Our MNC Wednesday analyses are always fun, as we look back to right the wrongs of the past. This is a reminder that big-time college football—otherwise known as Division I-A football at this time, and the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) now—is the only NCAA sport that does not hold a legitimate tournament championship at the end of its season in order to produce an undisputed winner. Go figure.
That being said, some seasons are easier than other to analyze retrospectively … Bring it on!
The 1988 MNC: Has there ever been a more clear-cut champion?
Here is the Associated Press Top 10, including final record with key bowl results:
1. Notre Dame: 12-0-0 — W, Fiesta, 34-21
2. Miami-FL: 11-1-0 — W, Orange, 23-3
3. Florida State: 11-1-0 — W, Sugar, 13-7
4. Michigan: 9-2-1 — W, Rose, 22-14
5. West Virginia: 11-1-0 — L, Fiesta, 21-34
6. UCLA: 10-2-0 — W, Cotton, 17-3
7. USC: 10-2-0 — L, Rose, 14-22
8. Auburn: 10-2-0 — L, Sugar, 7-13
9. Clemson: 10-2-0 — W, Citrus, 13-6
10. Nebraska: 11-2-0 — L, Orange, 3-23
The Fighting Irish make an appearance here for the first time in awhile. And this time, it was the Hurricanes on the wrong end of a one-point game, as Notre Dame beat Miami-FL, 31-30, during the regular season, so the defending champs are not under consideration here.
We can look at the Seminoles, however, as Florida State was in the second season of an incredible 14-year streak of finishing in the AP Top 5. The Bruins did not win the Pac-10; the Trojans did, so UCLA can’t advance. The Clemson Tigers won the ACC, so they can get some love here, too, although the two-loss team has a long, uphill climb to try to top the undefeated Irish.
But … they lost to Florida State, actually, so we can’t move them along. Same for Michigan, which lost to Notre Dame to open the season. This was an era of some significant early-season results across the board, which led to the phenomenon of scheduling weak out-of-conference games to avoid losing unnecessarily.
Any small schools to think about? Not this time around: Only four teams finished with zero losses or one loss, and we’ve covered them all already. So this could be a pretty simple, cut-and-dried season for once, as these are the two qualifying teams and their respective SOS ratings, after sorting through all worthy teams above:
- Notre Dame: 12 Division I-A opponents, 7.68 SOS rating, 2nd of 105
- Florida State: 11 Division I-A opponents, 4.24 SOS rating, 24th
Admittedly, FSU lost to Miami-FL to start the season, so if this had been a situation where the SOS ratings were reversed, we would have had a dilemma on our hands. As it is, there is no dilemma: This Irish squad beat four ranked teams during the year, including No. 2 Miami, No. 4 Michigan, No. 5 West Virginia, and No. 7 USC. That’s pretty impressive.
We also will point again that teams scheduling cream-puff opponents get hurt in our sabermetric analysis, unlike the polling at the time, which didn’t really grasp the concept of SOS at all. The Seminoles played Georgia Southern, and that drove down their SOS rating—not that it matters with Notre Dame’s clear dominance.
For the record, this is the fifth MNC nod we’ve given to the Irish, tying them with Michigan State—but still trailing USC (8) and Ohio State (6).
Congratulations to the 1988 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.