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1979 would've had the easiest College Football Playoff debate ever

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The 1970s were defined by bluebloods, and to be sure, that was the case with 1979.

The top four in the year-end AP poll were Alabama, USC, Oklahoma, and Ohio State. Recent national champion Pitt was seventh, Arkansas eighth, Nebraska ninth, and Washington and Texas were both in the top 12. All sensible.

But there was weird stuff going on beneath the surface.

I seem to refer to those in the 99th percentile as "truly elite," or something close to that, in this series. Using that term, there were no "truly elite" teams in 1979. Only one topped 98 percent, and only three topped 97. When I first cranked out these ratings and saw that the 1980 season in particular had tons of elite teams, I feared there was some sort of long-tail effect coming from the fact that there were so many teams involved (there was no Division 1-AA yet). But 1979 was the antidote to that worry.

LaVell Edwards' first truly awesome team at BYU was awfully strong. The Cougars went 11-1, beating Texas A&M in Houston to start the year and crushing all other regular season opponents by an average of 43-11. A crazy Holiday Bowl loss to Indiana dampens their case here, but they didn't only dominate because they were in a weak conference. They were also really good.

Of course, since we've worked backwards through the 1980s, you probably weren't that surprised to see BYU in the top 10 below. Your eye instead may have settled on No. 5: Wayne Hardin's Temple Owls. Another weak-SOS all-star, the Owls were still impressive. Maybe not TOP-FIVE impressive, but their only losses were to Pitt (No. 11 in Est. S&P+) by one point and at Penn State (No. 10). They crushed West Virginia (No. 71) in Morgantown and beat Syracuse (No. 36) 49-17 in Philadelphia, and unlike BYU, they came to play in their bowl game, handling California (No. 25), 28-17. That was an awfully good team.

The rankings contain plenty of other interesting teams as you scroll down. Central Michigan was 23rd, Utah State 30th, McNeese State 34th, UT-Arlington 40th. (At this point, McNeese wasn't particularly unusual -- the Cowboys were between 60th and 71st three times between 1975-78 and were 42nd or better each year from 1979-81.)

Still, this season was defined by the big boys. John Robinson's USC Trojans beat LSU, Notre Dame, Washington, and Ohio State. Alabama beat all but one team (Auburn) by double digits. Oklahoma lost to Texas but beat Nebraska and Florida State. Nebraska started 10-0 with mostly dominant wins before losing to OU and Houston by a combined six points. Texas beat Missouri, Oklahoma, Houston, Baylor and Washington and lost only to Arkansas. This would have been a hell of a playoff race.

