Top 25 Rankings 1901-1935
1929 National Championship
College Football Top 25
Pictured above is Notre Dame halfback Jack Elder's 96 yard
interception return that beat Army 7-0 in the season finale for both
teams (Army did not play Navy this year). Notre Dame finished 9-0, and
they are a nearly unanimous choice for 1929 mythical national champion
8-0 Purdue will have to settle for #2. I discuss both teams and compare them in detail in my article on the 1929 national championship.
The full hypothetical post-bowl AP poll top 25 for 1929, fixed to make
logical sense of course, follows the article below.
#3: Southern Cal vs. California
Southern Cal might have been rated higher than 8-0 Purdue if there had
been a post-bowl AP poll for the 1929 season, as they destroyed
previously unbeaten and untied Pittsburgh 47-14 in the Rose Bowl. They
certainly would have been rated higher than 7-1-1 California, who beat
them 15-7 on the road and obviously had a better straight record. Fair?
USC's other loss came 13-12 against #1 Notre Dame in Chicago, which is
irrelevant when comparing them to Cal. But Cal took a loss to Stanford
(whom USC defeated) and they tied 8-0-1 St. Mary's. So the USC vs. Cal
debate centers on where you would rank St. Mary's. St. Mary's did not
play much of a schedule, but they did beat 7-3 Oregon and 6-2 Santa
Clara (and Santa Clara beat 9-2 Stanford). Basically, if you rate St.
Mary's ahead of USC, then you should do the same with Cal. That would
be my choice, since St. Mary's tied Cal and USC lost to Cal. So I would
have St. Mary's #3, Cal #4, USC #5.
However, Southern Cal played a far tougher schedule than St. Mary's
did, and their performance was far better as well, so Southern Cal
ahead of St. Mary's-- and thus Cal-- is a viable option. Since that's
what an AP poll would have done, that's what we'll go with here. And
with USC rated ahead of St. Mary's, Cal can be rated ahead of St.
Mary's as well, since Cal beat USC.
Southern Cal #3, California #4.
Cal had dominated the West Coast 1920-1924,
taking no losses in those 5 seasons and winning 2 MNCs (by my count--
Cal sees more), but that all ended with the death of Hall of Fame coach
Andy Smith following the 1925 season. Nibs Price (pictured) was promoted to head coach,
and he went 27-17-3 1926-1930. He fielded top 5 teams in 1928 and 1929,
but a 4-5 finish in 1930 did him in. He was Cal's basketball coach much
longer, though, going 449-294 1924-1954. He has the most wins in Cal
Cal had a strong line this season. Guard Bear Schwartz and center Roy "Wrong Way" Riegels were nonconsensus All Americans, and guard Ted Beckett would be a nonconsensus AA in 1930.
#5: Stanford vs. St. Mary's (California)9-2
Stanford would have come next in line. Stanford upset 7-1-1 California 21-6 in the
Big Game, but Stanford also took an upset loss to 6-2 Santa Clara, and they lost to Southern
Cal (whom Cal defeated). Cal's "upset" tie with St. Mary's leaves them
effectively half a game better on the season than Stanford (as shown in
their straight records as well).
8-0-1 St. Mary's would probably have been rated about #8 in a 1929 AP poll, but they ought to be rated
higher than Stanford. St. Mary's tied Cal, whom Stanford defeated, but
Stanford lost to Santa Clara, whom St. Mary's defeated, and that leaves
St. Mary's effectively half a game better than Stanford for the season.
Mary's #5, Stanford #6. With USC #3 and Cal #4, that's a lot of West
Coast teams clogging up the top of the rankings, but they had a good
year. Southern Cal lost to #1 Notre Dame by 1 point in Chicago, and
they beat 9-1 Pitt 47-14 and 5-3-1 Carnegie 45-13. Cal won 12-7 at 7-2
Penn, and Stanford beat 6-4-1 Army 34-13.
#7: Pittsburgh, Illinois, and Tennessee
Pittsburgh is next in line. The school claims an MNC for this season,
ignoring their 47-14 loss to Southern Cal in the Rose Bowl. Behind
them, an AP poll would likely have rated 6-1-1 Illinois and 9-0-1
Illinois took a loss at 6-3 Northwestern (will be rated #16) and a tie at
4-2-2 Iowa (#11), so that's a pair of upsets, while Tennessee took just
1, a tie at 6-1-1 Kentucky (#26-32). But Illinois being rated higher is
viable-- the Great Lakes region was far stronger than the South this
year, 21-7 in intersectional games between major teams, while the South
was 12-19. And the South was 9-4 against the weak mid-Atlantic region,
so they were just 3-15 against power regions.
was the Southern Conference champion, but they did not play a top 25
caliber team, or any team as strong as the team that tied Tennessee
(6-1-1 Kentucky), while
Tennessee defeated 7-2 Vanderbilt (will be rated #15). Tulane also had
3 close wins, Tennessee just 1. So Tennessee can be rated higher, and
probably should be.
