College Football National Championship
1927's story of the year was the suspension of Yale's star
halfback, Bruce Caldwell. He had led them to a 5-1 start, including
huge wins over Army (finished 9-1) and Dartmouth (7-1), but 4 days
before Yale's game with 6-0 Princeton, a Providence newspaper
reported that he had played in 2 games for Brown's freshman team in
1923, and according to Yale's eligibility rules, that meant that he was
not eligible to play in 1927. After a brief investigation, Yale withdrew him from the team, despite
protests from across the nation. Even Princeton and Harvard, Yale's
last 2 opponents, requested that he be allowed to play out the season,
but Yale was a stickler for rules. Despite the loss of Caldwell, Yale
rallied in the 4th quarter to beat Princeton 14-6 (pictured above
is Yale quarterback Johnny Hoben throwing a completed pass in that
game), then they beat Harvard 14-0 to finish the season 7-1.
This is the last year for which Yale claims a mythical national
championship, but the consensus retroactive choice for 1927 MNC is
7-0-1 Illinois, who took an early upset tie against 4-3-1 Iowa State. Here
is how the "major selectors" listed in the NCAA
Records Book, all selecting retroactively, see the 1927 college
championship (omitting math/computer
ratings, which are not generally accepted as MNCs):
7-0-1 Illinois: Helms, National Championship Foundation, Parke Davis
7-1 Yale: CFB Researchers
The best-publicized math formula rating of the time, Dickinson,
had Illinois #1, and 1927 was also the debut season for Deke Houlgate's
math formula system, which had 7-1-1 Notre Dame #1 (he also did
retroactive ratings for 1885-1926).
I don't consider 7-1-1 Notre Dame to be an MNC contender, but in
addition to 7-0-1 Illinois and 7-1 Yale, I will be looking at the
following 3 teams for the 1927 MNC:
9-1 Georgia, 7-0-1 Texas A&M, and 10-0 Centenary. Georgia was
beaten 12-0 by 8-1-1 Georgia Tech in their finale, losing the Southern
Conference title, but they were the team that beat Yale, and they had
just 1 loss, so that makes them a contender worth looking at. Texas
A&M was tied by 4-3-2 Texas Christian on the road, but they
defeated 8-1 Arkansas 40-6, 7-2 Southern Methodist 39-13, and 6-2-1
Texas 28-7, and the SWC had its best season to this point. Centenary
was a small Shreveport college that went 4-0 against SWC teams,
including wins over 7-2 SMU and 4-3-2 TCU, the team that tied Texas
All rankings in the following article, except as noted, come from my 1927 top 25, which is based on a hypothetical post-bowl AP poll (within logical reason of course).
Other Great Teams in 19271927 was deep in great teams. As usual, 7-1-1 Notre
Dame had one of the best teams of the season, but they were crushed by
9-1 Army 18-0, and Army lost at Yale 14-10. Notre Dame was also tied by
6-0-2 Minnesota, who took an upset tie at 3-4-1 Indiana. Pittsburgh
finished the regular season 8-0-1, tying 7-0-2 Washington &
Jefferson, and there was some debate as to whether Pitt or Yale was the
mythical Eastern champion, but Pitt lost to 8-2-1 Stanford by the slim
margin of 7-6 in the Rose Bowl, leaving them 8-1-1. 7-1 Dartmouth and
6-1 Princeton both lost to Yale, but both also won the rest of their
games in routs.
8-1-1 Georgia Tech was stomped at Notre Dame
26-7, and they were tied by 8-1-2 Vanderbilt, but they won the Southern
Conference when they finished their season with that huge win over 9-1
Georgia. 8-0-1 Tennessee was also tied by Vanderbilt, and they shared
the Southern Conference title with Georgia Tech, though they did not
defeat a good team. Vanderbilt took their loss to 6-2-1 Texas.
Southern Cal was tied by 8-2-1 Stanford, but like 8-1-1 Pittsburgh,
they were knocked out of the MNC race by a 7-6 loss, USC's coming to
Notre Dame at Chicago's Soldier Field on November 26th. Southern Cal
had lost to Notre Dame 13-12 in 1926 by missing both extra points, and
they lost this one on a missed extra point and a controversial call
that denied them what had looked to be a safety. It was 1927's
game of the year, with an estimated 117,000 fans in the stands (and
some estimates going over 120,000). It was
a big year for college football attendance in general, as a record 30
million fans attended games nationwide.
Hypothetical AP Poll for 1927
historian Bob Kirlin thinks 7-0-1 Illinois
would have been voted #1 in a final regular season AP poll, but I
disagree. I think it would have been 7-1 Yale. Still, it is possible
that Illinois would have won the vote, as they did have a better
straight record than did Yale. 8-0-1 Pittsburgh did too, and they would
have had a very small chance of finishing the regular season #1, but
even if they did, they would have fallen in a post-bowl poll due to
their Rose Bowl loss. Texas A&M was 8-0-1, but they probably would not have
been ranked in the top 10.
I have no idea what Kirlin based his opinion on, as I just haven't
seen 1927 writers touting Illinois as the season's "national champion."
But there was no consensus among national writers for any
team as national champion of 1927. Most writers I have seen who
addressed the issue felt that there was no clear national champion
in 1927. But here is why I think Yale would have been voted #1 in a
final post-bowl AP poll for the 1927 season...
Yale had 2 consensus All Americans, and only Southern Cal had as
many. Illinois had none. Yale had 5 players who made a first-team AA
list, and Illinois had 3. Army, who also had 3, was 9-1 and beat
7-1-1 Notre Dame 18-0. They lost
only to Yale, and I don't think Illinois would have even been
ranked #2 in a final 1927 AP poll-- I think it would have been Yale #1,
Illinois had only one big win on the season, beating 6-2
Michigan 14-0. It was their only victory over a winning major opponent.
However, in addition to beating 9-1 Army, Yale defeated 7-1 Dartmouth
and 6-1 Princeton,
both of whom won all the rest of their games by more than a touchdown.
And while Illinois had a better straight record than Yale did, their
tie came to a weak 4-3-1 Iowa State team, whereas Yale's loss came
to 9-1 Georgia.
And then there's Yale halfback Bruce Caldwell's eligibility
controversy. That was national news, prompting sports editors coast to
coast to weigh in on whether he should have been suspended from the
team or not (most thought not). When Yale defeated previously unbeaten
Princeton without him, it was seen as a tremendous heroic effort.
Meanwhile, Illinois' season was effectively over after October, as they
spent the the month of November yawning past a trio of 4-4 teams by an
average score of 14-2. Although I've already granted that it's possible
that Illinois would have been voted #1, frankly, it seems extremely unlikely to me that they would have been.
Yale had been
the 20th century's first "team of the decade," winning mythical
championships in 1902, 1905, 1906, 1907, and 1909, but they fell back a bit after that until Hall of Fame coach Tad Jones, the quarterback for 3 of those teams 1905-1907, took over the helm in 1920. Jones went 57-15-4 as head coach at Yale, and they were a strong MNC contender at 8-0 in 1923.
They were 6-0-2 and 5-2-1 the next 2 seasons, but then they fell back
to a mediocre 4-4 in 1926, and Yale alumni started to agitate for a
coaching change. Tad Jones was uncharacteristically undiplomatic in his
response: "Those yellow-bellies
are not going to crucify me... This criticism is coming from shyster
lawyers, poor doctors and dentists, and eighteen-dollar-a-week clerks
who think they know more football." Jones nevertheless got sick of it,
and resigned effective the end of the 1927 season. But it was a Pyrrhic
victory for the shysters, quacks, and clerks, because 1927 was the last
season of greatness for Yale.
