.

Part of the reason it's so hard to join college football's oligarchy is that you have to not only figure out a way to be good, you also have to have good timing. Pitt did both. And even though the Panthers lost Majors to Tennessee after this championship year, they kept the train rolling under Jackie Sherrill and Foge Fazio for a while.

Meanwhile ... Michigan. Oh, Michigan. The 1970s were an incredible run of dominance and heartbreak. The Wolverines beat Ohio State to finish the regular season undefeated but lost to Stanford by one in the Rose Bowl. They started 10-0 in 1972 and lost to Ohio State by three. They started 10-0 in 1973, tied Ohio State, and lost a famous Rose Bowl vote. They started 1974 10-0 and lost to Ohio State by two. And in 1976, they easily cleared the Ohio State hurdle, but it didn't matter from a national title perspective because they had already lost to Purdue (and they went on to lose to USC in the Rose Bowl, too). They just couldn't quite ever get the timing right. Bo Schembechler won a million conference titles and no national titles.

S&P+ Rk Team Record Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
1 Michigan 10-2 21.5 98.53% 32.7 2 11.3 10
2 Pittsburgh 12-0 19.9 97.81% 31.4 4 11.5 11
3 Georgia 10-2 19.6 97.66% 29.5 13 9.9 5
4 USC 11-1 18.8 97.16% 31.3 5 12.5 15
5 Alabama 9-3 18.5 97.00% 28.7 16 10.2 6
6 Ohio State 9-2-1 18.4 96.90% 28.1 18 9.7 4
7 UCLA 9-2-1 16.3 95.14% 31.7 3 15.4 36
8 Oklahoma State 9-3 16.2 94.99% 30.8 6 14.6 28
9 Oklahoma 9-2-1 16.2 94.97% 29.7 12 13.5 22
10 Maryland 11-1 15.8 94.55% 24.9 28 9.1 2
11 Colorado 8-4 15.7 94.46% 30.0 10 14.3 25
12 Missouri 6-5 15.5 94.19% 29.9 11 14.4 26
13 Texas A&M 10-2 14.4 92.84% 28.2 17 13.8 23
14 East Carolina 9-2 14.4 92.81% 24.8 29 10.4 8
15 Houston 10-2 14.3 92.62% 29.3 14 15.0 32
16 Notre Dame 9-3 14.2 92.54% 25.9 25 11.7 13
17 Nebraska 9-3-1 14.1 92.32% 30.0 8 16.0 38
18 Texas Tech 10-2 13.1 90.78% 29.2 15 16.1 42
19 Iowa State 8-3 12.5 89.85% 32.9 1 20.4 76
20 Mississippi State 9-2 12.5 89.73% 26.7 22 14.2 24
21 Cincinnati 8-3 11.4 87.60% 20.1 62 8.7 1
22 Kentucky 8-4 10.4 85.56% 20.2 61 9.7 3
23 Yale 8-1 9.9 84.21% 20.4 58 10.5 9
24 Richmond 5-6 9.2 82.58% 19.5 74 10.3 7
25 Florida 8-4 9.2 82.37% 30.5 7 21.3 84
S&P+ Rk Team Record Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
26 William & Mary 7-4 8.5 80.58% 20.8 53 12.3 14
27 Penn State 7-5 7.9 78.96% 21.2 50 13.2 19
28 UL-Lafayette 9-2 7.4 77.31% 22.3 39 14.9 30
29 UT-Chattanooga 4-3-1 7.1 76.49% 26.5 23 19.4 61
30 California 5-6 7.0 76.16% 24.2 30 17.2 49
31 Appalachian State 6-4-1 7.0 76.08% 22.0 42 15.1 33
