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1926 College Football National Championship

1926 Navy vs. Army in Chicago

On November 27th, Navy was slated to face Army in Chicago for the dedication game of Soldier Field. It was the most highly anticipated game of the year, and of any year, attracting 600,000 ticket requests and an unprecedented 110,000 attendees. Stories about the game's planning, logistics, and ticket dispersal ran non-stop in newspapers across the nation throughout the Fall. Navy came into the game 9-0, Army 7-1 with a loss to Notre Dame, who was 8-0 and universally considered the nation's mythical national champion to be. But it was not to be.

While Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne was in Chicago for what the New York Times called football's "greatest pageant," his team was in Pittsburgh losing a shocking 19-0 upset at Carnegie. That left the door open for Navy, though as doors go, Army was not the most accessible. In what would widely become known as the greatest game played prior to World War 2, Navy jumped out to a 14-0 start, Army came roaring back to lead 21-14 in the 3rd quarter, Navy tied it up in the 4th, and then Army drove to an easy, short field goal attempt, which they missed. That left Navy 9-0-1, but with Notre Dame finishing 9-1, many writers proclaimed Navy to be the mythical national champion (MNC).


As usual, however, retroactive selectors don't see things quite the same way. Here is how the "major selectors" listed in the NCAA Records Book, all selecting long after the fact, see the 1926 college football national championship (omitting math/computer ratings, which neither I nor anyone else recognize as constituting titles):

9-0-1 AlabamaHelms (tie), National Championship Foundation (tie), CFB Researchers
10-0-1 Stanford:
Helms (tie), National Championship Foundation (tie)
9-0 Lafayette: Parke Davis

9-0-1 Alabama, who had gone 10-0 for a share of the MNC in 1925, tied 10-0-1 Stanford in the Rose Bowl. It took a miracle for Alabama to salvage that much, as Stanford outgained them 311 yards to 92, so the College Football Researchers Association's selection of Alabama as a stand-alone champion makes little sense here. Selecting Stanford and Alabama to share the MNC makes more sense, since outside of that tie, neither team suffered an upset. Parke Davis, as usual, had his hometown team's back. He's the only one that crowned them, but although 9-0 Lafayette mostly played minor teams, they did defeat 2 powerful opponents, and they are a legitimate contender for the 1926 MNC.

Like Michigan and Pittsburgh in 1925, 9-0-1 Navy and 9-1 Notre Dame may have been upset, but both played much tougher schedules than did the other 3 contenders for the 1926 MNC, and in fact both look much stronger as MNC candidates than Michigan and Pittsburgh did in 1925. This 1926 MNC race looks very similar to the 1921 race. Lafayette was 9-0 and a contender that year too, and a pair of 1921 contenders also tied each other in the Rose Bowl, and we once again have 5 contenders to look at. And like 1921, 1926 is a very difficult season for which to select a mythical national champion.

But select I shall. All rankings in the following article, except as noted, come from my 1926 top 25, which is based on a hypothetical post-bowl AP poll (within logical reason of course).

A Hypothetical AP Poll for 1926

College football historian Bob Kirlin thinks 9-0-1 Navy would have been voted #1 in a final regular season AP poll. He may be right, because several prominent writers were proclaiming them the national champion at the time, but it's no slam dunk. How often does a team suffer a tie in its final game, then jump to #1 in the AP poll? Such a thing has never happened, though in 1966 Notre Dame suffered a tie and remained #1 the next week and for the rest of the season.

In 1926, Notre Dame would certainly have been #1 and Navy #2 heading into their November 27th games, and with Navy's tie and Notre Dame's loss, it is safe to assume that Notre Dame would have fallen back behind Navy in the next poll. It is not, however, safe to assume that Pop Warner's 10-0 Stanford team would not have risen to #1. Warner was exceedingly popular.

Furthermore, Navy's season was done after November 27th. Notre Dame, on the other hand, went out to Los Angeles for a huge game at 8-1 Southern Cal, who would have been a top 10 team. After Notre Dame's 13-12 win in that game, it's possible, if unlikely, that they would have passed Navy back up. After all, they played the toughest schedule in the country, and would have beaten 3 top 10 teams, including a victory over the team that tied Navy. As we have seen repeatedly, Lastgamitis has a powerful effect on AP voting.

The Rose Bowl tie would have definitely knocked Stanford out of the race in a post-bowl AP poll, leaving it down to 9-0-1 Navy vs. 9-1 Notre Dame for #1. Because they had the better record and took part in the biggest game of the year, Navy likely would have been #1, but again, Notre Dame would have had an outside shot at it.

Columbia coach Charles Crowley summed up the 1926 season in a late November article he wrote for the New York Times, proclaiming Navy the mythical national champion. He ranked another 60 teams in 7 different "groups," and his top group behind Navy consisted of the following teams:
While he was an Eastern coach and writer, Crowley had played for Knute Rockne at Notre Dame, so his perspective spanned the Eastern and Great Lakes regions. As such, his rankings give a decent approximation of what a national AP poll might have looked like in 1926. If you're interested in his full top 25 teams, I've included that list at the end of this article, and I've also done a rough logical fixing of his rankings.

The Dickinson System

1926 was the debut season for the Dickinson System, the first nationally published national championship selector (though single syndicated writers had been referring to teams as "national champions" for decades). Created by Illinois economics professor Frank Dickinson, the Dickinson System was a primitive mathematical formula that selected a national champion for each season from 1926 through 1940. At Knute Rockne's request, Dickinson also retroactively rated teams for the 1924 and 1925 seasons so as to crown Rockne's 1924 Notre Dame team the system's first "national champion." The system thus gained Rockne's endorsement.

In addition to that crucial endorsement, it got nationwide publicity thanks to its sponsor, Chicago clothing manufacturer Jack Rissman, the namesake of its annual "Rissman Trophy." This became the "Knute Rockne Intercollegiate Memorial Trophy" after the revered Notre Dame coach's death.
Although schools claim national championships based on Dickinson selections, the system was not viewed at the time as an authoritative national championship selector. That's why writers routinely referred to Navy as 1926's "national champion" despite the fact that Stanford was #1 in the Dickinson formula.

The Dickinson System did not count bowl games, and its final top 10 was as follows:

1) 10-0 Stanford
2) 9-0-1 Navy
3) 9-1 Notre Dame and 7-1 Michigan
5) 9-0 Lafayette
6) 8-2 Southern Cal (lost to Stanford and Notre Dame)
7) 9-0 Alabama
8) 7-1 Ohio State (lost to Michigan)
9) 7-1-1 Army
10) 9-0-1 Brown (tied by 5-2-2 Colgate)

Of course, if Dickinson's formula had been applied after the Rose Bowl, Navy would have been #1.

The 1926 Season

The huge scores put up by the passing attacks of Dartmouth and Michigan in 1925 had sent the football world into a panic (they wouldn't like today's game very much). To rein in the passing game, a new rule was put in place for 1926 mandating a 5 yard penalty for every 2nd or 3rd incompletion in the same series of downs. But the rules committee needn't have bothered, because passing attacks were mostly reined in this season by a huge increase in coaches' attention to pass defense in the off-season. Dartmouth declined from 8-0 in 1925 to 4-4 in 1926. That can mostly be chalked up to the graduation of their superstar passer/runner/punter Swede Oberlander, but better pass defense also put the clamps on them.

As for Michigan, they put up big numbers again in the first half of the season, but their passing attack was strangled by Navy's new man-to-man pass defense in mid-season, and they went from a 54-0 win over Navy in 1925 to a 10-0 loss in 1926. Michigan finished the season 7-1, including a big 4 wins over top 25 caliber opponents, so for the second consecutive season Michigan came a game away from claiming an MNC (they had been upset by Northwestern 3-2 in a rainstorm in 1925).

