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1919 College Football National Championship

1920 Rose Bowl, Harvard's touchdown to beat Oregon

Pictured above is the Harvard touchdown that beat Oregon 7-6 in the Rose Bowl. That put Harvard's record at 9-0-1, a half game better than Penn State's 7-1 in the loss column. Penn State was nevertheless very clearly the consensus choice as Eastern champion amongst Eastern writers in 1919, and in fact Harvard was not considered to be among the top five teams of the East. Decades later, however, when people were selecting national champions for years past, Harvard's 9-0-1 record and Rose Bowl win were presumably all they looked at, and today Harvard is the consensus mythical national champion (MNC) of 1919, while Penn State is not among the 4 teams listed in the NCAA Records Book at all.


Here is how the "major selectors" listed in the NCAA Records Book, all selecting long after the fact, see the 1919 college football national championship (omitting math/computer ratings, which neither I nor anyone else recognize as constituting titles):

9-0-1 Harvard: Helms
, CFB Researchers (tie), Parke Davis (3-way tie), National Championship Foundation (3-way tie)
6-1 Illinois:
CFB Researchers (tie), Parke Davis (3-way tie)
9-0 Notre Dame: Parke Davis (3-way tie), National Championship Foundation (3-way tie)
10-0 Texas A&M:
National Championship Foundation (3-way tie)

As you can see, there is a lot of confusion over who was the "champion" of 1919, and thus a lot of ties selected, each of them different. I will be summarizing all 4 teams listed above and assessing their MNC qualifications in the following article, and of course I will also be including 7-1 Penn State, since they were the consensus choice as best team in the East amongst Eastern writers of the time. In addition, I will also cover 9-0 Centre, a little school from Kentucky that made a big splash in newspapers this season, and who would certainly have been rated higher than Notre Dame and Texas A&M if there had been an AP poll in 1919. But first, let's talk a bit about college football in the postwar years.

The Golden Age of College Football

1919-1930 is commonly regarded as America's "Golden Age of Sports," and college football and baseball were by far the most popular sports. In 1919 college football was celebrating its 50th anniversary. With WWI over, veteran talent flooded college campuses, and in addition, 1918 was not counted against players' eligibility, giving many players an extra year to play. Writers of the time, such as Walter Camp in his postseason football guide, often remarked on the unusually deep field of quality players nationwide.

Radio and expanded newspaper coverage of college football in the 1920s fueled a national mania for the sport, and the Golden Age was certainly the peak of its national popularity. Grantland Rice rose to everlasting fame writing about legends such as the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame and Red Grange. And there was a big stadium-building boom. Alabama, Nebraska, Michigan, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Southern Cal, Tennessee, Texas,
Georgia, Louisiana State, UCLA, Texas A&M, Washington, Florida, and more than a dozen other major FBS teams first built the stadiums they currently use in the 1920s. Notre Dame completed theirs in 1930, just before Knute Rockne died in a plane crash the following Spring, bringing an end to the Golden Age of Sports.

A Hypothetical AP Poll for 1919

If there had been an AP poll in 1919, who would have been #1? College football historian Bob Kirlin thinks it would have been 7-1 Penn State, and he has some interesting information on the Penn State vs. Harvard issue that can be found here. He quotes fellow historian Bob Royce's reference to a "widely published" 1919 poll of writers from major Eastern newspapers that ranked the best teams of the East as follows:

1) Penn State
2) Syracuse
3) Colgate
4) Dartmouth
5) West Virginia
6) Harvard

The New York Times, in a December 7th article, did not rank the Eastern teams one-by-one, but placed them into tiers. They put Penn State, Dartmouth, Colgate, and Syracuse in the top tier, and they placed Harvard in the second tier with 5 other teams.

However, there are a few problems with this information and the conclusions Bob Kirlin draws from it. First of all, these writers were only ranking the best teams of the East, and for this purpose they were ignoring intersectional games. That heavily benefited Syracuse, who went out West and lost at 3-4 Indiana and 3-3-2 Nebraska in their last 2 games. If these writers had been ranking the top 25 teams nationally, they certainly would not have come up with 8-3 Syracuse as #2, and in fact Syracuse would have been lucky to hold on in the bottom of a national top 25 poll.

More importantly, all this information tells us is what Eastern writers thought. It tells us nothing about what the rest of the nation thought. Just because the East might have voted Penn State #1 doesn't mean that the rest of the nation would have done so. And we can't even be certain that the East would have voted Penn State #1 over 7-1 Illinois, even if it seems likely. In a national poll, I believe Illinois would have been #1-- at least at the end of the regular season.

But that brings up the issue of the Rose Bowl, in which Harvard beat Oregon 7-6. That game took place after all those Eastern rankings. Now, Bob Kirlin has no interest in a hypothetical post-bowl AP poll, whereas I have no interest in a hypothetical pre-bowl AP poll. But let's go ahead and look at both possibilities.

A Pre-bowl Poll

7-1 Penn State's rise to the top of the East was facilitated by a series of huge upsets at the end of the regular season. Dartmouth was 6-0-1 and Colgate 5-0-1 heading into their finales on November 15th. They had earlier tied each other, and Dartmouth had beaten Penn State. Dartmouth then suffered a huge 7-6 upset to 5-4-1 Brown in Boston, and Colgate was beaten 13-7 at Syracuse, leaving both teams with a loss and a tie. Syracuse, then 8-1, looked to be Penn State's main challenger for the Eastern title, but as established, they went out West and lost to a couple of mediocre teams, significantly taking the shine off them. Navy was 6-1, and scored 121 on one team (Colby), but they played an incredibly weak schedule, and they were not even considered to be among the 10 best teams of the East.

Harvard, 8-0-1 at the end of the regular season, also played a weak schedule, and they were tied by the only potential top 25 team they played, 4-2-1 Princeton. While Eastern writers were keenly aware of this fact, writers outside the East were less so, and coverage of the Rose Bowl by newspapers outside the East often referred to Harvard as the East's "best" or "champion" team. Just as they are today, I believe that most writers (outside the East) would have been prone to looking little beyond Harvard's 8-0-1 record when rating them. On the strength of the Eastern vote, it's possible that Penn State would have finished ranked higher than Harvard in a national pre-bowl poll, but I believe that Harvard would have edged them out.

However, I am fairly certain that 7-1 Illinois would have been rated #1 ahead of both in a national pre-bowl poll. The Big Ten had 6 highly esteemed teams that year, all of whom would have made a national top 25: 7-1 Illinois, 6-1 Ohio State, 5-2 Wisconsin, 5-2 Chicago, 5-2 Iowa, and 4-2-1 Minnesota. Illinois was upset 14-10 by Wisconsin, but they beat Iowa, Chicago, Minnesota, and Ohio State, easily giving them more big wins than any other contender. Then there's the Syracuse factor. Syracuse was considered to be one of the best teams of the East, and their pair of losses to 3-4 Indiana and 3-3-2 Nebraska to end the season was a huge blow to the East. But the biggest factor was Illinois' win at Ohio State in their finale, and it is this win that would have catapulted them to #1.

Ohio State came into that game at 6-0, and most likely would have been #1 themselves at that point. They were led by the nation's best-known player, halfback Chic Harley, who was consensus All American for the third time this season, and who had never lost a game in his 3 years at Ohio State. Their finale against Illinois, played the same day as Harvard-Yale, was called the "Yale-Harvard game of the West" by the New York Times. It ended up being the best and most dramatic and memorable game of the season, and Illinois prevailed 9-7. Not only would Illinois have been likely to finish #1 in a national AP poll at the end of the regular season, but it is possible, if unlikely, that Ohio State would have been #2.

A Post-bowl Poll

Of course, bowl game results always have a huge impact on the AP poll's top 25, and it would have been no different in 1919. Ever since the AP poll started counting the bowls in the 1960s, I have repeatedly seen cases of teams who have won bowl games, even unimpressively, passing up teams that did not play in bowl games. Harvard's month of unopposed publicity, combined with the win, even if it was unimpressive (and it was, 7-6 over 5-2 Oregon), and combined with their resulting 9-0-1 record, would likely have pushed Harvard well past 7-1 Penn State and 6-1 Ohio State in a final AP poll, even if they were not ranked ahead of those teams before that.

What is less certain is whether or not it would have pushed them past Illinois. It's too close to call for sure, but I have looked at this region by region, and I believe that Illinois would have remained #1. Harvard was expected to beat Oregon, and barely did so, and Oregon was the only potential top 25 team they defeated. Writers would have had a month to notice that Illinois had beaten a rather amazing 4 rated teams (Ohio State beat 1, Penn State 2). Still, writers have made plenty of dumb choices over the years (see 1984 and 1978), so Harvard at #1 in 1919 is definitely a possibility.

However, a hypothetical AP poll's choice for #1 in 1919, while interesting, does not in my mind constitute a national championship. The writers are sometimes simply wrong anyway
(again, see 1984 and 1978). So which team/teams is/are the national champions of 1919? My analysis and choices lie below, but I'll go over each contender, and you can decide for yourself if you like.

All rankings in the following article, except as noted, come from my 1919 top 25, which is based on a hypothetical post-bowl AP poll (within logical reason of course).

Harvard 1919

1919 Harvard football team

Bates (1-4-1)53-0
Boston College (5-3)17-0(#26-39)
Colby35-0
Brown (5-4-1)7-0
Virginia (2-5-2)47-0
Springfield (3-4-1)20-0
at Princeton (4-2-1)10-10#16
Tufts (2-5)23-0
Yale (5-3)10-3(#26-39)
Rose Bowl
Oregon (5-2)

7-6

#19

I have previously selected Harvard as the mythical national champion of the following seasons: 1901, 1908, 1910, 1912, and 1913. This was the debut season for head coach Bob Fisher, a Hall of Fame tackle who played for Harvard's 1910 MNC team. He had a great start as head coach of Harvard, 9-0-1 this season and 8-0-1 in 1920, but the next 2 years he declined to 7-2-1 and 7-2, and in his last 3 seasons he went a mediocre 12-10-2, giving him an overall record of 43-14-5 in his brief coaching career.

