Tip Top 25 in helmets, smaller
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                                1918 National Championship

1918 College Football Top 25

1918 Pittsburgh-Georgia Tech football game, Pitt's Tom Davies with the ball

Pictured above is Pittsburgh Hall of Fame halfback Tom Davies running wild on Georgia Tech. This was the most anticipated game of the year, as neither team had lost since 1914, and Georgia Tech had been posting awe-inspiring scores for 2 years, and in fact they came into this game 5-0 by an average score of 85-0. But Pittsburgh dominated 32-0, decisively settling a debate that had not been settled in 1917.

The next week, Pitt lost 10-9 to Cleveland Naval Reserves, a military team composed of former college stars from around the country. Cleveland NR lost only to Chicago Naval Reserves, another military all-star team who finished 8-0. Pitt finished 4-1, but as Spalding's football guide put it at the time, they were "universally conceded to be the champion team of the country," and if there had been an AP poll in 1918, Pitt would have easily finished out as the highest ranked college team

Pitt's primary contender for the 1918 mythical national championship (MNC) was 5-0 Michigan, and I summarized and compared the 2 teams in detail in my
1918 national championship article. You'll notice that both teams played short schedules. 1918 is the most difficult year for rating teams, as the combination of World War I and the Spanish flu epidemic wiped out much of the college football season. Some teams just played 1 or 2 games, and some canceled their seasons entirely. It may therefore be silly to bother rating teams at all for 1918, but I am going to forge ahead anyway.

The top of a hypothetical AP poll for 1918 is pretty easy, though. Pitt would have been #1, and that works fine

Pittsburgh #1.

#2: Michigan vs. Navy

4-1 Navy probably would have been rated #2 in a 1918 AP poll, 5-0 Michigan #3. Navy's only loss came 7-6 to 8-0-2 Great Lakes Navy, a military all-star team, and they rolled up huge scores in their other games (average score 69-3 in their wins). But I discussed the issue of Navy in my 1918 national championship article, and the gist of it is this: Navy beat no one of any value, while Michigan beat 5-1 Syracuse (will be rated #4), as well as 3-3 Ohio State (#21).

Michigan #2, Navy #3.


Football coach Gil Dobie

Navy was helmed by Hall of Fame coach Gil Dobie (pictured). He had gone an amazing 58-0-3 at Washington 1908-1916, and he went 18-3 at Navy 1917-1919, taking one loss each season. After that, he moved on to Cornell, where he won 3 school-claimed MNCs 1921-1923. Dobie's secret to success was to schedule as weak a lineup of opponents as possible, then run up as many points as possible on them. Needless to say, he was not well-liked by his peers.

Navy fielded 2 consensus All Americans this season, guard Lyman Perry and halfback Walcott Roberts. Quarterback Bill Ingram made a 2nd team AA list,
and he would win Navy's only MNC as head coach in 1926.

#4: Syracuse vs. Georgia Tech

#4 in a 1918 AP poll would have been a close race between 5-1 Syracuse and 6-1 Georgia Tech. My guess is that Tech would have edged Syracuse out, as they were the defending MNC. However, Syracuse's loss was less embarrassing, and they defeated a pair of teams that will be rated in this top 25, while Georgia Tech did not, so we'll go with Syracuse at #4 here.

Syracuse lost 15-0 at Michigan, and they defeated 5-2 Rutgers (will be rated #10) 21-0 and 5-1 Columbia (#25) 20-0. Georgia Tech lost 32-0 at Pittsburgh, and they beat 5-2 Clemson (#26-32) 28-0. Tech rolled up more than 100 points twice this season, against Furman and North Carolina State

Syracuse #4, Georgia Tech #5.


Syracuse football coach Buck O'NeillSyracuse guard Joe Alexander

Syracuse was coached by Hall of Famer Frank "Buck" O'Neill (pictured above at left). He went 52-19-6 at Syracuse over 3 stints, 1906-1907, 1913-1915, and 1917-1919. In 1917, Syracuse had gone 8-1-1, and they were also a top 5 team that season. Syracuse has only fielded top 5 teams twice since 1918, in 1959 (11-0, #1) and 1987 (11-0-1, #5). Overall, O'Neill went 81-41-8 at 3 schools.

Like Navy, Syracuse fielded 2 consensus All Americans this season, tackle Lou Usher and guard Joe Alexander. Usher went on to a 5 year pro career. Alexander, pictured above at right, repeated as a consensus AA in 1919, then was named a nonconsensus AA at center in 1920, and he is in the Hall of Fame. He went on to a 7 year pro career, and was a practicing doctor while he was playing for the New York Giants.

