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1908 College Football Top 25

Harvard game winning field goal against Yale in 1908

Pictured above is Harvard substitute Vic Kennard's field goal that beat Yale 4-0. The photo comes from the 1916 book Football Days by William Edwards, in which the trajectory of the winning kick was helpfully illustrated, the ball circled in the middle.

Although retroactive selectors prefer 11-0-1 Pennsylvania as the "national champion" of 1908, at that time, the Harvard-Yale game was considered to be the "national championship" game, and after 9-0-1 Harvard beat 7-1-1 Yale, Harvard would have finished #1 by a very comfortable margin in a 1908 AP poll. Had Yale won, they would have been considered the national champion.


I summarized and compared 8-0-1 Harvard and 11-0-1 Penn, as well as 5-0-1 Chicago and 10-0 Louisiana State, in great detail, in my 1908 national championship article.

Harvard #1, Penn #2
.

#3: Yale vs. Chicago vs. Cornell

7-1-1 Yale would have almost certainly been #3 in a 1908 AP poll, and that works fine. Their loss, again, came 4-0 to #1 Harvard. Their tie was with 5-3-1 Brown (will be rated #12), but they defeated 6-1-2 Army (#10), 6-3-1 Syracuse (#14), 5-2-3 Princeton (#15), and 10-2-1 Washington & Jefferson (#21), and that's more wins against top 25 teams than Chicago and Cornell managed combined.

7-1-1 Cornell might have been rated higher than 5-0-1 Chicago, and Eastern writers seemed certain that Cornell was better, but the 2 teams tied (at Chicago), and Chicago was unbeaten, so we'll rate them next. Chicago also defeated 2 top 25 teams to 1 for Cornell, and Chicago only had 2 close wins, over 5-1 Wisconsin and 5-1-1 Illinois, while Cornell's 2 close wins came over 5-5 Penn State and 3-3-2 Amherst, much worse teams. The 2 top 25 teams Chicago defeated were 5-1 Wisconsin (#9) and 3-2-1 Minnesota (#18), and 5-1-1 Illinois would have been about #32-34.

7-1-1 Cornell took their loss 17-4 at #2 Penn. Their best wins came 9-0 over 4-3 Colgate (#13) and 10-4 over 5-5 Penn State (#26-31).

Yale #3, Chicago #4, and Cornell #5.

Carlisle, Dartmouth, Army, Navy, and Wisconsin

My guess is that the next teams to be rated in a 1908 AP poll would have been the following, in this order: 10-2-1 Carlisle, 6-1-1 Dartmouth, 6-1-2 Army, and 9-2-1 Navy. Carlisle and Dartmouth are fine. 10-2-1 Carlisle took their losses at #1 Harvard and at #18 Minnesota, and they tied #2 Pennsylvania. Their last 10 games were all on the road, and included wins at 9-2-1 Navy (will be rated #8), 6-3-1 Syracuse (#14), 7-2-1 Nebraska (#19), 7-1 Denver (#22), 5-5 Penn State (#26-31), 8-3 Pittsburgh (#32-34), and 6-2-2 St. Louis. That schedule is just crazy.

7-1-1 Dartmouth took their loss just 6-0 at #1 Harvard, their best result, but they took a tie against unrated 3-3-2 Williams, their worst. They defeated just 1 rated opponent, winning 10-6 over 5-2-3 Princeton (#15).

However, though 6-1-2 Army defeated 9-2-1 Navy 6-4 in their finale, Navy should be rated higher because they actually had the better relevant record. The head-to-head win gives Army a 1 game lead on Navy. Army lost 6-0 to #3 Yale, a strong showing, but they took their ties to #15 Princeton and #21 Washington & Jefferson. Those ties bring them back to even with Navy, but still holding the head-to-head tiebreaker. Navy's other loss came to #6 Carlisle, who is rated higher, so that loss is irrelevant when comparing Navy to Army. But Navy's tie came to #1 Harvard, arguably the best result by any team this season, and it is this game that gives Navy a relevant record that is effectively a half game better than Army's. Furthermore, Navy performed better than Army, as their only close win came over a good team, 5-5 Penn State (#26-31), while Army posted close wins over a pair of bad teams, Springfield and Tufts.

