Top 25 Rankings 1901-1935
1915 National Championship
College Football Top 25
Cornell's first national championship was carried home by superstar quarterback Charley Barrett
(carrying the ball in the picture above). Cornell finished 9-0, and
in a season full of contenders, they are the consensus choice for the
1915 mythical national championship, and would have run away with #1
had there been an AP poll that season. I covered Cornell and 6 other potential 1915 MNC contenders in detail in my 1915 national championship article, including 8-0 Pittsburgh, 8-0 Nebraska, 7-0 Washington State, 7-0 Washington, 10-0 Oklahoma, and 7-0 Colorado State.
#2: Pittsburgh vs. Nebraska vs. Harvard
would easily have finished 2nd in a 1915 AP poll, and that works fine.
Their loss came to #1 Cornell, their only loss since 1911. Their
only close win was 10-6 at 6-2 Princeton (will be ranked #8), and they
also defeated 8-1 Virginia (#14) and 7-2 Penn State (nearly rated).
Pittsburgh vs. 8-0 Nebraska is a more difficult prospect. I suspect
that Pitt would have edged Nebraska out for #3, but it isn't clear, and
Nebraska had the bigger win, over 7-1 Notre Dame (#9), while Pitt's
best came over 8-1-1 Washington & Jefferson (#16), a team that was
tied by unrated 5-2-1 West Virginia. The rest of Nebraska's wins were
routs, whereas Pitt had one poor performance in a 14-7 win at unrated
3-5-2 Penn. For those reasons, I'm going with Nebraska at #3.
other notable wins came against a pair of nearly-rated teams, 20-0 over
7-2 Penn State and 28-0 over 7-1 Carnegie. Nebraska won 21-0 at 6-2
Iowa State and 33-0 at 6-2 Kansas.
Harvard #2, Nebraska #3, and Pittsburgh #4.
Minnesota, Illinois, and Washington State
in an AP poll would have been 6-0-1 Minnesota, followed by 5-0-2
Illinois, followed by, I'm guessing, 7-0 Washington State. Minnesota's
wins were all dominating, including 20-7 over 5-2 Chicago (will be
rated #18), 20-3 at 4-3 Wisconsin (#19), and 34-6 over 6-2 Iowa State,
but their MNC hopes were dashed in a 6-6 tie at 5-0-2 Illinois. This
was the 2nd of 3 straight seasons that Minnesota's sole blemish came to
5-0-2 Illinois was a defending MNC, and they were also dominating
in their wins, but unfortunately for them, in addition to Minnesota,
they were tied at 5-1-1 Ohio State (#20). They won 17-3 over 4-3
Wisconsin (#19) and 10-0 at 5-2 Chicago (#18).
State was dominating as well, winning all their games by more than a
touchdown, and this high rating would have been secured by the
publicity they received after beating 5-4-1 Brown 14-0 in the Rose
Bowl. Now, Brown was not particularly good, not close to being top 25
caliber, but it was actually big news that any team from the Northwest could defeat a winning major Eastern team.
that wasn't the only game that raised the profile of Northwestern
football, because 5-3 Oregon State also won 20-0 at 5-1 Michigan State
during the regular season, and MSU won the rest of their games by an
average score of 52-4. Largely because of that game, 7-2 Oregon finds
itself at #24 in this top 25, Oregon State at #25, and that does give
WSU a pair of victories over rated opponents, if barely. They beat
Oregon 28-3 and Oregon State 29-0. Heck, maybe WSU was even the best
team in the country this year, but unfortunately, their schedule simply
left no way for us to be able to tell one way or the other.
Minnesota #5, Illinois #6, and Washington State #7.