32 Kansas 6-5 7.0 76.05% 26.8 21 19.8 64
33 Louisiana Tech 6-5 6.8 75.52% 30.0 9 23.2 100
34 Dartmouth 6-3 6.7 75.05% 22.7 36 16.0 39
35 Rutgers 11-0 6.5 74.38% 19.2 80 12.7 16
36 Furman 6-4-1 5.9 72.65% 17.5 95 11.5 12
37 Miami-FL 3-8 5.6 71.57% 21.9 44 16.3 43
38 South Carolina 6-5 4.9 69.10% 17.8 92 12.8 17
39 Texas 5-5-1 4.7 68.51% 19.7 69 15.0 31
40 Stanford 6-5 4.7 68.21% 26.2 24 21.5 85
41 LSU 6-4-1 4.6 68.00% 20.6 56 16.0 40
42 Brown 8-1 4.6 67.94% 19.1 81 14.5 27
43 West Virginia 5-6 4.6 67.92% 19.8 68 15.2 35
44 Tulsa 7-4-1 4.4 67.30% 21.4 49 17.0 48
45 North Texas 6-5 4.2 66.69% 19.4 76 15.1 34
46 Virginia Tech 6-5 4.1 66.27% 20.2 60 16.0 41
47 Ball State 8-3 3.9 65.39% 20.8 52 16.9 46
48 Ole Miss 5-6 3.6 64.20% 16.9 97 13.3 20
49 BYU 9-3 3.6 64.13% 27.0 19 23.4 102
50 San Jose State 7-4 3.2 62.93% 26.8 20 23.5 103
S&P+ Rk Team Record Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
51 Illinois 5-6 3.2 62.89% 23.6 31 20.4 73
52 Baylor 7-3-1 2.9 61.61% 19.2 79 16.3 44
53 Arkansas 5-5-1 2.8 61.13% 20.7 54 17.9 52
54 Duke 5-5-1 2.8 61.11% 23.2 35 20.4 75
55 Harvard 6-3 2.7 60.69% 15.8 104 13.1 18
56 San Diego State 10-1 2.4 59.76% 15.8 103 13.3 21
57 Ohio 7-4 2.4 59.57% 20.8 51 18.5 55
58 Fresno State 5-6 2.3 59.31% 19.8 67 17.5 51
59 Tennessee 6-5 2.3 59.28% 19.3 78 17.0 47
60 McNeese State 10-2 1.9 57.61% 21.8 46 19.9 67
61 Bowling Green 6-5 1.9 57.48% 25.6 26 23.7 104
62 Navy 4-7 1.8 57.18% 21.9 43 20.1 69
63 Auburn 3-8 1.2 54.70% 21.5 47 20.4 74
64 Kent 8-4 0.8 53.05% 20.6 57 19.9 66
65 Western Michigan 7-4 0.8 53.05% 21.8 45 21.1 81
66 Memphis 7-4 0.7 52.90% 19.6 73 18.9 57
67 Purdue 5-6 0.4 51.44% 19.3 77 18.9 59
68 The Citadel 6-5 0.1 50.50% 14.9 112 14.8 29
69 Louisville 4-7 0.0 49.97% 19.4 75 19.4 62
70 Arkansas State 5-6 0.0 49.89% 22.5 38 22.5 96
71 Georgia Tech 4-6-1 -0.2 49.37% 22.1 41 22.3 93
72 Southern Miss 2-9 -0.2 49.07% 19.9 66 20.2 70
73 Minnesota 6-5 -0.3 48.68% 18.5 84 18.9 58
74 Washington 5-6 -0.3 48.68% 20.0 63 20.3 72
75 Villanova 6-4-1 -0.6 47.72% 19.6 72 20.2 71
S&P+ Rk Team Record Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
76 Wisconsin 5-6 -0.9 46.46% 25.1 27 26.0 118
77 Clemson 3-6-2 -0.9 46.29% 18.1 89 19.0 60
78 North Carolina 9-3 -1.6 43.68% 18.5 85 20.1 68
79 NC State 3-7-1 -1.6 43.52% 20.3 59 21.9 89
80 Boston College 8-3 -1.9 42.23% 15.4 106 17.4 50
81 Wake Forest 5-6 -2.2 41.06% 16.3 100 18.5 56
82 New Mexico 4-7 -2.3 40.86% 20.0 65 22.2 92
83 Michigan State 4-6-1 -2.3 40.78% 22.3 40 24.6 112
84 Kansas State 1-10 -2.6 39.47% 21.5 48 24.2 108
85 Florida State 5-6 -2.8 38.66% 19.6 70 22.5 95
