Tip Top 25 in helmets, smaller
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                                1931 National Championship

1931 College Football Top 25

Southern Cal football game at Notre Dame, 1931

Pictured above is 1931's game of the year, 6-1 Southern Cal at 6-0-1 Notre Dame. Notre Dame had not lost in 26 games, and they carried a 14-0 lead into the 4th quarter. But USC came roaring all the way back, kicking a 33 yard field goal with a minute left for a monumental 16-14 victory. After that USC won out, beating 5-3-1 Washington 44-7, 9-2 Georgia 60-0, and 11-1 Tulane 21-12 in the Rose Bowl. They would certainly have finished ranked #1 in an AP poll had there been one in 1931.

A post-bowl AP poll for the 1931 season would likely have placed 11-1 Tulane #2, 8-1 Pittsburgh #3, and 9-0-1 Tennessee #4, so that's where this top 25 will start. I covered Southern Cal, Pittsburgh, and Tennessee in detail in my 1931 national championship article. As I point out in that article, Tulane got a lot of love from the national press for their Rose Bowl performance, albeit in a losing effort, which is why they would have finished #2. And their only loss came to #1 USC, while Pitt and Tennessee each took an upset, so #2 is where Tulane belonged anyway.

The full hypothetical post-bowl AP poll top 25 for 1931, fixed to make logical sense of course, follows the article below.

#5: Alabama and Harvard

A 1931 AP poll would probably have ranked 9-1 Alabama #5 and 7-1 Harvard #6. Harvard took an upset loss to 5-1-2 Yale in their finale, while Alabama's only loss came to #4 Tennessee early in the season. Moreover, Alabama had gone 10-0 in 1930 for a share of the MNC, and they would have been highly ranked to start this season. Harvard, on the other hand, was past its prime.

So Alabama #5 and Harvard #6 it is.


Harvard quarterback Barry Wood on the cover of Time magazine

Harvard, of course, had been on top of the college football world not so long before this season. They were the best football program in the nation 1908-1915, going 64-4-4 and winning 4 MNCs. They took a small step back after that, but 1916-1922 they still went 40-8-3, and they are a consensus MNC choice for 1919 (though I do not recognize them as an MNC for that year). 1923-1930, however, the wheels had come off, and they went 33-27-5.

This season they saw a bit of a resurgence under new head coach Eddie Casey, a Hall of Fame halfback who had starred on their 9-0-1 team in 1919. Casey went 20-11-1 through 1934, but this is the only season he fielded a top 25 caliber team, and in fact it is the last season that Harvard ever fielded a top 10 team. The big win this season was the 14-13 win over Army. They came back from a 13-0 deficit in that one. They also defeated 6-4 Texas 35-7, 5-3-1 Dartmouth 7-6, and 7-2-1 Holy Cross 7-0. Then archrival Yale nipped them 3-0 in their finale, spoiling a perfect season.

The star of this team was consensus All American quarterback Barry Wood, a Hall of Famer. He tossed the touchdown pass and kicked the extra point to get by Dartmouth 7-6. That's him gracing the cover of Time magazine the week of November 23rd, 1931. Tackle Ira Hardy was a nonconsensus AA.

#7: Purdue, Northwestern, Army, and Notre Dame

I'm thinking that 9-1 Purdue would have come in at #7 and 7-1-1 Northwestern #8, but Purdue was just not that good. They did pull off a big 7-0 win over Northwestern in their finale, but that was their only win of any value. They lost to 5-4-1 Wisconsin (unrated) and repeatedly struggled to beat bad, losing teams. Northwestern may have had a weaker straight record and lost to Purdue head-to-head, but they played a much stronger schedule and had a more impressive season. They defeated 8-2 Nebraska, 6-3 Ohio State, and 7-3 Minnesota, and even their tie, to 6-2-1 Notre Dame, was more an accomplishment than a blemish.

In fact, Notre Dame should be rated ahead of Purdue, as should 8-2-1 Army, who defeated Notre Dame. Army's losses came to #3 Pittsburgh and #6 Harvard, both rated higher than Purdue, and so those losses are irrelevant when comparing Army to Purdue. Army took an upset tie to 5-1-2 Yale (the team that upset #6 Harvard), but that's better than Purdue's loss to 5-4-1 Wisconsin. And Army, much unlike Purdue, had no close wins over unrated opponents. So Army belongs rated ahead of Purdue.

