As we arrive in 1954, the good news is that we will not have a fifth-straight mythical national championship from the same school on MNC Wednesday. The bad news is … well, is there ever any bad news when it comes to discussing the history and legacy of college football? No!
On to the fun, then, because this season is a doozy.
The 1954 MNC: Perception is schedule strength, and schedule strength is perception?
Here is the Associated Press Top 10, including final record with key bowl results.
1. Ohio State: 10-0-0 — W, Rose, 20-7
2. UCLA: 9-0-0 — None
3. Oklahoma: 10-0-0 — None
4. Notre Dame: 9-1-0 — None
5. Navy: 8-2-0 — W, Sugar, 21-0
6. Mississippi: 9-2-0 — L, Sugar, 0-21
7. Army: 7-2-0 — None
8. Maryland: 7-2-1 — None
9. Wisconsin: 7-2-0 — None
10. Arkansas: 8-3-0 — L, Cotton, 6-14
The first four teams are in our discussion, right? Well, there is a snag. The Fighting Irish lost to Purdue at home, 27-14, while the Buckeyes beat Purdue on the road, 28-6. That’s not a good reality for Notre Dame, and it’s enough to wipe them out of this debate.
Virginia Tech finished 8-0-1 despite not winning the Southern Conference; West Virginia did with its 8-1 record, which included a 3-0 mark in league play. The Mountaineers loss came to Pitt at home, which Notre Dame shutout, 33-0. It’s hard to take WVU seriously then, but where does that leave us with the Hokies?
They played only 8 games against Division I-A schools, and Virginia Tech tied a 4-4-2 William & Mary team. The overall schedule strength is not there, and on top of that, the tie makes it a challenge to overcome the three unblemished teams at the top of our list.
Independent Miami (FL) posted an 8-1 mark overall, with the one loss coming to Auburn, a team that finished 8-3 with all three losses coming on the road in SEC play. The Tigers dropped two of those games to ranked teams, so this is not a bad loss for the Hurricanes. We keep Miami in for now.
That’s about it, really. Here we have four teams to look a more closely now, and indicators for strength of schedule, based on the Simple Rating System:
- Ohio State: 10 Division I-A opponents, 11.08 SOS rating, 6th of 111 teams
- UCLA: 8 Division I-A opponents, 0.06 SOS rating, 58th
- Oklahoma: 10 Division I-A opponents, 3.29 SOS rating, 39th
- Miami (FL): 9 Division I-A opponents, 3.55 SOS rating, 36th
It’s clear that the Buckeyes played the best schedule, and they also won a bowl game. In fact, Ohio State beat six teams that were ranked at the time of the game played. That’s amazing, in truth, and on the surface, it’s hard to not automatically hand the MNC to the Buckeyes.
Interesting tidbits, though: First, Ohio State beat No. 17 USC in the Rose Bowl, 20-7, as UCLA couldn’t go to the Rose Bowl two years in a row (silly rule). To end their regular season, the Bruins beat the Trojans, then ranked No. 7, by a 34-0 margin. That tells us that we were robbed of a potentially monumental Rose Bowl matchup between UCLA and Ohio State.
Second, the Bruins led the nation in scoring offense and scoring defense, which is quite the accomplishment. The schedule was barely above average, but UCLA obliterated its opponents. Only two teams came within single digits of the Bruins, actually, and when you wipe the opponents off the face of the earth, regardless of schedule strength, you’re a damn good team.
Neither of these points detracts from Ohio State’s accomplishments, which are stunning, but UCLA was probably the equal of the Buckeyes—and wasn’t given the chance to prove it in the Rose Bowl. That sucks for the Bruins. SRS says Ohio State was the better team by a touchdown on a neutral field, and that’s significant. But still …
Also, despite its 19-game winning streak, Oklahoma couldn’t go to a bowl game, either. Its schedule was good—better than UCLA, worse than Ohio State—and the Sooners knocked off three ranked teams to start the season and move into the No. 1 spot in the Associated Press poll. After a 21-0 win over Kansas State on October 23, though, Oklahoma dropped to No. 2 in the poll.
That same day, then-No. 4 Ohio State beat No. 2 Wisconsin, 31-14, and jumped to No. 1 in the poll. The Sooners never played another ranked team, and despite the winning streak, they were relegated to No. 3 in the polls by the end. That doesn’t seem very fair, although again, the strength of schedule factors in to decision making, both then and now.
As for the Hurricanes, the schedule strength is there, but the one loss drops them a bit in this comparison—no shame in that, as the three undefeated teams could each make a legitimate case for the MNC, and it would be tough to argue against any of those ideas.
In the end, though, we do have the numbers, and the numbers favor Ohio State. But what a shame we didn’t have something like the—and we can’t believe we’re actually saying this—College Football Playoff back in 1954. It really would have been something to see.
Congratulations to the 1954 Ohio State Buckeyes, the mythical national champion!
Check in every Wednesday for a new feature on the mythical national championship in college football on The Daily McPlay.