Top 25 Rankings 1901-1935
1919 National Championship
College Football Top 25
above is the Harvard touchdown that beat Oregon 7-6 in
the Rose Bowl. That put Harvard's record at 9-0-1, a half game better
than 6-1 Illinois and 7-1 Penn State in the loss column. Due to that
and their Rose Bowl win, Harvard is the consensus choice of retroactive
selectors as the 1919 mythical national champion (MNC). However, a poll
of Eastern sportswriters at the time, ranking only Eastern teams, came
up with Penn State at #1 and Harvard at #6. And I think the writers at the time
were correct. As I concluded in my 1919
national championship article, Illinois and Penn State are the only viable choices for #1, and I consider them to share the 1919 MNC.
The other MNC contenders for 1919 were 9-0 Centre, 9-0 Notre Dame, and 10-0 Texas A&M.
summarized all 6 of
these teams and compared them in detail in the linked 1919 MNC article. As I
stated there, I believe that a 1919 AP poll would have voted Illinois
#1, so they will start at #1 here, and that leaves Penn State #2.
Illinois #1, Penn State #2.
Ohio State vs. Harvard
Despite what Eastern writers thought at the time, I think a national
AP poll, conducted after the Rose Bowl, would have placed Harvard at
#2. That would have been due to their straight record and the month of
unopposed publicity they garnered from playing the game, but Harvard
does not merit #2. Or even #3. 6-1 Ohio State, who might have been
ranked higher than Harvard anyway, should
be ranked higher. Their only loss came to #1 Illinois, and by the slim
score of 9-7. They won 3-0 at 5-2 Wisconsin (will be ranked #6), and no
one else came within a touchdown of them. 9-0-1 Harvard took their tie
at 4-2-1 Princeton (#16), they had 2 close wins over unrated teams, and
their only win over a rated opponent was their 7-6 edging of 5-2 Oregon
(#19) in the Rose Bowl. Harvard may not have even been a top 10 team in
State was led by superstar halfback Chic Harley (pictured above at
left), who likely would have won the Heisman had it existed this
season. He was a consensus All American all 3 years that he played, and
his Ohio State teams went 21-1-1. He was also the punter and
placekicker, and scored 201 points in his career (his career 8.74
points per game is still the school record). Needless to say, he is in
the Hall of Fame. Guard Lloyd "Butch" Pixley was a nonconsensus AA this
The head coach was Hall of Famer John Wilce (pictured
above at right), a former all-conference fullback and captain at
Wisconsin who went 78-33-9 at Ohio State 1913-1928 and won 3 Big 10
titles. A practicing doctor,
John Wilce was a professor at Ohio State's medical school for 31 years
after retiring as a football coach, and OSU's student health center is
named for him.
State defeated Michigan for the first time ever this season, 13-3 in
Ann Arbor. Chic Harley grabbed at least 3 interceptions in the game
(some sources say 4).
#4: Centre vs. Harvard
9-0 Centre, a
tiny school from Kentucky with an enrollment of just 203 students,
became a national sensation this season, and they fielded more
consensus All Americans (2) than any other team. They first seized the
attention of the press with a 14-6 win at powerful West Virginia (8-2,
will be ranked #12). West Virginia had already won 25-0 at Princeton
(4-2-1, #16), who is the team that tied 9-0-1 Harvard. West Virginia is
the only top 25 team Centre defeated, but Harvard only defeated one
such team themselves, and much less impressively (7-6 in the Rose Bowl
over 5-2 Oregon, #19). Centre won all 9 of their games by more than a
touchdown (there was no 2-point conversion at the time), while Harvard had 2 close
wins over unrated teams (in
addition to their tie and their close win over Oregon).
Centre outscored their opponents
485-23 (average score 54-3), and they might well have been the best
team of 1919 (Walter Camp suggested as much), but their schedule was
too meager to show it.
Harvard, however, also played a weak schedule, and performed much worse
than did Centre. Centre and Harvard would play each other over the
following 2 seasons,
Harvard winning in 1920, Centre in 1921. As for this season, I see no
good reason at all for Harvard to be ranked higher than Centre.
#5: Wisconsin vs. Harvard
As I said, I
think the Eastern writers of 1919 were correct that Harvard was about
the 6th best team in the East, and that means that they don't really
belong in a top 10. Power-wise, I think they were about #15. However,
since I believe a national AP poll would have rated Harvard much
closer to the top than that, I'm trying to stretch the highest possible
rating I can for them. And I think that's here, at #5, ahead
6-1-1 Dartmouth and 5-1-1 Colgate may have been rated higher than
5-2 Wisconsin in a 1919 AP poll, but it would have been pretty close,
and I think Wisconsin should be rated ahead of both teams because they
had a better relevant record than
both teams. All 3 teams took an upset loss to a lower-rated team.
