What blue bloods mean for college football

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Baseball has the Yankees and the Dodgers. The NFL, the Packers and the Cowboys. In the NBA, the Lakers and the Celtics are the blue bloods.

College football has about four times as many FBS teams as each of the professional leagues, so it's fitting that the sport has four times as many college football teams that are to the manor born.

That's what blue blood means. In olden days, royalty was thought to literally bleed blue. Science since has proved that only Michigan fans bleed blue, at least among these eight teams.

And there are only eight blue bloods in college football: Alabama, Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Texas and USC. (To see the full rankings, click here.) They have won 44 of the 80 Associated Press national championships. If you are talking bloodlines, then the dominance necessary to become a college football blue blood must span not just coaches but generations, because history and tradition have cast a spell upon this sport.

The imprint that a college makes upon an 18-year-old is deep enough to last a lifetime, and often generations that follow. Children adopt their parents' teams. After all, toddlers outside of Oklahoma do not learn to reply "Sooner!" when they hear "Boomer!"

History and tradition? The blue bloods won every AP title from 1961-75, when scholarship limits were at their loosest. The only one of the eight that did not win an AP title in that era was Michigan, which brings up a dilemma. What makes a blue blood?

If you set a minimum standard -- say, winning at least two national titles in the last 50 years -- then Michigan is not a blue blood. The Wolverines' share of the 1997 national title (with Nebraska) was their first since 1948. While that's a fact-based argument, it also ignores a vast amount of history, tradition and just plain common sense.

The school that won the first Rose Bowl, a 49-0 victory over Stanford on Jan. 1, 1902; the school that went 55-0-1 from the beginning of the 1901 season until the last game of 1905; the school that, upon its return to the Rose Bowl 46 years later, beat USC by the same score of 49-0; the school that won or shared 13 Big Ten championships in Bo Schembechler's 21 seasons; the school that gave us "Hail to the Victors" and those wonderful winged helmets; that school is a blue blood, national championships or not.

Notre Dame has the longest championship drought among this group, 28 years and counting, and if you care to make an argument that Notre Dame is not a blue blood, don't bother. It might be ironic that the Fighting Irish, discriminated against well beyond the first half of the 20th century because of its Catholicism, are inscribed in college football's Social Register. But it is undeniable.

In the modern era of scholarship limits, when talent has spread across more programs, the blue bloods still dominate. They have won at least a share of 10 of the last 19 national championships (USC's AP title in 2003 counts), including both of the newly installed College Football Playoffs. But winning in the modern era is not enough.

The teams that fell just short of blue-bloodedness are the nouveau riche: Florida State has been a dominant player for fewer than 30 years, Florida has ebbed and flowed for 25 years, and Miami's reign barely lasted 20.

Other powerful programs have risen and fallen. Do the names Minnesota and Pittsburgh mean anything to you, besides the name of NFL teams? The Minnesota Golden Gophers and Pittsburgh Panthers dominated the 1930s. Minnesota even came back and won the national championship in 1960, its fourth, which to this day is one more than Florida State.

One other thing to consider, and it's a hopeful thought for the climbers who didn't quite measure up: Blue blood is not forever.

We're talking to you, Nebraska. The Huskers have not dominated the Big Ten the way they dominated the Big 12 and Big Eight and Big Six. That might placate the Seminoles and the other not-quites. Let's see Penn State climb back to the top under a coach not named Paterno. Let's see Tennessee (or LSU or Georgia or Florida or Auburn) overtake Alabama in the Southeastern Conference.

Until then, these eight teams are the sport's blue bloods. It might give solace to the fans of the schools on the outside looking in: Without blue bloods, who would college football fans agree to root against?