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The original was posted on /r/cfb by /u/stayclassypeople on 2024-07-10 12:55:08+00:00.

“There is no official standard because there is no official national champion. It all depends on the standard the school wishes to utilize. The national champion is in the eye of the beholder.”

— Kent Stephens, historian


This is the thirteenth post in a series covering the 1950-1973 seasons. Each year I will cover the big games the shaped the race for #1 and how they performed in the bowls. Season by season you’ll see the gradual evolution of how college football went from a regular season only sport into a game into a sport where bowls would become national championship events. This is my amateur attempt at understanding college football’s bizarre journey in declaring who is #1.

Master Post (check out prior seasons here)

A Brief History of the bowls and Polls

News & Notes

  • The penalty for an illegal shift was moved from 15 to 5 yards. Not important to the overall story, but damn
  • The Western Athletic Conference formed, which included Arizona, Arizona St, BYU, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming
  • Wazzu joined the AAWU
  • The Denver Pioneers dropped their football program
  • Preseason #1: Ohio State
  • Bowl Tie-Ins
    • Rose Bowl: Big 10 and AAWU champs
      • After the Ohio St debacle in '61, the Big 10 formerly re-entered into a contract with the bowl to send it’s champion.
    • Orange: Big 8 champ
    • Cotton: SWC champ
    • Sugar: an SEC team (unofficially)
  • Number of Bowls: 10
  • The AP only conducted a top 10.

Big Games

  • Sept 22nd
    • USC upset #8 Duke 14-7
  • Oct 6th
    • 1 Ohio St’s quest for a championship took an early hit with a 9-7 loss.
  • Oct 20th
    • 1 Texas knocked of #7 Arkansas 7-3. The win would prove pivotal in the SWC title race. Arkansas would not drop another game
    • 5 Wisconsin started the season unranked but quickly rose into the top 10 after a 4-0 start. Ohio St upended them in Columbus, 14-7. The Badgers would fall out of the top 10 after the loss.
  • Oct 27th
    • 1 Texas (5-0) tied Rice (0-3-1). They fell to #5 in the following polls.
  • Nov 3rd
    • 6 Ole Miss (5-0) exercised some demons by taking down #4 LSU (5-0-1), 15-7. After three straight season of LSU ruining their national title run, Ole Miss had a clear path to a perfect season
    • 3 USC (5-0) took down #9 Washington 14-0. The win would prove decisive for the AAWU title race and Rose Bowl berth
    • 1 Northwestern (6-0) met #8 Wisconsin (5-1) in a pivotal battle for Big 10 supremacy. The Bagers dominated, 37-6, moving to #4 in the following polls. Northwestern would lose again the following week.
  • Nov 17th
    • 1 Alabama (8-0) had two games to go to secure a likely back to back national and SEC title. Georgia Tech ruined the party with a 7-6 upset in Atlanta.
  • Nov 22nd
    • 4 Texas had slim hopes of a national title, but a win would secure an outright SWC crown and Cotton Bowl bid. Lose, and those accolades would go to Arkansas. The Horns won 13-3 over Texas A&M to secure their crown.
  • Nov 24th
    • 3 Wisconsin (7-1) met #5 Minnesota (6-1-1) for the de facto Big 10 title. The Badgers magical season continued as they took Paul Bunyan’s Ax with a 14-9 victory
  • Dec 1st
    • After a 1-2 start, Oklahoma rallied to win 8 straight, including a season ending win over Oklahoma St, 37-6.
    • 3 Ole Miss (9-0) found itself behind 1 loss Wisconsin and perfect USC in the polls. If USC lost, perhaps enough of the Trojan’s first place voters, in at least 1 poll, would pick Ole Miss #1. Even if that didn’t happen, a win would at least secure an outright SEC title instead of having to share it with Alabama. The Rebels took care of what they could, beating Egg Bowl rival MSU 13-6.
    • 1 USC (9-0) was a win away from a consensus national title. Should they slip up, the Badgers or Ole Miss would climb to #1 instead. The Trojans blanked the Irish 25-0 to establish their case for #1.

