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Fixing the Final 1941 AP College Football Poll

1) Minnesota 8-0
2) Duke 9-1
3) Notre Dame 8-0-1
4) Texas 8-1-1
5) Michigan 6-1-1
6) Fordham 8-1
7) Missouri 8-2
8)
Duquesne 8-0
9) Texas A&M 9-2
10) Navy 7-1-1
11) Northwestern 5-3
12) Oregon State 8-2
13) Ohio State 6-1-1
14) Georgia 9-1-1
15) Penn 7-1
16) Mississippi State 8-1-1
17) Mississippi 6-2-1
18) Tennessee 8-2
19) Washington State 6-4
20) Alabama 9-2
To the left is the final 1941 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.

This was a very tough AP poll to fix. One big problem is #4 Texas (8-1-1). They were tied by unrated 3-6-1 Baylor in game 7, they lost to unrated 7-3-1 Texas Christian in game 8, and they finished 2nd to #9 Texas A&M in SWC play.

But Texas was ranked so highly because their performance in their 8 wins was spectacular. No one came close to them in those games, and the average score was 41-4. They beat #9 Texas A&M 23-0, then slaughtered 5-5 Oregon 71-7 in their finale. A couple of math rating systems even have Texas #1 over 8-0 Minnesota.

What do you do with a team that played like a #1 team in all but 2 of their games?
Minnesota's touchdown to beat Michigan 7-0 in 1941

Minnesota's touchdown to beat 6-1-1 Michigan 7-0. The Gophers finished 8-0, winning their 2nd straight consensus national championship and 5th in 8 years 1934-1941
.

Texas and Michigan

Personally, I would rate 8-1-1 Texas much lower, and you could validly rank them behind Texas A&M, who won the SWC. But the AP poll was obviously enamored, so the question is, how high can Texas be viably ranked?

6-1-1 Michigan sits right behind them at #5, and both teams took a loss and a tie. But Michigan's loss was a close one to #1 Minnesota, and their tie was against #13 Ohio State. That is vastly better than Texas' loss and tie to unranked teams. Texas performed better otherwise, as Michigan had 2 close wins and Texas none. But one of Michigan's close wins was 14-7 at #11 Northwestern, who will rise to #7 in the fixed poll (handled next). Texas' top opponent, Texas A&M, lost to #20 Alabama in the Cotton Bowl, and they will be dropping in the fixed poll (handled below), so Texas did not defeat a team as strong as Northwestern.

On the other hand, Texas' scores were very compelling: 34-0 over 4-4-2 Louisiana State (rated in fixed poll), 40-7 over 6-3 Oklahoma, 40-0 over 6-3-1 Rice (rated in fixed poll), and of course 23-0 over #9 Texas A&M. That's 3 teams that will make the fixed poll, while Michigan defeated just the one, Northwestern. This is a tough case, but in the end, Texas' upset loss and tie were too much worse than Michigan's loss and tie, and they came too late in the season to merely dismiss them. So Michigan belongs ahead of Texas.

That puts 8-1 Fordham right behind Texas, and here we have another tough case, especially since Fordham won 28-14 over Texas Christian, the team that beat Texas. But Fordham also won just 16-10 over Southern Methodist, whom Texas beat 34-0. Fordham's loss was 13-0 at 3-6 Pittsburgh, a much uglier result than either of Texas' blemishes, and that's the best rationalization the AP poll has for rating Texas higher. Texas also played a tougher schedule and certainly outperformed Fordham, so we can let the AP poll have this one.

Move Michigan up to #4 and drop Texas to #5.

Northwestern, Ohio State, and Missouri

#11 Northwestern (5-3) won 14-7 at #13 Ohio State (6-1-1), so the AP poll got that right, but Ohio State beat #7 Missouri (8-2), and the AP poll got that one wrong. Northwestern's 3 losses came to #1 Minnesota, #3 Notre Dame, and now-#4 Michigan, and Ohio State tied #4 Michigan, while Missouri did not defeat (or tie) any rated opponent, so Northwestern > Ohio State > Missouri.

The average rating of these teams would place them behind #10 Navy (7-1-1), but all 3 teams had better relevant records than Navy did. Navy was tied by unrated 5-2-1 Harvard. 5-3 Northwestern, however, lost only to teams now ranked in the top 4, and all 3 of those games were close, coming by a total of 9 points. 6-1-1 Ohio State lost only to Northwestern, and they tied now-#4 Michigan. Both should be rated higher than Navy.

8-2 Missouri did not take an upset, but they did not beat any rated teams, and in fact they did not beat a team as strong as Harvard, who tied Navy. Navy beat #15 Penn (7-1), which is more than Missouri accomplished. Missouri would have likely dropped behind Navy in a post-bowl poll anyway, having lost in the Sugar Bowl, so we'll put them behind Navy now.

All of that results in the following ratings shift: Duquesne #7, Texas A&M #8, Northwestern #9, Ohio State #10, Navy #11, Missouri #12, and Oregon State #13.

