When Virginia Tech beat Virginia at the end of last month to get to 6-6, it extended the Hokies’ bowl streak to 20 straight years, the third-longest active streak in the country to Florida State and Florida.
Some Hokies fans have scoffed at the streak, noting that this year’s team needed two wins against lowly Boston College and Virginia just to get to the six-win threshold and qualify for a lower-tiered bowl. Nevertheless, a bowl is a bowl, and Virginia Tech is going once again.
I hadn’t given much thought of where that streak fits in bowl history until Hokies broadcaster Bill Roth tweeted this last week: “Only 5 teams in history have gone to 20-straight bowls: Nebraska, Michigan, FSU, ‘Bama, & Florida. VT will be No. 6.”
Regardless of what Tech needed to do to get there this season, that’s a pretty impressive group.
Now, I realize the bowl system has changed dramatically over the years. There are 35 games this season, guaranteeing 70 to make a bowl. In 1960, there were eight games. In 1970, still only 11. In 1980, 15. In 1990, 19. And even as recently as 2000, there were only 25.
So a bowl streak today is not nearly as rare as it was back in the day, which is why three of the six longest streaks of all-time are active ones — Florida State (31), Florida (22) and Virginia Tech (20). (Of active streaks, Georgia and Georgia Tech are next at 16, followed by Oklahoma at 14 and LSU at 13.)
At the same time, there’s much more parity these days, or at the very least competitive teams across the Division I level. The schools with long streaks that originated in the ’50s, ’60s or ’70s — Nebraska (35 years), Michigan (33) and Alabama (25) — had fewer scholarship limits and thus could stockpile talent easier. Until 1972, there were no limits on scholarships. Alabama’s Paul “Bear” Bryant was known for signing more players than he needed, just so rival schools couldn’t get them.
Nevertheless, the schools on this list below are all pretty impressive for different reasons. Nebraska’s just for its sheer scope. Michigan’s for the fact that in the three years before the streak started, the Wolverines went 30-2-1 and didn’t go to a bowl game because only the Big Ten champion did until 1975. Alabama’s for the fact that the Crimson Tide won six national championships during the run.
The more recent streaks are unique in their own ways. Bobby Bowden was behind almost all of Florida State’s run. Florida has gone to 22 straight bowls despite using five coaches in that time, surviving the Ron Zook era and a brief post-Urban Meyer hangover.
Virginia Tech’s streak has a few unique characteristics, not all of them great. Of the new teams on the list, the Hokies had the least history in the postseason, having made only six postseason appearances prior to the streak. All 20 of Virginia Tech’s bowls have come under Frank Beamer, something nobody else in the 20-plus club can say. Bryant came close, although Ray Perkins presided over the final year. Bowden too, although the streak now seems to be in good hands with Jimbo Fisher.
Tech is also the only one of the group not to win a national championship during the run. Alabama had six, Nebraska five, Florida three, Florida State two and Michigan one, a shared title with the Cornhuskers in 1997. Virginia Tech can only hang its hat on the 2000 title game appearance, a game it lost to Florida State by a good margin after leading at the end of the third quarter.
Looking at the makeup of the streaks, they seem to end or struggle to continue around coaching changes. Alabama’s, as mentioned before, ended in Year 2 of Perkins’ tenure. Nebraska began to slip noticeably once Tom Osborne stepped down. Michigan crashed and burned under Rich Rodriguez. Florida State saw a decline at the end of the Bowden era when it nearly missed out on the postseason a couple times.
What’s interesting to see is who isn’t on this list. Ohio State’s longest streak is 15 years. The Buckeyes had a 12-year streak end this year because of a postseason ban. Notre Dame, for all its historical glory, had its longest streak in the late-80′s and mid-90′s, when it went to nine straight bowls. Oklahoma, a team with frequent past NCAA issues, is on its longest run right now at 14 games. Even Texas, a bastion of consistency under Mack Brown, had its school-long streak of 12 years end in 2010 when the Longhorns went 5-7.
Virginia Tech hasn’t hit any of those NCAA landmines or had a sub-.500 season to end the streak (although this year was close). It might mean less in today’s game to go to a bowl game ever year, but it’s still an achievement that speaks to the consistency of the program.
