Top 25 Rankings 1901-1935
1932 National Championship
College Football Top 25
is the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum hosting the
1932 Southern Cal-Notre Dame game. The stadium had hosted the Olympics
in the Summer, for which its iconic Olympic cauldron torch had been
added, along with additional seats that pushed capacity over 100,000.
That came in handy when 7-1 Notre Dame arrived to challenge 8-0
Southern Cal in 1932's game of the year. USC won 13-0, then pounded
8-1-2 Pittsburgh 35-0 in the Rose Bowl to repeat as mythical national
champion. Sharing the MNC in 1932 was 8-0 Michigan. 9-0 Colgate,
however, fell just short. A detailed comparison of the 3 teams can be
found in my 1932 national championship article.
A post-bowl AP poll for the 1932 season would certainly have placed
10-0 Southern Cal at #1, and 8-0 Michigan #2, so that's where we'll start
here. As for 9-0 Colgate, while it's feasible that 7-0-1 Purdue would
have been ranked higher, and possibly even 9-0-1 Tennessee, both of
those teams obviously took an upset tie, and Colgate did not, and on
top of that, Colgate's performance was perfect this season. So Colgate
takes #3, which they likely would have done in an actual AP poll anyway.
The full hypothetical post-bowl AP poll top 25 for 1932, fixed to make
logical sense of course, follows the article below.
Purdue vs. Tennessee
Purdue would likely have been rated just ahead of 9-0-1 Tennessee, and
Purdue defeated more top 25 opponents and performed better than did
Tennessee, so that's fine. Purdue #4, Tennessee #5.
Pittsburgh and Notre Dame
I believe that
8-1-2 Pittsburgh and 7-2 Notre Dame would have been next in line, and
Pitt beat Notre Dame 12-0, so it's Pittsburgh #6, Notre Dame #7.
#8: Army vs. Brown
8-2 Army lost to
#6 Pittsburgh and #7 Notre Dame, and 7-1 Brown lost to #3 Colgate. I'm
not sure which team a 1932 AP poll would have rated higher. Writers
seemed to more highly esteem Army, but Brown had the better straight
record, which has always been worth a lot to AP poll voters. I'll go
with Army here though, because they had just 1 close win, while Brown
had 4, 2 of them over rather poor opponents (Springfield and 2-2-3
Army #8, Brown #9.
#10: Texas Christian vs. Auburn
Christian and 9-0-1 Auburn both took an upset tie, and again, it is
difficult to say which team would have been rated higher in a 1932 AP
poll. My guess would be Auburn, as they sported a pair of All
Americans, including Hall of Fame halfback Jimmy Hitchcock. However,
despite their record, Auburn was rather unimpressive this season. They
did not beat a top 25 team, or even one that was close, and they were
tied by 5-4-2 South Carolina in Birmingham in their finale. On top of
that, they had 3 close wins over weak opponents. TCU's schedule wasn't
much better, but all of their wins came by more than a touchdown,
so their performance was vastly better. Their tie came to 6-3-1 LSU, a
better team than South Carolina, and it was on the road and early in
the season. And they at least defeated a near-"rated" team in 8-2 Texas.
Texas Christian easily merits the #10 slot over Auburn, and in fact
Auburn's resume is so poor that they do not even merit #11. For that
spot, let's look to the Big 10...
Wisconsin, Ohio State, Minnesota, and Northwestern
Next up we have 6-1-1 Wisconsin, 4-1-3 Ohio State, 5-3 Minnesota, and 3-4-1 Northwestern. Wait, did I just say 3-4-1? Yep. But let's discuss these teams in order.
lost by 1 point at #4 Purdue, and they took their tie at 4-1-3 Ohio
State. They had 2 close wins, but 1 of them came over 5-3 Minnesota, a
top 25 team. Easily a better resume than 9-0-1 Auburn. The extra loss
Wisconsin took is irrelevant when comparing Wisconsin to Auburn, being
that Auburn did not even play a top 25 team.
Ohio State was tied by 3-4-1 Indiana, an upset as egregious as
Auburn's against South Carolina, but OSU made up for their upset by
tying #6 Pittsburgh and 6-1-1 Wisconsin, both ranked higher than Auburn
of course. That is far more than Auburn accomplished. OSU's loss came
to #2 Michigan, so again, it is irrelevant when comparing Ohio State to
Auburn. OSU also defeated 6-2 Penn, another top 25 team.
