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LiMu's system

SWC75

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There have been a lot of complaints about the one-sided nature of the college football playoff games and how the sport has come to be dominated by a very small number of schools, mostly in the SEC and how in some seasons it seems obvious that one or two teams are really at the top with nobody really belonging on the same field with them.

Before the BCS, the complaint was that there was often at least one team that deserved a shot at the #1 team and didn’t get it, or a split championship. In 29 seasons from 1936, when the AP started, through 1997, the year before the BCS, the top two teams had the same record, (by losses and ties: they may have played an unequal number of games). The coach’s poll began in 1950 and produced 8 split championships through 1997. Polls after bowls came in 1947, 1965 and then regularly, in 1968 for the writer’s poll and 1974 for the coach’s poll. There were 9 years when a team retained a national title or a share of it based on being #1 in the last regular season poll, despite a loss in a bowl game.

In some years, there might be more than two teams with a legitimate claim to a national title. In 1954, Ohio State, (#1 in the writer’s poll), UCLA, (#1 in the coach’s poll) and Oklahoma (#3 in each but 19 games into their 47 game winning streak) all had perfect records. In 1973 six power conference teams were undefeated after the regular season. Oklahoma was on probation, so that eliminated one of them. Alabama, Notre Dame and Penn State all had perfect records. Ohio State and Michigan beat everyone except each other, tying 10-10 in that pre-overtime era. Notre Dame beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Penn State beat LSU in the Orange Bowl. Ohio State was chosen to play USC in the Rose Bowl and beat them. That still left four unbeaten power conference teams. In 1977 Notre Dame, Texas, Alabama, Arkansas and Penn State all finished 11-1. The next year USC, Oklahoma, Alabama and Penn State were all 11-1.

Even after the BCS there were problems. In 2004, Auburn ran the table and won the SEC, the acknowledged most powerful conference, and watched USC blow out Oklahoma for the national title. The previous year, USC, LSU and Oklahoma all had one loss. USC was #1 in both polls but the Tigers and Sooners were #1-2 in the BCS rankings and they played for the title.

All of this created a lot of discontent and produced first the BCS, then the playoff. Now there’s talk of expanding the playoff, which makes sense if you want everyone in the division to have at least a theoretical shot at the title but which makes little sense to those who see just 1 or 2 or maybe 3 teams at the top that nobody else can compete with. For a while, in the years before the BCS, an idea was floated about having an extra game if there was a public demand for it. Maybe this could be adapted to have a flexible playoff, with just the games we need to satisfy everyone that the recognized national champion is universally recognized. “Just the games you need”. LiMu the Emu would like that.
Why Liberty Mutual chose funny mascots in new campaign

I decided to go back to 1936, when the writer’s, (Associated Press) bowl began and the Orange, Sugar and Cotton Bowls were first rising to challenge the Rose Bowl and look at each season to see what years we really needed any games after the bowls to satisfy any arguments about #1. My scenario is that the AP writers are polled after the bowls, not only for a top 25 but also what teams, if any, they’d like to see in a post bowl game or games to resolve any controversy. If no team other than the #1 ranked team is selected by at least 50% of them, it means that they feel that the national champion has been effectively established and there is no reason they should have to put their achievement on the line in a game the public wasn’t demanding to see. If two teams are selected by at least 50% of them, there will be one post bowl game, with the bowl committees bidding to see who will hold it. If three teams meet the 50%, the two teams that aren’t ranked #1 will play in one game and the winner will meet the #1 team in a second game. If four teams make it to 50%, we’ll have a four- team playoff, seeded by the rankings. If it’s more than that, there could be other preliminary games. But we won’t have any games nobody wants to see.

I’m going to imagine myself as one such writer who is not a curmudgeon who doesn’t want any such game but is willing to do his due diligence to see what games need to be played and what games the public would like to see. I’m going to consider records plus strength of schedule but I’m not going to parse the latter to the Nth degree to exclude anybody: if a team proved themselves against top-level competition and have a record as good as anybody’s, they should have a shot. My source of information will be Richard Vautravers excellent site:
Tip Top 25
where he describes each season and all the top teams in detail. I’ll also look Wikipedia’s summary of the weekly rankings through the course of the season:

I’m going to cover a year a day in the same thread, with links to Vautravers’ pages on each year, (he chooses a national champion(s) and also estimates what the AP top 25 would look like after the bowls. I invite you to read the article and see if you agree with my selections, or non-selections. I’m not going to try to estimate who would have won proposed games at this time. I just want to see what LiMu’s system, as I’ll call it, might look like.
 

SWC75

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1936
1936 College Football National Championship
1936 NCAA football rankings - Wikipedia
Fixing the 1936 AP Poll

So you have Minnesota, ranked #1 and going for a third straight national championship, at 7-1. The team that beat them, Northwestern, was also 7-1 and Big Ten champions but was lucky to beat the Gophers and they looked bad in their last game, a 20 point loss to Notre Dame. Comparative scores indicate they were actually the lesser team. Pittsburgh, 7-1-1 appears to have had the strongest team in the country and had the most marquee wins but they were also inconsistent, with their loss and tie coming to teams clearly worse than Northwestern. LSU was ranked #2 but got beat by 8-1 Santa Clara in the Sugar Bowl to wind up 9-1-1. Alabama, who had won or shared ‘mythical’ national title in 1925, 1926, 1930 and 1934, was 8-0-1 but their schedule was clearly weaker than the other contenders, which may be why they weren’t invited to a bowl game. Yale and Penn were 7-1 in the East and Duke was 9-1 but their schedules were considered weak, as well. Vautravers thinks they would have been ranked this way in a post-bowl poll: Tied at #1: Minnesota and Pittsburgh; #3 Northwestern, #4 Santa Clara, #5 LSU, and Yale, Duke and Penn #10-12.

I would have nominated the top four teams with Minnesota playing Santa Clara and Pittsburgh playing Northwestern in the preliminary round. What do you think?
 

SWC75

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1937

This was Pittsburgh’s last year as an elite program until their brief re-emergence forty years later under Johnny Majors and Jackie Sherrill. The sad story of their demise is told in championship article. But they were arguably still the best team in 1937 with a 9-0-1 record, tied by Fordham, 0-0 for the third straight year. The Rams, at the end of their “Seven Blocks of Granite” era, were 7-0-1 but not as impressive as Pitt in their other games. California might have voted #1 at 9-0-1 as they had the most All-Americans and been consistently dominant, except for an upset tie to unranked Washington State. They had the most impressive win, 13-0 over undefeated Alabama in the Rose Bowl to go 10-0-1. The one team with a perfect record was Santa Clara, who again beat LSU in the Sugar Bowl. But other than that, they had the weakest schedule and the lowest ranking, (#10 in the final AP poll: Vautravers puts then at #5 in his imagined post-bowl poll). Villanova, Dartmouth and Holy Cross were also undefeated but with ties and weaker schedules. St. Mary’s had played three of the top four teams, losing to Fordham 0-6, Santa Clara 0-7 and Cal 7-30.

It seems to me the obvious thing is to have Pittsburgh and Fordham play to finally resolve their ties in a game that would have to go overtime if neither team could score again, while California takes on Santa Clara for the ‘western’ championship. Then the winners meet to decide the national championship. What do you think?
 

