Two years running now in this ongoing series about the mythical college football national championships we have agreed with the Associated Press title choice. Is it possible the voters got it right three seasons in a row? Read on …
Today we analyze the 1942 season—welcome back to MNC Wednesday! We laid out our methodology and data source(s) in March, so let’s get right to our analysis of a season that was complicated by World War II. There were a lot of “college teams” from military bases during the next few seasons, which throws some wild cards into schedule analysis.
The 1942 MNC: Very close call between two evenly matched teams
Associated Press Top 10, including final record with key bowl results
1. Ohio State: 9-1-0 — None
2. Georgia: 11-1-0 — W, Rose, 9-0
3. Wisconsin: 8-1-1 — None
4. Tulsa: 10-1-0 — L, Sugar, 7-14
5. Georgia Tech: 9-2-0 — L, Cotton, 7-14
6. Notre Dame: 7-2-2 — None
7. Tennessee: 9-1-1 — W, Sugar, 14-7
8. Boston College: 8-2-0 — L, Orange, 21-37
9. Michigan: 7-3-0 — None
10. Alabama: 8-3-0 — W, Orange, 37-21
This might have been easy, by far, if Tulsa had just won the Sugar Bowl! As is, though, no team got through this fateful season without a loss, so let’s start with the major-college conference champions.
Texas won the Southwest Conference and the Cotton Bowl to finish 9-2, while UCLA won the Pacific Coast Conference and lost the Rose Bowl to Georgia. Speaking of the Bulldogs, they won the SEC and the Rose Bowl, making them a tough out in this analysis. Ohio State won the Western Conference and did not play in a bowl game, which could hurt them Buckeyes in our model.
The best independent team was Georgia Pre-Flight, one of the aforementioned military-base teams that competed and competed well in college football during the war years. The Skycrackers—and come on, that’s an awesome nickname—posted a 7-1-1 record, which included a win over the Orange Bowl champs from Alabama.
The Longhorns’ two losses could hurt them as we zero in closer on these final four teams: Texas lost road games to Northwestern and TCU, and the Wildcats went 1-9 in 1942. That’s not a typo. That is a terrible loss, and it basically eliminates the Longhorns from the conversation.
What about Georgia Pre-Flight? These military-base teams were cobbled together, and even if the results were positive, can we really put them on the same playing field, almost 80 years later, in this analysis? No, because these “schools” used professional players drafted into the military, basically making them ineligible for the mythical national championship.
But it’s always something worth thinking about when we contextualize the past. These teams were not “normal” in the sense they literally also could get good athletes transferred to their bases to form “all-star” teams, something regular schools could not do.
In fact, the Skycrackers’ tie during this regular season came against the North Carolina Pre-Flight Cloudbusters squad that posted an 8-2-1 mark themselves, which included wins over Southern Conference champ William & Mary as well as Harvard and Syracuse. It’s just too bad the Bulldogs and the Skycrackers didn’t play each other, right?
Either way, this leaves us with just two teams to examine more closely for 1942, although we are throwing the third, non-eligible team in here for comparison’s sake. Here is the SOS, based on the Simple Rating System:
- Ohio State: 9 Division I-A opponents, average SRS rank 41.67
- Georgia: 10 Division I-A opponents, average SRS rank 41.60
- Georgia Pre-Flight: 8 Division I-A opponents, average SRS rank 20.00
The Skycrackers were a touring troop, playing just two “home” games at Sanford Stadium, the same field the Bulldogs played four home games on. Georgia Pre-Flight also played four SEC teams, going 3-1 against a quartet that Georgia posted a 2-1 mark against.
The Skycrackers got pounded by LSU for their one loss, 34-0, on the road, and the Bulldogs didn’t play LSU. However, a telling correlation, perhaps, is that Georgia Pre-Flight beat Auburn on a neutral field in Columbus, GA, by a 41-14 score, while the Tigers beat Georgia, 27-13, on that same neutral field.
This tells us Georgia Pre-Flight arguably was better than Georgia, and the SOS above helps bolster that idea—more than making up for that tie to the Cloudbusters. But using professional athletes, in the end, means we can’t really consider the Skycrackers, of course. But this was interesting to look at, nonetheless.
On to the two real contenders!
The Buckeyes and the Bulldogs played similar schedules, with Georgia winning the Rose Bowl. SRS gives Ohio State almost a two-point edge in a neutral field, and when we look at the two teams’ losses, we see that the Buckeyes lost a 17-7 road game to the 8-1-1 Badgers, the No. 3 team in the AP poll, on Halloween—and the Bulldogs lost to 6-4-1 Auburn at the Columbus, GA, neutral site, which is closer to the Tigers’ campus than Georgia’s campus in Athens.
Ohio State has the “better” loss, but the Buckeyes also played a goofy schedule, just like Minnesota did in 1941—with only two road games, one to Northwestern on October 24 and the other to Madison, WI, a week later.
This really gets tight now: SOS is virtually equal; Georgia has a bowl win while Ohio State does not; the Buckeyes have a “better” loss; and the Bulldogs had to travel more, including across the country to beat UCLA in the Rose Bowl in an attempt to make an impression after Ohio State had won the AP title already.
One thing we find curious, though, about the Georgia conference schedule: The Bulldogs did not play LSU, Mississippi State, or Tennessee—three teams that finished in the SRS Top 14. Chances are that a balanced SEC schedule would have handed Georgia at least one loss in that bunch of missed opponents.
Meanwhile, Ohio State did not play Iowa or Minnesota in the Western Conference, teams that combined for an 11-8 record overall. Clearly, that scheduling quirk for Georgia compensates for Ohio State’s lack of road games, pushing the Buckeyes ahead of the Bulldogs in our final analysis.
Ohio State had only played in one bowl game (1920 Rose Bowl) in its history at this point, and the Buckeyes would not return to the postseason until the 1949 game in Pasadena. We can’t hold that against them like we did against Pittsburgh in our 1937 analysis.
Congratulations to the 1942 Ohio State Buckeyes, the mythical national champs!
Check in every Wednesday for a new feature on the mythical national championship in college football on The Daily McPlay.