1940 College Football Season Recap
Minnesota became the first school in the five years of the AP poll to win the championship a second time. The Gophers won the pivotal game of the year against Michigan, stopping Tom Harmon and the visiting Wolverines, 7–6, in the mud on the first Saturday in November. It settled both the national and Big Nine championships.
Harmon ran wild against everyone else, particularly California. In the season opener, which also happened to be his birthday, Harmon accounted for five touchdowns against the Bears: a 96–yard kickoff return, a 72–yard punt return, runs of 86 and 8 yards from scrimmage, and a TD pass. Harmon went on to lead the nation in scoring and all-purpose running and sweep the post-season Player of the Year awards.
The most significant development of the year was Stanford’s turn-around from a 1–7–1 loser in 1939 to an undefeated juggernaut under first year coach Clark Shaughnessy. The second-ranked Indians did it using Shaughnessy’s revolutionary T-formation with junior quarterback Frankie Albert directly behind center and men in motion.
Elsewhere, Tennessee turned in its third consecutive 10–0 regular season under coach Bob Neyland. The 4th-ranked Vols met another unbeaten team, No.5 Boston College, in the Sugar Bowl. BC won, 19–13, in coach Frank Leahy’s last game before moving on to Notre Dame.
1941 College Football Season Recap
Texas appeared to have the national championship locked up when it crushed its first six opponents by an average score of 38–5. Then, on consecutive Saturday afternoons in early November, the “Immortal 13” fell from grace. First, Baylor surprised the longhorns with a 7–7 tie, then TCU shocked them with a 14–7 beating. The week of the TCU game, the Longhorns were on the cover of Life magazine.
Defending national champion Minnesota replaced Texas at No.1 and stayed there. Led by Heisman-winning halfback Bruce Smith, the Gophers were unbeaten again but unable to accept a bowl invitation, given the Big Nine’s ban on postseason play.
The arrival of World War II on Dec.7 resulted in moving the Rose Bowl game out of Pasadena for the only time in its history. Mindful that Japan might follow up Pearl Harbor with a bombing raid on the West Coast, the U.S. Army cancelled all large gatherings, including the Tournament of Roses Parade and Rose Bowl match between No.2 Duke and Pacific Coast Conference champ Oregon State.
Duke coach Wallace Wade, who had taken three teams to the Rose Bowl as a coach and participated in a fourth as a player, offered to host the game in Durham. Oregon State agreed , took the train east, then beat the previously undefeated Blue Devils, 20–16.
Notre Dame, 8–0–1 in its first year under Frank Leahy, ranked third. The tie was a scoreless one with Army in New York (not the last time that would happen).
1942 College Football Season Recap
Ohio State won its first national championship in Paul Brown’s second year at the helm. The 34-year-old Brown, who would later become one of pro football’s greatest coaches, guided the Buckeyes to a 6–1–1 record his first season, then improved it to 9–1.
OSU’s only setback was a midseason 17–7 loss to Wisconsin. The Badgers, who had last won the Big Ten championship in 1912, finished the season ranked No.3, blowing their shot at the national and conference titles by dropping a 6–0 decision to Iowa a week after beating Ohio State.
No.2 Georgia also stumbled in the stretch. The Bulldogs, led by Heisman Trophy-winning fullback Frank Sinkwich, were 9–0 and heavily favored when they met 4–4–1 Auburn in their next to last game of the regular season.Auburn stunned the SEC champs, 27–13, but Georgia came back to finish with two shutouts, wrecking No.5 Georgia Tech, 34–0, then besting UCLA, 9–0, in the Rose Bowl.
Upset of the year? Holy Cross throttling Boston College, 55–12, on Thanksgiving at Fenway park. BC, the best team in the East, entered the game with an 8–0 record. The Eagles finished at No.8, then lost the Orange Bowl to No.10 Alabama.
Fourth-ranked Tulsa, the Missouri Valley champion, was the only Top 20 team to go undefeated over the regular season, but fell to No.7 Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl.
1943 College Football Season Recap
Service teams dominated the AP Top 20 in 1943.
Not only were six of the top dozen squads organized by the military, but three schools—Michigan, Purdue and Duke—benefited from on-campus Navy training programs that attracted college and pro athletes from all over the region and let them play ball.Michigan, for example, took the field with an All-Big Ten backfield that included Wisconsin’s Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch and Minnesota’s Bill Daley
Notre Dame was everybody’s choice for national champion, playing a 10–game schedule that featured seven opponents who would end up ranked among the first 13 teams in AP’s final poll. The Irish became the No.1 team in early October and twice defeated AP’s weekly No.2 team—first Michigan (35–12), then Iowa Pre-Flight (14–13). Army and Navy were ranked third when they each played Notre Dame and lost.