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1938
Fixing the 1938 AP Poll

This one is simple: Texas Christian plays Tennessee in a single game for all the marbles. They have perfect records and are ranked #1-2. Everybody else got beat. I like Vautraver’s discussion of how the AP voters made the emotional decision to pick the wrong team because they had the best player. I’ve heard it argued that we should honor the viewpoint of the “the people who were around at that time and actually saw them play”. But how did they watch them play? On the radio?
 

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1939
Fixing the 1939 AP Poll

You have two teams with perfect records: Texas A&M (11-0) and Cornell (8-0), and a third unbeaten team, Southern California, with two ties (8-0-2) but who was already rated ahead of Cornell when they got the biggest win any team had that season, a 14-0 Rose Bowl victory over a #3 ranked Tennessee team that had won 23 games in a row and shut out their last 15 opponents. But 8-0-2 isn’t 11-0-0 and it isn’t 8-0-0, either.

Our modern perspective suggest that Cornell shouldn’t be considered for a national championship game: they’re an Ivy league team. But remembered that the game was born there and the ivy league didn’t de-emphasize the sport until 1856, when they formally made themselves in a conference. There were several highly ranked Ivy League teams in the early polls: Pennsylvania was #10 in 1936, Dartmouth #7 in 1937, Cornell #4 in 1939, Penn was #7 in 1947, Princeton was #6 in 1950 and 1951. Princeton’s Dick Kazmaier won the Heisman Trophy in 1951, as did Yales Larry Kelly and Clinton Frank in 1936-37.

Nonetheless, the reputation of eastern teams and their performance in intersection play had decline4d in the era between the wars, as Vautravers discusses in his national championship article. There was already a tendency of the public and writers outside the east to downgrade eastern teams. Which is why Cornell’s #6 rating was about as high as an Ivy team could get at that time. Vautravers said that their reputation was the equivalent of a good mid-major, (Cincinnati, South Florida, Boise State, etc.) would have today. Cornell’s response to that was their great victory in the horseshoe at Ohio State. Both teams were undefeated at 3-0. The Buckeyes were ranked #4 and would win the Big Ten that year. Cornell was ranked #7. State bolted to a 14-0 lead but got handled after that as the Big Red scored 23 unanswered points. Cornell was ranked among the top 4 teams for the rest of the season, as high as #3. They also beat Penn State 47-0, although that wasn’t Joe Paterno’s Penn State.

Being an easterner, I would have been enthusiastic about matching Cornell with Texas A&M for all the marbles, but I suspect that not enough of the writers across the country would have shared that feeling. There probably would have been more support for and A&M-USC game, but probably not enough. A&M would have gone into the books as national champion without any additional games being played.
 

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1940

It seems logical to have a three-team playoff between 8-0 Minnesota, 10-0 Stanford and 11-0 Boston College. But Michigan might have actually been the best team and they had the best player, Heisman trophy-winning Tom Harmon, and their one loss was to #1 Minnesota at Minnesota in a game where they out-gained Minnesota but lost by the margin of a missed extra point, (a factor that was prominent in many of the games these top teams played). The Big Ten at the time was the premiere conference in college football, much as the SEC is now. Harmon was college football’s most famous player since Red Grange, most of whose records he had broken. He even starred in a movie about his life, (sort of):

1641411654053.png


I think there might have been a clamor for a Minnesota-Michigan rematch and it would have been set up for a final by pitting them against Stanford and Boston College, although getting both of them to the final for a rematch would not have been easy. Michigan-Boston College and Minnesota-Stanford would have made the most geographical sense, but geography would have been irrelevant if the additional games were put on by the bowl committees. A Boston College-Stanford game would have been fun, featuring the nation’s best passers in Charlie O’Rourke and Frankie Albert. But I suspect the match-ups would have gone by Vautravers’ ‘fixed’ rankings: #1 Minnesota vs. #4 Boston College and #2 Stanford vs. #3 Michigan.

This was one of the most interesting college football seasons and would have produced one of the most interesting playoffs.
 

SWC75

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1941
Fixing the 1941 AP Poll

Minnesota had the only perfect record among national championship contenders and their reputation in this period was similar to Alabama’s now. They had been the consensus national champion from most observers in 1934-35 and finished atop the AP poll in 1936, 1940 and 1941 and the Big Ten had the sort of reputation the SEC has now.

Texas might have had the most powerful team but they weren’t consistent enough to be a national champion. If there had bene a BCS, the title game would have bene Minnesota vs. Duke but the Blue devils, in their last season as a national title contender, blew it by losing to Oregon State in a Rose Bowl held in Durham because of Pearl Harbor.

I have to wonder if there would have been a clamor for the Golden Gophers to take on Frank Leahy’s first Notre Dame team, who went 8-0-1 with a 0-0 tie with Army their only blemish. They were ranked third in the final poll, which was after the regular season. Army wound up 5-3-1 but they were 4-0 going into the Notre Dame game. The Irish beat Northwestern by the same margin Minnesota did, (7-6 vs. 8-7) and also were the only team to beat 7-1-1 Navy, (20-14). I also think that the playoffs of 1936-38 and 1940 would have whetted the appetite of the public to have at least one game, as compared to the anti-climax of 1939. Besides, this is Notre Dame we’re talking about, not Cornell, (the most logical team to have faced Texas A&M in 1939 had there been a playoff that year).

I think I might have voted for Notre Dame to play Minnesota and I think a lot of other voters might have done the same thing.
 

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1942
Fixing the 1942 AP Poll

This season is famous for what happened on the last weekend of the regular season. The #1 team, Boston College, lost to Holy Cross 12-55 while the #2 team, Georgia Tech lost to Georgia 0-34. It’s unusual for the top two teams in the rankings to lose on the same day but this is the only time they lost by such scores. Both of them went on to lose bowl games and take themselves completely out of consideration for the national title. The Boston College players, however, had something to be thankful for. They had scheduled a party celebrating their national championship for the night after the Holy Cross game at the Coconut Grove nightclub in Boston. When they lost, they canceled the celebration and that was the night the place burned down with an appalling death toll of 492.
Cocoanut Grove fire - Wikipedia

Meanwhile there was a national championship to be decided. The only undefeated team at the end of the regular season, was Tulsa, a mid-major who had risen to be ranked #4 in the final AP poll. But they got beat by an 8-1-1 Tennessee team in the Sugar Bowl, 7-14. That leaves Ohio State, who lost 7-17 to Wisconsin, (who wound up 8-1-1) and Georgia, who lost to Auburn 13-27 in their second-to-last game but made up for it with the destruction of Georgia Tech. The Buckeyes stayed home for the Holidays, as did most of the #1 ranked teams of the 1940’s. The Big Ten, the service academies and Notre Dame didn’t play bowl games in those days. But Georgia went to it’s first ever Rose Bowl and beat UCLA, (also there for the first time), 9-0.

Vautravers explains at length why Wisconsin wasn’t a national title contender, even though the Helms foundation gave them recognition for their win over Ohio State. They’d had an upset tie and loss and weren’t that impressive in their other games. Besides the Buckeyes had come down with dysentery that weekend and were a shell of themselves. He also descries Ohio State’s and Georgia’s long rise to prominence, both first gaining elite status in this decade. It’s worth a read.

