A few years ago, we here at Uncle Popov started our own college football poll. It was prompted by the seemingly arbitrary nature not only of polls for college athletics, but also due to the seemingly arbitrary nature of FBS college football as a whole. And, over the course of a few years, it evolved from a “voters” poll to a formula poll and now a points system. And, this year, the point system will continue complete with promotion and relegation among the tiers.
Many people have come up with their own way for determining “champions” in college football’s top level. This site tried to crown a champion by how many “titles” it grabs. Basically, every team has a “title” and when you beat that team, you gain its title. But, it does not stop there. If Team A beat Team B, now Team A is carrying two titles — its own and that of Team B. So, if Team C now defeats Team A, then takes all the titles owned by Team A. Eventually, there would be one team with all of the titles — or at least the most — and we can have a “champion.” It is a neat concept, to say the least (though it does not seem like the author carried it forward).
Interesting side note, the same author also has a “Mask of Shame” site that tracks a “mask” that follows the worst team in college football. Whenever a team loses to the carrier of the mask, that team is shamed into wearing the mask. There are now, apparently, two masks.
But, perhaps the most interesting and novel concept comes from this site — The College Football Belt. Beginning with the 1971 Nebraska Cornhuskers, a belt was placed on them as college football’s undisputed champion. And, every time that Nebraska took the field, they defended that belt. Well, they lost their first title defense (against California-Los Angeles), but you get the picture. The belt was won and lost on the field of play. AND, it carried over. The belt has been held by Southern California, Miami (for a record 31 defenses), and Alabama, as well as teams like Air Force, Rice, and Baylor (current holder and winner of the belt three times!).
It is an amazingly simple, yet logical and unique idea. It is one of those things where you think to yourself, “damn! I wish I had thought of that.”
And, thought about it I did. And, I decided to create a belt as well. But creating one that followed the logic of the College Football Belt would be redundant. So, I decided to tweak it quite a bit and came up with a different concept — Conference Belts!
Yes, I have decided to create Conference Belts for each of the conferences in the FBS tier. But, not just one belt; two or even THREE belts. And, there is a possibility for other belts. Let me explain the belt concepts, first.
UNIFIED CONFERENCE BELTS
- to qualify, a team must be a current member of the conference and have defeated all other teams of the conference that were members at the time they joined the conference. first team to complete this task becomes the initial belt holder
- title defenses can only take place between two eligible members, with one obviously being the belt holder
- both regular season games AND bowl games count in title defenses
- a title can change hands only due to a loss; ties are considered a successful defense
- teams that leave the conference lose access to the unified belt; if they leave with the belt, the team will relinquish the belt to that last current member of the conference to whom they lost
DEEPER EXPLANATION: The Unified Belts are belts that only teams in that particular conference can win. To qualify, a team must be a member of that particular conference and have beaten all teams that were members of the conference at the time that they joined. So, for example, the Big Ten (formerly the Western Conference) started with Chicago, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern, Purdue, and Wisconsin. For Illinois to become eligible for the Unified Big Ten Belt, they would have to log a victory against each of the other six members. Once new members joined, say Ohio State, Illinois would NOT be required to beat the Buckeyes in order to become eligible. Ohio State, however, would have to defeat all members of the conference at the time of admission, which for them also included Indiana and Iowa, but NOT Michigan [more on that in a second].
But, what about if a team leaves a conference before a remaining member has defeated that team? Well, that departing team is taken off of the list of teams needed to conquer before eligibility. For example, when Arizona State left the WAC, New Mexico had yet to beat the Sun Devils. But, because ASU was no longer a WAC member, the Lobos gained “forgiveness” for that team. It was also the last team they needed to defeat, therefore making New Mexico eligible for the Unified WAC Belt at the beginning of the 1979 season.
Ah, but what about Michigan? The Wolverines left the Western Conference only to rejoin later. If a team leaves and rejoins a conference, they must then beat any additional teams that joined (and remained) during their absence. This was the case with Marshall and Northern Illinois in the MAC, as well as Temple with the Big East/American. However, in the case of the latter three, none became eligible during their initial run. Michigan did become eligible before they departed. For the Wolverines, they still needed to become eligible once again.
Now, what decides which team first gains the Unified Belt? Simple — the first team to defeat all conference foes becomes the initial belt holder. So, for the Unified Big Ten Belt, the first title holder was Chicago University. The Maroons then needed to wait for other teams to become eligible in order to defend their title. It took three years before Michigan became eligible and won the Unified Belt in their first match-up. From there, the more teams that become eligible, the more opportunities for defenses.
What happens if a team leaves a conference with the belt? It is “vacated” and then placed on the last (current) conference member to defeat the champion, even though it might not have been a title defense. When Air Force left the WAC, they held the Unified WAC Belt. So, it was vacated and awarded to Fresno State — the last team to defeat the Falcons. Fresno State gained control of the belt from the time of Air Force’s departure and NOT from the time that they actually defeated the Falcons. This was the most logical way to resolve this dilemma.
Finally, should a conference fold or cease to support football, the Unified Belt is converted into a “Heritage Belt” (explained below). As of right now, there is only one Heritage Belt — the WAC Heritage Belt — but others are planned for the Big 8, Southwest Conference, and possibly the Southern Conference and Big West.
CONFERENCE BATTLE BELTS
- the initial belt holder is determined by the first outright champion of that particular conference
- title defenses occur anytime the game has both (A) the title holder; and (B) at least one member of that particular belt’s conference. if the title holder is a conference member, then they defend it at all times. if the title holder is NOT a conference member, then they defend it any time the face an actual member of the belt’s conference
- for actual conference members, titles are defended ONLY during the regular season. for non-members, it is defended during both the regular season and bowl games.