Minnesota lost only to #6 Purdue (by 7), #2 Michigan (by 3), and 6-1-1
Wisconsin (by 7), so they took no upsets, and that means that despite
the fact that they were 5-3 and Auburn 9-0-1, they had a better relevant record
than Auburn did, since Auburn took the upset tie. Minnesota also
defeated 7-1-1 Nebraska, while Auburn, again, defeated no rated
And that brings us to 3-4-1 Northwestern vs. 9-0-1
Auburn. Now, you may be saying, "A 3-4-1 team being rated higher than a
9-0-1 team? Are you crazy?" But if Auburn had played Northwestern's
schedule, I have no reason to think that they would have done as well
as 3-4-1, and there is plenty of reason to believe that they would
have done worse. All 4 of Northwestern's losses came to teams ranked
higher than Auburn at this point (#2 Michigan, #7 Notre Dame, Ohio
State, and Minnesota), and they tied #4 Purdue, which is itself more
than Auburn accomplished. They also beat 5-4 Illinois 26-0, and
Illinois will fall just outside this top 25. Northwestern's games
against unrated opponents were all routs, while Auburn struggled
against unrated opponents. Their straight records are completely the product of the incredibly different strengths of schedule these 2 teams faced.
we have Wisconsin #11, Ohio State #12, Minnesota #13, and Northwestern
#14. Does that mean Auburn is #15? Not quite. But before I get to that,
here are a couple of mini-profiles of 2 of these Big 10 programs...
Wisconsin had been one of the power teams in the Big 10, but they were
very different from the other power teams in the conference in that
they had never had an iconic longtime coach. Michigan had Fielding
Yost, Minnesota Henry Williams, Ohio State John Wilce, Chicago Amos
Alonzo Stagg, and Illinois Robert Zuppke. Wisconsin's coaches didn't
stick around long, so Wisconsin had been through 12 different winning
coaches through 1931. But 1932 was the end of the line for Wisconsin as
a power team, at least for a while.
1932 was the first season
for head coach Clarence Spears, who did well this season (6-1-1), but
would plummet to 13-17-2 in his 4 years here. Most of Wisconsin's
following coaches would also post losing records until Barry Alvarez
revived the program in the 1990s (though Wisconsin did have a strong
period in the 1950s and early 1960s).
But 1901-1932, had there
been an AP poll, Wisconsin would have finished rated most of those
years, and they produced perfect records and MNC contenders in 1901 and 1912. So this season, one of the nation's top programs was waving goodbye to elite status. Pretty much forever.
on the other hand, has never really been a power team in the Big 10
over an extended period of time, and in fact they have a losing record
all time. They've been doing all right in recent years, and barely have
a winning record 1995 to present. They were also competitive under Hall of Fame
coach Ara Parseghian 1956-1963, again barely posting a winning record
during that time. But their "golden age" was their strongest period,
running 1925-1941. They went 81-49-8 during this time and won 4 Big 10
titles, half their historical total.
Three successive coaches
posted winning records here during this time. Glenn Thistlethwaite got
the ball rolling with a 21-17-1 record 1922-1926, winning the
conference in his last year here, but then Wisconsin hired him away. He
went 26-16-3 at Wisconsin 1927-1931. Dick Hanley went 36-26-4 at
Northwestern 1927-1934, winning 2 conference titles, in 1930 and 1931.
He was, of course, the coach this season. After him came Hall of Fame
coach Lynn "Pappy" Waldorf, who went 49-45-7 here 1935-1946, winning 1
conference title, in 1936. Waldorf went 157-89-19 overall, coaching at
Oklahoma State, Kansas State, and most notably, California, in addition
to Northwestern. He had much more success at all the other schools, and
brought home a total of 7 conference titles in those tenures. But of
course, he was facing far weaker competition at those schools.
Nebraska, Auburn, and Alabama
performed even more poorly against unrated teams than 9-0-1 Auburn did,
so this one's close, but Nebraska didn't actually take any upsets
against those teams. Nebraska's loss came 7-6 at #13 Minnesota, and
they tied #6 Pittsburgh, so their relevant record was effectively a
full game better than Auburn's. They should be rated higher.
