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Undefeatability lies with ourselves. Defeatability lies with the
--Sun Tzu
The Art of War

It's not hard to imagine Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz back in the
summer of 1989 perched on a lawn chair at his Granger, Ind.,
home, throwing a handful of charcoal or Miami media guides on
the barbecue and pondering the sentiment above. A few months
earlier, his Fighting Irish had claimed the 1988 No. 1 ranking
in the AP and UPI polls, and 15 of his starters would be back in
the fall. For advice on how to repeat as national champions,
Holtz had spent the off-season plumbing the minds of coaches
like Bill Walsh and Bobby Knight as well as the words of a
Chinese philosopher who died 25 centuries ago.

And so, loaded with talent and enough military strategy to
overthrow a Han dynasty warlord, Holtz marshaled Notre Dame's
quest that autumn for the elusive double single, a feat so rare
that it seemed as if it hadn't been achieved since the 5th
century B.C. In fact, Bud Wilkinson's Oklahoma teams had
repeated as consensus national champs in 1955 and '56; since
then, four teams had won one crown and shared part of a second
in consecutive seasons, but none had made a clean-sweep repeat.
Perhaps sensing how daunting the task ahead would be, Holtz
began to cushion the Fighting Irish fans for a fall. "We may
look almost the same in terms of personnel, but we're not the
same people," he said. "It's just like a golfer who's great one
year and then loses his PGA card the next."

The Irish would go on to battle with honor in '89, finishing
12-1 after a 21-6 Orange Bowl victory over top-ranked Colorado.
But without undefeatedness, they were ultimately defeatable:
Both polls ranked them behind Miami. Reflecting later on the
difficulty of what his team had tried to accomplish, Holtz said,
"Having never had to come back after winning a championship, it
was probably impossible to adequately prepare our team for what
it would experience."

As Nebraska, which won the national championship in 1994, tries
to repeat, coach Tom Osborne might be wise to find a chair of
his own and contemplate the mystery: What makes bookending
titles in college football so rare? In the last decade there
have been repeaters in the four major pro sports as well as in
28 NCAA Division I sports. Could the answer lie in Holtz's
summer reading? Consider the five factors that Sun Tzu believed
control superiority in the theater of war.

Assessment In a game that demands players be constantly "up,"
the largest impediment to a successful repeat performance is
atti-tudinal. It is difficult for college kids to resummon that
vital, all-consuming sense of purpose after the thirst for a
first title has been slaked. At the same time, it is all the
more necessary to be pumped up, since every team in the nation
is hell-bent on deposing the champs. "When you win your first,
you drive so hard," says Kevin Patrick, a defensive end for the
Miami team that shared the 1991 championship with Washington.
"You know no other feeling than wanting that title; but when you
win it, something happens, something changes. No matter how hard
you're working or how much you deny it, there's a sense of
complacency, even if it's very small."

Combating that complacency becomes the coach's focus. Only a few
days after Alabama had won the Sugar Bowl and the AP's share of
the 1978 crown (UPI went with USC), Bear Bryant addressed his
Crimson Tide. "What year did you win the championship?" Bryant

"1978," they answered.

"What year is it now?"


"That's right," said Bryant. "It's a new year, it's a new team,
and what you start doing now will determine what you do this
fall." With the line drawn, Alabama went on to finish atop both
polls in '79, becoming the last to stake even a partial claim to
back-to-back titles.

Quantity The talent pool on a championship team can instantly
run from deep to shallow after a season. The number of
scholarships per team, having dwindled since Wilkinson's days of
unlimited grants, is down to 85, which leaves little room for
stockpiling. Success is likely to cause agents to flock to a
school, siphoning off the best players to the pros before their
eligibility expires. The recruiting boon that a championship can
provide doesn't immediately pay off the following season,
because freshmen seldom crack the starting lineup. And, most
important, the upperclassmen have moved on, leaving a leadership

"You lose a core group that has been together for four or five
years," says Mark Sherburne, a quarterback on Penn State's title
team in 1987. "They develop an attitude about winning. They set
goals for themselves. That makes them hard to replace."
Moreover, football more than any other sport demands a breadth
of talent. "In basketball, you can have one or two great players
and have a great program," Auburn coach Terry Bowden says. "But
in football, you've got to get 15 to 20."

