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College Football National Champions

Listed in the table at the bottom of this page are all of my selections for mythical national championships (MNC) in college football starting with 1901, eventually working my way to the present. You can get a full explanation for any selection, along with summaries of the contending teams and their seasons, by clicking on the year in the table.

Why Start With 1901?

I started with 1901 because it is the first season when the very idea of a "national" champion makes some sense. Before 1901, the sport was in its infancy in most of the country, and the East was unchallenged in its power. "National" champions prior to 1901 are therefore really just regional (Eastern) champions, and the title of "national champion" doesn't mean much.

The East was still dominant in 1901, and continued to be through at least 1908, but the rest of the country, and primarily the Great Lakes region, took a giant leap forward in 1901. That was the year Michigan hired Fielding Yost, and his "point-a-minute" teams would not lose until 1905. Michigan's 11-0 squad in 1901 is the first team from outside the East that anyone selects as a national champion (they are the consensus choice of modern selectors). But Wisconsin had a tremendous season that year too, and Western teams contend for the national championship nearly every season after 1901, including Chicago and Minnesota.

1901 was also the first season that ended with a Rose Bowl contest, as Michigan went out West to beat up on Stanford.

My Selections

Naturally, I think my mythical national championship selections are better than anyone else's, but given that true national championships do not exist in college football (at the FBS level), they're all in the eye of the beholder, which is why we call them "mythical." So you can read my review of each season and judge for yourself. And that is one huge difference between myself and the likes of Parke Davis, the Helms Foundation, the National Championship Foundation, and any other national championship selector listed in the NCAA Records Book. Their lists are just lists, with no reasons why. It is forever a mystery as to why Davis would name 11-1-1 Yale the MNC of 1901 over 12-0 Harvard, who beat them 22-0. And we can never know why Helms and the NCF select Princeton and not the superior Yale in 1906. I have tried to find their reasoning behind such picks, and any such research has thus far come up empty. But you can read my full reasoning behind every selection I make. Or you can read the facts and pick your own champs.

My picks are also based on consistent criteria. I have not seen a single organization-- not even the "gold standard" AP poll-- that is consistent in its criteria and reasoning from year to year. The AP poll, for example, did not count bowls for some 30 years, then did count them thereafter. That makes AP "champions" before and after 1967 completely different things. But it's not just that. Why would the AP poll name Brigham Young #1 in 1984, for example, and not do so for far better "little big teams" like Arizona State in 1975 (then a WAC team), Boise State in 2006, and Utah in 2008? It makes no sense. Sportswriters' zeitgeist-driven values and criteria shift from year to year, leading to inconsistency.

So rest assured, my selections below are the most accurate, most consistent, and simply the best list of legitimate college football national champions that you have ever seen. But again, you can judge for yourself.

Categories in the National Champions Table

In addition to listing my selections for the national champions of each season, the table below contains three other categories/columns: "#1," "Contenders," and "Not Contenders."

#1

This is who would or should have been ranked #1 in a top 25 for that season, so you could look at it as a "stricter" national champion. A team in parentheses could be ranked #1 in a tie with the other listed team(s), but could/should not be ranked #1 alone. For example, for 1902, I list the following for "#1": Yale 11-0-1, (Michigan 11-0). This means your choices for #1 in 1902 are, in my opinion, Yale alone or Yale and Michigan in a tie. For 1905, on the other hand, I list the following for "#1": Yale 10-0, Chicago 11-0. Neither team is in parentheses, and this means that you could validly select Yale alone #1, or Chicago alone at #1, or both teams in a tie.

I definitely believe that a team can be a "national champion" and still not merit a #1 ranking. In my article on the 1991 AP Poll, for example, I concluded that Washington was the only logically legitimate choice for #1, but I still consider unbeaten Miami to be the national co-champion with Washington for that season.

Contenders

Contenders are teams that are very, very close to meriting a share of the national championship, and they are often teams that organizations listed in the NCAA Records Book have selected as national champions of the given seasons, but they are teams that I myself do not recognize as national champions. You can read summaries of all the listed teams and my reasoning for not crowning them by clicking on the year in question. If you have very loose standards for national championships, you could throw these teams in as national co-champions, though I think that too many teams sharing titles makes the very term "national champion" even more hollow than it already is.

Not Contenders

The title of this category says it all. These are teams that I think have no legitimate argument at all for sharing a mythical national championship, though most of them are selected as a champion by an organization listed in the NCAA Records Book. Again, you can read summaries of most of the listed teams and my arguments against them by clicking on the given year in the first column.

