Examining Ohio State's National Title Claims

Examining Ohio State's National Title Claims

College football national titles have earned their "mythical" tag over the years, and some schools take advantage by claiming as many as they can. Should the Buckeyes claim more? Do they claim any they shouldn't? We take a look back through the years.

Auburn created a stir earlier this week by claiming ( or at least deciding to think about claiming) more national championships than it previously has.

This might have gotten you thinking, "How many championships does Ohio State claim? Are some of them bogus... or could the Buckeyes be shorting themselves?" Well, BSB is here to answer those questions and more.

First of all,it should be noted that schools seem to take different approaches to this whole business in the first place. Some claim as many as possible while others play it closer to the vest. To me, over-claiming serves to cheapen the whole experience, but I get why some schools do it.

I also have my own criteria that serves to narrow the field so we can get down to choosing. The No. 1 rule for me? There are no retroactive titles. Although the NCAA puzzlingly chooses to list almost anyone it seems who is or was willing to take the time to write out a list of champions, I don't find most of them legitimate.

Here's why: Although college football started in the late 19th century, it took a while to get a national foothold. Michigan was one of the first teams to take up the game in a serious fashion in the Midwest, but it was predominantly an eastern game for the first 50 years or so. (Hence the lyrics to the Wolverines' fight song...)

That no one at the time felt it was necessary to declare a national champion until the Associated Press in the 1930s is significant to me. I use that as a milepost in terms of the development of the game, which began when some Ivy League schools decided it was cooler to run with the ball than to just kick it then gradually added rules to transform it from rugby to our game, most notably scrimmage play and the system of downs as opposed to scrums to determine possession. (Despite how it's marketed, the "first football game" between Rutgers and Princeton was basically a soccer game, certainly not American football as we know it.)

It's great that Yale wants to say it had the best team in the country in 1894, but this is hardly the same thing as it would be even a couple of decades later once we started seeing conferences in other regions and the beginning of bowl games to match teams from various parts of the country.

So with that established, let's look at potential national titles from 1936 to the present. As far as Ohio State goes, there are 13 potential titles to consider (we're automatically discarding one from 1933). Of these, the school officially claims seven. Could we make the case they don't claim the correct seven? We'll see...

While the NCAA has an "official" list (only so-called because it appears in the NCAA record book even though the NCAA doesn't actually award an FBS national championship), I agree with the SBNation folks that the Wikipedia list is pretty good as a resource for this exercise.

Simply being picked by one of the possibly legitimate selectors is not the only criteria here. Therefore, it does not mean automatic admittance into the category of legitimate, nor does it automatically disqualify a team from such distinction.


1942 -- Coached by the legendary Paul Brown, Buckeyes go 9-1 and are voted Associated Press national champions. Their only loss was at Wisconsin in a contest known as "The Bad Water Game" because of food poisoning that hit many members of the OSU squad. The Badgers later lost to Iowa and had earlier tied a Notre Dame team that lost two games and tied another.

Claimed? Yes. Should be claimed? Yes. With no other major polls yet in existence and no undefeated teams, this one is hard to argue against.

1944 -- Buckeyes go 9-0 and win the Big Ten by two games. With Army and Navy both top five teams, the Black Knights are named champions by the AP after slaughtering Notre Dame 59-0 in November and topping the Midshipmen by 16 in the season finale. Ohio State is shut out of title but declared "civilian national champions" in some circles. The Buckeyes beat four ranked teams, including a 16-14 victory over No. 6 Michigan in the season finale.

Claimed? No. Should be claimed? Probably not, though it's tough to ignore a major-conference team that wins all its games and deny it at least a share. Army played only two ranked teams, but the Knights outscored their opponents 504-35 for the season compared to Ohio State's 287-79 margin. An early case of style points carrying the day in college football? The generally dubious Sagarin ratings and essentially made-up National Championship Foundation do have OSU on top, but that's not enough in my book (or Ohio State's, apparently).

1954 -- Buckeyes go 10-0, voted champions by the AP. The first national championship season for Woody Hayes was also the one that saved his job in Columbus after the Buckeyes went 16-9-2 in his first three seasons. Ohio State beat six ranked teams, including a 21-7 victory over No. 12 Michigan and a 20-7 win over No. 17 USC in the Rose Bowl. UCLA beat three ranked teams, including a 34-0 defeat of the Trojans, while going undefeated and being voted champions by the UPI. The Bruins could not go to the Rose Bowl because of the no-repeat rule that existed until the beginning of the 1970s.

Claimed? Yes. Should be claimed? Yes.

1957 -- Despite a season-opening loss to SMU, the 9-1 Buckeyes are voted No. 1 by the coaches in the UPI poll while Auburn wins the AP championship. Halfback Dick LeBeau and lineman Aurealius Thomas are among the stars of this OSU squad, which beat Oregon in the Rose Bowl after spanking Michigan 31-14. Auburn was undefeated but ineligible for postseason play after being found guilty of paying recruits.

Claimed? Yes. Should be claimed? Yes, in the case of both OSU and Auburn because these are the two most legitimate selectors.

1961 -- Similar to their title team four years earlier, the Buckeyes did not win their first game of the year but finished strong. After tying TCU 7-7 in the opener, Ohio State won its last eight games before being denied a trip to the Rose Bowl by its own faculty council. Undefeated Alabama was voted No. 1 by both the AP and the UPI while Ohio State came in second, but the Buckeyes were named champions by the Football Writers Association of America, which had begun handing out the Grantland Rice Trophy seven years earlier.