Brown came close to laying a weak claim to an MNC, winning their first 9 games, but then they were tied at home in their finale against 5-2-2 Colgate, the only top 25 caliber team they played. That left them 9-0-1, but their schedule puts them well out of MNC range.

The 1926 MNC

Much like 1921, you could select all 5 of 1926's contenders to share the title, but as I said then, the more teams you have sharing a "national championship," the more meaningless the term becomes. So like 1921, this season requires more splitting of hairs than usual. In fact, I would say that 1926 has been the most difficult MNC race I've looked at so far. Time to get to know the contenders a little better...

Navy 1926

1926 Navy football teamAlthough no organization listed in the NCAA Records Book selected 9-0-1 Navy as MNC of 1926 (aside from a couple of computer rankings), the school claims a national championship for this season. I don't know what they base the claim on, but perhaps it goes back to the fact that they were proclaimed the national champion by several prominent writers of the time. As I've indicated, they would likely have been #1 in a final AP poll in 1926. Navy had been a strong team throughout the early 20th century-- had there been an AP poll 1901-1925, they would have finished in the top 25 about 16 times and in the top 10 about 6 times. But this is the only season for which the school claims an MNC.

Navy grad Bill Ingram was in his first season as head coach in 1926, and it was a terrific start for him, but Navy faded in subsequent seasons. He went 32-13-4 at Navy 1926-1930, and 75-42-9 at 4 schools over 13 seasons. Those overall numbers are rather mediocre, but he is in the Hall of Fame, presumably because of this one season. Line coach Rip Miller is also in the Hall of Fame, but as a player-- he had played for Notre Dame's 1924 national championship team.

Navy also fielded a pair of Hall of Famers amongst the players, tackle Frank Wickhorst and halfback Tom Hamilton. Wickhorst was Navy's captain and a unanimous All American (AA). He was also Navy's only AA player. Hamilton was a runner, passer, and punter, but his greatest contribution to the team was his drop-kicking. He hit 6 field goals this season, and in an age when extra points often decided games, he missed just one extra point attempt all season. His field goal was the difference in a 10-7 win over Georgetown, and Navy would not have tied Army had he not hit all 3 of his extra point attempts in that game. Hamilton was elected class president, and eventually became the commissioner of the PAC 8 1959-1971.

Navy's Season

Navy found themselves in a mighty struggle in their opener against Purdue at home. Tom Hamilton missed a field goal, then hit one from 30 yards out for a 3-0 lead. In the 2nd quarter, Purdue tossed a touchdown pass, but Navy halfback Ned Hannegan responded with a 25 yard touchdown run for a 10-7 halftime lead. Purdue threw another touchdown pass in the 3rd quarter, but Navy again responded, this time on two passes from Hamilton to end Russell "Whitey" Lloyd, the second going into the end zone. Purdue advanced 2 more scoring threats in the 4th quarter, but they got no points, and Navy held on for the 17-13 win. Purdue finished 5-2-1, losing 22-0 to 7-1 Northwestern and tying 5-2-1 Wisconsin. The Boilermakers would not have been ranked in a final AP poll had there been one in 1926, but they would have been nearly-ranked (#26-38).

After feasting on a pair of cupcakes, Navy traveled to Princeton, who had already been tied by a mediocre Washington & Lee team. Princeton led 13-10 at the half, but Navy's line dominated the second half, opening gaping holes that turned simple line plunges into big gains, and Navy won 27-13. Princeton finished 5-1-1 against a very weak schedule, and they struggled to get by some of those weak opponents (such as a 7-6 home win over 1-8 Lehigh), but they would have been ranked in a final AP top 25 because of their record and because of the fact that their name was "Princeton." They were in no way a legitimate top 25 team, however-- more like #41-50 (at best).

Navy played their first legitimate top 25 opponent, Colgate, at home the next week, and they needed a miracle to pull out a win. Navy dominated the 1st quarter and scored a touchdown for a 6-0 lead. Colgate dominated the 2nd quarter and also scored a touchdown, adding the extra point for a 7-6 halftime lead. It was Navy's turn to dominate the 3rd quarter, making 6 first downs to none for Colgate, but they were unable to score, losing the ball once on downs at the Colgate 6. Colgate then seized control of the game in the 4th quarter, making 8 first downs to none for Navy. With 2 minutes to play, Colgate had the ball 4th down and inches away from the Navy goal line. The game appeared to be all but over as Colgate fullback Clark Shaughnessy slammed into the line, because Navy had not been able to stop him all quarter, and even if they did, it was unlikely that they would be able to drive the length of the field in the time remaining in the game.

But they did stop Shaughnessy in a huge pile-up at the goal line. And then suddenly, Navy end Russell Lloyd came out of the pile with the ball. Colgate didn't notice or pursue him until too late, and it probably wouldn't have mattered if they had noticed, because Lloyd was the fastest man on Navy's team, and he had been a 4th-quarter substitute, so he had fresh legs. Colgate had only substituted once all game. Lloyd took it 99 yards for a touchdown, delivering a miraculous 13-7 win. Colgate outgained Navy and had 16 first downs to Navy's 13, but that 14-point swing at the end was a killer.

Colgate finished 5-2-2, and I have them #15 for 1926. They lost 19-16 at 5-2-2 Pittsburgh, and they tied 7-2-1 Syracuse and 9-0-1 Brown by identical 10-10 scores in their last 2 games.

Michigan

1926 Navy-Michigan football game program coverNext up was seemingly unbeatable Michigan, who had stomped on Navy 54-0 the previous season with basically the same lineup. Michigan had outscored their 1925 opponents 227-3, but the 3 points were crucial, as they were upset by Northwestern 3-2 in a Chicago rainstorm to derail their MNC hopes. This season, they were coming into the Navy game 4-0 by a total score of 130-6, including a pair of easy shutout wins over top 25 caliber opponents (6-2 Illinois and 5-3 Minnesota). But Navy shocked Michigan 10-0, easily their biggest win of the year, and in fact I would go so far as to call it the biggest win in Navy football history.

The game was held at Baltimore's Municipal Stadium, where temporary stands were put up in the open end of the horseshoe to fit in 80,000 spectators. Navy smothered Michigan's running game, and they used a new pass defense that held Michigan's powerful air attack to just 6 completions in 27 attempts. Michigan's only signs of offensive life came in the 2nd quarter, but they were unable to score when they had the chances. First, Michigan quarterback Benny Friedman attempted a field goal that was blocked by Navy tackle Tom Eddy. Later, Michigan drove to the Navy 10, where a 3rd down pass from Benny Friedman to Bennie Oosterbaan was knocked down by Navy halfback Tom Hamilton. On 4th down, Friedman hit Oosterbaan with a short pass, but Oosterbaan was tackled at the Navy 2 yard line, snuffing out Michigan's last threat of the game.

In the 3rd quarter, Tom Hamilton threw a 25 yard pass to halfback Maurice Goudge, then Goudge ripped an 18 yard run to set up a Hamilton field goal from the 28 yard line, finally breaking the scoreless tie. In the 4th quarter, Hamilton hit a pass on a 4th down fake field goal to set up fullback Henry Caldwell's clinching touchdown plunge, the first given up by Michigan in 2 years. As the game ended, Navy partisans stormed the field, tore down the goalposts, and snakedanced until darkness fell.

Michigan won out to finish 7-1, winning another 2 games over top 25 caliber opponents (7-1 Ohio State and a 2nd win over 5-3 Minnesota), and I have them #2 behind Navy for 1926. Yet again the bridesmaid and not the bride.

Trouble with Georgetown

Navy got a much needed break the next week, pounding West Virginia Wesleyan 53-7, before hosting a strong Georgetown team. Georgetown had lost 13-10 to 6-4 West Virginia, but they tied 5-2-2 Pittsburgh and defeated 7-2-1 Syracuse.