2 consensus All Americans, guard and captain Bill Webster and center
John Charlesworth, and they might have had a third in star halfback
Bruce Caldwell (pictured) had he not been suspended from the team for
the last 2 games. He was still a nonconsensus AA, making first team on
2 lists. In just 6 games, he led the team in rushing with 674 yards
(5.3 per carry) and in passing with 372. He scored 7 touchdowns, passed
for another 3, and
drop-kicked a 46 yard field goal.
Fishwick and tackle Sidney Quarrier were also nonconsensus AA, and
guard Waldo "Wade" Greene would be nonconsensus AA in 1929. None of
Yale's players are in the Hall of Fame, which is a first for a Yale MNC
contender (the 1923 team had 3), and in fact 1927 is highly unusual in
that 4 of our 5 MNC contenders had no Hall of Fame players (only Texas
A&M had one).
Yale finished 7-1 while playing 4 top-notch teams this season: 9-1 Georgia, 9-1 Army, 7-1 Dartmouth, and 6-1 Princeton.
The Georgia Game
After a 41-0
warm-up win over Bowdoin, Yale hosted Georgia. This was Georgia's 5th
straight year traveling up to New Haven to play Yale, and they were 0-4
in the previous games by a total score of 101-13, so of course Yale was
a 14 point favorite to win a 5th time. Neither team had been very good
in 1926, Yale finishing 4-4 and Georgia 5-4, so there was little
interest in this game, though in hindsight it would prove to be one of
the best games of the year. Certainly no one expected that these 2
teams would finish the season a combined 16-2. A light rain fell, and
only 18,000 fans attended, less than 1/4 the number that would show up
to watch Army take on Yale 2 weeks later.
The wet ball was a big key to this game, though it only appeared to affect Yale:
they lost 7 fumbles, Georgia none. Early in the game, Georgia fullback
Herdis McCrary recovered a Bruce Caldwell fumble at the Yale 35, and
from there Georgia drove to a 12 yard touchdown pass to end Ivy "Chick"
Shiver for a 7-0 lead. McCrary then recovered a fumble by Yale fullback
Duncan Cox at the Yale 20, and Georgia drove to the 2 yard line, but
they were halted there. Yale tied the game on a 75 yard touchdown drive
late in the opening quarter, Bruce Caldwell throwing to end Stewart
Scott for 30 yards to the Georgia 20, then throwing again to Scott for
the score from there.
In the 2nd quarter, Duncan Cox burst through the line and ran for
63 yards to the Georgia 17. Yale then drove to the 2 yard line, but
they were stopped there. After the punt out, Caldwell tossed a 31 yard
pass to set up a 35 yard Cox field goal, and Yale led 10-7, though not for long. Georgia's
Bobby Hooks hit a big 59 yard pass to Frank Dudley, Herdis McCrary
covered the remaining 7 yards to the end zone with a series of line
plunges, and Georgia was back in front 14-10. On the last play of the
half, Duncan Cox intercepted a Bobby Hooks pass at the Yale 20, and
then he successfully evaded all of Georgia's tacklers and was in the
clear, but Hooks chased him down from behind at the Georgia 16. That
kept the score 14-10 at the half, and that was how the game would end as well.
Yale put their 2nd string on the field for the 3rd quarter, and
neither team threatened to score. Yale's starters returned for the 4th
quarter, and their fresh legs drove to 4 serious scoring threats, but
they came up empty each time. Duncan Cox lost a fumble inside the
Georgia 5 yard line, Frank Dudley recovering, and twice Yale was
stopped on downs inside the Georgia 5, once pushing to within a yard of
paydirt. In the final minute of play, Yale drove to the Georgia 10, and
threw a pass into the end zone that was caught by Stewart Scott, but he
was out of bounds, and the ball went to Georgia on their 20 yard line.
Georgia ran 2 plays before the clock ran out.
Yale had 12 first downs to Georgia's 5 (14-6 according to one
source), and they outgained Georgia by about 100 yards (one Georgia
book has Yale outgaining them 253 yards to 201, but that source is
missing at least 50 yards of passing for Yale, which would put them
over 300 yards). But the key number for this game was 7:
7 Yale fumbles and 7 Yale trips to at least the Georgia 10 that
resulted in no points. This was easily the biggest win in Georgia's
history to this point, and a turning point in this series:
Georgia would proceed to go 5-1 against Yale 1928-1934. In New Haven, this first loss to Georgia
was seen as a new low for Tad Jones and Yale, and alumni carping
reached a fever pitch. Little did they know that Georgia would finish
9-1, and better yet, Yale 7-1 against a very daunting schedule.
beat Brown (3-6-1) 19-0, and then powerful Army paid a visit to the
Yale Bowl. Led by Hall of Fame backs Red Cagle and Light Horse Harry
Wilson (Wilson is pictured above carrying into the Yale line), Army was
one of the best teams in the country 1926-1927. Had there been an AP
poll in 1927, they would have probably been #2 behind Notre Dame coming
into this game, while Yale likely wouldn't have been rated at all. It
need hardly be said that Army was favored, but the odds were a
surprisingly close 10-7. 77,000 showed up for this one.
Yale drove 65 yards for a touchdown in the opening quarter. They
had been stopped on 4th down at the Army 35, but Army was offside,
giving Yale's drive renewed life. Bruce Caldwell then threw a 30 yard
touchdown pass to tackle Sidney Quarrier. An Army back was there in
coverage, but the big, tall Quarrier was able to grab the ball over his
head. In the 2nd quarter, Army recovered a fumble at the Yale 18 yard
line. They drove to the 1, but 2 runs were snuffed out there. Army then
returned the punt-out to the Yale 26, and proceeded to drive down to
the 7, where a 4th down pass was knocked down by Bruce Caldwell in the
end zone. The score thus remained 7-0 at the half.
In the 3rd quarter, Yale launched a march that reached the Army 10 yard
line before it was stopped. Later, Quarrier blocked an Army punt and
recovered it at their 38 yard line to set up an eventual 46 yard
drop-kick field goal by Bruce Caldwell, bumping the lead to 10-0. Army
responded with their only extended drive of the game, and as the final
quarter opened, they hit a 22 yard pass that carried to the Yale 3.
This time, they successfully pushed the ball over the goal, but a bad
snap foiled the extra point, and it was 10-6. That drive appeared to
have expended Army's energies, though, as Yale controlled the rest of
the game. Yale capped the contest with a long, slow march that reached
the Army 15 when time was called.
Yale has never since won a game as big as this one. Army won out to
finish 9-1, including a huge 18-0 smackdown of 7-1-1 Notre Dame. Army
would have finished ranked in the top 3 of a post-bowl AP poll for 1927, probably #2 behind Yale.
Yale didn't have much time to savor the win, as 5-0 Dartmouth came to town the next week. Dartmouth's spread passing attack had captured a mythical national championship in 1925,
smashing all 8 opponents by a total score of 340-29. They fell back to
4-4 in 1926 due to the graduation of their superstar passer/runner,
Swede Oberlander, but they were back to form this season, and had
beaten their first 5 opponents by an average score of 42-4, including a
47-7 pummeling of Temple (who finished 7-1). Dartmouth was a 5-4
favorite in this game, but the 58,000 fans who attended were treated to
an impressive rout by the home team.
