The Case for 1941

ed.- bumped from the fanposts. kind of a controversial subject, and i tend to agree that there are "better" years in which alabama could claim a title (*cough* 1966 *cough*), but it's still a good read.

I titled this “The Case…” because at times I feel like a defense attorney in trying to explain and defend all things Bama.  Some say this desire to explain the “inconsistencies” created by the opposition comes from a sense of insecurity, I say it’s simply the desire to bring the ignorant to a place of enlightenment.  For years, I’ve defended and explained the championships from the 1920’s.  For years, I’ve fought off claims that Bama is dead and gone among the upper echelon of NCAA football.  However, a subject I always shied  away from was that of the 1941 National Championship claimed by the University of Alabama.



As more time has passed, the more I got to thinking about the fact that I got tired of ignoring it.  The nay-sayers have a right to know, and the faithful need to be informed as well.  Most may say that “it is what it is” and that should be acceptable, but that’s not the way I work.  Putting myself in their shoes: Had any other program won/claimed a national championship (especially a rival) given the final record and ranking of the 1941 Alabama National Championship Team, having dug no further than those two facts alone, I’d likely be up in arms as well. 


The face value facts:  Alabama finished 1941 with a record of 9-2, and a final AP ranking of 20.  Minnesota, the reining national champions, went undefeated at 8-0.  Texas, at 9-1-1 even seemed a more viable candidate for the NC, and also received a NC vote.  So what’s the problem?  There is an undefeated, major team (I say “major” because two other teams went undefeated as well), Bama wasn’t relatively close to matching that record, so why would anyone vote Alabama as the national champion, and furthermore, why would Alabama accept the vote?  Surely they didn’t just take any ole vote that came their way, and turned and ran with it.  Surely there was a reason, something deeper, the rest of the story, so to speak, that no one of this generation would know about.  Well, come to find out, there is.


First, let’s take a look at the Final AP poll of 1941:

As you may or may not know, the final AP poll of that day was done after the regular season.  In fact, the “final” AP poll of 1941 was done while some teams still had 2 regular season games left.  So basically, the “final” AP poll was put out on November 29th, while teams like Texas, Texas A&M, and Mississippi St. (all teams who had a legit chance to still becoming champions) still had games left.  So essentially, the AP national champion was crowned before the regular season was even over.  And what’s more, Bama drops two spots after they throttled an 8-1 Miami team.  And forget the bowl game, where Bama beat a once beaten Texas A&M team, because bowl games weren’t taken into account at that time anyway.  And for all you AP advocates out there who still think it’s the final word on crowning a NC at the time, a 5-3 Northwestern team was ranked #11 in the “final” poll.  Northeast bias, much?  7 of the top 11 AP teams were northern teams, but that’s just conspiracy theory on my part.


Houlgate? Who the hell, and why can we legitimately take that as a NC vote?

Glad you asked.  In 1941, Houlgate was the oldest remaining recognized system for crowning National Champions.  It began in 1927, and was highly regarded for its systematic approach to finding out who the best team in the nation was.  In fact, it was the only system at the time that took strength of schedule into account, and which we’ll find out later, may have played a large roll in its final selection.  The AP poll was in its infancy, 5 years old to be exact, while Houlgate was on its 14th year of service.  You can essentially compare this to the AP poll versus BCS debate of 5 years ago.  The AP poll of that day was the opinion of 44, grossly uninformed writers who could only keep up with teams from around their general area (due to the overall lack of national coverage), which just happened to be the northeast for the most part. 


Let’s look at it this way: Think of the high school football teams around you, whether it’s 5, 10, or more.  Chances are, if you halfway keep up with the whole gamut of local games each weekend, or even read the final scores in the newspaper; you will come up with a list of about a third of those total teams that you think are good teams.  However, with the lack of national high school football coverage, you have no idea how these teams that you deem “good” could square up against teams across the country.  All you know is that Mountain Brook in Birmingham is 9-1, while the 6A state champion from Pennsylvania went 8-2.  Not knowing anything about Penn high school football teams, you’re limited to looking at records to determine which of these teams is better.  You may even look at the records of the teams they lost to in order to give you a better idea, but how much more inaccurate could this be?  This was the life of an AP voter in the 40’s.  They only knew their Big 8 schools, the military schools, Ivy League, and Notre Dame, and the rest of the nation was compared to them (thus NWestern finishing out at #11 with a 5-3 record).  Therefore, other schools were essentially doomed to mediocrity after one loss or tie, especially if the loss or tie came against a team that was equally as unknown to these writers.  Also, the poll was changing its makeup every year at that point to try to come up with the best system.  At this time, they were still trying to get all the bugs out.  Houlgate, however, took a mathematical approach, which saw each team as equals on a level playing field.  I am sure it has its flaws as well, but it simply had to be better than the opinions of a handful of ill informed, geographically locked people who surely didn’t take this as seriously as we would like to believe they did today. 