Notre Dame, Syracuse, and Dartmouth
up for a
1915 AP poll would have been 6-2 Princeton, and though 7-1 Notre Dame had a better relevant record,
I think Princeton will do for #8. They lost 10-6 to #2 Harvard, a game
effort, but they also took a loss at 4-5 Yale in their finale, a poor
effort, albeit in a rivalry game. On the plus side, Princeton racked up
a healthy number of impressive wins: 3-0
over 9-1-2 Syracuse (will be ranked #10), 30-7 over 7-1-1 Dartmouth
(#11), 10-0 over 7-1 Rutgers (#22), 13-0 over 7-2 Georgetown, and 40-3
over 8-3 Lafayette. Notre Dame didn't take an upset loss, but they also
didn't defeat a single top 25 team.
9-1-2 Syracuse also played a tougher schedule than 7-1 Notre Dame,
but their wins were not as impressive as Princeton's, so their case for
being rated higher than Notre Dame is weaker. Syracuse took a pair of
upset ties, to 7-1-1 Dartmouth and at 2-2-2 Montana. Montana, as one
might expect, was awful, but to be fair, Syracuse was "homered" in that
game to a degree that made the entire result something of a joke. But
the Dartmouth tie is also damaging, because like Notre Dame, Dartmouth
did not beat a single top 25 team. But unlike Notre Dame, who lost to
#3 Nebraska by just 1 point on the road, Dartmouth's loss was ugly,
30-7 at #8 Princeton. Dame also beat 4 winning teams, 3 on the road,
while Dartmouth beat 3, 1 on the road.
So 7-1 Notre Dame should be rated higher than 7-1-1 Dartmouth, and
therefore Syracuse tying Dartmouth is a problem for them. Still,
Syracuse did pile up a nice amount of strong wins:
38-0 over 5-1 Colgate (#13), 28-0 at 5-3 Oregon State (#25), 35-0 at
7-1 Occidental, 6-0 at 5-4-1 Brown, and 14-7 at 4-3-1 Michigan.
However, they also edged a very bad 2-6-3 Bucknell team 6-0 at home,
and those scores against Brown and Michigan were also not impressive.
And while Colgate will be rated highly in this top 25, that rating
comes sheerly from reputation, as they, like Notre Dame, did not beat a
single top 25 team this season.
It's a close call, to be sure, but I'm going with 7-1 Notre
Dame and their lack of an upset loss or tie over 9-1-2 Syracuse and
their tougher schedule.
Princeton #8, Notre Dame #9, Syracuse #10, and Dartmouth #11.
was coached by John "Speedy" Rush in 1915 and 1916, and he went 6-2 in
each season, ranking #8 this season and #11 the next. But that wasn't
good enough, because the 2 losses in each season were to Harvard and
Yale (this season's game at the Yale Bowl pictured above).
Unacceptable, so he was not invited back after 1916. He coached one
more year, going 3-5 at Cornell in 1919, then left the profession
Princeton fielded 6 players who would make first-team All American lists during their careers:
end Jack "Red" Lamberton, guard Frank Hogg (consensus AA in 1916),
halfback Dave Tibbott, fullback Edward Driggs, tackle William McLean,
and center Alfred Gennert. In addition, quarterback and team captain
Frank Glick was All-Eastern and made Walter Camp's Honorable Mention AA
Washington, Colgate, Virginia, Vanderbilt,
and Washington & Jefferson
Who knows where
7-0 Washington would have been ranked in a 1915 AP poll? On the plus
side, this was their 8th straight unbeaten season, a streak for which
they were nationally known. And Washington State's Rose Bowl win over
Brown and Oregon State's win at 5-1 Michigan State raised the esteem
writers had for the entire Northwest. But on the other hand, Washington
didn't play Washington State, or Oregon State, or Oregon this year.
Those teams refused to play Washington this season because for
years, Washington had been refusing to play any of them on their home
fields. Which partially helps to explain that 8-year unbeaten streak.
Point is, Washington's schedule was completely worthless this season.
As little as Dartmouth accomplished, it was still far more than that
accomplished by Washington, so we'll bring Washington in here, behind
5-1 Colgate is a similar story. This is about where
they would have been ranked, largely because of how they performed the
previous 2 seasons, but their schedule left their ranking as guesswork.