Nebraska's relevant record was the same as 3-4-1 Northwestern, but
Northwestern performed far better. As an example, Nebraska beat Iowa
14-13, and Northwestern beat them 44-6. So Northwestern > Nebraska
Then we get to 8-2 Alabama, and finally, here is a
team that Auburn can be viably rated ahead of. Personally, I would rate
Alabama higher, because they performed better, they beat 2 top 25 teams
(6-1-2 Vanderbilt and 6-2-1 St. Mary's) to none for Auburn, and they
also beat a couple more good teams in 6-2-1 George Washington and 8-1
Virginia Tech. However, Alabama did take an upset loss to 4-5-1 Georgia
Tech, a team Auburn defeated, and Auburn just took an upset tie. An AP
poll would surely have rated Auburn higher, if only because of the
illusion of their 9-0-1 straight record, so I'll let the hypothetical
voters of 1932 have their way here.
Nebraska #15, Auburn #16, and Alabama #17.
had been ruling the Missouri Valley region from the beginning. They won
21 conference titles 1907-1940, and had there been an AP top 25, they
would have been ranked most years 1901-1940 (in fact they actually were
ranked in 4 of 5 AP polls 1936-1940). They posted several perfect
records, 3 of which were MNC contending teams (1903, 1913, and 1915).
had a very high national profile at this time because, in addition to
winning their conference most years, they played a very heavy
intersectional schedule 1901-1940, introducing themselves to the country from
coast to coast. They played a highly publicized series with Notre Dame
1915-1925, splitting it 5-5-1, and they played another 62 games against
Great Lakes/Big 10 teams, 29 games against East Coast teams (mostly
powerhouse Pittsburgh), 9 games against West Coast teams, 15 games
against Rocky Mountain teams, and 5 games against Texas teams. This was
quite an unusual amount of travel for those days.
The coach this
year was Hall of Famer Dana X. Bible (pictured), who had previously
gone 72-19-9 at Texas A&M 1917 and 1919-1928, winning 5 SWC titles
and 2 school-claimed MNCs (1919 and 1927--
I only recognize the latter). He was 50-15-7 at Nebraska 1929-1936,
winning 6 Big 6 titles in his 8 years, and then he moved on to Texas,
where he won 3 more SWC titles, finishing with an overall record of
198-72-23. Nebraska had one nonconsensus All American this season,
center Lawrence Ely.
Nebraska continued to dominate their region
until WWII dawned, finishing the 1940 season in the Rose Bowl, but
after that the program went into a long, deep coma of losing before
Hall of Fame coach Bob Devaney resurrected the program's corpse in 1962.
Michigan State, Vanderbilt, and Pennsylvania
7-1 Michigan State was a mid-major team at this time, so they might have been rated behind teams like 7-1-1 Columbia, 7-1-1 Washington State, 6-1-2 Vanderbilt, and 6-2 Penn
had there been an AP poll in 1932. But Michigan State's only loss came
to #2 Michigan, while Columbia and Washington State were each tied by
unrated opponents. Vanderbilt was also tied by an unrated opponent, but
they made up for it by tying 9-0-1 Tennessee (# 5), so they had the
same relevant record as Michigan State. However, Vanderbilt did not
defeat a top 25 (or nearly rated) opponent, while MSU defeated 6-2
Fordham on the road.
As for Penn, they took no upsets, and they did at least defeat a
nearly rated team (5-2-1 Cornell), but they struggled to beat 4-4
Dartmouth, while MSU had no close wins except against 6-2 Fordham and
8-2 Detroit. So we'll bring MSU in next.
Vanderbilt would likely have been rated higher than Penn in a 1932
AP poll, and that works fine. Michigan State #18, Vanderbilt #19, and
Washington State, Columbia, Fordham, and St. Mary's (California)
might have been rated relatively highly due to their nice straight
record, but they were not very impressive. Like Penn, their big win
came against nearly-rated Cornell (5-2-1), but they did nothing else of
note, and they were tied by unrated 4-4-1 Syracuse in their finale. 6-2
Penn took no upsets. 7-1-1 Washington State took an upset tie, like
Columbia did, but their tie came against nearly-rated 6-2-2 Washington,
and WSU played a tougher schedule, beating 7-3-2 Cal and 6-4 UCLA, both
on the road. WSU should be rated higher than Columbia.
Fordham took an upset loss, 3-0 at 4-2-2 Boston College, so Columbia
can be viably ranked ahead of them. St. Mary's (California) had a strong
season, beating 6-3 Santa Clara, 6-4 UCLA, and 6-3-1 Oregon, but they
lost at Fordham, so they should come in behind the Rams.
