We have reached the Seventies on MNC Wednesday, and that means a lot of powerhouse programs dominating the national scene. Remember, this decade set the stage for the 1980s, and that decade changed everything for the sport in ways we’re still feeling the ramifications of today.
So, here we go, with another mythical national championship analysis!
The 1970 MNC: A close call with three serious contenders for the crown
Here is the Associated Press Top 10, including final record with key bowl results.
1. Nebraska: 11-0-1 — W, Orange, 17-12
2. Notre Dame: 10-1-0 — W, Cotton, 24-11
3. Texas: 10-1-0 — L, Cotton, 11-24
4. Tennessee: 11-1-0 — W, Sugar, 34-13
5. Ohio State: 9-1-0 — L, Rose, 17-27
6. Arizona State: 11-0-0 — W, Peach, 48-28
7. LSU: 9-3-0 — L, Orange, 12-17
8. Stanford: 9-3-0 — W, Rose, 27-17
9. Michigan: 9-1-0 — NONE
10. Auburn: 9-2-0 — W, Gator, 35-28
Our initial run through of the teams under consideration nets us Nebraska, Notre Dame, Tennessee, and Arizona State. That is a big group to start with, and it may get bigger: Dartmouth and Toledo also went undefeated.
We should just jump to the SOS to figure it out the most readily: There are six teams to look at more closely—and their respective strengths of schedule, based on the Simple Rating System:
- Notre Dame: 11 Division I-A opponents, 10.41 SOS rating, 19th of 123
- Nebraska: 12 Division I-A opponents, 10.21 SOS rating, 23rd
- Tennessee: 12 Division I-A opponents, 8.11 SOS rating, 35th
- Toledo: 12 Division I-A opponents, -10.98 SOS rating, 113th
- Dartmouth: 8 Division I-A opponents, -5.21 SOS rating, 88th
- Arizona State: 11 Division I-A opponents, -0.39 SOS rating, 68th
So, ASU assumes the space Penn State kept here for the last two seasons, in terms of posting an unimpressive SOS while going undefeated. But we know how both teams were able to use their successes to get into major conferences eventually. Dartmouth and Toledo also had fine seasons, but the SOS isn’t there, obviously.
So it comes down to the Irish, the Cornhuskers, and the Volunteers—as we probably knew it would. Here is the way we see it, as less than a field goal separates these three teams in the SRS overall:
- Notre Dame was ranked No. 1 before two lackluster victories in November dropped it to No. 4—and the Irish then lost to USC on the road by 10 points in the regular-season finale before rebounding to defeat No. 1 Texas in the Cotton Bowl. Notre Dame was in the Top 6 all season, and it has the SOS edge here.
- Nebraska tied USC on the road in September, which makes this interesting, and the SOS deficit to Notre Dame really isn’t significant. But the Cornhuskers played an SEC also ran in the Orange Bowl and beat them less impressively than the Irish beat the Longhorns.
- Tennessee lost to Auburn on the road in September, and that’s the “best” blemish of the bunch, even if the Vols’ SOS is the “worst” of this group. Tennessee rolled over Air Force in its bowl game, with the weakest of the three bowl victories, comparatively.
We’re inclined to go with Notre Dame here, with the strongest SOS and the most consistent performance all year. The Cornhuskers were never ranked No. 1 until the end, and that was only because the Irish did them a favor in bowl season; they backed into No. 1. The Vols have the weakest SOS of the three, and Tennessee spent some deserved time unranked.
This is not a strong argument for Notre Dame or against Nebraska. In fact, since the Cornhuskers tied the team the Irish lost to, there’s that edge for Nebraska as well—plus the extra game the Cornhuskers played. Does that matter? Yes and no, because the extra team could have been good or bad.
Comparatively, both Nebraska and Notre Dame played Missouri: The Irish beat the Tigers on the road by 17 points, and the Huskers won by 14 at home. Yet another common-opponent edge goes to the Irish, who beat Army 51-10 while Nebraska beat the Black Knights by a mere 28-0 margin. Both those edges go to Notre Dame, and they are reinforced by the SOS margin.
Therefore, we are comfortable with the Notre Dame decision in the end.
Congratulations to the 1970 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.