An Ohio State - Georgia game to decide the title is the obvious choice here. They were the two highest scoring teams in the country and were ranked #1-2 in the first and last polls. Georgia had the Heisman Trophy winner in Frankie Sinkwich and another star in the making, Charley Trippi in their backfield and an advanced passing game for the time. Auburn beat them on the blackboard, changing their offense from a single wing to a T-formation and inventing the ‘flex’ defense, (long before the Cowboys did), just for that game. It’s a sign of the times that they put their tackles into pass coverage and used their ends to rush the passer. Imagine Bear Williams in pass coverage… Ohio State had that kind of versatility, switching back and forth from the single wing to the T. It was almost as if Jim Boeheim switched back and forth from a zone to a man-for-man, if you can imagine that. It would have been an exciting game.
 

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1943

The salient fact of life in 1943, (and 1944 and 1945), was that a world war was going on and every aspect of life was impacted by it. In sports, many top players were in the service and unavailable to their teams. But in college football, the war was a boon to some teams. The game was dominated by service academies, service training camp teams, (which as Vautravers points out, were not four-year college teams: I’ve always felt that games against them should have bene considered exhibition games), and teams from schools that had military training programs on campus and which were allowed to have trainees play on their teams. The most popular of those was the Navy V12 program and the top college teams of the time had them.

Even thought the era was twisted in favor of the top teams, Notre Dame’s 1943 team was something special. Using the ranking in the actual final AP poll, they beat #2 Iowa Pre-Flight (9-1) 14-13, #3 Michigan (8-1) 35-12, #4 Navy (8-1) 33-6, #9 Northwestern (6-2) 26-6, #11 Army (7-2-1) 26-0, and #13 Georgia Tech (8-3) 55-13. The only other #1 ranked team to beat the #2, #3 and #4 ranked teams was the 1971 Nebraska team. Both teams are justly considered to be two of the greatest teams of all time, (although Nebraska had no V12 program to supply them with talent). The Irish were unanimously voted #1 and have been selected as #1 by all the polls an systems that have come since.

So that should settle it, right? Well, maybe in the other 49 states but what about in Lafayette Indiana? Purdue was the only major team to win all their games this year: 9-0 and they defeated Great Lakes Naval Training Station, 23-13, who gave Notre Dame their only loss in the last game of the season, 19-14. Doesn’t that trump the Irish? Well, Great Lakes wasn’t a college team, their roster full of both college stars and even NFL players. And they didn’t have their star, (I assume Vautravers is referring to Steve Lach – I found an article saying that Emil Sitko played against Purdue), and Notre Dame was without Heiman trophy winner Angelo Bertelli in the season-ending game. He as in boot camp. But what undercuts any claims by Purdue is that their schedule was as astonishingly weak as Notre Dame’s was strong. Their next four opponents after their season-opening game against Great Lakes were a combined 13-38-4. They finally played another team with a winning record in their 8th game, beating a 5-4 Minnesota team 14-7 and then a 4-4-2 Indiana team 7-0 to close out the season. They were the Big ten co-champs and the Big Ten was considered the #1 conference at the time. But they didn’t play their co-champion, Michigan or Northwestern, the only other ranked Big Ten team. Michigan beat Northwestern, 21-7 and beat six common opponents 212-27. Purdue beat them 142-35. And Notre Dame beat Michigan 35-12. The Irish had three common opponents with Purdue and, even with the Great Lakes scores out-scored them 111-19 vs. 95-34.

I’d be tempted to vote for a Notre Dame-Purdue match-up, especially since they were from the same state and seemed natural rivals, (as they became in the post war era, when 71 of the 87 games between the schools have been played). But I would have been out-voted by those who felt Notre Dame had proven all they needed to.
 

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1944
Fixing the 1944 AP Poll

To a generation of football fans, the 1944 Army team was the definition of football excellence and power. They out-scored nine opponents by an average of 56.0-3.9. The next year they did it again, this time by a margin of 45.8-5.1. The most memorable scores were their two resounding victories over the acknowledged kings of college football, the Notre dame fighting Irish, 59-0 in 1944 and 48-0 in 1945. Although, like most schools, they were impacted by Notre Dame did not have a weak team. In fact they were ranked #1 when Army destroyed them in 1944 and wound up being ranked #9, (Vautravers who only ranks 4 years schools, not military training stations, rated them the #5 collegiate team). They were ranked #2 when Army buried them in 1945, and wound up #9 again despite the second straight devastating loss, (Vautavers has them #8). You can understand the awe the Back Knights of the Hudson created amongst those who saw them or followed their exploits. When you hear a reference to the “wartime Army teams”, this is what they are talking about.

I have a method for ranking teams, both within years and historically. I call it ‘point differential rankings’. I you beat a team by more than anyone else did, beat a team that lost only to your team, tied a team that beat everyone else they played or lost to an all-conquering team by the smallest margin of their opponents, you get a ‘1’: by point differentials, you were the best team they played. If one team did better than you, you get a ‘2’. If two teams did better, you get a ‘3’. Add up the point differential rankings and divide by the number of opponents and you have an average point differential ranking. If you did better against each opponent than any of their other opponents did, you’d wind up with an average of 1.0. No postwar team reached that level of consistent domination. But the 1944 Army team did.

The had the combination of Doc Blanchard, a powerful fullback known as “Mr. Inside” and Glenn Davis, a speedy halfback known as “Mr. Outside”. They are the model for the two running back backfield everyone aspired to have for decades afterwards, (and which I still think could be useful today). Blanchard averaged 5.5 yards per carry and was an excellent blocker, punter and kick-off guy as well as a linebacker on defense. Davis set a still-standing record in 1944 of averaging 11.5 yards per carry, as well as 17.0 yards per receptions. He scored 18 touchdowns in 1944 and 59 for his career. Blanchard scored 30. He won the 1945 Heisman trophy and Davis the 1946 Heisman.

Vautravers talks about how this amazing team was assembled. First Coach Earl “Red” Blaik had to convince the surgeon general to withdraw a rule limiting military academy candidates to 181 pounds because “statistics that showed thinner people to have longer average lifespans”. (The biggest threat to a long lifespan in the military is not what’s on the scale.) Then during the war, the service academies, (just West Point and Annapolis), were allowed to ‘draft’ players from college campuses. Blanchard had player for North Carolina in 1942. Quarterback Doug McKenna and end Barney Poole had come from Mississippi. McKenna’s back-up and successor, Arnold Tucker, had played for U of Miami. Guard John Green played for Tulane. End Hank Foldberg had played for Texas A&M. All told, their roster in 1944 included 6 Hall of Fame players and 13 who were named on All-American listings during their careers. It kind of gained them a bit of an advantage over their opposition. In two years the only team to get withing 21 of Army was Navy, who lost to the Cadets 7-23 in 1944 and 13-32 in 1945.

