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Do recruits remember your school’s last national title?

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Here’s how old they were the last time your team won something big.

Think back. What is your oldest college football memory? Were you there in person? Or did you see it on TV? How old were you?

The way the average fan views the history of college football might be drastically different from a recruit’s perspective. While older fans remember a program’s best times from years ago, current recruits might not. This might make those fans feel pretty old!

This really hit home for me a few years back when then-recruit Ja’Marr Chase (later a star receiver for LSU) revealed he had never heard of Peter Warrick, one of the most electric college players of all time. Of course, Chase wasn’t even born when Warrick last played in college in the late 1990s. It’s hard to blame him, but it was a bit jarring.

Kids don’t really remember things from when they are small, thanks to a phenomenon known as childhood amnesia. Some research suggests this exists for memories formed up until the age of seven, most of which are generally lost.

As we try to figure out what most current recruits remember, let’s focus on what happened before they entered elementary school.

The class of 2020 was mostly born in 2001, so anything before 2008 is in that seven-year window when memories might not last. Going back into history, the list of FBS teams to have won a national title in that span are Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State, Florida State, Auburn, and Florida. Some of those memories might be getting fuzzy.

That means most members of the 2020 signing class do not remember seeing LSU, Texas, USC, Miami, or Oklahoma win a national title.

Fans of teams with national titles might like to make fun of a school like Oregon, Wisconsin, or Virginia Tech, but if recruits don’t remember your trophy anyway, the topic might not feel all that amusing.

Imagine being a coach at one of those historic powers and explaining that, no joke, we actually have recently won a title at LSU, Michigan, or USC, then looking at a kid as he decides whether to believe you without Googling it.

Or heck, how about a conference? The Pac-12 has not won a title since 2004, and the Big 12 since 2005. Current recruits were three years old the last time a team west of the Mississippi won a national title.

How old were 2020 recruits the last time each FBS team won a national championship?

Team Last national title Recruit age
Team Last national title Recruit age
Clemson 2018 17
Alabama 2017 16
Ohio State 2014 13
Florida State 2013 12
Auburn 2010 9
Florida 2008 7
LSU 2007 6
Texas 2005 4
USC 2004 3
Miami 2001 0
Oklahoma 2000 -1
Tennessee 1998 -3
Michigan 1997 -4
Nebraska 1997 -4
Washington 1991 -10
Georgia Tech 1990 -11
Colorado 1990 -11
Notre Dame 1988 -13
Penn State 1986 -15
BYU 1984 -17
Georgia 1980 -21
Pittsburgh 1976 -25
Michigan State 1966 -35
Arkansas 1964 -37
Minnesota 1960 -41
Ole Miss 1960 -41
Syracuse 1959 -42
UCLA 1954 -47
Maryland 1953 -48
All other FBS teams N/A
Per AP or Coaches Poll

But the knowledge base of recruits does not come solely from what a recruit remembers. It can also be formed by what a parent remembers.

It’s reasonable to think a parent could pass on some lore, even if that school hasn’t won it all lately.

Let’s say the average age of a 2019 recruit’s parent is about 42. That means they were born in 1976 and puts them in first grade in 1984.

The national champions which the parents of current recruits probably remember, assuming they were college football fans upon entering elementary school, would expand to include LSU, Texas, USC, Miami, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Michigan, Nebraska, Washington, Georgia Tech, Colorado, Notre Dame, Penn State, and possibly BYU.

And yet it still does not include post-World War II national champs like Georgia, Pitt, Michigan State, Arkansas, Minnesota, or Ole Miss.

Of course, national championships are not the only thing that resonates with recruits. Conference titles also matter.

Some schools will never have the power to compete for national titles, but everybody can try to sell kids on competing for league championships.

About half of the programs in the FBS have won a conference title since the class of 2020 entered elementary school. And about 85% have since the parents of the class of 2020 entered school.

How old were 2020 recruits the last time each team won an FBS conference?