An undefeated season eluded the Irish in the last 33 seconds of their final game when Great Lakes (Ill.) Naval Station beat them 19–14 on a 46–yard Steve Lach to Paul Anderson TD pass. Nevertheless, Notre Dame remained No.1 and quarterback Angelo Bertelli, who only played the first six games before being called to boot camp by the Marines, won the Heisman.
Finally, the coach of the year was 81-year-old Amos Alonzo Stagg, whose College of the Pacific team went 7–2 and ranked 19th.
1944 College Football Season Recap
Army rolled through the 1944 season like Patton through France. Over the course of their 9–game schedule, the Cadets beat the opposition by an average score of 56–4. Defending national champion Notre Dame fared even worse, losing 59–0 in the most lopsided Irish defeat ever.
No college coach had ever experienced the depth that Army’s Red Blaik enjoyed during the war. No other coach ever had the likes of Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis in the same backfield either. Only sophomores, the celebrated “Mr. Inside” (fullback Blanchard) and “Mr. Outside” (halfback Davis) double-teamed the Heisman voting for three years. They finished second and third in 1944 then each won the prize in’45 and ’46.
The Army-Navy game was played in Baltimore where the Middies gave the Cadets their closest game of the year. Army came in 8–0 and No.1. Navy was 6–2 and No. 2. Army won 23–7.
Elsewhere, new Ohio State coach Carroll Widdoes did something Paul Brown couldn’t do in his three years in Columbus: he guided the Buckeyes to an undefeated season and was named Coach of the Year. It didn’t hurt that he had Heisman winner Les Horvath in his backfield as tailback in the single wing and quarterback for the T-formation.
No.7Southern Calwas the only team in the Top 10 to play in a bowl game. The unbeaten Trojans played unbeaten Tennessee in the Rose Bowl and blanked the Vols, 25–0.
1945 College Football Season Recap
The war was over by autumn, but Army kept up its football offensive with a second straight unbeaten season.
Each time the Cadets snapped the ball in 1945 they gained eight yards. The average score of their nine wins slipped a bit to 46–5, but again they treated Notre Dame harshly. Facing the No.2 Irish at Yankee Stadium on Nov.9, Army crushed them, 48–0.
A thousand miles from West Point, the talent pool wasn’t quite so predictable. The war effort had wiped out Alabama’s roster in 1943 and forced coach Frank Thomas to cancel the season. A year later, the Crimson Tide returned to go 5–1–2 and reach the Sugar Bowl. In ’45, with sophomore Harry Gilmer at quarterback, they beat everyone they played, including Southern Cal by 20 points in the Rose Bowl. The loss was USC’s first in the Rose Bowl after eight wins.
In the Midwest, Indiana won its first Big Ten championship and finished the season unbeaten. The Hoosiers placed 4th in the final AP poll and Bo McMillan was named Coach of the Year. Oklahoma A&M was the 5th-ranked team. Sparked by junior halfback Bob Fenimore, the nation’s leader in total offense for the second year in a row, the Cowboys went undefeated and won the Sugar Bowl.
The Cotton Bowl, however, belonged to Texas’ sophomore quarterback Bobby Layne. Layne ran for four touchdowns, passed for two others and kicked four extra points as the No.10 Longhorns showed Missouri, 40–27.
1946 College Football Season Recap
Army entered the 1946 season favored to win its third straight national title. The Cadets were riding an 18–game winning streak and they still had Blanchard and Davis. Clearly, coach Red Blaik’s squad would have to be beaten to lose its status as the No.1 team in the nation.
Frank Leahy had coached Notre Dame to a national championship in 1943, then left South Bend for the South Pacific and two years with the Navy. He returned to his old job in ’46 and was joined by a crowd of lettermen-turned soldiers who still had eligibility remaining. The Irish were loaded and determined. Not only did they want their No.1 ranking back, but they were eager to avenge the 59–0 and 48–0 losses to Army in 1944 and ’45.
Army was 7–0 and Notre Dame was 5–0 when the two teams met at Yankee Stadium on Nov.9. The No.1 Cadets came in averaging 30 points a game while the No.2 Irish averaged 35. Final score: 0–0.