Dartmouth and Wisconsin each made up for their upset losses with upset
wins, Dartmouth over #2 Penn State and Wisconsin over #1 Illinois, and
Colgate did not make up for their upset loss, so that put Dartmouth and
Wisconsin ahead of them (Wisconsin's 2nd loss came to #3 Ohio State,
irrelevant when comparing them to Dartmouth and Colgate). Dartmouth's
tie with Colgate left them effectively half a game behind Wisconsin for
That brings us back to Harvard vs. Wisconsin for slot #5. Wisconsin
took an upset loss, and Harvard took an upset tie, so Harvard was
effectively half a game better there, but Wisconsin beating #1 Illinois
effectively canceled out their upset loss, and that gave Wisconsin a
relevant record that was effectively half a game better than Harvard's
for the season. Furthermore, Wisconsin won 10-3 at Chicago (5-2, will
be rated #13) in their finale, better than Harvard's 7-6 win over
Oregon (5-2, #19) in the Rose Bowl. So what is Harvard's argument here?
Well, Wisconsin only won 10-6 at 2-5 Northwestern, easily a worse
performance than any by Harvard. Harvard had 2 close wins over unrated
teams, 7-0 over 5-4-1 Brown and 10-3 over 5-3 Yale, but both of those
teams were winning major teams, and those results were much better than
Wisconsin's Northwestern effort. Also, Harvard defeated 4 major winning
teams, and Wisconsin defeated just 2. I would rate Wisconsin higher
myself, but I can hold my nose and give this one to the hypothetical AP
poll voters of 1919.
Harvard #5, Wisconsin #6.
#7: Dartmouth and Colgate vs. Notre Dame
My guess is that
6-1-1 Dartmouth and 5-1-1 Colgate would have been rated higher than 9-0
Notre Dame in a 1919 AP poll, but I'm not certain, and it would have
been very close (as with Wisconsin vs. Dartmouth and Colgate, discussed
above). Dartmouth and Colgate tied each other, and each took an upset
loss in their finales, Dartmouth to 5-4-1 Brown (unrated), Colgate
to 8-3 Syracuse (#18), but Dartmouth made up for theirs with an upset
win over #2 Penn State, so they belong rated ahead of Colgate.
Notre Dame obviously did not take an upset loss (or any loss), so
they have Dartmouth there, but the only top 25 caliber team Notre Dame
played was 6-3 Army (#21), and that's not very impressive. Dartmouth
defeated 2 top 10 teams (the other being 6-2-1 Penn, #10). On the other
hand, Dartmouth's upset loss came to an unrated team, and in their
finale. I think you could go with either team here, and since an AP
poll vote would have been close, I'm going to just take the easy road
and place Dartmouth and Notre Dame into a tie with each other.
Dartmouth and Notre Dame are tied for #7, and Colgate is #9.
was coached by Clarence "Doc" Spears (pictured), a Hall of Fame guard
at Dartmouth 1914-1915. He went 21-9-1 as head coach here 1917-1920,
30-6-3 at West Virginia 1921-1924, 28-9-3 at Minnesota 1925-1929, and
overall he was 148-83-14 in 28 years at 7 schools.
player this season was Hall of Fame guard Adolph "Swede" Youngstrom, a
consensus All American who blocked 9 kicks this year, 3 of them in the
big tie with Colgate. He played pro ball for 8 years, was all-pro 3
times, and won the NFL title with Frankford in 1927. Halfback Joe
Robertson had been the star player early in the season, but he was lost
to injury, and that opened the door for Dartmouth's upset loss to Brown
in their finale, costing them an MNC for this season.
was coached by Ellery Huntington, Jr., a Hall of Fame quarterback at
Colgate 1910-1913. He was Colgate's first All American in 1913. He went
10-10-5 as head coach here 1919-1921.
The star player this year
was Hall of Fame tackle Belford West (pictured), a consensus All
American who was a good passer and a strong kicker, booting a 52 yard
field goal against Syracuse this season. He had also been a consensus
AA in 1916, and I selected Colgate as an MNC team that season.
Halfback Hank Gillo went on to a 7 year pro career, making all-pro one season.
#10: Pittsburgh vs. Pennsylvania
easy road again, we'll place 6-2-1 Pittsburgh and 6-2-1 Penn into a
tie with each other at #10. These teams tied each other, after
all. Pitt took an upset loss to 8-3 Syracuse (will be rated #18), and
Penn only lost to #2 Penn State and #7 Dartmouth, so Penn had a better
relevant record. But Pitt beat 3 top 25 caliber teams, and Penn beat
none. So it was a close case that could go either way.
Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania share slot #10.
West Virginia, Chicago, and Washington & Jefferson
8-2 West Virginia likely would have been rated next in a 1919 AP poll,
and that works fine. Their losses came to #4 Centre and #10 Pittsburgh,
and they beat 6-2 Washington & Jefferson (discussed next) 7-0 in
their finale. They also won 25-0 at 4-2-1 Princeton (will be rated
#16), 27-0 at 5-4 Maryland, and 30-7 at 5-3 Rutgers (#26-39).
I'm not sure whether 5-2 Chicago or 6-2 Washington & Jefferson
would have been rated higher. Their seasons were very similar, so I'm
just going to easy-road it again and place them into a tie with each
other behind West Virginia. Chicago's losses came to #1 Illinois and #6
Wisconsin, and their one win of value came 9-6 over 5-2 Iowa (#15) at
home. W&J took their losses to #10 Pitt and #12 West Virginia, and
their one win of value came 13-0 at 8-3 Syracuse (#18). Both teams shut
out every other opponent they played.
West Virginia at #12, and Chicago and Washington & Jefferson are tied at #13.
West Virginia's star player was Hall of Fame fullback Ira Rodgers
(pictured), a consensus All American who led the nation in scoring this
season with 147 points on 19 touchdowns and 33 extra points. The
touchdown total is still a school record. He also threw for another 11
touchdowns. Rodgers was West Virginia's first All American, and for his
career he totaled 42 touchdowns and 24 passing touchdowns. He later
became the head coach at his alma mater, starting with a terrific 8-1
his first year, and he went 41-31-8 overall 1925-1930 and 1943-1945.
The head coach this season was Mont McIntire, who went 24-11-4 here 1916-1917 and 1919-1920.
Iowa, Princeton, and Minnesota
I think 5-2 Iowa
would have been rated next in an AP poll. 4-2-1 Princeton had a better
relevant record, because they tied #5 Harvard, and I'd be inclined to
rate Princeton higher than Iowa myself, but I think Iowa has a case for
being rated higher. Iowa won 9-6 at 4-2-1 Minnesota (discussed next),
18-0 over 3-3-2 Nebraska (#26-39), and 10-0 over 5-2-1 Iowa State
(unrated). Princeton did not quite beat a top 25 team, and they were
routed 25-0 by #12 West Virginia, whereas Iowa lost by 2 points at #1
Illinois and by 3 points at #13 Chicago.
4-2-1 Minnesota had the same relevant record Princeton did (and the
same straight record), but I think an AP poll would have rated
Princeton higher, and that works fine. Minnesota won 19-7 at #6
Wisconsin, but they took an upset tie at home with 3-3-2 Nebraska
(#26-39). Minnesota only had the one win of value, while Princeton
defeated a pair of near-rated teams (6-2 Lafayette and 5-3 Yale).
Iowa #15, Princeton #16, and Minnesota #17.
Syracuse, Oregon, and Navy
8-3 Syracuse is
a tough case. They were rated #2 team in the East by Eastern
sportswriters in 1919. They lost 13-0 to 6-2 Washington & Jefferson
(#13), but they got a pair of huge wins 24-3 over 6-2-1 Pitt (#10) and
13-7 over 5-1-1 Colgate (#9). After the Colgate win, Syracuse was
claiming themselves to be unofficial "champion of the East" (Penn State
also had 1 loss, and Harvard played a far weaker schedule), but then
Syracuse went out West and ended their season with a pair of losses to
unrated teams: 12-6 at 3-4 Indiana and 3-0 at 3-3-2 Nebraska. That would have sent them plummeting down a national AP poll's top 25 in 1919.
5-2 Oregon, meanwhile, actually got a lot of good press as a result
of their narrow 1-point loss to 9-0-1 Harvard in the Rose Bowl. Most
writers felt that Oregon outplayed Harvard in that game. Oregon would
have gotten a bump in a post-bowl poll. It was the only game between a
West Coast team and a team East of the Rockies, so very little was
known about the power level of the West Coast teams. I'm not sure
whether a 1919 post-bowl AP poll would have rated Syracuse or Oregon
higher, but since Syracuse had a better relevant record, we'll rate
them higher here. Syracuse made up for both of their upset losses with
big upset wins, and they also beat 6-3 Army (will be rated #21) and 5-3
Rutgers (#26-39). Oregon took an upset loss to 5-2 Washington State
(#26-39), and they did not make up for it with an upset win. They only
had 1 win of value, 24-13 at 5-1 Washington (#22).
