Moving through the 1970s on MNC Wednesday this week, and we see the “power” dynamics of college football evolving in two ways still recognizable today: “Name” schools get the benefit of the doubt from the voters, while the powers that be squeeze the little guys out of the big money.
On that note, what will our analysis show us this year about the folly of the voters at the time?
The 1977 MNC: How much does a “bad loss” actually count to the voters?
Here is the Associated Press Top 10, including final record with key bowl results:
1. Notre Dame: 11-1-0 — W, Cotton, 38-10
2. Alabama: 11-1-0 — W, Sugar, 35-6
3. Arkansas: 11-1-0 — W, Orange, 31-6
4. Texas: 11-1-0 — L, Cotton, 10-38
5. Penn State: 11-1-0 — W, Fiesta, 42-30
6. Kentucky: 10-1-0 — NONE (probation)
7. Oklahoma: 10-2-0 — L, Orange, 6-31
8. Pittsburgh: 9-2-1 — W, Gator, 34-3
9. Michigan: 10-2-0 — L, Rose, 20-27
10. Washington: 8-4-0 — W, Rose, 27-20
The Fighting Irish make the cut, with the record and the bowl win. The Crimson Tide get the nod, too, for the same reasons combined with an SEC championship. The Razorbacks lost by four points at home to Texas, which won the Southwest Conference, so both teams are out as the Longhorns lost their bowl game—and claim to the MNC. The Nittany Lions are in again, too, for the same reasons that Notre Dame made the cut.
Do we have any other contenders? The best of the small schools was San Diego State (10-1), once again shut out of the bowl invites, despite a victory over then-No. 13 Florida State on November 19. If you want early evidence of the big boys keeping the little schools out of the fray, then this is a prime exhibit of such things. But for our purposes, the Aztecs’ SOS was terrible (89th out of 145), so we won’t bother for MNC purposes.
Thus, these are the three finalists and their respective SOS ratings, after our topical analysis and paring down of the pretenders:
- Notre Dame: 12 Division I-A opponents, 9.93 SOS rating, 4th of 145
- Alabama: 12 Division I-A opponents, 8.15 SOS rating, 22nd
- Penn State: 12 Division I-A opponents, 8.52 SOS rating, 16th
If we go by best loss, the Nittany Lions win this hands down, as they lost to cheating Kentucky by only four points—where as the Fighting Irish lost to a 5-6 Mississippi team and the Crimson Tide lost to a 9-3 Nebraska team. Recently, we’ve seen teams shut out of the College Football Playoff for bad losses—but not Notre Dame in 1977.
However, the voters accidentally got it right in awarding Notre Dame the MNC, even if by accident. Often, the AP pollsters would use something like a bad loss to eliminate the Fighting Irish, but the grandeur of Notre Dame overwhelmed the voters in 1977, and they actually got it right without even realizing it. Ironic, huh?
That SOS for the Fighting Irish is very impressive, although the Nittany Lions also played an excellent schedule by all measures. It just isn’t quite good enough, however, to claim the title.
Congratulations to the 1977 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.