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Fixing the Final 1939 AP College Football Poll

1) Texas A&M 11-0
2) Tennessee 10-1
3) Southern Cal 8-0-2
4) Cornell 8-0
5) Tulane 8-1-1
6) Missouri 8-2
7) UCLA 6-0-4
8)
Duke 8-1
9) Iowa 6-1-1
10) Duquesne 8-0-1
11) Boston College 9-2
12) Clemson 9-1
13) Notre Dame 7-2
14) Santa Clara 5-1-3
15) Ohio State 6-2
16) Georgia Tech 8-2
17) Fordham 6-2
18) Nebraska 7-1-1
19) Oklahoma 6-2-1
20) Michigan 6-2
To the left is the final 1939 AP college football top 20. You can access all of these teams' full schedules here: College Football Data Warehouse (amongst a number of other places). The fixed final AP poll, expanded to 25 teams, follows the article below.

Our first fix here is an easy one. #3 Southern Cal (8-0-2) defeated #2 Tennessee (10-1) 14-0 in the Rose Bowl, so they obviously need to be moved ahead of the Volunteers. USC actually claims themselves to have been "national champions" of 1939, but that's just ridiculous. #2, on the other hand... that I'll buy.

Move Southern Cal up to #2 and drop Tennessee to #3.

Texas A&M fullback John Kimbrough scoring the winning touchdown in a 14-13 victory over Tulane in the 1940 Sugar Bowl
Hall of Fame fullback John Kimbrough scoring his second touchdown in the 1940 Sugar Bowl, rallying #1 Texas A&M to a 14-13 victory over #5 Tulane
.

Ohio State, Michigan, and Iowa

Going down the list, our next problem is #6 Missouri (8-2). They lost to #15 Ohio State 19-0, and after the final poll they showed that that was no fluke by losing 21-7 to #16 Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl. The highest rated teams Missouri defeated were #18 Nebraska and #19 Oklahoma, so obviously Missouri was vastly overrated. But before I get to properly rating Missouri, let's talk about their first conqueror, Ohio State.

#15 Ohio State (6-2), not #9 Iowa (6-1-1), was the Big 10 champion. OSU was 5-1 in conference play, Iowa 4-1-1. OSU's other loss came to #4 Cornell (8-0), which is irrelevant when comparing them to Iowa, since Cornell was rightfully ranked higher than Iowa. OSU and Iowa both lost to #20 Michigan (6-2), but Iowa also took an upset tie with 3-4-1 Northwestern in their finale, while OSU took no other upset. So while Iowa had the better straight record, Ohio State had the better relevant record. OSU also outperformed Iowa by quite a lot, with just 1 close win compared to 5 for Iowa. Ohio State should definitely be rated higher than Iowa.

And once you correctly move Ohio State ahead of Iowa, #20 Michigan (6-2) should be moved ahead of the Hawkeyes too. They crushed Iowa 27-7, a decisive outcome. Michigan did take a pair of upset losses to 3-4-1 Illinois and 3-4-1 Minnesota, but they made up for one of them by beating Big 10 champion Ohio State 21-14 in their finale. Since Ohio State should be ranked higher than Iowa, that win gave Michigan a better relevant relevant record than Iowa had.

Iowa did not generally play like a top 25 team at all. In addition to getting routed by Michigan and tying 3-4-1 Northwestern, they beat 2-4-2 Indiana by just 3 points, 1-6-1 Wisconsin by 6, 3-3-2 Purdue by 4, and 3-4-1 Minnesota by 4. So yeah, Ohio State > Michigan > Iowa.

Notre Dame, Georgia Tech, and Missouri

Iowa's one saving grace was that they beat #13 Notre Dame (7-2), who beat #16 Georgia Tech (8-2), who beat #6 Missouri (8-2) in the Orange Bowl. That lengthens our chain to the following: 6-2 Ohio State > 6-2 Michigan > 6-1-1 Iowa > 7-2 Notre Dame > 8-2 Georgia Tech > 8-2 Missouri.

Ranking these teams this way makes Missouri's rating perfect-- behind the 2 teams that beat them and ahead of the teams they defeated. The average rating of the 6 teams was 13.2, so we'll put them all where Notre Dame is ranked now.

That creates the following ratings shift: UCLA #6, Duke #7, Duquesne #8, Boston College #9, Clemson #10, Ohio State #11, Michigan #12, Iowa #13, Notre Dame #14, Georgia Tech #15, Missouri #16, Santa Clara #17, Fordham #18, Nebraska #19, and Oklahoma #20.

UCLA and Oregon State

Originally ranked right behind Missouri at #7, 6-0-4 UCLA was as overrated as Missouri was, but they're much more difficult to properly rank. They tied now-#2 Southern Cal, which is a great result, but they also tied now-#17 Santa Clara, unranked 1-7-1 Stanford, and unranked 9-1-1 Oregon State. Only 1 of those results says they were a top 10 team-- the rest say they were not. They did not beat a winning team, and they barely got by 3-7 Texas Christian and 4-5 Washington.

Where do they belong? Well, they had a worse relevant record than Missouri, and they were originally ranked behind Missouri, so let's drop them back behind Missouri again. That puts them right in front of Santa Clara, who tied them at home. Looks good.

But let's also talk about 9-1-1 Oregon State. They lost to Southern Cal and tied UCLA on the road, and they had a better straight record than UCLA (OSU .834, UCLA .800). I'd rank them ahead of UCLA, but OSU performed even more weakly than UCLA did, and they didn't beat any winning teams either, so I can give the AP poll UCLA. However, Oregon State has no business being rated behind Santa Clara, who tied unrated 6-1-2 Utah and unrated 4-3-3 San Francisco. So let's bring Oregon State in ahead of Santa Clara.

