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CFB 101

   by Larry Ness - 07/19/2005

(First of a nine-part series)

The landscape of college football changed for me in 1982, the year I first arrived in Las Vegas. Prior to that, I 'loved' the game but was not involved with it from any sort of gaming aspect. However, things changed quickly and over the years (I begin my 22nd year in the handicapping business this fall), the point spread has dominated my college football consciousness

That's not to say I'm no longer a fan, because I am. With that thought in mind, I open my nine-part college football preview series with a history of college football through the ages.

College football's historic first game was played on a field 120 yards long with 25 players on a side in New Brunswick, New Jersey on November 6, 1869 (I was born on November 5, just a few years later!). Rutgers and Princeton were the contestants and play was similar to soccer with each goal counting as one point. For the record, Rutgers won 6-4.

The first "soccer-like" game played with 11 players per side wasn't until 1873, when Eton visited Yale in New Haven, Connecticut. Why just 11 per side? Because Eton arrived in New Haven with only 11 players (you just CAN'T make this stuff up!).

The scrimmage line wasn't established as the focal point of action on every play until 1880, causing some to claim this year as college football's beginning, not 1869. Yale coach Walter Camp created the idea of change of possession of the ball, when he suggested three plays (now downs) in which a team was required to advance five yards. Some of you avid football fans may recognize that it was later changed to four downs and 10 yards.

That same year, Camp suggested creating different point values for touchdowns, safeties, conversions and field goals. The values were tinkered with until six points became the standard for a touchdown's value in 1912. A few years earlier, in 1908, the University of Pittsburgh became the first school to wear numbers on the team's football jerseys.

While wide-open passing attacks were first seen in the Southwest, the "invention" of the forward pass is usually credited to a game between Notre Dame and Army at West Point in 1913. Quarterback Gus Dorias and end Knute Rockne (later a pretty fair coach!) became famous as pass attack architects in Notre Dame's 35-13 upset of Army.

Speaking of Army, legendary head coach "Red" Blaik followed the lead of professional football in the late-40s by dividing his players into offensive and defensive units. Free substitution was banished in 1953, leading to a much slower pace, just when the here-to-for second-rate NFL was gaining popularity (see the 1958 sudden-death championship game between the Colts and Giants!).

The NCAA Rules Committee adopted free substitution in 1965, speeding up the game and making it more similar to the pro game, which was enjoying a great period of growth in the 1960s. The University of Maryland became the first school to wear players names on the backs of football jerseys in the Terrapins 1961 opener versus SMU.

Freshman permanently became eligible in 1972 and the Universities of Georgia and Oklahoma successfully sued the NCAA for the rights to televise their own games in 1981, forever changing the game and its impact on the sports landscape.

Bowing to pressure from my good friend and fellow handicapper Big Al McMordie, I'm forced to point out that Michigan leads all schools with 842 all-time Division I-A wins, as well as owning the NCAA's best all-time winning percentage of .746 (842-275-36). Almost UNBELIEVABLY, Al is both a graduate of the University of Michigan, as well as its law school (should give 18-year-olds everywhere hope!).

My nine-part CFB preview series will continue with a discussion of the BCS on Friday. USC and its possible "Three-Pete" is the topic on Monday, July 25.

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