Here’s a look at the longest bowl streaks in college football history:
** Years: 35
** From: 1969-2003
** Record: 19-16
** Coaches: Bob Devaney (1969-73), Tom Osborne (1973-97), Frank Solich (1998-2003), Bo Pelini (2003 — coached bowl)
** Longest winning streak: 6 (1969-74)
** Longest losing streak: 7 (1987-93)
** Record during streak: 356-72-5 (.822 winning percentage)
** Bowl appearances before the streak: 7
** National championships during streak: 5 (1970, ’71, ’94, ’95, ’97)
** Close call: Nebraska lost three of its last four, finishing the regular season with a 7-6 record after having played 13 games for some reason. It got the ‘Huskers to the Independence Bowl, where they lost to Ole Miss 27-23.
** Ended: 2004. The Cornhuskers went 5-6 under first-year coach Bill Callahan and his West Coast offense, losing their last three to come up short of a bowl game.
** Years: 33
** From: 1975-2007
** Record: 15-18
** Coaches: Bo Schembechler (1975-1989), Gary Moeller (1990-94), Lloyd Carr (1995-2007)
** Longest winning streak: 4 (1997-2000)
** Longest losing streak: 5 (1975-79)
** Record during streak: 302-94-7 (.749 winning percentage)
** Bowl appearances before the streak: 6
** National championships during streak: 1 (1997)
** Close call: Michigan lost three games to ranked teams during a 6-5 regular season, then fell 24-17 in the Holiday Bowl to soon-to-be-crowned national champion Brigham Young. (And we think today’s bowl system is screwed up.)
** Ended: 2008. The Wolverines went 3-9 in Rich Rodriguez‘s first year after he tried transitioning them to a spread option attack. It was the worst season in school history.
** Years: 31
** From: 1982-present
** Record: 22-7-1
** Coaches: Bobby Bowden (1979-2009), Jimbo Fisher (2010-present)
** Longest winning streak: 11 (1985-95)
** Longest losing streak: 2 (2002-03)
** Record during streak: 299-88-4 (.737 winning percentage)
** Bowl appearances before the streak: 10
** National championships during streak: 2 (1993, ’99)
** Close calls: The ‘Noles hovered around .500 three times late in the Bowden era, going 6-6 in 2006, 7-5 in 2007 and 6-6 in 2009 and qualifying for the Emerald, Music City and Gator bowls.
** Ended: Still going.
** Years: 25
** From: 1959-83
** Record: 13-11-1
** Coaches: Paul “Bear” Bryant (1959-82), Ray Perkins (1983)
** Longest winning streak: 6 (1975-80)
** Longest losing streak: 4 (1971-74)
** Record during streak: 235-46-8 (.813 winning percentage)
** Bowl appearances before the streak: 12
** National championships during streak: 6 (1961, ’64, ’65, ’73, ’78, ’79)
** Close calls: The Crimson Tide went 6-4 in 1969 and 6-5 in 1970, going to the Liberty and Bluebonnet bowls, leading many to think the then-57-year-old Bryant was washed up. He’d have nine more seasons of 10-plus wins and win three more national championships.
** Ended: 1984. Bryant retired after the ’82 season, then died only months later of a heart attack. Perkins led the Crimson Tide to an 8-4 record and Sun Bowl appearance his first season, then went 5-6 his second to fall short of a bowl.
** Years: 22
** From: 1991-present
** Record: 12-10
** Coaches: Steve Spurrier (1991-2001), Ron Zook (2002-04), Charlie Strong (2004 — coached bowl game), Urban Meyer (2005-10), Will Muschamp (2011-present)
** Longest winning streak: 4 (2008-11)
** Longest losing streak: 3 (2002-04)
** Record during streak: 219-62-1 (.777 winning percentage)
** Bowl appearances before the streak: 18
** National championships during streak: 3 (’96, ’06, ’08)
** Close call: Even the Zook years didn’t come as close to missing a bowl as Muschamp’s first in 2011, when the Gators, in a post-Meyer funk, finished the regular season 6-6 and made the Gator Bowl.
** Ended: Still going
** Years: 20
** Record: 8-11
** Coaches: Frank Beamer (1993-present)
** Longest winning streak: 2 (2008-09)
** Longest losing streak: 2 (1996-97, 2003-04, 2006-07, 2010-11)
** Bowl appearances before the streak: 6
** Record during streak: 191-64 (.749 winning percentage)
** National championships during streak: 0
** Close call: Nothing has come quite as close as this year, when the Hokies needed to win their last two games just to get to 6-6 and extend the postseason streak to 20 years.
** Ended: Still going