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NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS: RETROACTIVE VS RIDICULOUS

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IN THE 1970 COLLEGE FOOTBALL SEASON NEBRASKA WON THE NATTY

The t.u. claim to the 1970 college football National Championship (NC) is well...bull poop. Texas finished off that season (on January 1, 1971) by losing in the Cotton Bowl 11-24 to pre-bowl #6 Notre Dame. Until 1974 the UPI ranked teams before their bowl games (They changed this after consecutive embarrassments, to include this one. Facing similar ridicule the older/wiser AP poll switched permanently to post-bowl rankings in 1968). The pre-bowl UPI poll is what Texas bases this bogus Natty on. Nebraska, who was 10-0-1 (the 21-21 tie was against then #3 USC) was ranked #3 pre-bowl, beat #5 LSU, finished undefeated at 11-0-1 and was declared the consensus National Champion. Note the pre-bowl #2 team Ohio State also lost, 17-27 to #12 Stanford. Using the teasip perpetuated lame claim method, I guess Notre Dame won the most recent Natty in spite of being thumped by Bama. I submit that A&M’s recent retroactive claims to college football NCs are more worthy than many of the existing/accepted claims of numerous schools.

Further, retroactive claims to NCs, and the acceptance thereof, are nothing new. There is almost a hundred years of precedence for declaring/deciding upon a national champion, to include retroactively. My throw down to t.u. is this; Erase your false claim to a Natty in 1970...as engraved on walls/printed on pennants…or cease and desist your criticism of Texas A&M’s much more valid retroactive claims to championships in 1919 and 1927.

Why do I care? About t.u.‘s claim…I don’t really. However, the more acerbic teasip fans love to scoff at Texas A&M’s recent retroactive claims to two National Championships at every opportunity…usually accompanied by a before/after graphic of the Kyle Field wall. So, as a reward for your petulance I choose thee t.u., as my bogus natty poster child.

Note t.u. is not alone in questionable claims to championships. I’ll even go a little further in conciliation to t.u. and, though I shudder at the thought, admit we have shared DNA (Bible, Bellard, etc.). I give credit to their school/team where it is due…specifically their claim to the 1969 NC, in my opinion, is better than the Penn State claim (who were also 11-0), and t.u. was the unquestioned NC winner in 1963 and 2005. I also understand that to a large degree the modern day pervasiveness of the internet, twitter and blogs contributed to some of the negative hoopla over A&M’s recent claims. I don’t think there was as much stink in the 1980s when Alabama sports information director Wayne Atchison added five national titles – 1925, 1926, 1930, 1934 and 1941 – to the Crimson Tide’s claims. There are some interesting claims in that group (Like 41‘ where they did play a lot of ranked teams, but lost to both Vandy and an unranked Mississippi State in the regular season and did not appear in a bowl.), but we can save that debate for another day…or not even go there at all if Bama fans don‘t try to lord the number of their claimed titles over us.

As I researched this article I learned a lot along the way. I present relevant/fun facts (spiced with personal opinion of course) below for consideration, and you, the humble reader can decide where you come down on this. I am a big fan of history, and I know there is a lot here. I have tried to be succinct and I hope I don’t bore you…but heh, it is the off season…what else have you got to do? Print it off. Take it to the head. You know you wanna. In italics I provide some of the weak counter-arguments I found on the web.

But, but we (t.u.) got a trophy and everything.

Actually…no…you didn‘t. Your team’s name, and Ohio State‘s (another bowl loser that year), was engraved on the side of the McArthur trophy for 1970. The McArthur (named after the General of "I’ll shall return." fame.) is a traveling trophy that, the winner of which since its inception in 1959 often differed from the AP Poll winner, Coaches' Poll winner or both, until, for the sake of creating some legitimacy, it was tied to the BCS championship. It was not a crystal football and it does not reside at your school. Prior to the advent of/tie-in to the BCS, favored teams had their names inscribed on the side of the McArthur, based on pre-bowl or otherwise potentially specious votes.

But, but bowls in 1970 were like rewards. They didn’t really reflect who won the NC.

Yeah right. Not even close to a cigar. The Rose Bowl, started in 1902 under a different name (the East-West Tournament), was at first the only major college bowl game. By 1940, there were five major college bowl games, by 1950, the number had increased to eight games, and by 1970 the number had increased again, to 11 games. "The concept of a national championship in college football dates to the early years of the sport in the late 19th century (the 1800s for those of you in Austin), and some of the earliest contemporaneous polls can be traced to Caspar Whitney, Charles Patterson, and The Sun in 1901."

The Rose Bowl was the de facto National Championship of the 1920s. United Press called the 1927 Rose Bowl (Bama beat Stanford 7-6) "the football championship of America." The Sugar, Sun and Orange Bowls were all introduced in 1935. The Cotton Bowl was added in 1937. These additional major bowls accelerated the interest in the rankings of teams and the declarations of national champions. By 1970 pre-bowl, post-bowl and retroactive college football national rankings had been going on for fifty years or more. I refer you back to the Sports Illustrated cover image at the top of this article. "Nebraska is No. 1" along with the subtitle, "Notre Dame Beats Texas." To try and suggest there wasn’t an obvious National Champion in the 1970 season (it wasn’t Texas) is ludicrous.

But, but pre-poll (AP started in 1936) retroactive claims to National Titles are BS!

I actually stumbled on this argument on a Florida Gator site. This seems rather self-serving, since Florida wasn’t nationally relevant until the 1980s. Sorry gators, it’s true. The blog stated, "Any claim of a National Championship prior to the AP’s first poll of 1936 is highly suspect. Most of them are backdated or retroactive. This includes 3 of Notre Dames 11 titles, and four of Alabama’s." While some of these claimed titles might warrant scrutiny, I don’t buy the supposition that all pre-1936 claims are suspect. All pre and post 1936 polls and mathematical systems are also highly subject to inherent flaws and regional/individual bias. In some cases Retroactive > Existing Claim.

