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1901 College Football Top 25

1901 Harvard-Yale football game in Harper's

Pictured above is the biggest game of the 1901 season, Harvard-Yale, as published that year in Harper's Weekly. The caption tells you all you need to know about who was considered national champion at the time: "HARVARD WINS THE INTERCOLLEGIATE CHAMPIONSSHIP." Indeed, had there been an AP poll in 1901, Harvard would have been #1 by a landslide.

I covered 12-0 Harvard, 11-0 Michigan, and 9-0 Wisconsin in my 1901 national championship article.

#1 Harvard

12-0 Harvard defeated 6 top 25 teams, but their biggest wins came 6-0 at #5 Army (5-1-2), which was their only close game, 27-12 over #9 Dartmouth (10-1), and 22-0 over #4 Yale (11-1-1) in their finale.

#2 Michigan and Wisconsin

Retroactive selectors really like 11-0 Michigan and are sure that they were the best team this season, and among the best teams of all time. People in 1901, however, were far less certain about that, to say the very least. If I had to guess which of these teams would have been rated higher in a 1901 AP poll, that guess would be 9-0 Wisconsin, because they were a better known quantity at the time, they had been expected to compete against Minnesota (9-1-1, #8) for the Western Conference (Big 10) title this year, and their 18-0 win over Minnesota was by far the biggest game in the "West."

On the other hand, Michigan rolled up bigger scores, outdoing their opposition by a total of 550-0, and huge scores have always been very attractive to poll voters.

The bigger scores don't really matter in this case, since Wisconsin was as unthreatened by any opponent this season as Michigan was, and Wisconsin's average margin of victory was itself very impressive. So we'll just place these teams into a tie with one another.

In addition to their 18-0 win over #8 Minnesota, Wisconsin also beat #19 Nebraska 18-0. Michigan won 29-0 over #14 Northwestern and 50-0 over #20 Iowa.

#4 Yale

11-1-1 Yale lost 22-0 at #1 Harvard in their finale, and they took their tie 5-5 at #5 Army. They defeated #6 Princeton (9-1-1), #12 Columbia, #17 Penn State, and #18 Navy. They had one weak performance, a 6-0 home win over 4-6-2 Amherst.

#5 Army

5-1-2 Army lost 6-0 to #1 Harvard, and they tied #4 Yale and #6 Princeton, all of those games at home. Their only road game this season was their 11-5 win over #18 Navy in Philadelphia in their finale. Army also won 15-0 over #16 Williams and 24-0 over #13 Penn.

#6 Princeton

9-1-1 Princeton lost 12-0 at #4 Yale in their finale, and they tied 6-6 at Army the game before that. Princeton's big win came 8-6 at #7 Cornell (11-1), and they also won 6-0 over #10 Lafayette at home. The rest of their games were shutouts and routs.

#7 Cornell

11-1 Cornell lost 8-6 at home to #6 Princeton. They won 24-0 at #12 Columbia and 23-6 at #13 Penn. They had one weak win, 6-0 over unrated 6-4 Bucknell at home.

#8 Minnesota

9-1-1 Minnesota was tied in an exhibition game against a high school in their opener. Minnesota didn't count it or list it as an official game at the time, but they do now in their record book. I pretty much disregard it, however. Their loss came 18-0 at home to #2 Wisconsin. They shut out every other opponent, including 16-0 at #14 Northwestern, 16-0 at #15 Illinois, 19-0 over #19 Nebraska, and 16-0 over #20 Iowa. They also defeated nearly-rated Haskell (7-2) 28-0.

#9 Dartmouth

1901 Dartmouth football team

10-1 Dartmouth took their loss 27-12 at #1 Harvard. They defeated only one good team, by the slim score of 6-2 at #16 Williams (6-4). The rest of their games were routs over weak opponents.

The coach was Walter McCornack, who had played quarterback for Dartmouth 1893-1896 and was team captain his last 2 years. He went 15-3-1 as coach 1901-1902, then moved on to Northwestern 1903-1905, going 26-5-4 there, for an overall record of 41-8-5.

#10 Lafayette

1901 Lafayette football team

9-3 Lafayette took their one loss to a college team 6-0 at #6 Princeton, and their other 2 losses were routs at athletic clubs. Like Dartmouth, they only beat one good team, 5-0 at #11 Syracuse (7-2). But unlike Dartmouth, they had a weak win, 11-6 at Brown (4-7-1), whom Dartmouth drubbed 22-0 on the road in their finale.


Lafayette was coached by Samuel Newton, who had played at end for Penn in the early 1890s. Newton started coaching at Penn State 1896-1898, going an anemic 12-14, but then he posted a terrific 30-6 record at Lafayette 1899-1901. More importantly, his Lafayette teams were 6-0 against archrival Lehigh, as they played twice a year then. Lehigh had had enough, and hired him away. He defeated Lafayette his first 2 years at Lehigh, but ended up 2-2 against them while coaching there. He went 23-20-2 at Lehigh 1902-1905, not nearly as well as he had done at Lafayette. After that stint at Lehigh, he coached just one more year, going 8-2 in an encore at Lafayette in 1911. And that included another win over Lehigh. Overall he was 41-16 in 4 years at Lafayette.

