What Might Have Been: 1973 | Syracusefan.com

What Might Have Been: 1973


Bored Historian
Aug 26, 2011
Last year I speculated on what the field for a Division 1A playoff might have looked like if it had started in 1973, the year the NCAA established divisions and began playoffs in the other divisions. It was sort of “fan fiction” - I wasn’t trying to prove anything, just take a peek at what we might have missed. I used a lot of license. I decided that the best playoff format was a 16 team format with automatic bids to conferences who had schools who had won national poll championships previously. Teams which tied for the championship in the automatic qualifying conferences would all go to the tournament. The rest of the field would be chosen based on combined rankings in the polls through 1997 and the BCS standings after that.

The first three rounds would be played in December with the title game alternating in one of the major bowl games. The “majors” to me are the Rose, Orange, Sugar and Cotton Bowls with the Fiesta Bowl joining them in 1986, (when Penn State in reality beat Miami for the title that year). This is more elaborate than the actual playoffs that started in the other divisions in 1973 but I decided to go right to my favored format rather than build it up over the years. The original Division II playoffs involved 8 teams and Division III only 4 teams, (there was no Division 1AA until 1978). There were 6 undefeated Division 1 teams in 1973 and if I did such limited fields with automatic bids, at least one undefeated team would have to have to have been left out and I wanted to avoid that.

What I want to do this year is to figure out the winners and score of the games and also some game details to clarify the picture of “what might have been”. Again, I’m not trying to “prove” who should have been the national champion, just doing some fan fiction to see what a playoff might have been like. My modus operandi for this is to use comparative scores to determine a winner and a margin of victory, then find a game won by that margin and use that score, plus some details from that game, with the names changed to players from the teams in my match-up so I can write-up a brief description of the game. That’s more interesting than just recording a winner or a score.

We all know about comparative scores. A small college team can be made to seem “better” than a national champion if you choose your score carefully to represent the best performance by one team and the worst by another. But run through several lines of comparative scores not chosen to produce a particular result and you can get something more meaningful.

I decided that I’d use five lines of comparative scores between my contestants and average them. That will be enough to avoid freakish results yet permit the occasional upset while allowing for some one-sided games as well. If I used a dozen lines of scores, that might “flatten” the victory margin too much and make it impossible for an underdog to win. Also, this way every game is decided on the same number of lines of scores, instead of one by 5, another by 3, another by 12, etc. I first looked at direct confrontations between the teams during the regular season. Then I looked at common opponents. If I couldn’t get five lines of comparative scores by those methods, I looked at the opponent’s opponents. When I had five lines, I stopped. (If the teams met in the post-season, I’d just use the results of the post season game rather than the comparative scores.)
When I averaged five lines of comparative scores, I was as likely to get a victory margin of 4 or 5 as 3 or 6, or to get a margin of 11 or 12 as 10 or 13. But we know football scores. Games are more likely to be decided by 3 or 6 and 10 or 13 than 4,5,11 or 12 points. I thus established “levels” of victory margin. If my average comparative scores produced a margin of 1, 2 or 3 points, that fell into the 1-3 level. Beyond that was the 4-7 level, 8-10, 11-14, 15-17, 18-21, 22-24, 25-27, 28-30, 31-34, 35-38, 39-42, 43-45, 46-49, etc. If I establish that a team “wins” by, say 9 points, then a game with a margin of victory from 8-10 points can be used to get a final score and game description. This gives me greater flexibility in locating games I can use and results in more “football like” scores.

In choosing the games I will use I will try to use games involving teams similar to the ones in my tournament. That is, if one team is primarily a running team and the other primarily a passing team and the running team had an 8 point advantage when the five lines of comparative scores were averaged, I’ll look for a game where a running team defeated a passing team by 8-10 points. If a team was noted for a strong defense and “lost” by 3 points, a 13-10 game would make more sense than a 41-38 game.

I made no adjustment for home vs. away. I wouldn’t know what adjustment to make and I feel with both teams being good teams, that advantage would be minimal. I think home vs. road means more to mediocre teams.

Here is an example of how it works: the first game in my first tournament from 1973 is Tulane at Alabama. The Green Wave vs. the Crimson Tide. Both were primarily running teams but could pass the ball when they needed to. First let’s figure out who wins and by how much:
There was no post season game between them so we have to go to comparative scores. They didn’t play each other during the regular season, so there’s no direct confrontation.
They had three common opponents. Tulane beat Vanderbilt 24-3. Alabama beat them 44-0. That’s +23 for Alabama. (44-21). Alabama beat LSU 21-7. Tulane shut them out 14-0 a week later. (The Tigers had been 9-0 going into those games.) . That’s a wash. Alabama beat Kentucky 28-14 but the Green Wave crashed vs. the Wildcats 7-34. That’s +41 for Bama. That gives me three comparative score lines and Alabama is up +64.