Georgetown's line dominated Navy badly in the first half, but they didn't get quite enough points out of it. They missed a long field goal in the opening quarter, then blocked a punt at the Navy 18 to set up a touchdown and a 7-0 halftime lead. But Navy was far better in the 2nd half, thanks to the insertion of fullback Alan Shapley into the game. He had been injured early in the season, but his return came just in time for Navy. In the 3rd quarter, Shapley returned an interception 23 yards to the Georgetown 40 yard line, and from there he caught a touchdown pass from Tom Hamilton to tie the game up 7-7.

In the 4th quarter, Georgetown mounted a drive, but they lost the ball on downs at the Navy 25. With time running out and still on their own end of the field, Navy went for it on 4th down, Tom Hamilton throwing to Ned Hannegan for just enough to get the first down. Then Hamilton hit Russell Lloyd for 40 yards to the Georgetown 18. Shapley carried for 8 yards, and then Hamilton kicked the field goal that gave Navy a 10-7 win in the closing seconds.


Georgetown finished 7-2-1, and I have them ranked #14 for 1926.

Navy got to relax again the next week in a 35-13 win over Loyola-Baltimore, and then it was time to get on the train to Chicago for the football event of the season.

Army

1926 Army-Navy football gameMost crowd estimates for this game were 110,000, but thousands of people got in with counterfeit tickets and by crashing the gates, and some estimates ran over 120,000. There wasn't enough space left to sit, and people were climbing up on any structure they could perch on to get a view of the game. Thousands more were on nearby water towers and rooftops, or milling about on the streets outside Soldier Field. What those in the stadium saw was a great game with an unusual amount of offense for that time. Writer Walter Eckersall called it "one of the greatest football games ever played," and a 1943 Esquire poll of readers and coaches chose this as the greatest game ever seen. Grantland Rice, whose crowd estimate was 120-140,000, called it "the most tremendous spectacle in the history of American sport."

Army came in at 7-1, having lost 7-0 to 9-1 Notre Dame in New York City, and Navy was 9-0, but Army was a slight favorite to win. Their first-string team was considered to be among the best in the nation, featuring 4 players who made first team All American lists 1925-1926, the stars being Hall of Fame halfbacks "Lighthorse" Harry Wilson and Red Cagle. But their depth was poor, as evidenced by the weak performance of the substitutes in an ugly 21-15 win over 1-8 Ursinus the week before the Navy game. Navy was the opposite. Other than their Hall of Famers, tackle Frank Wickhorst and halfback/punter/drop-kicker Tom Hamilton, both 60-minute men, Navy's starting team was relatively unimpressive. But Navy's 2nd string players were no drop-off from the starters, and that enabled them to substitute liberally. That's why they were generally stronger and faster than their opponents in the second half, rallying to beat Purdue, Princeton, Colgate, Michigan, and Georgetown.

Army's Hall of Fame head coach Biff Jones was in his first season at the helm, much like Navy's Bill Ingram. Navy's depth and 2nd half strength were Biff Jones' chief worries, so he used Notre Dame's "shock troops" strategy, starting his 2nd string in the opening quarter so that his superior first unit could stay strong the rest of the way. If the Ursinus game was any indication, that would mean weathering a storm early, then hopefully coming from behind to win over the last 3 quarters, and that is almost exactly how the game played out. Almost.

In the opening quarter, Navy halfback Jim Schuber threw a 37 yard pass to the Army 1, and fullback Henry Caldwell plunged over goal on the next play for a 7-0 lead. Later, Tom Hamilton hit Schuber for 23 yards, then Navy drove to the Army 28 yard line, when Biff Jones sent Army's first string in. This was the crucial drive of the game, when Army was supposed to stop the bleeding and take over, but Navy surprisingly put away their finesse and passing game, and bashed into the line play after play all the way to the end zone. It took 4 downs to pick up the initial first down, Caldwell carrying for 2 to get the fresh set of downs, and after another first down, it took another 4 downs for Schuber to go over goal for the 14-0 lead. But Navy had expended their energy on that slow march, and Army came roaring back.

Lighthorse Harry Wilson ran for 25 to the Navy 40, Red Cagle carried for 3 and 21, and then Wilson ran it in from 16 yards out and kicked the extra point. Navy's defense stiffened, but later in the quarter, they fumbled a punt at their own 25, and Army scooped it up and returned it for a touchdown, tying the score at 14-14. Navy drove to the Army 45 when the half ended. In the 3rd quarter, Army's Hall of Fame backs got rolling on a long drive again, capped by a 17 yard Wilson ramble and a 43 yard Red Cagle touchdown run, putting Army up 21-14.

Late in the quarter, 3 penalties on Army gave Navy the ball on their own 46, from where they launched the tying drive. They mixed runs and short passes to push it to the Army 31 when the 4th quarter began, then continued to run and pass to the Army 8, and on 4th and 3, Alan Shapley, substitute hero of the Georgetown game, scored a touchdown on a hidden ball play. Tom Hamilton kicked his 3rd extra point, and it was 21-21. On the ensuing drive, Army blew a chance to win. Lighthorse Harry Wilson returned the kickoff to the 27, and after Red Cagle was dropped for a loss, Wilson ran for 28 yards to the Navy 46. 3 runs picked up a first down, then a 6 yard pass on 4th down picked up another. 3 more runs took the ball to the Navy 16, then Lighthorse Harry Wilson, an excellent kicker who was 3 for 3 on extra points, missed a straight-ahead 25 yard field goal. Navy was off the hook, and the game ended 21-21.

Army outrushed Navy 235 yards to 155, but Navy made up the difference through the air, hitting 9 of 15 passes for 117 yards, Army 2 of 2 for 15. Navy had 12 first downs to Army's 10.

Lafayette 1926

1926 Lafayette football team

Lafayette had fielded good teams in the 1890s and early in the 20th century, but they faded away in the 1910s, before rising back up after the Great War, and they went 9-0 and were a strong contender for an MNC in 1921 under Hall of Fame coach Jock Sutherland.
He left to take over as head coach at his alma mater, Pittsburgh, in 1924, so Lafayette merely hired another Pitt graduate who had played for Pop Warner, Herb McCracken. McCracken beat Sutherland and Pitt 10-0 in 1924, 20-9 in 1925, costing them an MNC, and 17-7 this season, after which Sutherland refused to ever play Lafayette again. It didn't matter, because this season was the end of the line for Lafayette. They only once fielded a top 25 caliber team again, finishing #19 in the AP poll in 1940. McCracken helmed top 25 teams his first 3 seasons (7-2 in '24, 7-1-1 in '25, and 9-0 this season), but he ended up a mere 59-40-6 at Lafayette 1924-1935. Add in 3 years at Allegheny, and he was 75-48-7 overall. Not impressive, but like Navy's Bill Ingram, this one season got him in the Hall of Fame.

Lafayette had one nonconsensus All American (making 1 list), halfback George "Mike" Wilson, who is in the Hall of Fame thanks to scoring a nation-leading 20 touchdowns this season. However, Lafayette effectively played a 2 game schedule, and Wilson racked up those touchdowns against the 7 bad teams they played. And after his supporting cast graduated, Wilson totaled just 8 touchdowns over the next 2 seasons. Still, his career 28 touchdowns remained a school record for 56 years.

The other halfback, Frank Kirkleski, was the captain, and played pro football for 5 years. End Frank Grube holds the never-to-be-broken school record for longest drop-kick field goal at 48 yards. He went on to a 7 year career as a major league baseball catcher.

Lafayette's Season

1926 game at Lafayette's new football stadium

Lafayette's success post-WWI bought them a new 18,000 seat stadium that debuted this season (pictured above), and just in time too, because this was their last season of national relevance. As stated, they finished ranked #19 in 1940, going 9-0 that season, but they did not play a single team that held any value at all. Their "big" win came 19-0 over 1-7-1 Army. So I would not say that they were "nationally relevant" in even that season. Lafayette's wikipedia page says, "Between 1921 and 1948, Lafayette was considered one of the premiere college football programs." That is a joke, as AP polls 1936-1948 attest. And even 1921-1926, when they were top 25 caliber, they were considered a "mid major" type team due to their schedules, which were mostly made up of minor teams.