5-1 Wisconsin probably would have been ranked behind all these teams, but it's possible that they would have been ranked ahead of Army, and they performed better than Army, so we're going to bring them in ahead of Army. Wisconsin posted 2 close wins, both over good teams (#18 Minnesota and #32-34 Marquette), while Army posted 2 close wins over bad teams, as noted above. Wisconsin's loss came 18-12 to 5-0-1 Chicago (#4). Navy can remain ranked ahead of Wisconsin, as they posted just 1 close win (over #26-31 Penn State).


Carlisle #6, Dartmouth #7, Navy #8, Wisconsin #9, and Army #10
.

Louisiana State, Brown, Colgate, Syracuse, and Princeton

10-0 Louisiana State got a bit more national attention than did most Southern token teams from this time, so I believe they would have ranked about #11, though it is possible that they would have been ranked significantly lower. I summarized their season in some detail in my 1908 national championship article.

Next we'll bring in our usual clot of Eastern teams that played tough schedules and thus took a bunch of losses and ties: 5-3-1 Brown, 4-3 Colgate, 6-3-1 Syracuse, and 5-2-3 Princeton. 5-3-1 Brown took their losses to #1 Harvard (by just 4 points), #2 Penn, and 6-2-2 Lafayette (#20). The tie was their best "win," as it came at #3 Yale, but they also won 6-0 over Colgate.

4-3 Colgate took their other 2 losses to #5 Cornell and #10 Army. They had one big win, 6-0 at Syracuse. 6-3-1 Syracuse took their other 2 losses to #3 Yale and #6 Carlisle. Their tie came at Princeton, and they won 28-4 over 5-2-1 Michigan (#16).

5-2-3 Princeton took their losses to #3 Yale and #7 Dartmouth, and in addition to Syracuse, they tied #10 Army and #20 Lafayette. They did not defeat a rated team, and unlike Syracuse they had one poor performance against an unrated team, so Syracuse should be rated higher.

Louisiana State #11, Brown #12, Colgate #13, Syracuse #14, and Princeton #15.

Colgate

1908 Colgate football team

Colgate's coach, here for just this one season, was Cornell grad Edwin Sweetland (pictured below). He had previously gone a terrific 20-5-2 at rival Syracuse 1900-1902, and after a 14-7-2 stint at Ohio State, he came to Colgate this season and coached the school's first top 25 caliber team. Likewise, in 1909 he would coach Kentucky to their first top 25 season. Overall Sweetland was 100-41-10 at 9 schools.

Colgate football coach Edwin Sweetland

Believe it or not, until the 1950s, Colgate-Syracuse was a fierce and famous rivalry. Coming into 1908, Colgate was 7-3-1 against Syracuse. 1908 was the first game of the series held at Syracuse's Archbold Stadium (more on that in the Syracuse section below), where the series would always be played afterward until it was ended in 1961. This rivalry attracted such huge crowds that it needed to be played in a large venue.

Colgate's 6-0 win over Syracuse in 1908 was the start of a so-called "Hoodoo" curse Colgate enjoyed against Syracuse in the stadium. Syracuse had 8 drives that went inside the Colgate 10 in this game, but yielded no points. What other explanation could there be other than a curse? According to legend, a Colgate student had placed a varsity maroon "C" sweater in the drying cement of the stadium as it was being built, initiating the curse. Colgate won the first 5 games of the series played at the stadium, they won 10 in a row 1928-1937, and through 1949 they led the series 31-15-5. Colgate fans continually chanted "Hoodoo" when their team played Syracuse. Syracuse fans answered with a chant of "We do!"

The schools took very different paths in the 1950s, killing the rivalry. Syracuse re-emphasized football in the decade and enjoyed the school's greatest football period, culminating in a national championship in 1959. Colgate, on the other hand, went the Ivy League route, de-emphasizing football and becoming a minor/lower division football program. As a result, Syracuse started stomping on Colgate in the 1950s, and the series was ended in 1961. The schools have played each other 4 times since, and are scheduled to meet again in 2016. Colgate still leads the series, but just barely, 31-30-5.

