In the first part of this series, I reviewed Alabama's fifteen claimed national championships, including the season results and how Alabama arrived at that number. In my opinion, fourteen of those titles are very hard to dispute, although the 1941 championship is pretty dubious. The College Football Data Warehouse (CFDW) web site, agrees that Alabama has 14 "recognized" national championships, but lists 28 total. So, if Alabama claims fifteen of those titles, what about the other thirteen? Are any of those titles "legitimate?"
Everyone knows that the BCS era has eliminated multiple national champions, right? After cruising through the regular season undefeated in 2011, top-ranked LSU made it to the BCS National Championship Game and met second-ranked Alabama for the title. Alabama beat LSU 21-0, and everybody agreed that they won the Mythical National Championship (MNC), or did they?
As a matter of fact, many people felt like Oklahoma State, who finished third in the BCS, deserved to play in the title game, since LSU had already defeated 'Bama in the regular season (a 9-6 win in overtime). Others were less concerned about the fact that the Tigers and the Tide had already played each other, and more about the fact that Alabama had not won its conference title, as LSU and Okie State had. While Alabama won the championship game, three selectors (1st-N-Goal, CBSSportsLine, and Colley) chose Oklahoma State as the 2011 national champ. In fact, Congrove and the Seattle Times, chose LSU as the 2011 national champion, basically stating that the bowl game was meaningless! How's that for irony, given the so-called dispute over Alabama's 1964 and 1973 titles? So, is Oklahoma State's claim to the 2011 title illegitimate?
In 2004, the Auburn Tigers finished 13-0-0, winning the SEC Championship and the Sugar Bowl over Virginia Tech. Unfortunately, Auburn had been ranked seventeenth in the AP poll and eighteenth in the Coaches poll, while USC and Oklahoma started the season ranked number 1 and number 2, and never lost. Auburn was shut out of the title game, which USC won and subsequently vacated. At the time, Auburn was named as a national champion by two small-time selectors. Is that claim illegitimate?
In 2003, the regular college football season ended with three teams in title contention - USC (ranked #1 in the AP and Coaches Poll), LSU (ranked #2 in both) and Oklahoma (ranked #3). Each team had one loss. The BCS formula selected LSU and Oklahoma to play in the Sugar Bowl for the national title, while USC played fourth-ranked Michigan in the Rose Bowl. The AP chose USC as national champ, while the Coaches Poll, which is obligated to select the BCS champion, selected LSU. Are either of their claims illegitimate?
My point is that even in an era where the "top two" teams are matched up in a BCS title game, the definition of which teams are the top two, and even who won the title, are still controversial. Good cases can be made for several teams every year, and that was even more true in the days before the BCS, when there was no guarantee that the top-ranked teams would (or even could) play each other. Without a large-scale playoff system, a large part of every MNC is based on a beauty contest - which games were won by how many points, who did you lose to, what conference are you from, etc. So, it's fair to say that even in the years that there is a consensus about the champion, there is often a case to be made for someone else. With that being said, let's take a look at the thirteen "lost championships" and see whether any of them make a fair case for the Tide.
- 1936 - Finished 8-0-1 (chosen by four minor selectors, finished 4th in the AP). The only blemish on the Tide's record was a 0-0 tie with Tennessee. The AP (and numerous other selectors) chose Minnesota (7-1-0), who had lost in October to Northwestern, as their national champ, while Pittsburgh (8-1-1 with a loss to Duquesne and a tie versus Fordham's "Seven Blocks of Granite") defeated Washington in the Rose Bowl and was named national champion in ten retroactive polls. Neither Alabama or Minnesota played in a bowl, as the Rose Bowl was the only national bowl game played in this era. I think a decent case could be made for Alabama here, given the final record of each of the teams.
- 1937 - Finished 9-1-0 (chosen by Bryne, finished 4th in the AP). Alabama finished the regular season undefeated, but lost the Rose Bowl to Cal. Pittsburgh was selected by the AP and other selectors after a 8-0-1 season (again marred by a 0-0 tie with Fordham), while California (10-0-1 with a tie versus Washington) was selected by the contemporaneous Dunkel system as well as five other retroactive selectors.
- 1945 - Finished 10-0-0 (three selectors, including the National Championship Foundation (NCF), finished 3rd in the AP). The NCF is a retroactive selector, and while the NCAA doesn't recognize it as a selector for some reason after the AP poll came into being, it does use them as a recognized selector for pre-1936 championships. Alabama destroyed every team it played in 1945 and won the Rose Bowl 34-14 over USC. AP selected Heisman Trophy winner Doc Blanchard's Army (9-0-0) Cadets as national champ. Frankly, this Alabama squad is one of the the teams I wish Wayne Atcheson had selected for the eleventh national title (see Part I) rather than the 1941 team, as I think this team has a much better claim.
