MNC Wednesday arrives in its 11th edition, and this season was more of a challenge than the prior one, in terms of contenders and relative chaos caused by the bowl games. More and more, teams will start playing in bowl games, and that will impact how we view sports history in a college football world.
On with the show …
The 1946 MNC: SOS saves the day again for posterity!
Here is the Associated Press Top 10, including final record with key bowl results.
1. Notre Dame: 8-0-1 — None
2. Army: 9-0-1 — None
3. Georgia: 11-0-0 — W, Sugar, 20-10
4. UCLA: 10-1-0 — L, Rose, 14-45
5. Illinois: 8-2-0 — W, Rose, 45-14
6. Michigan: 6-2-1 — None
7. Tennessee: 9-2-0 — L, Orange, 0-8
8. LSU: 9-1-1 — T, Cotton, 0-0
9. North Carolina: 8-2-1 — L, Sugar, 10-20
10. Rice: 9-2-0 — W, Orange, 8-0
For starters, aren’t we glad that Illinois hammered UCLA in the Rose Bowl? Otherwise, we’d have four legit teams under consideration without a loss. Wow! As it stands, too, the Illini lost to Notre Dame by 20 points at home: the Western Conference champs are out.
The SEC was strong, but only Georgia can join the Fighting Irish and the Black Knights in the finals as the league champ. Tulsa finished 9-1, but a loss to 6-4 Detroit-Mercy is a bad loss in this comparative crowd, so we can’t consider the Golden Hurricane. Similarly, 7-1-1 Yale had blemishes against Columbia and Cornell (combined 11-6-1 record), so it’s not possible to overlook those negatives in this analysis.
It comes down to Georgia and the two independents: The tie each team holds came against the other, the famous 0-0 game in the Bronx, and interestingly enough, Army was No. 1 in the country for the penultimate Associated Press poll before a “lackluster” 21-18 win over Navy in the final game dropped the Black Knights to No. 2 behind Notre Dame—which beat USC, 26-6, on the same day.
The Trojans finished just 6-4 in 1946, while Navy posted an abysmal 1-8 record. We can see how that may have swayed voters at the last second, but the truth will lie in the math below. Therefore, we are set on the final trio for MNC consideration here.
How do the three schedules compare? Here is the SOS, based on the Simple Rating System:
- Notre Dame: 9 Division I-A opponents, average SRS rank 28.78
- Army: 10 Division I-A opponents, average SRS rank 25.00
- Georgia: 11 Division I-A opponents, average SRS rank 51.55
The Bulldogs schedule turned out to be quite lightweight, despite the SEC having three teams in the Top 8. Georgia paid a price for scheduling so many games, although in their tests against the best teams on the schedule, the Bulldogs did well, beating Georgia Tech and North Carolina by a combined 55-17 score in the last two games of the season.
Those Yellow Jackets and Tar Heels teams rate very highly in the SRS, No. 6 and No. 7, so we know Georgia was capable of playing with and beating the best. The kids only can play the teams put in front of them, which is why a real tournament is always the best way to decide a champ, of course.
However, clearly, the Irish and the Knights played better overall schedules—and those two teams tied each other, with neither playing in a bowl game. A rematch in some bowl would have been a fun thing, no?
Army played the superior schedule, and it played an extra contest, to boot. Notre Dame actually faced Navy, too, beating them 28-0 four weeks before Army squeaked one out against the Midshipmen. That comparative score might tell us the Irish were a better team on paper, but if the voters were going to “ding” Army for barely beating Navy, then why not “ding” Notre Dame for not being able to beat Army?
Any other common opponents for the Irish and the Knights? No, but the following is an edge for Army as well: Notre Dame only played three ranked teams all season, meaning ranked at the time they played. The Knights played five ranked teams—which is a topical explanation for the superior schedule strength.
In the end, it comes down to SOS, and the Black Knights have that distinct edge. It’s a shame the AP voters were so easily swayed by one game played on the final day of the season, where Army had everything to lose—and didn’t—while Notre Dame had nothing to lose and played with less pressure.
This is why sabermetrics exist, of course: to reduce human error as much as possible.
Congratulations to the 1946 Army Black Knights, the mythical national champs!
Check in every Wednesday for a new feature on the mythical national championship in college football on The Daily McPlay.