- titles can only change possession due to a loss; ties are considered successful defenses
- games against lower tier opponents are non-title matches
- if a team drops football or goes down to a lower tier while holding a Battle Belt, the belt is “vacated” and will be awarded to the next outright conference champion
DEEPER EXPLANATION: The Battle Belt is one that is defended more as a “any time; anywhere” type of title. While it initially starts off in a conference — given to the first outright champion in the conference’s history — it can actually be held by non-members.
The team in possession of a Battle Belt must defend the belt any time there is at least one conference member playing in that game. Since a conference member that holds the title meets that qualification, every game that they play while in possession of the Battle Belt is a title defense. So, when Alabama gained control of the Battle Belt after the 1933 season, they initially defended against SEC foe Sewanee. But later, they also defended it against a non-SEC team — Clemson. They held onto it until the Tide lost to Mississippi State in 1935.
However, since non-members can win a conference Battle Belt, the belt can actually leave the conference. In 1946, Wake Forest defeat Tennessee and took possession of the SEC Battle Belt, thus causing it to leave the conference. The Demon Deacons actually had zero title defenses for over ten years before losing it to Florida in 1957.
There are stipulations about when the belt can be defended, depending on the title holder. Conference members do not defend the title during bowl games, unless the bowl game is against another conference member. This is to keep the title from drifting out to a team that rarely plays members from that conference. However, non-members must defend during bowl games against conference members. This is to help increase the chances for the belt to re-enter the conference, as was the case when Washington won back the Pac-12 Battle Belt from Maryland in the 1982 Aloha Bowl.
There were occasions where finding records of teams playing against conference opponents proved difficult. This was the case with the Battle Belts for both the Big Ten and the Pac-12, as “Wisconsin Alumni” and “Mather Field” won the respective titles only to either not field teams any more or just the lack of records. In this case, the title is vacated and awarded to the next outright conference champion. This also happened with the MAC Battle Belt when Tampa dropped football.
If a conference folds operations or ceases to support football, the Battle Belt is officially retired and no longer up for competition. The WAC Battle Belt retired on Auburn, which won the belt from Louisiana Tech in 2004.
CONFERENCE MIDDLEWEIGHT BELTS
While the Battle Belts are great, especially for the big conferences (i.e. BCS conferences), it is not so great for other conferences. The MAC Battle Belt has been on Ohio State since 1992 and does not appear to be going anywhere (the Buckeyes have 20 successful defenses since then). The Battle Belt of the Sun Belt has never been successfully defended by a Sun Belt team as initial belt holder North Texas lost in their only title defense versus Oklahoma in 2003. The Sooners are still the title holder with two successful defenses.
Thus, to compensate for this, the non-BCS conferences [other than the no-longer-supporting-football WAC] were bestowed Middleweight Belts. These belts, which reigns begin with the first outright conference champion since the start of the BCS, are defeated similarly to the Battle Belts with one exception — BCS schools are ineligible. So, while in 1999 CUSA Middleweight Belt holder Southern Miss lost to Nebraska, Texas A&M and Alabama, those losses did not count since those teams are not classified as “Middleweight” teams.
This helps keep at least keep a form of the Battle Belt within range of these smaller conferences. Although, it did not help the Sun Belt as Air Force won it in North Texas’s first title defense and has not only held onto it until today…they’ve also never defended it (and won’t again this year).
I initially started out with the concept of two belts — the Unified Belt and the Battle Belt. But seeing the woes of non-BCS conferences sparked the idea of the Middleweight Belt. And now, seeing the WAC disappear from the college football landscape leads me to want to do something to honor that conference. So, I opted to create the Heritage Belt.
A Heritage Belt appears whenever a conference ceases to exist, or in the case of the WAC stops supporting football. It functions like a hybrid of the two main belts with more inspiration drawing from the Unified Belt rather than the Battle Belt.
The last holder of the Unified Belt becomes the initial title holder of the Heritage Belt [so, the first WAC Heritage Belt holder is Utah State]. The Aggies will defend the Heritage Belt against ANY former WAC member regardless of if they were a member at the end of the conference. Also, all former members are eligible even if they did not complete the prerequisites for the Unified Belt. This means that teams like UNLV, Tulsa, and Texas-San Antonio are all eligible for the Heritage Belt.
Any time the title holder plays a former member, the belt is put on the line. For Utah State, they have a total of 10 potential title defenses, starting with Pac-12 member Utah. Should the Utes win the title, they will actually have three potential defenses — BYU, Arizona and Arizona State.
This belt allows the legacy of the “deceased” conference to carry on. This also encourages me to start Heritage Belts for other conferences, including the Big 8 and Southwest Conference. I am also considering the Southern Conference, though it is tricky since the conference still exists but only at the FCS tier. And, I am not sure how far down the line I want to go — the Big West is questionable, but do I really want to do the Skyline Conference??
This was an exhausting process to compile all of the information. Everything was done manually which means that I might have missed something along the way — a loss that I did not catch or a win that I should not have counted [against an FCS team or a non-eligible team]. Hopefully if there are mistakes they are very minor and do not distort the current belt holders. But, if you do spot a potential mistake, let me know.
Also, I am considering slightly altering the rules to the Battle Belt and the Middleweight Belt to allow for a dormancy clause. If a team does not defend the belt within five full seasons of obtaining that belt, then the belt is vacated and is awarded to the next outright conference champion. This would help not only the smaller conferences, but also situations like where the Pac-12 Battle Belt has remained on LSU since 1983.
Finally, I am considering other potential belts, such as an Armed Forces Belt, particular state belts (namely, California, Florida, the Carolinas, and Texas), and even Mascot Belts (tigers, bulldogs, etc.). But not sure what the initial criteria would be in crowning those first title holders.
That’s all! The posting of the current belt holders will come shortly.