- 1950 - Finished 9-2-0 (chosen by Kirlin, finished 16th in the AP, 17th in UPI). This one is a head-scratcher. Alabama lost to Vanderbilt and Tennessee on the season and did not go to a bowl. Oklahoma (10-1) won both the AP and UPI titles (which were selected before the bowl games at this time) but lost to "Bear" Bryant's Kentucky Wildcats in the Sugar Bowl. Tennessee, which had beaten both Kentucky and Alabama, but had dropped a game to Mississippi State, wrapped up its 11-1 season with a win over Texas in the Cotton Bowl. Several selectors retroactively awarded the title to Tennessee.
- 1962 - Finished 10-1-0 (chosen by Montgomery, finished 5th in both polls). Alabama lost to Georgia Tech in the regular season, but blanked Oklahoma 17-0 in the Orange Bowl. Other claimants for 1962 include USC (11-0, AP and UPI champs) and Ole Miss (10-0, seven minor selectors).
- 1963 - Finished 9-2-0 (chosen by Koger, finished 8th in the AP, 9th in the UPI). Losing to both Florida and Auburn, this team defeated Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl. Texas (11-0-0, defeating Navy in the Cotton Bowl) was the consensus champion.
- 1966 - Finished 11-0-0 (chosen by six selectors including NCF, finished 3rd in both polls). The 1966 season is a notorious one for 'Bama fans. Alabama had won both the '64 and '65 title, outscored its opponents 301-44 on the 1966 season, and throttled Nebraska 34-7 in the Sugar Bowl. In the meantime, #1 Notre Dame and #2 Michigan State, who were both 9-0 and faced off in late November, played each other to a 10-10 tie. Notre Dame head coach Ara Parseghian famously chose not to go for the win late in the game, electing to kick the field goal to tie the game. Notre Dame at this point in their history refused to go to any bowl game, and Michigan State was denied a bowl game by Big Ten rules, which didn't allow the same team to represent the conference in the Rose Bowl two years in a row and also didn't allow a conference team to go to any other bowl game. In addition, some feel that voters purposely denied Alabama the opportunity to win its third wire service (i.e. AP or UPI) national championship in a row, a feat that has still never been accomplished to this day, due to the state's dismal civil rights stance at the time, including its refusal to allow African-Americans to participate in football. Remember that Alabama governor George Wallace's "stand in the schoolhouse door" had taken place barely three years before. Regardless, this is the season that Alabama fans universally regard as one where the Tide was cheated out of a deserved title.
- 1974 - Finished 11-1-0 (chosen by the Washington Touchdown Club, finished 5th in the AP, 2nd in the UPI). The Tide completed the 1974 season undefeated, and like the year before, lost to Notre Dame in a bowl game, this time the Orange. Southern Cal (10-1-1, UPI, NFF, FWAA) lost to Arkansas in the season opener and tied California. Oklahoma (11-0-0, AP, NCF) ran the table, but was on NCAA probation and did not go to a bowl.
- 1975 - Finished 11-1-0 (chosen by three minor selectors, finished 3rd in both polls). The Tide lost the season opener to Missouri 20-7, then won out, including a 13-6 victory over Penn State in the Sugar Bowl. Oklahoma (11-1-0, including a shocking 23-3 loss at home to Kansas but a 28-27 win over Missouri) went into the Orange Bowl with Michigan ranked third in both polls. The top two teams (Ohio State and Texas A&M) lost their respective bowl games, and Oklahoma finished at #1 in both polls.
- 1977 - Finished 11-1-0 (chosen by two minor selectors, finished 2nd in both polls). Alabama's one loss on the season was to Nebraska in Lincoln 31-24 in the second game of the year. The Crimson Tide crushed the Buckeyes of Ohio State 35-6 in the Sugar Bowl. Notre Dame won both the AP and UPI titles, finishing 11-1 with a four-touchdown victory in the Cotton Bowl over Texas. Notre Dame's sole loss was a 20-13 decision to Ole Miss, whom Alabama had beaten 34-13 the week before. Are you getting the picture on why Alabama fans hate Notre Dame?