Numbers The Hail Mary completion, the favorable call from a
misguided ref, the lucky bounce of a fumbled ball. A team that
gets all the breaks in one championship run is likely to find
the odds against it when bidding for a second. "It comes down to
so fine a line," says Colorado coach Rick Neuheisel. "It's
almost a magical thing when you try to put all that chemistry
back together, and you can't count on luck being mixed in. That
just happens."

Weighing Even if a team blitzes through a season unbeaten,
there is no guarantee that the pollsters will deem it the
champion. "You don't go through a tournament, so you have to
rely on sportswriters and other coaches and what biases there
may be that year. You just never know," says Jimbo Elrod, a
defensive end at Oklahoma from 1973 to '75, when the Sooners
just missed the double.

In '74 the football coaches chose for the first time not to
include teams on probation in their UPI poll, thus keeping
unbeaten-but-sanctioned Oklahoma from becoming a consensus No.
1. The next season, their probation over, the Sooners finished
atop both polls.

Victory After the final poll for 1989, Holtz continued to
insist that his team was the rightful heir to the throne. "I
just believe we have the best record against the toughest
schedule," he said. "Case rests." Unfortunately, Notre Dame's
one loss was to Miami, which ended its season 11-1 and No. 1.

The new bowl alliance rules make it much more likely that the
two top-ranked teams will meet in the postseason. That should
help place a potential repeater that makes it through the
regular season unscathed in position to defend its title. (The
scheme may fall apart, of course, if the titlist is from the Big
Ten or the Pac-10 and is therefore obligated to play in the Rose
Bowl.) When or if a playoff system comes to pass, there will be
no dispute about the champion, but Bowden doubts that a
tournament will abet any bookend bids. "It would probably give
you less of a chance," he says, "because you'd have to win all
these late games against so many top teams."

With all of the above considered, Nebraska would seem to have a
solid chance of repeating. The Huskers' top two offensive
threats return, along with two other senior starters; their
schedule is potent but not too dangerous; the alliance setup
should help eliminate any last-minute leap-frogging; and Osborne
has coped with the perils of repeating, as a Nebraska assistant
in 1970 and '71.

But the notion of going for two is on very few players' minds in
Lincoln. "No one is talking about the past Nebraska teams that
won back-to-back," says Jon Hesse, a second-string end. "It's
all about this season. It's not like the past will help us win a
championship this year." Indeed, if history is any indication,
it will probably hurt.

COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS The Huskers have to look back to Wilkinson (left) and his '55 and '56 Sooners to find the last undisputed repeat champions. [University of Nebraska football players]

TWO B/W PHOTOS: JOHN G. ZIMMERMAN [See caption above--Bud Wilkinson; University of Oklahoma football players during game]

COLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER Champs in '88, Holtz's Irish lost only to Miami in '89, but it killed their dream. [Lou Holtz talking to University of Notre Dame football players]

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER [See caption above--University of Miami fan holding sign reading: "R.I.P. NOTRE DAME 11-25-89"]

COLOR PHOTO: WALTER IOOSS JR. Devaney (top), Switzer and Bryant (bottom) came close. [Bob Devaney]

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN D. HANLON [See caption above--Barry Switzer]

COLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER [See caption above--Paul (Bear) Bryant]


Although six college football teams (in brown below) have staked
at least a partial claim to a repeat title in the past 40 years,
no school has won back-to-back consensus national championships
since the 1955-56 Oklahoma Sooners. Here's a look at each
national champ since '55 (teams listed were No. 1 in both polls
unless otherwise noted) and how they fared the next season.