Army’s 25–fame winning streak was over but the Cadets were still unbeaten. They won their last two games, but had to struggle past Navy. Meanwhile, Notre Dame shut out Northwestern and Tulane and beat Southern Cal by 20. A week later, the final AP poll gave the championship to the Irish.
Elsewhere, the Big Ten and Pacific Coast Conference signed an agreement to play each other in the Rose Bowl each New Year’s Day. No.5 Illinois beat No.4 UCLA, 45–14, in the inaugural.
1947 College Football Season Recap
Michigan replaced Army as Notre Dame’s primary competition for the national championship in 1947. The two undefeated teams didn’t play each other but they traded the No.1 ranking back and forth three times.
The Irish and Wolverines had two common opponents during the regular season:Pittsburgh and Northwestern. Notre Dame beat both teams 40–6 and 26–19, respectively,Michigan beat them in the same order, 69–0 and 49–21.
Notre Dame won the final AP poll at the close of the regular season, but after Michigan trounced USC, 49–0, in the Rose Bowl there was such an outcry for another vote that AP gave in. Michigan carried the unprecedented “Who’s No.1?” ballot, 226–119, but AP ruled that the earlier poll would be the vote of record.
The Heisman Trophy also came down to picking between Michigan and Notre Dame. This time the Irish won as QB Johnny Lujack outpointed Wolverine HB Bob Chappuis. Lujack, who served two years in the Navy during the war, quarterbacked the Irish to three national titles (1943–46–47).
Both the Cotton and Sugar Bowls had strong match-ups. No.3 Southern Methodist and No.4 Penn State brought their unbeaten records to Dallas and tied 13–all. In New Orleans, however, No.5 Texas and Bobby Layne whipped No.6 Alabama, 27–7.
Finally,Columbia ended Army’s three-year unbeaten streak at 32. The Cadets lost 21–20, ended up at 5–2–2 and ranked 11th.
1948 College Football Season Recap
Michigan and Notre Dame renewed their duel at the top of the AP poll in 1948.
Both went undefeated again, but close calls at the beginning and end of the season cost the Irish their title. In the home opener against Purdue, Notre Dame could only manage a 28–27 win (Michigan beat the Boilermakers two weeks later, 40–0). In the closer, the Irish had to rally in the last 35 seconds to tie Southern Cal, 14–all.
Michigan, on the other hand, won all nine of its games by at least a touchdown. When the season ended, the Wolverines were the unanimous choice of all the pollsters. And for the second straight year they had the country’s top coach: Fritz Crisler in 1947 and now his successor, Bennie Oosterbaan.
Juniors Doak Walker of SMU and Charlie Justice of North Carolina finished 1–2 in the Heisman vote. Walker led the Mustangs to the SWC title and a Cotton Bowl win over Oregon. Justice, the aptly named “Choo-Choo” tailbacked the 3rd-ranked Tar Heel single wing to a 9–0–1 regular season mark but Carolina fell to No.5 Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.
Michigan was prevented from playing in its second consecutive Rose Bowl by the Big Ten’s “no-repeat” rule. Conference runner-up Northwestern, the 7th-ranked team in the country, went instead and defeated No.4 California, 20–14.
1949 College Football Season Recap
The 1940’s came to a close with Notre Dame winning its third national title in four years. If coach Frank Leahy still wasn’t being mentioned in the same breath with Knute Rockne, he was getting mighty close. ND hadn’t lost a game since Leahy’s return from the war in 1946.
The Irish reclaimed the summit of the AP poll in early October and were challenged only by unranked SMU in the last game of the season. Trailing 13–0 at the half, the Mustang’s junior halfback Kyle Rote thrilled the home fans in the fourth quarter with a pair of touchdowns to tie the score at 20–all. Notre Dame responded with a 57–yard scoring drive to win 27–20 and extend its unbeaten string to 38 games.
Irish end Leon Hart received nearly all of the postseason player awards, including ND’s third Heisman of the decade (Hart was only the second lineman in 15 years to win the prize).
Bud Wilkinson, whose teams would dominate the 1950’s much as Leahy’s Irish ruled the ’40s, directed 2nd-ranked Oklahoma to 10 straight regular season wins and a Sugar Bowl rout of No.9 LSU.
No.3 California went 10–0 for the second season in a row, but lost its second consecutive Rose Bowl. Army (9–0) and College of the Pacific (11–0) were the other major undefeated teams. Pacific, with 5–foot 8–inch Eddie LeBaron at quarterback, outscored its opponents 575–66.