S&P+ Rk Team Record Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
1 USC 11-0-1 21.0 98.48% 33.9 3 12.9 18
2 Alabama 12-0 19.8 97.93% 28.6 12 8.8 3
3 BYU 11-1 18.7 97.33% 36.5 1 17.8 48
4 Nebraska 10-2 18.3 97.03% 30.5 7 12.2 12
5 Temple 10-2 17.8 96.64% 34.1 2 16.4 39
6 Oklahoma 11-1 17.6 96.48% 31.8 5 14.2 30
7 Texas 9-3 17.0 96.02% 22.0 53 5.0 1
8 Ohio State 11-1 16.8 95.82% 29.9 8 13.1 22
9 Arkansas 10-2 16.7 95.74% 25.7 26 9.0 4
10 Penn State 8-4 16.3 95.38% 26.2 21 9.9 7
11 Pittsburgh 11-1 15.7 94.71% 24.8 32 9.1 5
12 North Carolina 8-3-1 15.5 94.48% 26.8 17 11.3 11
13 Florida State 11-1 14.8 93.59% 27.6 15 12.9 19
14 Texas A&M 6-5 14.7 93.47% 25.6 27 10.9 9
15 Houston 11-1 14.6 93.37% 25.2 29 10.6 8
16 Washington 9-3 13.8 92.25% 26.7 18 12.9 20
17 Clemson 8-4 13.4 91.58% 20.0 70 6.6 2
18 NC State 7-4 13.1 91.13% 28.0 13 14.9 34
19 Michigan 8-4 11.5 88.18% 25.0 31 13.5 25
20 Baylor 8-4 11.4 87.96% 24.2 38 12.8 17
21 LSU 7-5 10.9 86.93% 23.2 47 12.3 13
22 Maryland 7-4 10.7 86.56% 20.5 66 9.7 6
23 South Carolina 8-4 10.2 85.32% 23.9 41 13.7 26
24 Central Michigan 10-0-1 9.8 84.42% 24.2 39 14.4 32
25 California 6-6 9.6 83.78% 23.6 45 14.0 29
S&P+ Rk Team Record Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
26 Auburn 8-3 9.2 82.78% 30.5 6 21.3 79
27 Notre Dame 7-4 9.1 82.55% 24.5 34 15.5 35
28 Tennessee 7-5 9.1 82.48% 27.3 16 18.2 51
29 UCLA 5-6 8.8 81.83% 27.8 14 18.9 60
30 Utah State 7-3-1 8.2 80.07% 32.8 4 24.6 110
31 Missouri 7-5 7.9 79.17% 21.7 56 13.8 28
32 Southern Miss 6-4-1 7.5 77.99% 20.7 65 13.2 23
33 East Carolina 7-3-1 7.4 77.57% 29.8 9 22.4 93
34 McNeese State 11-1 7.3 77.37% 19.7 71 12.5 14
35 Wake Forest 8-4 6.7 75.38% 25.1 30 18.5 54
36 Syracuse 7-5 6.4 74.49% 29.0 10 22.6 96
37 Tulane 9-3 6.3 74.06% 23.8 42 17.6 46
38 Rutgers 8-3 6.3 74.06% 22.5 50 16.2 36
39 Arizona State 6-6 6.1 73.57% 24.5 35 18.4 52
40 UT-Arlington 8-3 5.9 72.79% 25.8 25 19.9 68
41 Virginia 6-5 5.8 72.36% 18.5 80 12.8 16
42 Indiana 8-4 5.2 70.55% 26.2 20 21.0 75
43 Purdue 10-2 5.0 69.85% 23.9 40 18.9 57
44 Miami-OH 6-5 4.6 68.18% 18.9 74 14.3 31
45 Texas Tech 3-6-2 3.8 65.07% 16.5 95 12.8 15
46 Minnesota 4-6-1 3.6 64.47% 26.2 22 22.6 95
47 Iowa 5-6 3.6 64.34% 22.5 51 18.9 59
48 Mississippi State 3-8 3.5 64.24% 17.2 91 13.7 27
49 Georgia 6-5 3.1 62.52% 19.5 72 16.4 40
50 Lamar 6-3-2 3.0 62.26% 21.8 55 18.7 56
S&P+ Rk Team Record Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
51 Cornell 5-4 2.6 60.50% 23.6 44 21.0 76
52 Brown 6-3 2.5 60.06% 18.8 75 16.4 38
53 Kentucky 5-6 2.4 59.84% 15.8 99 13.4 24
54 Utah 6-6 2.3 59.46% 24.7 33 22.3 91
55 Yale 8-1 2.2 58.93% 17.0 92 14.8 33
56 Oklahoma State 7-4 2.0 58.26% 19.3 73 17.3 45
57 Miami-FL 5-6 2.0 58.15% 20.9 62 18.9 58
58 SMU 5-6 1.8 57.55% 21.9 54 20.1 70
59 Hawaii 6-5 1.8 57.40% 24.4 37 22.6 98
60 Arizona 6-5-1 1.5 56.32% 21.1 60 19.5 66
61 Western Michigan 6-5 1.5 56.21% 14.5 113 13.0 21
62 Stanford 5-5-1 1.5 55.97% 23.4 46 21.9 86
63 Ball State 6-5 1.3 55.27% 22.6 49 21.3 80
64 San Diego State 8-3 0.8 53.30% 26.0 23 25.2 115
65 West Texas A&M 6-4-1 0.8 53.13% 20.1 69 19.3 65
66 Michigan State 5-6 0.6 52.49% 22.7 48 22.1 89
67 Ole Miss 4-7 0.5 52.18% 25.3 28 24.7 111
68 UT-Chattanooga 5-1 0.3 51.38% 23.7 43 23.4 104
69 Virginia Tech 5-6 0.2 50.89% 20.4 68 20.2 72
70 Toledo 7-3-1 0.2 50.65% 18.4 82 18.2 50
71 West Virginia 5-6 -0.5 48.04% 20.9 63 21.3 81
72 Ohio 6-5 -0.8 46.67% 18.3 84 19.1 64
73 TCU 2-8-1 -0.9 46.16% 15.5 104 16.5 42