There was one other team with a perfect record in 1944: Ohio State, also 9-0 and featuring the 1944 Heisman trophy winner, quarterback Les Horvath. Vautravers says of them that “They had a helluva season, and most any year it would be a slam dunk MNC season.” They had a lot of players still there from their 1942 champions and were billed as the “"civilian national champions”. Unlike Purdue’s 1943 team, they played a reasonable schedule, beating Great Lakes Naval Training Station, (coached by their 1942 coach, Paul Brown), 26-6 and winning teams from Minnesota, Indiana, Illinois and Michigan. The writer ranked Michigan #8 and Illinois #15. Vautravers has them at #3 and #13, with Indiana at 14 and Minnesota #16. The Buckeyes won every game except the Michigan game by at least two touchdowns, outscoring their opposition by 287-79.

The question is: was that enough to get them a post-season match up with Army? State was clearly very good but Army was clearly better. Still, I think a 9-0-0 Ohio State team should not be left out of a shot at a national title and I’d vote to have them play Army. Army’s game with Navy was set up as a benefit: you had to buy war bonds to get tickets. They raised an astounding $58.6 million that way and something similar could be done here. Besides it would be one chance to see what may have been the greatest team of all time in action.
 

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1945
1945 College Football National Championship

Army brought back essentially the same team as 1944 with essentially the same results. They went 9-0 and out-scored their opponents by an average of 46-5. One difference was the strength of their schedule. It hadn’t been weak in 1944: They beat #10 Duke 27-7, #8 Pennsylvania 25-6, #5 Notre Dame 59-0 and #4 Navy 23-7, (Vautraver’s ratings). In 1945 they beat #19 Wake Forest 54-0, #9 Duke 48-13, #8 Notre Dame 48-0, #7 Pennsylvania 61-0, #6 Michigan 28-7 and #3 Navy 32-13. And those ratings were with Army beating them by those scores. The 1944 Army team had the bigger numbers but they were probably even better in 1945.

Alabama put up Army-like number sin 1945, outscoring their opposition 430-80 in 10 games, including a 34-14 win in the Rose Bowl over Southern California, the first time the Trojans had bene beaten in Pasadena in 9 tries. Army’s closest game was the 19-point win over Navy. The Tides’ closest game as a 28-14 win over…Georgia. Vautravers has Southern Cal as #21, Georgia #13, Tennessee who the Tide beat 25-7 as the #10 team and LSU, who they beat 26-7 as #12. But that still doesn’t quite compare to the Black Knight’s amazing run through the top ten.

The other undefeated teams were the best ever teams at Oklahoma State and Indiana. Both were the only undefeated teams in the history of those schools. The Cowboys, led by the nation’s total offense leader Bob Fenimore, outscored 9 teams by 285-76, including #11 St. Mary’s, 33-13 in the Sugar Bowl. They also beat #14 Tulsa, 14-6. Nobody else they played even had a winning record, putting them in a place similar to Purdue’s in 1944. State was not yet a member of what became the Big Eight. They were in the Missouri Valley Conference and Vautravers describes them as a ‘mid-major’.

Indiana won the Big Ten, the most prestigious conference. They were tied, 7-7, in their second game by 4-4 Northwestern. They beat nine other opponents by 272-49. The Big Ten’s rose Bowl agreement did not begin until the following season, so they stayed home. If it had been in effect in 1945, the Hoosiers would have been favored to beat USC in the Rose Bowl and Okie State would have faced Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

I would have been tempted to Include Oklahoma State and Indiana in a playoff but I suspect that Army-Alabama would have been the game most people wanted to see.
 

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1946

The most anticipated college football game ever played occurred on November 9th, 1946 in Yankee Stadium, New York City. Army had dominated college football for two years, taking advantage of their ability to draft players from other college teams. They won 25 games in a row by a combined 1,124-136. Along the way, they’d beaten once-mighty Notre Dame 59-0, 48-0. Notre Dame wasn’t what it had been, (especially in 1943 when they had a team almost as dominant), because their players were off fighting the war, (when not playing on service teams), while the Cadets were still studying it. Frank Leahy had coached service ball while he was away and he knew who the best players were and invited the best of them to come back to South Bend with them so many of them that the Irish had begun a four stretch of 36-0-2, which gave them three national championships. They had 10 players who had played on their 1943 champions, 25 who played in the 1944-45 games and wanted revenge and 20 other stars Leahy had gotten rom service ball. Sports Illustrated once declared them the best college team ever as they had 47 players who on their roster who later played pro ball.

The result was a game which one headline described as “much ado about nothing to nothing”, which was the final score. Army had been the #1 ranked team all year, with Notre Dame #2. The #1 team would retain that ranking 20 years later, when Notre Dame and Michigan State tied but in 1946. Notre Dame closed out the season with one-sided wins over Northwestern, Tulane and Southern California. Army did the same against Pennsylvania but when they barely held on to beat a 1-8 Navy team, 21-18, after Notre Dame had beaten Navy 28-0. The voters decided to invert the rankings and make Notre Dame national champion.

Army had out-scored its nine opponents 263-80, normally an impressive total but a shadow of what they did in 1944-45. They’d beaten Michigan in 1945, 28-7. In 1946 it was 20-13. The Duke score went from 48-13 to 19-0. Villanova fell from 54-0 to 35-0. Notre Dame, of course, went from 48-0 to 0-0. Penn was 61-7 to 34-7 and Navy 32-13 to 21-18. The Cadets still had Blanchard and Davis and several other star players from the previous two years. But they also had less depth and their opposition had more talent due to war veterans signing up to play for them. It was impressive that Army still beat anybody but Notre Dame, but they were no longer historically dominant. Notre Dame had bene slightly more impressive at 271-24.

And Army-Notre Dame rematch was a no-brainer and would have bene an idea Red Cross fundraiser, (a popular trend of the times). But another former national title contender had gotten several players back from the war: Georgia, led by Charlie Trippi, Frankie Sinkwich’s co-star on their 1942 team. Like Alabama in 1945, they swept through the SEC, going 11-0, outscoring their opposition 392-110, including 14-0 over the Tide and a 20-10 Sugar Bowl win over North Carolina, in the “Battle of the Charlies”, (the Tar Heel star was Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice).

Meanwhile out west, UCLA went 10-0 and wanted Army invited to the Rose Bowl. Instead they got 7-2 Illinois, the Big Ten Champs, who smashed them 45-14 to take the Bruins out of out consideration.

I’d go for an Army-Georgia game, with the winner playing Notre Dame. Hopefully, the other writers would see the wisdom of it.
 

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1947
Fixing the 1947 AP Poll

1947 was about two teams: Notre Dame and Michigan. There were other undefeated teams but they kept stubbing their toes with ties. Pennsylvania was undefeated except for a tie with Army, (who dropped to 5-2-2 this year without Blanchard and Davis). Kansas was undefeated except for two ties – with Texas Christian and rising Oklahoma. Southern California suffered only a tie with Rice in their first 8 games. Southern Methodist won their first 9 games before tying Texas Christian and then, in the Cotton Bowl, they tied 9-0 Penn State, 13-13.