This season they essentially played a 2-game schedule, Pittsburgh and Washington & Jefferson. They played 2 other "mid major" type teams, 3-6 Rutgers and 1-8 Lehigh, and they played 5 minor teams, Muhlenberg, Schuykill, Dickinson, Albright, and Susquehanna. Many people today consider Lafayette 1926 to have been a minor team, so most computer rankings for that season do not even rank them. However, college football did not have official divisions in 1926, and as weak as their schedule was, Lafayette still accomplished about as much as Stanford, and more than Alabama.

Their first real game was the 17-7 win at Pittsburgh, their 3rd in a row over Pitt and former Lafayette coach Jock Sutherland. Herb McCracken was tough on his alma mater, and Pitt had finally had enough, ending the series after this game. Lafayette won the all-time series 5-3. Pitt's only other game against Lafayette since 1926 was against Louisiana-Lafayette in 1997.

Lafayette jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the 2nd quarter of the 1926 game, thanks largely to halfback Frank Kirkleski's 37 yard punt return to the Pitt 26. Kirkleski then threw a pass to end Frank Grube to the Pitt 8, and halfback Mike Wilson threw a touchdown pass from there. Tackle Bill Cothran kicked the extra point. Pitt answered with a touchdown pass of their own on their next drive, and it was 7-7 at the half. The score remained tied until the 4th quarter, when Lafayette drove to the Pitt 19, and Cothran kicked a field goal for a 10-7 lead. Pitt fumbled at their own 23 on their next drive, and Lafayette drove from there to a clinching touchdown by fullback Tuffy Guest, making the 17-7 final score. The key play on that drive was a 30 yard run by Mike Wilson to make up for a 15 yard penalty on Lafayette.

Pittsburgh finished 5-2-2, losing 14-0 to 7-2 Carnegie (who beat 9-1 Notre Dame 19-0) and tying 7-2-1 Georgetown and 7-1-1 Washington & Jefferson. Their big wins came over 5-2-2 Colgate and 6-4 West Virginia. I have Pitt ranked #13 for 1926.

Washington & Jefferson

Lafayette stomped on the 7 patsies they played by an average score of 42-3. Their only close game came in Philadelphia against their toughest opponent, Washington & Jefferson, in front of 20,000 spectators. Which, by the way, was not the attendance figure one would expect for a "premiere college football program."

Washington & Jefferson jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the opening quarter, and the score remained that way at the half. Lafayette owned the 2nd half, but they needed every minute of the clock to come all the way back. They scored 9 in the 3rd quarter to close the gap to 1 point, and then the game became a stalemate until the final minutes. Lafayette took over at their own 12 yard line with 2 minutes left. On 3rd down, they hit a long pass to the Washington & Jefferson 35 yard line. On the next play, they ran a reverse and lateral, and then Frank Kirkleski threw a short pass to substitute halfback Joe McGarvey, who had just come into the game with 3 minutes remaining, and McGarvey ran the ball all the way to the W&J 4 yard line. Fullback Tuffy Guest punched it into the end zone on 4th down in the game's final seconds for a dramatic 16-10 win.

Washington & Jefferson finished 7-1-1, tying 5-2-2 Pittsburgh. They defeated 7-2 Carnegie and 6-4 West Virginia, and all 7 of their wins were by more than a touchdown. I have them ranked #11 for 1926, but that is based on a hypothetical AP poll, and they could have been validly ranked as high as #6-10. One computer ranking has them #1 for 1926 (amusingly, it does not rank Lafayette for the season, discounting them as a "minor" team).

Notre Dame 1926

Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne training his players in 1926

Under legendary head coach Knute Rockne (pictured above training his players
in technique), Notre Dame had gone unbeaten and untied 3 times, 1919, 1920, and 1924, and they were the MNC for the last of those. I covered Knute Rockne in the 1919 and 1924 articles. None of the starters from the breakthrough 1924 team remained by 1926.

The one consensus All American was center Art "Bud" Boeringer. Guard John "Clipper" Smith would be consensus AA in 1927, when he was the captain. He was but 5' 9" and 164 pounds, but played big and is now in the Hall of Fame. Later he had a brief career as a coach, taking Duquesne to the Orange Bowl after the 1936 season, where they defeated Mississippi State. They finished #14 in the AP poll. Tackle Fred Miller, grandson of the founder of the Miller Brewing Company, is also in the Hall of Fame. He would be captain and a nonconsensus AA in 1928
.

The offensive star playing behind that talented line was halfback Christie Flanagan, a nonconsensus AA this year and next, but surprisingly not in the Hall of Fame. He led the team in rushing all 3 of his years 1925-1927, and led the team in passing this season as well. He rushed for 1822 yards in his career with a per carry average of 6.2. He was most famous for a 63 yard touchdown run that gave Notre Dame a 7-0 win over 7-1-1 Army this season, after which Grantland Rice dubbed him the "Lone Horseman." The public was done with the whole horsemen thing, though, and the name didn't stick. After Notre Dame won 20-7 at Minnesota, Gopher coach Doc Spears called Flanagan "one of the greatest backfield men you will ever see play football."

Fullback Harry O'Boyle had been one of the "shock troop" players, the second unit that started games to wear opponents out, in 1924. He could kick and pass as well as plunge into the line, but his greatest skill was as a blocking back. He played pro ball as a blocker for 4 years.

Notre Dame's Season

Notre Dame played the toughest schedule in the country this year: 5 top 25 caliber opponents, 3 of them top 10, and all of them on the road.

After a 77-0 warm-up win over Beloit, they traveled to Minnesota and won 20-7. Minnesota finished 5-3, losing twice to 7-1 Michigan, but they won the rest of their games by an average score of 51-3, and I have them ranked #18 for 1926. They could have been validly ranked as high as #11-15, or as low as #26-30.

Notre Dame returned home for a 28-10 win over 5-4 Penn State, then hit the road again for a game at much-improved Northwestern. That game was hard-fought, and remained 0-0 until midway through the final quarter. Notre Dame had twice been stopped near the Northwestern goal, and Northwestern had thrown an interception at the Notre Dame goal line and twice missed long field goal attempts
. Little quarterback Art Parisien (148 pounds) finally got things rolling for Notre Dame with a long pass to the Northwestern 14 yard line. On the next play, Parisien hit halfback Johnny "Butch" Niemiec with a pass for the touchdown, and Notre Dame won 6-0.

That was the only loss for Northwestern, who finished 7-1. Their schedule was weak, but they would have been rated in or near the top 10 of a 1926 AP poll, and I have them at #10.

Army

Notre Dame halfback Christie Flanagan carrying against Army in 1926

Notre Dame did away with Georgia Tech 12-0 and Indiana 26-0, and that brought them to their biggest game of the year, against Army in New York City.
72,000 showed up at Yankee Stadium to watch a defensive struggle in which both teams could move the ball, but neither could penetrate the opposing team's 30 yard line outside of one Notre Dame drive that died at the Army 21. Fullback Harry O'Boyle had a great game plunging into the line, giving his team a 207-127 yard rushing advantage over Army. Notre Dame gained 9 first downs to 7 for Army. The game was won 7-0 on one play, halfback Christie Flanagan's 63 yard off-tackle touchdown run in the 3rd quarter. Notre Dame fans waited politely for the cadets to parade out, then descended to the field and tore down the goalposts.

As covered above in the Navy summary, Army finished 7-1-1, tying 9-0-1 Navy in their finale. I have them ranked #4 for 1926.

