Link to Recaps of the 1940s

Link to Recaps of the 1960s

1950 College Football Season Recap

Bear Bryant celebrating Kentucky’s Sugar Bowl win over Oklahoma.

 

Notre Dame began the 1950s as the nation’s number one team and owner of a 38–game unbeaten streak.

The Irish labored to beat North Carolina in their opener, then lost for the first time in five years to visiting Purdue 28–14. The streak lasted from Sept. 28, 1946 to Oct. 7, 1950. Notre Dame’s record over that span was 37–0–2, the ties coming against Army in ’46 and Southern Cal in ’48. ND lost three more times before the end of the season, finished at 4–4–1 and failed to make the final Top 20 for the first time in 10 years.

Two other lengthy streaks were snapped, but they belonged to the two best teams in the country: Oklahoma and Army. Top-ranked Oklahoma swept through the regular season with 10 wins to run its unbeaten string to 31. The Sooners then met Bear Bryant’s No.7 Kentucky team in the Sugar Bowl. The Wildcats took a 13–0 halftime lead and held on for the 13–7 upset.

Army’s unbeaten streak of 28 games also came to an abrupt halt against Navy in Philadelphia. The Cadets entered the game with an average winning score of 33–3. Navy was unimpressed, building a 14–0 lead by the half and winning 14–2.

No.3 Texas and 4th-ranked Tennessee squared off in the Cotton Bowl, where the Vols came from behind to win 20–14 in the last three minutes. Out in Pasadena, No.5 California, undefeated for the third regular season in a row (overall record: 29–0–1), lost its third straight Rose Bowl.

1950 College Football Polls

1951 College Football Season Recap

Bob Neyland head coach of Tennessee

Any shot Army might have had at regaining the top spot in the AP rankings disappeared on Aug.3, 1951 when 90 Cadets (37 of them football players) were dismissed from West Point in the wake of a cheating scandal. Coach Red Blaik’s depleted troops went 2–7, but would return to the Top 20 in ’53.

Defending national champ Oklahoma slipped to 8–2 and Texas to 7–3, leaving the way clear for unbeaten Tennessee to move up and claim the title. In 1950, the Vols had ranked 4th in the final AP poll (taken, as usual, in December). Coach Bob Neyland’s bunch had been the only team in the Top 5 to win a bowl game, however, so they felt deserving of the national title. This year the opposite happened. Tennessee got the nod from AP in December then lost the Sugar Bowl to No.3 Maryland.

Despite the nearly wholesale changeover to the T-formation in college ball, it was a good year for the single wing. The top two vote-getters in the Heisman balloting, Dick Kazmaier of Princeton and Hank Lauricella of Tennessee, were single wing tailbacks.

Michigan State, Illinois and Georgia Tech all went unbeaten with the Illini and the Wreck winning their bowl games. The Spartans had been admitted to the Big Ten in 1950, but were still two years away from officially competing for the Rose Bowl.

Finally, Ollie Matson led the nation in rushing and scoring for the San Francisco Dons. USF gave up football for financial reasons in 1952.

1951 College Football Polls

1952 College Football Season Recap

Still a year away from participation in the Big Ten, Michigan State rose to the top of the final AP poll by turning in its second unbeaten season in a row.

Georgia Tech was also unbeaten again, raising its record to 12–0 after beating Mississippi in the first All-SEC Sugar Bowl.

Notre Dame returned to the Top 20 after an absence of two years and placed third. In the last month of the season the Irish played three other Top 5 teams and beat two of them. They upset Oklahoma 27–21, lost to Michigan St.21–3, and then in the final game of the year, knocked off unbeaten Southern Cal 9–0.

Oklahoma halfback Billy Vessels gained over 1,500 yards in all-purpose running and ran off with the Heisman Trophy. Despite all the success the Sooners would enjoy this decade, Vessels would be Bud Wilkinson’s only Heisman winner.

Southern Cal and UCLA were both unbeaten when they met to decide who would represent the Pacific Coast Conference in the Rose Bowl. The Bruins led 12–7 at the half, but USC won the game 14–12. After losing to Notre Dame a week later, the Trojans came back to beat Wisconsin 7–0 on New Year’s and give the PCC its first win over the Big Ten in seven Rose Bowls.

Tennessee and Alabama gave the SEC four teams in the Top 10. The No.8 Vols were shut out 16–0 by 10th-ranked Texasin the Cotton Bowl, while No.9 Bama scored a postseason record 61 points routing Syracuse in the Orange Bowl.

1952 College Football Polls

1953 College Football Season Recap

For the third time in four years, AP’s national champion swooned in a bowl game. At the end of the regular season,Maryland, champion of the brand new Atlantic Coast Conference, was the only unbeaten and untied major college team in the land. The Terps played No.4 Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl and lost 7–0.

Notre Dame was AP’s number one team until a stubborn Iowa squad tied the Irish 14–14 on Nov.21. Earlier in the season, the Irish snapped Georgia Tech’s 31–game unbeaten streak, but coach Frank Leahy collapsed during halftime. He decided to retire at the end of the year and took his leave with a record of 107–13–9 and a career winning percentage second only to that of Knute Rockne.