Year 1955
Champion Oklahoma
Record 11-0
Coach Bud Wilkinson
Following-Year Result* 10-0, won national title

[Year] 1956
[Champion] Oklahoma
[Record] 10-0
[Coach] Bud Wilkinson
[Following-Year Result*] 10-1, ranked 4th, 4th

[Year] 1957
[Champion] Auburn (AP)
[Record] 10-0
[Coach] Shug Jordan
[Following-Year Result*] 9-0-1, ranked 4th, 4th

[Champion] Ohio State (UP)
[Record] 9-1
[Coach] Woody Hayes
[Following-Year Result*] 6-1-2, ranked 8th, 7th

[Year] 1958
[Champion] LSU
[Record] 11-0
[Coach] Paul Dietzel
[Following-Year Result*] 9-2, ranked 3rd, 3rd

[Year] 1959
[Champion] Syracuse
[Record] 11-0
[Coach] Ben Schwartzwalder
[Following-Year Result*] 7-2, ranked 19th, unranked

[Year] 1960
[Champion] Minnesota
[Record] 8-2
[Coach] Murray Warmath
[Following-Year Result*] 8-2, ranked 6th, 6th

[Year] 1961
[Champion] Alabama
[Record] 11-0
[Coach] Bear Bryant
[Following-Year Result*] 10-1, ranked 5th, 5th

[Year] 1962
[Champion] USC
[Record] 11-0
[Coach] John McKay
[Following-Year Result*] 7-3, unranked, 16th

[Year] 1963
[Champion] Texas
[Record] 11-0
[Coach] Darrell Royal
[Following-Year Result*] 10-1, ranked 5th, 5th

[Year] 1964
[Champion] Alabama
[Record] 10-1
[Coach] Bear Bryant
[Following-Year Result*] 9-1-1, ranked 1st, 4th

[Year] 1965
[Champion] Alabama (AP)
[Record] 9-1-1
[Coach] Bear Bryant
[Following-Year Result*] 11-0, ranked 3rd, 3rd

[Champion] Michigan St. (UPI)
[Record] 10-1
[Coach] Duffy Daugherty
[Following-Year Result*] 9-0-1, ranked 2nd, 2nd

[Year] 1966
[Champion] Notre Dame
[Record] 9-0-1
[Coach] Ara Parseghian
[Following-Year Result*] 8-2, ranked 5th, 4th

[Year] 1967
[Champion] USC
[Record] 10-1
[Coach] John McKay
[Following-Year Result*] 9-1-1, ranked 4th, 2nd

[Year] 1968
[Champion] Ohio State
[Record] 10-0
[Coach] Woody Hayes
[Following-Year Result*] 8-1, ranked 4th, 5th

[Year] 1969
[Champion] Texas
[Record] 11-0
[Coach] Darrell Royal
[Following-Year Result*] 10-1, ranked 3rd, 1st

[Year] 1970
[Champion] Texas (UPI)
[Record] 10-1
[Coach] Darrell Royal
[Following-Year Result*] 8-3, ranked 18th, 12th

[Champion] Nebraska (AP)
[Record] 11-0-1
[Coach] Bob Devaney
[Following-Year Result*] 13-0, won national title

[Year] 1971
[Champion] Nebraska
[Record] 13-0
[Coach] Bob Devaney
[Following-Year Result*] 9-2-1, ranked 4th, 9th

[Year] 1972
[Champion] USC
[Record] 12-0
[Coach] John McKay
[Following-Year Result*] 9-2-1, ranked 8th, 7th

[Year] 1973
[Champion] Notre Dame (AP)
[Record] 11-0
[Coach] Ara Parseghian
[Following-Year Result*] 10-2, ranked 6th, 4th

[Champion] Alabama (UPI)
[Record] 11-1
[Coach] Bear Bryant
[Following-Year Result*] 11-1, ranked 5th, 2nd

[Year] 1974
[Champion] USC (UPI)
[Record] 10-1-1
[Coach] John McKay
[Following-Year Result*] 8-4, ranked 17th, 19th

[Champion] Oklahoma (AP)
[Record] 11-0
[Coach] Barry Switzer
[Following-Year Result*] 11-1, won national title

[Year] 1975
[Champion] Oklahoma
[Record] 11-1
[Coach] Barry Switzer
[Following-Year Result*] 9-2-1, ranked 5th, 6th

