It took five weeks of this ongoing series about the mythical college football national championship to agree with the past as the 1940 Associated Press champions were the first ones we agreed with in our modern analysis.
Today we examine the 1941 season—welcome back to MNC Wednesday! We laid out our methodology and data source in the first week, so let’s get right to our analysis of a season that was complicated by the start of World War II: Remember, they played the Rose Bowl on the East Coast at the end of this season!
The 1941 MNC: Scheduling trickery matters, even in the past
Associated Press Top 10, including final record with key bowl results
1. Minnesota: 8-0-0 — None
2. Duke: 9-1-0 — L, Rose, 16-20
3. Notre Dame: 8-0-1 — None
4. Texas: 8-1-1 — None
5. Michigan: 6-1-1 — None
6. Fordham: 8-1-0 — W, Sugar, 2-0
7. Missouri: 8-2-0 — L, Sugar, 0-2
8. Duquesne: 8-0-0 — None
9. Texas A&M: 9-2-0 — L, Cotton, 21-29
10. Navy: 7-1-1 — None
We have a bevy of challengers for the Golden Gophers’ throne, as once again, Minnesota did not play in a bowl game. Will its SOS hold up two years in a row against all these challengers? Let’s see.
Notre Dame, Texas, Fordham, Duquesne, and Navy all deserve a quick look, in addition to Pacific Coast Conference and Rose Bowl champion Oregon State as well as Southeastern Conference champion Mississippi State, which did not play in a bowl game.
But wait: The No. 4 Longhorns didn’t win the Southwest Conference … the No. 9 Aggies did. Doh! The Beavers also had two losses, and they didn’t play a ranked team all season until they played the Blue Devils in the one Rose Bowl not played in Pasadena.
We also have a slew of independents to measure against each other: Notre Dame, Navy, Fordham, Duquesne, and Virginia and Pennsylvania, as well. All these teams finished with only one loss, although only the Rams played in a bowl game: that rousing 2-0 win over Missouri in the Sugar.
So Fordham is definitely into our final comparison with Minnesota. Is there a non-bowl independent to consider as well? The Cavaliers played three small colleges and no ranked teams on their way to an 8-1 record, losing only to Yale on the road. Penn beat the Bulldogs on the road by 15 points, though, so we can dismiss Virginia right now.
Yet the Quakers lost to Navy, and the Midshipmen lost to Notre Dame at home. That drops two more squads from consideration, based on head-to-head results. Duquesne stays in with its shutout victory at home over Mississippi State, although the Dukes only played five major-college opponents. We’ll discuss that momentarily.
That leaves us with four teams to examine more closely now. Let’s go straight to the SOS, based on the Simple Rating System:
- Minnesota: 8 Division I-A opponents, average SRS rank 37.00
- Fordham: 9 Division I-A opponents, average SRS rank 57.89
- Notre Dame: 8 Division I-A opponents, average SRS rank 42.63
- Duquesne: 5 Division I-A opponents, average SRS rank 59.20
The Golden Gophers still played the best schedule, although it was stacked in their favor with five home games. The Fighting Irish outpace both the Dukes and the Rams in terms of schedule strength and depth, reducing this to Minnesota and Notre Dame.
The Irish tie came against Army on the road, one of five games Notre Dame played away from South Bend. Does this mean teams were afraid to go to play the Irish on their home field? Probably. We have two extremes here: one team playing the majority of its games at home, the other playing the majority of its games on the road.
Reality is this: Notre Dame played a stretch of five games on the road in six weeks, and the tie came in the middle of that stretch. The Irish also didn’t have a bye all season, while the Golden Gophers took a week off after its big road game in Seattle against the Washington Huskies to open the season.
Talk about cheesy scheduling. SRS gives Minnesota a TD edge on a neutral field over Notre Dame, and we’d cut that in half due to the rigged schedule for the Golden Gophers. So it’s still enough for Minnesota to claim a second title in our analysis, even though we don’t really approve of such tactics—and we’re sure this won’t be the first time scheduling trickery pays off for a mythical champ.
Congratulations to the 1941 Minnesota Golden Gophers, the mythical national champs!
Check in every Wednesday for a new feature on the mythical national championship in college football on The Daily McPlay.