Harvard's star player, and their only consensus All American this season, was Hall of Fame halfback Eddie Casey, who weighed in at just 150 pounds. He was the MVP of the Rose Bowl.

Casey was joined in the backfield by the Horween brothers, Ralph and Arnold. Ralph was the fullback, punter, and placekicker. He had played for Harvard in 1915 and 1916, beating Princeton 3-0 on a field goal in '16, and was returning this season after 2 years in the Navy. Arnold played fullback, halfback, and even center this season, and he also shared some of the kicking duties with his brother. He was a much-used substitute for most of the season, then started against Yale and Oregon. Arnold would be named a nonconsensus AA in 1920, and after college he became a player and coach for the Chicago Cardinals of the NFL. His bother Ralph played for him there. After that, Arnold Horween succeeded Bob Fisher as Harvard's coach 1926-1930. Backfield mate Eddie Casey would follow him as Harvard coach 1931-1934. Arnold Horween allegedly never lost a pregame coin toss while a player at Harvard.

Tackle Bob Sedgwick was a nonconsensus AA in 1919 and 1920. Guard Tom Woods would be a consensus AA in 1920. Guard Charles Hubbard would be consensus AA in 1922, but his only start was in the Rose Bowl, where he replaced the injured Arthur Clark (who was 3rd team Camp AA).

Harvard's Season

Harvard designed quite the soft schedule for 1919, with a patsy placed the week before each of their 4 opponents expected to provide a challenge. But only 1 of those 4 opponents ended up being top 25 caliber this season.

Harvard warmed up with a 53-0 romp over Bates, then welcomed Boston College, a team that had become pretty decent over the previous 3 years (17-6). Ralph Horween dominated this game, scoring two touchdowns and kicking 2 extra points and a field goal, all of Harvard's points in a 17-0 win. BC penetrated the Harvard side of the field but once, and fumbled often. The turnovers were the key to the game, as Harvard only outgained BC 185 yards to 117. Boston College went on to finish 5-3, and they were a #26-39 caliber team
.

Brown

Colby was the patsy placed before Harvard's next real game against Brown, and Harvard dispatched them 35-0. Brown had become a strong team before WWI, and they had beaten Harvard the last 2 times the teams played, so a challenge was expected, and a challenge Harvard got, at least on the scoreboard. Harvard marched to a touchdown in 12 plays on the game's opening drive, Eddie Casey doing most of the work and Ralph Horween getting the touchdown, but that was all the scoring in this game. Brown continually muffed punts, but Harvard continually missed field goals (34, 28, 30, and 18 yards), and they were stopped on downs twice inside the Brown 15. But Brown mounted little offense, and their 1 good drive ended in a missed 30 yard field goal.

Brown finished a disappointing 5-4-1, and they were not a top 40 caliber team, but they did pull off the upset of the season, knocking 6-1-1 Dartmouth out of the national championship with a 7-6 win.

Princeton

1919 Harvard-Princeton game

Harvard won 20-0 over Springfield the week before their next big game at Princeton, their only road contest of the season. Princeton had just lost 7-0 to Colgate and 25-0 to West Virginia, but 35,000 fans showed up to watch Princeton salvage their season with a tie against 6-0 Harvard. You can watch some film of this game here. Harvard opened the proceedings with a promising drive, but they came up empty on a missed 24 yard field goal. Princeton answered with a touchdown drive built on forward passes, but neither team threatened the rest of the half, so the score remained 7-0 at halftime.

Harvard recovered a fumble at the Princeton 20 in the 3rd quarter, setting up a 27 yard Ralph Horween field goal, and late in the quarter they drove to the Princeton 4, where they were stopped on downs. Princeton blocked a punt in the 4th quarter to set up an 18 yard field goal, and things looked dim for Harvard, down 10-3. But in the closing minutes, Eddie Casey came to the rescue as Harvard went to the air. Casey started things with a good punt return to the Harvard 40, then he caught passes of 40, 10, and 11 yards, the last for a touchdown to secure a 10-10 tie.

Princeton kept rolling with a 13-6 win at Yale in their next game, finishing 4-2-1. I have them ranked #16 for 1919.

Yale

Harvard disposed of their last patsy, Tufts, 23-0 the week before "The Game." Yale was not a top 25 caliber team this season, but they were good (coming in at 5-2), and this was of course Harvard's big rivalry game, so the 50,000 in attendance had to suffer through numerous scares before the clock finally brought the curtain down on a jittery 10-3 win for the home team.

This game was marked by a contrast of styles, the old football against the new. Yale represented the old, plunging into the line play after play much as they had done 10, 20, and 30 years prior. Harvard countered with the misdirection, multiple laterals, and forward passing that most teams employed by 1919. Yale outrushed Harvard 155-82, and they gained 7 first downs to Harvard's 4, but Harvard's passing game led to all of their points, and most importantly, it gave them the one big play that won the game.

A Yale fumble in the opening quarter set Harvard up for a missed 30 yard field goal, but minutes later the Crimson hit a pass to set up another opportunity, and this time they cashed it in for a 3-0 lead. Late in the second quarter, Eddie Casey conquered mortality, not to mention Yale. From the Yale 40 yard line, Ralph Horween dropped back to punt, but it was a trick. He tossed a short pass to Eddie Casey instead, who zig-zagged his way down the field, evading tacklers, then stiff-arming one who got too close, then dodging others back and forth all the way to the end zone. The New York Times: "In Harvard song and story, the name of Casey and his nerve-tingling run will live for all time. It will linger long in the memory of every man, woman and child that saw it."

Harvard led 10-0 at half, but the second half was all Yale. In the 3rd quarter, Harvard stopped Yale on downs right at the Harvard goal line. Early in the 4th quarter, Yale resorted to a rare forward pass, taking Harvard by surprise, and the receiver caught the ball behind everyone for a sure touchdown. But though he was untouched, the receiver dropped the ball on the way to the end zone, and Ralph Horween, trailing the play, recovered the fumble at the Harvard 15. Yale later hit a magnificent 55 yard field goal to draw within 10-3, and they would get one more opportunity to waste. In the closing minutes, Eddie Casey fumbled on a punt return, and the ball landed near 3 Yale players, with no one between them and the goal line, but the 3 fell on the ball at the Harvard 32 rather than pick it up and score. It was the mistake the team most rued after the game. They were unable to score from there, and Harvard held on for the 10-3 win.

Yale finished 5-3, with losses to 5-3 Boston College, Princeton, and Harvard. Like BC, they were a #26-39 caliber team.

The Tournament of Roses Game

The 1920 Tournament of Roses (Rose Bowl) game was the only major bowl appearance in Harvard history, and in fact it was the only bowl game that ever featured any of the "Big Three" (Harvard, Princeton, Yale). Harvard accepted the invitation to generate interest in a major endowment fundraising campaign that had been going on throughout 1919, and the move proved to be very successful in that regard. This was the first time the Rose Bowl's first choice from the East actually accepted the invitation, and it was the first time an Eastern team won the Rose Bowl. Previously, Washington State had beaten Brown following the 1915 season, and Oregon had beaten Penn the next season (military teams played in the game during WWI).

Oregon was the Western representative again this season, coming in at 5-1. They won the slot 24-13 at 5-1 Washington, making up for a 7-0 home loss to 5-2 Washington State. WSU lost to Washington and 4-4-1 Oregon State. Though the Northwest had proven itself an able football region against mid-level Eastern opponents prior to WWI, Harvard was a heavy favorite to win. But Oregon gave Harvard all they could want and then some, and it seemed a miracle to most observers that Harvard came out the other end with the 7-6 win.

Oregon's star player, quarterback "Bad Bill" Steers, missed a 35 yard field goal in the opening quarter, and Oregon blocked a 45 yard Harvard attempt. All the scoring took place in the 2nd quarter. Steers hit a 25 yard field goal for a 3-0 lead, but he was knocked out of the game not long after that. Harvard hit a couple of passes to Eddie Casey for 40 yards, setting up a 15 yard touchdown run by substitute Freddy Church, who followed great blocks by Casey and Arnold Horween. Freddy Church had replaced Ralph Horween, who was knocked out of the game with a shoulder injury, and Church had a great game, especially punting. With Ralph out, it was also up to his brother Arnold to kick the goals, and his extra point after the touchdown provided the eventual winning margin.

Bill Steers' replacement, 125 pound quarterback Skeets Manerud, kicked a 32 yard field goal to close the gap to 7-6 at half, but in the second half, Oregon missed shot after shot from point black range. Manerud missed a field goal in the 3rd quarter, and Steers returned in the 4th to miss one field goal and have another blocked from just 13 yards out. Manerud came back in and missed another easy one, a 20 yarder. Harvard then summoned the last of their strength and launched a long, time-eating drive that did not end until the ball was half a yard from the Oregon goal line, where the last second ticked off the game clock.

Arnold Horween had a great game on defense, continually tackling Oregon backs behind the line. He and Casey were singled out in articles as Harvard's best players on both offense and defense, but Casey was named the player of the game for his big catches that set up the winning touchdown. Harvard's appearance this year lifted the Tournament of Roses game from an interesting post-season novelty to an annual major event, and the next year Pasadena would entice an even better opponent to come play. The Western representative would be far better than Oregon as well, and you can read about it in my 1920 national championship article.

Oregon was finished at 5-2, and I have them ranked #19 for 1919. That makes them the only top 25 team Harvard defeated this season.

Penn State 1919

1919 Penn State football practice

Gettysburg (7-2)33-0
Bucknell (5-4-1)9-0
at Dartmouth (6-1-1)13-19#7
Ursinus (2-7)48-7
at Penn (6-2-1)10-0#10
Lehigh (6-3)20-7(#26-39)
at Cornell (3-5)20-0
at Pittsburgh (6-2-1)20-0#10

Penn State football coach Hugo BezdekPenn State fielded a pair of strong contenders in 1911 and 1912, but I felt that they came up just short of mythical national championships in both seasons. Spoiler: that will not be the case this season. Their coach in 1919 was Hall of Famer Hugo Bezdek, pictured at left, and also the guy in white in the middle of Penn State's practice in the picture above. Bezdek had coached Oregon's unbeaten Rose Bowl team in 1916, and he had also coached the Mare Island Marines in the Rose Bowl during the war. He would get the hat trick at Penn State, taking them to the Rose Bowl following the 1922 season. Bezdek went 65-30-11 at Penn State 1918-1929, and 127-58-16 overall. Later, he became the only man to both coach an NFL team and manage a major league baseball team. This season, Penn State finished 7-1, but the loss they suffered in game 3 would be their last until 1922, a 30 game unbeaten streak (though they took 4 ties, 2 each in 1920 and 1921).