Team Last conference title Recruit age
Team Last conference title Recruit age
Clemson 2019 18
Ohio State 2019 18
Oklahoma 2019 18
Appalachian State 2019 18
Boise State 2019 18
Florida Atlantic 2019 18
Oregon 2019 18
LSU 2019 18
Miami (OH) 2019 18
Memphis 2019 18
Alabama 2018 17
Washington 2018 17
Fresno State 2018 17
Northern Illinois 2018 17
San Diego State 2018 17
UCF 2018 17
UAB 2018 17
USC 2017 16
Georgia 2017 16
Toledo 2017 16
Troy 2017 16
Penn State 2016 15
Temple 2016 15
Western Michigan 2016 15
Arkansas State 2016 15
Western Kentucky 2016 15
Bowling Green 2015 14
Houston 2015 14
Stanford 2015 14
Michigan State 2015 14
Florida State 2014 13
Baylor 2014 13
Cincinnati 2014 13
TCU 2014 13
Georgia Southern 2014 13
Marshall 2014 13
Auburn 2013 12
Louisiana 2013 12
Rice 2013 12
Pittsburgh (Big East) 2012 11
Louisville (Big East) 2012 11
Rutgers (Big East) 2012 11
Syracuse (Big East) 2012 11
Tulsa (C-USA) 2012 11
Utah State (WAC) 2012 11
Kansas State 2012 11
Wisconsin 2012 11
West Virginia (Big East) 2011 10
Louisiana Tech (WAC) 2011 10
Oklahoma State 2011 10
Southern Miss 2011 10
UConn (Big East) 2010 9
FIU (Sun Belt) 2010 9
Hawaii (WAC) 2010 9
Nevada (WAC) 2010 9
Virginia Tech 2010 9
East Carolina (C-USA) 2009 8
Texas 2009 8
Georgia Tech 2009 8
Central Michigan 2009 8
Utah (Mountain West) 2008 7
Florida 2008 7
Buffalo 2008 7
BYU (Mountain West) 2007 6
Arizona State 2007 6
California 2006 5
Wake Forest 2006 5
Akron 2005 4
Louisiana–Monroe 2005 4
Boston College (Big East) 2004 3
Michigan 2004 3
Iowa 2004 3
North Texas 2004 3
Miami (Big East) 2003 2
Colorado State 2002 1
Washington State 2002 1
Colorado (Big 12) 2001 0
Maryland 2001 0
Illinois 2001 0
Middle Tennessee 2001 0
UTEP (WAC) 2000 -1
Northwestern 2000 -1
Oregon State 2000 -1
Purdue 2000 -1
Nebraska (Big 12) 1999 -2
Texas A&M (Big 12) 1998 -3
Tulane (C-USA) 1998 -3
Tennessee 1998 -3
UCLA 1998 -3
Air Force 1998 -3
Ball State 1996 -5
Virginia 1995 -6
Texas Tech (SWC) 1994 -7
Wyoming (WAC) 1993 -8
Arizona 1993 -8
Arkansas 1989 -12
Duke 1989 -12
Eastern Michigan 1987 -14
SMU (SWC) 1984 -17
North Carolina 1980 -21
NC State 1979 -22
Kent State (MAC) 1972 -29
South Carolina (ACC) 1969 -32
Missouri (Big Eight) 1969 -32
Kansas (Big Eight) 1968 -33
Ohio (MAC) 1968 -33
Minnesota 1967 -34
Indiana 1967 -34
New Mexico (WAC) 1964 -37
Ole Miss 1963 -38
Kentucky 1950 -51
Mississippi State 1941 -60
Vanderbilt (SoCon) 1923 -78
Iowa State (Big Eight) 1912 -89
All other FBS teams N/A

How does your experience as a college football fan compare to that of a current recruit?

The Heisman winners the class of 2020 remembers from their college days, as opposed to their time in the NFL, is a similarly short list. It’s Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford, Mark Ingram, Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III, Johnny Manziel, Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Derrick Henry, Lamar Jackson, Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray, and Joe Burrow. And for some of those players, it’s probably not much of a memory.

Even older fans might lack recollections of lots of somewhat recent stars, which helps illustrate this whole concept:

  • If you’re 25, you probably don’t remember Josh Heupel, Tee Martin, Charles Woodson, or Eric Crouch from their college days. And did you know NC State had 2006’s #1 overall pick in Mario Williams? No, you probably did not.
  • If you’re 30, you probably don’t remember dual-sport star Charlie Ward for the Noles, bruising RB Eddie George for the Buckeyes, Canes gunslinger QB Gino Torretta, or #1 NFL pick Tim Couch of Kentucky.
  • If you’re 35, you probably don’t really remember Auburn’s Bo Jackson or Oklahoma State’s Barry Sanders winning their Heisman trophies or Illinois having the #1 pick in Jeff George.
  • You’re 40? Odds are you don’t remember awesome highlights from Herschel Walker or Doug Flutie in college. You should definitely look them up. (Georgia and Boston College coaches would appreciate you doing this.)
  • 45? Still too young to remember Hugh Green, Charles White, Billy Sims, Earl Campbell, or Tony Dorsett. A younger athlete might not grasp the full history of USC’s running back lineage, and recruits might be surprised to learn from coaches that Pitt has a Heisman.
  • 50? You probably cannot remember Archie Griffin, the only two-time Heisman winner. And you probably have no idea that Stanford (Jim Plunkett) had a Heisman winner.
  • If you’re 55, you probably do not remember watching Steve Spurrier in college, nor Heisman winners from Syracuse, UCLA, Army, or Navy.

This might be unpleasant for some coaches and fans, but it’s important to be aware of a recruit’s sense of history.

All schools want to use their tradition to market their program, both to recruits and to young fans. So it is valuable to understand what current recruits remember and what they don’t, so that schools know which former stars they can reference by name, and which stars of the past might need to be explained.

Coaches have to understand that their view of a program is likely very different than a younger person’s. But as long as coaches are honest with themselves about their program’s recent history, they can begin to work on updating their title count.