hard to say where a 1919 AP poll would have ranked 6-1 Navy. The poll
of 1919 Eastern writers ranked them lowly, but their straight record
and name value could have gotten them ranked as highly as the top 10 in
a national AP poll. They
scored 121 on one team (Colby), but their schedule was so incredibly
weak that they didn't get much attention in newspapers most weeks. They
had one big win, 6-0 over 6-3 Army (#21), and they took an upset loss
to 7-3 Georgetown (#26-39). Since Oregon's 24-13 win at #22 Washington
was better than Navy's 6-0 win over #21 Army on a neutral field, we'll
rank Oregon higher here. I suspect that Oregon's Rose Bowl performance
might have pushed them past Navy in a post-bowl AP poll anyway.
Syracuse #18, Oregon #19, and Navy #20. NOTE:
Other sources, including the College Football Data Warehouse, have Navy
at 7-1 for this season, but they are counting a game against the USS
Utah that neither Navy nor the NCAA count as an official game. I don't
count it either.
Oregon's coach was Charles "Shy" Huntington (pictured), who had
played quarterback for Oregon's 1916 team that went 7-0-1 and won the
Rose Bowl 14-0 over Penn. He went 26-12-6 as head coach here 1918-1923,
winning just the one conference title this year.
The star player this year was Bill Steers, who played quarterback,
guard, and was the placekicker. He made Walter Camp's 3rd team All
American list, and he was all-conference all 3 years that he played.
Army, Washington, Texas A&M, Auburn, and Georgia Tech
6-3 Army might
not have been rated at all, but they look a bit better than the other
teams that would have been at the bottom. Their 3 losses came to #7
Notre Dame, #18 Syracuse, and #20 Navy, by a total of 13 points. They
beat 5-3 Boston College (#26-39) and 5-3 Holy Cross (unrated). 5-1
Washington scored 120 on one team (Whitman), and they also defeated 2
good teams (5-2 Washington State and 6-2-1 Cal, both #26-39), but both
wins were close, while Army's wins over BC and HC were both by more
than a touchdown. Washington's loss to #19 Oregon was by 11 points,
whereas all of Army's losses were close.
Texas A&M went 10-0, and they shut out every opponent, but they
got virtually no national attention at all, and would have received no
more than a token spot near the bottom of a 1919 AP poll. The Southwest
had never, to this point, achieved a nationally relevant intersectional
win, and the region produced an unbeaten and untied team every year, so
it was no big feat to anyone outside the Southwest. A&M's schedule
was simply worthless, and they had 2 close wins, 7-0 over 3-5
Southwestern (Texas) and 7-0 over 6-3 Texas, both at home. Texas wasn't
bad, but they lost to Phillips, so they weren't good. Washington
accomplished more than Texas A&M did, so we'll rank them higher.
8-1 Auburn accomplished more than Texas A&M did too, but they
took an upset loss (7-6 at 5-1-2 Vanderbilt, #26-39), so Texas A&M
can be ranked higher. Auburn's big win was 14-7 at 7-3 Georgia Tech in
their finale. Speaking of which, Georgia Tech gets the last slot. Their
3 losses came to #10 Pittsburgh, Auburn, and 8-1 Washington & Lee
(#26-39). So why isn't Washington & Lee ranked ahead of Georgia
Tech? Well, W&L barely beat GT 3-0, and they lost 27-6 at 7-3
Georgetown, whom Georgia Tech beat 27-0. W&L beat no one else of
value, and they performed poorly against 3 weak opponents. Georgia
Tech's wins all came by more than a touchdown, and in addition to 7-3
Georgetown, they beat 5-1-2 Vanderbilt (#26-39), 6-2-1 Furman, and
Army #21, Washington #22, Texas A&M #23, Auburn #24, and Georgia Tech #25.
are the teams closest to making this top 25, an even bigger group than
in 1920. 8-0 Knox (Illinois) and 7-0 Stevens Tech (New Jersey) played
schedules that were too small-time to qualify for even the following
would be #26. They lost 20-0 at #25 Georgia Tech, but they won 7-6 over
#24 Auburn. That upset win was balanced out by a pair of upset ties, to
3-3-3 Tennessee and 3-4-1 Kentucky. Vandy's other big win came 16-12 at
8-1 Alabama (covered below).
took their losses to #10 Penn and #16 Princeton. They had 1 big win,
10-6 at 6-3 Lehigh (covered below). They won all the rest of their
games by more than a touchdown.
was very erratic. They tied #17 Minnesota and defeated #18 Syracuse in
their finale, but they also tied 5-2-3 Oklahoma and lost to 5-2-1 Iowa
State, both unrated. Their other 2 losses came to #7 Notre Dame and #15
Iowa. All 8 of their opponents had winning records.
mostly played minor teams, but they won 16-13 over 7-3 Georgetown
(covered below) and 21-7 over 5-3 Holy Cross. They were upset 7-3 at
home by 2-5 Tufts, a very embarrassing outcome.