Washington State #21, Columbia #22, Fordham #23, and St. Mary's #24. One slot left to fill.
State was not exactly a West Coast powerhouse during this time period,
but they were pesky and often top 25 caliber. The coach was Hall of
Famer Orin "Babe" Hollingberry (pictured), who went 93-53-14 at WSU
1926-1942, which gives him the records for most wins and longest tenure
in WSU history. He created the East-West Shrine game and coached the
West team 18 times, including the inaugural edition in 1925.
Hollingberry won the PCC in 1930 and took WSU to the Rose Bowl. Had
there been an AP poll in these years, WSU may have been rated up to 6
times in 8 years 1926-1933.
This year's star player was halfback George Sanders, who made 2nd
and 3rd team All American lists. He had also played for WSU's 1930 Rose
#25: Tulane, Cornell, Centenary, Washington, or Illinois?
Contending for the last spot are 6-2-1 Tulane, 5-2-1 Cornell, 8-0-1 Centenary, 6-2-2 Washington, and 5-4 Illinois.
I suspect that Tulane would have been the highest rated of these
teams in an AP poll, but their big problem is that they lost to 6-3-1
Louisiana State, who lost to 8-0-1 Centenary. Centenary took an ugly
tie with 1-6-2 Arkansas, but they beat 8-2 Texas in addition to LSU,
and ultimately the Centenary > LSU > Tulane victory chain moves
them to the front of the list. Texas, who lost only to Centenary and
#10 TCU, and who defeated 7-3 Rice (who defeated LSU), should be ranked
ahead of Tulane as well, but since there's only one spot left in this
top 25, that matter is moot.
Cornell took an upset tie, giving them the same relevant record as
Centenary, but Cornell did not defeat a major winning team, whereas
Centenary beat a couple of teams sitting just outside this top 25.
6-2-2 Washington tied #21 Washington State, but they also tied unrated
Oregon (6-3-1), and they lost to unrated California (7-3-2), so their
relevant record was effectively half a game worse than Centenary's on
5-4 Illinois did not take any upsets, so their
relevant record was half a game better than Centenary's, but Illinois
did not beat a major winning opponent, so they accomplished nothing on
the season. Centenary, again, defeated 2 strong teams.
Centenary may have been a mid-major, but they played 6 major teams
this season (Texas, Mississippi, SMU, Texas A&M, LSU, and
Arkansas), the same number Washington and Illinois played, and 2 more
than Cornell played. Centenary #25.
are the teams closest to making this top 25. 6-2-1 Tulane, due to belonging ranked behind 6-3-1 LSU, does not make this list.
Texas lost to #10 TCU and #25 Centenary, and they defeated 7-3 Rice.
have been a top 25 team power-wise. They lost to #1 Southern Cal by
just 3 points, they tied #21 Washington State, and they defeated 6-4-1
Stanford and 6-4 UCLA. But they also took a loss to 7-3-2 Cal and a tie
to 6-3-1 Oregon, both unrated.
Cal defeated the
aforementioned Washington, and they tied #24 St. Mary's, but they took
an upset loss to 6-3 Santa Clara, and they were tied by 6-4-1 Stanford.
All of Illinois'
losses came to rated teams (#2 Michigan, #14 Northwestern, #11
Wisconsin, and #12 Ohio State), and they defeated 7-1 Miami-Ohio 20-7,
but Miami was a minor team, and Illinois beat no one that mattered this
Cornell lost to #20 Penn and #22 Columbia, and they tied 2-2-3 Princeton. They beat no one of value.
Southern Cal 10-0
2) Michigan 8-0
3) Colgate 9-0
4) Purdue 7-0-1
5) Tennessee 9-0-1
6) Pittsburgh 8-1-2
7) Notre Dame 7-2
8) Army 8-2
9) Brown 7-1
10) Texas Christian 10-0-1
11) Wisconsin 6-1-1
12) Ohio State 4-1-3
13) Minnesota 5-3
14) Northwestern 3-4-1
15) Nebraska 7-1-1
16) Auburn 9-0-1
17) Alabama 8-2
18) Michigan State 7-1
19) Vanderbilt 6-1-2
20) Pennsylvania 6-2
21) Washington State 7-1-1
22) Columbia 7-1-1
23) Fordham 6-2
24) St. Mary's (California) 6-2-1
25) Centenary 8-0-1