Pittsburgh #7, Illinois #8, and Tennessee #9.
Tulane vs. Pennsylvania
A 1929 AP poll might have rated 7-2 Penn higher than 9-0 Tulane, and it's a
close call, but while you could make a case for Penn vs. Tulane, it's
hard to make a good case for Penn being rated anywhere near the top 10.
At least Tulane had a perfect record.
One of Penn's losses came just 12-7 to #4 Cal, which speaks well
for them being rated #10, but that was their best performance of the
season. They had 4 close wins, 3 of them over unrated opponents, and
they lost to unrated 6-3 Penn State. Tulane took no upsets, but then
they played a much easier schedule than Penn did, and they did not
themselves defeat a team as strong as Penn State was. Penn beat a
rated team, 6-2-2 Navy (will be #23), while Tulane did not.
Furthermore, the East was 20-17-1 in major intersectional games this
season, better than the South's 12-19, and the East was a dominating
9-1 against Southern teams.
I could see Penn being rated higher than Tulane. But I can't see Penn
being rated higher than a bunch of other teams still to come. The East
was 4-10 against the Great Lakes region, which has a lot of teams
coming up #11-18. All of Penn's performances except the home loss to
Cal point to them being a #21-25 team at best. They only beat #23 Navy
7-2 at home, which suggests a power level of about #20.
Their upset loss to unrated Penn State came by a score of 19-7. So
I'm not going to be rating Penn until I'm closer to the bottom of this list.
Tulane #10. Maybe they weren't this good, but at least they were 9-0.
was headed up by Hall of Fame coach Bernie Bierman (pictured), who went
36-10-2 there 1927-1931, including a great 28-2 run 1929-1931 that
brought home 3 straight Southern Conference titles. Minnesota then
hired him away, and he won 5 mythical national championships
in his first 10 years there.
Tulane's 1929-1931 run of titles
coincided with Hall of Fame end Jerry Dalrymple's time at Tulane. He
would be a nonconsensus AA in 1930, unanimous in 1931. Halfback Bill
Bunker was a nonconsensus AA this season.
Iowa, Michigan, and Minnesota
4-2-2 Iowa and
5-3-1 Michigan tied each other, and both defeated 6-2 Minnesota. Iowa
took an early 7-6 loss at 4-3-1 Ohio State (will be rated #17), but
their other loss came 7-0 at #2 Purdue, and their other tie came to #8
Illinois. Michigan also took an upset loss to Ohio State (7-0 at home),
and they also lost at Purdue (30-16), but they took a 3rd loss at #8
Illinois (14-0), whom Iowa tied, leaving Michigan half a game worse
than Iowa for the season. So Iowa > Michigan.
Minnesota lost 9-7 at Iowa and 7-6 to Michigan at home.
Iowa #11, Michigan #12, and Minnesota #13.
had been very strong under Hall of Fame coach Howard Jones, who went
42-17-1 there 1916-1923, and they are my choice for MNC of 1921.
Jones was hired away by Southern Cal, where he would make his fame and
win some more MNCs. Burt Ingwersen, an Illinois assistant who had played for
Illinois' 1919 MNC team, was hired to
replace Jones, but he couldn't quite keep up the standard set by his
predecessor. Ingwersen went 33-27-4 at Iowa 1924-1931, fielding top 25
caliber teams in half of his 8 seasons, but none were top 10. Ingwersen
returned to assistant coaching, first at Northwestern, then back at
Illinois, where he remained through 1966.
Iowa's top player this season was halfback Willis Glassgow, a nonconsensus AA who made first team on 4 lists.
wasn't the only little California Catholic school that made waves this
season. 6-2 Santa Clara beat #6 Stanford 13-7, and their only losses
came to #4 Cal and #5 St. Mary's. You could therefore rank Santa Clara
as high as #6, ahead of Stanford, and I would be inclined to do so
myself. But an AP poll would not have done that, and they have an
excuse-- that win over Stanford was the only win of value Santa Clara
achieved this season. 8-0-1 St. Mary's, for example, did more than tie
Cal-- they beat Santa Clara and 7-3 Oregon too.