Quarterback Willard Ackley was a nonconsensus AA this season.

Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota

Next in line we have 5-2 Illinois, 6-2-1 Iowa, and 5-2-1 Minnesota. Illinois split the Big 10 title with Michigan, and despite the 5-2 record, they might have been the best team in the country this year (they would win an MNC the next season). Both of their losses came to military all-star teams (8-0-2 Great Lakes Navy and 8-0 Chicago Naval Reserves) by the same 7-0 score. They won 19-0 at 6-2-1 Iowa (will be rated #7), 22-0 at 3-3 Wisconsin (#15), and 13-0 over 3-3 Ohio State (#21).

In addition to Illinois, 6-2-1 Iowa lost to Great Lakes Navy, and they were also tied by another military team, Camp Dodge. They won 6-0 over 5-2-1 Minnesota (#8) and 23-7 over 2-2-1 Northwestern (#16). 5-2-1 Minnesota took their other loss to 8-0 Chicago Naval Reserves, and they tied a team of Minnesota alumni in their opener. Their best win came 6-0 over 3-3 Wisconsin (#15).

Illinois #6, Iowa #7, and Minnesota #8.

Princeton and Rutgers

3-0 Princeton is iffy to include in a ranking, because they only played 3 low-level military training camp teams. My limit for inclusion in this top 25 was a minimum of 3 games, which means that teams like 1-0 Army and 2-0 Holy Cross were not eligible for ranking. But Princeton comes closer to not playing a real season at all than any other team in this top 25. This is about where I think an AP poll would have ranked them, on name value alone. They played no one.

But 5-2 Rutgers didn't beat anyone of value either, so no harm done in ranking Princeton ahead of them. Rutgers took their losses to Great Lakes Navy and #4 Syracuse.

Princeton #9, Rutgers #10.

Texas, Washington (Missouri), Oklahoma, and Virginia Tech

Here we have token spots for a bunch of regional unbeatens, and ranked higher than usual for token teams thanks to World War I and the Spanish flu. 9-0 Texas won every game by more than a touchdown until their finale, a 7-0 home win over 6-1 Texas A&M (will be rated #19). Washington (Missouri) won every game by more than a touchdown, the highlight being a 20-7 win over 2-3-1 Nebraska. Texas gets the nod over them for producing a better "best win."

6-0 Oklahoma scored 103 points on 3-2 Arkansas, but they struggled to get by 4-2 Phillips 13-7. Washington (Missouri) gets the nod over them for not having a close win. 7-0 Virginia Tech also had a close win, 6-0 over 1-3 VMI, and since Oklahoma's close win came over a better team, we'll give them the nod over VT.

OK, enough nodding.

Texas #11, Washington (Missouri) #12, Oklahoma #13, and Virginia Tech #14
. Texas was coached by Bill Juneau, who had gone 7-0 as coach at Wisconsin in 1912. He was 19-7 at Texas 1917-1919, and 86-39-12 overall at 6 schools. Oklahoma was led by Hall of Fame coach Bennie Owen, who had gone 10-0 at Oklahoma in 1915. You can read more about him in the Oklahoma section of that linked article.

Washington (Missouri)

Washington (Missouri) coach R. B. Rutherford

Washington (Missouri), located in St. Louis, played in the Missouri Valley Conference with teams like Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas, and Kansas State. They got a rare win over Nebraska this season, and it is the only season they ever fielded a top 25 caliber team. The coach was R. B. Rutherford (pictured above), who went 15-5 here 1917-1919, then 13-14-6 at Oregon State 1920-1923 for a career record of 28-19-6.

The star player was back Eber Simpson, who had previously played for Wisconsin-Oshkosh, and then for Wisconsin. He was the captain, playcaller, and kicker. The line is pictured below at a practice, wearing masks to protect themselves from the Spanish flu epidemic.

Washington (Missouri) football team in 1918

Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech coach Charles Bernier

Virginia Tech was known as VPI at this time (Virginia Polytechnic Institute), and wouldn't be called "Virginia Tech" until the 1970s. VPI had previously fielded top 25 caliber teams in 1901, 1905, and 1909. But this season was their last top 25 caliber team until 1968, when they make my fixed and expanded AP poll top 25. They were ranked by the original AP poll in 1954, but I tossed that team out when I fixed it.

The coach this season was Charles "Yank" Bernier (pictured), who went 18-6-1 at VPI 1917-1919. They won the South Atlantic Intercollegiate Athletic Association title this year. Bernier was a Hampden-Sydney graduate, and he coached there 21 years, going 68-101-17 1912-1916 and 1923-1938. A good place to work, as there obviously wasn't much pressure to win there.

