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Gators, Utah Utes and Broncos enjoying golden age

Florida is chasing its third national championship in four years.

Rutgers has evolved from longtime postseason wannabe to bowl perennial.

Utah is good enough to crack a couple of Bowl Championship Series lineups and still feel short-changed.

For those college football programs — and for Kansas and Boise State, Southern Mississippi and Oklahoma State and a handful of others — there's no looking back at the good old days. By at least one estimation, they're now.

In no other sport, college or pro, are history and tradition more important and revered. With that in mind, USA TODAY pored through the annals of all 120 programs in the NCAA's top-tier Bowl Subdivision and identified the golden era for each.

There's room for debate, of course. Has the Mack Brown era trumped Darrell Royal's at Texas? (We say not yet.) Do you go with Tennessee coached by Gen. Robert Neyland or the Volunteers quarterbacked by Peyton Manning? (We like the Neyland days.) How do you choose among Southern California's multiple national titles under Homer Jones, John McKay and Pete Carroll?

Paul "Bear" Bryant begot two golden eras, at Kentucky and Alabama. We remembered that San Jose State went 13-0 back in 1939. For Illinois and Vanderbilt, we needed even longer memories.

The Illini's good old days go back to 1923-29, Vandy's to 1926-30.

That's our take, anyway. Dissenters, line up behind the Barry Switzer and Bob Stoops advocates. (We went with Oklahoma under Bud Wilkinson.)

Here's a list of the Mountain West and Western Athletic Conference teams' golden eras.


Air Force: 1997-2000; Under coach Fisher DeBerry, the Falcons went 37-12, including 2-1 in bowls, with a 12-1 season in 1998 as a highlight.

Brigham Young: 1979-85; Cougars went 77-12, including 4-3 in bowls, winning the 1984 national title and seven Western Athletic Conference titles under coach LaVell Edwards, and becoming Quarterback U with Marc Wilson, Jim McMahon, Steve Young and Robbie Bosco as the team led the nation in passing five times.

Colorado State: 1994-2002; Coach Sonny Lubick's teams went 79-32 with six Western Athletic or Mountain West titles and a 3-4 bowl record.

New Mexico: 1961-64; The Lobos went 29-12-1 in a stretch of four consecutive winning seasons that included Western Athletic championships in '62, '63 and '64 under coach Bill Weeks.

San Diego State: 1966-77; The last eight years of the Don Coryell era and the first four of Claude Gilbert's stint produced a 111-17-3 mark, seven conference titles, four top-20 placings in the final rankings and a 3-0 bowl mark.

TCU: 1929-38; Horned Frogs were 91-16-9, with two national titles under coach Dutch Meyer whose quarterbacks included Sammy Baugh on the '35 title team and Davey O'Brien on the '38 title team, plus three unbeaten seasons ('29, '32, '38) and three Southwest Conference titles ('29, '32, '38).

Utah: 2003-present; The Utes went 59-16, including unbeaten campaigns in '04 under Urban Meyer and '08 under Kyle Whittingham, with a 6-0 record in bowls and Mountain West titles in '03, '04 and '08.

Wyoming: 1966-67; The Cowboys went 20-2 with teams coached by Lloyd Eaton that included future NFL star Jim Kiick, beating Florida State in the '66 Sun Bowl and losing to LSU in the Sugar Bowl the next season.


Boise State: 1999-present; The perfect 2006 campaign concluding with the epic Fiesta Bowl win against Oklahoma was the highlight as the Broncos have had at least eight wins each of the last 10 seasons.

Fresno State: 1985-93; The Bulldogs' 11-0-1 campaign of '85 began a string of nine winning seasons that included at least a share of six conference titles in two leagues.

Hawaii: 2002-07; The Warriors went 23-4 over June Jones' final two seasons in the islands, leading to the perfect regular season and Sugar Bowl appearance. The 2002-04 stretch wasn't bad either with a 27-14 record

Idaho: 1985-90; The Vandals were 55-19 under three different coaches during this stretch, posting at least eight victories each year and winning four Big Sky crowns. High point was 1988 with an 11-2 mark en route to the Division I-AA semifinals.

Louisiana Tech: 1971-74; The Bulldogs claimed four consecutive Southland titles and two NCAA championships while posting a 44-4 record.

Nevada: 1990-96; The Wolf Pack were 25-3 in their last two years in the Big Sky with an appearance in the I-AA championship game, then won or shared the Big West title in four of their first five years of I-A membership.

New Mexico State: 1959-60; The Aggies followed an 8-3 season with an 11-0 campaign, the only year the program recorded double-digit victories. The Sun Bowl win against Utah State was their last postseason appearance.

San Jose State: 1937-40; The Spartans were 46-4-1 in this four-year period, including a 13-0 campaign in '39 in which they allowed 29 points.

Utah State: 1978-80; The last time the Aggies posted three consecutive winning seasons; they also won or shared the Big West title twice but didn't receive any bowl bids in this stretch.