Year National Champions #1 Contenders Not Contenders
1901 Harvard 12-0 Harvard 12-0 Michigan 11-0
Wisconsin 9-0
Yale 11-1-1
1902 Yale 11-0-1
Michigan 11-0
Yale 11-0-1
(Michigan 11-0)
Nebraska 10-0
1903 Princeton 11-0 Princeton 11-0 Michigan 11-0-1
Minnesota 14-0-1
Nebraska 11-0
1904 Pennsylvania 12-0 Pennsylvania 12-0 Michigan 10-0
Minnesota 13-0
Yale 10-1
Vanderbilt 9-0
Pittsburgh 10-0
1905 Yale 10-0
Chicago 11-0
Yale 10-0
Chicago 11-0
1906 Yale 9-0-1
Princeton 9-0-1
Yale 9-0-1
(Princeton 9-0-1)
St. Louis 11-0
1907 Yale 9-0-1 Yale 9-0-1
1908 Harvard 9-0-1
Pennsylvania 11-0-1
Harvard 9-0-1
(Pennsylvania 11-0-1)
Chicago 5-0-1 Louisiana State 10-0
1909 Yale 10-0 Yale 10-0
1910 Harvard 8-0-1 Harvard 8-0-1 Pittsburgh 9-0
Vanderbilt 8-0-1
1911 Minnesota 6-0-1
Carlisle 11-1
Minnesota 6-0-1 Princeton 8-0-2
Penn State 8-0-1
Navy 6-0-3
1912 Harvard 9-0 Harvard 9-0 Penn State 8-0
Wisconsin 7-0
1913 Chicago 7-0
Harvard 9-0
Chicago 7-0
Harvard 9-0
Notre Dame 7-0
Nebraska 8-0
Michigan State 7-0
Auburn 8-0
1914 Illinois 7-0
Army 9-0
Illinois 7-0
Army 9-0
Harvard 7-0-2 Texas 8-0
1915 Cornell 9-0 Cornell 9-0 Pittsburgh 8-0
Nebraska 8-0
Washington State 7-0
Oklahoma 10-0
1916 Pittsburgh 8-0
Colgate 8-1
Army 9-0
Pittsburgh 8-0
Colgate 8-1
1917 Georgia Tech 9-0 Georgia Tech 9-0 Pittsburgh 10-0
1918 Pittsburgh 4-1
Michigan 5-0
Pittsburgh 4-1
(Michigan 5-0)
1919 Illinois 6-1
Penn State 7-1
Illinois 6-1
Penn State 7-1
Centre 9-0
Harvard 9-0-1
Notre Dame 9-0
Texas A&M 10-0
1920 California 9-0 California 9-0 Harvard 8-0-1
Princeton 6-0-1
Notre Dame 9-0
1921 Iowa 7-0 Iowa 7-0 Cornell 8-0
Lafayette 9-0
California 9-0-1
Washington & Jefferson 10-0-1
1922 California 9-0
Cornell 8-0
Princeton 8-0
California 9-0
Cornell 8-0
Princeton 8-0
Michigan 6-0-1
Vanderbilt 8-0-1
Iowa 7-0
1923 Cornell 8-0
Illinois 8-0
Cornell 8-0 Yale 8-0
Michigan 8-0
1924 Notre Dame 10-0 Notre Dame 10-0 Pennsylvania 9-1-1
1925 Dartmouth 8-0
Alabama 10-0
Dartmouth 8-0 Michigan 7-1
Pittsburgh 8-1
1926 Navy 9-0-1
Lafayette 9-0
Navy 9-0-1
Lafayette 9-0
Stanford 10-0-1
Alabama 9-0-1
Notre Dame 9-1
1927 Yale 7-1
Texas A&M 8-0-1
Yale 7-1
Texas A&M 8-0-1
Georgia 9-1
Centenary 10-0
Illinois 7-0-1
1928 Georgia Tech 10-0 Georgia Tech 10-0 Southern Cal 9-0-1 Detroit 9-0
1929 Notre Dame 9-0 Notre Dame 9-0 Purdue 8-0 Pittsburgh 9-1
1930 Notre Dame 10-0
Alabama 10-0
Notre Dame 10-0
Alabama 10-0
1931 Southern Cal 10-1 Southern Cal 10-1 Pittsburgh 8-1
Tennessee 9-0-1
Purdue 9-1
1932 Southern Cal 10-0
Michigan 8-0
Southern Cal 10-0
(Michigan 8-0)
Colgate 9-0