Claimed? Yes. Should be claimed? Yes, with the distinction that the Crimson Tide can rightfully regard themselves as the consensus national champions for winning both major polls. The FWAA (of which I am a member) is a national organization that was picking these things every year, so this is a clear distinction from the retroactive championship selectors such as Helms or the College Football Researchers Association. Just don't get into an argument with a 'Bama fan about this one, OK?

1968 -- Finally recovered from the fallout of the '61 vote by the faculty council that hurt recruiting in the Midwest, Ohio State rode a sensational sophomore class to a perfect record and the Buckeyes' third AP title. They began the season ranked only No. 11 but eventually rose to No. 1 after beating USC in the Rose Bowl 27-18. They downed then-No. 1 Purdue along the way and slaughtered No. 4 Michigan 50-14.

Claimed? Yes. Should be claimed? No question. This is almost certainly the best undefeated team in Ohio State history.

1969 -- With nearly everyone back from the '68 squad, this was perhaps the most dominant Ohio State team of all time for the first eight games of the season, outscoring opponents 46.4-8.6 behind a dominating defense and a hurry-up offense that averaged more than 90 plays per game. In mid-November, Sports Illustrated wrote that the best game of the season would likely be a scrimmage between the OSU defense and the OSU offense, and a second national title was assured with a season-ending victory over Michigan because the no-repeat rule meant the Buckeyes were not going to a bowl even if they won the Big Ten. The Wolverines had other plans, though, dealing a 24-12 upset that can only be considered the most stunning and devastating loss in Ohio State history.

Claimed? No. Should be claimed? No, even though something called the Matthews Grid Ratings picked the Buckeyes No. 1.

1970 -- With most of the Super Sophs now seniors, the Buckeyes bounced back from disappointing end of the previous season to go undefeated again in '70, including a 20-9 defeat of Michigan. They lost the Rose Bowl to No. 12 Stanford, though, opening the door for Nebraska to claim the AP crown while Texas was voted No. 1 in the UPI poll.

Claimed? Yes. Should be claimed? Yes, marginally. The title in this case comes from the National Football Foundation, which began naming a national champion in 1959, so it is not a retroactive championship. The selector may be legitimate, but Nebraska was undefeated.

1973 -- Ohio State was No. 1 for most of the season before tying No. 4 Michigan 10-10 in Ann Arbor. The Buckeyes went on to trounce No. 7 USC 42-21 in the Rose Bowl, but Notre Dame was voted the national champion by the AP after the Fighting Irish completed a perfect season by beating No. 1 Alabama by a point in the Sugar Bowl.

Claimed? No. Should be claimed? No, despite four of the NCAA's official selectors ranking the Buckeyes No. 1. Notre Dame had a better record, and it's hard to argue with a team that beats the previously undefeated No. 1 team in a major bowl isn't the most deserving champion.

1974 -- The Buckeyes started the season in the top five and moved to No. 1 by the end of September. They were 8-0 until a controversial 16-13 loss at Michigan State and later lost the Rose Bowl by one point to No. 5 USC. The Trojans won the UPI poll as well as the trophies from the FWAA and NFF while the AP picked Oklahoma, which was ineligible for the UPI poll because of NCAA probation.

Claimed? No. Should be claimed? No, even though a mathematical poll called Mathews Grid Ratings had the Buckeyes No. 1. Both teams that took the most-respected polls had better records than the Buckeyes, and one of them beat them head to head.

1975 -- Ohio State was ranked No. 1 for more than half the season, including as it headed to the Rose Bowl with an 11-0 record, but No. 11 UCLA knocked off the unbeaten Buckeyes 23-10 to avenge a regular season contest OSU won by three touchdowns. Second-ranked Oklahoma took advantage of that opening beating Michigan in the Orange Bowl in the Orange Bowl and claiming the No. 1 ranking from the AP, UPI, FWAA and NFF.

Claimed? No. Should be claimed? No. Five of the illegitimate selectors ranked the Buckeyes No. 1 at the end of the season, but ultimately Ohio State suffered yet another near-miss in an eight-year period in which the Buckeyes very well could have won six national championships.

2002 -- Ohio State started the season under the radar but reeled off a perfect 13-0 regular season. The Buckeyes did not move up to No. 2 until mid-November when Texas A&M upset Oklahoma. After the "Holy Buckeye" play secured a victory at Purdue, Ohio State took advantage of the opportunity by holding off upset bids by Illinois and Michigan to qualify to play for the BCS national championship against defending champion Miami (Fla.) in the Fiesta Bowl. The underdog Buckeyes stunned the Hurricanes in double overtime to claim their first consensus national title since the Super Sophs of '68.

Claimed? Yes. Should be claimed? Of course -- no matter what some 'Cane fans might think about the officiating late in the game. Three of the random selectors the NCAA lists for some reason actually recognize USC as the top team from that season, though.

2006 -- The Buckeyes rolled through the Big Ten undefeated, including a 42-39 defeat of second-ranked Michigan in the season finale, to finish as the unquestioned No. 1 team prior to the postseason. Then Florida thumped the heavily favored Buckeyes 41-14 in the BCS National Championship, a reputation-defining win for Gators head coach Urban Meyer.

Claimed? No. Should be claimed? ... Are you kidding? This one seems obvious, but one of the selectors on the Wikipedia list actually gives the championship to the Buckeyes. None do from the NCAA's official list in the most-recent edition of its record book (2013).


So the ultimate conclusion is Ohio State probably has it right in terms of titles it claims -- no more, no less

What do you think? Let us know in the Ask the Insiders forum.


Follow on Twitter @marcushartman

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