Preseason Polls Debate Continues

by BoCarter | Posted on Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

College Football Debates Rage on Pre- and Postseason Champions – A Bit of History
1869-1936 and “Stars of an Earlier Autumn” Research

As college football enters its 134th season and the Bowl Championship Series winds down to its final two years under the current format, debate continues about national champions even today. The Intercollegiate Football Research Association and other football groups have designated national champions from the annals of Parke Davis (going retroactively from 1933 to 1869), Walter Camp and Pop Warner, among others. Some football fanatics even have crowned their national titlists prior to the first wire service national polls (Associated Press in 1936, United Press/Coaches in 1950). Prior to the wire services in Tex Noel’s book “Stars of An Earlier Autumn” found that no less than seven surveys, including National Football Foundation tri-founder and famed sports writer Grantland Rice, selected their national champions in 1927 – in this case Illinois, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, and Tennessee.

“Stars” details the ins and outs of all the top grid teams from 1869-1936 and details the various groups (some as early as 1890), which selected national titlists and the first college All-America teams. As a matter of fact, the 1936 AP poll came out at midseason, and in some 1960 AP surveys only 10 teams were ranked for whatever reasons. It was not until the early 1970s that AP and UPI finally decided to rank teams in the postseason, and that caused even more confusion.

The postseason ratings did settle a few disputes about teams that finished 10-0 or 11-0 and then lost (often decisively) in a bowl tussle. And to add a little more confusion to the mix, no less than 15 different entities from the BCS rankings (not a poll, these are rankings – just ask the originators in 1998) to the College Football Researchers Association to the fairly-new Leatherheads grid group select a national champ in Football Bowl Subdivision. Every other NCAA and NAIA division chooses its winner in a seeded, tournament format.

But aside from the debate and barber shop discussions about the selections of LSU (Coaches/USA Today) and USC (AP) this year for the first time since 1997 (the year before the birth of the BCS and a postseason title split championship between 12-0 Michigan and 13-0 Nebraska), FBS national champions are quite a prolific and diverse group.  For the record, no less than 59 “major college” teams (in their particular eras) have claimed national crowns from Washington and Jefferson in 1921 under Hall of Fame head coach Greasy Neale to 9-0 Colgate in 1932 to co-champions Princeton and Rutgers in 1869 (both were 1-1 in the two-game series). 1871 had no claimed or crowned titlist since no intercollegiate football contests (there were several rugby and soccer matches among collegians that year).

Interestingly, and fans can win a few friendly wagers with friends and family, the team with the most major national grid crowns is Princeton with 28 claimed. Behind that and in double figures from the various selection agencies are Yale with 27, Michigan 22, Notre Dame 21, Alabama 18, Oklahoma 17, USC 17, Ohio State 14, Harvard 12, Nebraska 11, and Pittsburgh 11. More than 90 percent of the Princeton and Yale crowns occurred during the 1869-36 era of mainly-Eastern-dominated football.

The three Ivy League teams among the Top 10/11 later became then-NCAA Division I-AA members in 1982 and essentially were eliminated from now FBS (NCAA I-A in ’78) national kudos. The Ivies and Southwestern Athletic Conference still chose not to compete in Football Championship Subdivision postseason tourneys even today, so it appears the last Ivy League national champ is Princeton in 1950 with a 9-0 record and then-junior Dick Kazmaier one year away from becoming the last Ivy Leaguer to win player of the year laurels.

It all adds up to another glorious and grand football FBS season, through 14 NAIA games played over the final weekend of August, open the ’12 campaign.
For the inside story and amazing detail of all college football champs among the majors from 1969-1936, please see the attached “Stars of An Earlier Autumn” data, which fills in many gaps prior to the NCAA’s first compilation of football statistics in 1936.
The book can be obtained by emailing Tex’s at or by clicking on the link; or via the website, typing in the title, Stars of an Earlier Autumn.
IFRA is college football research group; promoting all levels and eras of college football history. Subscribers receive a free monthly newsletter (of at least 20 pages) the second Saturday of each month.

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