So, ultimately, I’m not saying that the AP was complete garbage and Houlgate was essentially the only way, I’m just trying to overcompensate for each to get people to realize that they were, at a minimum, on a level playing field, and that Houlgate deserves the same, if not more, respect as the AP poll of that time.


But Bama still had two losses:

Now it’s about to seem quite homerific if you’re on the outside looking in, but you have to understand that I’m just trying to take a look at what would make the Houlgate System pop out Bama as its NC, and why Bama would take it with a clear conscious. 


One loss came at the hands of a one loss Mississippi State, 14-0.  Mississippi State’s only loss that season was to an undefeated Duquesne, who Massey (the BCS Massey) has as his system’s national champion in his retro-ratings.  The other loss came at the hands of an 8-2 Vanderbilt, which I’m sure was not the proudest of moments, but nothing to hang your head about.  But still, with two losses, even to quality opponents, something still must lie under the surface to emerge over Minnesota and Texas.


A look at Texas:

First off, this team was voted NC by Williamson. They, however, do not consider this as one of their 4 national titles, as Williamson never really had much clout in determining a champion.  Moreover, in all honesty, this season’s title was Texas’ to lose.  After the first 6 games of the season, Texas had pitched three shutouts and given up more than a touchdown only once while playing arguably the nations toughest schedule at that point.  But upon becoming the AP #1 team in the land going into game 7, pissing the bed was in order.  In comes 3-3 (and eventual 3-6-1) Baylor who played the Longhorns to a 7-7 tie.  The following week, Texas loses outright to a very decent (and eventual 7-3-1) TCU team, 14-7.  That two week span was more than even a 23-0 whipping of the #2 Texas A&M team the following week could overcome for a southern team in an AP world.  So was Bama better than Texas?  Probably not, but Bama’s two losses combined didn’t look nearly as bad as Texas’ tie.


A look at Minnesota:

Reining national champions, undefeated season, they’ve got bias (for being national champs less than a year ago while playing the toughest schedule in the nation) on their side and they’ve won all their games, how could they not be national champs?  Well, if you’re the AP, and you make a severe habit of only going by record, their golden (gophers).  However, if you look at their opponents, you’ll soon realize it’s the one eyed paraplegic ruling a conference full of blind quadriplegics.  You would be hard pressed to find a worse schedule for any national champion in history.  I realize that you can only play your schedule, but if that’s the case, then why didn’t Duke or Duquesne get some undefeated love?  Duke had more convincing wins than Minnesota, while Duquesne and Minnesota have relatively identical schedules strengths, according to Massey.


Alabama/Minnesota, side by side:



Minnesota:        8-0

Alabama:          9-2


Opponents’ Record (Teams played with winning records)

Minnesota:        31-35-1 (3)

Alabama:          69-23-2 (9)


Strength of Schedule (according to Massey’s retro-ratings):

Minnesota:        41 out of 119

Alabama:          5 out of 119


AP Ranked Teams Played (either ranked during week played or ranked in final AP poll)

Minnesota:        2

Alabama:          5


Teams Played Who Finished With 2 or Fewer Loses:

Minnesota:        1

Alabama:          7


Ok, I realize that I’m beating the “schedule/opponents” thing to death, but the difference is staggering.  And based on my findings, a team’s record was the main tool to base rankings on in that day, so I am trying to take that a small step further to see why in the world this team was considered the best in the nation.  I mean, it would seem to me that this team is one point away from tying a very mediocre Northwestern team and being essentially one of the many forgotten teams in college football history, but unfortunately, the exact reasonings and other intangibles are as lost as the sands of time.


Rankings, by design, are supposed to yield the best teams from top to bottom.  Rarely does that feat hold true, but over time I believe the process has gotten better.  Every system used to provide the task of determining the best has its flaws, nowadays it being evident that a one loss team will be ranked higher at the end of the year the earlier that loss comes.  In yesteryear, the problem was the lack of national exposure for even the elite of college football teams, and those teams having a lot less “wiggle room” as far as losses and ties are concerned. 


So the question in this case is:  Which team is better?  A team who can win 9 out of 11 games amid the nation’s toughest schedules, while having 2 down weeks due to injury or simply not being game ready (e.g. Bama, Mississippi State, Texas)?  Or is it the team who can win all 8 games, while only having to exert themselves once or twice in the midst of powering through the remainder of a schedule that can only be described as insufficient (by any standards)?  The answer to this question will directly support or refute the claim that Alabama is deserving of at least a share of this national title.  The choice is solely yours on a personal level, however, if you chose the latter, Utah’s got a question for you?  WTF!?!

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