It’s time for the 1980s on MNC Wednesday, and after a decade of consistency from one dominant school—looking at you, USC—it’s time for some change at the top of pyramid. We have a slew of different contenders this week for the mythical national championship of big-time college football. Also, this was just 40-something years ago, which means by the end of calendar 2021, we will be all caught up with reality. Shocking!

Now, on to the decade with the best music ever, not to mention shoulder pads and tearaway jerseys …

The 1980 MNC: Tangles at the top always get sorted by SOS (and other stuff, too!)

Here is the Associated Press Top 10, including final record with key bowl results:

1. Georgia: 12-0-0 — W, Sugar, 17-10
2. Pittsburgh: 11-1-0 — W, Gator, 37-9
3. Oklahoma: 10-2-0 — W, Orange, 18-17
4. Michigan: 10-2-0 — W, Rose, 23-6
5. Florida State: 10-2-0 — L, Orange, 17-18
6. Alabama: 10-2-0 — W, Cotton 30-2
7. Nebraska: 10-2-0 — W, Sun, 31-17
8. Penn State: 10-2-0 — W, Fiesta, 31-19
9. Notre Dame: 9-2-1 — L, Sugar, 10-17
10. North Carolina: 11-1-0 — W, Bluebonnet, 16-7

The Bulldogs get the first nod, of course, as the only undefeated team in the bunch—and the SEC champion. That also removes the two-loss Crimson Tide from the equation, even though Georgia and Alabama didn’t play each other. The Panthers also get to play on, as an independent, with the one-loss performance. Strangely, the Cornhuskers finished atop the SRS, but they didn’t win the Big 8—the Sooners did with a head-to-head win that rivalry, so Oklahoma advances for now, even with the two losses.

We also add the Wolverines to the fray for the first time in awhile, as Michigan won the B1G and the Rose Bowl (finally!). The Nittany Lions get some consideration as an eligible team that finished above the Bulldogs in the SRS (see below), so this is starting to get messy, really, despite the presence of an “obvious” champion.

However, we have to look at disqualifying losses, too, and Penn State lost the head-to-head matchup with Pittsburgh, so the Nittany Lions are out. The Tar Heels won the ACC, but their one loss—an ugly 41-7 defeat, actually—was to the Sooners! What a bad break there, or else North Carolina would be part of this ongoing analysis, as well.

Any other schools to think about? Yes, as BYU finished 12-1 with a Holiday Bowl victory over SMU, so that’s a qualifying season right there. Thus, overall, we have 5 teams to examine more closely now. These are the best teams and their respective SOS ratings, after our initial analysis and trimming down of the contenders:

  • BYU: 13 Division I-A opponents, -0.77 SOS rating, 81st of 138
  • Michigan: 12 Division I-A opponents, 5.88 SOS rating, 46th
  • Pittsburgh: 12 Division I-A opponents, 7.62 SOS rating, 23rd
  • Georgia: 12 Division I-A opponents, 5.64 SOS rating, 51st
  • Oklahoma: 12 Division I-A opponents, 9.62 SOS rating, 7th

Whoa, we can a problem here, don’t we? The Sooners vault to the top of the pecking order with that outstanding SOS rating. They are followed very closely by the Panthers. We can eliminate the Cougars right away, and the Bulldogs’ weak SOS means they don’t really have a chance of standing with the top teams noted above—and the Wolverines fall by the wayside, too, with a middling SOS.

Voters weren’t sophisticated back then, really, as they went for shiny records and shiny bowl wins—and beating Notre Dame by 7 points in the Sugar Bowl was enough for the pollsters to anoint Georgia. But we won’t make the same mistake, thanks to sabermetrics. What do the sophisticated numbers tell us?

The Panthers have a one-loss season that ranks almost equally with the Sooners’ two-loss season. The power of SOS is clear here, but let’s look at the actual losses to see if that makes it any clearer: Pittsburgh lost on the road to Florida State, which is “good” loss, as the Seminoles finished No. 5 in the polls. Oklahoma lost to Texas by a touchdown on a neutral field; the Longhorns were No. 3 at the time, but they finished just 7-5 after a bowl loss to North Carolina. That’s not good for the Sooners.

But Oklahoma also lost by 17 points at home to Stanford—which finished 6-5, despite some stellar quarterbacking from sophomore John Elway. That is a terrible loss, in fact. And it all but hands the MNC to the Panthers, thanks to a strong SOS and what we know call a “quality” loss. We also are much more comfortable giving the mantle to a one-loss team, too, instead of a two-loss team.

(We also should note that the Panthers’ primary QB this season was some kid named Dan Marino.)

For the record, this is Pitt’s second MNC from us, as they earned the distinction in our very first entry in this series. That 44-year gap between titles is a record, for now. We will see if anyone can challenge it.

Congratulations to the 1980 Pittsburgh Panthers, the mythical national champion!

Check in every Wednesday for a new feature on the mythical national championship in college football on The Daily McPlay.