Welcome back to Pac-12 Friday where we are traipsing down Memory Lane for the Big Ten Conference history, parallel to that of the Rose Bowl kindred Conference of Champions. We are looking at the best teams from the B1G—formerly known as the Western Conference— in the 1940s.
No more introductions … let’s get to it, and there are a lot of great teams!
Honorable Mention: 1945 Indiana Hoosiers (9-0-1)
An earlier season tie on the road to Northwestern was the only blemish for this Indiana squad, in a year when the conference champion did not get to go to the Rose Bowl (long story there). Nevertheless, the Hoosiers outscored opponents by a 279-56 margin and finished No. 4 in the media poll.
10. 1942 Ohio State Buckeyes (9-1)
We crowned this team the mythical champs for the season, with the only loss being to a ranked Wisconsin team on the road. In the final two conference games of the season, the Buckeyes beat ranked Illinois and Michigan teams by a combined 65-27 score to finish No. 1 in the Simple Ratings System (SRS).
9. 1946 Illinois Fighting Illini (8-2)
Winning the Rose Bowl by 31 points is the best way to cap off a championship season, really, and that’s what this Illini team did. Early losses to Notre Dame and Indiana were erased by a five-game winning streak in conference play where Illinois allowed just 37 points total. That included wins over ranked Michigan, Ohio State, and Wisconsin squads.
8. 1943 Purdue Boilermakers (9-0)
Another team that won our MNC Wednesday title, these Boilermakers gave up just 55 points all season while playing six games on the road. Seven opponents failed to score more than 7 points against Purdue’s defense, and the offense scored in double digits 8 times. Due to wartime travel restrictions, there was no Rose Bowl for the team, but the MNC is better.
7. 1941 Minnesota Golden Gophers (8-0)
In many ways, as loyal readers know, the B1G was dominant in college football for decades. This is the third (with four more to come) of our crowned MNC title winners this decade from the conference. Minnesota gave up just 38 points total during the year, and even though the offense wasn’t dominating, it did just enough to secure a perfect record.
6. 1943 Michigan Wolverines (8-1)
Yes, we know this team is ranked higher than the same year’s MNC team, and it’s an anomaly we explained in that decision a long time ago. No need to revisit it here. But losing by 23 points to Notre Dame at home really hurt this team’s MNC chances, even if it doesn’t hurt its rankings here.
5. 1940 Minnesota Golden Gophers (8-0)
Another MNC winner in our book, this team beat three ranked teams by a combined eight points to carve its narrow pathway to the championship of both the league and the country. The 10.3 average margin of victory was narrow, but Minnesota played the hardest schedule in the country and didn’t lose a game, obviously.
4. 1940 Michigan Wolverines (7-1)
If not for a one-point loss road loss to the Golden Gophers, this team would have won the MNC for 1940 with its slightly better SRS ranking and its third-ranked SOS. Again, perhaps we should switch these teams for this list, but the SRS gave Michigan a slight edge on a neutral field overall.
3. 1948 Michigan Wolverines (9-0)
The fifth MNC winner in today’s column shows you the strength of the conference yet again in the decade, nationally speaking. These Wolverines outscored opponents 252-44 on the season, beat ranked Ohio State on the road by 10 points, and posted 5 shutout victories. Very impressive!
2. 1944 Ohio State Buckeyes (9-0)
A sixth MNC champ in our books for this list … these Buckeyes beat four ranked teams by an average of 13 points per contest. Sure, Ohio State played just one road game (at ranked Wisconsin) due to wartime travel restrictions, but there’s nothing that could be done about that at the time.
1. 1947 Michigan Wolverines (10-0)
Perhaps one of the best teams all time from the conference, this is our final MNC winner of the day. The 49-0 blowout of USC in the Rose Bowl was shocking, to say the least, but Michigan also beat two other ranked teams by a combined 54-13 margin. So maybe it wasn’t that unexpected.