Michigan’s "Bogus" National Championships

I’m sure most of you will pick up on this from the get go, but I’m going to go ahead and state explicitly for our guests: this post is sarcastic, and not intended to be taken at face value. Michigan has the most wins and the highest winning percentage of any team in college football.

That being said, Alabama gets a lot of grief for claiming some of our National Championships, so I thought it would be fun to apply some of that same scrutiny to the storied history of our next opponent.

Michigan claims 11 National Championships.

1. 1901: 11-0; awarded retroactively by Helms, Houlgate, and National Championship Foundation (NCF); Michigan won a majority of NCAA "major selectors," (Michigan won three, Harvard won one, Yale won one).

2. 1902: 11-0; awarded retroactively by Helms, Billingsley, Houlgate, Parke H. Davis, NCF; Michigan won a majority of major selectors (Michigan won five, Yale won one).

3. 1903: 11-0-1; awarded retroactively by NCF; a single major selector (Michigan's wikipedia entry has them also winning the Billingsley Report National Championship for 1903, but that conflicts with the wikipedia list of National Champions. Can't tell which is accurate.) 11-0 Princeton was the National Champion according to a majority (five) of major selectors.

4. 1904: 10-0; awarded retroactively by NCF; a single major selector (but again, Michigan's wikipedia entry claims the 1904 Billingsley Report, while the big list indicates that 13-0 Minnesota won the Billingsley Report that year), with 12-0 Penn winning a majority of the major selectors (the remaining four).

5. 1918: 5-0 (short season because of the war, I'd imagine); awarded retroactively by Billingsley and NCF; two major selectors, with a majority (three) going for 4-1 Pittsburgh.

6. 1923: 8-0; awarded retroactively by Billingsley and NCF; two major selectors, California (9-0-1) won one, Cornell (8-0) won another, and Illinois (8-0) won a majority (six) of major selectors.

7. 1932: 8-0; awarded contemporaneously by the Dickinson system, retroactively by Sagarin and Parke Davis; three major selectors, Colgate (9-0) won one, USC won a majority (eleven) of major selectors, with four being contemporaneous.

8. 1933: 7-0-1; starting to get too many to list selectos individually, but...; Michigan won a majority (ten) of major selectors (four contemporaneous), with Ohio State (7-1), Princeton (9-0), and USC (10-1-1) all winning one a piece, all of which were contemporaneous.

9. 1947: 10-0; Michigan won a majority (twelve) of major selectors (seven contemporaneous), with Notre Dame (9-0) winning the other three (all contemporaneous), including the AP Poll.

10. 1948: 9-0; Michigan won all major selectors (fourteen).

11. 1997: 12-0; Michigan won six major selectors, including the AP Poll, while Nebraska won a majority of major selectors (fourteen), including the Coaches' Poll.

Michigan was awarded a National Championship by at least one major selector in twenty-two seasons (the eleven claimed National Championships, plus):

1. The Sagarin Ratings in 1925 (7-1).

2. The Sagarin Ratings in 1926 (7-1).

3. The DuPont System in 1964 (9-1).

4. The National Championship Foundation and the PS in 1973 (10-0-1).

5. The Matthews Grid Ratings in 1985 (10-1-1).

(I’m not sure where the other 6 National Championships are, but since they weren’t on that wikipedia list, I’m assuming that they were in the 19th century, and Michigan doesn’t appear to claim them.)

(Interesting sidenote that Alabama claims the 1925, 1926, 1964, and 1973 National Championships.)

So, let’s look at National Championship claiming criteria. I’m trying to remember the arguments that people have against some of our claims, and if I miss any, please remind me in the comments and I can update this, if desired.

1. “You can’t claim retroactive MNCs!”

If one only counts contemporaneously awarded National Championships recognized by any major selector, Michigan has eight, of which they claim five:

1. 1932

2. 1933

3. 1947

4. 1948

5. 1964 (unclaimed)

6. 1973 (unclaimed)

7. 1985 (unclaimed)

8. 1997

2. “You can’t claim National Championships unless you were either: (a) the pick of a majority of major selectors, OR (b) you were a ‘“consensus” [champion] according to official NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision Records designation, 1950 to present.’”

By these criteria, Michigan has six:

1. 1901

2. 1902

3. 1933

4. 1947

5. 1948

6. 1997

3a. You can’t claim a National Championship if you lost your bowl game!

OR, alternatively…

3b. You can’t claim a National Championship unless you won your bowl game!

These are very different propositions.

Interestingly enough, Michigan actually has a losing record in bowl games (20-21), including going 8-12 in Rose Bowl Games. (Alabama, on the other hand, has a 34-24-3 record in Bowl Games, including a 4-1-1 record in Rose Bowl Games, not counting the 2010 BCS National Championship Game, played in the Rose Bowl.)

Also, interestingly enough, Michigan only played in a bowl game in three of their claimed eleven National Championship seasons:

1. 1901: Michigan beat Stanford 49-0 in the 1902 Rose Bowl. (As near as I can tell, this was the first Rose Bowl Game, and it wasn’t played again until 1916.)

2. 1947: Michigan beat USC 49-0 in the 1948 Rose Bowl.

3. 1997: Michigan beat Washington State 21-16 in the 1998 Rose Bowl.

As mentioned above, the Rose Bowl was played in 1902, then not again until 1916. From 1918 until 1945, the Big Ten did not allow its members to play in bowl games. From 1946 until 1974, only the Big Ten Champion or surrogate champion (whatever the hell that means) was allowed to go to a bowl game, they were only allowed to go to one bowl game (the Rose Bowl), and no team was allowed to go to consecutive Rose Bowls (with the sole exception, as near as I can tell, of the Minnesota Golden Gophers playing in the 1961 and 1962 Rose Bowls.

Applied to Michigan, rule 3a. would allow Michigan to claim all eleven of their claimed National Championships, because they have never claimed a National Championship in a year in which they lost a bowl game:

1. 1901

2. 1902

3. 1903

4. 1904

5. 1918

6. 1923

7. 1933

8. 1934

9. 1947

10. 1948

11. 1997

However, applying rule 3b. would reduce Michigan to claiming those three National Championships in which they won bowl games:

1. 1901

2. 1947

3. 1997


Applying all three of the criteria set out above cumulatively (using rule 3a), Michigan could still claim four National Championships:

1. 1933

2. 1947

3. 1948

4. 1997

If we switch over to rule 3b, that would leave Michigan with a single MNC, from 1997 (and I still think Nebraska had a better team that year, but that’s just my opinion, and not meant as any disrespect to that outstanding Michigan team).

On the other hand, applying all three of the criteria set out above cumulatively (regardless of whether using rule 3a or 3b), Alabama could still claim 7 National Championships:

1. 1961

2. 1965

3. 1978

4. 1979

5. 1992

6. 2009

7. 2011

ANECDOTE (aka the tl;dr version)

Leaving the 2000 Orange Bowl, a (presumably) drunk Michigan fan told my father and me that the 1992 National Championship sticker on our car was looking a little faded. Anyone who remembers the late ‘90s (and the early 2000s that were to come) can understand that that comment stung a little bit after that particular game, with Michigan two years removed from their own National Championship, and Lloyd Carr still looking strong in Ann Arbor. Well, nameless Michigan fan, it took me a little while, but I have my response: no matter how you want to count, we’ve still got more than you, and Alabama has won more National Championships in the past three years than Michigan has in the past sixty-three. See you in September.

FanPosts are just that; posts created by the fans. They are in no way indicative of the opinions of SBN and the authors of Roll Bama Roll.

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