Assistant Dick Harlow gave Penn State a second Hall of Fame coach. He played tackle on the 1911 team, was the head coach 1915-1917 (20-8), assistant coach to Bezdek 1919-1921, and went on to head up Colgate, McDaniel, and Harvard, accumulating an overall head coaching record of 149-69-17.

End Bob Higgins was the captain and PSU's only consensus AA this season. He had a 92 yard receiving touchdown against Pitt, he was the defensive player of the game in a 10-0 win at Penn, and he was the team's best punter too. He is also this team's 3rd Hall of Fame coach. He was Penn State's head coach 1930-1948, going 91-57-11, but he was handicapped for his first 9 seasons with a school ban on scholarships, and started 29-40-4. Once Penn State dropped their puritanical stance, the program reblossomed under Higgins, going 62-17-7. He was 123-83-16 overall at 3 schools. His sister was birth control activist Margaret Sanger.

Penn State had a couple of linemen who had notable pro careers, guard Dick Rauch, who performed the scouting duties for PSU, and center Larry Conover, who had been PSU's captain in 1917.

Too Many Backs, Not Enough Positions

Penn State fielded a parade of great backs in the postwar years, and this season they had 6 All America-quality backs with which to fill the 4 backfield positions. They were so deep that the best of them, sophomore Glenn Killinger, was the least used. An eventual consensus AA and the only Hall of Famer among the group, Killinger would be starting at quarterback next season, but this year he was a substitute that PSU had trouble finding time for.

In 1920 Killinger would be replacing this year's senior quarterback, Harry Robb, the only one of the 6 never to receive All America mention, though he was all-AEF for his military play during the war. He had played for PSU in 1916, and still holds the school record for most points in a game, 36 against Gettysburg that season. He left for the war, then played end for Columbia in 1918, and transferred back to Penn State for this, his final season. He went on to a successful 8 year pro career, playing for 2 title winning teams.

Fullback Harold "Bill" Hess split punting duties with Bob Higgins. He was not nearly as good a punter as Higgins, but PSU wanted him to punt for a couple of reasons. Firstly, Higgins was also PSU's best man at getting to and downing kick returners from his end position. Secondly, fake kicks were common back then, since teams frequently punted on early downs, and Hess was a good passer and runner for fakes, and Higgins a terrific receiver, and in fact Hess-to-Higgins out of the kick formation would prove deadly. Bill Hess would be moved to guard as a senior in 1920 to make room for everyone in the backfield, and he would be named a nonconsensus AA at that position. He was also the team captain in 1920. He would become an assistant coach for Southern Cal after graduation, and faced his old team in the 1923 Rose Bowl, a 14-3 USC win.

Halfback Charles "Pie" Way would be named consensus AA in 1920, and an all-pro in the NFL in 1924. He also put some time in at quarterback this season.

Henry "Hinkey" Haynes would make Walter Camp's 3rd team AA list in 1920, and he had a pair of 90 yard touchdown runs against Penn that season. He was small and fast, and in fact several pro coaches and players of the 1920s said he was the fastest player they ever saw-- and he played in the pros when Thorpe and Grange did. Haynes was a 2-time All American in baseball, and went on to play for the 1923 Yankees in the World Series. But that was his only year in the majors, while he played 7 years in the NFL, becoming most famous as the star player of the New York Giants and leading them to the NFL title in 1927. He is the only man to ever play for both a World Series champion and an NFL title winner. He became a referee in the NFL 1934-1954.

And yet Hinkey Haynes was just a part-time starter for Penn State in 1919. Why? Because what they really needed was a blocker, and Joe Lightner was their best blocking back. He and Haynes thus rotated at halfback, but after the Dartmouth loss, Lightner saw much more playing time. When Bill Hess moved to guard the next season, Lightner was able to move to his natural position of fullback. In 1921, he was the leading interferer for Hall of Famers Glenn Killinger and "Lighthorse" Harry Wilson, and was named a nonconsensus AA for his efforts.

1921 was Lighthorse Harry Wilson's first season, replacing consensus AA halfback Charley Way. So you see, 50 years before Penn State became known as "Linebacker U," they were "Backfield U."

Penn State's Season

Penn State opened with a 33-0 win over their favorite patsy, Gettysburg, then won 9-0 over Bucknell (5-4-1) in a steady downpour and mud. That brought them to their first real game, at Dartmouth. 4500 fans attended, which may not sound like much, but it was then a record in Hanover. Dartmouth vastly outplayed Penn State in this game, but Charley Way kept PSU close with 2 big-play touchdowns. The first was a return of the opening kickoff for a 6-0 lead. But Bill Hess struggled with his punting in this game, while Dartmouth's star halfback Joe Robertson was a great punter. Dartmouth thus made frequent gains in the exchanges of punts, eventually taking over at the PSU 35. From there, Dartmouth steadily plunged into the line toward the goal line, where Joe Robertson took the ball over and kicked the extra point for a 7-6 Dartmouth lead.

Just 3 plays after the ensuing kickoff, Charley Way struck again, picking up a fumble and running it 85 yards for a touchdown and PSU's last lead, 13-7. The rest of the game was all Dartmouth. A big Joe Robertson pass set up his second touchdown just before half, and it was 13-13 at the break. Penn State stopped a Dartmouth drive at their goal line in the 3rd quarter, but their following punt gave Dartmouth good field position again, and they scored on a long run for the 19-13 win. Penn State was unable to move the ball, while Dartmouth was stopped twice more deep in PSU territory in the 4th quarter.

When healthy, Dartmouth may well have been the best team in the country, but they lost their star player, halfback Joe Robertson, to injury, and that opened the door for Brown's huge upset of them in their season finale. Here we can see the advantage of Penn State's tremendous backfield depth. Dartmouth finished 6-1-1, their tie coming to equally strong 5-1-1 Colgate, who was upset at Syracuse in their finale. I have Dartmouth ranked #7 for 1919. After the Dartmouth loss, Joe Lightner was used more often in Penn State's backfield as a blocker for Harry Robb and Charley Way, and Bob Higgins took over the punting duties-- and he was an excellent punter. This put all the pieces in place, and Penn State would not be threatened the rest of the season.


Penn State's next big game was at Penn, who was 5-0 and had routed every opponent, including 23-0 over Lafayette (6-2). Penn was a big favorite, but their offense depended on an open game that was negated by rain and mud, leaving both teams to plunge into the line all game for 6 first downs each, waiting for a break. Those breaks went to Penn State, as center Larry Conover recovered fumbles that set up Penn State's touchdown and field goal in a 10-0 win. Bob Higgins was singled out by the New York Times as both the offensive and defensive star of the game, and his punts averaged 10 more yards than Penn's did. Penn fumbled one of those kicks away at their own 2 yard line, and Harry Robb converted that break into a touchdown run on 4th down. That made it 7-0 at half, but the game was as good as over. After PSU recovered a 4th quarter Penn fumble, Harry Robb hit Bob Higgins for 20 yards to set up the field goal. According to the New York Times, the field goal alone "fairly represented the winner's actual margin of superiority."

Penn lost 20-19 to Dartmouth in New York City the following week, then tied Pittsburgh (6-2-1). They finished 6-2-1, and I have them ranked #10 for 1919.

Penn State next beat Lehigh (6-3, #26-39) 20-7, center Larry Conover kicking 2 field goals, and Lehigh scoring their touchdown on a blocked kick late in the game. Cornell (3-5) was not so lucky, and fell to visiting PSU 20-0 the following week. It could have been worse, as PSU was stopped twice at the Cornell 1 yard line and once at the 2. Harry Robb opened the scoring with a 15 yard touchdown run, Hess added another, and Higgins caught a 40 yard pass to set up Robb's second touchdown.

The Finale at Pittsburgh

After a strategically-placed week off, Penn State traveled to Pittsburgh for their Thanksgiving Day finale. Penn State was 6-1 coming in, Pitt 6-1-1, but Pitt was the favorite, as they had beaten PSU 6 games in a row, mostly in routs. Moreover, Pop Warner's Pittsburgh teams had been ruling over college football the previous 3 seasons. But Penn State ruled over this game, winning 20-0. Bill Hess punted poorly early in the game, but after Bob Higgins took over the punting, Penn State dominated in every phase of the game.

Of course, the only reason Hess was punting at all was to set up the game's big play in the first quarter. During their week off, Penn State had scouted Pitt's game against Carnegie, and noticed that Pitt rushed 10 men on every punt, leaving just 1 man back to receive the kick. So Penn State suckered Pitt by having Hess punt on early downs, until the moment was ripe, at which point Hess did not punt, but instead threw a pass to Higgins, who had just 1 man to beat and did so for a 92 yard touchdown catch and run. Penn State perpetrated similar shenanigans in the 2nd quarter, throwing for a first down on a fake field goal to set up a Hess touchdown run. Charley Way closed the scoring with a 47 yard touchdown run in the 3rd quarter. Pitt's only threat of the game came later, when PSU gave them the ball on a muffed punt, but Pitt was held at the PSU 5 yard line.

Pittsburgh finished 6-2-1, the tie coming at 6-2-1 Penn, and their other loss to 8-3 Syracuse. Syracuse was proclaiming themselves champions of the East at 8-1, but they were embarrassed in season-ending games at Indiana and Nebraska. I have Pitt ranked #10 for 1919.