They got trounced by #10 Syracuse, but they were dominating in all
their wins, and though none of them were top 25, they beat a couple of
decent opponents, 13-0 at 5-3-1 Army and 15-0 at 4-5 Yale (who beat #8
8-1 Virginia did not have the reputation Colgate did
with the football press, and unlike Colgate they struggled to beat an
unrated team, winning 9-7 at 5-2-2 Georgia, but at least they beat a
rated team, routing 9-1 Vanderbilt 35-10 at home. Still, I'll let the
hypothetical AP voters of 1915 have Colgate over Virginia, based on the
one poor performance. Also, Colgate won 15-0 at Yale, and Virginia won
10-0 at Yale, so there's another edge, however tiny, for Colgate.
Vanderbilt was certainly embarrassed at Virginia, but they crushed
every other team they played, including 17-0 over 6-2 Auburn (nearly
8-1-1 Washington & Jefferson may have been rated
higher than all the teams in this section, based on reputation, but
they were tied at unrated 5-2-1 West Virginia, and none of these other
teams took an upset, so W&J will have to settle for coming in
behind Vanderbilt. W&J's loss came 19-0 at #4 Pittsburgh. They did
not beat a top 25 opponent, and struggled to get past the likes of
Geneva and West Virginia Wesleyan. They're lucky to be rated where they
are, but can stay here because the next team in line, Oklahoma, didn't
even beat anyone as good as 5-2-1 West Virginia anyway.
Washington #12, Colgate #13, Virginia #14, Vanderbilt #15, and Washington & Jefferson #16.
was coached by Harry Varner, who had played for Virginia 5 years prior.
This was his only season coaching, after which he spent the rest of his
life being a surgeon. The star player was halfback Eugene "Buck" Mayer
(pictured), the first consensus All American from a Southern school. He
still holds a number of school records. In 1914, he scored 142 points
on 21 touchdowns, and for his career he totaled 312 points and 48
touchdowns. He won a Rhodes scholarship, and is enshrined in the
Virginia Sports Hall of Fame.
Oklahoma, Chicago, Wisconsin, and Ohio State
Here comes 10-0
Oklahoma to take their token spot in the top 25. How good were they?
Well, this season we have a better idea than most when it comes to
these token unbeatens from outlying regions, because this year #9 Notre
Dame actually went down and won 36-7 at 6-3 Texas and 55-2 at 5-3 Rice.
Oklahoma beat Texas 14-13. Also, #2 Nebraska won 33-0 at 6-2 Kansas,
and Oklahoma beat Kansas 23-14 at home. So we have good reason to believe that Oklahoma was not a top 10 team.
Next we'll bring in some Western Conference (Big 10) teams who are
more used to being ranked, starting with 5-2 Chicago. They lost their
last 2 games to #5 Minnesota and #6 Illinois, and neither game was
close. They won 14-13 over 4-3 Wisconsin, but also struggled to get by
bad teams like 2-5 Northwestern, 3-3-1 Indiana, and 3-3-1 Purdue. Their
performances were so consistently poor that there is little problem
with ranking Oklahoma higher.
In addition to Chicago, Wisconsin
also lost their last 2 games to #5 Minnesota and #6 Illinois, and also
by big scores. But at least Wisconsin was impressive in their wins, the
big one being 21-0 over 5-1-1 Ohio State.
Speaking of 5-1-1 Ohio
State, they pulled off a huge 3-3 tie with #6 Illinois at home, though
they didn't actually beat a good team, and they performed quite poorly
in a 10-9 home win over 3-3-1 Indiana.
Oklahoma #17, Chicago #18, Wisconsin #19, and Ohio State #20.
Georgia Tech, Rutgers, Colorado State, Oregon, and Oregon State
going to finish out this top 25 with the following teams, in this order: 7-0-1 Georgia Tech, 7-1 Rutgers, 7-0 Colorado State, 7-2 Oregon, and
5-3 Oregon State.