Retroactive claims started almost a hundred years ago, and they are accepted/recognized, along with their innumerable biased poll/system brethren. Notre Dame’s claim to the 1924 title is a glaring example. Hearing of the concoction of Prof. Frank Dickinson’s mathematical system, Knute Rockne invited both Dickinson and Rissman (the wealthy sports fan paying for/presenting the corresponding Rissman trophy) to South Bend. Rockne convinced them to make it a "national" (rather than regional as first conceived) trophy and to make it retroactive to 1924 so the Irish of Four Horsemen fame could be the first official national champions.

In my opinion, the 1924 10-0 Irish were more deserving of the title than 9-1-1 Penn anyway. I don‘t discredit this claim. However, it is illustrative of my point that retroactive claims have precedence and standing. Starting in 2014 the BCS is moving forward with a playoff system that will definitively determine the national champion each year. Some folks will no doubt kick and scream each year over which teams do or don't get in to the BCS playoff, but it will lend a great deal of clarity. Retroactive and weak claims are in the books. I suggest we just accept them both, move on and look forward to the BCS playoff system.

But, but the Aggie retroactive claims are laughable.

For added context, let’s note the 1917 Aggie football team was undefeated, untied and admirably unscored upon. A&M does not claim this year as a championship (perhaps because no poll/system ranked us as #1?). However, it is worth noting, the famous coach of this team, Dana X. Bible, took a year off in 1918 to join the military and serve his country during a war. The U.S. military did not fully mobilize/arrive in France until the spring of 1918. He returned to coach the team in 1919. The 1919 team also went undefeated (10-0), untied,…and again unscored upon…and was ranked #1 by the Billingsley Report and the National Championship Foundation (both retroactive). Harvard, Centre College (coached by Charlie Moran…a man who is central to an A&M-teasip story for another day), Notre Dame and Illinois are also listed in at least one poll/ranking system as possibly being number one in 1919. Illinois only played seven games in 1919 and lost one (10-14 to Wisconsin), but use their perceived "strength of schedule" as some of the basis for their claim.

Included in their 1919 season total of nine games, Harvard defeated the Oregon Webfoots by a score of 7-6 in the Rose Bowl. Harvard came close to skunking all their opponents in 1919, with the exception of a 10-10 tie with Princeton, a 10-3 win over Yale and the 7-6 win over the Webfoots (now the Ducks). Notre Dame (ND) and Centre’s Praying Colonels both went 9-0 in their seasons. At present Notre Dame does not claim 1919 as a NC, but this season did help build/solidify the legends of Knute Rockne and the Gipper. Granted the relative strength of regional teams may have varied greatly in this era, but without the measurement of head-to-head match-ups such as the Rose Bowl and subsequent bowl games, other than infrequent relevant out of conference games, how these teams would have faired against each other is wildly speculative. Bottom line, based on being undefeated/unscored upon, and having played ten games total, at the very least the Aggie 1919 team has a valid claim to being co-national champions.

Coach Bible also led the 1927 (our second retroactive claim) Aggie team to an 8-0-1 record, arguably the best record among the NC claimants for that year. The Aggie tie was a scoreless 0-0 match-up with TCU (in case you were wondering). TCU was no slouch in the late 1920s and 30s, winning two NCs. I consider a tie superior to a loss (L), and 8-0-1 better than 7-0-1 (Illinois). The three number one ranked teams with the Ls that year (Georgia, Notre Dame, Yale) and Illinois can/will, as always, to some degree try to make the strength of schedule argument to bolster their claims/the polls that gave them merit. Georgia actually played Yale that year and beat them 14-10. I guess Yale can somewhat hang their hat on the fact that they were the only team who beat Army, and Army was the only team that beat ND. I’m not sure why Army wasn’t/isn’t in the mix. Pitt was 8-0-1 going into the Rose Bowl, but lost to a two-loss Stanford team. The Georgia Bulldogs lost their final game of the season against Georgia Tech 0-12. Interestingly, ND had also played Georgia Tech that season, and beat them 26-7.

Humorously the Illinois claim to the NC is partially based on the goofy Dickinson mathematical system’s rating of them as number one. The Dickinson System, was devised in 1926 by Frank Dickinson, a professor of economics at….wait for it….the University of Illinois. Again, A&M has a solid claim to at least co-national champion.

But, but who cares? 1919 and 1927 are ancient history!

Well if A&M’s retroactive claims are ancient history, to be mocked, and deemed irrelevant then so is 76-37-5. For the uninitiated in Aggie versus t.u. hatred…that is another commonly used teasip derision…that of the overall head-to-head records between our two schools. The longhorns are adept at ignoring all historical differences between the two institutions and the fact that in the last four decades Texas A&M and the University of Texas have been at relative parity, with the series standing at 21 to 19 in the teasips’ slight favor. If you found this post interesting…Aggies and/or teasips (flame on!)…then say the word, and the decade by decade football history between these two "little" schools in Texas will be the topic of my next fanpost.

In summation, retroactive claims are subjective, but so are pre-BCS playoff electors, mathematical systems and polls. There are only a few years in all the history of college football where there was a unanimous National Champion. Retroactive claims are nothing new. When the facts are examined, Texas A&M’s claims to retroactive National Championships for their impressive 1919 and 1927 seasons are not only legitimate, but hold more water than a plethora of other schools’ porous existing claims.

FanPosts are user-submitted, and are not always representative of GBH editorial/staff or any of our opinions. Please don't post spam or self-promotion, because that's not very good bull. Thanks!

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