There was also a nice selection of one-loss teams, including 10-1 Texas, who Vautravers sees as a national title contender despite the loss. The Longhorns did exactly what they did 17 years later: losing one game by 1 point, 13-14 to an unbeaten conference rival before beating Alabama in a bowl game. Georgia Tech, another rising power under Bobby Dodd, was also 10-1, losing only to Alabama. California, starting a great run under SU grad Pappy Waldorf, saw an otherwise perfect record spoiled by a dreadful 14-39 loss to USC. They took that less to heart and didn’t lose another regular season game until 1951.

But in the end, this was between Notre Dame and Michigan. They were #1-2 in the polls all season, changing places based on who was most impressive each season. Notre Dame defeated 9 opponents by a combined 271-52, with only one close game, 26-19 vs. Northwestern. The Wolverines also beat 9 opponents 345-53 but had close games over both Minnesota, 13-6 and Illinois 14-7, both teams with winning records. Notre Dame had so much talent that 46 of the 47 players on their roster later played pro ball. Michigan had so many good players that Coach Fritz Crisler instituted the two-platoon system to take advent age of them so their opposition was always facing fresh players, specializing in what they were doing. Michigan’s success caused other schools with sufficient depth to copy Crisler’s system.

The two schools tried to out-do each other with the margin by which they clobbered their opponents. Their opponents knew that they weren’t the real opposition: Michigan was Notre Dame’s real opponent and Notre Dame was Michigan’s. They had two common regular season opponents and Michigan won both comparisons. Notre Dame beat Pittsburgh 40-6 but Michigan beat them 69-0 Notre Dame beat Northwestern 26-19, (the Wildcats got that close on a late pick six when Notre Dame was passing to win by a more impressive margin and it backfired). Michigan beat them 49-21. Notre Dame seemed to have sealed the deal with an awesome 38-7 season ending crushing of old rival Southern California. That set up the Rose Bowl where Michigan, under the new Big Ten contract was scheduled to play them. The Wolves set out to top the Irish and did so, 49-0.

There was great public pressure for a game to be played between Notre Dame and Michigan. Frank Leahy was all for it but Fritz Crisler and the Big Ten were against it so it never happened. All the public got was the first ever post-bowl poll, which was not for a top 25 but just asked who should be #1. Michigan won by a 2-1 margin. But Southern Cal Coach jeff cravat insisted that Notre Dame was better. The AP declared this final poll to be ‘unofficial’. But the AP Poll is unofficial anyway, so what did that mean?

In my fantasy, I and everyone else would have voted for a Notre Dame Michigan game and they would have played it.
 

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1948

The three dominant programs of the 1940’s, Michigan, Notre Dame and Army were petal to the medal in 1948. In the second to last poll on November 22, they were ranked #1, #2 and #3 with records of 9-0, 8-0 and 8-0, respectively. Michigan’s season was already over and Vautravers speculates that they were ranked #1 partially out of sympathy for the previous season, when the Associated Press had conducted a post-bowl poll that declared them #1 over Notre Dame and then pronounced it “unofficial”. But Notre Dame and Army still had games to go. Navy, 0-8, played Army to an epic 21-21 tie on November 27th. The November 29th poll dropped them to #6, with 9-0-1 North Carolina, (who had been tied 7-7 by William and Mary, a pretty good team in the late 40’s) 10-0 California and 9-1 Oklahoma, (a rising power who lost their opener 17-20 to Santa Clara, also a good team in those days, and were now on a 31-game winning streak that would carry through 1950). Notre Dame played Southern California on December 4 and were also the victim of an upset tie, 14-14. As Vautravers has said, one of the pitfalls of having the national title decided just based on a regular season poll is that sometimes games are scheduled after the last poll. Fortunately, the sympathy for Michigan had already placed them #1 and all sources regard the Wolverines as the champions of 1948.

California lost to Northwestern in the Rose Bowl on a disputed touchdown, (the ball was fumbled as the Wildcat was going over the goal line), the first of three straight unbeaten Golden bear teams to lose in the Rose Bowl. They were the Buffalo Bills of that era. Oklahoma beat North Carolina 14-6 in the Sugar Bowl. There was also Clemson, who went 11-0, including a 24-23 Orange Bowl victory over Missouri. But their schedule was weak and they were only ranked #11 in the final poll and #8 in Vautravers’ “Fixed” (post bowl) poll.

Curmudgeon that I am, I would have voted for a four-team playoff of Michigan, Notre Dame, Army and Clemson. I think the public would have gone for the top three.
 

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1949
Fixing the 1949 AP Poll

This was the last year of what I call the ‘double-class’ situation: the guys who, by their age would normally have bene in college in the late 1940’s were joined by, essentially their older brothers who had fought the war and then joined them in college. At any school that had a strong team in this time, it was said for decades afterwards that that team in the late 40’s was their best team, even above similarly accomplished teams from the 1950’s and 60’s.

Notre Dame, Michigan and Army had dominated the wartime and post-war era. The Wolverines were the first dynasty to crack. Army ended their 25-game winning streak with a 21-7 win in the Big House for which they had prepared as if it were D-Day. Then came a 20-21 defeat to a Northwestern team that wound up 4-5. A four-game winning streak kept them in the Top Ten, the first school to be in the Top Ten every year of a decade, (a record not matched until Nebraska and Florida State in the 1990’s). Bennie Oosterbaan had replaced Fritz Crisler as their coach in 1948 but he was unable to maintain the expected level of excellence. He continues to have winning seasons, but with 2-3 losses per year until a 2-6-1 collapse in 1958. Bump Elliott replaced him and had one excellent season, 9-1 with a Rose Bowl win in 1964 but also had 5 losing season in ten years. Basically, in the 1950’s and 60’s, Michigan and Michigan State switched positions before the Wolverines hired Bo Schembechler in 1969 and he brought them back into something close to the prominence they had under Crisler in the late 40’s.

Notre Dame had perhaps the most dominant of their four straight undefeated teams in 1949, out-scoring ten teams 360-86, with only one close game, an epic win over SMU in Dallas, 27-20, a week after the last regular season poll, securing their last national championship for 17 years. From time to time, Note Dame tries to re-establish its academic credentials and reign in the football program and they did it after this season, telling Frank Leahy that they were having trouble scheduling teams because he’d acquired too much talent and won too much. The Irish fell with a thud in 1950, to 4-4-1. Leahy rallied them to contend for another title in 1953 but retired for his health after that season. Terry Brennan, like Oosterbaan, got off a to a good started, going 9-1 in 1954 but faded badly after that, falling all the way to 2-8 in 1956, the season that Paul Hornung inexplicably won the Heisman over Jim Brown, Johnny Majors and others. Joe Kuharich came in from the pros, once again proving that coaching in the pros is different than coaching in college. He had a 2-8 season of his own in 1960. He was the coach when the Irish pulled off the upset of Syracuse in 1961 on the controversy over the roughing the kicker call. He bugged out just before the 1963 season and old alum Hugh Devore filled in for a 2-7 season. The Irish then got serious about football again and hired Ara Parseghian, who had been beating them regularly with his Northwestern teams.

Army continued to be strong until they were upset by Navy at the end of the 1950 season. Then came the cribbing scandal, where team members were found to have been cheating on examinations. Army fell to 2-7 in 1951. Coach Red Blaik managed to get the program back on its feet and even went undefeated, but with a tie, in his final season of 1958. But Army’s never been a national championship contender since.