Yale handled Dartmouth's seemingly unsolvable passing attack as
though it were a first-grade addition problem. What's 1+1+1+1+1+1? It's
the number of Dartmouth passes Yale intercepted, halfback Ned Decker
nabbing 4 of them himself (one source says he had 5). Dartmouth
completed just 7 of 26 attempts. Meanwhile, Yale rolled up 283 yards of
rushing to 94 for Dartmouth. The first downs were close, Yale with 15
and Dartmouth 13, but Dartmouth got most of theirs against the Yale
reserves in the 2nd half, with the game already out of reach.
Yale took the opening drive to the Dartmouth 20 before they were
stopped. Later, Dartmouth's star halfback Alton Marsters intercepted a
Bruce Caldwell pass and returned it 52 yards to the Yale 8 yard line,
but Yale held and Dartmouth missed a field goal. Later, a promising
Dartmouth drive ended with an interception at the Yale 29 yard line.
Late in the 1st quarter, Bruce Caldwell hit end Dwight Fishwick with a
33 yard pass, but that drive was ultimately stopped half a foot from
the goal line. Yale substitute back John Garvey had a big 2nd quarter.
He plunged into the line 7 times in 9 plays on a drive from midfield
and scored the touchdown for a 6-0 lead. Later, Garvey surprised
Dartmouth with a quick kick that went from his own 35 to the Dartmouth
3. The ensuing punt-out carried only to the Dartmouth 28, and Garvey
went to his plunging work again, bulling inexorably forward until he
scored again to make it 12-0 at the half.
Dartmouth blocked 2 Caldwell punts in the 3rd quarter, driving
to the Yale 10 after one of them before fumbling the ball away. Later,
Dartmouth fumbled again at their own 23, and then Caldwell carried
every play until he crossed goal to close the scoring at 19-0.
won out to finish 7-1, including a 53-7 mauling of rival Cornell in
their finale, and I have them #13 in my hypothetical 1927 AP
Maryland (4-7) 30-6, and then Princeton came to New Haven at 6-0. Their
schedule had not been very impressive, but they had won every game by
more than a touchdown, and they had beaten Ohio State (4-4) 20-0. As I
wrote at the outset of this article, Yale's star halfback Bruce
Caldwell was suspended from the team just days before the game when it
was learned that he had played 2 games for Brown's freshman team in
1923, leaving him ineligible to play in 1927 according to Yale's
eligibility rules. With Princeton hoping to claim a mythical national
championship, this was the biggest game played between members of the
"Big Three" in years, and temporary stands were added to the Yale Bowl
so as to cram in 80,000 fans.
Princeton spent a good portion of the opening quarter on a long,
slow march from their own 25, reaching the Yale 15 when the quarter
ended. They opened the 2nd quarter with the longest gain of the drive,
11 yards on a double pass, and pushed it into the end zone 2 plays
later. The extra point was blocked, but they led 6-0, and the score
would remain as such until the latter stages of the final quarter. Yale
had a strong answering drive, quarterback Johnny Hoben twice hitting
end Stewart Scott for 12 and 17 yard gains, but after attaining a first
down at the Princeton 4 yard line, 4 line plunges left them inches
short of the Princeton goal line. On their next drive, Yale drove to
the Princeton 3 yard line, but they were stopped again.
Neither team was able to do much in the 3rd quarter, and it wasn't
until midway through the 4th that Yale bust out the game's big play. On
4th and 11 from the Princeton 46, Johnny Hoben hit end Dwight Fishwick
with a bomb touchdown pass, and the extra point gave Yale a 7-6 lead.
The drive had started at the Yale 20, and a pair of 17 yard passes had
moved it to midfield to set up the winning strike. Ned Decker recovered
a Princeton fumble at their 20 on Princeton's answering drive, and from
there Yale drove to a 7 yard touchdown run on 4th down to clinch the
game 14-6. Princeton drove to the Yale 23 and threw 4 straight
incompletions to finish the clock.
Princeton outgained Yale 274 yards to 254, and they had a big first
down edge, 19-10, but they also had 3 turnovers to Yale's 1, and all
those first downs only got them close to the Yale goal line once, when
they scored. Yale had 4 scoring threats. I have Princeton ranked #13 for 1927.
Yale finished their season with a 14-0 win at 4-4 Harvard. You can see film clips from that game here.
should have called themselves the "Four Year Locusts" rather than the
Illini, as they were very close to following that schedule in winning
mythical national championships in 1914, 1919, and 1923,
and here they are claiming another one for 1927. I covered their Hall
of Fame coach, Robert Zuppke (pictured at left), in most detail in the
1914 article. Zuppke's success was nearing the end of the line, and
after going 7-1 and 6-1-1 the next 2 seasons, he would go just 41-52-2
over his final 12 years.
This Illinois team did not have much in the way of great players.
They were known nationally as the "Starless Team," and their most
famous former player, Red Grange, called them "the team of nobodies
from nowhere," but they were incredibly deep, and substituted
constantly throughout games so as to always have fresh players on the
field. Center and captain Robert Reisch was a nonconsensus All
American, making first team on half a dozen lists. Another 2 players
made first team on 1 list each:
tackle Albert "Butch" Nowak and guard Russ Crane. Nowak would be the
captain in 1928 and a nonconsensus AA again, making first team on 8
lists. Crane would continue as a nonconsensus AA in 1928 (2 lists) and
1929 (1 list).
Notice that these were all linemen. Another pair of substitute linemen would become nonconsensus AA in future seasons:
guard Leroy Wietz in 1928 and tackle Lou Gordon in
1929. Gordon went on to a 9 year career in the NFL, winning a
title with Green Bay. It was after the graduation of the last of these
linemen, Lou Gordon and Russ Crane following the 1929 season, that
Illinois' football program fell off a cliff.
Like Yale, Illinois had no Hall of Famers on the team.
Illinois started the season with 3 cupcakes, but the third went
off-script and bit back. After beating Bradley 19-0 and Butler 58-0,
Illinois was tied by Iowa State 12-12. ISU had a big day running
straight into, over, and through the Illinois line, while Illinois was
unable to do the same, and they had to go to the air to manage a tie.
They could have won had they hit either extra point try, but then the
same could be said of ISU. Illinois connected on just 9 of 21 extra
point attempts the entire season, so kicking wasn't exactly their forte.
Iowa State finished 4-3-1, and they weren't bad-- their 3 losses
came 6-0 at 6-2 Nebraska, 13-6 to 7-2 Missouri, and 34-0 at 6-3
Marquette. But they weren't good either, beating no winning opponent,
and really accomplishing nothing of note this season other than tying
Illinois. They were not close to a top 25 caliber team.
followed that poor showing with another at Northwestern the next week,
but at least they were able to kick an extra point, thereby winning
7-6. This was the first game in an annual series between these 2 teams that has continued unbroken to this day. Due
to Illinois' tie with ISU and Northwestern's 7-1 finish and Big 10
title in 1926 and 3-0 start in 1927, including a 19-13 win at Ohio State,
Northwestern was actually favored in this game, and 50,000 fans showed
up to cheer them on.
Northwestern started well behind star fullback Leland "Tiny" Lewis,
who plunged into the line for good gains and outpunted
Illinois. In the 2nd quarter, Lewis uncorked a 65 yard punt that went
to the Illinois 1. Northwestern returned the ensuing punt-out to the
Illinois 15, and they were in business. A pass took the ball to the 3,
and Tiny Lewis plunged over goal from there. But Lewis missed the
ultimately critical extra point, and so the lead was but 6-0. Illinois
answered on their next drive. Quarterback Dwight Stuessy went into the
game to throw the ball, and he connected on 3 passes, the last caught
by another substitute, end Walter Jolley, for a touchdown. Tackle Butch
Nowak kicked the extra point that made the difference.
