Hayden Fry was ahead of his time in many ways when he was at Iowa, and here's more proof: he wanted a four team playoff for college football as far back as 1985.
The way Fry tells it, his Hawkeyes, who meet UCLA Wednesday in the Rose Bowl, finished their season with a win over Minnesota on Nov. 23 and jumped to No. 2 in the Associated Press poll the next week.
But two top-five teams, Miami and Oklahoma, hadn't finished their seasons.
Miami clobbered Notre Dame, 58-7, the following Saturday and, a week later, Oklahoma beat Southern Methodist, 35-13. In the AP's final regular-season poll, Iowa (10-1) dropped to fourth behind Penn State, Miami and Oklahoma.
"We're just as good if not better than any of the other three teams involved," Fry said Monday at a Rose Bowl press conference. "I don't think anyone really knows who's No. 1, 2, 3 or 4, or even 5 or 6. That's why we have to have a national playoff. There would still be some questions about it, but it would be a whole lot better than it is today."
(Incidentally, an early regular season finish seemed to help Iowa in the polls in 2002; they were ranked 5th after their final regular season game in the 11/17 poll, but rose to 3rd in the final regular season poll on 12/8. They finished 11-1 and rose -- slightly -- while teams ahead of them lost.)
Hayden's complaint about the polls -- and the difficulty of distinguishing between a host of teams with similar-looking resumes-- echoes the same complaints that have been made for thirty years and that finally led to the creation of the College Football Playoff that begins this year. Not only did Hayden want a playoff, though -- he had a precise model in mind, too.
As Rose Bowl officials looked on, Fry said his plan would not change the present bowl system. As Rose Bowl officials sighed, Fry explained that the winners of the four major bowls (Orange, Cotton, Sugar and Rose) would meet in a post-bowl tournament.
There would one semifinal round followed by the title game a week before the Super Bowl.
"It would only involve four teams for one week and two teams for the second week," Fry said. "I think it will happen eventually, but I'll probably be out of coaching when it does."
Well, you were right, Hayden -- it did happen eventually and you were out of coaching -- long out of coaching -- when it did. The actual playoff model in place now is slightly different since it mashes together the traditional bowls and the semifinals, but the total number of games is actually the same (since most leagues now use a conference championship game, games that didn't exist in the mid-'80s and that essentially serve as a play-in game to the semifinals -- or at least semifinal consideration). He doesn't specify where the semifinals or finals would be played in his model, which emerged as a key consideration during the recent creation of the College Football Playoff. Still, his overall vision wasn't too far off from what we've ended up with -- pretty good work there, Hayden.
Regrettably, even Hayden's model wouldn't have actually helped Iowa in 1985. Iowa went on to lose that Rose Bowl to UCLA, so they would have been forced to watch the College Football Playoff from home anyway. In case you're curious, the four teams that would have been in the College Football Playoff had Hayden's system been in place at the time would have been Texas A&M (36-16 winners over Auburn in the Cotton Bowl), Oklahoma (25-10 winners over Penn State in the Orange Bowl), UCLA (45-28 winners over Iowa in the Rose Bowl), and Tennessee (35-7 winners over Miami (FL) in the Sugar Bowl). (Iowa probably would have been a lock for the Playoff under the current system, though.)
Hats off to Friend of the Pants @stholeary and Youtuber Canal de lubbocktexas1 for helping unearth this footage; Canal de lubbocktexas1 uploaded the entire Miami-Notre Dame game from which this particular halftime clip came from and @stholeary brought it our attention on the Twitters. Hat tips all around.