As we reach a full year of MNC Wednesday analysis, it is fun to see how much “erroneous” history we have corrected. College football always has revolved around myths, rather than facts. For example, the Alabama Crimson Tide have won just a single mythical national championship in our sabermetric revisions so far (1965). We have taken four MNCs away from the school—and rightfully so. We make no apologies for accuracy, facts, logic, and reason, folks, ever.

But we digress … let’s get on with the show!

The 1987 MNC: Luck is a huge factor in these analyses, always

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

1. Miami-FL: 12-0-0 — W, Orange, 20-14
2. Florida State: 11-1-0 — W, Fiesta, 31-28
3. Oklahoma: 11-1-0 — L, Orange, 14-20
4. Syracuse: 11-0-1 — T, Sugar, 16-16
5. LSU: 10-1-1 — W, Gator, 30-13
6. Nebraska: 10-2-0 — L, Fiesta, 28-31
7. Auburn: 9-1-2 — T, Sugar, 16-16
8. Michigan State: 9-2-1 — W, Rose, 20-17
9. UCLA: 10-2-0 — W, Aloha, 20-16
10. Texas A&M: 10-2-0 — W, Cotton, 35-10

The Hurricanes obviously move forward to our “finals” with the only perfect season among the big schools, and even though the Seminoles were the top team in the SRS, we all remember how Miami beat FSU the same way it beat Nebraska to end the 1983 season: by stopping a late two-point conversion attempt. So, the Seminoles probably were the best team in college football this season, but a bad throw from the QB ended their MNC hopes.

The then-Orangemen almost registered a perfect season themselves, but the tie in the Sugar Bowl doesn’t eliminate them, either. It also doesn’t eliminate the Auburn Tigers, the SEC champs. However, with Auburn winning the SEC, thanks to uneven scheduling, the LSU Tigers do not get considered here. Those are the breaks, of course, and Auburn got another one since its only loss was to Florida State.

Michigan State, long absent from these MNC discussions after dominating the early 1950s, gets advanced, too, as the B1G champs and the Rose Bowl victors, even though the record is far from unblemished. The Spartans also lost to Florida State, so they catch some luck, as well.

The Bruins did not win the Pac-10, so they do not move on; however, the Aggies did win the Southwest Conference and the Cotton Bowl. Texas A&M advances! The 10-2 Clemson Tigers, finally free of probation issues from earlier in the decade, also get a pass to the finals, based on an ACC championship and a Citrus Bowl victory.

Any other schools to consider not listed above? No small schools worth mentioning this time around. But this is a big group to look at, leaving us with 6 teams to choose from in finding a mythical champ—none of them being the SRS leader, either. Kind of crazy that Florida State was so good, but as we know, sometimes you’d rather be lucky than good—or both, for that matter.

So, these are the qualifying teams and their respective SOS ratings, after we sorted through the pile of contenders above, and it’s interesting to note that half of them scheduled a cream puff (starting a trend in the sport):

  • Clemson: 11 Division I-A opponents, 2.29 SOS rating, 47th of 104
  • Texas A&M: 11 Division I-A opponents, 2.58 SOS rating, 44th
  • Michigan State: 12 Division I-A opponents, 6.98 SOS rating, 4th
  • Auburn: 12 Division I-A opponents, 6.50 SOS rating, 8th
  • Syracuse: 11 Division I-A opponents, 0.88 SOS rating, 58th
  • Miami-FL: 12 Division I-A opponents, 4.98 SOS rating, 22nd

Since voters back then were clueless about strength of schedule, it actually paid off for these teams to schedule cream-puff opponents to fatten up the overall record, a trend that still exists today, sadly, although it’s on the way out slowly. And after 1984’s voting debacle, this is what schools realized they could get away with. But not with us!

So, we can toss Clemson, Syracuse, and TAMU due to the weak SOS ratings. That leaves us with Auburn, Miami, and Michigan State (surprisingly). Sparty’s SOS is excellent, but the two losses and a tie mean MSU falls below the Hurricanes. And in truth, the one loss and two ties for the Tigers also drops them beneath the Hurricanes, too.

This could have been a lot messier, with some tweaked game results. Say Auburn or MSU didn’t have the ties, for example; this would have been a better debate. Miami survives all the analysis, as its SOS was good enough—even though the Tigers and Spartans played much tougher schedules. This really shows the art of scheduling tough … but not too tough.

It also helps us again dodge the bullet of Miami beating a team that beat both Auburn and MSU as well. Those translative scoring comparisons are evil! For the record, this is the first official MNC for the Hurricanes in our estimation, but we suspect it may not be the last one.

Congratulations to the 1987 Miami Hurricanes, the mythical national champion!

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