For three straight seasons to start the 1940s, the Associated Press poll got the mythical national champion correct in our book, as our MNC Wednesdays now continue with the 1943 season—smack dab in the middle of World War II, making everything a bit more complicated.
Can it be four years in a row? Read on to find out …
The 1943 MNC: No free passes!
Here is the Associated Press Top 10, including final record with key bowl results (the World War II military teams have been removed for reasons noted in last week’s analysis).
1. Notre Dame: 9-1-0 — None
2. Michigan: 8-1-0 — None
3. Navy: 8-1-0 — None
4. Purdue: 9-0-0 — None
5. Duke: 8-1-0 — None
6. Army: 7-2-1 — None
7. Washington: 4-1-0 — L, Rose, 0-29
8. Georgia Tech: 8-3-0 — W, Sugar, 20-18
9. Texas: 7-1-1 — T, Cotton, 7-7
10. Tulsa: 6-1-1 — L, Sugar, 18-20
First, winning a conference during WWII was a different proposition, as many schools were not fielding competitive teams during the war years. For example, Georgia Tech won the SEC with a 3-0 record, which doesn’t really represent a full league schedule. But it is what it is, and it’s what we work with for this analysis.
In addition, bowl games were regional affairs only, scheduling teams with minimal travel. USC beat Washington in the Rose Bowl, for example. So our bowl-game criteria can be relaxed for this season.
Let’s start with the conference champs: Oklahoma won the Big Six, but the Sooners lost to both Texas and Tulsa, so they’re out. The Longhorns won the Southwest Conference, but they somehow lost to small-school Southwestern Texas State, so Texas is out. The Golden Hurricane won the Missouri Valley Conference, but it fell to the Yellow Jackets in that Sugar Bowl noted above, so Tulsa is out.
Navy lost to Notre Dame, and Southern Conference champ Duke lost to Navy, so that leaves with Purdue and Michigan to evaluate still. The two schools tied for the Western Conference title, both with 6-0 league records.
They obviously didn’t play each other, so what we have here is the fact the Wolverines lost to the Fighting Irish, which knocks them out of overall consideration. Georgia Tech also lost to Navy and Notre Dame, making this much simpler.
Our list of teams under consideration, then, for the 1943 MNC are Notre Dame, USC, and Purdue. That was easy, right? Well, it does get more complicated, obviously as the Trojans lost twice—both times to military-base teams, though, which we know were comprised of both pro and college athletes. Likewise, the one Irish loss came to a military-base team.
How do the three schedules compare? Here is the SOS, based on the Simple Rating System:
- Notre Dame: 10 Division I-A opponents, average SRS rank 14.70
- USC: 8 Division I-A opponents, average SRS rank 49.50
- Purdue: 9 Division I-A opponents, average SRS rank 23.22
The Trojans were really hurt by regional scheduling limitations, as they had to play California and UCLA twice, both of which were low-rated teams in 1943. The Irish benefited from the overall strength of the Western Conference and the military academies during this time period, too.
As for Purdue, they didn’t play Michigan like Notre Dame did, but the Boilermakers schedule was plenty strong, compared historically to the teams we’ve looked at on MNC Wednesdays. Both Notre Dame and Purdue played the majority of their games on the road, too, each team getting just three home contests.
Is the Notre Dame SOS advantage enough to overcome its road loss to the Great Lakes Navy Bluejackets team? We see the Boilermakers beat that same Bluejackets team on the road, creating a quandary.
Did Notre Dame and Purdue have any other common opponents? Yes, Illinois and Wisconsin. The Irish beat those two teams by a combined 95-0 score, while the Boilermakers beat them by a combined 75-21 score. Both Notre Dame and Purdue hosted Illinois while traveling to Wisconsin.
In the end, it comes down to the fact the Irish lost by five points to the Bluejackets in their final game of the season, while the Boilermakers beat the Bluejackets by 10 points in their first game of the season. SRS says Notre Dame would win by around nine points on a neutral field in a matchup against Purdue. The Irish may have been the better team, but they lost to a team that the Boilermakers beat.
What means more? Common opponents or the SRS? In the end, the undefeated season by Purdue, with its very good SOS and its win over the team Notre Dame lost to, means the Boilermakers are going to be the pick. The Irish basically choked in the last game, with the pressure on them, and for some reason, the AP voters gave them a pass on it.
We are not that forgiving. It’s clear the voters didn’t want to ding Notre Dame, which had been No. 1 in every poll during the season, for a late-season, road loss to what was basically an all-star team. However, that’s not fair to Purdue, which beat every team on its tough schedule, including that same all-star team.
Congratulations to the 1943 Purdue Boilermakers, the mythical national champs!
Check in every Wednesday for a new feature on the mythical national championship in college football on The Daily McPlay.