Welcome to Week 15 of MNC Wednesdays! We move into the 1950s for college football’s quest to claim a mythical national title, and it’s a crowded field. Bowl games are starting to become more prominent, even if they do not figure into the Associated Press vote, which at this time still came before the bowls were played.
Always here to correct a wrong, we are. Shall we get on with it?
The 1950 MNC: You’d rather be lucky than good, but both works, too!
Here is the Associated Press Top 10, including final record with key bowl results.
1. Oklahoma: 10-1-0 — L, Sugar, 7-13
2. Army: 8-1-0 — None
3. Texas: 9-2-0 — L, Cotton, 14-20
4. Tennessee: 11-1-0 — W, Cotton, 20-14
5. California: 9-1-1 — L, Rose, 6-14
6. Princeton: 9-0-0 — None
7. Kentucky: 11-1-0 — W, Sugar, 13-7
8. Michigan State: 8-1-0 — None
9. Michigan: 6-3-1 — W, Rose, 14-6
10. Clemson: 9-0-1 — W, Orange, 15-14
As we mentioned last week, the Sooners lost a 31-game winning streak—without an MNC from us to show for it—in the bowl game, so Oklahoma is out. Army’s one loss came in the final regular-season game, to Navy, where the Black Knights could only manage a safety. The Midshipmen finished 3-6, so that’s a bad loss and one that will keep Army from consideration.
This is where it gets tricky: Technically, Kentucky won the SEC because of imbalanced scheduling, although the Wildcats lost to the Tennessee. The Volunteers finished a half game behind Kentucky in the conference standings, despite beating the Wildcats. So Tennessee would be our SEC team to consider … except for that shutout loss it suffered to a 4-5 Mississippi State team early in the season.
Princeton’s undefeated season obviously has no flaws, and Michigan State’s one loss was an ugly one to 7-2-1 Maryland, one week after the Spartans upset then-No. 3 Michigan on the road. It was a classic emotional letdown game … yes, they existed even back in 1950. We will keep MSU in the discussion for now, but its SOS will have to be strong to overcome Princeton’s perfect record.
What about Clemson? The Tigers’ tie was against 3-4-2 South Carolina on the road, and that doesn’t look good on paper. It’s not a bad loss, but it is a bad tie. Luckily for Clemson, it’s a less-disastrous result than the ones suffered by Army and Tennessee. We will see what SOS says.
Any other teams we should look at? Tulsa posted a 9-1-1 record, but the schedule was really weak and included a loss to San Francisco and a tie against Detroit Mercy—not exactly powerhouses. It’s just not enough a decent profile even at a topical glance.
Miami (FL) was 9-0-1 heading into the Orange Bowl before losing to Clemson, so that eliminates the Hurricanes. The Wyoming Cowboys posted a 10-0 record, including a Gator Bowl victory over Washington & Lee, but sweeping the Skyline Conference in 1950 was not an impressive achievement. The overall SOS just is not there.
Texas romped through the Southwest Conference undefeated, but it lost to Oklahoma and Tennessee, so despite the Longhorns’ overall strengths, those two defeats—by a combined 7 points—end the Texas chances here.
Once again, we have a threesome to consider after going through all the logical deductions and permutations. Here is the SOS, based on the Simple Rating System:
- Princeton: 8 Division I-A opponents, average SRS rank 71.13
- Michigan State: 9 Division I-A opponents, average SRS rank 54.89
- Clemson: 9 Division I-A opponents, average SRS rank 80.56
A few thoughts here: First, can we crown a champ with such a mediocre SOS? Sure, because that’s not the end-all, be-all factor here. You still have to win games and not lose them (especially to bad teams). Second, Michigan State was an independent team still, as it would be a few more seasons before it joined the Western Conference (now the B1G). Lastly, this may be one of the weaker overall fields of potential mythical champs we will see in this whole series.
That being said, the Spartans’ loss to Maryland is not damning, and MSU is lucky the Terrapins didn’t have any disqualifying losses themselves. Clemson’s tie is irrelevant now, since its SOS is so ugly. So the question comes down to MSU’s SOS versus Princeton’s unblemished record.
The Spartans clearly played a tougher schedule; the two teams had no common opponents. MSU beat Michigan and Notre Dame for some marquee victories, although the win over Michigan was the only one for the Spartans over a ranked opponent. Princeton also had one win over a ranked team (Cornell).
SRS says Michigan State was the better team, albeit by less than 1.5 points on a neutral field—and the SOS edge for Sparty above is enough to overcome the loss to Maryland, a good team in its own right.
As we pointed out a few seasons ago, sometimes you need a lot of luck to claim an MNC, and with so many “better” teams falling by the wayside due to bad losses or bowl defeats … well, that’s what happened here for MSU.
Congratulations to the 1950 Michigan State Spartans, the mythical national champion!
Check in every Wednesday for a new feature on the mythical national championship in college football on The Daily McPlay.