Duke

Duke was ranked #2 because they were 9-0 in the regular season, and no one came within a touchdown of them. Their average score was 35-5, including a 19-0 win over 8-2 Tennessee (#18). But they inexplicably lost the Rose Bowl to 8-2 Oregon State (originally ranked #12), even though this year's Rose Bowl game was held in Durham due to the December attack on Pearl Harbor. And Oregon State, who had lost to 2 unranked teams, performed poorly, and beaten no rated teams, should not have been ranked in the top 20, let alone as high as #12. The AP poll had a habit of boosting the ratings of major conference winners with major bowl invites (a habit that hasn't died). Oregon State will be dropping quite a bit in the fixed poll, even with their big Rose Bowl win.

How far should Duke drop for losing the game? I would suggest that they drop behind 7-1-1 Navy. Navy took an upset tie, while Duke took an upset loss, so Navy was effectively a half game better-- and Duke's loss came in a bowl game, giving it greater weight. And Duke didn't beat anyone but #18 Tennessee, while Navy beat #15 Penn, 8-2 William & Mary, 5-3 Cornell, and 5-3-1 Army (rated in the fixed poll).

Duke can remain ahead of Missouri, who did not defeat a team as strong as Oregon State themselves.

Drop Duke to #10. Navy and the teams that had been rated between Duke and Navy all move up 1 spot.

Mississippi State, Alabama, Texas A&M, and Georgia

Alabama claims a national championship for this season, even though they were 9-2 and ranked #20. That claim is ridiculous, but they were underrated. They defeated #14 Georgia 27-14 and now-#7 Texas A&M 29-21 in the Cotton Bowl, and they should be ranked ahead of both teams. They took an upset loss to unrated 8-2 Vanderbilt, but their other loss came to SEC champion Mississippi State (#16, 8-1-1). MSU took an upset tie to unranked 4-4-2 Louisiana State, but their loss came to 8-0 Duquesne (now #6). So Mississippi State > Alabama > Texas A&M and Georgia. The AP poll had Texas A&M rated ahead of Georgia, and that's valid, so we'll keep them that way.

The average ranking of these teams places them where Georgia is now, so that's where we'll place them.

Mississippi State moves up to #13 and Alabama to #14. Texas A&M drops to #15 and Georgia drops to #16. Northwestern, Ohio State, Navy, Duke, Missouri, and Oregon State move up 1 spot each. Penn drops 2 spots, and Mississippi, Tennessee, and Washington State drop 1 spot each.

Tennessee and Mississippi

8-2 Tennessee (originally ranked #18) had both a better straight record and relevant record than did 6-2-1 Mississippi (#17), and they should be rated higher. Mississippi did tie 9-1-1 Georgia, but they also lost to unranked 5-4 Georgetown. Tennessee did not take an upset loss or tie. Tennessee also performed a bit better-- they had 2 close wins and Mississippi had 3. And Tennessee defeated 3 winning major opponents, Mississippi 1.

Switch 'em, Tennessee to #18 and Mississippi to #19.

Washington State

6-4 Washington State, originally rated #19, defeated 8-2 Oregon State (#12), but that upset win only made up for 1 of their 3 upset losses to unranked opponents (5-5-1 UCLA, 5-4 Washington, and 2-6-1 Southern Cal). WSU does not belong in a top 25, let alone a top 20. We can certainly find plenty of teams that did better than 2 upset losses (or 3 upset losses with 1 upset win).

Toss 'em out. We're down to 19 teams.

Oregon State

8-2 Oregon State was vastly overrated at #12. When they attained that ranking, they were 7-2 with both losses coming to lower-ranked opponents (2-6-1 Southern Cal and 6-4 Washington State), and they had not beaten a ranked team. Their performance was poor too, as they edged 5-4 Washington 9-6, 4-5 California 6-0, and 5-5 Oregon 12-7. They did not belong in a top 20 at all.

But then they went to the Rose Bowl, held in Durham, North Carolina, this year, and they beat #2 Duke 20-16. A tremendous result. But it was still their only real accomplishment on the season, so they are still overrated at #12. Quite a few teams ranked behind them had better relevant records.

9-2 Alabama had the same relevant record-- let's compare Oregon to them. Alabama took 1 upset loss, to unranked 8-2 Vanderbilt. Oregon took 2 upset losses, but they made up for 1 of them by beating Duke in the Rose Bowl. They're even. But Oregon State did not beat any other rated teams, while Alabama defeated 8-2 Tennessee (#18), 9-1-1 Georgia (now #16), 8-2 Miami-Florida (good unranked team), and 9-2 Texas A&M (now #15) in the Cotton Bowl. Obviously Alabama played a massively tougher schedule than did Oregon State, and on top of that Alabama only had 2 close wins to 4 for OSU. This is not even close. Oregon State belongs behind Alabama.