The star of the team this year was center and team captain Walter Bachman, a consensus All American in 1900 and 1901.

The 5-0 win at #11 Syracuse was close because Lafayette repeatedly turned the ball over near the Syracuse goal line. The closest Syracuse got to Lafayette's goal was the Lafayette 35 yard line. The 6-0 loss at #6 Princeton was a defensive slugfest that was won by Princeton's Hall of Fame guard, John DeWitt, on a 55 yard touchdown run with 6 minutes to go.

#11 Syracuse

7-2 Syracuse lost 5-0 at #10 Lafayette and 6-0 to a team of Syracuse alumni, so in practical terms they were 7-1. They too beat just one good team, 11-5 at #12 Columbia, but no one else came close to them.

#12 Columbia

Columbia halfback Bill MorleyColumbia halfback Harold Weekes

8-5 Columbia took their losses to #1 Harvard, #4 Yale, #7 Cornell, and #11 Syracuse, and they also took an upset loss 5-0 at unranked Buffalo (4-2) in their opener. Columbia defeated 3 rated teams: 5-0 over #16 Williams, 11-0 over #13 Penn, and 6-5 at #18 Navy.

Columbia was helmed by Hall of Fame coach George Sanford, who had played at center for Yale in the early 1890s. He went 22-11-1 as coach of Columbia 1899-1901, the high point coming in his first year, when Columbia beat Yale for the first time ever. He then went 6-3 at Virginia in 1904, and later made his fame at Rutgers 1913-1923, going 56-32-5 there. He produced 5 top 25 teams in his 11 years at Rutgers, and Rutgers has been top 25 only 4 times since then. Overall Sanford was 84-46-6.

During all of Sanford's 3 seasons at Columbia, the team was led by a pair of Hall of Fame halfbacks, Bill Morley (pictured above at left) and Harold Weekes (pictured above at right). Morley was a consensus All American in 1900 and 1901. He was also the kicker and a great blocker, and would succeed Sanford as coach at Columbia the next season, going 26-11-3 through 1905, after which Columbia dropped their football program. Weekes was also a consensus AA this season, and was the offensive star of the team. He was featured in a play called the "Flying Hurdle," in which Weekes was launched over the line of scrimmage. He was good at landing on his feet and running on with the play. Weekes scored the touchdown that upset Yale 5-0 in 1899 from 50 yards out.

#13 Pennsylvania

1901 Pennsylvania football team

10-5 Pennsylvania took their losses to #1 Harvard, #5 Army, #7 Cornell, #12 Columbia, and they also took a 6-5 upset loss at #18 Navy.
Penn won 23-6 over #17 Penn State (who beat Navy) and 20-5 over #23 Virginia (8-2).

Penn football coach George Woodruff

This was the last season for Penn's great Hall of Fame coach, George Woodruff (pictured), who had played for Yale 1885-1888, when they went 38-1-1. Woodruff went 124-15-2 as head coach at Penn 1892-1901, winning 3 MNCs, but this 10-5 season wasn't good enough, and there was agitation for his replacement among alumni. He resigned, and coached just 2 more years, going 8-6 at Illinois in 1903 and 10-4 at Carlisle in 1905. That puts his overall record at 142-25-2, and that puts Woodruff in the top 5 for all time coaching win percentage.

The star player this year was halfback Marshall Reynolds, a nonconsensus All American.

#14 Northwestern

8-2-1 Northwestern lost handily to #2 Michigan and #8 Minnesota, and they were tied 11-11 at home by unrated Beloit (5-3-3), an embarrassment. But they won 17-11 at #15 Illinois (8-2) and 2-0 over #22 Notre Dame (8-1-1).

#15 Illinois

8-2 Illinois lost 17-11 to #14 Northwestern and 16-0 to #8 Minnesota in their finale, both at home. The rest of their games were routs, the best being a 27-0 win at #20 Iowa.

#16 Williams

1901 Williams football team

6-4 Williams lost to #1 Harvard, #5 Army, #9 Dartmouth, and #12 Columbia, and they played well in those losses, but they only had one good win, 17-0 at #21 Massachusetts (8-1), and they posted 2 close wins over weak opponents.

The head coach at Williams was Yale grad Josiah Hazen. The years he was officially the coach here are not clear, but appear to have been 1898-1902, during which time Williams went 28-26-2. The middle of those years were the best for Williams: 10-4 in 1899, 6-4-1 in 1900, and 6-4 this year.

The star player this year was end and team captain Frank "Buck" O' Neill, who went on to become a Hall of Fame coach. He went 18-8-2 at Colgate 1902 and 1904-1905, and became famous in 3 stints at Syracuse 1906-1919, going 52-19-6 there.

#17 Penn State

5-3 Penn State lost 22-0 at #4 Yale, 23-6 at #13 Penn, and 39-0 at an athletic club. Their one big win came 11-6 at #18 Navy.