Notre Dame is a similar story. Their losses came to #1 Southern Cal and to Army. They were tied by Northwestern, whom Purdue defeated, but again, that is far better than Purdue's upset loss to Wisconsin. Like Army, Notre Dame had no close wins over unrated opponents, so they performed better than Purdue, and they also gave #3 Pittsburgh their only loss 25-12. No question that Notre Dame belongs rated ahead of Purdue.

And with Notre Dame correctly rated ahead of Purdue, Northwestern actually has a better relevant record than
does Purdue. Yes, Purdue beat Northwestern, but Purdue's upset loss makes them even, and Northwestern's tie with higher-rated Notre Dame renders Northwestern effectively a half game better than Purdue on the season. Northwestern also performed better, and in addition to tying Notre Dame, they defeated 3 teams that will make this top 25, whereas Purdue did nothing but beat Northwestern.

Army #7, Notre Dame #8, Northwestern #9, Purdue #10.


Army football coach Ralph SasseArmy was one of the elite football programs of the first half of the 20th century. Charles Daly had coached the team to 2 national championships, in 1914 and 1916, and he was 58-13-3 at Army through 1922. 1923-1935, Army kept it going under a series of coaches that went a combined 82-19-7, and Army would have been ranked in an AP poll's final top 25 in every one of those 13 seasons. Army fell back a step or two in the late '30s, but soon enough Hall of Fame coach Red Blaik came along and won another batch of national championships, in 1944, 1945, and 1946, and he went 121-33-10 at Army 1941-1958. But since Blaik's retirement, Army has never been a top program, and they almost certainly never will be again. They made the top 25 of the fixed AP polls for 1963 and 1966, but since 1966 they have only been rated once, in 1996.

The coach in 1931 was Ralph Sasse (pictured), who went a terrific 25-5-2 in his 3 years here, 9-1-1 in 1930, 8-2-1 this season, and 8-2 in 1932. He then coached at Mississippi State 1935-1937, going 20-10-2 and taking them to the Orange Bowl following the 1936 season. After that, he had a nervous breakdown, and retired from coaching under doctor's orders.

Army's big win this season was their 12-0 upset of Notre Dame at Yankee Stadium on November 28th. Army had one nonconsensus AA, tackle Jack Price.

St. Mary's (California) and California

8-2 St. Mary's brought home the biggest win any team achieved this season, upsetting #1 Southern Cal 13-7 in their opener. They followed that up with a 14-0 win over 8-2 California, and it looked like the sky was the limit. But after a 6-0 start, they came back to earth, losing 10-0 to the Olympic Athletic Club (6-3-2) and 12-0 at UCLA (3-4-1). That knocks them out of the top 10, but they bounced back to beat 6-2-2 Oregon 16-0 and 9-1-1 Southern Methodist 7-2 to finish the season, so it was still a helluva year for St. Mary's.

8-2 California lost only to #1 Southern Cal and to St. Mary's. Their best win came 6-0 in the "Big Game" at 7-2-2 Stanford.

St. Mary's #11, California #12.

Georgia and Yale

8-2 Georgia would have been ranked at the bottom of an AP poll in 1931, if they were ranked at all, because of their woeful showing in their finale. That was a trip to #1 Southern Cal that ended very badly for the Bulldogs... 60-0 badly. AP voters have always been afflicted with Lastgamitis, and this was as poor a last game as one could imagine. However, regardless of how ridiculous that score was, it still only counts as one loss. And Georgia's only losses came to #1 Southern Cal and #2 Tulane. And most importantly, they went up to 5-1-2 Yale this season and gave the Yankee Bulldogs their only loss 26-7.

Yale left a very different impression late in the season, handing #6 Harvard their only loss 3-0. They also tied #9 Army, and as such, they would certainly have been ranked higher than Georgia in a 1931 AP poll. But they shouldn't have been. Yale also took an upset tie against 5-3-1 Dartmouth, a lower-rated team, so they had the same relevant record as Georgia. But Georgia's head-to-head win breaks the tie in their favor. And it was a decisive head-to-head win, 26-7 on the road. Georgia also defeated 4-3-3 North Carolina, 5-4 Vanderbilt (rated #21, as covered below), 6-3-1 NYU, and 5-3-1 Auburn, while Harvard was the only winning major team Yale beat.

Georgia #13, Yale #14.

Stanford and Dartmouth

7-2-2 Stanford took a pair of upset ties against 6-3-2 Olympic Athletic Club and 5-3-1 Washington, but they beat a pair of top 25 intersectional opponents, 7-3 Minnesota and 5-3-1 Dartmouth. Stanford's losses came to #1 Southern Cal and #12 California.

