We find ourselves at the end of the 1970s today on MNC Wednesday, and we once again have a battle at the top of the pile for supremacy between at least three “blue blood” football programs and some upstarts trying to wedge their way into the mythical national title conversation. Isn’t it like this every year these days? Pretty much—and we still don’t have a legitimate, transparent process for the whole shebang, do we? Harrrumph.
Enough of that! On with the show for the last season of the disco decade …
The 1979 MNC: About that East Coast/Southern media bias …
Here is the Associated Press Top 10, including final record with key bowl results:
1. Alabama: 12-0-0 — W, Sugar, 24-9
2. USC: 11-0-1 — W, Rose, 17-16
3. Oklahoma: 11-1-0 — W, Orange, 24-7
4. Ohio State: 11-1-0 — L, Rose, 16-17
5. Houston: 11-1-0 — W, Cotton, 17-14
6. Florida State: 11-1-0 — L, Orange, 7-24
7. Pittsburgh: 11-1-0 — W, Fiesta, 16-10
8. Arkansas: 10-2-0 — L, Sugar, 9-24
9. Nebraska: 10-2-0 — L, Cotton, 14-17
10. Purdue: 10-2-0 — W, Bluebonnet, 27-22
The Crimson Tide get the nod for final analysis as the only undefeated, untied team in the poll above, although the Trojans make the mix again, too, alone with the Sooners, the Cougars, and the Panthers. Conversely, imagine if the Buckeyes had won the Rose Bowl and/or the Seminoles had won the Orange Bowl … We’d have been looking at three undefeated teams atop the charts!
(By the way, the Texas Longhorns finished 9-3 with wins over both Oklahoma and Houston. Go figure.)
As it is, we still have five teams to look at here from the list above, but are there any other schools to consider? Central Michigan put together a nice 10-0-1 season with a very low SOS rating (116 of 140), but we give them a shoutout, nonetheless. The Chippewas were, of course, ignored by the bowls, which is always sad to see. BYU went to the Holiday Bowl with an 11-0 record, but Indiana won that matchup by a point to deny the Cougars.
But in the end, there it is: We have 5 teams left to consider now. These are the best teams and their respective SOS ratings, after our initial analysis and trimming down of the contenders:
- Alabama: 12 Division I-A opponents, 4.04 SOS rating, 62nd of 140
- USC: 12 Division I-A opponents, 8.62 SOS rating, 13th
- Oklahoma: 12 Division I-A opponents, 5.46 SOS rating, 46th
- Houston: 12 Division I-A opponents, 8.75 SOS rating, 11th
- Pittsburgh: 12 Division I-A opponents, 5.35 SOS rating, 51st
What we see here is a very middling schedule for the Crimson Tide, and that costs them a lot. In fact, of the five teams listed here, Alabama ends up with the worst argument for the MNC. The Panthers’ edge in SOS put them a sliver above the Crimson Tide, while the Sooners slot in above Pitt. Meanwhile, the Trojans outdo the Cougars due to their tie instead of a loss, and Houston’s slim edge in SOS is not enough to overcome that.
So, why did Alabama get the AP node? Because it was the “defending champ”? We already showed last week that was a huge error, based on a H2H loss to USC. The Trojans started this season No. 1 in the polls, but a 21-21 tie against Stanford dropped them to No. 4 as then-No. 2 Alabama moved up to No. 1 at that point. The Tide held the No. 1 spot until the final week of the season when they dropped to No. 2 behind Ohio State, despite winning the Iron Bowl over No. 14 Auburn.
USC beat Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, but Alabama’s win over No. 6 in Arkansas evidently was enough to keep the top spot in the polls. Interestingly enough, both the Trojans and the Tide played at LSU during the regular season: USC won, 17-12, and Alabama won, 3-0. We’d argue it’s more impressive for the Trojans to win a road game like that in Baton Rouge, for sure.
Either way, Alabama had no business collecting this vote at the time, and so we are here to right another wrong committed by a clearly biased media panel which clearly had no ability to be objective at the time. Whether it was the persona of Bear Bryant that swayed voters, we do not know—but this is the fourth time we have stripped the Tide of an AP title it didn’t deserve: 1961, 1964, 1978, and now 1979. That is some seriously flawed subjectivity in determining the MNC, and it really shows us some illuminating realities.
Congratulations to the 1979 USC Trojans, the mythical national champion!
Check in every Wednesday for a new feature on the mythical national championship in college football on The Daily McPlay.