Great Moments In Research: Mainstream Edition

Last week, we had some fun with some guy from Inside the Shoe, who argued that Joe Paterno's 400th win really wasn't a big deal because he'd acheived the milestone against inferior competition to Big Ten competition, as Boise State and TCU are doing today.

Now, I'm not sure how many people actually read Inside the Shoe, but apparently Bill Livingston of the Cleveland Plain Dealer does, as the argument against Paterno's 400 wins has gone mainstream.

Penn State then was like Boise and TCU now. The Broncos and Horned Frogs can beat absolutely anybody in one game. The problem is, the bowl game and an early-season intersectional game against a good, not great, opponent is the extent of their tests.

Livingston then lists Penn State's accomplishments as an independent under Paterno, followed by its less impressive resume since joining the Big Ten in 1993. He also takes a pass at Penn State's primary opponents from the independent days.

Syracuse played in a crumbling wreck called Archbold Stadium, where coach Ben Schwartzwalder couldn't suit up Jim Brown anymore. Pitt was terrible until Johnny Majors arrived in the early 1970s. Temple was a punching bag for Hofstra, as comedian Bill Cosby, a former Owl player, hilariously recalled in a routine. Sam Huff had exhausted his eligibility at WVU. Rutgers was where David Stern and Jim Valvano went to school. BC would have won the Beanpot Classic -- if there had been one in football.

In Paterno's 27 years as coach of an independent, he was 112-14-1 against the Sad Six.

For all intents and purposes Livingston is comparing schools like Pitt, West Virginia and Syracuse to Boise's San Jose State and Idaho in the WAC or Utah's Wyoming and Colorado State in the Mountain West. Absolutely preposterous.

Time for a little history lesson for Mr. Livingston. Let's take a look at Paterno's undefeated, one-loss and national championship seasons as an independent.

1968: 11-0, win over No. 6 Kansas in the Orange Bowl

1969: 11-0, wins over No. 17 West Virginia and No. 6 Missouri in the Orange Bowl

1971: 11-1, win over No. 12 Texas in the Cotton Bowl

1973: 12-0, wins over No. 20 Pittsburgh and No. 13 LSU in the Orange Bowl

1977: 11-1, wins over No. 9 Houston, No. 10 Pitt and No. 15 Arizona State in the Fiesta Bowl

1978: 11-1, wins over No. 6 Ohio State and No. 5 Maryland

1982: 11-1, wins over No. 2 Nebraska, No. 5 Pitt and No. 1 Georgia in the Sugar Bowl

1985: 11-1, wins over No. 7 Maryland and No. 10 Alabama

1986: 12-0, wins over No. 2 Alabama and No. 1 Miami in the Fiesta Bowl

Big Ten

1994: 12-0, wins over No. 14 USC, No. 5 Michigan, No, 21 Ohio State and No. 12 Oregon

2005: 11-1, wins over No. 18 Minnesota, No. 6 Ohio State, No. 14 Wisconsin and No. 22 Florida State

Compare that to Boise State's undefeated and one-loss seasons since jumping to FBS in 1996.

2002: 12-1, no ranked wins.

2003: 13-1, win over No. 19 TCU in the Plains Capital Fort Worth Bowl

2004: 11-1, no ranked wins.

2006: 13-0, win over No. 7 Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl

2008: 12-1, win over No. 17 Oregon

2009: 14-0, wins over No. 16 Oregon and No. 4 TCU

...and now TCU's one-loss teams since the SWC folded.

2005: 11-1, win over No. 22 Oklahoma

2009: 12-1, wins over No. 24 Clemson, No. 12 BYU,  and No. 18 Utah.

So Penn State as an independent was just like these schools, except that it wasn't at all. Between Boise St. and TCU, the schools have two combined wins over top-10 teams as mid-majors (We'll say TCU in the SWC would have been in what today is a BCS conference, so its history there is excluded). Penn State had that many in 1986 alone. If you want to say the competition is tougher in the Big Ten, Mr. Livingston, go right ahead. The statistics bear that out. But comparing Penn State as an independent to TCU in the MWC and Boise St. in the WAC is among the dumbest things I've ever seen in a newspaper of the Plain Dealer's brand name. Boise and TCU's resumes lack in both quantity of wins against ranked opponents and quality. It's not even arguable.

O, and just for craps and giggles, let's take a look at Ohio State's undefeated and one loss teams in the Joe Paterno era, but before Penn State joined in 1993. 

1968: 10-0, wins over No. 1 Purdue, No. 16 Michigan State, No. 4 Michigan and No. 4 USC in the Rose Bowl

1969: 8-1, wins over No. 19 Michigan State and No. 10 Purdue

1970: 9-1. wins over No. 20 Northwestern and No. 4 Michigan

1973: 10-0-1, win over No. 7 USC int the Rose Bowl

1975: 11-1, wins over No. 11 Michigan State, No. 7 Penn State, No. 13 UCLA and No. 4 Michigan

1979: 11-1, wins over No. 17 UCLA and No. 13 Michigan

Take away Michigan and the Big Ten was no murder's row either at the time Paterno was achieving his unbeaten seasons. But you don't see Ron Cook from the Post-Gazette penning columns about how much the Big Ten sucked under Woody Hayes, do you? No, no you don't.

Amazing what a little research can do, isn't it, Mr. Livingston? Have a nice day.

UPDATE: H/T to speedomike in the comments over at Slow States for unearthing this little gem comparing Penn State's Eastern foes (labeled by Livingston as the "Sad Six"...pahaha) to Ohio State and Michigan's "Little Eight" in the Big Ten from 1966-1992. West Virginia, Rutgers, Pitt, Syracuse and Boston College all post higher winning percentages in that time period than any other Big Ten school. Maryland and Temple come in only behind Michigan State and Purdue respectively.

Excellent research that even I was to lazy to, but a true testament to what a goof and poor excuse for a journalist this Livingston character is.

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