Pokemon, you know, those sometimes cuddly, often furious creatures we were introduced to the United States back in the 1990s? Well, what if instead of a mascot, each team had a Pokemon that represented them?
Well, let’s find out, first up: the smallest conference in FBS football. Actually, it’s not even a conference. We’re talking about the Independents; let’s open our CFB-dex. For research purposes, we are going base on the last 20 years, since that is about how long Pokemon has been a part of the culture here in the states.
A program that has seen its share of ups and downs the last 20 or so years is BYU football. Legendary coach LaVell Edwards, who led BYU to its only national title (1984) left after 2000 and BYU left the Mountain West after 2010 to become Independent. As a MWC school from 1999 to 2010, BYU went 96-54 and since becoming free of conference ties, the Cougars are 70-47.
Four consecutive 10-plus win seasons by now Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall brought BYU back to relevance, but since Mendenhall departed for UVA, the Cougars have gone 9-4, 4-9, and 7-6 twice under Kalani Sitake. The Cougs have been to 16 bowl games this century, with a record of 8-8 in those games.
Official Pokedex description: “The spoons clutched in its hands are said to have been created by its psychic powers.”
A Pokeman noted for causing confusion, Alakazam is perfect for BYU. Looking at the last 20 years for BYU, you could be confused. Mendenhall and Sitake have both had ups and downs, and while 3/4 of Stiake’s seasons have been winning ones, it’s still unknown if he can take BYU back to where Mendenhall had it.
Oh, UConn; since the turn of the century, the Huskies have bounced from Independent to Big East and then to the American Athletics Conference before going back to Independent to start the 2020 season while the powers that be weigh whether or not they will stay FBS.
In the 20 seasons this century, UConn went 20-26 in its first run as an Independent from 2000-04 with no bowl games. As a member of the Big East from 2004-12, the Huskies went 52-51 with the best stretch in program history from 2007-11 when the Huskies strung together four winning seasons and four consecutive bowl games.
Overall, UConn is 3-3 in bowl games this century. Recent times have not been good to UConn though, as it hasn’t had a winning season since going 8-5 in 2010 and haven’t been to a bowl game since losing to Marshall 16-10 in the 2015 St. Petersburg Bowl.
Pokedex Description: “There is an orb inside its mouth. When it hops, the orb bounces all over and makes a ringing sound.”
The proverbial orb in UConn’s mouth bounced and rang during its brief relevancy period in the late-2000’s. Since then, the Huskies have been very quiet and the orb doesn’t seem to be ringing anytime soon. Sure, Chingling evolves into Chimecho at an unspecified level, but UConn hasn’t been able to get to that level.
A rather new program at the FBS level, UMass joined the FBS level in 2012 in the MAC and stayed there until 2015 when it became Independent.
In their short history in FBS, the Minutemen have largely been an also-ran. Back-to-back 4-8 seasons in 2017 and 2018 have been the high watermark for the program since moving up, although when in FCS, UMass did win a national title back in 1998.
Pokedex description: “It likes to carry around a small rock. It may wander around others feet and cause them to stumble.”
Happiny isn’t very fierce, is fairly new, and has evolved with friendship. UMass also has a small rock in the form of its brief FBS history and has made some teams stumble.
Like Happiny, UMass would probably evolve into a more competitive team via friendship with a conference.
New Mexico State
In New Mexico State’s surprisingly long history in FBS, the Aggies have gone from the Border Conference (1929-61), to Independent, then to the Missouri Valley Conference (1971-82) before joining the Big West from 1983 until 2000. After leaving the Big West, the Aggies went to the Sun Belt from 2001-04 before joining the WAC from 2005-12, and then back to the Sun Belt from 2013-17 before once again cutting ties with conferences.
In more recent years, the Aggies had a 20-27 run in their first dance with the Sun Belt. As a member of the WAC, New Mexico State went 21-78 with no winning seasons. In their most recent flirtation with the Sun Belt, the Aggies were 15-34 but did achieve their best record in school history — a 7-6 mark in 2017. That same season, the Aggies won the Arizona Bowl — their first bowl since 1960.
Pokedex description: “The berries stored in its vaselike shell eventually become a thick, pulpy juice.”
Shuckle, while not in the original 151 Pokemon, was an addition in the second-generation, just as New Mexico State wasn’t one of the first schools to play at this highest level, it has been around a while. Shuckle’s attack isn’t very high, and it won’t win many battles, just like the Aggies.
New Mexico State’s long history could also be a metaphor for Shuckle’s thick, pulpy juice.
Another fairly new FBS addition, the Flames went to their first bowl game last season under new head coach Hugh Freeze. In their first two FBS seasons, the Flames are 14-11 with a 8-5 season last year under Freeze.
Following the 2019 season, wide receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden was picked in the NFL Draft. There is also much controversy surrounding the school, all off-the-field though as the Flames have been able to put together a quality on-field product despite the behind-the-scenes scrutiny.
Pokedex description: “Perhaps because they feel more at ease in a group, they stick to others they find. They end up looking like a cloud.”
Cottonee is a newer Pokemon but evolves into the super cool Whimsicott when you use a stone. Perhaps Freeze is that stone to evolve Liberty. The description also couldn’t be better. Maybe Liberty will feel more at ease in a conference, where it can compete for a conference title. If the description fits, and the Flames want others like them, the Sun Belt would be the perfect place.
A household name among college football fans, Notre Dame is a blue blood of the sport but has been Independent for as long as anyone can remember. With a history including seven Heisman Trophy winners and 11 national titles, Notre Dame is one of, if not the most, historic programs in college football history.
In recent times, Notre Dame has gotten to the mountain top but was knocked off in 2012 by Alabama. Sure, Notre Dame hasn’t had the success of yesteryear lately, but it has always been a major player in the sport as well as in recruiting. Current coach Brian Kelly has the Fighting Irish in position every year and has five 10-plus win seasons to his credit. The Irish have only missed bowl season once in his tenure.
Pokedex description: “A legendary bird Pokémon. It can create blizzards by freezing moisture in the air.”
One of the original three legendary birds, Articuno and Notre Dame have a lot in common. Both won a lot of battles in earlier years, both are legendary, and both have rabid fan bases.
Articuno is a Pokemon that whenever prominently featured, brings back nostalgia for people who grew up with it, much as Notre Dame football does.
One of the more legendary programs in college football history, Army has been an Independent since 2005 when it left Conference USA. Since the turn of the century, Army has a record of 75-154 but under coach Jeff Monken for the last five seasons, that has been trending upward with 10 wins in each of the past two seasons and the same number of bowl appearances (three) as in the 25 years prior to Monken taking over.
Pokedex description: “Its feathers are in seven colors. It is said that anyone seeing it is promised eternal happiness.”
If Army is Ho-Oh, Navy has to be Lugia as both are legendary programs and both face off against each other each season. Ho-Oh is one of the most memorable Pokemon in the show’s history and Army is one of the original blue bloods of the sport.