Tiny Lewis was lost to an ankle injury on the 2nd play of the 3rd
quarter, and with him went all hope for Northwestern. Their punts
were now poor, and Illinois now gained in that department. No one else
could break through the Illinois line on the ground, so Northwestern
had to go to the air, hitting just 4 of 19 passes and losing the ball
on frequent interceptions. But Illinois went nowhere on offense,
hitting just 2 of 20 passes in the 2nd half themselves, and gaining no
first downs. Their best threat came from recovering a fumble at the
Northwestern 20 in the 3rd quarter, but no points came out of it.
Northwestern was able to hit one bomb for 40 yards to the Illinois 20
in the 4th quarter, but they threw an interception on the next play.
had already come into the game minus their starting center, and they
lost 2 more starters in this game, so their season circled down the
drain afterward. They lost their next 3 games, the last by 18-7 to
3-4-1 Indiana, and they finished 4-4. They would not have been close to
ranked in a final AP poll for 1927.
Next up was
Illinois' game of the year, Homecoming against Michigan. Michigan was
coming in at 4-0 by a total score of 89-0, and they had won the Big 10
title the previous 2 seasons (sharing the last with Northwestern), so
they were favored, but 67,000 fans cheered their team on to its 2nd
straight upset win over a defending Big 10 champion. Illinois won 14-0
despite producing very little offense in this game.
touchdown was set up by a muffed punt at the Michigan 7 yard line in
the opening quarter. Substitute end Garland Grange, infinitely less
famous than his older brother Red, recovered the muff, and fullback Jud
Timm carried the ball over goal to cap the short touchdown drive. In
the 3rd quarter, Russ Crane blocked a punt, and Ernest Schultz fell on
the ball for a touchdown. Neither team was able to mount a scoring
threat in this game aside from those 2 breaks.
Michigan halfback Louis Gilbert was injured and missed this game, the
only one he missed on the season. He was their passer, kicker, and
punter, and Fielding Yost, ever the supreme braggart where his players
were concerned (or even himself), called Gilbert the greatest punter of
all time. Yost seemed to think that all the best all-time players
at any position had played for him. In any case, certainly Gilbert's
absence made a difference, taking some of the value off of this win for
Illinois. Michigan lost 13-7 at home to 6-0-2 Minnesota in their finale
to finish 6-2. Their big victory-- the only one over a winning major
opponent-- came 27-12 over 6-3 Navy. I have Michigan ranked #10 for 1927.
Illinois spent November beating a trio of 4-4 teams: 14-0 at Iowa, 15-6 over Chicago, and 13-0 at Ohio State (the last won by a pair of 25 yard touchdown passes).
This team would come to be known as the "Dream and Wonder Team," a lame spin on California's "Wonder Teams" from the early part of the decade.
The head coach was George "Kid" Woodruff, who had been Georgia's
quarterback 1907-1908 and 1910-1911, and who coached at Georgia for 5
years 1923-1927 for a salary of just a dollar a year. Aside from this
one season of dreams and wonders, he was rather mediocre, going 21-15-1
in his other seasons, but he had an impressive trio of assistant
coaches who had all
played for Knute Rockne at Notre Dame: Harry
Mehre, Jimmy Crowley, and Frank Thomas.
Mehre went on to become the head coach at Georgia and Mississippi.
Crowley was one of the famed Four Horsemen, and would have great
success as head coach at Fordham in the next decade. Frank Thomas would
go on to win a national championship as a Hall of Fame head coach at Alabama.
Georgia was nationally famous in 1927 for having the best pair of ends in the country: Tom Nash (pictured at left) and Ivy "Chick" Shiver.
Tom Nash was a consensus All American, Georgia's first, and he went on
to a 7 year pro career, winning 3 NFL titles with the Green Bay
Packers. Chick Shiver was the captain and a nonconsensus AA-- kept from
being consensus by Michigan's Bennie Oosterbaan, who was a 3rd-time
consensus AA this season. Both Georgia ends were huge for their time,
and in fact both had played fullback in high school. Neither is in the
NFF Hall of Fame, but both are enshrined in the Georgia Sports Hall of
Unheralded fullback Herdis McCrary led the team with 13 touchdowns:
7 runs, 5 catches, and 1 fumble return. He recovered a fumble to set up
Georgia's first touchdown and scored the 2nd in their huge 14-10 upset
win at Yale.
of Georgia's season was that win at Yale, as described in the Yale
summary above. It was easily the biggest win in school history to that
point. Georgia went on to a 9-0 start, pummeling their other 8
opponents by a total score of 234-16, before the roof caved in at
Georgia Tech in their finale.
The week after the win at Yale, Georgia returned home to face
Furman, a strong mid-major team that had gone 8-1-1 and beaten Georgia
14-7 the previous season. This time Georgia raced to a 19-0 halftime
lead and won 33-0, largely on big plays. They totaled 288 yards of
offense, but had only 8 first downs. Furman totaled just over 100
yards. The final score here was impressive because Furman finished
10-1, and they outscored their other 10 opponents by a total of 283-27.
Their schedule was weak, but they did give 9-1 North Carolina State
their only loss. Of course, NC State's schedule was also weak, and they
didn't beat anyone of value. Furman would not have been ranked in a
final 1927 AP poll. They were probably a #26-40 type team, and maybe
they were even top 25 in ability, but with their schedule it is
difficult to know how good they were.
The rest of Georgia's schedule prior to the Georgia Tech game was
not very impressive, but Georgia did away with their weak opponents
impressively enough. They beat 7-3 Florida 28-0 in Jacksonville and 5-4-1
Alabama 20-6 in Birmingham. Tom Nash had a big game against Alabama,
catching 4 passes for 75 yards, scoring 2 touchdowns, and grabbing an
interception. The next week they were off to Atlanta for what was
essentially a conference championship game on December 3rd.
Georgia Tech came into the finale at 7-1-1, having lost 26-7 at 7-1-1 Notre Dame
and having been tied at 8-1-2 Vanderbilt (who tied 8-0-1 Tennessee and
lost to 6-2-1 Texas). But GT was 6-0-1 in conference play, so the
winner of this game was going to take the conference championship.
Atlanta was gripped by football fever, and not a hotel room was
available that weekend. 37,000 fans attended, a record for the South,
and far more than that wanted tickets.
Georgia sources like to contend that Georgia Tech watered down the
field the night before, a timeless home underdog trick, but it was
raining on gameday, so the field was going to be muddy regardless.
Georgia outgained GT 189 yards to 129, and they had 10 first downs to 4
for GT, but they also handed out 6 turnovers to GT's 2. Georgia's
normally strong passing attack was particularly oppressed, gaining just
45 yards and giving up 4 interceptions. Georgia Tech won 12-0 thanks to
a pair of big plays, a 42 yard touchdown pass in the 2nd quarter and a
58 yard interception return that set up an 8 yard touchdown run in the
there been an AP poll in 1927, I'm thinking that Georgia Tech would
have risen to #11-15 in the final poll, and that Georgia would have
dropped to #6-10. I have Georgia #5 and Georgia Tech #8.
Texas A&M 1927
Texas A&M had gone 8-0 in 1917 and 10-0 in 1919
under Hall of Fame coach Dana X. Bible, and I covered him in my 1919
MNC article. The National Championship Foundation selected A&M as a
1919 MNC team, but I do not even see the Aggies as a legitimate contender
for the 1919 MNC. Still, 10-0 is 10-0-- good stuff. By 1927 Bible was
nearing the end of his 11 season run as head coach of Texas A&M,
during which time he went 72-19-9 and won 5 SWC titles. He would
continue this success at Nebraska and Texas over the next couple of
decades, winning 6 Big 6 titles and another 3 SWC titles. But in all
that time, though he amassed 198 wins, he never won a widely-recognized
MNC. Perhaps this is the year people need to recognize.