Illinois 1919

1919 Illinois football team

at Purdue (2-4-1)14-7
Iowa (5-2)9-7#15
Wisconsin (5-2)10-14#6
Chicago (5-2)10-0#13
at Minnesota (4-2-1)10-6#17
at Michigan (3-4)29-7
at Ohio State (6-1)9-7#3

Illinois previously won a mythical national championship in 1914, and I introduced their Hall of Fame coach, Robert Zuppke, in that article. He went 131-81-12 at Illinois 1913-1941, a not-so-impressive winning percentage of .612, but that is because Zuppke was one of those coaches who did not know how to retire, and he had been so great in his prime that Illinois could not fire him. Over his last 12 seasons, he was just .443 and won no titles. But over his first 17 seasons, he was .740, winning 7 conference titles and a potential 4 mythical national championships (MNC). Through 1919, he was even better, 30-8-5 (.756) with 4 conference titles and 2 MNC selections. He also had a winning record against every other Big 10 team, which he maintained through 1924, after which Michigan caught and got by him.

Illinois was coming off a strong 5-2 showing in 1918, with both losses coming 7-0 to unbeaten military teams. But they whipped their Big Ten opponents by more than a touchdown each. This season, college campuses nationwide were flooded with war veterans who had played for military teams, and this was particularly true at Illinois, where 225 men showed up at football tryouts in the Fall. Illinois thus fielded an incredibly deep football team, which enabled them to claw out a 6-1 record against the nation's most brutal schedule, despite losing a constant stream of starters to injury.

1919 Illinois football players Dutch Sternaman and Chuck CarneyHalfback Ed "Dutch" Sternaman, the shorter fellow in the picture to the left, went on to play pro football for 8 years, and was co-owner of the Chicago Bears with George Halas. Standing next to him was 6' 1" end Chuck Carney, a consensus All American in 1920 and a Hall of Famer. Carney was a great receiver, which proved vital in the big win at Ohio State, and he was versatile enough that Illinois was able to use him at center when the need arose. He was also an All American basketball player.

The team's other end was Dick Reichle, Illinois' only player to make a first-team AA list this season (nonconsensus). He had played for the 1918 Great Lakes Navy team that won the Rose Bowl and was widely presumed to be the best football team in the country. They had also beaten Illinois 7-0. He went on to play pro baseball.

Two players made Walter Camp's 2nd team AA list: center Jack Depler and tackle Burt Ingwersen. Depler had been a consensus AA the previous season, and would be nonconsensus AA and team captain in 1920. Ingwersen was singled out by newspapers as having a great game against Ohio State in the line. He coached Iowa 1924-1931, going 33-27-4.

Halfback/quarterback Lawrence "Laurie" Walquist never made any AA list, but he became team captain in 1921, and went on to an unusually long 10 year pro career with the Chicago Bears.

Illinois' Season

Illinois' 1919 schedule was unique in that it consisted entirely of conference opponents. The Big 10 featured no less than 6 top 25 caliber teams this season, and Illinois played all 5 of the other teams. By contrast, 5-2 Wisconsin played 4; 5-2 Chicago, 5-2 Iowa, and 4-2-1 Minnesota played 3, and 6-1 Ohio State played 2. Illinois outscored their 7 opponents by only 91-48, a paltry average score of 13-7, not at all the numbers you expect to see from an MNC contender.

Illinois opened their season in mid-October, struggling in the rain to win 14-7 at Purdue (2-4-1). The next game was a home date with Iowa, a team on the rise under Hall of Fame coach Howard Jones. They had gone 6-2-1 in 1918, and would go 7-0 in 1921 and 1922. Not long after that, Jones would move on to greater fame at Southern Cal. Illinois won this game 9-7 on an onside kick recovered by Laurie Walquist and returned for a touchdown. Now, this was not the onside kick we know today. At this time (and still in Canadian football today), any kick (including a punt or field goal attempt) could be recovered by the kicker or an "onside" player (a player level with or behind the kicker). Most successful onside kicks at this time came from punts, as did the winning play for Illinois over Iowa.

Iowa beat 3-3-2 Nebraska 18-0, 5-2-1 Iowa State 10-0, and 4-2-1 Minnesota 9-6, but they lost at 5-2 Chicago 9-6 to finish 5-2. I have Iowa ranked #15 for 1919.

The Iowa win was costly, and Illinois had 2 starting backs and a lineman out for the next week's game against visiting Wisconsin, which they lost 14-10. Wisconsin head coach John Richards went a terrific 29-9-4 in 6 years at the school, and 58-21-8 for his career at 3 schools. The Badgers followed this huge win up with home losses to Minnesota (19-7) and Ohio State (3-0) to choke away the Big 10 title and MNC contention. But they bounced back in their finale with a big 10-3 win at 5-2 Chicago to finish 5-2, and they would have been ranked about #6 in an AP poll.

Amos Alonzo Stagg's Chicago Maroons came to town next. They were 3-0 by a total score of 180-0, and were thus favored to win. It was Illinois' homecoming game, and 18,000 came home to watch the Illini win 10-0. Chicago followed the loss up with wins over Michigan and 5-2 Iowa, then lost their finale 10-3 to 5-2 Wisconsin, finishing 5-2 themselves. The Maroons would have ranked about #13 in an AP poll.

The next week was another homecoming game for Illinois, this time at Minnesota, their 4th straight top 25 caliber opponent. Minnesota was coached by Henry Williams, one of 5 Hall of Fame coaches Illinois faced this season. Minnesota was the better team for 3 quarters, but all they had to show for it was a 6-0 lead going into the 4th, which was dominated by Illinois. Quarterback Bob Fletcher scored a touchdown, and his brother, Ralph, the team's kicking specialist, came in as a sub to kick a 34 yard field goal for the 10-6 final score. Minnesota was tied by 3-3-2 Nebraska in their opener, and they lost 9-6 to 5-2 Iowa, but they rocked 5-2 Wisconsin 19-7 and stomped 3-4 Michigan 34-7 to win the Little Brown Jug and finish 4-2-1. I have Minnesota ranked #17 for 1919.

It was not a good season for defending Big Ten champ (and defending mythical national champion) Michigan, and Illinois added to the Wolverines' woes with a 29-7 win, Illinois' only easy win on the season. That brought Illinois to their finale, 1919's game of the year at 6-0 Ohio State, who I believe would have been rated #1 in an AP poll at this point.

The Ohio State Game

This was supposed to be the crowning moment for Ohio State and their superstar halfback Chic Harley, a 3rd-time consensus AA this season who had never lost a college game. OSU had gone 3-3 in 1918, but with their players back from the war, they resumed the conference domination they had enjoyed before the war. In 1916 they had gone 7-0, albeit against a weak schedule, and in 1917 they whipped every team of a much tougher schedule until a shocking 0-0 tie at 6-2-1 Auburn left them 8-0-1. Chic Harley was thus 21-0-1 coming into the 1919 Illinois game. But Harley was also coming into the game with a banged up knee, and that proved critical, as he was unable to run the ball much in this game, and he threw poorly. Of course, Illinois had it worse-- 4 starters out with injury for this game, and a 5th, fullback Jack Crangle, was told by doctors to sit out, though he played anyway.

20,000 filled the stands in Columbus to watch what proved to be the most dramatic game of the year. It was Ohio State's homecoming, so Illinois was playing their 3rd homecoming game of the season. Illinois drew first blood, halfback Dutch Sternaman running for a touchdown out of a kick formation. He broke 3 tackles on his way to the goal line and a 6-0 lead. That lead held up until the 3rd quarter, when Chic Harley completed a 4th down pass from the Illinois 20 that went to the 1 yard line. Harley carried the ball over from there, and OSU led 7-6. It would remain 7-6 until the dying moments of the game.

Ohio State did their best to put away the game in the 4th quarter. One promising opportunity ended when Illinois blocked a 34 yard field goal try. Then OSU almost ran out the clock on a good drive late in the 4th quarter, moving from their own 20 to the Illinois 35, but they were stopped there, perhaps 1 more first down away from sealing the game. Their punt was a touchback, and when Illinois took over at their own 20, the referee announced that there were 2 minutes left in the game. Halfback Laurie Walquist threw a pass to end Chuck Carney for a 15 yard gain, then hit him again for 30 more. After 2 incompletions, Walquist again connected with Carney, who took it to the OSU 20.

Illinois was now in field goal range, and with the final seconds ticking away, there was a frantic consultation in the Illinois backfield. Their kicking specialist, Ralph Fletcher, had been knocked out of the game with a bad ankle, and end Dick Reichle had badly missed a 35 yard try earlier in the game. The meeting ended with quarterback Bob Fletcher, Ralph's brother, making the attempt, though he had never kicked a field goal before. According to the newspaper accounts I have seen of this game, Fletcher kicked a perfect field goal, but in an interview 60 years later, Chuck Carney remembered the kick hitting the crossbar and bouncing over.

Ohio State had time for just one play after kickoff, and Chic Harley was crying bitterly as his team lined up for it. It was his first defeat. This game was a rather evenly played war, each team gaining 11 first downs, but Illinois emerged the victor 9-7. Ohio State was finished at 6-1, and I have them ranked #3 for 1919.

There was a lot of newspaper chatter proclaiming Illinois to be the nation's best team, and the "West" (Great Lakes region) to be superior to the East, and after the season, Harvard invited Illinois to come play them in 1920 to prove it. Illinois, however, declined, citing a full schedule.

Harvard vs. Penn State vs. Illinois

Here are the significant games for our first 3 contenders in 1919. I'll discuss Centre, Notre Dame, and Texas A&M afterward. The opponent rankings come from my 1919 top 25, which is based on a hypothetical post-bowl AP poll (within logical reason of course).