Syracuse

1908 Syracuse football team

Syracuse football coach Howard JonesSyracuse was also led by a coach who was here for just one season, Hall of Famer Howard Jones (pictured at left). He had played for Yale 1905-1907, winning 3 straight national championships with them, and he had just graduated in the Spring, so this was the debut season of his very illustrious coaching career. The next season, 1909, he coached Yale to another national championship. Later he went 42-17-1 at Iowa 1916-1923 with 2 Big 10 titles and another MNC, then 121-36-13 at Southern Cal 1925-1940 with 7 PCC titles and another 2 MNCs (the school claims 4 MNCs). Total for his career: 194-64-21 and 4 legit MNCs (plus another 3 as a player!).

Syracuse was led on the field by consensus All American tackle Bill Horr, who won a pair of medals in discus events at the 1908 Olympics. End Claude Fisher and guard Orlo Waugh were nonconsensus AA.

The aforementioned Archbold Stadium (pictured below) was the 3rd concrete stadium in America when built. It held 20,000, but until the 1950s, when it was doubled in size to accommodate a surge in ticket demand, it was generally only filled for the annual rivalry game with nearby Colgate. The stadium first started hosting games in 1907, but construction was not complete until 1908. Dr. Charles Burrows wrote in Technical World magazine in 1909, "Athletic contests may come and go, but the recently completed concrete stadium of Syracuse University will last forever." It was demolished after the 1978 season to make way for the Carrier Dome.

Archbold Stadium

Michigan, Kansas, Minnesota, and Nebraska

5-2-1 Michigan took their losses to #2 Penn and #14 Syracuse, and the tie came at 6-0-2 Michigan State (#23). They won 12-6 over 8-1 Notre Dame (#26-31), 16-6 over 6-3-1 Case, 10-6 at 6-4 Ohio State, and 24-6 over 7-2-1 Vanderbilt (who lost to Ohio State). I believe that Missouri Valley champion 9-0 Kansas would have been rated lower, and they did perform worse than Michigan, so we'll bring them in next. Kansas won 20-5 at 7-2-1 Nebraska (#19), 12-6 over 6-2 Kansas State (unrated), and 10-4 over arch-rival 6-2 Missouri (unrated) in their finale, but the rest of their schedule was very poor, and they barely won at 2-5 Iowa.

3-2-1 Minnesota took their losses to #4 Chicago and #9 Wisconsin, and the tie came to Nebraska at home. They posted a pair of weak wins over 3-4 Lawrence and 6-3 Iowa State (unrated), but they pulled off one huge win 11-6 over #6 Carlisle in their finale.

In addition to Kansas, 7-2-1 Nebraska lost 37-6 to #6 Carlisle, and as noted, they tied Minnesota. That was their one big "win" of the year.

Michigan #16, Kansas #17, Minnesota #18, and Nebraska #19.

Kansas

1908 Kansas football team

Kansas was coached by Dr. Bert Kennedy (#9 in team picture above), who had played quarterback at Kansas 1895-1897 and at Penn in 1899. He went 7-0-1 at Washburn (Kansas) in 1903, then Kansas hired him away and he went 52-9-4 here 1904-1910. Overall he was 96-43-10 at 3 schools. But football coaching was just a hobby: he was a practicing dentist for 62 years. Kansas was top 25 caliber in 2 of Kennedy's seasons, then not again until 1947.

Kansas quarterback Tommy Johnson went 23-2-1 as a starter 1908-1910. He scored the only touchdown on a fumble return in a 5-3 win at Kansas State in 1909, and he scored the only touchdown on a 70 yard punt return in a 6-0 win at Nebraska the same season. But unfortunately, he suffered a concussion and was rendered ineffective in the 1909 finale against Missouri, and Kansas lost for the first time since 1907. Worse, that gave the conference title to Missouri. In 1910, Tommy Johnson would suffer a collision in a 5-5 tie with Missouri that aggravated a kidney condition he'd had since childhood, and he died a year later of kidney failure.

End Carl Pleasant and center John "Swede" Carlson were All-Missouri Valley, and giant guard Howard "Tub" Reed, who weighed in at 240 pounds, was both All-Missouri Valley and All-Western (which included the Big 10 region, so was a tougher list to make).