Texas A&M was led by Hall of Fame quarterback Joel Hunt
(pictured at left). He was widely known in 1927 as the best player in
the Southwest, but no All American selectors actually saw him play, so
he didn't make first team on anyone's list. He made 2nd or 3rd team AA
on 4 lists due to the stories about him coming out of Texas, but
Southern Cal's Morley Drury, who played in the game of the year against
Notre Dame in Chicago (he missed the extra point that cost them the
game 7-6), was impossible to supplant at first team on AA lists at
Joel Hunt had been good in 1925 and
1926 (he was all-Southwest all 3 years he played), but in 1927 he rose
to greatness, scoring 19 touchdowns and 128 points on the season (Drury scored 76 while playing one more game). Hunt
was a great runner, passer, punter, kicker, and defensive back.
John Heisman, coaching at Rice this season, called him "the best
all-around back I've ever seen." Based on that, perhaps we should
retroactively award Joel Hunt the Heisman for 1927.
Against 8-1 Arkansas, Hunt scored 3 touchdowns (one on a 100
yard kickoff return), threw a 30 yard touchdown pass, and set up
another touchdown with a 45 yard pass. Playing 7-2 Southern Methodist
for the SWC title, he scored 3 touchdowns, averaged 40 yards on punts,
and grabbed 4 interceptions. For his career he scored 30 touchdowns, a
school record that lasted more than 50 years.
Texas A&M's Season
Outside of their
tie with 4-3-2 Texas Christian, 8-0-1 Texas A&M's performance this
season was very impressive. They held warm-up opponent Trinity-Texas to
2 first downs in a 45-0 opening win, beat another pair of cupcakes 31-0
and 18-0, then destroyed Arkansas 40-6, the 8-1 Razorbacks' only loss
of the season. Arkansas played a weak schedule, and wouldn't make an AP
poll's top 25 in 1927, but I think they were probably top 25 quality.
The next week the Aggies were handcuffed to a scoreless tie at
Texas Christian, which at the time didn't seem very surprising (TCU had
been strong for years), but in hindsight became rather inexplicable
(Texas A&M ended up stomping on 3 teams that went 2-0-1 against
TCU). Texas A&M had the better of the game, but could not score.
Their strongest threat came with a 17 yard Joel Hunt run to the TCU 1
yard line, but 4 plays later TCU had pushed A&M back to the 5. Hunt
had a good day running, hit a few big passes, and intercepted a TCU
pass to stop a scoring threat. TCU finished 4-3-2, but they were much
better than their straight record would indicate, and like Arkansas, I
think they were probably top 25 quality.
Texas Tech (5-4) jumped to a 6-2 lead on the Aggies the next week,
but A&M hit 16 of 33 passes for 348 yards, Hunt scored 3
touchdowns, and the Aggies won 47-6. Texas A&M then traveled to
Southern Methodist for the Southwest's game of the year. SMU featured
Hunt's competition for best player in the Southwest, quarterback Gerry
Mann (who is also in the Hall of Fame), and SMU was unbeaten in SWC
play, so this game was for the SWC title. But the game provided no
drama as Texas A&M romped to a 25-0 lead and won 39-13. SMU
finished 7-2, and I have them #20 in a hypothetical AP poll, but I
think they were probably closer to top 10 power-wise.
Texas A&M next won 14-0 at Rice (2-6-1), then finished the season
with a 28-7 rout of Texas (6-2-1). In the finale, Joel Hunt set up his
own touchdown plunge with a 39 yard pass, threw a 22 yard touchdown
pass for a 14-0 first quarter lead, added another touchdown
pass in the 2nd, and ran for the last touchdown in the 4th. I have Texas #24 for 1927.
Texas A&M didn't play any intersectional games, their MNC chances
rest entirely on how strong the Southwest region was this season. So
how strong was the Southwest?
Southwest was known at this time for its prolific passing attacks.
Teams would throw more than 30 passes in a game, eye-popping numbers
for people reading articles about it in the rest of the country. By the
1930s, Southern Methodist coach Ray Morrison was unduly credited for
developing this style of play, largely because he took SMU to play
high-profile intersectional games across the country, so his teams gave
many national writers their first exposure to the Southwestern style of
offense. During his tenure at SMU, they played intersectional games
against Missouri, Nebraska, Army, Notre Dame, Indiana, Navy, St.
Mary's-California (when they were a top 25 caliber team), Syracuse, and
Fordham, most of those games on the road.
But the pass-happy
offenses of the Southwest likely had their genesis with Bennie Owen's
Oklahoma teams of the 1910s, as refined by Sam McBirney and Francis
Schmidt at Tulsa in the same decade.
The rest of the country
viewed the aerial game of the Southwest as a novelty act. The Southwest
would not be taken seriously as a football region until the 1930s, when
they won a number of big intersectional games and eventually produced 2
national champions, Texas Christian in 1938 and Texas A&M in 1939.
And had there been an AP poll in 1935, SMU likely would have finished
#1 (but they then lost 7-0 to Stanford in the Rose Bowl).
1920s, however, the Southwest was not respected. They had struggled to
separate themselves from the minor teams around them, and 1919-1926,
teams in the Southwest Conference took a total of 40 losses and ties to
the following teams: St.
Edwards, Trinity, Howard Payne, Austin, Daniel Baker, Hardin Simmons,
Phillips, Hendrix, Ouachita, Oklahoma Baptist, Southwestern (Texas),
Southwestern (Kansas), Central Oklahoma, Creighton, Emporia State, and
Texas State. But most of these losses and ties took place in the early
part of the decade, and by the mid-1920s such results were much
less common (just 7 of the 40 occurred 1924-1926).
intersectional games, the SWC ruled over the Southeast, but as I've
indicated in previous articles, the Southeast was one of the weakest
football regions in the nation, and the Southwest did not fare well
against other regions. 1919-1926, the Southwest Conference went 24-14-4
in significant games against the Southeastern region, but they went 0-3 against
the Great Lakes, 0-3 against the East, and 7-18-2 against the Missouri
Valley, which was itself a level below the Great Lakes and Eastern
regions. So overall the SWC was 31-38-6 in significant intersectional
games 1919-1926. But 1927 was a different story.
The Southwest in 1927In
1927, Baylor (2-7) and Rice (2-6-1) were bad, but the rest of the
conference was quite strong and did not suffer upsets to minor teams
(unless you count 10-0 Centenary as minor). Moreover, the SWC went 5-1
in significant intersectional games, the 1 loss taken by 2-6-1 Rice at
6-2-2 Loyola-New Orleans. The SWC was 2-1 against the Southeast and 3-0
against the Missouri Valley. Two of these wins were particularly
significant. 7-2 Southern Methodist stomped on Missouri Valley champion
Missouri 32-9, and Missouri finished 7-2 with wins over 6-2 Nebraska,
4-3-1 Iowa State, and 4-4 Northwestern. The consensus choice for 1927
MNC, Illinois, was tied by Iowa State, and they only beat Northwestern
7-6 (Missouri beat them 34-19).