Harvard 9-0-1 Penn State 7-1 Illinois 6-1
Boston College (5-3)17-0(#26-39)
Brown (5-4-1)7-0Unranked
at Princeton (4-2-1)10-10#16
Yale (5-3)10-3(#26-39)
Rose Bowl
Oregon (5-2)

7-6

#19
Bucknell (5-4-1)9-0Unranked
at Dartmouth (6-1-1)13-19#7
at Penn (6-2-1)10-0#10
Lehigh (6-3)20-7(#26-39)
at Pittsburgh (6-2-1)20-0#10
at Purdue (2-4-1)14-7Unranked
Iowa (5-2)9-7#15
Wisconsin (5-2)10-14#6
Chicago (5-2)10-0#13
at Minnesota (4-2-1)10-6#17
at Ohio State (6-1)9-7#3

Against teams that would have fallen outside the top 40, Harvard defeated 6 by an average score of 31-0, Penn State defeated 4 by an average of 28-2, and Illinois defeated 2 by an average of 22-7. However, Harvard played 4 minor teams (Bates, Colby, Springfield, Tufts), Penn State played 2-3 (Gettysburg, Ursinus; Bucknell is debatable), and Illinois played none, so there was a huge gap in the quality of the teams' "unranked" competition.

We'll start with the Eastern championship. Though Harvard and Penn State played no common opponents, they played in the same region, and multiple connections amongst their opponents make for much easier comparison. Logical connections between Illinois' opponents and Eastern teams, on the other hand, are more tenuous.

Harvard vs. Penn State

Let's go back to that 1919 poll of Eastern writers that ranked the best teams of the East:

1) Penn State 7-1
2) Syracuse 8-3 (8-1 in the East)
3) Colgate 5-1-1
4) Dartmouth 6-1-1
5) West Virginia 8-2 (8-1 in the East)
6) Harvard 9-0-1
7) Princeton 4-2-1
8) Penn 6-2-1
9) Pittsburgh 6-2-1
10) Washington & Jefferson 6-2

First of all, this list needs some logical fixing. Pittsburgh lost only to #1 and #2, and Penn lost only to #1 and #4, and the two teams tied each other. Furthermore, Pitt beat #5 West Virginia 26-0. So logically, both Pitt and Penn should be rated behind #4 Dartmouth and ahead of #5 West Virginia. And Penn State won at Pitt 20-0 and at Penn 10-0.

But regardless of where exactly you place Pitt and Penn, the fact is that PSU defeated 2 of the teams on this list, and both by more than a touchdown, while Harvard defeated none.

At first glance, Harvard vs. Penn State may appear to be the classic difficult case of measuring the team with the better record and weaker schedule against the team with the weaker record and tougher schedule. But does Harvard really have the better record? Their tie came to Princeton, ranked #7 in the above poll, while Penn State's loss came to #4 Dartmouth. And Dartmouth is ranked as low as #4 only because they lost their star player, and were subsequently upset in their finale. But that star player figured very prominently in Dartmouth's win over Penn State, so the Dartmouth team PSU lost to was even better than #4. Dartmouth was tied by #3 Colgate, who won 7-0 at Princeton. So Dartmouth was better than Princeton not just because writers ranked them that way, but because victory chains point that way. Furthermore, Penn State won at Pittsburgh 20-0, Pitt beat West Virginia 26-0, and WV won at Princeton 25-0. All of those outcomes were very decisive.

So Harvard's tie is not necessarily a better result than Penn State's loss. In fact, the two games appear to be at least equitable. And that leaves little or no argument for Harvard, who played a much weaker schedule, and performed far worse against it, than did Penn State.

Schedule and Performance

Penn State's schedule was more impressive than Harvard's in several ways. They defeated 2 top 25 caliber opponents (Pitt and Penn) to Harvard's 1 (Oregon). They played 3 games on opponents' fields, all against their toughest opponents (Dartmouth, Pitt, and Penn), while Harvard played 1 (Princeton), plus 1 neutral site game (Oregon). And PSU defeated 2 top 10 teams (Pitt and Penn), Harvard none.

Yet Penn State's performance against their tougher schedule was far better than Harvard's. Aside from their 19-13 loss, PSU defeated every opponent by more than a touchdown, including 2 opponents who were better than any Harvard faced. Harvard, on the other hand, consistently performed more like a #10 team than like a #1 team. They beat 5-4-1 Brown 7-0 and 5-3 Yale 10-3, both at home, and neither opponent was top 25 caliber this season. Brown pulled off a huge upset over Dartmouth, but they lost to Colgate 14-0, Syracuse 13-0, Yale 14-0, and they were tied by 2-4-3 Columbia in their finale. Yale lost to 5-3 Boston College, who lost to 6-3 Army and 5-3 Rutgers. Rutgers lost to West Virginia 30-7 and to Lehigh 19-0 (Penn State beat Lehigh 20-7).

Even Harvard's one big win, 7-6 over Oregon in the Rose Bowl, earned by watching numerous field goal attempts miss the mark, does little for Harvard. It too points to them being a #10 team at best.

So the Eastern writers of 1919 had it right: Penn State easily had a better season than Harvard did. Harvard has no good reason to share a mythical Eastern championship, let alone a mythical national championship, with Penn State, and if I were rating a top 25 for 1919, I would likely put Harvard around #15 myself (they are #5 in my hypothetical AP poll). In other words, it isn't really even a close call. So let's toss out Harvard and turn our attention to Illinois.

Penn State vs. Illinois

This breaks down to Penn State's better performance against Illinois' tougher schedule.

Outside of their loss, Penn State beat every opponent by more than a touchdown, whereas Illinois beat just one opponent by more than a touchdown, and Penn State's average score was 22-4, while Illinois averaged a measly 13-7. And Illinois' tougher schedule does not fully account for this difference, because Penn State performed better against comparable opponents as well. PSU beat 6-2-1 Pitt 20-0 and 6-2-1 Penn 10-0, both on the road, while Illinois beat 5-2 Iowa 9-7, 5-2 Chicago 10-0, and 4-2-1 Minnesota 10-6, and just the last was a road game. And Pitt and Penn would likely have ranked higher in an AP poll than Iowa, Chicago, and Minnesota.

Also in Penn State's favor is the fact that their loss came on the road, while Illinois took their loss at home. And while I think that 5-2 Wisconsin would have been ranked just higher than 6-1-1 Dartmouth in a final 1919 AP poll (it would have been close), remember that PSU's loss to Dartmouth came before Dartmouth lost their star player, so the Dartmouth team Penn State lost to was a better opponent than Wisconsin.

On Illinois' side we have that schedule. Illinois defeated 4 top 25 caliber teams, twice as many as Penn State. On top of that, Illinois played 4 top 25 teams in consecutive weeks (Iowa, Wisconsin, Chicago, Minnesota). Penn State's schedule was a lot more like Harvard's, with home dates against weaker teams placed the week before opponents expected to be tough, and an off week before their finale at Pittsburgh. So Illinois' schedule was massively more difficult.

But the big thing for Illinois is that 9-7 win at 6-1 Ohio State. Penn State, of course, did not give any team its only loss. Ohio State would have wound up in the top 5 of an AP poll, so Illinois accomplished something no other MNC contender did in 1919-- they defeated a top 5 opponent. And they did it on the road to boot.

There is just one nagging question about Illinois' schedule... was the Big Ten really that strong?

The Big Ten in 1919

In the end, we can't really know exactly how strong the Big 10 was, because the conference played so few meaningful nonconference games. But the few they did play say a lot for the Big 10. The 6 Big 10 teams that would have been ranked in an AP top 25 did not play any "rated" nonconference opponents. The best win any of them got was 5-2 Iowa's 18-0 win over 3-3-2 Nebraska. And 4-2-1 Minnesota was tied by Nebraska. But while they were not a top 25 team, Nebraska lost to 9-0 Notre Dame by just 14-9, and they upset Syracuse 3-0-- and remember that Syracuse was the #2 team in the East according to Eastern writers. Syracuse defeated 6-2-1 Pitt 24-3 and 5-1-1 Colgate 13-7.

And lest you think Nebraska's win over Syracuse was a fluke, bear in mind that 3-4 Indiana also beat Syracuse, 12-6. This pair of "upsets" represents a huge blow to the East. There may not have been enough intersectional games to conclusively declare the West better than the East, but these few games certainly remove any logical reason to even consider the opposite.

Penn State vs. Illinois Conclusion

So Penn State performed better against comparable opponents, but Illinois played a much tougher schedule. Illinois' loss was worse than Penn State's, coming at home and to a likely weaker opponent, but their biggest win, over Ohio State, was much better than any of PSU's wins. The tie-breaker may be those losses Syracuse took to Nebraska and Indiana, giving the West another winning record against the East this season. Because of that, if I had to choose only one team to be #1, it would probably be Illinois. But you could go either way on this one, and if I were to rank the top 25 teams of 1919, I would likely place Illinois and Penn State in a tie with one another.

So we have 2 co-champions thus far. Time to look at 9-0 Centre, 9-0 Notre Dame, and 10-0 Texas A&M to see if any of them can knock 6-1 Illinois and 7-1 Penn State off of the imaginary throne-- or at least share a place on it.
 

Centre 1919

1919 Centre football team after West Virginia game

Hanover (0-6-1)95-0
at Indiana (3-4)12-3
Xavier (6-2)57-0
at Transylvania (2-4)69-0
at Virginia (2-5-2)49-7
at West Virginia (8-2)14-6#12
Kentucky (3-4-1)56-0
(neutral site) DePauw (2-4-1)56-0
at Georgetown-Kentucky (5-3)77-7

Centre was the most celebrated "little big team" of their time, and though Notre Dame and their coach Knute Rockne are the much better-known names today, there is no doubt that 9-0 Centre would have ranked higher than 9-0 Notre Dame in a 1919 AP poll, probably in the top 5. This sudden rise may seem rather improbable for a little school in Kentucky with an enrollment of just 203 students, but in the days of single-platoon football, all you needed to field a nationally powerful team was a few great players and one great coach-- and Centre had both.

The story of Centre's glory years 1917-1924 is a terrific one, and for that I recommend Rob Robertson's book The Wonder Team. The story began with Robert "Chief" Myers, a Centre grad who taught and coached at Northside High School in Fort Worth, Texas. He found himself with an unusually talented group of kids (including a pair of future consensus All Americans) and got it into his head to take them back to Danfield, Kentucky, to form the backbone of a powerhouse football team at his alma mater. And amazingly, he made it happen. He enrolled one batch of Texas kids at Centre in 1916, and he installed another batch at Somerset High School in Kentucky, so that they could earn enough credits to enroll at Centre. There they met a 3rd future All American who would follow the rest to Centre in 1917. All they needed now was a big-time coach.