Lafayette and Washington & Jefferson

6-2-2 Lafayette and 10-2-1 Washington & Jefferson fall in behind Nebraska primarily because Minnesota defeated #6 Carlisle, and Nebraska tied Minnesota. Lafayette took their losses to #2 Penn and 4-3 Lehigh (unrated). Their ties came to #15 Princeton, a good result, and to 3-5-2 Bucknell, a poor result. They pulled off one big win, 8-6 at #12 Brown. So in the end, they had a loss and a tie against higher-rated teams, and a loss and a tie against unrated teams. Erratic but balanced.

10-2-1 Washington & Jefferson took their losses to #3 Yale and to 9-1 Western Reserve (#24). However, they tied #10 Army, and that plus Western Reserve's upset loss to 7-1-1 Kenyon (unrated; lost to 6-4 Ohio State and tied 6-3-1 Case), puts W&J ahead of Western Reserve despite the head-to-head result (better relevant record). W&J also defeated 8-3 Pittsburgh.

Lafayette #20 and Washington & Jefferson #21.

Washington & Jefferson

1908 Washington & Jefferson football team

Washington & Jefferson was coached by David Morrow (#5 in team picture above), a Bethany (West Virginia) grad who hung around at Washington & Jefferson for more than 20 years. This was his first season as head coach, and he went 27-11-3 here 1908-1911. He was head coach for 2 more stints, going 11-5-1 from 1919-1920 and 13-4-1 from 1924-1925. That put him at 51-20-5 in all. Washington & Jefferson was top 25 in 5 of his 8 seasons. In 1908 Washington & Jefferson became the first football team to put numbers on their jerseys.

Denver, Michigan State, Western Reserve, and Washington

Time to finish out the top 25 with a bunch of token teams, starting with Rocky Mountain champion 7-1 Denver. Their best result was their loss, by a mere 8-4 to #6 Carlisle. That's better than all of the following teams did against Carlisle: #8 Navy, #14 Syracuse, and #19 Nebraska. Denver defeated 3-2-1 Utah, 5-2 Colorado, and 5-2 Colorado College, all in very close games.

6-0-2 Michigan State took their ties to #16 Michigan and to unrated 6-0-1 DePaul. All of DePaul's other opponents were minor teams, extremely low level (Knox, Carroll, Lake Forest, Beloit, Illinois State). Michigan State did not defeat a good team, and they struggled to get by 2-6 Wabash, so the big tie with Michigan is all they accomplished.

9-1 Western Reserve was the Ohio Athletic Conference champion. They took their loss to unrated 7-1-1 Kenyon, but they made up for it with a big upset win over #21 Washington & Jefferson. Western Reserve defeated 6-4 Ohio State and 6-3-1 Case.

6-0-1 Washington was the Northwestern champion. They tied 4-0-2 Washington State (who took their other tie to Idaho), and they defeated Oregon and Oregon State
.

Denver #22, Michigan State #23, Western Reserve #24, and Washington #25.

Denver

1908 Denver University football team

Denver's coach was John Koehler, who had played at Nebraska and then at Chicago for Amos Alonzo Stagg. He went 22-15-1 here 1906-1910 and won 2 conference titles. This was Denver's first conference title, and their first top 25 team, something they would accomplish only one more time, in 1917. Denver fielded 5 players who were All-Rocky Mountain this season. Halfback Clem Crowley became a referee and a prominent football writer, in addition to his day job as a lawyer.

Michigan State

1908 Michigan State football team

This was Michigan State's first top 25 caliber team. They had been a minor team playing mostly minor teams, but they made a name for themselves for the first time this year when they tied mighty Michigan (they had previously been 0-3 against Michigan). This was also the first year Michigan played in East Lansing. The coach who lifted them up from nowheresville was Chester Brewer, a Wisconsin grad who went a very impressive 56-10-6 here 1903-1910. He then moved on to Missouri, and overall he was 97-51-14 at 4 schools, nowhere near as successful at any other time as he was at Michigan State 1903-1910. Brewer became the athletic director at Missouri 1923-1935, and he remained a professor there until his death.

Western Reserve

1908 Western Reserve football team

Western Reserve had gone 9-1 in 1907 as well, but this season was their only team that was ever top 25. The coach, William "Budget" Seaman, went 26-7-4 here 1906-1909. Four Western Reserve players were All-Ohio this season.