Upset of the Year

1926 Notre Dame-Carnegie football game

After a 21-0 win over Drake, Notre Dame headed East to Pittsburgh for a date with Carnegie. Knute Rockne, however, headed West to Chicago for the Army-Navy game, ostensibly because Navy had just been put on Notre Dame's 1927 schedule (for the first time ever), and he wanted to scout them. But he also just couldn't miss the football event of the year. Unfortunately, while he was enjoying one of the greatest games played before WWII, his team was getting crushed 19-0 by Carnegie. In his season summary for the New York Times, Charles Crawley wrote, "This setback of a team regarded as invincible will go down in football history as one of the most inexplicable and costliest defeats in the fifty years' history of the game." ESPN has ranked it the 4th biggest upset of all time.

Carnegie coach Walter Steffen was a Chicago judge who commuted to Pittsburgh to coach the team for 18 years. He had played for Chicago's strong 1908 MNC contender, and was a 2-time consensus AA quarterback there and a Hall of Famer. Carnegie 1926 featured a pair of Hall of Famers, quarterback Howard Harpster and tackle Lloyd Yoder. Carnegie had beaten 6-4 West Virginia 20-0 and 5-2-2 Pittsburgh 14-0, but they had lost 17-6 to 7-1-1 Washington & Jefferson and 6-0 at 8-1 New York University, so they were coming into the game at 6-2. 8-0 Notre Dame had beaten them the previous 4 seasons by an aggregate score of 111-19, and they were a 5-1 favorite to win this game.

45,000 attended. Notre Dame's 2nd-string "shock troops," as usual, started and played through the opening quarter, and they actually had a better showing in this game than the 1st string unit. Carnegie did march to the Notre Dame 19, but they were stopped there. Usually when Notre Dame's regulars came in, the roof caved in on their opponents, but this time Carnegie came crashing down on them with a backfield that played like All Americans. Quarterback Howard Harpster threw a long pass to halfback Bill Donohoe that carried to the Notre Dame 18, fullback C. J. Letzelter plunged into the line for 5, and Donohoe carried it in from there. Notre Dame's next punt was blocked at their own 12, setting up another touchdown. Donohoe threw a pass, and Letzelter barreled into the line twice for the score, and it was 13-0.

Notre Dame turnovers set up 2 long Harpster drop-kick field goals in the 2nd half, from 42 and 34 yards out, and that made the 19-0 final score. Notre Dame drove to within a yard of the Carnegie end zone in the 4th quarter, but 4 runs into the line were halted, keeping them off the scoreboard. A final Harpster field goal try was blocked, and that was that. Carnegie thoroughly outplayed Notre Dame, gaining 11 first downs to 6. Donohoe was the offensive star, Letzelter had a great day plunging into the line, and Harpster vastly outpunted his Notre Dame counterparts.

With their big win and 7-2 finish, Carnegie would have been rated #13-20 in a final AP poll, but applying logic to the proceedings puts them at #12. Carnegie was off Notre Dame's schedule the next season, but as though to prove that this year's result was more than just a fluke, Howard Harpster would lead his team to a 27-7 win at Notre Dame in 1928. He would then beat Notre Dame 7-0 in 1933 as Carnegie's head coach. Carnegie beat Notre Dame 4 times in their history, the last win coming in 1937.

Southern Cal

Notre Dame had no time to dwell on their shocking loss. Like Navy, they played in 2 of the biggest games of the season, and the next week they were off to Los Angeles for the inaugural game of their still-running series with Southern Cal. The game was held December 4th, when almost every team's season was done, and that enabled everyone who was anyone in the West to attend what was then one of the most highly anticipated games in West Coast football history. Among the 76,500 attendees were the following head coaches: Yale's Tad Jones, Stanford's Pop Warner, Oregon's John McEwan, Cal's Nibs Price, St. Mary's Slip Madigan, Washington State's Babe Hollingberry, Santa Clara's Adam Walsh, Washington's Enoch Bagshaw, and Idaho's Charles Erb. That's half a dozen Hall of Famers right there, and there were plenty more on the field.

In addition to Notre Dame's Hall of Famers, Southern Cal was helmed by Hall of Fame head coach Howard Jones, and their star players were consensus AA and Hall of Fame halfback Mort Kaer and Hall of Fame quarterback/halfback Morley Drury (consensus AA 1927). Like Notre Dame, USC came into the game at 8-1, having lost 13-12 to 10-0 Stanford because they had missed both their extra point tries. Their 8 wins had all come by more than a touchdown, including 16-7 over 6-1 Washington State and 17-7 over 7-1 Oregon State in Portland. Notre Dame was initially a 10 point favorite, but mountains of cash came down on USC, and by the time gameday arrived, bookies had the teams even.

Notre Dame forewent the "shock troops" gameplan this time, starting mostly 1st-stringers, an exception being Christie Flanagan, who came in as usual in the 2nd quarter. The first quarter was scoreless, but Notre Dame got rolling at the end of it, launching a 74 yard march that culminated in an early 2nd quarter touchdown, quarterback Chuck "Red" Riley crossing goal on a long looping end run. Fullback Harry O'Boyle kicked the extra point, which USC deflected, but it went just over the crossbar to make it 7-0. USC came right back, Mort Kaer carrying for 33 yards, then tossing a 38 yard pass to set up his own touchdown plunge. But Notre Dame deflected the extra point attempt, which fell just under the crossbar, so they still led 7-6 at half.

Mort Kaer was knocked out of the game in the 3rd quarter, but Trojan quarterback Don Williams picked up the slack. He called for the ball and got it 9 straight times, plowing straight into the line for 57 yards. The Trojan line knocked Notre Dame off the ball and pushed them back all the way to their goal, and Williams went over on carry #9 early in the 4th quarter. Morley Drury, normally a good kicker, missed the critical extra point, but USC led 12-7. Notre Dame halfback Christie Flanagan was knocked out of the game during USC's touchdown drive, and Johnny Niemiec, who had started the game, came back in to replace him.

With about 6 minutes left in the game, Notre Dame got a break when USC returned a punt to the Notre Dame 40, only to fumble the ball away at the 42. At this point, quarterback Art Parisien, the passing specialist, was sent into the game. He had been the hero of the Northwestern game October 23rd, winning it 6-0 with a touchdown pass to Niemiec, but Parisien's ribs had been broken late in that game, and he had not played since. Parisien started with a short run, then hit Johnny Niemiec for 35 yards to the USC 20. After 2 more runs lost a few yards, Parisien hit Niemiec again for a 23 yard touchdown pass. The extra point was blocked, but Notre Dame still won by the margin of their earlier extra point, 13-12.

USC had 192 yards of offense, most of it on the ground, and Notre Dame had 162, 132 of it through the air. Each team had 10 first downs. You can see different film clips of the game here and here. USC lost both of their 2 biggest games this season 13-12 by missing both extra points, which is some extremely bad luck, as they hit over 80% of their extra points in their 8 wins. Southern Cal would have been ranked in the top 10 of an AP poll this season, and I have them at #8. In their gameday article, the New York Times noted that Notre Dame "headed for home tonight with the mythical title of second place national champion in the hip pocket of its new-fangled silk pants." So it was a foregone conclusion that Navy was #1, Notre Dame #2. But not to retroactive selectors...

Stanford 1926

Stanford coach Pop WarnerHall of Fame coach Pop Warner had already won national championships, as I selected them at least, at Carlisle and Pittsburgh, and this season is the only one for which Stanford claims an MNC. He arrived at Stanford in 1924, and in year one he led them to the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 1901 season, when they had played in the first Tournament of Roses game. He went 71-17-8 at Stanford 1924-1932, winning 3 Pacific Coast Conference titles and going 1-1-1 in Rose Bowls. For his career, Pop Warner was 319-106-32 at 6 schools, setting a record for coaching wins that was later broken by Paul "Bear" Bryant and is now held by Joe Paterno.