Uncle Charlie

Enter Charles Moran (far right in above picture). "Uncle Charlie," as he was known, had started out as an assistant coach to Pop Warner at Carlisle. He played pro baseball, mostly in the minors, 1902-1913, and in the Fall he coached football, going a sparkling 37-8-3 at Texas A&M 1909-1914. The eligibility rules there merely required that a player attend at least one class in the week before the game, so Moran would bring ringers in on the Thursday train, have them attend a class on Friday, then play them on Saturday. He went 3-1 against Texas and 2-0 against Oklahoma, but after 1911, Texas had had enough of his shenanigans, and refused to play A&M again until Moran was replaced.

Chief Myers was Centre's coach for the first games of 1917, but he knew that his dream of a powerhouse football team required a greater coach than he, and it just so happened that Charlie Moran's son, Tom, played for Centre, so when Moran came to town to watch his son play, Myers convinced him to take over as coach for the rest of the 1917 season. Moran's first big game as coach was against Kentucky, who had given Centre their only loss 68-0 the previous season. Moran suggested that the team pray together before the game, which they did, and continued to do before every game thereafter. Centre thus became known as the "Prayin' Colonels." They beat Kentucky 3-0, then won the rest of their games to finish 7-1. Moran then went 5-0 in 1918 and 9-0 this season, for a 20-0 start in his first 3 years at Centre.

That streak reached 23 wins before it was snapped by Harvard in 1920. But in 1921, Moran and Centre earned their revenge with a famous 6-0 "upset" at Harvard. I don't see it as much of an upset myself, but this game has long been considered one of the biggest upsets in college football history. In my opinion, however, Centre's only loss that season, in the Dixie Classic in Dallas in January, against 6-1-2 Texas A&M, was a far bigger upset than was their victory at Harvard. That Dixie Classic game is most famous now as the day Texas A&M's 12th man tradition was born.

Charlie Moran went an amazing 53-6-1 at Centre 1917-1923, and 131-35-11 at 4 schools for his career, which places him on the list for top all-time FBS coaching win percentage (no other source agrees with these numbers; see the Addendum at the end of this article for the details on how I arrived at his win-loss record). Yet shockingly, he is not in the Hall of Fame, while more than a hundred coaches with weaker records are. Simply ridiculous. "Uncle Charlie" spent his summers as a major league umpire 1918-1939, working 4 World Series.

The Players

Centre football player Bo McMillinCentre featured 2 consensus All Americans this season, more than any other team in the country. The first was their star and captain, Hall of Fame quarterback Bo McMillin (pictured at left). He was a nonconsensus AA the next season, and consensus AA again in 1921, when he scored the 32 yard touchdown run that famously beat Harvard 6-0. He was also the one who had beaten Kentucky 3-0 in 1917, hitting the only field goal he ever attempted in his career. Because 1918 did not count against players' eligibility, McMillin started 5 years at Centre. McMillin was a devout Catholic who did not drink, smoke, or curse, but he was a prolific and talented gambler, which paid his way through school. He had little interest in academics, and failed every class his last year at Centre, so he went into coaching. He beat Harvard again as coach at Geneva, but he had his most impressive success at lowly Indiana 1934-1947, going 63-48-11 and winning Indiana's first Big 10 title in 1945. Overall, he was 140-77-13 at 4 schools.

Centre's other consensus AA was center James "Red" Weaver, who kicked 46 consecutive extra points this season, believed at the time to be a record (the NCAA did not record and keep statistics then). He had missed one early in the season, but finished 47 of 48, pretty incredible for that time.

Fullback and punter James "Red" Roberts made Walter Camp's 3rd team AA list, and he would be a nonconsensus AA in 1920 and 1921, playing end and tackle as well as in the backfield. One of the few Centre starters not from Texas, Roberts met McMillin and Weaver when the two Texans were sent to Somerset High School in Kentucky in 1916.

Madison "Matty" Bell played primarily at end, but he also filled positions at center, guard, tackle, and in the backfield 1916-1919. After graduation he became a Hall of Fame coach, moving around Texas from TCU to A&M to SMU, where he had his best success. He was 79-40-8 at SMU 1935-1941 and 1945-1949, winning 3 SWC titles, and he was the athletic director there until 1964. Overall he was 143-87-16 at 5 schools.

Halfback Ed Diddle also became a Hall of Fame coach, but in basketball. He coached Western Kentucky 1922-1964, winning 32 conference titles and finishing 759-302, a record for career wins when he retired.

Centre's Season

Centre won every game by more than a touchdown, outscoring their opponents 485-23, including 12-3 at Indiana (who beat 8-3 Syracuse), 49-7 at Virginia, and 56-0 over Kentucky (who tied 5-1-2 Vanderbilt). But Centre's season boiled down to just one big victory at West Virginia, who had won 25-0 at Princeton (the team that tied Harvard) and went on to finish 8-2. WV was ranked #5 in that poll of Eastern writers, and I have them ranked #12 for 1919. Charlie Moran told his players before the game that the future of the program depended on winning it-- that they would immediately be considered one of the best teams in the country, and that they could draw games against better major opponents on future schedules. And he was proven right.

Led by their consensus All American halfback Ira Rodgers, West Virginia scored an early touchdown for a 6-0 lead. It took Centre a while to come back, as their first 2 touchdowns were negated by penalties, stalling both drives, but Bo McMillin and Red Roberts finally led Centre to a touchdown that stuck in the 3rd quarter, giving them a 7-6 lead. Both teams moved the ball well, but West Virginia was stopped on downs 3 times inside the Centre 10 yard line. Centre, who had no substitutions in this game, added an insurance touchdown and won 14-6. The picture at the top of this Centre section was taken on the field after the game.

Following that victory, national publicity exploded for Centre. The Boston Post was particularly enamored, running near-daily updates and profiles of the team and its players. Their sports editor, Howard Reynolds, went down to Danville to watch Centre's finale against minor team Georgetown-Kentucky, accompanied by Harvard's great 1915 star and captain Eddie Mahan. Centre put on the expected show, winning 77-7, Red Weaver hitting all 11 extra points. Harvard's invitation to come play them next year followed soon afterward.

In an amusing postscript to the West Virginia game, West Virginia's school newspaper later published an article claiming that their "investigation" had discovered that Centre was actually playing pro football players under assumed names. They said that the players who had been brought up from Texas had turned out to be subpar, so they were replaced with pro players from Ohio who took their names. Since the original players were from way down in Texas, no one would know the difference. As an example, the paper said that Red Roberts was really one of the famous Nesser brothers of the Ohio pro league. This ridiculous story was picked up by newspapers around the country, but Red Roberts was not even one of the players brought up from Texas-- he was from Kentucky. Subsequent investigations, of course, turned up nothing of the sort dreamed up by the West Virginia school paper, but ironically, the real pro turned out to be West Virginia star Ira Rodgers, who was found to have played pro baseball under an assumed name, and should not have been eligible in 1919.

Centre's Case for a Mythical National Championship

Centre would have gotten some 1st place votes in a 1919 AP poll-- they were certainly the most impressive unbeaten and untied team (sorry, Notre Dame). Walter Camp felt that they might be the best team in the country, and as mentioned, they had more consensus All Americans than any other team. But needless to say, Centre didn't play much of a schedule, as West Virginia was the only top 25 caliber team they played, and only 1 other opponent they played was at all close (3-4 Indiana might have been a #40-50 team-- they did upset 8-3 Syracuse). The majority of their opponents were minor teams, and so their schedule paled considerably next to the schedules played by Penn State and especially by Illinois.

The teams Penn State and Illinois lost to were considered to be better than any team Centre played, and Penn State and Illinois both posted better wins than Centre's 1 big victory. PSU beat Pitt 20-0, who beat West Virginia 26-0, and Centre only beat WV 14-6. PSU and Illinois also defeated more than 1 rated opponent. Centre did beat every opponent by more than a touchdown, a much better performance than Illinois', but Illinois' schedule was too far beyond Centre's (5 "rated" opponents). So I see no place on the throne for Centre. I do think Centre was pretty close to meriting a share here, but their schedule needed just a bit more oomph.

However, Centre does compare very well with Harvard. Harvard's tie came to Princeton, who lost to West Virginia 25-0, who lost to Centre 14-6. And like Centre, Harvard only defeated 1 "rated" opponent (Oregon). Harvard's schedule was perhaps tougher, as Boston College, Brown, and Yale were good "unrated" teams, but Harvard played them all at home, and all following a patsy the week before, and they did not perform particularly well against them (beating Brown 7-0 and Yale 10-3). Centre had no close games. Looks to me like Centre should be rated ahead of Harvard, but at the very least their seasons were equitable. They would play each other in 1920, Harvard winning 31-14, but Centre would get their revenge 6-0 in 1921.

The last of Centre's glory years would be 1924, the year after Charlie Moran left. Chief Myers took over as coach, and they went 5-1-1, defeating 8-1 Alabama 17-0 for the championship of the South. They went 3-6 the season after that, and have never been seen on the big stage since.

Notre Dame 1919

1919 Notre Dame football team

Kalamazoo (5-2)14-0
Mt. Union (1-7)60-7
at Nebraska (3-3-2)14-9(#26-39)
Western Michigan (4-1)53-0
(neutral site) Indiana (3-4)16-3
at Army (6-3)12-9#21
Michigan State (4-4-1)13-0
at Purdue (2-4-1)33-13
at Morningside (5-2)14-6

Today, Notre Dame is seen as the be-all, end-all program of college football 1919-1930, and in fact this has been true ever since their legendary Hall of Fame coach, Knute Rockne, died in a plane crash in 1931. Knute Rockne and George Gipp are certainly much better known today than any other coach and player of 1919. But in 1919, Notre Dame was seen a lot more like Boise State is seen today. Their 7-0 finish in 1913, featuring a famous breakthrough win against Army, is akin to Boise State's 13-0 finish in 2006, featuring a famous breakthrough win against Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. And Notre Dame's 9-0 finish in 1919 is remindful of Boise State's 14-0 finish in 2009. Notre Dame did not become NOTRE DAME until 1924. Time will tell if Boise State will ever become BOISE STATE.