6-2-1 Texas also defeated 8-1-2
Vanderbilt 13-6 in Dallas. Vanderbilt tied both 8-0-1 Tennessee and
8-1-1 Georgia Tech, and of course GT defeated 9-1 Georgia, who defeated
7-1 Yale. So you see, Texas A&M and Centenary both sit atop victory
chains that put them over all the other national championship
contenders for 1927. And it doesn't work the other way-- you cannot
find any victory chain that puts Illinois, Yale, or Georgia ahead of
Texas A&M, despite A&M's tie with 4-3-2 TCU.
There were 6 strong teams in the Southwest region this season:
10-0 Centenary, 8-0-1 Texas A&M, 8-1 Arkansas, 7-2 Southern
Methodist, 6-2-1 Texas, and 4-3-2 Texas Christian. These 6 teams did
not lose or tie any game except against each other, which is why there
is no victory chain that can get at them from outside the region. Now
here's the surprising part-- all 6 of these teams were led by Hall of
Fame coaches, and 4 of them featured Hall of Fame players. Illinois,
Yale, and Georgia had no HoF players.
I've already summarized
Texas A&M, and I'll be covering Centenary next, but here is some
information on the other 4 strong Southwest teams:
The head coach was Francis Schmidt, a Nebraska grad who had gone 8-0-1
and 10-0-1 at Tulsa 1919-1920. He went 41-21-3 at Arkansas, then took
off at TCU 1929-1933, going 45-6-5 and winning 2 SWC titles. He then
went 39-16-1 at Ohio State and won 2 Big 10 titles. For his career, he
was 156-58-11. In 1927, Arkansas brought home 2 of the SWC's 5
significant intersectional victories, 33-20 over 4-4 Oklahoma State and
28-0 over 4-4-1 Louisiana State in Shreveport. Their only loss was 40-6
at Texas A&M. They had a Hall of Fame player in end Wear Schoonover.
7-2 Southern Methodist:
The head coach was Ray Morrison, who had played quarterback for Dan
McGugin at Vanderbilt 1908-1911. He went 84-44-23 in 15 years at SMU,
winning 3 SWC titles. His best seasons were 9-0 in 1923, 8-0-1 in 1926,
and 9-1-1 in 1931. He went on to succeed McGugin at Vanderbilt, and
finished his career at Temple. Overall he was 155-130-34 for his
career. In 1927, SMU lost 39-13 to Texas A&M and 21-12 at
Centenary, but no one else got close to them, as they outscored their
other 7 opponents by a total of 242-20, including the aforementioned
32-9 rout of 7-2 Missouri. Quarterback Gerry Mann, who threw the ball
all over the place, is in the Hall of Fame.
Their head coach, Clyde Littlefield, isn't actually in the NFF Hall of
Fame, but he was inducted into the now-defunct Helms Foundation HoF,
and he is also in the National Track and Field HoF. He went 44-18-6 in
a short 7 year career at Texas, winning 2 SWC titles, and he won 25 SWC
titles in his long and remarkable career as track and field coach at
1927, Texas lost 14-0 to SMU and 28-7 to Texas A&M, and they were
tied by 4-3-2 Texas Christian. Their big win was the aforementioned
victory over 8-1-2 Vanderbilt, and they also stomped on 3-5 Kansas
State 41-7 to complete the SWC's sweep of the Missouri Valley this
4-3-2 Texas Christian:
The head coach was Matty Bell, who had played end at Centre 1916-1918.
He went 33-17-5 at TCU 1923-1928, his best seasons 7-1-1 in 1925, 6-1-2
in 1926, and 8-2 in 1928. And this team, sandwiched in the middle of
those 3 years, was much better than its 4-3-2 record would seem to
indicate. Bell moved on to Texas A&M 1929-1933, and SMU 1935-1941
& 1945-1949, winning 3 SWC titles and totaling 143-87-16 for his
career. He became best known for his work at SMU, the highlight seasons
there being 12-1 in 1935 (and a Dickinson system national
championship), 8-1-1 in 1940, 9-0-2 in 1947, and 9-1-1 in 1948.
Assistant coach Dutch Meyer, a TCU grad, is also a Hall of Fame coach.
He went 109-79-13 as head coach at his alma mater 1934-1952, winning 4
SWC titles and a national championship in 1938. In 1927, TCU tied Texas
and Texas A&M, starting out 4-0-2, but then they lost their last 3
games 10-3 to Arkansas, 7-3 at Centenary, and 28-6 to SMU. End Rags
Matthews is in the Hall of Fame.
Had there been an AP poll in 1927, I think these teams would have been ranked as such:
Texas A&M #15, Centenary #21-25, SMU #21-25, Arkansas #25-35,
Texas #26-35, TCU unranked. Applying a minimum of logic to those
rankings gives us Texas A&M #7, Centenary #19, SMU #20, Texas #24,
and Arkansas and TCU #26-33. However, it would actually be logically
viable to rank all 6 teams in or very near the top 10. As an example,
Vanderbilt would have been ranked higher than Texas in an AP poll, but
given that Texas beat them, how fair is that?
Centenary, a small school in Shreveport, Louisiana, went 10-0 in 1927,
which alone wouldn't put them in MNC contention-- Loyola-New Orleans
went 10-0 in 1926, and they would not even make a top 25 for that
season. But Centenary did not just beat up on minor teams-- they also
went 4-0 against SWC teams, and in a year when the SWC was unusually
strong (as per the above). Centenary also happened to have a Hall of
Fame coach at the helm-- Homer Norton (pictured at left), who went on
to greater fame at Texas A&M 1934-1947, winning 3 SWC titles and
A&M's only consensus national championship in 1939.
Norton was a Birmingham Southern grad who started coaching at
Centenary in 1919, but his teams went just 4-7 over his first 3 years,
so he switched over to basketball coach to make room for Bo McMillin. A
Hall of Fame player at Centre, McMillin came to Centenary fresh off
the famous 1921
Centre team that had gone 10-1 and upset Harvard 6-0. Because of his name
value, hiring him as football coach brought national attention to
Centenary, and he turned out to be as strong a coach as he was a
player, going 8-1, 10-1, and 8-1 in his 3 years of coaching there
1922-1924. He went on to a career record of 140-77-13, mostly at
Indiana. Assisting the young man, Homer Norton learned how to coach
football, and things were different in his second stint at Centenary.
He led them to 10-0 this season, 8-1-1 in 1930, 8-0-1 in 1932, and
8-0-4 in 1933 while frequently playing major teams. Norton was 61-22-9
at Centenary 1919-1921 and 1926-1933, and overall he was 143-75-18 for
Several Centenary players
went on to play in the pros, but their 2 best were not among them.
Guard Thomas "Dutch" Binion was the captain, and many years later,
after Homer Norton had already coached Texas A&M to a national
championship, Norton said that Binion was the best player he ever
coached. Binion went on to become the coach and athletic director at
Pascagoula, Mississippi, where the field is still named for him. He is
in the National Athletic Directors Association Hall of Fame.
But Centenary's key player was quarterback/halfback Jake Hanna.
Hanna had been a star player at Byrd High School, just 6 blocks from
Centenary, and he could run the 100 in 10.3 seconds. He was offered a
scholarship by Knute Rockne to come to Notre Dame, but Centenary hired
his coach, George Hoy, as an assistant, and most of Hoy's players at
Byrd followed him to Centenary, including Hanna. This was his first
season at Centenary, and Jake Hanna alternated with veteran backs in
the backfield, but he was the player who delivered Centenary's biggest
wins this season, over SMU and TCU. He completed an amazing 16 passes
in the 4th quarter to beat SMU 21-12, and he scored a 4th quarter
touchdown to beat TCU 7-3.
After the season, Texas A&M challenged Centenary to come play them
in 1928, and Centenary won that game 6-0 on a touchdown pass from Jake
Hanna. He was named an AP honorable mention All American that season.
