Pac-12 Fridays continue with a look at the 1940s football squads that rank out as the best in conference history. We started with the early years last week, and we will continue decade by decade until the fall—when normally college football would start … but probably won’t, if public health and safety is a concern at all to the Conference of Champions.
Here we go with this week’s Top 10!
Honorable Mention: 1948 USC Trojans (6-3-1)
The defense finished ninth in the country for points allowed, but the offense could never get it going, really. Two of the three losses came by a combined 7 points, and the Trojans did rise up to tie Notre Dame at the end of the season, as we noted earlier elsewhere. USC didn’t get to show its defense in a bowl game, due to rules at the time for the postseason.
10. 1944 USC Trojans (8-0-2)
The conference suffered during the war years as travel restrictions limited the ability to schedule decent opponents. But this USC group tied California and UCLA early in the season before ripping off seven straights wins, including a 25-0 victory in the Rose Bowl over Tennessee.
9. 1942 UCLA Bruins (7-4)
Three of the four losses came by a total of 17 points, including the Rose Bowl loss to Georgia. The other loss was to a wartime military base team, which was basically an all-star and semi-professional squad. A win over a ranked USC team also boosts this Bruins group in the rankings.
8. 1946 UCLA Bruins (10-1)
Perfect until the wheels came off in a Rose Bowl loss to Illinois, this UCLA team allowed just 7.2 points per game in the regular season on the way to running the table in the Pacific Coast Conference. St. Mary’s and Washington were the only teams in that stretch to score in double digits against the Bruins defense.
7. 1947 California Golden Bears (9-1)
No bowl for this team that finished second in the PCC, behind a very good USC team it lost to (see below). In seven of the wins, the Bears defense held the opposing teams to 40 combined points. Cal gave up 32 points total in late-season wins over Montana and Stanford to finish ninth in the Associated Press poll once its schedule was complete.
6. 1941 Oregon State Beavers (8-2)
Winners of the only Rose Bowl not played in Pasadena, these Beavers had to cross the country just after Pearl Harbor to play Duke on its home field. Both Oregon State losses came on the road against PCC rivals, by a combined 13 points. The Beavers won their final six games by a total 117-23 margin, however.
5. 1940 Stanford Indians (10-0)
One of our finalists for the 1940 MNC, this Stanford squad was truly impressive. Even in a pre-war season, though, the Indians never left the Best Coast for a game, and the team capped off a perfect season with a victory over Nebraska in the Rose Bowl.
4. 1949 USC Trojans (5-3-1)
Don’t be fooled by the record or a lack of a bowl game. This was a powerful team that just had some ill fortune. An early tie against Ohio State and a close road loss at Cal derailed the season for the Trojans, but they played the fifth-toughest schedule in the country and acquitted themselves well with a No. 8 finish in the Simple Rating System.
3. 1948 California Golden Bears (10-1)
This team was 10-0 and ranked No. 4 as it headed to the Rose Bowl. Unfortunately, a loss there to Northwestern kept Cal out of our 1948 MNC discussion. Strangely, that was the only ranked team the Bears played all season, but it doesn’t take away from the regular-season effort from the team at all. It’s never easy to go undefeated.
2. 1947 USC Trojans (7-2-1)
This team was cruising at 7-0-1 until it suffered a late-season meltdown in games against Notre Dame and Michigan (as covered in our 1947 MNC discussion). An early tie against Rice was the only blemish until the end, and these Trojans gave up just 14 points in road games all season long. Overall, the defense pitched five shutouts.
1. 1949 California Golden Bears (10-1)
Just like its 1948 counterpart, this team was dominant before a surprising Rose Bowl loss. Even with that three-point loss to Ohio State, the Golden Bears finished No. 2 in the SRS. Also, Cal beat ranked rivals from Stanford, UCLA, and USC by a combined 39 points to assert dominance over the PCC in 1949.