But in 1949, the Irish and the Cadets looked like the glory would never end. Army beat 9 teams by a combined 354-68. But there was a new kid on the block: Oklahoma, about whom Vautravers has some choice words concerning their player acquisition technique, (they bought them), went 10-0 and then crushed LSU 35-0 in the Sugar Bowl, outscoring their eleven opponents 399-88. They had a 21-game winning streak as the season ended. California went 10-0 for the second consecutive season and for the second consecutive season they lost a frustrating Rose Bowl game, this time to Ohio State, 14-17 to knock them out of the title race, (Vautravers erroneously described this as their third straight such defeat: that would come the next year). Then there was Pacific, then a mid-major, maybe the ultimate mid-major, out-scoring eleven opponents, 575-66:
https://web.archive.org/web/2015090...ued/p/pacific_ca/yearly_results.php?year=1945
They played no team that wound up in the final rankings but could Notre Dame, Army or Oklahoma have done any better. I’ve run lines of comparative scores between those teams and the Tigers look pretty good.

I’d love to see Pacific take on, say, Oklahoma while Notre Dame and Army renewed acquaintances but I think the public and writers would have dismissed them as a small-time team so we’d probably get Army-Oklahoma with the winner playing Notre Dame. They would have been great games, any way they did it.
 

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1950
Fixing the 1950 AP Poll

This was the first year of the Coach’s Poll, run by United Press International, creating the possibility of split titles, (although we wouldn’t have one until 1954). This was also the first year a poll champion lost a bowl game. There wasn’t much opportunity for that to happen before this: the service academies and Notre Dame didn’t play in them and the Big Ten didn’t do so until after the 1946 season and they had a rule that teams couldn’t go their twice in a row. Texas Christian in 1938 and Texas A&M in 1939 were the only #1 ranked teams that went to bowls in that time and they both won.

As Vautravers points out, not only was there no poll after the bowl games: there was no AP, (writers) poll after the regular season, either. They did their last poll on November 27th and thus missed Navy’s 14-2 upset of Army. Army is listed as being 8-1 in their final poll but they were actually 8-0 at that point. The Coaches had their last poll on December 5th and were thus aware of Army’s defeat and lowered them to #5.

Oklahoma’s 7-13 loss to Kentucky in the Sugar Bowl blew open the race for the national title. Although I agree with Vautravers’ conclusion that Tennessee should be ranked #1, I don’t think it’s a “slam dunk” and t here are numerous contenders. The issue is: would any of them capture the imagination of the public such that there would be a demand for an extra game of games?

The Sooners had lost their 31-game winning streak but they were still 10-1 having out-scored their opponents 352-148 after the bowl game. Kentucky, who had been ranked #7 and had lost to Tennessee 0-7, blew away the rest of their opponents and wound up 11-1, (393-69). Their schedule may have bene weak but their performance wasn’t. Tennessee was 11-1, (335-71), and had beaten Kentucky and then 9-1 Texas, who had lost by 1 to Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl, 20-14. Army was the last of the reigning dynasties from the 1940’s and had out-scored their nine opponents 267-40, including another win over Michigan, 27-6. The Wolverines were only 6-3-1 but that included a 14-6 victory over California, who still wound up 9-1-1 (224-90). Two teams won all their games: Princeton, 9-0 (349-94) and Wyoming, 10-0 (363-59) but both were regarded as what we would now call ‘mid-majors’ and could have played in my fictional “Pesci Bowl”. The Cowboys won the Gator Bowl, 20-7 over Washington and Lee, who had lost to Tennessee by only 20-27. Also regarded as mid-majors were Clemson, 9-0-1 (344-76), who beat U of Miami 9-1-1 (251-97) in the Orange Bowl. Also, Michigan State, a former mid-major now beginning the process of joining the Big Ten, was 8-1 (243-107).

Would there have been a big cry for a Tennessee-Kentucky rematch? How about a four-team tourney including Army and Oklahoma? I think that with all those one loss teams at the top, the fans and writers might have bene persuaded to do that. Match Oklahoma and Tennessee, (which Vautravers said should have been the Sugar Bowl match-up) and Kentucky with Army. The Vols deserved the #1 ranking and #1 seed but you are splitting hairs to rank them as the best one loss team and handing them the championship. Besides, who doesn’t want more football?
 

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1951

If #3 beats #1, do they become #1 or does #2 become #1? That’s one question. Another is that #3 defeated #2 decisively, (34-7), in #3’s own place - but they did it the previous year. Should that matter?

#1 was Bob Neyland’s Tennessee, who likely would have been ranked #1 in post-bowl poll in 1950. They tore through their ten-game schedule, out-scoring their opponents 373-88, winning every game by at least two touchdowns. #2 was Michigan State, a former mid-major who had joined the Big ten under ex-Syracuse coach Biggie Munn, (who brought the entire SU staff there in 1946). They went 9-0, struggling with their new level of opposition but finding ways to win, outscoring their opponents 270-114, with four wins of a touchdown or less. They did impress in beating Woody Hayes’ first Ohio State team in Columbus, 24-20 and blowing away Frank Leahy’s rebuilding Notre Dame team 35-0 in nationally televised games. Those are the games that got them their #2 ranking. They didn’t win the Big 10 title because they weren’t yet playing enough Big Ten games and they couldn’t go anywhere but the Rose Bowl being a member of the conference, so their season ended there. They’d finished 8-1 the previous year, their one loss to another upstart, Jim Tatum’s Maryland team, who also went 9-0 against a weak schedule, outscoring their opponents 353-62, with only one close game, a 14-7 win over Tatum’s Alma Mater, North Carolina, who had beaten the terps 11 times in a row.

Also in the mix were the actual Big Ten Champions, Illinois, tied by Ohio State 0-0, who went 8-0-1, (180-76) and Georgia Tech, tied 14-14 by Duke who went 10-0-1 (278-76). They were ranked 4th and 5th. Also undefeated were 9-0 (310-82), Princeton with Heisman Trophy winner Dick Kazmaier and 9-0 (286-72), San Francisco, with future pro football stars Ollie Matson, Gino Marchetti, Bob St. Clair and Ed Brown. They were ranked #6 and #14 in the AP Poll. The coaches had the same ranking for each team, except they had Illinois ranked ahead of Maryland.

Then came the bowls. The big result came in the Sugar Bowl where Maryland rolled over Tennessee 28-13 after building up a 21-0 lead. Illinois broke open a close game against 9-1 Stanford in the Rose Bowl, scoring 27 fourth quarter points to win 40-7. Georgia Tech beat 8-1-1 Baylor 17-14 in the Orange Bowl. Michigan State, Princeton and San Francisco watched on TV, the latter going uninvited because of their use of black players, which the southern bowls didn’t want. On top of that, their school had opted to give up football, so the Dons went out undefeated.

Vautravers sees this as a straight comparison between Maryland and Michigan State and chooses Maryland. Obviously a game between them would have resolved things but should Illinois and Georgia Tech be left out of it because of their ties? I’d put Princeton and San Francisco in my mythical “Pesci Bowl” as the best of the mid-majors and opt for a four-team playoff with tech playing Maryland and State going for an informal Big Ten title against Illinois. Maybe the public would, too, due to the prominence of the Big Ten: how could the champion of the most prestigious conference not be their highest rated team? And Tech would find out if Maryland was for real or if their win over Tennessee was a fluke.
 

