The 1950s have started off very … green, for lack of a better phrase, on MNC Wednesdays. There’s a solid chance that Michigan State could make it four straight mythical national championships, in the process becoming one of the understated dynasties in the history of big-time college football.
Check it out below to see if Sparty parties on …
The 1953 MNC: Overall SOS can compensate for just how much?
Here is the Associated Press Top 15, including final record with key bowl results.
1. Maryland: 10-1-0 — L, Orange, 0-7
2. Notre Dame: 9-0-1 — None
3. Michigan State: 9-1-0 — W, Rose, 28-20
4. Oklahoma: 9-1-1 — W, Orange, 7-0
5. UCLA: 8-2-0 — L, Rose, 20-28
6. Rice: 9-2-0 — W, Cotton, 28-6
7. Illinois: 7-1-1 — None
8. Georgia Tech: 9-2-1 — W, Sugar, 42-19
9. Iowa: 5-3-1 — None
10. West Virginia: 8-2-0 — L, Sugar, 19-42
11. Texas: 7-3-0 — None
12. Texas Tech: 11-1-0 — W, Gator, 35-13
13. Alabama: 6-3-3 — L, Cotton, 6-28
14. Army: 7-1-1 — None
15. Wisconsin: 6-2-1 — None
Army and Texas Tech may have a shot in a year where no team went unsullied by their respective schedule(s), so we look at more of the AP poll for starters. The Terrapins could have made all this moot with an Orange win, but the Sooners launched their own dynasty here, winning their last nine games in a row to start their legendary 47-game winning streak.
Notre Dame, Michigan State, and Oklahoma top our list of contenders. Yet the Fighting Irish beat the Sooners in the season opener, so that eliminates Oklahoma rather simply. The Spartans lost, 6-0, on the road to a crappy Purdue team, which looks really bad right now. That may hurt them later, although in a year without an unblemished team, it doesn’t knock them out (yet?).
The Notre Dame tie came at home against then-No. 20 Iowa, so there’s little shame in that. The Irish had been the No. 1 team all year until that skirmish, however. Meanwhile, Southwest Conference champion Rice lost twice by a total of 11 points, to then-No. 19 Kentucky and a 5-5 SMU team. We will keep them in for now, but the Owls will need a serious SOS to stay in the fray.
Technically, Alabama won the SEC, and the Crimson Tide did beat Georgia Tech head-to-head, so there is no team from that conference to consider. So what about the Red Raiders and the Black Knights? Well, Army lost to Northwestern, which went winless in the Big Ten, won by Michigan State, meaning it is dropped from consideration.
As for Texas Tech—champs of the Border Intercollegiate Athletic Association—a loss to a sub-.500 Texas A&M squad hurts. But 11 wins might counteract that, depending on the SOS. No other team, not already mentioned, finished with one loss, and as the Irish only had that tie, that closes the invite list for the final analysis.
We have four teams to look a more closely now, and indicators for strength of schedule, based on the Simple Rating System:
- Notre Dame: 10 Division I-A opponents, 9.06 SOS rating, 14th of 110 teams
- Michigan State: 10 Division I-A opponents, 9.64 SOS rating, 13th
- Rice: 11 Division I-A opponents, 6.12 SOS rating, 27th
- Texas Tech: 12 Division I-A opponents, -1.24 SOS rating, 63rd
Obviously, the stellar SOS marks for the Irish and the Spartans eliminate the Owls and the Red Raiders—and handily so. This comes down to Notre Dame and Michigan State for the MNC, and it’s going to be a tough call.
The Spartans loss is a bad one, but their overall SOS is more than a half point higher than the Irish. Did MSU play Iowa? Yes. Sparty beat the Hawkeyes on the road in the season opener, 21-7. That makes the Notre Dame tie a bigger issue, since MSU beat the team (on the road) that handed the Irish their home tie.
Did the two have any other common opponents? Yes! Notre Dame hammered Purdue, 37-7, on the road, taking away any advantage MSU may have gained with its Iowa victory. On paper, SRS gives the Irish slightly more than a 2.5-point edge on the Spartans, which is less than home-field advantage—yet still solid.
Finally, there is the issue of the bowl game: Notre Dame didn’t play in a bowl game until 1969, so it’s not that the Irish made a concerted effort to dodge an opponent and sit on their No. 2 ranking at the time, while No. 1 Maryland and No. 3 Michigan State played in high-stakes bowls.
Despite the overall SOS deficit to Michigan State, the Irish beat Oklahoma and Georgia Tech by a combined 20 points, while the Spartans won the Rose Bowl after handling both Michigan and Ohio State by a combined 23 points. It’s really hard to figure out any difference between the teams.
While the Irish started the year No. 1, the Spartans started it No. 2—again showing these were the best teams in the country after No. 1 Maryland lost its bowl game. We do feel that if a bowl game loss can cost a team a national title, then a bowl game victory can give one as well.
We see the SRS gap here, but the Spartans played a better schedule than the Irish, and the 6-0 loss on the road to a bad Purdue team clearly was a fluke. The fact MSU went out and improved its resumé in the Rose Bowl—though no fault of the Notre Dame team for not being able to play in a bowl game—there has to be a reward with that risk.
Consistency matters, and we have emphasized both SOS and bowl wins here all along. Arguments can be made for Notre Dame, and we wouldn’t disagree with any of them. However, the Spartans—despite losing a 28-game win streak in that random road loss to Purdue—have the look of a champion, too.
Congratulations to the 1953 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.