Drop UCLA back to #16 and bring Oregon State in at #17. Missouri and the teams that had been rated between Missouri and UCLA all move up a spot, while Santa Clara and the teams behind them all drop a spot.

Duquesne and Boston College

8-0-1 Duquesne (originally ranked #10) was tied by unrated 5-3-1 Detroit, and they defeated no rated teams. 9-2 Boston College (originally #11) lost to unrated 5-5-1 Florida and to 9-1 Clemson (originally #12) in the Cotton Bowl, and they also did not defeat a rated team. Neither was impressive, and both were at least a little overrated (having lost their bowl game, Boston College would have dropped in a post-bowl poll anyway). Certainly Clemson, who beat Boston College and did not take an upset (their loss came to #5 Tulane, on the road, by 1 point), should be ranked ahead of both Duquesne and Boston College.

6-2 Ohio State, now ranked behind Clemson, did take an upset, but it came to 6-2 Michigan (now ranked #11, right behind Ohio State), a far better result than the upsets suffered by Duquesne and BC. OSU defeated a rated opponent (now-#15 Missouri), unlike Duquesne and BC, and OSU performed better than both. So Ohio State should be ranked ahead of them too.

6-2 Michigan, on the other hand, was upset by 2 losing teams, so I can give the AP poll that much.

Drop Duquesne to #9 and Boston College to #10. Clemson and Ohio State each move up 1 spot.

North Carolina

8-1-1 North Carolina was left unrated, a huge oversight. Their loss came at 8-1 Duke (originally rated #8), and they tied #5 Tulane on the road. They did not beat a rated team, but they also did not take an upset loss or tie, and their tie with Tulane was more than Duquesne and Boston College, for example, accomplished. But let's cut to the chase and compare North Carolina to 9-1 Clemson.

Clemson defeated now-#10 Boston College 6-3 in the Cotton Bowl. How does that compare to UNC tying #5 Tulane on the road? I don't know, but I do know that Clemson's loss came at Tulane, so on that basis I think UNC should be ranked ahead of Clemson. UNC lost to Duke, but the AP poll ranked Duke ahead of Clemson to begin with, so it should not hurt them in comparison.

Bring North Carolina in at #7, dropping Clemson and everyone behind them 1 spot each.

Alabama, Kentucky, and Fordham

6-2 Fordham (originally rated #17) lost to unrated 5-3-1 Alabama 7-6 at home, and Alabama should be rated ahead of them. Alabama's losses came to Tennessee (now #3), Tulane (#5), and Georgia Tech (#15), all rated higher than Fordham to begin with. Alabama was tied by unrated 6-2-1 Kentucky, but Kentucky took no upsets (losses to Tennessee and Georgia Tech), so Kentucky ought to be ranked ahead of Fordham as well. After all, they tied Alabama on the road, while Fordham lost to Alabama at home.

All 3 teams had better relevant records than Nebraska and Oklahoma did, so we'll leave Fordham where they were and just bring Alabama and Kentucky in ahead of them. But they deserve better than that. Santa Clara, who currently sits in front of Fordham, took those upset ties to 6-1-2 Utah and 4-3-3 San Francisco, both quite ugly, and they didn't beat anyone of value. Alabama, Kentucky, and Fordham all had better relevant records than Santa Clara did, so we'll move all 3 ahead of Santa Clara.

Bring Alabama in at #19, Kentucky at #20, and move Fordham to #21. Santa Clara drops to #22, Nebraska to #23, and Oklahoma to #24. One more slot left to fill.

#25

There are 7 candidates for the last slot: 7-0-1 Georgetown, 7-1 Princeton, 6-3-1 Southern Methodist, 7-3 Wake Forest, 13-0 San Jose State, 8-2 Mississippi State, and 7-2 Holy Cross. That's a lot of teams, but it's an easy choice. I'm going to have to go with 13-0 San Jose State. They played a lower-division type schedule, but they defeated every last one of those 13 opponents by more than a touchdown, including a 16-6 win at San Francisco-- who tied now-#22 Santa Clara. They defeated 10-1 Fresno State 42-7. I'd certainly rate them higher than Santa Clara, and probably all the way up into the top 10, but they did play a weak schedule (Santa Clara tied 6-0-4 UCLA on the road). So we'll just give them the last slot.

San Jose State at #25.

Fixed AP Top 25

No team falls out of this fixed and expanded AP top 25. The 5 new teams that enter the fixed poll combined for 1 win and 2 ties against AP-rated teams, and they took no losses or ties to unrated teams (discounting games against each other). That's a first.

1) Texas A&M 11-0 --
2) Southern Cal 8-0-2 +1
3) Tennessee 10-1 -1
4) Cornell 8-0 --
5) Tulane 8-1-1 --
6) Duke 8-1 +2
7) North Carolina 8-1-1 IN
8) Clemson 9-1 +4
9) Ohio State 6-2 +6
10) Duquesne 8-0-1 --
11) Boston College 9-2 --
12) Michigan 6-2 +8
13) Iowa 6-1-1 -4
14) Notre Dame 7-2 -1
15) Georgia Tech 8-2 +1
16) Missouri 8-2 -10
17) UCLA 6-0-4 -10
18) Oregon State 9-1-1 IN
19) Alabama 5-3-1 IN
20) Kentucky 6-2-1 IN
21) Fordham 6-2 -4
22) Santa Clara 5-1-3 -8
23) Nebraska 7-1-1 -5
24) Oklahoma 6-2-1 -5
25) San Jose State 13-0 IN

Fixed AP Polls
1939 National Championship
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