#18 Navy

6-4-1 Navy lost to #4 Yale, #5 Army, #12 Columbia, and #17 Penn State, and they were tied 0-0 in their opener by unrated 3-3-2 Georgetown. On the positive side, they had a big 6-5 home win over #13 Penn, but that's all they accomplished, and they had a couple close home wins over weak opponents.

#19 Nebraska

7-2 Nebraska took their losses 18-0 at #2 Wisconsin and 19-0 at #8 Minnesota. Their best win came 18-10 over Haskell (7-2, #26-27). They also won 5-0 at the Kirksville Osteopaths (10-3).

#20 Iowa

6-3 Iowa took their losses 50-0 to #2 Michigan, 16-0 at #8 Minnesota, and 27-0 to #15 Illinois. Their best win came 17-11 over Grinnell (7-1-1), and they had one weak performance in a 6-5 win at Drake (4-4).

#21 Massachusetts

1901 Massachusetts football team

8-1 Massachusetts took their loss 17-0 to #16 Williams. Their best win came 17-0 at Holy Cross (7-1-1), but they posted 3 close wins over weak opponents. Technically, they were 9-1, but the 9th "win" was a forfeit by Bates. I prefer to count games that were actually played.

#22 Notre Dame

1901 Notre Dame football team

Notre Dame football player Louis Salmon8-1-1 Notre Dame lost 2-0 at #14 Northwestern, and they tied the South Bend Athletic Club 0-0 in their opener. Their best win came 18-5 over Indiana (6-3, #26-27), and they too posted 3 close wins over weak opponents.

The coach was Pat O' Dea (upper right in team picture above), a legendary Hall of Fame fullback at Wisconsin 1896-1899. He was from Australia, where he had been a rugby player, and at Wisconsin he gained nationwide fame as one of the greatest kickers of all time. The "Kangaroo Kicker," as he was known, boomed a number of punts of more than 100 yards (fields were 110 yards then), and he kicked at least 4 field goals of 60 yards or more. He connected on 32 field goals in his career, extremely unusual for the time.

O' Dea went 14-4-2 as coach of Notre Dame 1900-1901, then 5-3 at Missouri in 1902. He moved to San Francisco to practice law, then disappeared in 1917. A reporter searched for and found him in 1934, living under an assumed name (Clarence Mitchell) in Westwood, California. He said that he had been tired of his football fame, but after he was found, he spent the rest of his life basking in it.

Notre Dame's star player this year was also a Hall of Famer, Louis Salmon (pictured at left), who played end, halfback, and fullback 1900-1903. He made Walter Camp's 3rd team All American list in 1903. His 36 career touchdowns remained a school record until 1985. He scored 250 points for his career.

#23 Virginia

8-2 Virginia lost 20-5 at #13 Penn, and they also took an upset loss 17-16 at unranked Georgetown (3-3-2). Their big win came 16-0 at #24 Virginia Tech, and they also won handily over 7-2 North Carolina and 4-2-2 Sewanee.

#24 Virginia Tech

6-1 Virginia Tech took their loss 16-0 at home to #23 Virginia. They won 32-6 at Georgetown (3-3-2), who beat Virginia and tied #18 Navy, and they won 17-11 at Clemson (3-1-1).

#25 California

9-0-1 California was the champion of the West Coast, I suppose. They tied an athletic club in their opener, and they only played 2 colleges all season, winning 12-0 over Nevada and 2-0 over Stanford.

Others Receiving Votes

Here are the teams closest to making this top 25.

Indiana 6-3

Indiana football coach James Horne

6-3 Indiana took their losses to #2 Michigan, #15 Illinois, and #22 Notre Dame. They did not beat a particularly good team, but most of their wins were routs, the exception being an 11-6 win over rival 4-4-1 Purdue.

The head coach was James Horne (pictured), who had played at Bowdoin College in Maine. He went 33-21-5 here 1898-1904, and was the athletic director too. He ushered Indiana into the Western Conference (Big 10) in 1900.

Haskell 7-2

7-2 Haskell lost to #8 Minnesota and #19 Nebraska. Their wins call came by more than a touchdown, including a 36-5 win at the 10-3 Kirksville Osteopaths.

1901 Top 25

1) Harvard 12-0
2) Michigan 11-0
     Wisconsin 9-0
4) Yale 11-1-1
5) Army 5-1-2
6) Princeton 9-1-1
7) Cornell 11-1
8) Minnesota 9-1-1
9) Dartmouth 10-1
10) Lafayette 9-3

11) Syracuse 7-2
12) Columbia 8-5
13) Pennsylvania 10-5
14)
Northwestern 8-2-1
15) Illinois 8-2
16) Williams 6-4
17) Penn State 5-3
18) Navy 6-4-1
19) Nebraska 7-2
20) Iowa 6-3
21) Massachusetts 8-1
22) Notre Dame 8-1-1
23) Virginia 8-2
24) Virginia Tech 6-1
25) California 9-0-1

Others Receiving Votes:
Indiana 6-3
Haskell 7-2

Top 25 Rankings 1901-1935
1901 National Championship
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