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1952
Fixing the 1952 AP Poll
1952 was all about two teams: Michigan State and Georgia Tech ran the table and everybody else lost. A debate about which of those teams should have been #1 is interesting but would be unnecessary in LiMu’s system. There would be just the one post-bowl game to determine the champion.

I think Michigan State was rated #1 and Georgia Tech #2 by most services for two reasons. One is that the Big Ten was the most prestigious conference at this team. They had been since football became popular elsewhere than the east, where it began. The Midwest, with Michigan, Chicago and Minnesota, was the first area to have teams challenge the eastern, (mostly Ivy League) powers and when those schools created the Big Ten and the Ivys faded, that became the area of the country with the most respected teams. No SEC team finished #1 in the polls until Auburn in 1957 and they had to share the title with Ohio State. Gradually the SEC rose in prominence and today they are dominant but that was not the case in 1952.

One thing the SEC had to overcome was their own prejudice. They didn’t use black players and avoided playing teams that did. In the 1952 polls, Michigan State and Wisconsin were the two teams that were voted #1 in weekly polls and Southern California was also rated ahead of the Yellow Jackets. All used black players. For the next two decades there were many southern teams that contended for the national championship but there was always the question of how well they would have done against integrated teams. Vautravers cites the number of ranked teams Tech played but they were all segregated, southern teams too. Too bad LiMu wasn’t around back then to pit them against their northern and western counterparts in a game for the title.
 

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1953

This was the third time in four years that a champion recognized by the polls, which didn’t include bowl games, lost their bowl game and likely would have bene displaced by another team in a post bowl-poll. It wouldn’t happen again until 1960 but also happened in 1964. In 1965, 1970 and 1973 The AP, (writers) poll did post-bowl polls but the UPI, (coaches), did not, thus creating apparent split championships for those years, although the AP winner is generally recognized as the correct champion because, well, #bowlsmatter.

Vautravers also points out that the “end-of-the-regular-season’ polls often failed to include the last game of the regular season for some contenders, as they did in 1953, when Notre Dame crushed SMU 40-14 after the last poll, although Vautravers does not think that would have bene enough to move Notre Dame back into the #1 slot they had held all season until an upset tie to Iowa, (who was becoming a new power), that was full of controversy due to Notre Dame’s repeated use of fake injuries to stop the clock, both at the end of the half and the end of the game to score their two touchdowns. Vautravers notes that that wasn’t an unusual tactic at the time but that it created a huge controversy on this occasion as it persevered Notre Dame’s unbeaten record in the quest of another national championship. Also, resentment of the Irish’s great success over the years may have been a factor. They were going for their fifth national championship in a decade. Imagine the outcry if Alabama used fake injuries to win a title.

The controversy seems to have affected frank Leahy’s health as he retired after this year. Vautravers says that ongoing disputes with the Notre Dame Administration about football vs. academics and who’s in charge may have also contributed to his decision. He was the Nick Saban of his time with those five national titles plus a claimed one at Boston College in 1940. Notre Dame’s record in the ten years after he retire was a dismal, (by their standards) 51-48 before Ara Parseghian would be hired because the administration wanted to win again.

The fake injury controversy also obscured the fact that the Irish were clearly the best team of the 1953 season. They beat two other national championship contenders, Oklahoma, 28-21: their last loss until the Notre Dame beat them four years later), and Georgia Tech, (27-14: ending their 31-game unbeaten string). Iowa was ranked #9. They easily swept away their other seven opponents by 248-90. Their halfback, Johnny latter, won the Heisman Trophy. They’d been #1 all season until the Iowa game. Except for the upset tie, they surely would have bene ranked #1 over 10-0 Maryland, who rolled over 10 unranked opponents by 298-31. When Oklahoma beat the Terps, 7-0 in the Orange Bowl, that sealed the deal. No one else was unbeaten. Michigan State had finally played enough games to win the Big ten title and beat UCLA 28-20 in an exciting Rose Bowl. But their one loss was to 2-7 Purdue, who Notre Dame had beaten 37-7. Iowa was 5-3-1 over a tough a schedule. They had tied Note Dame but 5-3-1 doesn’t get you a shot at #1.

There was no one left for Notre Dame to play. The defeat of the #1 team in a bowl game actually created clarity rather than chaos in 1953.
 

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1954

This was the year of the first split title in the era of the two polls: the AP, (writer’s) and UPI (coach’s) polls. Ohio State won the writer’s poll and UCLA the coach’s. There is a third contender: Oklahoma. All three wound up 10-0-0.

Ohio State and Oklahoma have the greater historical reputation, but UCLA probably has the best claim at the national championship for this season. They outscored their ten opponents 367-40 compared to 249-75 for the Buckeyes and 304-62 for the Sooners. Ohio State had won the nation’s most prestigious conference, the Big 10, and had played the most ranked opponents, 5, compared to two for UCLA and Oklahoma, whose two ranked opponents, amazingly, had losing records. They were also not in Oklahoma’s conference, which, other than the Sooners was closer to the Group of Five level than the Power Five in modern parlance. The Sooners had started on their famous 47 game winning streak, still the major college record and would win the next two national titles. Of those 47 games, only 18 came against teams with winning records. The Pacific Coast Conference wasn’t a lot better. They were in the midst of a 13 year stretch in which they won only one game against the Big Ten champs

They had the most famous coach, Bud Wilkinson, who backed by Oklahoma Oil men had built a dynasty that had a 31 game winning streak in the late 1940’s to go with the 47 game streak of the mid-50’s and who won 13 consecutive conference titles and three national championships from 1947-59. Ohio State had the most famous coach-to-be, Woody Hayes, whose garrulous self-promoting manner endeared him to Buckeye fans but few others. UCLA had the mostly forgotten Red Sanders, who brought that program to it’s greatest height but ruined his reputation by the timing manner of his death, a heart attack during a session with a prostitute in 1958, before football really made it big on television.

Vautravers is dismissive of Oklahoma’s candidacy based on their weak schedule but, in discussing UCLA, says “playing a tougher schedule does not mean that a team is better”. UCLA beat Kansas 32-7 but Oklahoma beat them 65-0. And the Sooners were actually the team ranked #1 in the most weekly polls. AP had them #1 four times, Ohio State the same and UCLA twice, (Notre Dame was also #1 twice before being upset by Purdue: they went on to go 9-1 in Terry Brennan’s first year and were ranked #4). In the UPI poll, the Sooners were #1 four times, UCLA five times and Notre Dame once. Ohio State never got beyond #2 with the coaches, which is where they wound up. That’s eight #1s for the Sooners, seven for the Bruins and four for the Buckeyes. The clincher for me is that California played all three teams and lost to State in Columbus 13-21, to Oklahoma 13-27 and to UCLA 6-27 in Berkeley. Then UCLA crushed Southern California 34-0 in their finale followed by Ohio State’s 20-7 win on a muddy field in the Rose Bowl.