Santa Clara's 13-7 win over Stanford came the week before
Stanford's Big Game against Cal, and as such Stanford had no intention
of showing their actual offense and defense to Cal scouts. Stanford
whipped Cal 21-6 the next week, and Cal had whipped Santa Clara 27-6,
so it's not hard to see which of these 3 games was the upset.
Santa Clara had a better relevant record
than quite a few teams ranked ahead of them, but since they only had
one win of value, we can call it an anomaly. Minnesota, ranked #13,
defeated 3 top 25 opponents.
Santa Clara #14.
did not beat any top 25 teams, so I can't see rating Santa Clara behind
them. Vanderbilt's losses came to #9 Tennessee and #13 Minnesota. All
of their wins came by more than a touchdown. But Santa Clara's only close win was their big upset of #6 Stanford, so they performed at least as strongly as Vanderbilt did.
Northwestern, Ohio State, and Wisconsin
lost to #1 Notre Dame and #13 Minnesota, and they also took an upset
loss to 2-6-1 Indiana, but they balanced that ugly loss out with an
upset win over #8 Illinois. They also won 18-6 at Ohio State and 7-0 at
Wisconsin. I think that rating Vanderbilt ahead of Northwestern is
rather dubious, but Northwestern did have a poor finish, so it's
4-3-1 Ohio State brought home 2 big wins over #11 Iowa and #12 Michigan as
part of a 3-0 start, but then they crashed hard, tying 2-6-1 Indiana
and getting crushed 18-2 by #7 Pittsburgh, 27-0 by #8 Illinois, and of course 18-6 by Northwestern.
4-5 Wisconsin obviously had a losing record, but their 5 losses all
came to rated teams (#1 Notre Dame, #2 Purdue, #11 Iowa, #13 Minnesota,
and 6-3 Northwestern), and they defeated 8-1 Colgate (will be rated
#19) and 7-3 Chicago.
Northwestern #16, Ohio State #17, and Wisconsin #18.
Colgate, Utah, and Texas Christian
very hard to say where a 1929 AP poll would have rated Penn. Maybe as
high as #10, or maybe more like #22, where they'll end up here. I think
that 8-1 Colgate, 7-0 Utah, and 9-0-1 Texas Christian would have been
rated higher, but it's pretty close. All 3 teams seemed to get just a
bit more attention nationally this season, but Penn was more of a
historical "name" team than those 3, so it's tough to say how things
would have shaken out in a national poll. But all 3 teams had better
relevant records than Penn in addition to better straight records, so
we'll bring them in ahead of Penn.
8-1 Colgate took their loss
13-6 at #18 Wisconsin. They defeated 5-3 Michigan State 31-0 and 6-3
Syracuse 21-0. No one but Wisconsin came close to them.
came close to 7-0 Utah at all, but they didn't play anyone outside the
weak Rocky Mountain region. Their big win was 40-0 over 5-1-1 Colorado.
Texas Christian won the SWC, taking their tie to 6-0-4 Southern
Methodist in their finale. They won 15-12 at 5-2-2 Texas and 34-7 at
Colgate #19, Utah #20, and Texas Christian #21.
was Texas Christian's first SWC title. They were piloted by Hall of
Fame coach Francis Schmidt (pictured), a Nebraska grad who had gone
24-3-2 at Tulsa 1919-1921 and 41-21-3 at Arkansas 1922-1928. He was a
blistering 45-6-5 at TCU 1929-1933, and won a second SWC title there
before Ohio State hired him away. He won a couple of Big 10 titles
there, and overall he finished 156-58-11 at 5 schools. Schmidt was a
passing specialist, and his teams often threw the ball 30-40 times a game,
shocking numbers for the time.
TCU's top player, however, was
not a passer or receiver. Guard Mike Brumbelow was the captain and MVP
for the season. He received little All America attention beyond token
3rd-team selections here and there, as no one outside the Southwest saw
him play, and the Southwest was not yet respected as a football
region. That would change in the middle of the next decade.
Pennsylvania, Navy, Dartmouth, and Harvard
Now we can bring in 7-2 Penn, along with a bunch of other Eastern teams, as listed in the subtitle above.