5-3-1 Dartmouth probably wouldn't have been rated in a 1931 AP poll because of their unimpressive straight record and their poor showing in their finale, a 32-6 home loss to Stanford. But the West Coast was incredibly strong this season, 13-2-1 in significant intersectional games, and there is no reason to believe that the 1-loss Eastern teams about to parade into these rankings (as covered next) would have fared any better against Stanford that day. Witness #13 Georgia's 60-0 loss to Southern Cal and 26-7 win at Yale.

5-3-1 Dartmouth defeated 7-1 Cornell 14-0, Cornell defeated 7-1-1 Columbia 13-0, and Columbia defeated Dartmouth 19-6, making a circle. Dartmouth's other 2 losses came to #6 Harvard (by 1 point) and to Stanford, higher-rated teams, and so those losses are irrelevant when comparing Dartmouth to Cornell and Columbia. What is relevant is the fact that Dartmouth tied #14 Yale, another higher-rated team. And Columbia was tied by 7-1-1 Syracuse, a lower-rated team. Therefore, Dartmouth > Cornell > Columbia.

Stanford #15, Dartmouth #16. A bit more detail on Cornell and Columbia coming up...

Cornell, Columbia, Colgate, and Syracuse

Here we have a quartet of 1-loss teams, 7-1 Cornell, 7-1-1 Columbia, 8-1 Colgate, and 7-1-1 Syracuse. Cornell lost to #16 Dartmouth, and they defeated Columbia. Columbia defeated Dartmouth, but they were tied by Syracuse. Syracuse lost to Colgate, who lost to 6-3-1 NYU (a #26-30 team).

With no upset losses or ties and a win over Columbia, Cornell obviously moves to the top of this list. Their schedule was light, and they didn't do much this season aside from beating Columbia, but similar could be said of all 4 of these teams.

Columbia's 7-1-1 record is worse than Colgate's 8-1, and Columbia was tied by Syracuse, whom Colgate defeated. That looks good for Colgate, and the Syracuse results alone do put Colgate effectively a half game better than Columbia. However, Columbia also defeated Dartmouth, a higher-rated team, and that moves Columbia effectively a half game better than Colgate. And Colgate lost to an unrated opponent (NYU), moving Columbia an effective game and a half better than Colgate for the season. As for Syracuse, they may have the same record as Columbia, and they tied Columbia, but they lost to Colgate, who belongs rated behind Columbia, and again, Columbia defeated Dartmouth, a higher-rated team.

Despite 8-1 Colgate's win over 7-1-1 Syracuse and better straight record, Syracuse now has a better relevant record than Colgate does, since Syracuse tied a higher-rated team and Colgate lost to an unrated team. However, an AP poll would certainly have rated Colgate higher, and I think that's viable. Colgate's win over Syracuse was decisive (21-7), late in the season, and on the road. And Colgate had a very strong finish in general, also winning 32-7 at Penn State (Syracuse only beat them 7-0 at home) and 13-7 at 7-3 Brown.

Cornell #17, Columbia #18, Colgate #19, and Syracuse #20.

Vanderbilt, Minnesota, Ohio State, and Michigan

8-1-1 Michigan would have been rated about #15, but their nice-looking straight record was the product of a mediocre schedule. They defeated 7-3 Minnesota 6-0 at home, who beat 6-3 Ohio State 19-7 at home, who beat Michigan 20-7 on the road. That makes a circle, but obviously Minnesota and Ohio State's scores were the most impressive in that circle. Furthermore, Michigan took an upset tie to unrated Michigan State (5-3-1), while Minnesota and Ohio State did not take an upset. Unless you count Ohio State's loss to 5-4 Vanderbilt.

But Vanderbilt, while sporting an unhandsome 5-4 straight record, took their 4 losses to #2 Tulane, #13 Georgia, #4 Tennessee, and #5 Alabama. Their wins, other than the 26-21 decision at Ohio State, were dominating, including a 13-0 win over 4-3-3 North Carolina and a 39-12 rout of 8-1-1 Maryland. Since they took no upsets and beat Ohio State, Vanderbilt had a better relevant record than did Michigan, who lost to Ohio State and tied an unrated team. So Ohio State's loss to Vanderbilt was not an upset-- just a loss to a better team.

Minnesota's other 2 losses came to #9 Northwestern and #15 Stanford. Ohio State also lost to #9 Northwestern. So neither team took an upset, and that means that Michigan's tie with Michigan State moves them to the bottom of this list.

