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The National: History Achieved

For forty years, college football has been fractured into multiple levels of competition. Something happened this year that's never happened before.

Congratulations, Champions.
Congratulations, Champions.
Jon Morse

In 1972, there was the NCAA, and there was the NAIA. The NAIA actually contested a playoff to determine their football champion, which was of course heretical nonsense according to everyone involved with major college football. The NCAA, then as now, did not officially recognize any team as its champion in our greatest sport. Each year saw the crowning of one or more major college champions, based on the whims of voters, and one or more small college champions... based on the whims of voters who probably saw less of them than they did the majors.

That all changed in 1973. Just a couple of years previously, the NAIA had separated itself into two divisions for football. (They didn't do the same for basketball until 1992; four years later, they abolished the split divisions for football.) The NCAA apparently saw the sense in this, and separated into three divisions -- Division I, where sports were king; Division II, where athletes were allowed to receive some financial aid based on athletics but at a much lower resource level, and Division III, where athletic scholarships were completely verboten.

Immediately, the two small college divisions opted to actually crown a legitimate champion on the playing field. Division I declined to follow suit. But a mere five years later, Division I itself split, with a group of schools which just weren't up to the task of being part of big-time football (oh, yeah, and the Ivies too) were tossed into the ghetto of I-AA.

Since that time, the college football world has crowned either five or six champions. (Well, seven if you want to count the National Christian College Athletic Association, but their annual champion is determined by a single bowl game whose participants are almost universally NCAA or NAIA schools which didn't make their respective playoff fields because they weren't good enough.)

Last night, when Florida State completed their thrilling comeback to knock off Auburn and claim the final BCS Championship Trophy ever to be awarded, something amazing and beautiful and wonderful fell into place.

In 1994, we came sort of close to this wonderful conjunction. Nebraska and Penn State shared the big-boy football title, with the Huskers going 13-0 and the Nittany Lions finishing 12-0. Youngstown State captured the I-AA flag with a 14-0-1 record. Albion College claimed the Division III crown with a 13-0 record, and North Alabama won the Division II title. They were not unbeaten, but their only loss just so happened to be to Youngstown State in a cross-divisional contest, and if it weren't for the fact neither of the 1994 NAIA champions managed to emerge unscathed, we'd probably already have spent 20 years talking about how great 1994 was.

Why? Because even that array of excellence was an outlier. At no time previously had college football come so close to championship perfection; indeed, only in 1982, when the the champions of Divisions I-AA, II, and III (Eastern Kentucky, Southwest Texas State, and West Georgia) had all gone unbeaten had there even been the credible threat.

Welcome to 2013, and history. Florida State finished 14-0 to claim the BCS Trophy. North Dakota State captured their third straight Division I Football Championship, running the table to finish 15-0. Northwest Missouri State also rolled to a 15-0 record to claim the Division II title, while 15-0 Wisconsin-Whitewater vanquished their eternal nemesis to win their fifth Stagg Bowl in seven years. And in the NAIA, Grand View secured their first-ever national championship to cap off a perfect 14-0 season.

Five teams. Seventy-three wins. Not a loss between them. It had never happened before in the history of the greatest game on turf, but we can now hold 2013 up as the year the worth of every single national champion was utterly indisputable.