Tulane beat Boston College 21-16. The Eagles Lost to Miami 10-15. The Tide Blew out the Canes 43-13. That’s +30 for Bama. The Wave clobbered VMI 42-0. The Keydets beat to Virginia Tech, (they used to be rivals), 22-21, making Tulane better than the Hokies by 43 points. But Tech got rolled by the Tide, 6-77, so Alabama wins this one, too, +28. There are several other lines I could construct at this level, (three degrees of separation - Tulane to Boston College to Miami to Alabama), but I decided to stop at five for the reasons noted above. Alabama gains +58 from these two lines of comparative scores.

That’s +122 for Alabama over five lines of comparative scores, an average of 24.4 per line. That puts the Tide in the 22-24 range for winning margin. I have box scores for all the major college bowl games that year but none had that range of victory margins. I don’t have the regular season box scores from that era but I do have the major college bowl game box scores-they are in the ESPN College Football Encyclopedia. There were no major college bowl games won by 22-24 points in the 1973 season. Nor were there any in the 1972 season. In 1971, Mississippi beat Georgia Tech in the Peach Bowl 41-18. And Penn State beat Texas 30-6 in the Cotton Bowl. I’ve done some research and I think both Mississippi and Georgia Tech passed the ball a little more often in 1971 than Alabama and Tulane did in 1973. I also think 30-6 sounds more like an Alabama -Tulane score of that era than 41-18. So I’ll use the details of Penn State’s victory over the Texas in the 1/1/72 Cotton Bowl to dramatize Alabama’s victory over Tulane in my 1973 national championship tournament, although I might switch some of the events around a bit if it makes it more interesting.

That Texas - Penn State game started out as a field goal battle with the Longhorns taking a 6-3 lead at halftime. Penn State blew them away in the second half, Lydell Mitchell going over from the one and then John Hufnagel throwing a 65 yard touchdown pass to John Skarzynski to really break it open. The Lions got two more field goals and then Hufnagel went over from the 4 for the final score. State outgained Texas 376-242 and outrushed them 239-159. Texas lost three fumbles and Penn State had one interception.

Alabama used two quarterbacks in 1973: Gary Rutledge and Richard Todd. Rutledge was more of a traditional wishbone quarterback. Todd played for the Jets in the NFL and was a superior passer. Therefore I’ll have him throw the 65 yard TD pass. Alabama’s leading receiver that year was Wayne Wheeler, who caught only 19 balls but for a 27.9 average, so he’ll catch it. Todd is described in Street & Smiths as “a horse of a running back” so I’ll let him score the last touchdown. Their leading rusher was Wilbur Jackson so he’ll score Mitchell’s TD. I don’t see Tulane going in at halftime at what was then called Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa with a 6-3 lead over Alabama. I also don’t think they’d have run for 159 yards on the Tide or held them to 239. The one stat I do like is that Mitchell ran for 146 yards and one score. So in my summary I’ll just say:

At Tuscaloosa: ALABAMA 30 TULANE 6

The game stated out as a battle of field goals with Tulane actually taking a 6-3 lead at one point. But then Alabama took over with a series of long drives. Two of them resulted in short touchdown runs by Wilbur Jackson and Richard Todd. Two produced field goals. But the play of the game was a beautiful 65 yard bomb from Todd to Wayne Wheeler which broke it open. Jackson rushed for 146 yards for the Crimson Tide.

The point is to give us a picture of a game that might have happened if a playoff had taken place. What I’ll do now in a separate post is to repeat the post for each individual year from last year to show how the teams were chosen and then do a summary like the one above for each game. I won’t go over how I figured it out, as I have done here. I just wanted to provide an example so you can see what this is based on.
The situation:
ACC- North Carolina State went unbeaten in the conference and 8-3 overall, outscoring their opponents 365-233.
SEC- Alabama had one of their greatest teams, going 11-0 and outscoring their opponents by a crushing 454-89.
Big 10- Ohio State and Michigan had both won all their games going into their year-end confrontation, which ended in a 10-10 tie. The Buckeyes were voted into the Rose Bowl by the conference AD’s, presumably because the Wolverine’s quarterback, Dennis Franklin had been injured in that final game. OSU finished the regular season 9-0-1, (371-43) while the Wolves were 10-0-1 (330-88). In those days, only one Big Ten team could go bowling.
Big 8- Oklahoma went 10-0-1 (400-133) but were on probation.
SWC- Texas Tech went 10-1 (314-168), but lost to 8-2 (364-143) Texas 12-28 and the Longhorns won the conference with a 7-0 record.
Pac 8- Defending national champion USC went 9-1-1 (301-160), losing 14-23 to Notre Dame and tying Oklahoma 7-7.
Other top teams: Notre Dame was 10-0 (358-66). Penn State was 11-0 (431-120). Arizona State (491-164) and Houston (316-135) were both 10-1. Miami (Ohio) won the MAC at 10-0, (207-69).