7-0-1 Georgia Tech earns their first-ever top 25 finish this
season, and this was just the beginning. They would also go unbeaten
over the following 2 seasons. This year's #1 team, Pittsburgh, was on a
similar trajectory, and would also go unbeaten until 1918. Georgia Tech
went up and played Pitt that year, and Pitt ended their unbeaten
streak. Pitt's unbeaten streak would end a week later against a
military camp team. This year, GT took an upset tie against unrated
5-2-2 Georgia, but they beat 5 winning opponents, including 36-7 at 6-2
LSU, 21-7 over 6-2 Alabama, and most importantly, 7-0 over 6-2 Auburn
(nearly rated) in their finale. Auburn would likely occupy this spot
7-1 Rutgers lost 10-0 at #8 Princeton, and though they didn't beat
anyone of value, they demolished every other opponent (average score in
those games 50-3). So like Colgate, Rutgers' rating is based largely on
what they had done the previous season.
7-0 Colorado State is our token Rocky Mountain team, as they would
be again in 1916. They won every game by more than a touchdown, and I
covered them in some detail in my 1915 national championship article.
Then we get to our Northwestern teams, 7-2 Oregon and 5-3 Oregon
State. Oregon took their losses to #7 Washington State and to the
Multnomah Athletic Club, a team of former college players, in their
opener. They avenged that loss with a 15-2 win over Multnomah in their
finale. Their wins all came by more than a touchdown, including 9-0
over Oregon State. OSU took their other losses to #7 Washington State
and to #10 Syracuse, both in routs, but they pulled off a huge
intersectional win when they went out to 5-1 Michigan State and won by
the shocking score of 20-0.
MSU won all the rest of their games by huge margins (average score
in those games 52-4), though the only significant win was 24-0 at 4-3-1
Michigan. OSU's win over them mostly mattered because MSU had been a
strong "mid-major" type team for years, and likely would have been
ranked 6 times in the previous 7 seasons. If not for this game, MSU
would certainly have been ranked again this year.
would go to the Rose Bowl the next season and defeat a much more
impressive Eastern representative than WSU did this year, landing
Oregon in the top 10 for 1916.
Georgia Tech #21, Rutgers #22, Colorado State #23, Oregon #24, and Oregon State #25.
Oregon State was coached by Edward "Doc" Stewart 1913-1915, who
went 15-5-5. Stewart next moved on to Nebraska, then Clemson, then
Texas, and overall he was 76-42-14 at 7 schools. The star player was
halfback Herman Abraham, who made Walter Camp's 3rd team AA list.
are the teams closest to making this top 25. Columbia, who had dropped
football after the 1905 season, started playing the sport again this
year and went 5-0, but they were too far removed from major college
football play to be considered for ranking.
Penn State 7-2
This 7-2 Penn
State team in 1915 was very similar to the 8-2 Penn State that I have
ranked #20 for 1916, so it's strange to see them not ranked this time.
This season they took their losses 13-0 at #2 Harvard and 20-0 at #4
Pittsburgh, and they did not beat a particularly good team. They had
one poor performance, a 7-0 win over mediocre 6-4 Lehigh, and their
best win was 33-3 at 8-3 Lafayette. The problem with Lafayette is that
they didn't beat anyone good (their best win was over the
aforementioned mediocre Lehigh), and they performed poorly against
minor schools to start the season.
In 1916, 8-2 Penn
State similarly lost big to the 2 rated teams they played (#1 Pitt
and #13 Penn), and they similarly didn't beat any good teams, and they
similarly posted their only close win over Lehigh (6-2-1 that year). So
why are they #20 for 1916 and unranked this season?