Washington State 5-2
State upset #19 Oregon, but they also took an upset loss at 4-4-1
Oregon State. Their other loss came to #22 Washington, and their other
big win came 14-0 at 6-2-1 Cal (covered below).
6-3 Lehigh lost
to #2 Penn State, #10 Pitt, and 6-2 Lafayette (covered above). Their
one big win was 19-0 over 5-3 Rutgers (covered below), and all of their
wins came by more than a touchdown.
lost 27-0 at #25 Georgia Tech, 16-13 at 8-1 Detroit (covered above),
and 10-9 at 5-3 Boston College (covered below). They had a huge upset
win, 6-0 at 6-1 Navy (#20), and they also gave another team their only
loss, smashing 8-1 Washington & Lee (covered below) 27-6. All of
their wins except against #20 Navy came by more than a touchdown.
8-1 Alabama took
their loss 16-12 at 5-1-2 Vanderbilt (covered above). They won 23-0 at
6-2 LSU, 6-0 at 4-2-3 Georgia, and 14-6 over 6-2 Mississippi State
6-2-1 Cal lost
to #22 Washington and 5-2 Washington State (covered above), and they
tied the Olympic Athletic Club (they also beat Oly AC 12-0 this
season). They had a number of close wins, 21-14 over 4-4-1 Oregon
State, 14-13 at 4-1 Southern Cal, and 14-10 at 4-3 Stanford. It's
impossible to say how good they were since there were no intersectional
games played by West Coast teams aside from Oregon's 7-6 loss to
Harvard in the Rose Bowl, but Cal would win the MNC the next season with a trouncing of previously unbeaten Ohio State in the Rose Bowl.
5-3 Rutgers took
their losses to #12 West Virginia, #18 Syracuse, and 6-3 Lehigh
(covered above). Their one big win came 13-7 at 5-3 Boston College
(covered below), and they won each of the rest of their games by more
than a touchdown.
Washington & Lee 8-1
& Lee nabbed a big 3-0 upset win at #25 Georgia Tech, but they were
rocked 27-6 at 7-3 Georgetown (covered above), whom Georgia Tech beat
27-0. Washington & Lee had 3 close wins over weak opponents.
Mississippi State 6-2
Mississippi State took their losses to #24 Auburn and 8-1 Alabama
(covered above). Their one big win came 6-0 over 6-2 LSU. They had 2
close wins over weak opponents.
Mississippi State was coached by
Stanley Robinson (pictured), who went 16-5 here 1917-1919. He had
played in the backfield for Colgate with Hall of Fame quarterback
Ellery Huntington, the coach of this year's Colgate team. Robinson went
on to coach for 26 seasons at Mississippi College, going 103-73-11
there. Overall, he was 153-107-18 over 34 seasons at 4 schools. The
stadium at Mississippi College is named for him.
State did not field a top 25 caliber team until 1936, a season for
which they make my fixed and expanded AP poll top 25. They first
finished ranked in an unfixed AP poll in 1940.
Boston College 5-3
College took their losses to #5 Harvard, #21 Army, and 5-3 Rutgers
(covered above). They won 5-3 at 5-3 Yale (covered below), 9-7 over
rival 5-3 Holy Cross, and 10-9 over 7-3 Georgetown (covered above).
Yale lost to #5 Harvard 10-3, #16 Princeton 13-6, and to 5-3 Boston
College (covered above) 5-3. They won 31-0 over 5-4 Maryland and 14-0
over 5-4-1 Brown.
2) Penn State 7-1
3) Ohio State 6-1
4) Centre 9-0
5) Harvard 9-0-1
6) Wisconsin 5-2
7) Notre Dame 9-0
9) Colgate 5-1-1
10) Pittsburgh 6-2-1
12) West Virginia 8-2
13) Chicago 5-2
Washington & Jefferson 6-2
15) Iowa 5-2
16) Princeton 4-2-1
17) Minnesota 4-2-1
18) Syracuse 8-3
19) Oregon 5-2
20) Navy 6-1
21) Army 6-3
22) Washington 5-1
23) Texas A&M 10-0
24) Auburn 8-1
25) Georgia Tech 7-3
Washington State 5-2
Washington & Lee 8-1
Mississippi State 6-2
Boston College 5-3