- 1980 - Finished 10-2-0 (chosen by two minor selectors, finished 6th in both polls). The Crimson Tide again was a two-time defending champion and ranked number one, but lost a 6-3 game to Mississippi State to break the team's 28-game winning streak. 'Bama lost 7-0 to Notre Dame two weeks later. Georgia (12-0-0), led by one of the greatest of all time, Herschel Walker, won the consensus national title.
- 1991 - Finished 11-1-0 (chosen by Annual Football Predictions, finished 5th in both polls). After losing in week two to the Florida Gators in a 35-0 blowout, the Tide started its longest unbeaten streak of all time, finishing 1991 with a victory over Colorado in the Blockbuster Bowl. Miami (12-0-0, AP) and Washington (12-0-0, UPI) both finished undefeated and split the title.
- 1994 - Finished 12-1-0 (chosen by Annual Football Predictions, finished 5th in AP, 4th in UPI). The third-ranked and undefeated Tide lost 24-23 to the sixth-ranked Florida Gators, in one of the greatest SEC Championship Games ever played. Nebraska (13-0-0) was the consensus champion, winning their first of two in a row.
It is puzzling to me why Wayne Atcheson chose the 1941 season for Alabama to claim a title rather than 1945 or 1966. My guess is that Army in 1945 was recognized as the power of the era. After all, during World War II, the Army had a number of great athletes at its disposal, and the Cadets were on their best three-year run ever, winning three national titles and two Heisman trophies. The 1966 title seems like a more logical choice, given the long-time controversy over the Notre Dame-Michigan State game and the fact that neither team went to a bowl, which was becoming more rare for top teams.* Also, despite the fact that the Associated Press had made a decision in 1965 (after Alabama won the 1964 national title then lost their bowl game) that they would publish their final poll after the bowl games, in 1966 they reversed that decision and chose Notre Dame as the champion at the end of the regular season. This seems to add credence to the theory that the goal of the AP voters was to punish Alabama for its segregationist policies (on campus as well as statewide) rather than to solely to award the best team (Alabama had begun the 1966 season at #1 in both polls).
Anyway, there you have it. Alabama has fifteen claimed national titles, fourteen of which stand on very solid footing. Additionally, the Crimson Tide could lay claim to up to thirteen other titles, and while a few of these are iffy, a fair case could easily be made for a few of them, particularly 1936, 1945, 1966, and 1977. I feel pretty certain that Alabama isn't going to back off of the 1941 title claim at this point, as it has memorialized that season in statue and stone, as well as numerous T-shirts, flags, bumper stickers, and whatnot. However, at least when some ignorant Barner makes a comment about "NASHUNAL CHAMPEANS, PAWWWWLLL," you can rest easy knowing that whatever the number may legitimately be, it is way more than Auburn has. As a matter of fact, no matter how you look at it, the Crimson Tide has more national championships than any other FBS team.
Claimed Championships: 15 (first); Notre Dame, Michigan and USC all claim 11
Poll Championships: 10 (first); Notre Dame has 8
BCS Championships: 3 (first); LSU and Florida both have two
Furthermore, the Tide isn't the only team that claims more titles than are broadly recognized. I'll leave you with this list of all teams with at least three recognized titles (to include Auburn).
Team / Titles Recognized / Titles Claimed / Total (All Selectors)
Princeton 26 28 31
Yale 18 27 31
Alabama 14 15 28
Notre Dame 13 11 23
Michigan 11 11 21
USC 10 11 22
Pittsburgh 9 9 16
Harvard 8 8 19
Ohio State 7 7 20
Oklahoma 7 7 23
Minnesota 6 7 10
Pennsylvania 6 7 21
Army 5 3 11
Miami 5 5 10
Nebraska 5 5 14
California 4 5 5
Georgia Tech 4 4 7
Illinois 4 5 6
LSU 4 3 11
Michigan State 4 6 8
Penn State 4 2 15
Tennessee 4 6 14
Texas 4 4 13
Auburn 3 3 8
Cornell 3 5 5
Florida 3 3 5
Lafayette 3 3 3
Props to Cal and Cornell for straight up, unabashedly claiming all of theirs, deservedly or not.
*(Note: In fact, the Big Ten abolished the rule that kept Michigan State from repeating its trip to the Rose Bowl in 1972 and the rule that prevented them from accepting an invitation from another bowl prior to the 1975 season. Notre Dame did not accept a bowl invitation from 1924 to 1969. The Big Ten and Notre Dame had both, in the mid 1920s, made a decision to decline all bowl offers as a protest against the commercialization of college football. The Big Ten's ban lasted 26 years, Notre Dame's 45.)