difference between 1915 and 1916 as far as PSU is concerned is that the
teams ranked #20-25 in 1915 were stronger than those in 1916. This
season, we had 5-1-1 Ohio State at #20, who tied #6 Illinois,
obviously far more than PSU accomplished. After that, we have 7-0-1
Georgia Tech instead of 1916's 8-0-1 Tennessee, and GT 1915 performed
better and beat more winning teams than did Tennessee 1916. Obviously,
CSU 1915 was 7-0, while CSU 1916 was 6-0-1. And then our last 2 teams
this year, Oregon and Oregon State, are boosted by OSU's big win at
Michigan State, which was a far better win than any PSU accomplished.
possible that Penn State was a top 25 team power-wise this season, but
their schedule wasn't good enough to really let us know one way or the
Here we have
another team that might have been top 25 power-wise. 6-2 Auburn's
losses came 17-0 to #15 Vanderbilt and 7-0 at #21 Georgia Tech. They
won 26-0 over 5-2-1 Mississippi State and 12-0 at 5-2-2 Georgia (who
tied Georgia Tech). They had one poor performance, 7-0 over 4-3 Florida.
Michigan State 5-1
noted, 5-1 Michigan State (then known as Michigan Agricultural College,
or MAC) lost 20-0 to #25 Oregon State at home, but
they won the rest of their games by an average score of 52-4, including
a 24-0 win at 4-3-1 Michigan. They were probably a better team than
and Auburn (MSU beat PSU 6-3 on the road the previous season), and in
fact, this might be the best team ever that didn't make a top 25.
Quite a few of these players also played on Michigan State's very strong 1913
MNC contender, including halfback/fullback Jerry DaPrato (consensus
AA), end/halfback Blake Miller (nonconsensus AA), and tremendous
tackles Hugh Blacklock and Gideon Smith. DaPrato scored 18 points in
the 24-0 win at Michigan on 2 touchdowns, 2 extra points, and a field
goal. For the season, he scored 124 points (15 touchdowns, 28 extra
points, and 2 field goals) in just 6 games, making him the nation's
leader in points per game. Blake Miller rushed for 109 yards on
This was the last year of an amazing stint for coach
John Macklin, who went 29-5 here 1911-1915. He retired from coaching,
and with him went Michigan State, as they had been top 25 for 6 of the
7 years previous to this, but wouldn't be again until 1932.
7-1 Carnegie was
a minor team that took their loss 28-0 at #4 Pittsburgh, but routed the
rest of their opponents (average score 45-5 in those games), though
they were all minor teams. The coach was Walter Steffen (pictured), who had been a Hall of Fame quarterback for Chicago's 1908
MNC-contending team, and later became a judge in Chicago who commuted
to Pittsburgh to coach Carnegie 1914-1917 and 1919-1932, going 88-53-8.
would prove to be quite pesky under Steffen. They started to become
competitive with major schools in the 1920s, actually fielded top 25
teams 3 times 1926-1930, and pulled off a number of huge upset wins
over the likes of Pittsburgh and Notre Dame.
Trinity (Connecticut) 5-0-2
(Connecticut) doesn't really belong on this list, but they went
unbeaten, and we have a shorter "Others Receiving Votes" list than
usual for this season, so what the heck. Trinity was tied by 5-4-1
Brown (Washington State's Rose Bowl opponent) and by 5-1-2 Tufts. Their
big win came by an extra point, 7-6 over 6-3 Amherst (who beat Brown).
2) Harvard 8-1
3) Nebraska 8-0
4) Pittsburgh 8-0
5) Minnesota 6-0-1
6) Illinois 5-0-2
7) Washington State 7-0
8) Princeton 6-2
9) Notre Dame 7-1
10) Syracuse 9-1-2
12) Washington 7-0
13) Colgate 5-1
14) Virginia 8-1
15) Vanderbilt 9-1
16) Washington & Jefferson 8-1-1
17) Oklahoma 10-0
18) Chicago 5-2
19) Wisconsin 4-3
20) Ohio State 5-1-1
21) Georgia Tech 7-0-1
22) Rutgers 7-1
23) Colorado State 7-0
24) Oregon 7-2
25) Oregon State 5-3
Penn State 7-2
Michigan State 5-1
Trinity (Connecticut) 5-0-2