He scored 41 touchdowns in his career, and he is in the Louisiana Sports
Hall of Fame. Of course, one can't help but think that if he'd gone to
Notre Dame, he would have been consensus AA, and in the NFF HoF.
Centenary's schedule was similar to Lafayette's in 1926. They played 4 major teams, all from the SWC, and 2 of them were bad: 2-7 Baylor and 2-6-1 Rice. So they essentially played a 2 game schedule, and they played both those opponents at home: 7-2 Southern Methodist and 4-3-2 Texas Christian.
After beating Louisville 59-2 in their opener, they hosted
Southern Methodist (7-2), their biggest game of the season. SMU had
gone 8-0-1 in 1926, and they were unbeaten over their previous 15
games. Centenary completed a barrage of passes in the 4th quarter to
win 21-12, their most impressive result. SMU finished 7-2, losing to Texas A&M at home 39-13.
beat Sam Houston State 27-0, then traveled to Baylor for the first of
just 2 road trips on the season. They edged Baylor 9-6, and Baylor
finished 2-7, so this was easily Centenary's worst performance of the
season. SMU beat Baylor 34-0.
Centenary then went on a cupcake
binge, beating Milsaps 26-0, Florida Southern 26-0, traveling to 2-6-1
Rice and drilling them 33-7, then returning home to beat Birmingham
The next game was their second that mattered,
hosting TCU. TCU held a 3-0 lead into the 4th quarter, but Centenary
came back to win 7-3, and then they ran out the clock on a drive to the
TCU 6. TCU finished 4-3-2, but they are of course the team that tied 8-0-1 Texas A&M.
Centenary wrapped up their season by beating neighbor Louisiana Tech 38-0.
the 1927 Mythical National Champion
are our 5 contenders-- click on the names to see their full schedules
at the College Football Data Warehouse. The
rankings come from my 1927 top 25, which is based on a hypothetical post-bowl AP poll (within logical reason of course).
#5 Georgia (9-1) 10-14
#2 Army (9-1) 10-6
#13 Dartmouth (7-1) 19-0
#13 Princeton (6-1) 14-6
Iowa State (4-3-1) 12-12
at Northwestern (4-4) 7-6
#10 Michigan (6-2) 14-0
at #1 Yale (7-1) 14-10
(#26-33) Furman (10-1) 32-0
at #8 Georgia Tech (8-1-1) 0-12
|Texas A&M 8-0-1
(#26-33) Arkansas (8-1) 40-6
at (#26-33) Texas Christian (4-3-2) 0-0
at #20 Southern Methodist (7-2) 29-10
#24 Texas (6-2-1) 28-7
#21 Southern Methodist (7-2) 21-12
at Baylor (2-7)
(#26-33) Texas Christian (4-3-2) 7-3
defeated their weak opponents (non-top 40) by an
average score of 26-2, Illinois defeated theirs 20-3, Georgia 29-2,
Texas A&M 31-1, and Centenary 30-3.
As I said earlier, all 4 of Texas
A&M's listed opponents were likely better than the AP poll would
have ranked them, and in fact it would be logically viable to rank all 6 of
this season's strong Southwest teams in or very near a top 10 for 1927.
That would be an extreme, but so would a 1927 AP poll's likely ranking
of these teams.
Again, SMU won 32-9 over 7-2 Missouri, who won 13-7 at 4-3-1 Iowa
State, who tied Illinois on the road. And Missouri won 34-19 at 4-4
Northwestern, where Illinois won just 7-6. Texas beat 8-1-2 Vanderbilt
13-6 in Dallas, Vanderbilt tied 8-0-1 Tennessee and 8-1-1 Georgia Tech,
GT beat Georgia, and Georgia beat Yale.
Regardless, once you've given the tables above a good look, it
should be pretty clear that the consensus choice for 1927 MNC,
Illinois, is easily the least deserving of these 5 contenders.
First of all,
Illinois' upset tie with Iowa State was a worse result than the upsets
suffered by Yale, Georgia, and Texas A&M, and Centenary was not
upset at all. ISU's 4-3-1 record may look similar to TCU's 4-3-2, but
these teams were not the same. ISU lost 34-0 to 6-3 Marquette, who lost
8-0 to 4-4 Oklahoma State and 14-0 to 6-1-1 Creighton (who also lost to
Oklahoma State). TCU did not take such a loss-- their losses came to
8-1 Arkansas, 7-2 SMU, and 10-0 Centenary. And in addition to tying
Texas A&M, TCU also tied 6-2-1 Texas, and they defeated 5-4 Texas
Tech. Furthermore, Illinois was tied by ISU at home, and Texas A&M
was tied by TCU on the road. So Illinois definitely lags in this
On top of that, Illinois also had the poor 7-6 effort at 4-4
Northwestern. Yale, Georgia, and Texas A&M did not have such a weak
result other than the one upset each took. In fact, all 3 were very
impressive performance-wise. Centenary, on the other hand, had an even
worse result, the 9-6 win at 2-7 Baylor, but of course they did not
take an upset tie or loss. The only thing Illinois had going for them
was an impressive 14-0 win over 6-2 Michigan, but it was their only
impressive win, and their only win over a major winning team. Yale
defeated 3 Michigan-level opponents, and arguably better ones, since
Yale gave each their only loss. Georgia defeated a better opponent too
(Yale), and on the road, and they beat a second decent opponent (10-1
Furman) as well. Texas A&M may not have played a team as strong as
Michigan (though for all we know, SMU was), but they defeated 3 top 25
caliber opponents and 5 winning teams.
I don't know why Illinois became such a favorite MNC selection for
1927 by retroactive organizations. Perhaps it goes back to the Illini
being #1 in the well-publicized Dickinson ratings for that season. But
the retro selectors must not have looked very closely at this season,
because Illinois is just a poor choice.
Georgia is a
tougher case, because they defeated Yale 14-10 on the road, and both
teams finished with 1 loss. And you know how I am about head-to-head
results. But that was Georgia's only big win. The Furman win was nice,
but no big deal. And their loss at Georgia Tech was decisive (12-0) and
came in their finale. That also creates a circle of great teams in 1927:
9-1 Georgia won at 7-1 Yale 14-10, Yale beat 9-1 Army 10-6, Army beat
7-1-1 Notre Dame 18-0, Notre Dame beat 8-1-1 Georgia Tech 26-7, and
Georgia Tech beat Georgia 12-0. The only scores there that weren't
decisive were Georgia's over Yale and Yale's over Army.
wasn't just that the score wasn't decisive in Georgia's win at Yale.
Yale dominated the game, outgaining Georgia, doubling them in first
downs, and advancing far more scoring threats, but they lost an
uncharacteristic 7 fumbles in the rain. One could say that Georgia was
simply better at handling the ball in rain, except that what happened
to Yale later happened to Georgia in their finale at Georgia Tech.
also defeated 7-1 Dartmouth and 6-1 Princeton, both of whom won the
rest of their games by more than a touchdown each. Georgia had no such
wins to add to their victory at Yale.
Given how badly Notre Dame
beat Georgia Tech, I think Dame should be rated higher than Georgia,
and they almost certainly would have been in a 1927 AP poll. Army, who
beat Notre Dame 18-0, belongs ahead of Dame, and Yale beat Army.
case is even tougher. Would I be eliminating Centenary if it was LSU,
as an example, playing the same schedule? Would I be eliminating them
if anyone had ever named them an MNC for 1927? I really don't know.
