As we all know, especially in recent years with the whole idiots-running-the-nuthouse trainwreck that is the BCS, crowning a true college football national champion is far from an exact science. There have been as many as 28 “major” rating systems over the last 80 years or so. The existence of so many polls allows for some creative posturing by certain teams. Alabama, for example, declares itself a 12-time national champion, including in its count A) the 1941 season in which they finished 20th in the AP poll with a 9-2 record while 8-0 defending national champion Minnesota (16-0 counting the ’40 season) was ranked #1 by the AP and nine other polling systems; B) the 1973 season in which Notre Dame not only beat Bama in the ’73 Sugar Bowl 24-23, but was crowned national champions by the AP and five other polls; and C) a 1964 season in which the Tide won the national title and lost in the Orange Bowl (an explanation of which I’ll get to later). Bottom line: you’re a 9 or 10-time champ at best, Alabama. You have at least one less consensus NC than Notre Dame. Deal with it.
And let’s not forget in July of 2004 when the Southern Cal athletic department retroactively declared themselves the 1939 national champions. Per a USC press release:
“It was brought to our attention by various individuals that we should be claiming the 1939 Trojans among our national champions in football,” said [Trojan athletic director Mike Garrett]. “We took this matter seriously, did significant research and determined this to be true. That 1939 team was one of the greatest in our history. In fact, its coach, the legendary Howard Jones, acknowledged as much when at the team banquet that year he said this squad was his finest ever at USC, at least in terms of depth.”
The 1939 Trojans were presented with the Knute Rockne Intercollegiate Memorial Trophy, at the time emblematic of the nation’s No. 1 team. The trophy (originally called the Rissman National Trophy) was given to the team that finished atop the Dickinson System, a mathematical point formula devised by Illinois economics professor and nationally-respected football analyst Frank G. Dickinson. His system crowned a national champion from 1926 to 1940 (with predated rankings in 1924 and 1925). It was the first to gain widespread national public and media acceptance as a “major selector,” according to the NCAA Football Records Book (the Associated Press poll didn’t begin until 1936).
Dickinson System: remember that terminology.
Notre Dame is regarded by most as having won 11 “consensus” national championships: 1924, ’29, ’30, ’43, ’46, ’47, ’49, ’66, ’73, ’77 and ’88.
While there have been 10 additional seasons in which ND has received NC mention by at least one poll, previous ND media guides used to generally list six other seasons as NC years: 1919, ’20, ’27, ’38, ’53, and ’64. (No, I did not leave out ’89 or ’93 by accident, and that’s a debate for another thread.)
The question is, does ND have a legitimate claim to any of these seasons? Let’s take a look…
- 1919: A 9-0 ND, a 6-1 Illinois and a 10-0 Texas A&M all garned support from a couple polling systems, but a 9-0-1 Harvard got the unanimous nod from the major polls and is generally regarded as the ’19 NC. ’19 consensus: not an Irish NC.
- 1920: A 9-0 ND again found itself pooled in with a couple other teams–a 6-0-1 Princeton and an 8-0-1 Harvard–while another team–California at 9-0–grabbed most of the polls. ’20 consensus: not an Irish NC.
- 1927: Another four-team year, with a 7-1-1 ND sharing billing with a 9-1 Georgia and a 7-1 Yale, while a 7-0-1 Illinois seemed to be the cream of the crop to most pollsters. Gotta give this one to the Illini. ’27 consensus: not an Irish NC.
- 1938: An 11-0 Tennessee and 11-0 TCU each could claim several polling systems in their favor, with 8-1 Notre Dame claiming only one, the Dickinson System. The following season, Texas A&M went 11-0 and grabbed not only the AP #1, but the #1 ranking in nine additional polls. Cornell went 8-0 and could claim the national title in two polls. And USC, at 8-0-2, got the nod from…the Dickinson System. This is the grounds on which USC felt justified in granting themselves the ’39 NC? What a bunch of ego-stroking douchebags. ’38 consensus: although by Trojan “logic” we should count it, it is simply not an Irish NC.
- 1953: If I’m in the ND marketing department, this is the one season I’d consider stamping on some t-shirts. The ’53 Leahy-coached squad finished the season at 9-0-1, the only undefeated team in the country. While the 10-1 Maryland Terps walked away with the AP and UPI crowns, ND got the #1 nod in ten other polls. But here’s the clincher: Maryland got the #1 nod from the AP and UPI before losing to Oklahoma (see addeddum below) in the Orange Bowl on January 1, 1954–the same Oklahoma team that lost to Notre Dame 28-21 in Norman on September 26, 1953. To recap, Maryland had one loss, that loss coming to Oklahoma on a neutral field. Notre Dame was undefeated, including a road win over Oklahoma. ’53 consensus: raise the NC banner, boys!
- 1964: A stretch by almost any measure–although, again, still not as ridiculous as USC’s ’39 claim. While four polling systems did pick the 9-1 Irish, a 10-1 Alabama could claim a debatable consensus with both the AP and UPI trophies. I say “debatable” because, in an almost carbon copy of ND’s ’53 claim, Arkansas finished the season 11-0 with six polls declaring them NC. In the post-season Alabama lost in the Orange Bowl to Texas–the same Texas team who lost to Arkansas in Austin earlier in the season.
I thought someone like Kevin White would be all over this. Just think of all that paraphenalia–banners, mugs, t-shirts, etc.–we’ll have to re-purchase because the 11-national title claim is one short.
…then again, we can just wait until January and make it a nice baker’s dozen!!!
Addendum: As is the nature of polling systems, there are certain anomalies that probably need to be at least recognized in regards to who gets ranked where. Prior to the ’74 season the UPI named its champion before the bowl games. The AP named a national champion after the ’65 bowl games, went back to the pre-bowl system for a few years, but has continued the now-established post-bowl tradition uninterrupted since 1968.
This addendum actually supports the ND ’53 title even more, as the pollsters had in fact not voted Maryland #1 in spite of the loss to Oklahoma, but rather because the loss had not yet occured.
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