74 Princeton 5-4 -1.1 45.33% 17.5 89 18.6 55
75 Boston College 5-6 -1.4 44.08% 18.6 78 20.0 69
S&P+ Rk Team Record Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
76 San Jose State 6-4-1 -1.6 43.43% 28.8 11 30.4 135
77 Dartmouth 4-4-1 -1.7 43.22% 9.3 135 11.0 10
78 Harvard 3-6 -1.7 43.16% 17.3 90 19.0 61
79 Louisville 4-6-1 -2.2 41.19% 15.7 102 17.8 49
80 UNLV 9-1-2 -2.2 41.11% 26.4 19 28.5 131
81 Georgia Tech 4-6-1 -2.4 40.16% 14.3 114 16.7 43
82 Cincinnati 2-9 -2.8 38.61% 18.5 81 21.3 78
83 Holy Cross 5-6 -3.2 37.18% 13.2 121 16.4 41
84 Colorado State 4-7-1 -3.4 36.30% 15.7 100 19.1 63
85 East Tennessee State 7-4 -3.5 35.80% 16.2 97 19.7 67
86 Arkansas State 4-7 -3.7 35.19% 14.0 117 17.7 47
87 Oregon 6-5 -3.8 34.59% 16.8 93 20.6 74
88 Navy 7-4 -4.1 33.50% 13.1 123 17.2 44
89 Florida 0-10-1 -4.3 33.02% 14.7 110 19.0 62
90 Wisconsin 4-7 -4.3 32.97% 21.5 58 25.8 119
91 Villanova 5-6 -4.3 32.88% 17.8 86 22.1 88
92 Iowa State 3-8 -4.4 32.62% 14.1 115 18.4 53
93 Washington State 3-8 -4.5 32.24% 25.8 24 30.3 134
94 Colorado 3-8 -4.6 31.65% 17.8 87 22.4 92
95 Bowling Green 4-7 -4.7 31.55% 18.5 79 23.2 102
96 Kansas 3-8 -4.7 31.36% 21.2 59 25.9 121
97 Appalachian State 3-8 -5.1 30.11% 21.6 57 26.7 122
98 UL-Lafayette 4-7 -5.1 29.83% 11.1 128 16.3 37
99 Northwestern State 3-6 -5.2 29.63% 18.8 76 24.0 107
100 Duke 2-8-1 -5.3 29.08% 16.2 96 21.6 84
S&P+ Rk Team Record Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
101 Northern Illinois 5-5-1 -5.4 28.86% 14.7 111 20.1 71
102 Southern Illinois 8-3 -5.6 28.11% 16.6 94 22.3 90
103 Colgate 5-4-1 -5.9 27.20% 15.5 105 21.3 82
104 Western Carolina 6-5 -6.0 26.69% 18.4 83 24.4 109
105 Fresno State 4-7 -6.1 26.54% 24.5 36 30.5 137
106 New Mexico 6-6 -6.5 25.30% 15.1 108 21.5 83
107 Furman 5-6 -6.7 24.37% 22.0 52 28.7 132
108 Illinois 2-8-1 -7.2 23.01% 15.6 103 22.8 100
109 Rice 1-10 -7.2 22.86% 20.9 61 28.1 130
110 Indiana State 8-3 -7.3 22.70% 20.7 64 28.0 128
111 Long Beach State 7-4 -7.3 22.55% 18.1 85 25.4 116
112 Tulsa 6-5 -7.6 21.67% 15.1 107 22.7 99
113 Kansas State 3-8 -7.8 21.04% 13.3 120 21.1 77
114 North Texas 5-6 -7.8 20.96% 15.0 109 22.9 101
115 Memphis 5-6 -8.6 18.71% 13.4 119 22.0 87
116 The Citadel 6-5 -8.9 17.94% 18.7 77 27.6 127
117 Wyoming 4-8 -9.2 17.17% 14.6 112 23.8 106
118 UL-Monroe 3-8 -9.9 15.33% 12.6 124 22.6 94
119 Louisiana Tech 2-9 -10.4 14.22% 9.9 133 20.3 73
120 William & Mary 4-7 -10.8 13.29% 10.8 131 21.6 85
121 Drake 3-8 -11.6 11.52% 14.0 116 25.7 118
122 VMI 6-4-1 -11.8 11.26% 10.8 130 22.6 97
123 Illinois State 3-8 -11.8 11.15% 15.7 101 27.5 125
124 Connecticut 3-6-2 -12.9 9.26% 11.4 127 24.2 108
125 Pacific 3-7 -12.9 9.13% 10.8 129 23.8 105
S&P+ Rk Team Record Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
126 Army 2-8-1 -13.0 9.02% 11.9 126 24.8 112
127 Fullerton State 3-8 -13.4 8.41% 12.2 125 25.5 117
128 Vanderbilt 1-10 -13.5 8.20% 20.5 67 34.0 140
129 Oregon State 1-10 -14.5 6.78% 17.5 88 32.0 138
130 Kent 1-10 -14.5 6.76% 13.1 122 27.6 126
131 Eastern Michigan 2-8-1 -15.1 5.96% 8.2 138 23.4 103
132 Pennsylvania 0-9 -15.3 5.77% 13.6 118 28.9 133
133 Northwestern 1-10 -15.3 5.71% 15.1 106 30.5 136
134 UTEP 2-9 -16.3 4.66% 8.7 136 25.0 113
135 Columbia 1-8 -16.6 4.38% 8.5 137 25.1 114
136 Wichita State 1-10 -17.1 3.94% 10.1 132 27.2 124
137 New Mexico State 2-9 -17.1 3.87% 16.1 98 33.2 139
138 Marshall 1-10 -17.4 3.65% 9.7 134 27.0 123
139 Richmond 0-11 -20.1 1.93% 5.8 140 25.9 120
140 Air Force 2-9 -21.7 1.28% 6.4 139 28.1 129

