The World War II years are odd ones in college football, making this theoretical exercise of assigning a mythical national title even more complicated than usual. Not only do we have the issue of the wartime-base teams, but the rise of the military academies are problematic, too, albeit in different ways.
Welcome back to MNC Wednesday! Read on …
The 1944 MNC: SOS matters more than the SRS?
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 previously).
1. Army: 9-0-0 — None
2. Ohio State: 9-0-0 — None
3. Navy: 6-3-0 — None
4. USC: 8-0-2 — W, Rose, 25-0
5. Michigan: 8-2-0 — None
6. Notre Dame: 8-2-0 — None
7. Duke: 6-4-0 — W, Sugar, 29-26
8. Tennessee: 7-1-1 — L, Rose, 0-25
9. Georgia Tech: 8-3-0 — L, Orange, 12-26
10. Illinois: 5-4-1 — None
USC won the Pacific Coast Conference, while Ohio State won the Western Conference. What a Rose Bowl matchup that could have been! Tennessee did not win the SEC, nor did the Vols win the matchup against USC, so that’s easy to dismiss right there. Oklahoma A&M (8-1) won the Missouri Valley Conference, and its only loss came to a military-base school.
That leaves us with the independents, really: Army, Michigan State (6-1), Notre Dame, and Yale (7-0-1). But the Irish lost to both Army and Navy, so they’re out. The Spartans lost to Missouri, which finished 3-5-2, and MSU also played two small colleges; that’s a weak schedule.
The Bulldogs’ tie came against Virginia, which also tied non-major North Carolina Pre-Flight and lost to Southern Conference also-ran North Carolina State. We will leave them in the fray for now. Army gave up just 35 points all season, never allowing an opponent more than seven points individually.
The Black Knights, however, were a legitimized all-star team, in reality, able to pull players from other schools under the premise of military training. This team did not include professionals like the base teams did, but the “all-star” factor gave Army an unfair advantage, for sure—albeit a legal one.
So, these are our teams to consider: Army, Ohio State, Oklahoma A&M, USC, and Yale. How do the five schedules compare? Here is the SOS, based on the Simple Rating System:
- Army: 9 Division I-A opponents, average SRS rank 33.78
- Ohio State: 9 Division I-A opponents, average SRS rank 24.89
- Oklahoma A&M: 9 Division I-A opponents, average SRS rank 41.56
- USC: 7 Division I-A opponents, average SRS rank 63.29
- Yale: 7 Division I-A opponents, average SRS rank 49.57
Well, the SOS issue simplifies things, thoroughly: The Trojans played a weak West Coast-only schedule again, with the Rose Bowl win over the Vols being a great consolation prize in lieu of being considered for the MNC. The Cowboys and the Bulldogs have middling schedule strength, but neither got through those schedules unblemished, either.
That leaves the Black Knights and the Buckeyes, and it’s decisive that Ohio State played a better schedule in terms of opponents strength. Both teams went 9-0, too, so they’re on equal footing already. Does anything odd stand out in either school’s schedule?
Both teams hosted Pittsburgh: Army won by 62 points, and Ohio State won by 35 points. Blowouts are blowouts, though, so that doesn’t tell us enough, especially when we realize the Black Knights were a de facto all-star team. Army had the depth to pull the starters and still crush an opponent.
SRS gives the Black Knights a two-plus point edge on a neutral field over the Buckeyes, and that could change with one turnover, really, but the near-nine point edge in SOS for Ohio State carries the day, really.
Army may have run up the score against weaker opponents, on average, but the Buckeyes had a tougher road to perfection—and that is one of our main metrics we have insisted on rewarding from the start.
Congratulations to the 1944 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.