86 SMU 3-8 -2.9 38.51% 23.2 34 26.1 120
87 Miami-OH 3-8 -3.2 37.29% 15.1 110 18.3 54
88 Arizona 5-6 -3.5 35.94% 23.6 32 27.1 124
89 Arizona State 4-7 -4.1 33.77% 19.0 82 23.2 99
90 Temple 4-6 -4.1 33.68% 18.0 91 22.1 91
91 Cornell 2-7 -4.5 32.22% 13.6 118 18.1 53
92 UT-Arlington 5-6 -4.5 32.21% 20.0 64 24.5 111
93 VMI 5-5 -4.6 32.09% 15.9 102 20.5 78
94 Central Michigan 7-4 -5.3 29.39% 16.7 98 22.1 90
95 Vanderbilt 2-9 -5.6 28.45% 16.0 101 21.6 86
96 Iowa 5-6 -5.7 28.11% 15.1 111 20.8 80
97 Indiana 5-6 -6.2 26.59% 14.3 114 20.5 79
98 Wyoming 8-4 -6.3 26.12% 18.4 87 24.7 113
99 Toledo 3-8 -6.3 26.06% 15.6 105 21.9 88
100 Long Beach State 8-3 -6.6 24.98% 13.8 117 20.4 77
S&P+ Rk Team Record Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
101 West Texas A&M 4-5-2 -6.8 24.41% 18.0 90 24.8 114
102 Washington State 3-8 -6.9 24.33% 22.7 37 29.5 127
103 Columbia 3-6 -6.9 24.25% 16.4 99 23.3 101
104 Oregon 4-7 -7.1 23.67% 15.3 107 22.4 94
105 Northwestern State 5-5 -7.4 22.49% 13.8 116 21.3 83
106 Southern Illinois 7-4 -7.5 22.26% 17.5 94 25.0 115
107 Pennsylvania 3-6 -7.8 21.40% 8.6 133 16.4 45
108 Princeton 2-7 -7.8 21.39% 8.1 134 15.9 37
109 Tulane 2-9 -8.2 20.40% 13.0 120 21.2 82
110 Syracuse 3-8 -8.3 20.01% 14.8 113 23.1 97
111 Colorado State 6-5 -8.7 18.90% 12.9 121 21.6 87
112 Colgate 8-2 -9.3 17.32% 10.6 130 19.9 65
113 Eastern Michigan 2-9 -9.8 15.91% 18.3 88 28.1 126
114 Army 5-6 -10.6 14.17% 17.0 96 27.6 125
115 Air Force 4-7 -10.9 13.40% 15.1 108 26.1 119
116 Dayton 4-7 -11.0 13.13% 12.9 122 23.9 105
117 Oregon State 2-10 -11.8 11.54% 15.1 109 26.9 123
118 Indiana State 3-7 -12.0 11.18% 12.0 128 24.0 106
119 Wichita State 4-7 -12.0 11.12% 12.5 123 24.5 110
120 Northwestern 1-10 -12.2 10.82% 14.1 115 26.3 122
121 Rice 3-8 -12.7 9.90% 23.5 33 36.2 136
122 Marshall 4-7 -12.8 9.69% 12.2 127 25.0 116
123 New Mexico State 4-6-1 -13.1 9.15% 11.1 129 24.2 109
124 Illinois State 5-6 -13.1 9.13% 6.3 137 19.5 63
125 Virginia 2-9 -13.2 9.00% 9.9 131 23.1 98
S&P+ Rk Team Record Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
126 Holy Cross 3-8 -13.3 8.83% 18.9 83 32.2 132
127 UL-Monroe 2-9 -13.5 8.56% 18.5 86 32.0 131
128 Utah State 3-8 -13.8 8.10% 12.5 124 26.2 121
129 TCU 0-11 -15.4 5.95% 17.8 93 33.1 133
130 Lamar 2-9 -15.5 5.80% 8.6 132 24.1 107
131 Drake 1-10 -15.6 5.61% 20.7 55 36.3 137
132 Utah 3-8 -16.1 5.16% 19.6 71 35.7 135
133 Pacific 2-9 -17.7 3.59% 12.3 126 30.0 128
134 Fullerton State 3-7-1 -17.9 3.50% 7.5 136 25.4 117
135 UTEP 1-11 -17.9 3.44% 13.1 119 31.0 130
136 Hawaii 3-8 -21.7 1.38% 12.4 125 34.1 134
137 Northern Illinois 1-10 -23.0 0.99% 7.7 135 30.6 129