Vanderbilt belongs ahead of Minnesota because of Minnesota's loss to Michigan, a lower-rated team. Minnesota also had a close win over an unrated team (13-7 over North Dakota State), whereas Vanderbilt had no such weak performance. Minnesota did add a nice 20-0 win over 8-2-1 Oklahoma State, but that was no better than Vanderbilt's 39-12 victory over 8-1-1 Maryland.

Vanderbilt #21, Minnesota #22, Ohio State #23, and Michigan #24.

#25: Nebraska

8-2 Nebraska would have been ranked higher than #25 in a 1931 AP poll because they won the Big 6, and conference champions have generally gotten a boost in AP ratings. They also had a better straight record than did several teams ranked ahead of them, and they took their 2 losses to #3 Pittsburgh and #9 Northwestern, so I suppose it's possible that they could have been, say, the 15th best team. However, Nebraska lost to Pitt 40-0 and to NW 19-7, not close, they beat just one quality opponent (8-2 Kansas State, who was not particularly good), and they posted 3 other close wins. They certainly performed far worse than did Minnesota, Ohio State, and Michigan, and as such, #25 is the best I can do for the Huskers here.

Their main competition for this token spot was 9-1-1 Southern Methodist, who won the SWC and also would have likely been rated in a 1931 AP poll. Their loss was close, 7-2 at #11 St. Mary's, and they had 3 close wins over unrated opponents, so they performed slightly better than did Nebraska, but their big problem was a late-season tie with 9-2-1 Texas Christian. That may not seem so bad, looking at TCU's record, but TCU lost to 2 unrated opponents, including a 13-0 drubbing at 8-3 Tulsa. Tulsa, in turn, lost 20-7 to Oklahoma (whom Nebraska beat 13-0), and more importantly, they lost 14-0 to Oklahoma City.

Oklahoma City was 12-0, and they swept Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State. Obviously their greatest season ever. Since they did not take an upset, and they beat Tulsa, who beat TCU, who tied SMU, there's really no good reason for SMU to be rated higher than Oklahoma City. However, Nebraska did not take any upsets, so they can be rated higher than Oklahoma City.

Nebraska gets the last slot, and SMU falls short. Oklahoma City would get it before the Mustangs.

Others Receiving Votes

Here are the teams closest to making this top 25.

Oklahoma City 12-0

As previously noted, this was Oklahoma City University's greatest season. The Goldbugs mostly played a lower-division type schedule, but they beat a couple of mid-majors, Oklahoma State and Tulsa, and at the end of the season they played 4-7-1 Oklahoma in an additional game for charity. They won that game 6-0 thanks to an Oklahoma fumble at their own 8 in the 4th quarter, and the championship of the state thus fell to OCU. The most notable player on the team was tackle Basil Wilkerson, who played in the East-West Shrine Game after the season, and then played pro ball for a few years.

Southern Methodist 9-1-1

SMU won the SWC. They started 9-0, then tied 9-2-1 Texas Christian (unrated) and lost a close game at #11 St. Mary's (California) in their finale.

Oregon 6-2-2

Oregon lost 53-0 to #1 Southern Cal and 16-0 to #11 St. Mary's, and they were tied by unrated Oregon State (5-3-1). Worst of all, they tied 8-1-2 North Dakota. But they beat 5-3-1 Washington and 6-3-1 NYU, both on the road.

Washington 5-3-1

Washington tied #15 Stanford, but they lost to Oregon (as well as #1 USC and #12 Cal). They beat 6-4 Washington State and 7-2 Utah.

New York 6-3-1

NYU gave #19 Colgate their only loss, but they lost to Oregon and tied unrated 6-1-2 Fordham.

1931 Top 25

1) Southern Cal 10-1
2) Tulane 11-1
3) Pittsburgh 8-1
4) Tennessee 9-0-1
5) Alabama 9-1
6) Harvard 7-1
7) Army 8-2-1
8) Notre Dame 6-2-1
9) Northwestern 7-1-1
10) Purdue 9-1
11) St. Mary's (California) 8-2
12) California 8-2
13) Georgia 8-2
14) Yale 5-1-2
15) Stanford 7-2-2
16) Dartmouth 5-3-1
17) Cornell 7-1
18) Columbia 7-1-1
19) Colgate 8-1
20) Syracuse 7-1-1
21) Vanderbilt 5-4
22) Minnesota 7-3
23) Ohio State 6-3
24) Michigan 8-1-1
25) Nebraska 8-2

Others Receiving Votes:
Oklahoma City 12-0
Southern Methodist 9-1-1
Oregon 6-2-2
Washington 5-3-1
New York 6-3-1

Top 25 Rankings 1901-1935
1931 National Championship