We have a very unique situation this week on MNC Wednesday, one where we have awarded the mythical national championship to the same school for two seasons in a row—and in this 1952 season, that same school was named the Associated Press champion. Could we be looking at the first three-peat performance in MNC history?!

Read on to find out …

The 1952 MNC: Every season is unique, for sure

Here is the Associated Press Top 10, including final record with key bowl results.

1. Michigan State: 9-0-0 — None
2. Georgia Tech: 12-0-0 — W, Sugar, 24-7
3. Notre Dame: 7-2-1 — None
4. Oklahoma: 8-1-1 — None
5. USC: 10-1-0 — W, Rose, 7-0
6. UCLA: 8-1-0 — None
7. Mississippi: 8-1-2 — L, Sugar, 7-24
8. Tennessee: 8-2-1 — L, Cotton, 0-16
9. Alabama: 10-2-0 — W, Orange, 61-6
10. Texas: 9-2-0 — W, Cotton, 16-0

The Spartans topped the polls without a bowl appearance, which may or may not hurt them, of course. MSU was still an independent school at this point in sports history, so they weren’t capable of playing in the Rose Bowl, for example—and they didn’t turn down an invite, like the 1937 Pittsburgh Panthers did.

The Yellowjackets clearly were the best team in the SEC, without a blemish on the record.  The Fighting Irish lost to MSU, and two losses is too many, anyway. The Sooners lost to Notre Dame, so they’re out. The Trojans also lost to the Irish, so Notre Dame did the Spartans many favors this season. The Bruins, of course, lost to USC.

Independent schools Princeton (8-1) and Villanova (7-1-1) are potential contenders, with the Tigers losing only to Pennsylvania (4-3-2) at home by six points, but the Wildcats have a tie against a small school and a 36-point loss to Tulsa on the road. Those are bad.

Again, the Fighting Irish simplified this a lot with their strength of schedule, so we have just three teams to look a more closely, and new data indicators for strength of schedule, too, based on the Simple Rating System:

  • Michigan State: 9 Division I-A opponents, 7.20 SOS rating, 30th of 113 teams
  • Georgia Tech: 11 Division I-A opponents, 5.52 SOS rating, 40th
  • Princeton: 8 Division I-A opponents, -5.53 SOS rating, 83rd

The Tigers clearly aren’t worthy here, although we had to check, while Michigan State appears to be the better team. If the Yellowjackets had not played Mississippi in the Sugar Bowl, their SOS would be even lower—making the regular-season edge for the Spartans even more than it is right now.

MSU beat three ranked teams by a combined 69-17 score, while Georgia Tech did the same by a combined 59-17 margin. These two teams are pretty evenly matched, overall, when we start drilling down.

It’s an interesting unbalanced-schedule quirk where two SEC teams played each other in the Sugar Bowl after not meeting in the regular season. Georgia Tech gave up just 59 points all season in 12 games (second-best scoring defense in the nation), which is pretty amazing, and it did it against a good schedule, too.

Meanwhile, the Spartans finished second in scoring offense against a better schedule, piling up 34.7 points per game and allowing just less than 10 points per game themselves. Overall, MSU’s scoring differential (25.4 ppg) was a field goal better than Georgia Tech’s mark (22.2 ppg).

These are obviously two excellent, undefeated, and untied teams, and for the record, SRS gives the Spartans a 3.38-point edge on a neutral field, based on sabermetric analysis from data available—that same field-goal edge in scoring margin, really. This gives us the confidence to award a very surprising third consecutive MNC to MSU.

Congratulations to the 1952 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.