The players were little-heralded. End Ted Shipkey was a nonconsensus All American, and had been in 1925 as well. Sophomore guard Don Robesky would be a consensus AA in 1928. Tackle/fullback Leo Harris would later become Oregon's first athletic director, serving 1947-1967. He got Autzen Stadium built, and struck a "handshake deal" with Walt Disney in 1947 for the use of Donald Duck as Oregon mascot. Oregon's stadium sits on Leo Harris Parkway today, and Harris is in the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame.

Most of Stanford's opponents, including their first 6, were weak or minor teams, and Stanford did away with them easily enough outside of one home game against San Francisco's Olympic Athletic Club. Olympic had gone 11-0 in 1925, 5-0 against college teams, including a 9-0 win over Stanford. However, those players did not return this season, and they fell to 0-5-1. Therefore, it was a very weak performance on Stanford's part to only beat them 7-3. Those were the only points Oly scored in 1926. Santa Clara, whom Stanford beat 33-14, defeated Olympic 14-0.

Stanford did not play a major college opponent until game 6, when they traveled to 2-4-1 Oregon and won 29-12. Their next game was at then-unbeaten Southern Cal for the PCC championship before 75,000 fans.

Stanford at Southern Cal

Just as they would in their finale against Notre Dame, Southern Cal lost to Stanford 13-12 for want of an extra point. USC Hall of Famer Morley Drury, a good kicker, was out of this game with an injured knee, and that may have been the difference. USC opened the scoring with a 60 yard drive, Mort Kaer throwing a 30 yard pass to set up his own touchdown. Stanford end Dick Hyland blocked the extra point, so it was 6-0. Later, Stanford fullback Clifford "Biff" Hoffman fumbled, and USC's Lloyd Thomas caught the ball in the air and returned it 50 yards for another touchdown. But halfback Manuel Laraneta missed the fateful extra point, leaving the score 12-0.

Stanford answered with a touchdown drive built on Biff Hoffman and George Bogue runs, capped by a Hoffman touchdown just before halftime. Stanford missed the extra point, so it was 12-6 at half. In the 3rd quarter, Bogue missed a 38 yard field goal, but minutes later Biff Hoffman hit Dick Hyland for a 50 yard touchdown pass. Bogue kicked the extra point, and Stanford won by that margin. USC had a golden opportunity when they recovered a fumble at the Stanford 25 in the 4th quarter, but the Trojans threw an interception on the next play. USC outgained Stanford 237-179 and they had 14 first downs to 7 for Stanford, but they were unable to translate their advantage to points. As noted in the Notre Dame summary above, USC finished 8-2 and I have them at #8 for 1926.

Stanford's only other notable opponent in the regular season was 8-2 Washington, whom they beat 29-10 at home. Washington lost to 6-1 Washington State, but they notched a big win for the West Coast this season, beating 6-2 Nebraska 10-6 in Seattle. The Huskies would have been ranked #20-25 in a final AP poll for 1926, and I have them at #24.

Stanford wrapped up their regular season the next week with a 41-6 win at 3-6 California, leaving 6 weeks until their Rose Bowl bout with Alabama.

The Rose Bowl

1927 Rose Bowl, Stanford vs. Alabama

Stanford was 10-0, Alabama 9-0 coming into this game. Alabama had gone 10-0 and shared an MNC in 1925, capping the season with a 20-19 win over 10-1-1 Washington in the Rose Bowl, and they had won 20 straight games going back to 1924. Pop Warner attended Alabama's 33-6 win over Georgia November 25th in Birmingham to scout his bowl opponent, as Stanford's season had ended 5 days prior.

Stanford advancing against Alabama in the 1927 Rose BowlA Rose Bowl record 57,000 fans watched Stanford thoroughly dominate the game until the last
minutes. In the opening quarter, fullback Biff Hoffman hit end Ted Shipkey for 40 yards, setting up a straight-on 18 yard field goal attempt for quarterback George Bogue, a strong kicker, but he missed. Late in the quarter, Stanford drove 63 yards for a touchdown, Bogue hitting Ed Walker with a pass for the final 20 yards. Bogue kicked the extra point, and it was 7-0, as it would remain until late in the 4th quarter. With just a couple minutes to play, Stanford was punting from their own 47 yard line, and Alabama blocked the punt. Stanford's punter fell on the ball at his own 14, and Alabama took possession there. It took them 5 plays to run it over goal, substitute back Jimmy Johnson scoring the touchdown, and the extra point deadlocked the game at 7-7 in the final minute of play. This was the last tie game in Rose Bowl history.

Stanford outgained Alabama 311 yards to 92, and in fact they outgained Alabama's total offense with both their rushing yards (134) and passing (177).

Alabama 1926

1926 Alabama football team

Alabama went 10-0 and shared the mythical national championship in 1925, and I covered their Hall of Fame coach, Wallace Wade, in that article. Most of the starters from Alabama's breakthrough 1925 team did not return in 1926, so their performance this season was rather amazing. Of the players I listed in the 1925 article, only tackle Claude Perry and end Hoyt "Wu" Winslett returned. Winslett was the offensive star this season, and was a nonconsensus All American. He took over the passing duties, tossing 7 touchdowns on the season and scoring another 4 himself.

5 players made the 11-member all-conference team: Winslett, center Gordon "Sherlock" Holmes, captain and back Emile "Red" Barnes,
tackle Fred Pickhard, and back Herschel Caldwell. Barnes led the team with 7 touchdowns. Pickhard had a knack for wrecking punts, blocking one that beat Sewanee 2-0, and 2 that were returned for touchdowns against LSU. Caldwell handled the kicking.

Caldwell went on to become an assistant coach at Duke for 42 seasons 1930-1971 (Wallace Wade took over as head coach in 1931). His wife Anita attended every Duke home game for 77 years 1933-2010. She died in 2011 at 103 years of age.

Alabama's Season

Alabama played an incredibly weak schedule, but they properly smashed all but one of their foes in the regular season. Their one big game was at Vanderbilt, where Wallace Wade had previously been an assistant coach. Vandy had some early success with a 60 yard pass, but the drive ended in a blocked field goal try. Red Brown ran for 58 yards to the Vandy 8, and Wu Winslett threw a touchdown pass to Herschel Caldwell for a 7-0 lead. Then Vanderbilt fumbled at midfield, and Alabama drove for another touchdown, Barnes carrying it in from 13 yards out, and it was 13-0 in the opening quarter. In the 4th quarter, Vanderbilt drove 80 yards for a touchdown in just 4 plays to make it 13-7, but Alabama answered on their next drive. They moved to the Vandy 36 through a series of rushing plays, then Winslett threw another touchdown pass to Caldwell from there to finalize the scoring at 19-7.

That was Vanderbilt's only loss. They finished 8-1, but they repeatedly struggled against weak opponents, and the only good team they beat was 8-1 Tennessee. Tennessee also struggled against weak opponents, and they did not beat any good teams. Vanderbilt might have been ranked anywhere between #18 and #30 (i.e. unranked) had there been an AP poll in 1926 (Charles Crowley did not rank them in his top 25 for the New York Times-- see end of this article). I have them at #26 for 1926, just outside the top 25. This was Alabama's first-ever win at Vanderbilt.

Alabama's one close game of the regular season came in Birmingham against one of the worst teams on their schedule, 2-6 Sewanee. This game was pulled out in the final minutes, when Fred Pickhard blocked a punt for a safety and a slim 2-0 win. Alabama had been stopped at the Sewanee 9 and 1 yard lines earlier in the game-- in fact, Alabama took 4 cracks at the end zone from the 1. Sewanee's only threat came on a drive to the Alabama 6, but a 15 yard penalty ended it. This was an inexplicably awful performance, making Alabama's lackluster 14-0 win over 2-6-1 Kentucky 2 weeks later in Birmingham look terrific in comparison.