Others Receiving Votes

Here are the teams closest to making this top 25. 5-0 Arizona and 6-0 Louisiana-Lafayette were too far removed from big time football to consider.

Notre Dame 8-1

8-1 Notre Dame took their loss by just 12-6 at #16 Michigan. They won 6-0 at 4-2-1 Marquette (covered below), but posted a weak performance in struggling to get by 2-6 Wabash.

Auburn 6-1

6-1 Auburn lost 10-2 to #11 Louisiana State. They defeated 4-1-3 Sewanee, 6-3 Georgia Tech, and 5-2-1 Georgia. Their power level might well have been top 25.

Miami (Ohio) 7-0

7-0 Miami-Ohio posted close wins over all of the following teams: Centre, Ohio, Oberlin, and Wabash. Highly unlikely that their power level was top 25.

Washington State 4-0-2

As previously mentioned, 4-0-2 Washington State tied #25 Washington and unrated 2-2-2 Idaho. They did not beat a good team (and did not play Oregon or Oregon State).

Penn State 5-5

5-5 Penn State took their losses to #2 Penn, #5 Cornell, #6 Carlisle, #8 Navy, and to unrated Bellefonte Academy in their opener. That last was an ugly result, but PSU was within a touchdown of 3 of the top 10 teams they lost to, and they won 12-6 at 8-3 Pitt (covered below) in their finale. It is likely that their power level was top 25.

Pittsburgh 8-3

In addition to Penn State (covered above), 8-3 Pittsburgh lost to #6 Carlisle and #21 Washington & Jefferson. They won 13-0 at 6-2-2 St. Louis, and they defeated 5-3 West Virginia and 7-2 Gettysburg at home.

Illinois 5-1-1

5-1-1 Illinois lost a close 11-6 game at #4 Chicago, and they tied 4-2-1 Marquette (covered below). They did not beat a good team, but all of their wins came by more than a touchdown.

Marquette 4-2-1

4-2-1 Marquette took their losses to #9 Wisconsin (by just 3 points) and to 8-1 Notre Dame (covered above), and they tied 5-1-1 Illinois (covered above). All of their wins came by big scores, though the opponents in those games were all minor teams. I think it is quite possible that Notre Dame, Illinois, and Marquette were all top 25 in power level.

DePaul 6-0-1

1908 DePaul University football team

6-0-1 DePaul tied #23 Michigan State. The rest of their opponents were all minor teams, and they struggled to get by 5-3 Illinois State. This is the closest DePaul ever came to being top 25 caliber. The coach was Frank Hagerty (middle of back row in team picture above), a Colby grad who went 5-2 here in 1907 and 6-0-1 this season. DePaul fielded 5 players who were All-Illinois this year, and they also featured end Joe Wilhoit, who became a professional baseball player, best known for his record 69-game hitting streak at minor league team Wichita, which is still the professional baseball record.

1908 Top 25

1) Harvard 9-0-1
2) Pennsylvania 11-0-1
3) Yale 7-1-1
4) Chicago 5-0-1
5) Cornell 7-1-1
6) Carlisle 10-2-1
7) Dartmouth 6-1-1
8) Navy 9-2-1
9) Wisconsin 5-1
10) Army 6-1-2

11) Louisiana State 10-0
12) Brown 5-3-1
13) Colgate 4-3
14)
Syracuse 6-3-1
15) Princeton 5-2-3
16) Michigan 5-2-1
17) Kansas 9-0
18) Minnesota 3-2-1
19) Nebraska 7-2-1
20) Lafayette 6-2-2
21) Washington & Jefferson 10-2-1
22) Denver 7-1
23) Michigan State 6-0-2
24) Western Reserve 9-1
25) Washington 6-0-1

Others Receiving Votes:
Notre Dame 8-1
Auburn 6-1
Miami (Ohio) 7-0
Washington State 4-0-2
Penn State 5-5
Pittsburgh 8-3
Illinois 5-1-1

Marquette 4-2-1
DePaul 6-0-1

Top 25 Rankings 1901-1935
1908 National Championship
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