What actually happened:
Miami (Ohio) beat Florida (7-4, 180-171) 20-7 in the Tangerine Bowl. The Gators had beaten the “Real” Miami 14-7 during the regular season. Houston blew Tulane (9-2, 221-147) out of the Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl, 47-7. Arizona State handled Pittsburgh (6-4-1, 218-182) in the Fiesta Bowl 28-7. Texas Tech beat Tennessee (8-3, 272-219) in the Gator Bowl 28-19. On New Year’s Day Nebraska (8-2-1, 287-160) handled Texas 19-3 in the Cotton Bowl and Penn State beat LSU (9-2, 258-153), in the Orange Bowl ,16-9. The Tigers had started 9-0 but then lost to Alabama, Tulane and the Lions. Ohio State made it’s case by crushing USC 42-21 in the Rose Bowl. But it came down to #1 Alabama vs. #3/#4 Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl. (Oklahoma was ranked #2 in both polls- the coaches refused to rank teams on probation beginning 1974- and Ohio State #3 by the coaches). The Irish held on to beat the Tide, 24-23 and were voted #1 in the final writer’s Poll. UPI didn’t re-poll the coaches after the bowls until the next year so Alabama went into the books as their national champion.

If we had the BCS:
Alabama was #1 in both polls and Oklahoma #2. But the Sooners were on probation. Notre Dame was #3 in the writer’s poll and #4 in the coach’s poll. Ohio State was #4/#3 and Michigan had the same record and had tied them. And what about Penn State who had won all their games? I suspect it would have been Alabama- Notre Dame since they both had perfect records, Alabama was #1 and Notre Dame was Notre Dame and that’s what we got.

What might have happened:
Auto Bids: NC State, Alabama, Ohio State and Michigan , Texas and USC
At Large teams: Notre Dame, Penn State, UCLA (9-2, 470-192), Arizona State, Texas Tech, Nebraska, LSU, Houston, Miami (Ohio), and Tulane.

1st round games
Tulane (9-2, 221-147) at Alabama (11-0, 454-89)
North Carolina State (8-3, 365-233) at Notre Dame (10-0, 358-66)
Miami (Ohio) (10-0, 207-69) at Ohio State (9-0-1, 371-43)
Houston (10-1, 316-135) at Michigan (10-0-1, 330-88)
Louisiana State (9-2, 258-153) at Penn State (11-0, 431-120)
Nebraska (8-2-1, 287-160) at Southern California (9-1-1, 301-160)
Texas Tech (10-1, 314-168) at Texas (8-2, 364-143)
Arizona State (10-1, 491-164) at UCLA (9-2, 470-192)

Site for the Title game: The Rose Bowl

We know what happened between LSU and Penn State. Texas Tech- Texas would be a rematch of an early season game, (9/29). Woody Hayes had always refused to play his old school, Miami (Ohio) and now he ahs to. Nebraska and USC were the last two national champions. Their 1971 and 1972 teams are regarded as two of the greatest teams ever. Arizona State-UCLA would have shorted out some scoreboards. Michigan gets a shot, despite not having Franklin. Oklahoma is unfortunately absent due to their probation but the other six undefeated teams have a shot at the national championship.

At Tuscaloosa, Alabama: ALABAMA 30 TULANE 6
The game stated out as a battle of field goals with Tulane actually taking a 6-3 lead at one point. But then Alabama took over with a series of long drives. Two of them resulted in short touchdown runs by Wilbur Jackson and Richard Todd. Two produced field goals. But the play of the game was a beautiful 65 yard bomb from Todd to Wayne Wheeler which broke it open. Jackson rushed for 146 yards for the Crimson Tide.

The Irish broke the game open with four touchdowns in the second quarter, starting with a 35 yard TD pass from flanker Bobby Walls to tight end Dave Casper off an end-around. Wayne Bullock went over from the 2 and Casper caught a 2 yard score. The Wolfpack responded with at 17 yard scoring pass that went from twins Dave Buckey to Don Buckey but Eric Penick returned the kickoff 84 yards for a score to give the Irish a 28-10 halftime lead. After all that the second half was anti-climactic as the teams traded touchdowns with Notre Dame’s extra point being blocked. Notre Dame rushed for 295 yards, Bullock getting 127 and Penick 110.