The rest of Alabama's games were routs. They grabbed 7 interceptions in a 26-7 win over 5-4 Mississippi State in Meridian, Mississippi, and they allowed just 2 first downs in a 21-0 win at 4-5 Georgia Tech.

At 9-0, Alabama carried a 20 game winning streak into their Rose Bowl tilt with 10-0 Stanford. That game is summarized above.

Selecting the 1926 Mythical National Champion

Here are our 5 contenders-- click on the names to see their full schedules at the College Football Data Warehouse. The opponent rankings come from my 1926 top 25, which is based on a hypothetical post-bowl AP poll (within logical reason of course).

Navy 9-0-1

(#26-38) Purdue (5-2-1)      17-13
(#41-50) Princeton (5-1-1)  27-13
#15 Colgate (5-2-2)             13-7
#2 Michigan (7-1)                 10-0
#14 Georgetown (7-2-1)      10-7
[Chicago] #4 Army (7-1-1)  21-21
Lafayette 9-0

at #13 Pittsburgh (5-2-2)         17-7
[Philadelphia] #11 Washington & Jefferson (7-1-1)   16-10
Notre Dame 9-1

at #18 Minnesota (5-3)      20-7
at #10 Northwestern (7-1)   6-0
[NYC] #4 Army (7-1-1)         7-0
at #12 Carnegie (7-2)         0-19
at #8 Southern Cal (8-2)   13-12

Stanford 10-0-1

Olympic Athletic Club (0-5-1)  7-3
at #8 Southern Cal (8-2)       13-12
#24 Washington (8-2)           29-10

Rose Bowl
#7 Alabama (9-0-1)                7-7
Alabama 9-0-1

at #26 Vanderbilt (8-1)           19-7
[Birmingham] Sewanee (2-6)  2-0

Rose Bowl
#6 Stanford (10-0-1)                7-7

Navy defeated their weak opponents (non-top 50) by an average score of 35-7, Lafayette defeated theirs 42-3, Notre Dame 33-2, Stanford 27-6, and Alabama 28-2.

As I said at the outset, and in my 1921 article about that year's teams, you could legitimately select all 5 of this year's contenders to share the mythical national championship, but I think that is just too many, even for a mythical title. So it's time to start splitting hairs.

Notre Dame obviously had the worst record of the contenders, but they also played the toughest schedule. Only Navy's schedule was close, but Notre Dame played all 5 of their top opponents on the road (one neutral site), whereas Navy played only 2 of their 6 top opponents on the road (one neutral site). Notre Dame also beat the team that tied Navy. However, Notre Dame's problem here isn't just that they dropped a game-- they were crushed in that game 19-0.

It is difficult to compare Notre Dame to the other 3 contenders, because Notre Dame played a schedule that was so much tougher. But Navy played a schedule that was in the same range as Notre Dame's, and they had the better record. Notre Dame's schedule was tougher than Navy's, but the nature of Notre Dame's loss, 19-0, is enough to eliminate them in comparison to Navy. Notre Dame may well have been the best team this season, but they blew it, and did so in ugly fashion.

Four Contenders

So we're down to 4 teams, and all four schools claim national championships for this season (Notre Dame does not). Navy easily played the toughest schedule of the 4, but they took an "upset" tie against Army in their finale. Stanford and Alabama also took a tie in their finale, but it was against each other, and no one else upset either team, which is why retroactive selectors like to share the 1926 MNC between the two. But Navy was 5-0-1 against good teams, Stanford 2-0-1, and Alabama 1-0-1. Even if you discount their tie against each other, Stanford and Alabama collected fewer big wins put together than Navy accomplished, and Stanford and Alabama's wins over good teams average out to just 1.5, less than a third of the amount Navy collected.

Lafayette is disregarded out of hand by retroactive selectors, and they may seem like a good candidate for eliminating next, since they played a schedule largely composed of minor teams, but really, they didn't play a much weaker schedule than did Stanford or Alabama, if at all. They defeated 2 strong opponents, the same number Stanford defeated and one more than Alabama did. And unlike Stanford and Alabama, Lafayette did not have any trouble dispatching their weak opponents. The closest any "unranked" team got to Lafayette was 23 points, and 5 unranked teams came closer than that to Stanford, 4 to Alabama. More importantly, Stanford and Alabama each had awful performances against very bad teams, Stanford 7-3 over 0-5-1 Olympic AC and Alabama 2-0 over 2-6 Sewanee.

In fact, in a season for which we have to split hairs to select an MNC, those 2 awful performances look to me like one of the fattest hairs to split. Neither Lafayette nor Navy had a performance close to as poor, giving both a leg up on Stanford and Alabama. Another "fat hair" is biggest wins. Navy beat 7-1 Michigan 10-0, Lafayette beat 7-1-1 Washington & Jefferson 16-10, and Stanford won at 8-2 Southern Cal 13-12. Alabama did not have a comparable win. They did give 8-1 Vanderbilt their only loss, and impressively, 19-7 on the road, but Vanderbilt was not in the same class as Michigan, Washington & Jefferson, or Southern Cal, so that gives Navy and Lafayette 2 legs up on Alabama. However, some might question whether 7-1-1 Washington & Jefferson was really a better opponent than 8-1 Vanderbilt, so let's look at this issue in detail.

Vanderbilt and the South

Vanderbilt lost only to Alabama, and they beat 8-1 Tennessee 20-3, so in that regard they may appear to have been a powerful team. But Tennessee didn't beat anyone, and had 3 close wins over weak opponents. Vanderbilt themselves also had 3 close wins over weak opponents: 7-0 over 5-4 Texas in Dallas, 14-13 over 5-4 Georgia, and 13-7 at 4-5 Georgia Tech. The only good team they beat was Tennessee, and Tennessee's value as an opponent is questionable.

The South in general was, as usual, rather weak this season. The region did not record a single significant intersectional win against a power region, their big accomplishments being a pair of ties: Alabama's tie with Stanford in the Rose Bowl and 3-5-1 Tulane tying 5-1-2 Missouri in Columbia. In significant games, the South was 0-1-1 against the Missouri Valley, 0-0-1 against the West Coast, 0-1 against the East (0-6 in all games), and 0-5 against the Great Lakes (2-6 in all games, the wins coming over Loyola-Chicago and 3-6-1 Detroit). That left them 0-7-2 against those regions in significant games, 2-13-2 overall. The significant losses were as follows:

Washington & Jefferson and the East

Washington & Jefferson may have been 7-1-1 and Vanderbilt 8-1, but W&J was a more impressive team. Their tie came at 5-2-2 Pittsburgh, a top 25 caliber team that was better than anyone Vanderbilt played aside from Alabama. W&J defeated 7-2 Carnegie 17-6 on the road, and Carnegie was of course the team that stomped Notre Dame 19-0. All 7 of W&J's wins were by a touchdown or more, whereas Vanderbilt, again, had 3 close wins over weak opponents. W&J would likely have been rated about #15 in an AP poll for 1926, and I have them at #11, but they could viably be ranked as high as #6-10.

The East in general was on the verge of a sharp decline that would begin in 1927 and continue through the 1930s, but the region was still strong this season, beating the Great Lakes 5-4 in significant games (11-4 in all games), and as stated above, they were 1-0 against the South (6-0 in all games).

Eliminating Alabama

So yeah, Navy and Lafayette are 2 legs up on Alabama, Stanford 1. And then there is the issue of Alabama's one big accomplishment, their Rose Bowl tie with Stanford. Stanford outgained Alabama 311 yards to 92, and Alabama had no chance at all to win that game. The blocked punt in the final minutes enabled them to get the tie, but that was their only scoring chance, meaning that they were never in position to do anything more than tie. Props to Alabama for scrapping out the tie, but Stanford was clearly the better team that day. And that's 3 legs up for Navy and Lafayette, 2 for Stanford, and that's more than enough to eliminate Alabama.