Wisconsin, Northwestern, Pennsylvania, and Swarthmore

I believe that 5-3 Penn would have been rated next, mostly on name value. They lost to the Philadelphia Naval Yard, not known as a powerful military training camp team, they were upset by 4-2 Swarthmore (will be rated #18), and they were crushed 37-0 by #1 Pitt. They won a rematch against Swarthmore, but didn't otherwise beat anyone of value. 4-2 Swarthmore likewise didn't beat anyone of value except Penn, and they lost to the League Island Marines, another military team that was not known as a football power.

3-3 Wisconsin and 2-2-1 Northwestern, who would have been rated not far behind Penn and Swarthmore, ought to be rated higher. Wisconsin's 3 losses came to Camp Grant (yet another military team that was not known as a power), #6 Illinois, and #8 Minnesota. They won 14-3 at 3-3 Ohio State (#21) and 7-6 over 4-3 Michigan State. That's 2 major winning opponents, compared to 1 each for Penn and Swarthmore, and on that basis I'm going to move Wisconsin ahead of both. Northwestern took their losses to 8-0 Chicago Naval Reserves and #7 Iowa, and they tied 8-0-2 Great Lakes Navy, a top 5 team power-wise. That tie gave them a better relevant record than that of Penn or Swarthmore, and it was a better accomplishment than any Penn or Swarthmore win, so we'll move Northwestern ahead of both as well.

Northwestern also had a better relevant record than Wisconsin, but the tie was their only accomplishment, whereas Wisconsin had 2 good wins, and Northwestern was routed in both of their losses, while Wisconsin lost by just 6 points at #8 Minnesota. So Wisconsin will get the higher rating here. Northwestern was coached by Fred Murphy, who had played tackle for a pair of MNC Yale teams, 1907 and 1909. He went 16-16-1 at Northwestern 1914-1918, and he was 40-37-4 at 3 schools for his career.

As for Penn and Swarthmore, since they each defeated the other, either could be rated higher than the other, and they would probably be best placed in a tie, but we'll go with the choice a 1918 poll would have made, Penn ahead of Swarthmore.

Wisconsin #15, Northwestern #16, Penn #17, and Swarthmore #18.


Swarthmore coach Leroy Mercer

Swarthmore had fielded 5 straight top 25 caliber teams 1903-1907, and the only other years they fielded top 25 teams after that were in 1912 and this season. The coach this year was Leroy Mercer (pictured), a Hall of Fame fullback who had been a consensus All American at Penn in 1910 and 1912. He was a surgeon who also coached at Swarthmore 1917-1930, going 63-41-7. He became the dean of Penn's physical education department in 1930.

The star player this year was do-it-all tackle Pard Larkin, adept at blocking, tackling, passing, running, punting, kicking, intercepting passes, and blocking kicks. He played every minute of every game in 1917 and 1918.

Texas A&M, Vanderbilt, and Ohio State

Next we have 6-1 Texas A&M, 4-2 Vanderbilt, and 3-3 Ohio State, and we'll just rank them in the order of their straight records. AP poll voters have always placed more importance on straight records than anything else.

6-1 Texas A&M took their loss 7-0 to #11 Texas. They defeated 3-2 Southwestern (Texas) 7-0, which is either their best win or their worst performance... or both. 4-2 Vanderbilt took their losses to a pair of military teams, Camp Hancock and Camp Greenleaf. They beat 2-1 Kentucky (#26-32) 33-0. They may have been better than Texas A&M, but A&M was 4-0 against military teams, so maybe not. 3-3 Ohio State took their losses to #2 Michigan, #6 Illinois, and #15 Wisconsin. They beat no one of value.

Texas A&M #19, Vanderbilt #20, and Ohio State #21.

Notre Dame, California, and Colorado Mines

I think the next teams to be rated in a 1918 AP poll would have been 3-1-2 Notre Dame, 6-2 California, and 4-0 Colorado Mines, in that order. I think that Notre Dame vs. Cal would have been a very close call, and it's possible that Cal would have been rated higher, but I also think that Notre Dame accomplished more, so I'm giving them the edge here.

3-1-2 Notre Dame was all over the place. They were tied by 2-3-1 Nebraska and they lost to 4-3 Michigan State, both unrated (though both good teams). But the Irish tied 8-0-2 Great Lakes Navy, a top 5 team power-wise, and they won 26-6 at 3-3 Purdue, who won 14-6 at 4-3 Michigan State. All but one of their games was played on the road.