Your hypothetical Playoff race

As always, we start with your end-of-regular-season AP poll. This would have been an interesting year to have a four-team playoff.

1. Pitt (11-0)
2. Michigan (10-1)
3. USC (10-1)
4. Maryland (11-0)
5. Georgia (10-1)
6. Houston (9-2)
7. UCLA (8-2-1)
8. Oklahoma (8-2-1)
9. Texas Tech (10-1)

The interesting part about this battle is the argument between an undefeated Maryland team and one-loss Georgia. The ACC wasn't of strong stature in the mid-1970s, coming off of a segregated time with no natural national powers. Maryland was unbeaten and PROBABLY would have gotten a Playoff bid here, but the Terps had beaten zero ranked teams, and the only opponents they had beaten with winning records were 8-4 Kentucky (Est. S&P+ No. 22), 8-3 Cincinnati (No. 21), and 6-4-1 Villanova (No. 75). That's two solid wins, but is that enough to get them past a one-loss SEC champion? Granted, the SEC ALSO didn't have the highest stature in the mid-1970s, but Georgia had beaten Alabama (Est. S&P+ No. 5), Cincinnati (No. 21), Florida (No. 25), and California (No. 30). Is that enough to offset a loss to Ole Miss?

I say no. Assuming Michigan and USC are likely in, and assuming Texas Tech's case isn't any better than Georgia's, I say we get 1 Pitt vs. 4 Maryland and 2 Michigan vs. 3 USC. Pitt-Maryland in a national semifinal. Naturally.

Maryland was solid, especially on defense, but Pitt was better. The Panthers play ... USC, I guess? Michigan graded out better, but USC won the real game. Regardless, Pitt was more than legitimate enough to have still won the Playoff.

M-I-Z...

I'm writing about the 1978 Missouri team in my book, with the hook being that the Tigers were the giant killers of the 1970s. (They beat defending champion Notre Dame to start 1978, then knocked Nebraska out of the national title race with a win in Lincoln to end it, losing to Oklahoma State and Colorado in between.) But I was tempted to do 1976 instead because this was the most Mizzou Mizzou season of the decade. (I'll be writing about it soon at Rock M Nation.)

The Tigers began the season not by beating No. 8 USC in the Coliseum, but by DESTROYING them, 46-25. They went from unranked to sixth in the country, then proceeded to lose at home to Illinois, 31-6. Unranked again, they went to Columbus and beat No. 2 Ohio State by last-minute touchdown and two-point conversion. Back to No. 12, they won a couple of games, then lost to unranked Iowa State at home. They beat No. 3 Nebraska in Lincoln, then lost to Oklahoma State and Oklahoma by a little, then finished 6-5 after a 41-14 loss, again at home, to Kansas.

That is one of the most absurd seasons of all-time. And I figure it justifies the Tigers ranking 12th despite going 6-5. They beat Est. S&P+ No. 4, 6, 11, and 17 ... and lost five games. Guh.