Final Polls

Teams in Bold=conference champs

Teams in ( ) =first place votes

Team Record AP rank Coaches rank Bowl
USC 10-0 1 (42) 1 (32) ROSE
Wisconsin 8-1 2 (5) 2 (2) ROSE
Ole Miss 9-0 3 (2) 3 (1) SUGAR
Texas 9-0-1 4 (2) 4 (1) COTTON
Alabama 9-1 5 (1) 5 ORANGE
Arkansas 9-1 6 6 SUGAR
LSU 8-1-1 7 8 COTTON
Oklahoma 8-2 8 7 ORANGE
  • 14 Duke (8-2) won the ACC
  • Dartmouth went 9-0, but finished unranked

Talk about a perfect year for an 8 team playoff. Three teams finished undefeated and two were perfect. In a year where it would make perfect sense for a split title, both polls heavily favored USC as a consensus #1. It’s reasonable enough to pick them over 1 loss Wisconsin and once tied Texas, but what about unbeaten Ole Miss, who despite being unbeaten and untied, was 3rd in the polls. USC’s schedule wasn’t particularly tougher, having beaten two ranked opponents to Ole Miss’ 1. We don’t know what was going through most of the voters’ minds, but perhaps it was this

in 1962, James Meredith became the first African American admitted to Ole Miss. The response was race riots and violence in the state. I can’t imagine there was any goodwill for them in the minds of many Americans, including sportswriters across the country. This story was featured in ESPNs 30 for 30 episode “Ghosts of Ole Miss.” We don’t know the real answer. Maybe most voters truly believed USC was better and regular Big 10 bias keeping Wisconsin above them too. As it was, fans were in for an epic bowl season as all of the top 8 teams were playing in the major New Years Bowls. The Rose Bowl would be a de facto national title of sorts between #1 USC and #2 Wisconsin. #3 Ole Miss would challenge #6 Arkansas in the Sugar, #4 Texas would put it’s unbeaten record to the test vs LSU and Big 8 champ Oklahoma would attempt to keep it’s win streak alive vs Alabama.

The Bowls

ORANGE: #8/7 Oklahoma (7-2) vs #5 Alabama (9-1)

Oklahoma didn’t let early season losses to Texas and Notre Dame ruin it’s season, rallying to win the Big 8 title, but Alabama was here to end the fun. The Tide, no doubt smarting from a narrow loss to Georgia Tech, costing them a 2nd national title shutout the Sooners. They built a 14-0 lead on 25 yard pass in the 1st and 15 yard rush in the 4th, and iced the game with a 3rd quarter field goal, winning 17-0.

COTTON: #7/8 LSU vs #4 Texas

Both teams here had great seasons, but perfect was spoiled by a tough loss and tie, respectively. Neither team could get much going early, but LSU managed a 2nd quarter field to make it 3-0 before the half. Early in the 3rd, Texas fumbled, giving LSU a short field and allowing them to add a 22 yard TD run. For the rest of the game, LSU’s defense continued to ball out and the offense tacked on another field goal to win by a 13-0 shutout.

SUGAR: #3 Ole Miss (10-0) vs #6 Arkansas (9-1)

Should the Rose Bowl end in a tie or loss for USC, Ole Miss would be left as the last unbeaten and untied team if they also won the Sugar. Regardless, a dominating win over a good Arkansas team would perhaps be enough to remind the world they were deserving of #1. The two teams traded field goals in the 2nd quarter to make it 3-3, but Ole Miss later took the lead on a late TD to make it 10-3 at the half. Not to be outdone, Arkansas countered in the 3rd with a short rushing TD to make it 10 all. Ole Miss countered with a short TD run of their own to regain the lead 17-10. Before the 4th, Arkansas cut the lead to 17-13. The 4th quarter was all defense, with neither team scoring any points, leading to a 17-13 win for the Rebels, and a perfect 11-0 season.

ROSE: #1 USC vs #2 Wisconsin

This was the first ever bowl match up featuring the #1 vs #2 teams in the nation. The game was considered a de facto national title game. Although the AP and Coaches polls were complete, the winner of this game would be awarded the FWAA’s Grantland Rice Trophy. Although the Rose Bowl was the ultimate trophy, it was hard to ignore the national championship overtones around this battle.

After trading touchdowns in the 1st, USC tagged on back to back rushing TDs in the 2nd to take a 21-7 halftime lead. Three 2nd half TD passes by USC QB Pete Beathard allowed the Trojans to build an insurmountable 42-14 lead early in the 4th. Wisconsin wasn’t ready to rollover just yet. The Badgers rallied for 23 unanswered 4th quarter points (three TDs and a safety) to cut the lead to 42-37. Unfortunately, they simply ran out of time, allowing USC to hold on for the victory and a perfect 11-0 season. This would be their first national title in the Poll era.

Final Review

USC awarded the voters belief in them with an exciting Rose Bowl victory. Ole Miss also reminded the world that they were elite as well with an emphatic Sugar Bowl victory. To add to their argument for #1, two other SEC teams (Alabama and LSU) also scored major bowl wins as well, although it should be noted, that Ole Miss and Alabama didn’t play this year. Had the bowls mattered, I’m not sure it would have changed the voters minds with #1 USC’s win and perhaps larger issues than football affecting …

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