In Honor of the Cubs: Greatest Droughts in College Football

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Baseball season is right around the corner, with pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training camps in the coming week.

Growing up a fan of the Chicago Cubs, springtime usually brings with it irrational exuberance, followed by almost immediate disappointment. But after a surprise run to the NLCS last autumn, I have realistic hope the 2016 Cubs might finally end the organization’s 70-year World Series drought.

I won’t get carried away and mention snapping the 107-year championship drought with which Chicago Cubs baseball has become synonymous.

The century-and-change since Chicago last won a World Series is undoubtedly the most well-known drought in American sports. Since misery loves company, yours truly is commemorating the upcoming baseball season with a shoutout for some of the most noteworthy droughts in college football.

Part of the criteria for this oh-so-scientific list: teams that never achieved a certain milestone are not considered drought-ravaged, thus Arizona’s dubious Rose Bowl record is not eligible; neither is Vanderbilt’s nonexistent SEC championship history.

Notre Dame’s Last National Championship

27 years

Notre Dame ranks among the most decorated programs in college football with 11 national championships. The Fighting Irish’s rich history makes them one of the sport’s blue bloods.

For latter millennials and the iGeneration, however, Notre Dame’s legacy might as well be that of 28-time national champion Princeton.

Alright, so that might not be entirely fair. The Irish still play at college football’s highest level, and just this past season reached a New Year’s Six bowl game. Notre Dame’s also approached the pinnacle as recently as 2012, though its appearance in the 2013 BCS Championship Game went disastrously.

Perhaps the more stomach-turning title pursuit for Notre Dame fans is its 1993 season. After beating Florida State in a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup truly worthy of “Game of the Century” consideration, Notre Dame needed only defeat Boston College in the regular-season finale to guarantee a spot in the Orange Bowl.

However, in another instant classic, BC scored one of the most famous upsets in college football history and denied Lou Holtz one final national championship bid.

Indiana and Minnesota’s Last Big Ten Championships

48 years

Indiana and Minnesota split the Big Ten Conference title in 1967. It marked the last time either program won the title.

Minnesota’s run since hasn’t been nearly as futile as that of Indiana, which has just nine bowl appearances in the near half-century since. In that time, the Hoosiers endured postseason droughts of 12, 14 and most recently, eight years.

However, Indiana can take some solace in knowing it played in the Granddaddy of ‘Em All more recently than Minnesota – which, coincidentally, only happened because the Golden Gophers had played in a Rose Bowl more recently back in 1967.

The Big Ten broke a tie between Indiana, Minnesota and Purdue, which all beat each other in round-robin play, by awarding the Rose Bowl berth to the team with the longer drought.

As a result of Indiana’s berth in January 1968, Minnesota’s last Rose Bowl appearance came in the 1961 season, 56 long years ago.

Ironically, Minnesota gained entry to the 1962 Rose Bowl Game without winning the Big Ten, replacing conference champion Ohio State, which opted not to participate as a result of the old Pacific Coast Conference then being in a state of limbo.

Ole Miss’ Last SEC Championship

52 years

A fourth-down lateral and a penalty on a two-point conversion. Two plays in a 53-52 loss at Arkansas last November denied Ole Miss the opportunity to play for its first SEC championship in 52 years.

Ole Miss had a veritable SEC dynasty going in the early 1960s, winning three conference championships in four seasons from 1960 to 1963. Among those Rebel teams was the 1962 squad, chronicled in the ESPN 30 For 30 documentary, “Ghosts of Ole Miss.”

The Rebels’ pursuit of a national championship coincided with riots on and around the Ole Miss campus, spurred on by pro-segregationists protesting the admittance of black student James Meredith.

Three current, charter members of the SEC have endured longer droughts than Ole Miss. Vanderbilt’s is technically 83 years, dating back to the formation of the conference.

However, as stated in the introduction, teams to never reach a milestone are excluded.

Kentucky won its last true championship in 1950, but a 1976 loss to Mississippi State later forfeited gave the Wildcats a share retroactively of that season’s title.

Here’s Homer Simpson to break down Kentucky’s 1976 “championship.”

Just one other program has reached the pinnacle of SEC success, only for it to elude them longer than Ole Miss.

Mississippi State’s Last SEC Championship

74 years

Only once in the SEC’s 83-year history has the conference crown resided in Starkville. That was in 1941.