Notre Dame coach Knute RockneNorwegian-born Knute Rockne (pictured at left) had been a key player on the 7-0
1913 team that came oh-so-close to meriting a share of the MNC, and he was the head coach 1918-1930, posting a record of 105-12-5 that is still #1 in all-time FBS coaching win percentage. Rockne recorded 5 perfect seasons and won 3 consensus MNCs (1924, 1929, 1930), and college football historian Parke Davis retroactively selected Rockne's 9-0 teams of 1919 and 1920 to share a couple more MNCs as well.

Knute Rockne's main innovation was the Notre Dame shift, evolved from Henry Williams' Minnesota shift. Starting in a box formation (the "Notre Dame Box"), rather than the more common single wing, the entire backfield would go in motion, and often all 4 players would still be moving at the snap. Subsequent rules changes for being set and in motion greatly curtailed this offense, but the name "Notre Dame shift" remained even as it was heavily altered by the restrictive new rules. Rockne is also credited with being the first coach to consistently start his second team as "shock troops" to wear down an opponent before putting in the starters, a strategy some successful coaches adopted in the 1930s.


But Rockne is best remembered as a master motivator... "Win just one for the Gipper" and all that.

The Gipper

Notre Dame halfback George GippHall of Fame halfback and punter George Gipp was Notre Dame's star player 1918-1920. He would be named a consensus All American his senior year, 1920, but he died just 2 weeks after receiving the honor, and in the process he was transformed from mere mortal to legend. The Vatican has not yet canonized him, but American culture has, and he has lately become, according to Notre Dame, "perhaps the greatest all-round player in college football history." I'm guessing that the "perhaps" is there for Jim Thorpe, because let's face it, Gipp was not even the best player of his decade.

But he was probably the greatest "all-round player" in Notre Dame history. He led the team in passing and rushing 3 straight years, accumulating a career total of 1789 passing yards and 2341 rushing, the latter a school record that stood until 1978, and he averaged 8.1 yards per carry. Defense? Allegedly, no pass was ever completed against him.

Like Centre's Bo McMillin, Gipp was a talented and prolific gambler when he wasn't playing football, and he had no use for academics. Unlike McMillin, he was a drinker who spent a lot of time in bars, and who only showed up for practice when he felt like it, which was about half the time. He passed just 1 class in the Fall of 1919, and was not attending classes in the Spring of 1920, so he was expelled, though Gipp biographer Patrick Chelland claims that the real reason was because Gipp had been spotted coming out of a banned nightclub. In any case, South Bend was thrown into full panic, and 86 prominent businessmen signed a petition to Notre Dame for Gipp's reinstatement. Dependent on the money that flowed in from those businessmen, Notre Dame had little choice but to accede to their wishes and reinstate Gipp.

But the drama was not quite over, because Michigan and Detroit were recruiting Gipp, as well as other Notre Dame players, to transfer. Gipp came very close to transferring to Detroit, who assured him that he would not have to attend classes at all, but Rockne was able to re-recruit him (likely with the help of a few prominent businessmen). Other players from the 1919 team, however, were successfully recruited away from Notre Dame by both Michigan and Detroit.

George Gipp died not long after his senior season, on December 14th, 1920, of a streptococcus infection. 8 years later, tied 0-0 at halftime against unbeaten Army, Rockne delivered Gipp's supposed deathbed message to the team, rallying them to a 12-6 victory: "I've got to go, Rock. It's all right. I'm not afraid... Some time Rock, when the team's up against it; when things are wrong and the breaks are beating the boys-- tell them to go in there with all they've got and win just one for the Gipper. I don't know where I'll be then, Rock. But I'll know about it, and I'll be happy." (as first published by Collier's in November, 1930)

The Rest of the Team

Notre Dame had no consensus All Americans in 1919, nor even nonconsensus AA, and only one player even made a 2nd team list-- and oddly enough, it wasn't George Gipp. It was Gipp's favorite receiver, end Bernard Kirk, who caught a pair of touchdowns from the Gipper in a 16-3 win over Indiana. He was also strong on defense. Like Gipp, Bernie Kirk struggled to stay afloat academically, and Michigan recruited him away from Notre Dame after this season. Also like Gipp, he was named a consensus All American his senior season (1922), then died weeks later, in a car crash. But apparently he was unable to impart to his coach Fielding Yost a message for the boys should they ever find themselves "up against it."

The other end, Eddie Anderson, would be nonconsensus AA in 1920 and consensus in 1921, when he was also the team captain. He then became a Hall of Fame coach, going 201-128-15 at 4 schools, primarily at Holy Cross, whom he led to a few AP poll finishes. An enormous number of Rockne's players went on to become coaches, and in fact all 13 players in Anderson's graduating class went into coaching, including another Hall of Famer, Buck Shaw. But Shaw did not become a starter until 1920, so let's move on to the next future Hall of Fame coach.

That would be Center Slip Madigan, who went a terrific 117-45-12 at St. Mary's in California, turning them into a powerful football team. They won a total of 20 games against Pacific Coast powers Cal, Stanford, Southern Cal, UCLA, Oregon, and Washington State, and they also defeated a handful of strong intersectional opponents during Madigan's tenure, including a victory in the 1939 Cotton Bowl. Madigan finished his career with a pair of awful seasons at Iowa to drop to 119-58-13 overall.

Guard Heartley "Hunk" Anderson, no relation to Eddie, became a nonconsensus AA in 1921, and the other guard, Walter "Cy" Degree, became a nonconsensus AA in 1922.

Quarterback and captain Pete Bahan was recruited away from Notre Dame by Detroit after this season. He attended the same high school in Kentucky that Centre's 3 All Americans played for.

Notre Dame's Season

1919 Notre Dame-Nebraska football game, George Gipp in the center

Notre Dame's schedule was very weak, and they faced only 1 top 25 caliber team this season. First up, however, was the opener against patsy Kalamazoo. George Gipp ran for 148 yards, but he had touchdown tuns of 80 and 68 yards negated by penalties, and Notre Dame only won 14-0. Kalamazoo later lost 28-0 to 8-1 Detroit, finishing 5-2.

The first real game was at Nebraska (pictured above, George Gipp in the center), who finished only 3-3-2 this season, but they tied 4-2-1 Minnesota and upset 8-3 Syracuse, and they were an annual rival who always played Notre Dame tough. In fact, Nebraska was the only team to beat Notre Dame's famed Four Horsemen over their 3 years 1922-1924, and they did it twice. Nebraska was keying on Gipp in this game, so on Notre Dame's first series, halfback Dutch Bergman was able to take a lateral from Gipp 90 yards to paydirt for a 7-0 lead. Nebraska closed the gap to 7-6 at half, but Gipp had a good day passing, 5 of 8 for 124 yards, and that set up the clinching touchdown, a 1-yard plunge by Pete Bahan. Notre Dame was worn out by the 4th quarter, and resorted to creative time wasting. Nebraska added a field goal, but could get no closer, and Notre Dame held on to win 14-9. Nebraska was close to top 25 caliber, #26-39.

Notre Dame also beat Syracuse's other Western conqueror, 3-4 Indiana, 16-3 on a rainy, muddy field in Indianapolis. Gipp rushed for 82 yards and Bergman scored 2 touchdowns.

The next week they traveled East for their big game of the year at Army. The teams had split their last 4 games since Notre Dame's breakthrough win in 1913. Army entered the game at 5-1, the loss coming by a score of 7-3 to Syracuse (8-3). The cadets controlled the early part of the game, driving to a touchdown in the 1st quarter and a field goal in the 2nd for a 9-0 lead, and then Notre Dame went to the air. The Gipper hit a bomb to Pete Bahan that went to the Army 10, setting up a Gipp touchdown, and it was 9-6 at the half. In the second half, Gipp hit Bahan again, putting the ball at the Army 20, but they lost it there on downs. Gipp struck again, hitting Eddie Anderson this time, who took it to the Army 10, and Notre Dame pushed the ball over goal from there for the 12-9 win. Gipp rushed for 70 yards and completed 7 passes for another 115, but Notre Dame's real savior was the defense, as they stopped Army several times inside the Notre Dame 5 yard line.

Army lost their next game 6-0 in their finale against 6-1 Navy, finishing 6-3, which might have dropped them out of a final 1919 AP poll, but I have them ranked #21 for 1919.

Notre Dame next beat a weak 4-4-1 Michigan State team 13-0, then started a busy week with a 33-13 pasting of 2-4-1 Purdue. The next day, 7 Notre Dame players, including the entire backfield and center Slip Madigan, played a game for West Rockford, Illinois under assumed names, earning $200 each. They doubled that by betting it on themselves to win and doing so, beating Rockford East 17-9. Just 4 days later, Notre Dame traveled to Morningside (Iowa) for their finale. For most of the players, it was their 3rd game in 5 days, and the game was played on a slippery, snow-covered field, so it was little surprise that they struggled to win 14-6, Gipp scoring both touchdowns.

The Case Against Notre Dame 1919

With their one big win coming 12-9 at #21 Army, and an unimpressive performance against a very weak schedule, obviously Notre Dame 1919 has no real case for sharing an MNC. You probably figured that out at the start, when I compared Notre Dame 1919 to Boise State 2009, but actually, Boise State 2009 at least defeated the #6 and #11 teams, so they accomplished far more than Notre Dame 1919 did. And Boise State finished #4 in the 2009 AP poll, whereas Notre Dame, if there had been an AP poll in 1919, would have finished #7-9 at the highest.

So why would Parke Davis and the National Championship Foundation each retroactively select Notre Dame to share in a 3-way MNC? That's pretty obvious: they were 9-0, and it was NOTRE DAME, it was ROCKNE, it was GIPP. None of those things mattered at all to people in 1919, but after 1931, it became hard for some people to look past anything else through the golden glare of those names.

