On MNC Wednesday, we try to make sure the wrongs of the past are corrected, but every so often a season of college football comes along that is an absolute mess. How did the mediots pick a mythical national champion back in 1973? Good question. It wasn’t an easy job, that’s for sure.
This is one of the all-time sort jobs for our weekly column. Enjoy it …
The 1973 MNC: If ever there was a season that needed a playoff, this was it!
Here is the Associated Press Top 11, including final record with key bowl results.
1. Notre Dame: 11-0-0 — W, Sugar, 24-23
2. Ohio State: 10-0-1 — W, Rose, 42-21
3. Oklahoma: 10-0-1 — NONE (probation)
4. Alabama: 11-1-0 — L, Sugar, 23-24
5. Penn State: 12-0-0 — W, Orange, 16-9
6. Michigan: 10-0-1 — NONE
7. Nebraska: 9-2-1 — W, Cotton, 19-3
8. USC: 9-2-1 — L, Rose, 21-42
9t. Arizona State: 11-1-0 — W, Fiesta, 28-7
9t. Houston: 11-1-0 — W, Bluebonnet, 47-7
11. Texas Tech: 11-1-0 — W, Gator, 28-19
We included 11 teams in this list for obvious reasons. So the Fighting Irish advance to our next round, of course, as do the Buckeyes. Technically, the Wolverines tied for the B1G title, so we can consider them, too. The Nittany Lions are definitely in, although we’ve been burned by their weak SOS in the past. Who knows if this a different outcome for Penn State this time? Same for the Sun Devils: Maybe this is the year.
What about the Cougars and the Red Raiders? Houston’s only loss was on the road to Auburn by 7 points, while Texas Tech’s only defeat was to Southwest champion Texas—and that’s enough to eliminate the Red Raiders as an also-ran team in its conference. Too bad, as the Longhorns finished a mere 8-3.
This now starts getting insane, especially when you consider the Sooners’ situation. Oklahoma was slapped with a two-year probation penalty for falsifying the transcript of a quarterback on the 1972 team. That would actually make them retroactively ineligible for our 1972 MNC, although they didn’t win it anyway in our estimation. Tough job here reviewing all this nonsense, which will get worse in the seasons to come, of course. Reality is, though, that the 1973 Sooners finished No. 1 in the SRS rankings, so they were a darn good team.
Oh well: Cheaters aren’t eligible here, and we have to assess every situation individually. Generally, OU had lost institutional control of the football team and other teams as well, so this is a broader penalty, even if the 1973 players were “innocent” … which we really can’t say for sure. The Sooners couldn’t play in a bowl game, though, which by this time was becoming commonplace for almost every major conference. That was their “fault”—unlike the Wolverines, who were stymied by their conference rules at the time.
Moving on from Oklahoma, are we missing any schools? Miami (OH) posted an 11-0 record, and we are curious where the RedHawks fit in, so they’re in for now. That’s about it: So, these are the 7 (!) finalists and the SOS ratings, after we narrowed down the best of the contenders above:
- Miami (OH): 11 Division I-A opponents, -0.93 SOS rating, 75th of 129
- Houston: 12 Division I-A opponents, 1.48 SOS rating, 67th
- Arizona State: 12 Division I-A opponents, -0.25 SOS rating, 73rd
- Penn State: 12 Division I-A opponents, 4.53 SOS rating, 50th
- Michigan: 11 Division I-A opponents, 7.99 SOS rating, 31st
- Ohio State: 11 Division I-A opponents, 8.11 SOS rating, 29th
- Notre Dame: 11 Division I-A opponents, 7.40 SOS rating, 36th
Wow, where to start? The RedHawks, the Cougars, and the Sun Devils clearly didn’t have the SOS to contend in this scenario, and although the Nittany Lions improved their SOS, it still lags behind the three teams from the bigger stages of the era. Here is an argument for each of the trio surviving this initial comparison:
- Michigan: No. 2 in scoring defense (68 points allowed total), No. 3 in SRS
- Ohio State: No. 1 in scoring defense (64 points allowed total), No. 2 in SRS
- Notre Dame: No. 4 in scoring defense (89 points allowed total), No. 6 in SRS
The Irish had the weakest schedule, while both Notre Dame and Ohio State finished with Top 10 scoring offenses: Irish were 8th, while the Buckeyes were 4th. How much does the tie against each other hurt Michigan and Ohio State? Generally, we’ve always noted a gap of 10 spots in the SOS is enough to erase a good loss in these comparisons. That means a gap of five spots can erase a good tie. This literally brings all three traditional Midwest rivals together.
We have to ask how much the Buckeyes’ metrics improved as a result of their trouncing of USC in the Rose Bowl. Notre Dame beat the Trojans by just 9 points at home midseason, for comparison’s sake. For trivia’s sake, USC’s tie came against Oklahoma—the Trojans were a pretty good team, so for Ohio State to throttle them by 21 points means a lot.
So why was Notre Dame ranked so low by the sabermetric SRS? Perhaps it was the lower SOS, because otherwise, so much looks even between the Irish, the Buckeyes, and the Wolverines. We can’t flip a coin here, either. Ohio State was ranked No. 1 until the tie, which then dropped them to third. The Buckeyes were dropped to fourth while idle after that, before winning the Rose Bowl and finishing No. 2 in the polls.
Notre Dame beat Miami (FL) 44-0 in that last week to inch past Ohio State in the polls, and that’s generally how the Irish ended up No. 1 at the end, in conjunction with their one-point win over No. 1 Alabama. That’s how the voters were fooled into giving the AP title to Notre Dame, when the metrics had them at No. 6 overall.
In the end, we’re going to trust the SRS: Ohio State was the best team of the three eligible, with a 1.5-point edge on Michigan in the SRS if played on a neutral field. The tie game between the two B1G schools came in Ann Arbor, and if the game had been in Columbus, we suspect the Buckeyes might have won.
So that’s our challenging and convoluted logic for this analysis. We would not protest much against arguments for either Michigan or Notre Dame, but this is just where our determination has taken us. For the record, this is the Buckeyes’ sixth MNC in our estimation, putting them into the lead so far in our analyses here.
Congratulations to the 1973 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.