It's impossible to compare 6-2 Cal to 3-1-2 Notre Dame, as they played in a region that was unconnected to the rest of the nation this season. They were crushed by a pair of military teams, and they won 6-0 over 4-2 Oregon.

4-0 Colorado Mines was the champion of the state of Colorado, and that's all we really know about them, as they only played in-state teams. But they won all their games in routs, average score 46-5.

Notre Dame #22, California #23, and Colorado Mines #24. Colorado Mines played in the same conference as Colorado and Colorado State, though they played neither team this season. This is the only top 25 team Colorado Mines ever fielded. Their coach was Irving "Stub" Barron, a lawyer who never coached another year of college football. He had played football at Iowa 1913-1915, where he had also been the intercollegiate heavyweight wrestling champion.

#25: Columbia vs. Bucknell vs. Centre

We have 3 candidates for the final slot: 5-1 Columbia, 6-0 Bucknell, and 5-0 Centre. I'm pretty sure that an AP poll would have gone with Columbia. They had dropped their football program after the 1905 season, and had only started playing again in 1915, so it is doubtful that they were actually any good. Their loss came 20-0 to #4 Syracuse, and their 5 wins were all worthless, so it's impossible to know how good they were. 6-0 Bucknell won every game by more than a touchdown, average score 39-1, so perhaps they were a top 25 team. However, Bucknell played a schedule that was even less impressive than Columbia's, definitely equivalent to lower-division play today, so Columbia can be rated ahead of Bucknell.

But 5-0 Centre is another story. No one knew who they were this year, though next year they would go 9-0, fielding a top 5 team and more consensus All Americans than any other team. This year they gave Camp Zachary Taylor their only loss 10-6, and their other 4 wins came by an average score of 47-1. Certainly they were more impressive than Columbia, and there is no doubt in my mind that they were a significantly better team. But that's just my conjecture. Since we don't know, I'm going to compromise and place Centre into a tie for #25 with Columbia.

Columbia and Centre share #25.

Others Receiving Votes

Here are the teams closest to making this top 25.

Bucknell 6-0

As discussed above, 6-0 Bucknell stormed through the equivalent of a division 2 or 3 schedule by an average score of 39-1. They were coached by Edgar Wingard, who had helmed LSU to 10-0 in 1908.

Fordham 4-2-1

4-2-1 Fordham took both losses and their tie against military teams. They beat no one of value, and struggled to get by NYU 7-0. #25 Columbia beat NYU 12-0.

Ohio 4-0-1

4-0-1 Ohio tied 3-0-2 Cincinnati (discussed below), and they beat no one of value.

Cincinnati 3-0-2

3-0-2 Cincinnati tied 4-0-1 Ohio (discussed above) and 5-0-1 Miami-Ohio (discussed below), and they beat no one of value.

Miami (Ohio) 5-0-1

5-0-1 Miami (Ohio) tied 3-0-2 Cincinnati (discussed above), and they beat no one of value.

Kentucky 2-1

2-1 Kentucky lost 33-0 at #20 Vanderbilt. They won 24-7 at 2-2 Indiana, and they beat Georgetown-Kentucky 21-3. I only mention that because #25 Centre beat Georgetown-Kentucky 83-3.

Clemson 5-2

5-2 Clemson lost 28-0 at #5 Georgia Tech and 66-13 to Camp Hancock. They won 39-0 at 2-1-1 South Carolina, 7-0 over 0-2-1 Citadel, and 7-0 at 2-1-1 Davidson.

1918 Top 25

1) Pittsburgh 4-1
2) Michigan 5-0
3) Navy 4-1
4) Syracuse 5-1
5) Georgia Tech 6-1
6) Illinois 5-2
7) Iowa 6-2-1
8) Minnesota 5-2-1
9) Princeton 3-0
Rutgers 5-2
11) Texas 9-0
12) Washington (Missouri) 6-0
13) Oklahoma 6-0
14) Virginia Tech 7-0
15) Wisconsin 3-3
16) Northwestern 2-2-1
17) Pennsylvania 5-3
18) Swarthmore 4-2
19) Texas A&M 6-1
20) Vanderbilt 4-2
21) Ohio State 3-3
22) Notre Dame 3-1-2
23) California 6-2
24) Colorado Mines 4-0
25) Columbia 5-1
       Centre 5-0

Others Receiving Votes:
Bucknell 6-0
Fordham 4-2-1
Ohio 4-0-1
Cincinnati 3-0-2
Miami (Ohio) 5-0-1
Kentucky 2-1
Clemson 5-2

Top 25 Rankings 1901-1935
1918 National Championship