This post began as a look into some of the historical precedent surrounding the LSU/Alabama rematch discussions. Specifically, there have been opinions expressed that if you don’t win your conference, then you shouldn’t win the National Championship. So, I did a little digging, and came across a little tidbit I found fascinating.
The 1950 season originally came to my attention due to the fact that Tennessee claims the 1950 National Championship, but the records I’ve seen indicate that they didn’t win the SEC that year.
In 1950, the #4 Tennessee volunteers lost the second game of their season 7-0 to the unranked Mississippi State Bulldogs. They fought their way back to #9 by November 25th, when they played the undefeated #3 Kentucky Wildcats, coached by Paul Bryant. Tennessee beat Kentucky 7-0 and moved up to #4 in the final AP Poll, while Kentucky dropped to #7. Remember, this was back when the final AP Poll was released before the bowl games were played.
I have no idea how the SEC decided their champions back then, but Tennessee does not claim the 1950 SEC Championship, even though both they and Kentucky only had one conference loss, and Tennessee won the head-to-head. For whatever reason, it appears certain that the University of Kentucky was the SEC Champion, and Tennessee was not. Maybe it was one of those 1993 FSU / Notre Dame things, where each had one loss, and Notre Dame won the head-to-head, but FSU was the National Champion because everyone figured that FSU lost to a good team (ie Notre Dame), while Notre Dame lost to some nobody (ie Boston College). I don't know.
As you can see in that final AP Poll, undefeated and untied Oklahoma was the AP National Champion in 1950. (I’m not going to link a source, but they were also the UPI National Champs.) As previously mentioned, at this time the polls announced their national champions before the bowls, so Oklahoma was already the National Champion.
In the bowls, #4 Tennessee defeated #3 Texas 20-14 in the Cotton Bowl, and #7 Kentucky defeated #1 Oklahoma 13-7 in the Sugar Bowl. Undefeated #2 Army and undefeated #6 Princeton didn’t play in bowl games, and #5 Cal lost to #9 Michigan 14-6 in the Rose Bowl.
This led to Tennessee being selected as the National Champion by six of the major selectors (four of which selected retroactively), and Kentucky being selected by one of the major selectors (the Sagarin Ratings, selected retroactively, and who apparently had Tennessee and Kentucky as co-champions).
Matt Dover or another basketball aficionado could certainly tell you more about Jeff Sagarin and his ratings system than I could, but you can read some basic background information here. It would appear that in 1990, Jeff Sagarin went back and looked at complete seasons, including the bowl games, and awarded his own National Championships retroactively.
Kentucky’s football-related Wikipedia entry has the curious entry over on the right side: Claimed National Titles: 0 (1950). However, the official website of University of Kentucky Athletics indicates that Kentucky actually does apparently claim the 1950 National Championship. Specifically:
Kentucky football has won one national championship, two Southeastern Conference championships and appeared in 14 bowls.
Bryant took UK to eight consecutive winning seasons (1946-53) and helped the Wildcats claim their first national championship and Southeastern Conference championship in 1950. He also sent UK squads to four bowl games which included the 1947 Great Lakes Bowl, 1950 Orange Bowl, 1951 Sugar Bowl, and the 1952 Cotton Bowl.
The biggest win in UK football history came under Bryant. After leading Kentucky to its first SEC title and a 10-1 regular-season record, UK found itself matched with defending national champion Oklahoma in the 1951 Sugar Bowl. The Wildcats scored early and held off the Sooners, 13-7, breaking Oklahoma's 31-game winning streak which is currently the ninth-longest in NCAA history.
In the 1990s, research by Jeff Sagarin, who compiles the Sagarin Computer Ratings for USA Today, indicated that UK is the national champion for the 1950 season under that ranking system.
So, it looks like Nick Saban wasn't the first head coach to win a National Championship at another SEC school before winning one at Alabama.
And now... some interesting facts.
Interesting fact: every #1 vs. #2 (AP ranking) matchup since the Ohio State vs. Michigan game on November 18th, 2006, has included at least 1 SEC team, comprising 5 BCS National Championship Games and 2 SEC Championship Games.
Interesting fact: Alabama has played in six #1 vs. #2 games, all of which were in the post-season:
(1) January 1st, 1972, #1 Nebraska 38, #2 Alabama 6 (Orange Bowl)
(2) January 1st, 1979, #2 Alabama 14, #1 Penn St. 7 (Sugar Bowl)
(3) January 1st, 1993, #2 Alabama 34, #1 Miami (FL) 13 (Sugar Bowl)
(4) December 6th, 2008, #2 Florida 31, #1 Alabama 20 (SEC Championship)
(5) December 5th, 2009, #2 Alabama 32, #1 Florida 13 (SEC Championship)
(6) January 7th, 2010, #1 Alabama 37, #2 Texas 21 (BCS Championship)
Interesting fact: the rest of the SEC has played in nine #1 vs. #2 games in which Alabama was not a participant (8 if you don’t count Arkansas’s #1 vs. #2 in 1969, when they were in the SWC):
(1) December 6th, 1969, #1 Texas 15, #2 Arkansas 14
(2) January 1st, 1983, #2 Penn St. 27, #1 Georgia 23 (Sugar Bowl)
(3) January 2nd, 1996, #1 Nebraska 62, #2 Florida 24 (Fiesta Bowl)
(4) November 30th, 1996, #2 Florida St. 24, #1 Florida 21
(5) January 4th, 1999, # 1 Tennessee 23, #2 Florida St. 16 (Fiesta Bowl)
(6) January 8th, 2007, #2 Florida 41, #1 Ohio St. 14 (BCS Championship)
(7) January 7th, 2008, #2 LSU 38, #1 Ohio St. 24 (BCS Championship)
(8) January 8th, 2009, #1 Florida 24, #2 Oklahoma 14 (BCS Championship)
(9) January 10th, 2011, #1 Auburn 22, #2 Oregon 19 (BCS Championship)