If Stanford were the only other contender, then it would make sense for Alabama to share the MNC with them, since they went 9-0-1 and tied Stanford. But 4 teams is just too many to split the MNC amongst-- it's already an imaginary title, but 4 teams sharing it would make it completely meaningless. And Alabama is clearly the weakest of the 4. Their only win of merit came over a team that was #21-25 team at best (I have them #26), they had the worst performance of any of the contenders (2-0 over 2-6 Sewanee), and they were badly dominated in the Rose Bowl despite managing the tie.

Three Contenders

We're down to 3 contenders, and I've twice selected 3 MNC teams for a season (1916 and 1922), but I just can't call it good here, because Stanford does not quite fit. This is unfortunate, because it's the only season for which Stanford claims an MNC, but I'm making these selections on the basis of logic, not sentiment. With Alabama out of the picture, Stanford's season ended with an upset tie against a very good team, just like Navy, but Stanford's problem is Lafayette. Lafayette did not take an upset, and while Navy played a far tougher schedule than Lafayette did, making up for that difference, Stanford did not. Lafayette was 2-0 against top 25 caliber teams, Stanford 2-0-1, and I just can't see why Stanford should share a title with them, especially since Lafayette performed better too. Call Stanford's 7-3 win over 0-5-1 Olympic AC the last straw.

Frankly, Stanford choked in the Rose Bowl. Win that game, as they should have, and they are clearly deserving of #1 for 1926. But taking the tie leaves them short of even sharing the MNC here.

Two Contenders

For the similar 1921 race, I ended up selecting just one MNC (Iowa). But that will not be the case for 1926. Navy took an upset tie and Lafayette did not, but Navy played 6 good teams and Lafayette played 2, and that is a huge difference. These 2 teams should share the title. As for who should be #1, I would take Navy due to their schedule, their 10-0 win over MNC-caliber Michigan (7-1), and the fact that Army, who tied Navy, was better than any team Lafayette played, and a bitter rival to boot. But I think either would be a valid choice for #1. The reason is this-- Purdue, Colgate, and Georgetown were all good teams, but none of them were remotely top 10, and yet Navy barely beat each one of them at home. Those are not at all ideal performances for a #1 team. Lafayette won all their games by more than a touchdown except against Washington & Jefferson, who could be legitimately rated #6-10.

Awards Ceremony

1926 #1: 9-0-1 Navy and/or 9-0 Lafayette
National Co-champion: Navy or Lafayette if the other one is alone at #1
Contenders: 10-0-1 Stanford, 9-0-1 Alabama, 9-1 Notre Dame

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.

In the case of Navy and the 1926 season, once again we see that the writers of the time were correct, and the retroactive selectors are wrong. This has repeatedly been the case. And is this really a surprise? Think about this-- the AP poll may not always be right about who should be #1, but how many times in its history, aside from when it didn't count bowl games and its #1 team lost, has the AP poll's #1 team been a team that does not even deserve a share of a national championship for that season? It has only happened twice-- in 1978 and 1984. And yet retroactive selectors seem to think that it would have happened every other year prior to 1936, when the AP poll actually launched.

Football writers can certainly be wrong, but in the case of Dartmouth in 1925 and Navy this season, they were not wrong. Retroactive selectors would do themselves a favor by starting with the teams that writers at the time thought were the best.

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).

The College Football Researchers Association, Billingsley's computer, and Poling's math formula all selected Alabama to stand alone
. Grade: 0.4

The Dickinson and Sagarin ELO-Chess systems selected Stanford to stand alone. Grade: 1.3

Helms and the National Championship Foundation selected Alabama and Stanford to share the title. Grade: 2.9

The Boand and Houlgate systems selected Navy. Grade: 5.0


Parke Davis selected Lafayette. Grade: 5.0

Sagarin's original recipe system selected Michigan. Grade: 0.0

Alabama as the lone national champion makes no sense. They were tied by 10-0-1 Stanford and were dominated badly in that game, yet Stanford doesn't deserve a share? And Alabama defeated just one good team, fewer than any of the contenders. Computer systems can feel no shame when spitting out such garbage, but the College Football Researchers Association should be embarrassed.

I hate to reward Parke Davis for his baldly homer pick of Lafayette, but what can I do? It's a valid choice.

Grade point averages 1919-1926
(the Dickinson and Poling systems will join the list when they've picked champions for at least half as many years as the others):

1) Boand (math system) 3.96
2) Sagarin-ELO (math) 3.73
3) Helms
3.69
4) Houlgate (math) 3.45
5) National Championship Foundation 3.41
6) College Football Researchers Association3.34
7) Parke Davis 3.20
8) Sagarin (math)3.05
9) Billingsley (math) 2.08

How the systems that selected champions for 1901-1918 did:

1) Houlgate (math system) 4.5
2) Helms 4.3
3) Parke Davis 4.2
4) National Championship Foundation 3.7
5) Billingsley (math) 3.6

Fixing Charles Crowley's 1926 Top 25

Charles Crowley was a Notre Dame grad, Columbia's coach, and a football writer for the New York Times. In his summary of the season for the Times in late November, he named Navy the mythical national champion, and ranked the rest of the nation's teams behind them in 7 different groups. His top 25 would look like this:

1) Navy 9-0-1
2) Lafayette 9-0
Stanford  10-0 (this was prior to their Rose Bowl tie with Alabama)
Alabama 9-0
Notre Dame 8-1 (this was before their win over Southern Cal)
Army 7-1-1
Northwestern 7-1
8) Southern Cal 8-1 (lost to Notre Dame the next week)
Colgate 5-2-2
Brown 9-0-1
Georgetown 7-2-1
Michigan 7-1
13) Boston College 6-0-2
Carnegie 7-2
Minnesota 5-3
Missouri 5-1-2
Nebraska 6-2
New York 8-1
Ohio State 7-1
Oklahoma 5-2-1
Oklahoma State 3-4-1
Southern Methodist 8-0-1
St. Mary's (California) 9-0-1
Syracuse 7-2-1
25) Washington & Jefferson 7-1-1
Columbia 6-3
Cornell 6-1-1
Haskell 12-0-1
Illinois 6-2
Oregon 2-4-1
Oregon State 7-1
Pennsylvania 7-1-1
Pittsburgh 5-2-2
Princeton 5-1-1
Washington 8-2
Washington State 6-1

If I do a quick and basic logical fixing of his top 25, we can get a decent idea of what a fixed AP top 25 for 1926 might have looked like. The issues that need fixing:
Here's the top 25 we end up with (using the actual final records here):

1) Navy 9-0-1
2) Notre Dame 9-1
Lafayette 9-0
Stanford 10-0-1
Alabama 9-0-1
6) Army 7-1-1
7) Michigan 7-1
Southern Cal 8-2
9) Northwestern 7-1
10) Washington & Jefferson 7-1-1
11) Carnegie 7-2
12) Pittsburgh 5-2-2
13) Georgetown 7-2-1
Brown 9-0-1
Colgate 5-2-2
16) Syracuse 7-2-1
Ohio State 7-1
Minnesota 5-3
19) Washington State 6-1
20) Washington 8-2
21) Illinois 6-2
22) St. Mary's (California) 9-0-1
Southern Methodist 8-0-1
New York 8-1
25) Pennsylvania 7-1-1

I do think that is pretty close to what a national top 25 would have looked like had there been an AP poll in 1926. Notre Dame would have been rated #2 alone though, and Illinois would have been rated much higher (though he is correct that they should not have been highly rated, and I have them at #19 for 1926).

Against this top 25, here is how our 1926 MNC contenders did:

Navy beat #13, #7, #13, 1 near-rated team, and they were tied by #6.
Notre Dame beat #16, #9, #6, #7, and they lost to #11.
Lafayette defeated #10 and #12.
Stanford defeated #7 and #20, and they were tied by #2.
Alabama was tied by #2.


National Champions
1926 Top 25
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