Or maybe it wouldn't have been an interesting Playoff race at all

As always with this look at a hypothetical Playoff, let's start with the end-of-regular-season AP rankings.

1. Ohio State (11-0)
2. Alabama (11-0)
3. USC (10-0-1)
4. Florida State (11-0)

Oh. Well then. I guess that's that.

There was a lot of post-bowl movement in the polls. No. 3 USC beat No. 1 Ohio State by one, and No. 5 Oklahoma thumped No. 4 Florida State, 24-7. I guess maybe you could have made a Playoff case for an Oklahoma (10-1 heading into the bowls) or No. 6 Arkansas (10-1), but while Florida State was certainly still in up-and-comer mode, the Seminoles had womped Arizona State, Mississippi State, and a ranked South Carolina team and had beaten LSU on the road. Amazing SOS, this is not. But I figure it's good enough to get the 'Noles in. (Undefeated No. 9 BYU, however, not so much.)

So we get 1 Ohio State vs. 4 FSU and 2 Alabama vs. 3 USC, and odds slightly favor a USC-Ohio State final. Maybe it would even have been in the Rose Bowl. Regardless, this was one of the easiest Playoff conversations ever.

One other note:

It is impossible to understate how dreadful Northwestern and Oregon State were during this period. Once again, despite tons of chaff, they both show up in the bottom 12 here. Between 1979-83, OSU topped even the 7th percentile just once; between 1978-83, Northwestern topped the 6th once. The Wildcats had been decent as recently as 1971, and the Beavers had finished in the top 15 in 1968. Just a crazy spiral.

Next up: 1978, one of this Missouri fan's favorite seasons.