But let's be rational about this. 9-0 Centre defeated every opponent by more than a touchdown, including a 14-6 win at 8-2 West Virginia, a much better team than anyone Notre Dame defeated. The only other team to come within 2 touchdowns of them was Indiana. Notre Dame, on the other hand, beat 6-3 Army by 3 points, 3-3-2 Nebraska by 5, and all of the following teams came within 2 touchdowns of them: Kalamazoo, Indiana, Michigan State, and Morningside. This is no contest. Selecting Notre Dame and not Centre for this season is just flat-out incompetent. And Centre, of course, falls just short of meriting an MNC themselves.

One point in Notre Dame's favor is the fact that they beat Purdue 33-13, while Illinois only beat them 14-7. But Illinois was 4-1 against top 25 caliber opponents, including that huge win at 6-1 Ohio State, who otherwise would have won the MNC themselves. Notre Dame's one very close win over #21 Army, lower-rated than all 5 of Illinois' top opponents, just does not compare.

Texas A&M 1919

1919 Texas A&M football team

Hall of Fame football coach Dana X. BibleThis was the 6th of 7 straight years that a Southwest team went unbeaten and untied. Texas A&M had previously taken their turn in 1917, going 8-0, and they were 10-0 in 1919, but in both seasons, the Aggies did something a little extra: they shut out every opponent. The coach for both seasons was Hall of Famer Dana Xenophon Bible (pictured at left). He had departed for the war in 1918, so Dana X. Bible had a personal streak of 18 straight shut-outs in his first 2 years of coaching at A&M in 1917 and 1919. And that streak continued all the way to the last game of the 1920 season, when Texas beat the Aggies 7-3: that ended a string of 25 straight shut-outs. Bible went 72-19-9 at Texas A&M 1917 and 1919-1928, 50-15-7 at Nebraska 1929-1936, and 63-31-3 at Texas 1937-1946. Overall he was 198-72-23 at 5 schools, posting a winning record in 30 of 33 seasons, and winning 8 SWC titles and 6 Big 6 titles.

Texas A&M was led by a pair of All-SWC backs, and though the rest of the nation took no notice, at least the two are enshrined in the Texas A&M Athletics Hall of Fame: fullback and captain Jack Mahan and halfback Roswell Grady "Little Hig" Higginbotham. Little Hig scored the touchdown that beat Texas 7-0 in their finale, then he pitched a no-hitter against the Longhorns the following Spring.

Texas A&M played a schedule that was far weaker than even Notre Dame's, as they faced no opponent who would merit even a top 50 ranking, and they struggled to win 2 of those games, beating 3-5 Southwestern (Texas) and 6-3 Texas by the same 7-0 score. Texas wasn't a bad team, but they lost to 5-2-3 Oklahoma and to Phillips, a minor Oklahoma school. The Southwest region as a whole had yet to record a nationally significant intersectional win. But Dana Bible would win the first on January 2nd, 1922, when 6-1-2 Texas A&M pulled off a huge 22-14 upset of Charlie Moran's 10-1 Centre team in the Dixie Classic in Dallas.

Obviously, Texas A&M is by far the worst selection of the 6 teams I've covered for a 1919 MNC, and it's no surprise that it's the National Championship Foundation and Billingsley's computer making the pick. But the school itself does not claim a national championship for this season, so no harm done.

2012 UPDATE:
well, as of 2012, Texas A&M now claims themselves national champions of 1919, and they put it up in big letters on their stadium to let everyone know that it must be true. How very--is there any other way to put it?--aggy of them. Sad, really. I suppose that 90 years from now, Marshall will claim themselves national champions of 1999. They were 13-0 that season, and finished ranked #10 in the AP poll. Of course, Marshall 1999 actually has a better case than Texas A&M, because they at least played a couple of top 50 caliber opponents, and Texas A&M would not have come close to #10 had there been an AP poll in 1919. More like #16-25. I have them ranked #23 for 1919. Well, at least Notre Dame still has the dignity not to claim an MNC for 1919.

But national championship or not, it was still a great year for the Aggies, so let's end on a positive note-- a picture of Little Hig tumbling over the goal line for the winning touchdown in the finale against Texas.


Higginbotham's winning touchdown for Texas A&M against Texas in 1919

Awards Ceremony

1919 #1: 6-1 Illinois and/or 7-1 Penn State
National Co-champion: Illinois or Penn State if the other is alone at #1
Contenders: 9-0 Centre and 9-0-1 Harvard

These are the awards I have been handing out for each season, except seasons when there are no contenders. For this purpose, what I mean by a contender is a team that I think is very close to being worthy of sharing the national championship. A team that you could make an argument for, even if that argument is weak. But the contenders are teams that I myself do not see as national champions.

Notre Dame and Texas A&M don't make "contender" status because their schedules just weren't good enough, though Notre Dame was much, much closer than Texas A&M was.

Grading the Selectors

I have been grading the NCAA Records Book's selectors for each season, and keeping a grade point average, so we can see who is relatively good at selecting national champions and who is not. And although I do not consider computer ratings to be legitimate national championship selectors, I have been including them in this section as well, just for comparison's sake. I am grading on a scale of 0-5 (5 being the best).

We have 4 new selectors, systems that began their retroactive MNC picks with 1919. Sagarin has 2 different math systems listed in the NCAA Records Book: his original formula and his ELO-Chess formula. The latter was created for the BCS, and does not measure performance (score differential). Boand is also a math formula. The 4 new selectors ended up with the 4 highest grades for this season.

Boand and Sagarin ELO-Chess tabbed Illinois
. Grade: 5

The College Football Researchers Association selected Illinois and Harvard. Grade: 2.8

Sagarin's original computer program came up with Centre. Grade: 2.1

Parke Davis selected Illinois, Harvard, and Notre Dame. Grade: 1.1

Houlgate and Helms went with Harvard. Grade: 0.7

The National Championship Foundation selected Harvard, Notre Dame, and Texas A&M. Grade: 0.2

Billingsley's computer wants you to believe that Texas A&M stood alone above the rest. Grade: 0.1

As you can see, I've used the magic of decimals to make my grading more precise. Under my previous integer-only grading system, the bottom 3 selections all would have gotten a grade of zero, which didn't seem fair, since they are not all equally bad. I've gone back and adjusted all the grades in previous articles (1901-1918) accordingly.

Speaking of fairness, I am going to start my grade point average list over with 1919, so that all the systems are being compared for the same time period. But here's a reminder of how the systems that selected champions for 1901-1918 did:

1) Houlgate (math system)4.5
2) Helms4.3
3) Parke Davis4.2
4) National Championship Foundation3.7
5) Billingsley (math)3.6

So one math formula (Houlgate) won the first period, while the other math formula (Billingsley) was the worst selector. Note that the 2 worst selectors of 1901-1918 have started out the next period with the two worst selections of 1919 as well.

Addendum

College football history confronts any researcher with a blizzard of contradictory or false stories, facts, and numbers. Even the NCAA Records Book has errors in it, and those errors are the most annoying, since they tend to be repeated by most other sources. Similarly, any error in a wikipedia article ends up being repeated by dozens (or hundreds) of other websites. So I double-check as many of the facts and numbers in my articles as I have time for, sticking to older sources as much as possible. If you notice any errors in my articles, please drop me a line to let me know (James@tiptop25.com), including your source of information. But sometimes my research has simply turned up different facts or numbers than you'll find in even generally reliable sources.

Take, for example, the case of Centre coach Charlie Moran. First there is the rather small matter of the spelling of his name. Practically all older sources spelled it "Charlie," while practically all modern sources spell it "Charley," including the NCAA Records Book and wikipedia. This is an example of how one person can make a simple error in a major source, such as the NCAA Records Book, and that error then spreads and becomes the new truth. Even Charlie Moran's Find a Grave website page spells his name "Charley" in the header of the article, despite the fact that they have a picture of his tombstone right there that clearly reads "Charlie"-- as it's spelled in the vast majority of articles written about him while he actually lived.

More importantly, there is the matter of his win-loss record. That Find a Grave site says he was 122-34-12. Wikipedia says 121-35-12. The NCAA Records Book had him at 122-33-12 for years, but in the last edition that I saw (2010), his name and record had mysteriously disappeared from the list of best all-time FBS coaches by win percentage. The 122-33-12 record they used to print, however, is the most common record given by other websites. Moran's hickoksports.com biography repeats the NCAA number, but curiously, if you add up the numbers that website gives for each of his 4 coaching stops, they come to 123-33-12. So if you're writing an article about Charlie Moran yourself, which number should you go with? Well, if I didn't have time to research the matter myself, I would go with the NCAA Records Book, since it is at least "official," but I have found that when the NCAA Records Book disagrees with wikipedia, the NCAA is not always correct. So if you have the time, it is always best to research the matter yourself.

As I wrote in the preceding article, I have Charlie Moran at a career record of 131-35-11, markedly different from any of those other sources. Here is how I came up with that number:

His first stop was at Texas A&M 1909-1914, and Texas A&M went 38-8-4 those 5 seasons, so most sources say that Moran was also 38-8-4 there, including the NCAA and wikipedia. However, Moran did not start coaching at A&M until the 3rd game of the 1909 season, so he was actually 37-8-3 at A&M, as corroborated in Texas A&M's media guide/record book.

But the big issue is his next stop at Centre. Practically every modern source says that Moran coached at Centre 1919-1923, stemming from an originating error made in the NCAA Records Book. However,
every source about Moran from 1920 through the 1960s says that he started coaching at Centre in 1917. Rob Robertson's recently published and assiduously researched book on Centre, The Wonder Team, asserts that Moran started coaching after the team's 1917 loss to DePauw (starting game 3), while at least one older source says that he started coaching one week later than that, for the Kentucky game (game 4). I am going to go with Rob Robertson's book on Moran's start date. There are still some questions about which games in 1917 and 1918 were considered by the school to be "official," but I have Moran at 6-0 in 1917 and 5-0 in 1918, which gives him 11 more wins that no one has been counting.

Moran's record is thus:
37-8-3 at Texas A&M 1909-1914
53-6-1 at Centre 1917-1923
19-10-2 at Bucknell 1924-1926
22-11-5 at Catawba 1930-1933

131-35-11.

Pending newly researched information, that is.


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