At Columbus, Ohio: OHIO STATE 35 MIAMI (Ohio) 10
Woody Hayes had always refused to schedule the Redskins but how he had to play them. No problem. His defense crushed the Miami attack, holding them to -45 yards rushing and 32 total yards while his offense rushed for 402 yards. The Buckeyes didn’t even complete a pass. Miami actually tied early at 7-7 with a 38 yard interception retransform safety Joe Spicer. Woody decided after that that his team didn’t need to pass. Archie Griffin ran for 179 yards, scoring on a 37 yard run. Fullback Bruce Elia scored on two short runs. And the Buckeyes closed the scoring with an interception return of their own- Neal Colzie taking it in from 47 yards.

At Ann Arbor, Michigan: MICHIGAN 24 HOUSTON 17
The Wolverines rolled to a 24-3 halftime lead and held on to beat the unheralded Cougars. Tom Slade, replacing injured quarterback, Dennis Franklin, Threw for one score and ran for two more from short range behind the big Michigan line. In the second half the Cougars got their veer-option attack going and quarterback DC Nobles and running back Reggie Cherry both scored. But it wasn’t enough.

At State College, Pennsylvania. : PENN STATE 16 LSU 9
The Tigers outplayed the host Lions for most of the game, outgaining them 274-185 but 72 yard pass from Tom Shuman to Chuck Herd gave the Lions to a 16-7 halftime lead. The only second half score was a safety,. Shuman falling on a fumbled snap in the end zone. Heisman Trophy winner John Cappelletti was held to 50 yards on 26 carried but did have a 1 yard touchdown run in the defensive dual. The LSU Tigers started out 9-0 but lost their last three games to Alabama, Tulane and Penn State. (This game actually took place in the Orange Bowl.)

At Los Angeles, California : NEBRASKA 17 SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA 16
In a battle of the last two national champions, the Nebraska Cornhuskers made it hard for the hometown Southern California Trojans to find the end zone, holding them to three field goals and a single touchdown in a 17-16 win. The Trojans moved up and down the field, gaining 462 yards to 284 for the Huskers. Quarterback David Humm threw a 62 yard touchdown pass to Dave Schamblin to open the scoring and scored himself on a quarterback sneak to give Nebraska a 17-10 lead and the Husker defense held the Trojans to two fourth quarter field goals. Anthony Davis ran for 126 yards for USC and threw a 68 yard TD pass to Shelton Diggs for the Trojans’ only touchdown.

At Austin, Texas : TEXAS 28 TEXAS TECH 7
The Longhorns had been the only team to beat the 10-1 Red Raiders, 28-12 in Austin on September 29th. They did it again today, 28-7. Tech scored first, on a 3 yard run by Larry Isaac but they couldn’t get much after that, being held to 208 yards. Texas gained 433 yards including 131 from Roosevelt Leaks who scored three touchdowns.

At Los Angeles California: UCLA 42 ARIZONA STATE 21
Down 14-21 in the third quarter, the Bruins scored four unanswered touchdowns to close out the game and the Sun Devils. Mark Harmon directed four long drives, ending with a 4 yard TD run by Kermit Johnson, a one yard plunge by Harmon himself, a 2 yard run by James McAlister and a 47 yard run by back-up Wally Henry. Johnson had also scored on two one yard runs in the first half and wound up with 94 yards in 21 carries. McAllister has 149 yards on 22 carries. The Bruins rushed for 320 yard. Harmon completed 6 of 8 for 129 yards after having his first pass intercepted. Woody Green was held to 74 yards for the Sun Devils, scoring on a one yard run. Danny White threw to Greg Hudson for a score and a two point conversion after State had opened with a pair of field goals White passed for 239 yards.


At Tuscaloosa Alabama: ALABAMA 28 NEBRASKA 19
Scoring exactly a touchdown in every quarter, Alabama held off Nebraska, 28-19, to advance to the semi finals. Gary Rutledge directed the opening drive, scoring from 7 yards out on the option. Richard Todd came in the second quarter and, with the Cornhuskers concentrating on stopping the option, dropped back to hit Wayne Wheeler with another game-breaking bomb, this time for 79 yards to give the Tide a 14-0 lead. After getting a field goal just before halftime, the Huskers pulled to within 14-10 when Tony Davis scored on a five yard run in the third quarter. But Rutledge responded by hitting George Pugh with a 7 yard pass to make it 21-10. Nebraska kept coming with another field goal and another score by Davis, this time on a 7 yard pass from David Humm. But another pass play failed to convert the two point attempt and Alabama was still ahead, 21-19. Rutledge directed a long fourth quarter drive, ending with a three yard run by Wilbur Jackson, to close out the scoring.