It's easy to eliminate a team no one cares about. Of course, it would
be just as easy to go ahead and include them in a 3-way title. But
unlike Lafayette in 1926, I just don't think that Centenary quite merits sharing an MNC.
did defeat TCU, who tied Texas A&M. But they barely won 7-3,
rallying in the 4th quarter at home. Texas A&M's tie came at TCU,
and when you account for average home field score differential, Texas
A&M's performance was perhaps better. Still, a win is a win and a
tie is a tie. But on top of that, there was Centenary's 9-6 win at 2-7
Baylor. Now Baylor was just bad. TCU won 14-0 at Baylor, and SMU beat
Baylor 34-0. Centenary's performance at Baylor was certainly no better
a performance than A&M's tie at TCU, and I would call it decidedly
Unlike Texas A&M, Centenary did not play any good
teams on the road, and if the Baylor result is any indication, they
would have had a lot of trouble winning if they had. Both of
Centenary's wins of value were at home. The other was SMU, and they had
a big 4th quarter to pull away for the 21-12 win. Texas A&M played
SMU on the road, and they slaughtered them from the get-go, jumping out
to a 25-0 lead and winning 39-13.
If that were all, I could see
Centenary deserving at least a share with Texas A&M, but in
addition to all that, Texas A&M beat 8-1 Arkansas 40-6 and 6-2-1
Texas 28-7. That gives A&M twice as many strong opponents, 2 of
them on the road, and those performances were simply spectacular. So
goodbye to Centenary... and now that I've written all that down, the
decision no longer seems quite so tough.
Going back to the
comparison of Centenary 1927 to Lafayette 1926, that Lafayette team
played both their strong opponents on the road, and their performance
was impeccable-- no weak wins against bad teams.
Yale vs. Texas A&M
This breaks down
to Yale's better schedule/wins vs. Texas A&M's better record. Yale
defeated 3 top 13 teams and lost 14-10 to a 4th. Texas A&M defeated
2 #20-25 teams and a near-rated team, and they were tied by another a near-rated team. That looks
very good for Yale. A 4 point loss to a #5 team is no worse a result
than a tie with a #26-33 team, and in that light Texas A&M did not
have a better record after all. And Yale gave 3 powerful teams their
only loss, which trumps A&M's 3 big wins. So, Yale #1? Not so fast,
Texas A&M's tie came on the road. Yale only
played 1 road game the whole season, at mediocre Harvard, so all 4 of
their tough games were at home. Texas A&M's 39-13 win over SMU was
also on the road, and that brings up another point. Texas A&M's
performance, outside of their one tie, was, to quote myself, "simply
spectacular." 40-6 over Arkansas, 28-7 over Texas. Serious beatings
going on down there. And of course, there is the issue of how strong
the Southwest really was-- none of the region's good 6 teams were
beaten or tied by an outsider, so maybe the 3 strong teams Texas A&M
defeated were #21-33, or maybe they were all top 10 caliber.
Not to beat a dead horse, but Texas beat Vanderbilt, who tied Georgia
Tech, who beat Georgia, who beat Yale. But there is no victory chain
leading from Yale to Texas A&M.
And then there is the issue
of the weakening East, which began its long slow slide into football
mediocrity this season. In significant games, the East had its first
losing season against the South, 1-2, and the East also lost 6-7-1
against the Great Lakes, 1-3 against major Missouri Valley teams, and
0-2-1 against the West. They split 1-1-1 against the mid-Atlantic,
bringing the East to 9-15-3 overall (15-16-4 in all games, which
includes wins by major teams over minor ones).
On the other
hand, I'm not sure that East information matters much in this case,
since the 3 powerful Eastern teams Yale beat were unquestionably good.
For Princeton and Dartmouth, you could question how
good, since both played mostly weak Eastern teams. But they routed
those teams, and Princeton beat 4-4 Ohio State 20-0. Then there's 9-1
Army, who gave Notre Dame their only loss 18-0. Texas A&M just did
not beat a team like Army.
I think you could go with either Yale or Texas A&M at #1, so we have another split MNC here.
Dana X. Bible won a legitimate mythical national championship after all.
1927 #1: 7-1 Yale
and/or 8-0-1 Texas A&M
National Co-champion: Yale or Texas A&M if the other one is alone at #1
Contenders: 9-1 Georgia and 10-0 Centenary
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.
I can't list 7-0-1 Illinois as a contender because I cannot see any
legitimate reason for them to be named a mythical national champion for
this season. Georgia beat Yale. Centenary was 10-0 and beat the team
that tied Texas A&M. Those are reasons. But if someone can come up
with one good reason why Illinois should even be considered for #1,
please e-mail me, as I'd love to know what I'm missing here.
Unfortunately, none of the organizations listed in the NCAA Records
Book who selected Illinois gave a reason that I can find.
This has been, for me, the most interesting season that I have
looked at so far. Like most people, when I first looked it over some 25
years ago, I assumed Illinois to be the MNC because they played in the
powerful Big 10 and they had the best record of the contenders-- like
everyone else, I dismissed 8-0-1 Texas A&M out of hand. But when I
looked more closely at Illinois and their opponents, it quickly became
apparent that they were not at all an MNC team.
At that point, I
was thinking that it came down to Yale vs. Georgia, and after looking
at their opponents, it was Yale. The last thing I did, out of
diligence, was to look closely at teams like 8-1 Georgetown, 7-1
Colorado State, 8-1 Tulsa, and 8-0-1 Texas A&M. I almost dismissed
Texas A&M when I saw that 2 of their key opponents lost to
Centenary. But just in case, I thought I'd better investigate
Centenary. This was before the internet, and their "SID" did not
respond to letters, so I had to drive to Shreveport to research them. I
was quite surprised to find that they were 10-0, and were coached by
Homer Norton, who would win the MNC at Texas A&M 12 years later.
Southwest suddenly looked very strong, what with SMU crushing Missouri
and Texas beating Vanderbilt. The last thing I did was to look at the
coaches and players for the strong 6 Southwest teams, and I have to say
that I was shocked to see that all 6 teams were led by Hall of Fame
coaches, all of whom became famous in later decades, often heading up
other teams. Shocked and elated-- obviously it wasn't just an anomaly
that these teams had such a good year. For the college football
researcher, this sort of thing is found gold. No one paid attention to
these teams at the time because these coaches were not yet that well
known or respected. And no one paid attention in later decades because
most of these coaches became famous while coaching different teams in
This season is a perfect example of why thorough and
expansive research is necessary when selecting national champions for
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).
Billingsley, Dickinson, Helms, the National Championship Foundation, and Parke Davis all selected Illinois. Grade: 0.1
The Boand and Poling systems crowned Georgia. Grade: 0.7
Both of Sagarin's rating systems had Texas A&M #1. Grade: 5.0
The College Football Researchers Association selected Yale. Grade:
Houlgate's math formula anointed 7-1-1 Notre Dame. Grade: 0.0
Congratulations to the College Football Researchers Association on
their astute and obviously well-researched selection of Yale-- I had
castigated them last time out for their dumb selection of Alabama for 1926. As for Sagarin's computers tabbing equally worthy Texas A&M, sigh, it's another regrettable triumph for machine over man.
has a case for at least sharing an MNC with Yale, having beaten them,
but the problem with selecting Georgia is that they compare very poorly
with Texas A&M, and they don't ultimately have a good case vs. the
Grade point averages 1919-1927 (the
Dickinson and Poling systems will join
the list when they've selected champions for at least half as many years
as the others):
Football Researchers Association||3.52|
|8) Parke Davis
How the systems that selected
|3) Parke Davis