1933 Michigan 7-0-1
Princeton 9-0
Michigan 7-0-1
Princeton 9-0
1934 Minnesota 8-0
Alabama 10-0
Minnesota 8-0
(Alabama 10-0)
Pittsburgh 8-1
1935 Stanford 8-1
Minnesota 8-0
Stanford 8-1
Minnesota 8-0
Princeton 9-0 Southern Methodist 12-1
1936 Minnesota 7-1
Pittsburgh 8-1-1
Minnesota 7-1
Pittsburgh 8-1-1
Northwestern 7-1
1937 Pittsburgh 9-0-1
Fordham 7-0-1
Pittsburgh 9-0-1 California 10-0-1 Santa Clara 9-0
1938 Tennessee 11-0
Texas Christian 11-0
Tennessee 11-0
(Texas Christian 11-0)
1939 Texas A&M 11-0 Texas A&M 11-0 Cornell 8-0 Southern Cal 8-0-2
1940 Stanford 10-0
Minnesota 8-0
Boston College 11-0
Stanford 10-0
Minnesota 8-0
1941 Minnesota 8-0 Minnesota 8-0 Alabama 8-1-1
1942 Ohio State 9-1
Georgia 11-1
Ohio State 9-1
(Georgia 11-1)
Wisconsin 8-1-1
1943 Notre Dame 9-1 Notre Dame 9-1 Purdue 9-0
1944 Army 9-0 Army 9-0 Ohio State 9-0
1945 Army 9-0 Army 9-0 Alabama 10-0 Oklahoma State 9-0
1946 Georgia 11-0
Notre Dame 8-0-1
Army 9-0-1
Georgia 11-0
Notre Dame 8-0-1
(Army 9-0-1, if tied with Notre Dame)
1947 Michigan 10-0
Notre Dame 9-0
Michigan 10-0
Notre Dame 9-0
Texas 10-1
1948 Michigan 9-0 Michigan 9-0
1949 Notre Dame 10-0
Oklahoma 11-0
Notre Dame 10-0
(Oklahoma 11-0)
Army 9-0
1950 Tennessee 11-1 Tennessee 11-1 Oklahoma 10-1
Kentucky 11-1
Princeton 9-0
1951 Maryland 10-0 Maryland 10-0 Michigan State 9-0 Tennessee 10-1
1952 Michigan State 9-0
Georgia Tech 12-0
Michigan State 9-0
Georgia Tech 12-0
1953 Notre Dame 9-0-1 Notre Dame 9-0-1 Maryland 10-1
1954 Ohio State 10-0
UCLA 9-0
Ohio State 10-0
UCLA 9-0
Oklahoma 10-0
1955 Oklahoma 11-0 Oklahoma 11-0
1956 Oklahoma 10-0 Oklahoma 10-0 Iowa 9-1
1957 Auburn 10-0 Auburn 10-0 Ohio State 9-1
Michigan State 8-1
Oklahoma 10-1
1958 Louisiana State 11-0
Iowa 8-1-1
Louisiana State 11-0
Iowa 8-1-1
1959 Syracuse 11-0 Syracuse 11-0
1960 Iowa 8-1
Washington 10-1
Iowa 8-1
Washington 10-1
(but they should not be tied for #1)
Missouri 10-1
Mississippi 10-0-1
Minnesota 8-2
1961 Alabama 11-0 Alabama 11-0 Ohio State 8-0-1
1962 Mississippi 10-0
Southern Cal 11-0
Mississippi 10-0
(Southern Cal 11-0)
1963 Texas 11-0 Texas 11-0
1964 Arkansas 11-0 Arkansas 11-0 Alabama 10-1
Notre Dame 9-1
1965 Michigan State 10-1
Alabama 9-1-1
Michigan State 10-1
(Alabama 9-1-1)
1966 Notre Dame 9-0-1
Michigan State 9-0-1
Notre Dame 9-0-1
(Michigan State 9-0-1)
Alabama 11-0
1967 Southern Cal 10-1 Southern Cal 10-1 Oklahoma 10-1
1968 Ohio State 10-0 Ohio State 10-0 Penn State 11-0
1969 Texas 11-0
Penn State 11-0
Texas 11-0
Penn State 11-0

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