Posted by Frazier
Ok, I may have hinted at this in the power rankings this week, but I'd like to expand a little bit. Every now and then I start talking about "second tier" programs and coaches. I may mention that a coach like Kirk Ferentz is in danger of joining such a club. Basically by putting together good, not great, teams, and failing to win the "big game" that will shoot them to national prominence and a shot at the title. I've also mentioned guys like Beamer who has had some really good Virginia Tech teams, but has generally lost to Miami, or suffered an upset, that has prevented them from reaching national heights.
The real criteria for this designation has a couple of factors. First, the teams must consistently either be legitimately good, or show real promise before things go south. Second, the team must be one of those "sleepers" that people think might be able to win a championship if they get past major hurdles. Third, the coach must not have a title, and must have real national recognition. Fourth, it can't be a major program. In other words, Mack Brown might have had a shot at being considered a second tier coach prior to last year, but Texas will NEVER be a second tier program. Fifth, the school must have a defining game, or possibly two, that will make or break their season. This game is always against a traditional power school, which we can call the nemesis school. The nemesis school finds ways to beat the second tier program even during years when they are down and not favored in the game. For example, for years Virginia Tech needed to beat Miami to be national players, and they basically never pulled it off. Only the unique physical genius of Mike Vick got them to a title game. Or various ACC schools needing to beat Florida St. and being unable to do so (the Phillip Rivers NC State teams are an excellent example of this phenomena). Forever Tennessee lacked wins against Florida, their major hurdle every year, and therefore lacked a title (and the big man will dispute whether their championship really even removed Fulmer and the Vols from "second tier" status).
Now, a team like Iowa meets most of these criteria. The only real problem is that they lack a nemesis school because of a floating Big Ten schedule, but every year they basically have to overcome Michigan and/or Ohio St. This was the same deal with LSU which finally overcame in the SEC, despite difficulties with Florida and/or Auburn for years. But there was a time when Nick Saban had an excellent chance at landing his team in second tier status. Now Iowa is in danger of falling to that level.
The whole theory developed from the Kansas St. teams in the 90s. Snyder scheduled cupcake after cupcake, and beat the tar out of those teams. All they had to do was find a way to beat Nebraska, and they had clear sailing to the national title game. And every year Nebraska found a way to win. Sometimes Nebraska was simply loaded, but even in the years where Nebraska scuffled a little bit, they would always wreck on Kansas St. A similar situation played out when Texas couldn't beat Oklahoma for years, even when Oklahoma wasn't firing on all cylinders.
Here are some past, current, and potential second tier programs: Wisconsin (under Alvarez), Virginia Tech, Iowa (getting closer to being official), Kansas St. (under Snyder), NC State (with Rivers), Tennessee (either under Fulmer, or with Manning, feel free to debate), Cal (an excellent prospect), John Cooper with Ohio St. (when they were loaded and kept blowing games to Michigan), Mack Brown with Texas (until VY showed up), Nebraska (for years when they kept losing to Miami, or otherwise blowing the Orange Bowl), and I'm sure you can think of many others.
Special Note: Florida St. was the all-time "nemesis" school. They managed to OWN everybody in the ACC for over a decade, and prevented numerous teams from breaking through. The list includes NC State under Rivers, Virginia with the Barbers, Maryland a few years back, Clemson until very recently, and North Carolina under Mack Brown (history will tell whether it was Mack who broke through, or just VY carrying him. Bowden and company also extended Nebraska's futility by a year, and sent Virginia Tech packing the one year they finally overcame their demons. Of couse Bobby himself was pretty close to making the list himself for a long time, but now has two titles and the right to talk shit to everyone else on this list.