Why college football could be primed for an unexpected powerhouse to emerge

After being an also-ran entering the 1980s, Miami reached a new level of national prominence under Jimmy Johnson, including winning the 1987 championship. Focus on Sport/Getty Images

College football hates a usurper. It's one of the ultimate facts of life. This sport fends off change better than any sport, even baseball, ever has.

The list of ruling programs rarely changes in any meaningful way. It took four decades of yelling and arguing to adopt a playoff, and it was only a four-teamer at that. The NCAA, with football as its brightest light, managed to fend off the "student athletes making money" concept for more than 60 years before only partially succumbing (when forced to by state governments).

We say we love underdogs. Don't you remember Boise State's hook-and-ladder? That time we deigned to let Cincinnati into the College Football Playoff -- and then immediately tried to question whether the Bearcats had actually belonged after they lost to Alabama like everyone else does? Great stuff!

But no matter what rule changes come about, no matter what developments take shape, if you assume they will benefit the bluebloods more than anything else, and that the richest will get richer at the expense of poorer programs, you'll probably be proved correct.

This sport and its power structure couldn't stop Miami and Florida State from becoming Miami and Florida State, though.

Twenty years ago today, Miami pummeled Nebraska in the Rose Bowl to cap its second rise to dominance and claim its fifth national title in 19 years. The Hurricanes laid waste to the Cornhuskers from the opening kick, rolling to a 34-0 halftime lead before cruising to a 37-14 win. Only two teams all season managed to stay within 22 points of a Hurricanes team that featured six All-Americans, eight future All-Americans and 38 future NFL draft picks, including 17 first-rounders.

Ten years earlier, in 1991, a Miami team nearly as talented -- six All-Americans, a future Heisman winner at QB, four future Pro-Bowlers -- went 12-0, beating nine teams by at least 22 points. One of the only teams that could compete with Miami that season: Florida State, which suffered its lone loss via Wide Right I and was in the fifth year of a 14-year run of top-five finishes.

Miami and Florida State were total afterthoughts and also-rans until the late 1970s; Miami had even considered dropping the sport altogether. But they ruled college football for most of the time between the mid-1980s and early 2000s. They briefly ceded control to Nebraska in the mid-1990s, then charged back, winning national titles in 1999 (FSU) and 2001 (Miami), and coming just short in 2000 (FSU) and 2002 (Miami). The changing machinations of integrated recruiting in the 1970s, combined with the television boom of the 1980s, opened the door for a usurper, and two barged through.

Today, with name, image and likeness money flooding the sport, the transfer process becoming a lot more open and player-friendly, and the possibility of a vastly expanded playoff system on the horizon, one could argue there's a similar or even greater amount of change going on than occurred in the 1980s. Are the circumstances right for a new power to emerge and take advantage of the altered landscape? And who might that power be?