That game should have been UCLA vs. Ohio State but the Big Ten, the Pacific Coast league and also the Big Seven, (Oklahoma’s conference: Oklahoma State didn’t move there from the Missouri Valley until 1960) had “no repeat” clauses in their contracts with the Rose and Orange Bowls respectively. Ohio State played 9 regular season games and their 10th in the Rose Bowl. The Bruins and Sooners stayed home with their 10-0 records.

Of course, LiMu has a solution: put all three of them into a play-off for the national title. Since I’m assuming the writers would vote for the match-ups, that means a game between Oklahoma and UCLA, with the winner playing Ohio State for all the marbles.

Oh, and dig the ‘painting’ Vautravers did of “Ohio State halfback Hopalong Cassady hopping in for the touchdown that made the final score 21-7 over Michigan”, and the fact that both teams are wearing colored jerseys. Cool….

1954ohstate_mich_cassady_td.png
 
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1955

UCLA started out ranked #1 but travelled each for a re-match with Maryland, who had bene their big win during the regular season the year before. The Terps gained revenge, 7-0 and rose to the #1 spot. Both teams ran the table form there, UCLA going 9-1-0, (285-57) and Maryland 10-0-0 (211-57). Michigan won an early confrontation with Michigan State 14-7 and jumped over Maryland after crushing Army 26-2. Maryland regained the #1 spot after beating upcoming Syracuse 34-13 in Archbold. Michigan fell out of it after a 6-25 upset at Illinois and a 0-17 home loss to Ohio State. Meanwhile Oklahoma kept rolling over everyone a weak schedule and Michigan State, like UCLA, ran the table after the big early loss. The Sooners beat 10 opponents by a total of 365-54 and hoped that no one noticed that only two of those teams had winning records – and both had 4 losses. The Spartans went 8-1-0, (236-69) and won the big, bad Big Ten. Texas Christian won the SEC with a 9-1-0 (293-91), their one loss coming to Bear Bryant’s “Junction Boys” of Texas A&M, 16-19. Another rising power was Mississippi, under Johnny Vaught, who won the SEC with the same record, outscoring their foes 251-97. They’d also lost an early game, to Kentucky, 14-21.

In the bowls, Mississippi nipped Texas Christian 14-13 in the Cotton Bowl and Michigan State topped UCLA on a last second field goal, 17-14 in the Rose Bowl. But the national championship as decided in the Orange Bowl where Maryland forged a 6-0 halftime lead on Oklahoma only to have the Sooners blow them away with a 20-0 second half, capped by an 82 yard interception return by Carl Dodd.

That decided things, with no need for any other game. Jim Tatum left Maryland to coach at his alma mater, North Carolina. Curley Bird, the former football player who had spent so much of the university’s money on football that Maryland almost lost their accreditation as a university, also left to enter politics. Their program collapsed without them and was not successful again until the 1970’s, never attaining the heights Tatum had taken them to. UCLA and the rest of the Pacific Coast league got caught up in a scandal about giving players phony jobs. The conference actually disbanded at one point and the Bruins, while a successful program for the most part, have never risen to the heights Red Sanders took them to. Texas Christian also faded, becoming more famous for upsets in the 60’s than powerful teams and for being a bottom feeder for decades after that until the program was reviewed under Gary Patterson. Mississippi would be a perennial national title contender for most of a decade and Michigan State continued to be a Big Ten power. Oklahoma, meanwhile, had won 30 games in a row and wasn’t done.
 

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1956

There’s no real doubt about who was the 1956 national champion. Oklahoma had one of the great teams of all time. They were the defending national champions. They were #1 in every weekly poll except that the coaches elevated #2 Michigan State to #1 for one week after the walloped Notre Dame 47-14 before reinstating the Sooners when they beat the Irish 40-0 the next week and Tennessee after their victory in their confrontation with Georgia Tech, then thought better of it and put them back in #2. The Sooners were in the fourth year of their incredible 47 game winning streak. They pounded ten opponents by a combined 466-51, the largest margin of victory since the wartime Army teams. They rushed for 391 yards per game, setting a record that would last 15 years until the 1971 Sooner broke it. They not only beat Notre Dame 40-0; they beat arch-rival Texas 45-0 and their other traditional rival, Nebraska 54-6.

The problem was that Notre Dame was 2-8 that year, Texas was 1-9 and Nebraska 4-6. In fact, Oklahoma played only one team with a winning record that year, 8-2-1 Colorado, and they had to rally from a 6-19 halftime deficit to beat the Buffalos, 27-19, their only close game. They beat everybody else by at least 22 points. Vautravers descries their schedule as weaker than the 1984 Brigham Young team that was dubiously voted #1. He tries to promote 9-1 Iowa as a possible alternative national champion, based on having the toughest schedule in the country. The Hawkeyes played half their games against ranked teams, Including Oregon State, who they beat 14-13 during the regular season and 35-19 in the Rose Bowl. But they outscored their opposition only 219-84 and lost to Michigan 14-17. Vautravers finally concludes that, even if they played a weak schedule, the Sooners were still the class of the nation. (They again had no bowl game due to the “no repeat” agreement the Big 7 had with the Orange Bowl: Colorado beat Clemson 27-21.)

Two other contenders were Georgia Tech and Tennessee, who were both 6-0 going into what became the “game of the year”. The Vols won a tremendous, 50’s style defensive duel dominated by the punters, 6-0 and ran the regular season table. They might have bene a match for Oklahoma in a LiMu game but they were upset by Baylor in the Sugar Bowl 7-13, to take them out of it. Meanwhile, Bear Bryant’s “Junction Boys” at Texas A&M, went undefeated but suffered an early tie to mid-major Houston, 14-14. They were also on probation.

There was no need for any additional game this year.
 

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IMO I rather see going back to the old Bowl system and then have the Top 2 teams play in the NCG 10-14 days later, vs expanding the playoff. When Texas and Oklahoma leave there really will be a P4. If a team doesn't win their conference, then too bad no chance at the NCG for you (that counts for UGA this season).

So if you have the Rose (B1G vs P12) and Sugar (ACC vs SEC), there will be a clear #1 and #2 99% of the time.

2021- Bama vs Michigan/UGA (so a different champ if Michigan wins the Rose over Utah)
2020- Bama vs Ohio State (same)
2019- LSU vs Ohio State (instead of Clemson)
2018- Clemson vs Notre Dame (instead of Bama)
2017- UGA/Clemson vs Bama (potentially the same)
2016- Clemson vs Ohio State/Washington (instead of Bama)
2015- Bama vs Michigan State/Stanford/Oklahoma (instead of Clemson)
2014- Ohio State vs Bama/FSU (instead of Oregon)

So in the playoffs only this season would potentially have a different champ. It would be almost impossible to contest who the champ is. If you are P4 and didn't win your conference it is hard to complain. The G6 teams can complain but who cares.
 

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Seriously. Did you work for the Library of Congress:)
Simply Amazing. Thank you.


I've done this kind of 'history lesson' before with lots of numbers and lists of draft choices, etc. It was labor intensive and reader-intensive, too, so I'm using this as a way to discuss these years in a more readable fashion. All seasons interest me, not just the current one.

"The past is a series of presents and the present is living history we are privileged to witness."
 
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