[Year] 1976
[Champion] Pittsburgh
[Record] 12-0
[Coach] Johnny Majors
[Following-Year Result*] 9-2-1, ranked 8th, 7th

[Year] 1977
[Champion] Notre Dame
[Record] 11-1
[Coach] Dan Devine
[Following-Year Result*] 9-3, ranked 7th, 6th

[Year] 1978
[Champion] USC (UPI)
[Record] 12-1
[Coach] John Robinson
[Following-Year Result*] 11-0-1, ranked 2nd, 2nd

[Champion] Alabama (AP)
[Record] 11-1
[Coach] Bear Bryant
[Following-Year Result*] 12-0, won national title

[Year] 1979
[Champion] Alabama
[Record] 12-0
[Coach] Bear Bryant
[Following-Year Result*] 10-2, ranked 6th, 6th

[Year] 1980
[Champion] Georgia
[Record] 12-0
[Coach] Vince Dooley
[Following-Year Result*] 10-2, ranked 6th, 5th

[Year] 1981
[Champion] Clemson
[Record] 12-0
[Coach] Danny Ford
[Following-Year Result*] 9-1-1, ranked 8th, ineligible

[Year] 1982
[Champion] Penn State
[Record] 11-1
[Coach] Joe Paterno
[Following-Year Result*] 8-4-1, unranked, 17th

[Year] 1983
[Champion] Miami
[Record] 11-1
[Coach] H. Schnellenberger
[Following-Year Result*] 8-5, ranked 18th, unranked

[Year] 1984
[Champion] BYU
[Record] 13-0
[Coach] LaVell Edwards
[Following-Year Result*] 11-3, ranked 16th, 17th

[Year] 1985
[Champion] Oklahoma
[Record] 11-1
[Coach] Barry Switzer
[Following-Year Result*] 11-1, ranked 3rd, 3rd

[Year] 1986
[Champion] Penn State
[Record] 12-0
[Coach] Joe Paterno
[Following-Year Result*] 8-4, unranked,unranked

[Year] 1987
[Champion] Miami
[Record] 12-0
[Coach] Jimmy Johnson
[Following-Year Result*] 11-1, ranked 2nd, 2nd

[Year] 1988
[Champion] Notre Dame
[Record] 12-0
[Coach] Lou Holtz
[Following-Year Result*] 12-1, ranked 2nd, 3rd

[Year] 1989
[Champion] Miami
[Record] 11-1
[Coach] Dennis Erickson
[Following-Year Result*] 10-2, ranked 3rd, 3rd

[Year] 1990
[Champion] Colorado (AP)
[Record] 11-1-1
[Coach] Bill McCartney
[Following-Year Result*] 8-3-1, ranked 20th, 18th

[Champion] Georgia Tech (UPI)
[Record] 11-0-1
[Coach] Bobby Ross
[Following-Year Result*] 8-5, unranked, unranked

[Year] 1991
[Champion] Miami (AP)
[Record] 12-0
[Coach] Dennis Erickson
[Following-Year Result*] 11-1, ranked 3rd, 3rd

[Champion] Washington (CNN/USA Today)
[Record] 12-0
[Coach] Don James
[Following-Year Result*] 9-3, ranked 11th, 11th

[Year] 1992
[Champion] Alabama
[Record] 13-0
[Coach] Gene Stallings
[Following-Year Result*] 9-3-1, ranked 14th, 13th

[Year] 1993
[Champion] Florida State
[Record] 12-1
[Coach] Bobby Bowden
[Following-Year Result*] 10-1-1, ranked 4th, 5th

[Year] 1994
[Champion] Nebraska
[Record] 13-0
[Coach] Tom Osborne
[Following-Year Result*] ?

*AP (writers' poll) ranking listed first, followed by UPI or
CNN/USA Today (coaches' poll) ranking.
Years of existence for polls: Associated Press, 1936-present;
United Press International, 1950-90 (known as United Press
before 1958); CNN/USA Today, 1991-present.