The first “Game of the Century” happened during the 1966 college football season, and now on MNC Wednesday, we get to see if either team that participated ended up winning the mythical national championship.
Or maybe it went to another team that didn’t play in that game? On with the show!
The 1966 MNC: Can a tie be a good thing?
Here is the Associated Press Top 10, including final record with key bowl results.
1. Notre Dame: 9-0-1 — NONE
2. Michigan State: 9-0-1 — NONE
3. Alabama: 11-0-0 — W, Sugar, 34-7
4. Georgia: 10-1-0 — W, Cotton, 24-9
5. UCLA: 9-1-0 — NONE
6. Nebraska: 9-2-0 — L, Sugar, 7-34
7. Purdue: 9-2-0 — W, Rose, 14-13
8. Georgia Tech: 9-2-0 — L, Orange, 12-27
9. Miami-FL: 8-2-1 — W, Liberty, 14-7
10. SMU: 8-3-0 — L, Cotton, 9-24
What a mess, again. Notre Dame and Michigan State played to that 10-10 tie in East Lansing in the Game of the Century, while Alabama went undefeated. All three teams get fast-tracked to our final round of analysis below, of course.
Georgia will be included, as it also went undefeated in SEC play, without facing the Crimson Tide. UCLA will get considered as well, for tying USC for the Pac-8 title (and winning the head-to-head matchup). Purdue did not win the B1G, as the Spartans did by virtue of their 21-point victory over the Boilermakers.
Any teams not listed above? Yes! The Wyoming Cowboys went 10-1 and finished fourth in the SRS, despite playing just the 70th-ranked schedule. The SOS won’t win them any comparison tests, however. In addition, the Miami (OH) RedHawks posted a 9-1 record, although it came against even lesser competition than Wyoming faced.
Even lower on the pecking order was Harvard: Its 8-1 record against the 10th-easiest schedule in the nation is worthy of a shoutout. That leaves just the big boys, of course, to consider.
What we have is a logjam of five teams to scrutinize this time, in another convoluted and complex season—and the respective strengths of schedule, based on the Simple Rating System:
- UCLA: 10 Division I-A opponents, 3.23 SOS rating, 42nd of 119
- Notre Dame: 10 Division I-A opponents, 5.61 SOS rating, 27th of 119
- Alabama: 10 Division I-A opponents, 3.84 SOS rating, 37th of 119
- Georgia: 11 Division I-A opponents, 5.35 SOS rating, 29th of 119
- Michigan State: 10 Division I-A opponents, 5.15 SOS rating, 30th of 119
Michigan State, Notre Dame, and UCLA didn’t play in bowl games, through no faults of their own. But with one loss, the Bruins also have the worst SOS in this group, so they couldn’t outdo Alabama in this comparison. UCLA is the first team eliminated from the “finals” here.
MSU and Notre Dame tied each other, and the Fighting Irish have a slight edge is SOS, based on playing four ranked teams throughout the season—while Sparty faced just two. The difference calculated in negligible, but in a comparison like this, it matters. Michigan State is out, too.
That leaves the Bulldogs, the Irish, and the Tide. Both Georgia and Notre Dame top Alabama for SOS, and we know there’s no shame in the Irish’s tie on the road to MSU. The Bulldogs lost by one point to 8-2-1 Miami (FL), so that is a “good” loss enough to offset the Tide’s unbeaten record against a lesser schedule.
Let’s narrow this down to one SEC team, though: Who were the common opponents for Alabama and Georgia? Mississippi, Mississippi State, and Auburn. The Bulldogs won those games by a combined 17 points, while the Tide rolled by a 54-point margin.
To us, we see Alabama as the better team, even if Georgia played a slightly better schedule. And in a head-to-head with the Irish, the Tide falls short—as the only ranked team Alabama played all season was Nebraska in its bowl game.
Notre Dame played the better schedule, and it was superior enough to overcome the tie on the record. The Irish (AP and others) also split the consensus title at the time with Michigan State (National Football Foundation), while topping out as the top team in the SRS as well—by quite a bit. It all adds up to firm decision here.
This is just Notre Dame’s second MNC in our estimation so far, as the first came back in the 1949 season.
Congratulations to the 1966 Notre Dame Fighting Irish, the mythical national champion!
Check in every Wednesday for a new feature on the mythical national championship in college football on The Daily McPlay.