6-2-2 Navy lost 7-2 at Penn. Like Penn, their best performance this season was a loss:
14-7 to #1 Notre Dame at home. They took a pair of upset ties to 2-4-1
Princeton and 5-2-2 Georgetown, both unrated, but they beat 7-2
Dartmouth took their other loss to 5-2-1 Yale, who falls just
outside this top 25. But Dartmouth secured their top 25 slot thanks to
a 34-7 win at 5-2-1 Harvard (who beat Yale). Dartmouth also beat 6-2
5-2-1 Harvard, again, beat 5-2-1 Yale 10-6 in their finale, giving them
the last spot in this top 25. They also beat 8-2 Florida 14-0, and
Florida is another team that falls just outside this top 25. Harvard
took an upset tie at 6-4-1 Army (unrated), and their 34-7 loss to
Dartmouth was an ugly performance, but their other loss, 14-12 at #12
Michigan, was a very strong one.
Pennsylvania #22, Navy #23, Dartmouth #24, and Harvard #25.
are the teams closest to making this top 25.
noted, 5-2-1 Yale defeated #24 Dartmouth 16-12, but they lost 10-6 at #25
Harvard in their finale. They also took a loss (6-4 Georgia) and a tie
(4-4-2 Maryland) against unrated opponents. Their other notable win came
21-13 over 6-4-1 Army (unrated).
8-2 Florida lost
14-0 at #25 Harvard, and they took an upset loss 19-6 at 3-6 Georgia
Tech, but they beat 6-4 Georgia (who beat Yale) 18-6 in Jacksonville,
and more importantly, they beat 7-3 Oregon 20-6 in Miami. It should be
noted that Oregon's key players, a halfback and fullback, were black,
and Florida would not permit them to play. But it was Oregon's choice
to comply and leave those players at home, a choice that was not only
sad ethically, but cost them the game and a place in the top 25.
6-1-1 Kentucky's big
achievement this season was a 6-6 tie with 9-0-1 Tennessee (#9) in
their finale. But they lost 24-13 to 6-3 Alabama (unrated), and their
schedule was unimpressive. Still, their performance was very strong
outside that one game against Alabama, so they may have been a top 25
7-0-2 Fordham was tied
by a pair of unrated teams, 10-1-1 Davis & Elkins and 4-3-3 West
Virginia, but they defeated 7-3 NYU, 6-4 Holy Cross, 7-2-1 Boston
College, and 8-2 Bucknell.
Washington State 10-2
I would rate 10-2 Washington State myself, but I don't think a 1929 AP poll would have done so over the
likes of Dartmouth and Harvard, and WSU's schedule was unimpressive, so
they're sitting this one out. Their losses came 14-0 at #4 Cal and 27-7
at #3 Southern Cal. Their only win of any note came 9-0 at 6-4 Oregon
McDaniel, then known as Western Maryland, fell just outside the top 25 in 1930 as well. Great
11-0 record this season, and they beat 4-4-2 Maryland 12-0, 5-2-2 Georgetown
7-0, and 6-3-1 Temple 23-0, but the rest of their schedule was
worthless, and they struggled to get by the likes of Scranton, Mount
St. Mary's, St. Francis, and Muhlenberg.
has a much stronger argument for a top 25 slot than McDaniel does, as
no one came within a touchdown of Ohio this season. And they beat 2-6-1
Indiana 18-0, which may not sound impressive, but Indiana tied #17 Ohio
State and defeated #16 Northwestern. I would be inclined to rate Ohio
higher than both. However, a 1929 AP poll likely wouldn't have rated
Ohio, and they didn't really beat anyone (sorry, Indiana), so like WSU
they'll have to sit this one out.
This was the start of Ohio's
greatest football era. 1929-1938, they won 6 Buckeye Intercollegiate
Athletic Conference titles, and they posted another perfect record in
1935. They beat Illinois that season and again in 1938. The coach
responsible for all this success was Don Peden (pictured), who went
121-46-11 1924-1946, the best winning percentage and longest tenure in
Ohio's history. Their stadium is now named for him.
Notre Dame 9-0
2) Purdue 8-0
3) Southern Cal 10-2
4) California 7-1-1
5) St. Mary's (California) 8-0-1
6) Stanford 9-2
7) Pittsburgh 9-1
8) Illinois 6-1-1
9) Tennessee 9-0-1
10) Tulane 9-0
12) Michigan 5-3-1
13) Minnesota 6-2
14) Santa Clara 6-2
15) Vanderbilt 7-2
16) Northwestern 6-3
17) Ohio State 4-3-1
18) Wisconsin 4-5
19) Colgate 8-1
20) Utah 7-0
21) Texas Christian 9-0-1
22) Pennsylvania 7-2
23) Navy 6-2-2
24) Dartmouth 7-2
25) Harvard 5-2-1
Washington State 10-2