At South Bend, Indiana: UCLA 17 NOTRE DAME 13

The Bruins shocked the Irish by running for 317 yards with their wishbone attack and advanced to semi-finals where they will face #1 Alabama. Mark Harmon broke away for a 34 yard score in the first period and then closed a long drive with a three yard run in the second quarter to put the visitors up 14-0 at the half. UCLA thwarted Notre Dame by intercepting Tom Clements twice but the Irish still made a comeback. The teams traded third quarter field goals. Art Best made it 17-10 on a 31 yard burst in the fourth quarter. Bob Thomas kicked a 50 yard field goal but that was as close as the Irish could get. Harmon ran for 117 yards and James McAllister for 120 more.

At Columbus, Ohio: OHIO STATE 41 TEXAS 18
The Buckeyes took advantage of five Texas turnovers to crush the Longhorns, rolling to an incredible 38-0 lead. Archie Griffin scored twice and gained 199 yards. Cornelius Green threw for two scores. An attempted comeback featuring three short touchdown runs by Joe Aboussie, mostly against reserves came up well short.

At Ann Arbor, Michigan: MICHIGAN 31 PENN STATE 18
All-American defensive tackle Dave Gallaher intercepted a screen pass from Tom Shuman and rambled 31 yards to the end zone in the fourth quarter to clinch a Michigan victory over Penn State. It had been a back-and-forth game for three quarters, with the Wolverines taking a 17-10 lead on an 18 yard run by Chuck Hester and extended it with a 12 yard run by Gordon Bell before Gallagher’s heroics made it 31-10. Shuman passed to Dan Natale for a late score and then to Woody Petchel for a two point conversion but it was too little, too late. John Cappalletti ran for 104 yards and a score and the Nittany Lions actually had a 348-274 edge in yards but it wasn’t enough.

SEMI-FINALS (12/22/73)

At Tuscaloosa, Alabama ALABAMA 24 UCLA 3
In a battle of wishbone teams, Alabama dominated, perhaps because their defense. which had given up only 120 points in 13 games, was better than UCLA’s, which had surrendered 233 and the Tide had seen the ’bone in practice every day. After a scoreless first quarter, the Tide but a 27 yard field goal by Danny Ridgeway and a 1 yard plunge from Gary Rutledge to take a 10-0 halftime lead. Rutledge hit George Pugh for a 27 yard score in the third period to make it 17-0. After the Bruins got a field goal, Richard Todd found Jerry Brown for a 16 yard scoring pass to close out the scoring and send Alabama into the first ever Division I national championship game.

At Columbus, Ohio: OHIO STATE 17 MICHIGAN 9
The Buckeyes and Wolverines couldn’t decide the issue in their regular season finale, a 10-10 tie where Michigan lost their quarterback, Dennis Franklin to a broken collarbone in that game and his absence may have been the difference in this one, as the Wolves could muster only 28 passing yards. They ran for 215, but all they could get was a single touchdown on a 7 yard run by Ed Shuttlesworth. Ohio State already had a 10-0 lead at that point, thanks to a 2 yard run by Archie Griffin and a field goal by Blair Conway. Michigan closed to within 10-9 when a Tom Skladany punt was blocked out the back of the end zone. Champ Henson went over from the 2 in the fourth quarter to close the scoring and send the Buckeyes to the Rose Bowl to play Alabama for the national championship.

At Pasadena, California : ALABAMA 17 OHIO STATE 12
The Tide jumped out in front of the Buckeyes with a field goal by Danny Ridgeway and a 3 yard TD run by Wilbur Jackson on their first two drives. They then held on as Ohio State dominated the second and third quarters. But ‘Bama held State to two field goals before Cornelius Greene surprised them with a 31 yard pass to wingback Brian Baschnagel. The kick was blocked but the Buckeyes could smell the national title with a 12-10 lead going into the fourth quarter. Then Alabama put together a lengthy drive ending with Richard Todd bulling over the goal line from the one. The kick made it 17-12 and Ohio State was unable to answer before the final gun sounded, ending the titanic struggle. When it was over Woody Hayes, with some reluctance, shook Bear Bryant’s hand at midfield and then ran after a referee to complain about a call.
Well, I think that worked pretty well. Again it doesn't "prove" anything. It's just a vision of what a naitonal championship tournament might have looked like. And we know they could do it because they do even larger tournaments in the other divisons in the same time period. When I get around to it, we’ll have a look at what might have happened in 1974.

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