Texas A&M, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee all had better relevant records than Oregon State did, so OSU belongs behind all of them as well. 6-2-1 Mississippi, now rated #19, also had a better relevant record, but I this one I can give to the AP poll. Mississippi's upset loss came to 5-4 Georgetown, an ugly result. I wouldn't say that it was worse than losing to 2-6-1 Southern Cal, but I suppose someone could make that case. If you give Oregon State's upset Rose Bowl win extra emphasis, the teams become pretty even. Mississippi still performed better than Oregon State, so I think rating OSU ahead of Ole Miss is rather dubious, but I'll just hold my nose and throw the AP poll voters of 1941 a bone.

Drop Oregon State back to #18. Tennessee and the teams that had been rated between Oregon State and Tennessee all move up 1 spot.

Texas Christian

7-3-1 Texas Christian (unrated) took 1 upset tie to unranked 6-3-1 Rice, but they more than made up for it by defeating #4 Texas on the road the week before. That gave TCU a better relevant record than every team up to now-#15 Georgia, who beat TCU 40-26 in the Orange Bowl. Oregon State, remember, took 2 upset losses and managed 1 upset win, obviously not as strong as TCU's 1 upset tie and 1 upset win. I would rate TCU right behind Georgia myself, but I can give the AP poll Tennessee, who did not take an upset loss or tie, and who outperformed TCU.

Bring Texas Christian in at #18, dropping Oregon State and Mississippi 1 spot each. We're back to 20 teams, so we have 5 more to add to get the list to 25.

Harvard and Army

I have no idea who the AP poll would have ranked next had they rated 25 teams, but I'll go with 5-2-1 Harvard and 5-3-1 Army next. Harvard took an upset loss to 5-3 Cornell, but they tied 7-1-1 Navy (originally ranked #10) and they defeated Army. Army's other 2 losses came to rated teams (7-1 Penn and 7-1-1 Navy), and they tied 8-0-1 Notre Dame (now #2).

Bring Harvard in at #21 and Army at #22.

Rice, Louisiana State, Tulane, and Vanderbilt

I think the AP poll would be looking to rate 8-2 Vanderbilt, but the problem with that is that Vanderbilt lost 34-14 to 5-4 Tulane, and Tulane lost to 4-4-2 Louisiana State and 6-3-1 Rice.

LSU beat Rice 26-0 and Tulane 19-0, and they tied now-#12 Mississippi State, but they also took a couple of upsets-- a loss to unrated 4-4-2 Holy Cross and a tie with unrated 4-5-1 Auburn. Rice tied now-#18 Texas Christian, and they took no upsets. Rice's relevant record was effectively a half game better than LSU's. But LSU's 26-0 win over Rice was very dominant, and they outperformed Rice in general (for example, LSU beat Tulane 19-0 on the road and Rice beat Tulane 10-9 at home), so I think LSU should be rated ahead of Rice. However, I also think the AP poll, given the choice, would have rated Rice higher (since 6-3-1 looks better than 4-4-2), and Rice's effective half game lead makes that a viable option, so we'll bring Rice in ahead of LSU.

Tulane's losses came to now-#20 Mississippi, now-#13 Alabama, LSU, and Rice. 3 of those losses were close, and all of their wins were by more than a touchdown, including a 21-7 win over 7-3 Boston College. Their 34-14 win over Vanderbilt was too decisive to dismiss, so Tulane should be rated ahead of Vanderbilt.

Bring Rice in at #23, 
Louisiana State at #24, and Tulane at #25. That leaves 8-2 Vanderbilt just outside the list at #26.

Fixed AP Top 25

One team falls out of the fixed and expanded AP top 25, #19 Washington State (6-4). They had 1 win over an AP-rated team, and they took 3 losses to unrated teams. The 6 new teams that enter the fixed poll had a total of 1 win and 3 ties against AP-rated teams, and they took 2 losses and 1 tie to unrated teams (discounting games against each other). So the 6 new teams combined  took fewer losses to unrated teams than Washington State took alone.

1) Minnesota 8-0 --
2) Notre Dame 8-0-1 +1
3) Michigan 6-1-1 +2
4) Texas 8-1-1 --
5) Fordham 8-1 +1
6) Duquesne 8-0 +2
7) Northwestern 5-3 +4
8) Ohio State 6-1-1 +5
9) Navy 7-1-1 +1
10) Duke 9-1 -8
11) Missouri 8-2 -4
12) Mississippi State 8-1-1 +4
13) Alabama 9-2 +7
14) Texas A&M 9-2 -5
15) Georgia 9-1-1 -1
16) Pennsylvania 7-1 -1
17) Tennessee 8-2 +1
18) Texas Christian 7-3-1 IN
19) Oregon State 8-2 -7
20) Mississippi 6-2-1 -3
21) Harvard 5-2-1 IN
22) Army 5-3-1 IN
23) Rice 6-3-1 IN
24) Louisiana State 4-4-2 IN
25) Tulane 5-4 IN

OUT: #19 Washington State 6-4
Fixed AP Polls
1941 National Championship
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