For perspective on just how dramatically the college football landscape’s shifted in the 7 ½ decades since then, Mississippi State’s lone loss that season came at national powerhouse Duquesne.

Mississippi State – then nicknamed the Maroons — completed its dream season with a 26-13 defeat of the University of San Francisco, on Dec. 6 – one day before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

In the days following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Pres. Roosevelt issued a moratorium on large gatherings along the Pacific Coast. This action forced the 1942 Rose Bowl across country to Durham, North Carolina.

Michael Bonner of The Clarion Ledger wrote an excellent story on the days and years immediately following Mississippi State’s last SEC championship season.

The Bulldogs played in the SEC Championship Game in 1998, but lost to eventual national champion Tennessee. If there’s any comfort MSU fans can take, it’s in knowing rival Ole Miss has yet to play in an SEC Championship Game.

New Mexico State’s Last Bowl Game

55 years
1960_program
New Mexico State concluded its second of two straight successful seasons with a 20-13, Sun Bowl defeat of Utah State.

The Aggies have yet to play in a bowl game since.

The Sun Bowl win capped a perfect season for New Mexico State, which finished ranked No. 17 in the Associated Press Top 25. Head coach Warren Woodson oversaw a few more successful Aggie teams later in the ’60, including an 8-2 team in 1965.

However, after the disintegration of the Border Conference in 1962, New Mexico State played a weak, independent schedule and had no postseason tie-in.

New Mexico State’s status as an FBS bottom-feeder is pretty well established. It hasn’t won eight games in a season since 1965, and only reached seven wins once since Woodson’s retirement in 1967. The Aggies’ 7-5 finish in 2002 marked their last year above .500.

A strong close to 2015, which included a three-game winning streak and two victories away from Las Cruces, set the table for a possible postseason run in 2016. Running Larry Rose III is among the most exciting players in the Group of Five, and a driving force in the Aggies’ push for a bowl bid next fall.

Oregon State’s Last Rose Bowl Appearance

51 years

The early 1960s are something of a Golden Age for Oregon State football. Quarterback Terry Baker won the school’s first and still only Heisman Trophy in 1962, and two years later, the Beavers reached their third Rose Bowl Game.

Picked to finish sixth in the eight-team AAWU, per OSUBeavers.com, Oregon State rallied from a Week 1 loss at Northwestern to win a share of the conference championship, the other half belonging to USC.

A split vote among conference representatives left the Rose Bowl berth up to a rather unusual tiebreaker — whichever team played in the Rose Bowl most recently was excluded.

Oregon State’s last appearance was in 1957; USC went two seasons before, beating Wisconsin. The conference probably wanted a do-over shortly after the Beavers’ initial, 7-0 lead crumbled under the weight of 34 straight Michigan points.

Cal’s Last Rose Bowl Appearance

57 years

After a dismal start to the season, dropping a close decision to Pacific and getting run out of Michigan State’s Spartan Stadium, Cal went on a dream run to the last of its eight Rose Bowl Games.

Running back Jack Hart, a star of the 1958 Golden Bears, scored what he joked in a 2008 San Francisco Chronicle article wasn’t the last but “most recent” Cal Rose Bowl touchdown. Hart accrued nearly 800 yards from scrimmage and scored five touchdowns that season, providing some of the offensive pop for a team that flourished on defense.

Cal’s 57-year Rose Bowl drought arguably ranks as the most gut-wrenching of all ongoing college football droughts, due in large part to the 2004 season.

The Golden Bears — not the Cubs — came a play away from upsetting eventual national champion USC – which, ironically, would not have been enough to end Cal’s Rose Bowl drought. The Golden Bears would likely have instead played Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl for the BCS championship.

Nevertheless, the narrow loss to the nation’s No. 1 put Cal in prime position to nab an at-large invitation to Pasadena.

Perhaps more infuriating for Bear faithful is, under the Rose Bowl’s retooled selection process in the College Football Playoff, Cal would have played in the Granddaddy of ‘Em All.

Mack Brown emulated another Texan from that same year and politicked his way into his desired destination. The Longhorns used a 38-37 defeat of Michigan as a springboard into their national championship a season later.

Cal enjoyed a few more successful years under Jeff Tedford, most notably a 10-win 2006, but never again approached the heights of 2004.

The bad blood between Cal fans and Brown rivals that of ’58 Cal quarterback Joe Kapp and former CFL rival, Angelo Mosca.