Two-way back Johnny Lattner became the fourth Notre Dame player to win the Heisman Trophy in Leahy’s 11 years at South Bend. Lattner edged Minnesota HB Paul Giel by just 56 votes.

Michigan State had its winning streak stilled by Iowa after 28 games, but the Spartans finally made it to the Rose Bowl where they rallied from 14 points to beat UCLA 28–20.

In a year that saw the NCAA implement rules to cut back on two-platoon football, the most memorable play involved a player coming off the bench in the Cotton Bowl. The player was Alabama’s Tommy Lewis and he left the sideline to tackle Rice halfback Dicky Maegle in the middle of what would have been a 95–yard touchdown run. Maegle was given the TD (one of three he had that day) and Rice won 28–6.

1953 College Football Polls

 

1954 College Football Season Recap

The game of the year should have been a No.1 vs No.1 battle in the Rose Bowl, but it never happened.

In 1950, United Press had joined rival Associated Press in the Top 20 business, using coaches instead of sportswriters. For four years both wire services agreed on who the national champion should be. In 1954, however, they didn’t. AP picked the Big Ten’s Ohio State, while UP crowned UCLA of the Pacific Coast Conference.

The Big Ten and PCC had agreed to make the Rose Bowl an exclusive rivalry back in 1946. Nine years later, it would have been the perfect setting for this dream game. Unfortunately, both conferences also had a “no repeat” rule that prevented teams from making two consecutive trips to Pasadena.

UCLA had played in the most recent Rose Bowl (losing to Michigan State), so the Bruins couldn’t return. Instead, Ohio State faced PCC runner-up Southern Cal and won handily, 20–7.

Oklahoma, ranked by both polls, won its seventh straight Big Seven championship, but like UCLA was prevented from a return to the Orange Bowl by a conference “no repeat” rule.

Twenty-five-year-old Terry Brennan succeeded Frank Leahy at Notre Dame and brought the Irish in fourth. Ranked No.1 in September, ND suffered its only loss when upset by Purdue on Oct. 2.

Navy beat Army for the fourth time in five years then shut out Mississippi in the Sugar Bowl (the Middies first bowl appearance since 1924).

1954 College Football Polls

1955 College Football Season Recap

Oklahoma won its second national championship of the decade in 1955, going 10–0 and pushing its three-year winning streak to 30, two victories short of a modern college record.

Maryland was the only other undefeated and untied team in the Top 10 and finished the regular season ranked third in both the writers’ and coaches’ polls.

No.1 and No.3 met in the Orange Bowl where Maryland hoped to avenge a 7–0 Oklahoma win two years ago that ruined the Terps’ bid for an undefeated season. Maryland lost again, 20–6.

Despite an early loss to Michigan, Michigan State won all nine of its other games to rank second in both polls. With Big Ten champ Ohio State unable to attend a second straight Rose Bowl, the Spartans took the Buckeyes’ place and beat UCLA on a last second field goal.

Halfback Jim Swink of Texas Christian and quarterback George Walsh of Navy posted some of the year’s gaudiest statistics, but Ohio State halfback Howard “Hopalong” Cassady was the overwhelming choice for the Heisman Trophy. That gave the Bucks two Heisman winners in six years. Vic Janowicz won the prize in 1950.

Sixth-ranked TCU won the SWC title but blew a 13–0 lead and lost the Cotton Bowl to Mississippi by a point. No.7 Georgia Tech blanked No.11  Pittsburgh  7–0 in the Sugar Bowl, giving coach Bobby Dodd five major bowl victories (3 Sugar, 1Orange, 1 Cotton) in as many years.

1955 College Football Polls

1956 College Football Season Recap

How good was Oklahoma in 1956? The Sooners were good enough to hand Texas its worst beating (45–0) since 1908, pound Notre Dame 40–0 in South Bend, and beat up on the membership of the Big Seven by an average score of 49–8. They also extended their winning streak to an all-time record 40 games over four seasons.

How good a coach was Bud Wilkinson? In just 10 years at Oklahoma, Wilkinson had a record of 94–8–3, a winning percentage of .910, and three national championships.

The players were pretty good, too. Clendon Thomas led the nation in scoring with 18 touchdowns, while halfback Tommy McDonald and center Jerry Tubbs placed third and fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting.

Speaking of the Heisman, for the first time in 21 years the award went to a player on a losing team—quarterback Paul Hornung of 2–8 Notre Dame. Hornung edged Tennessee halfback Johnny Majors by 72 points. Jim Brown of Syracuse came in fifth.

Majors led No.2 Tennessee to an SEC title and unbeaten regular season. He didn’t win the Heisman, but the Vols’ Bowden Wyatt was named Coach of the Year. Unfortunately,Tennessee lost its perfect record in the Sugar Bowl, bowing to Baylor, 13–7.

No.3 Iowa and No.5 Texas A&M made it back to the AP Top 10 after long absences. The Hawkeyes had been away since 1939, the Aggies since ’41.

 

1956 College Football Polls

 

1957 College Football Season Recap

After 47 consecutive victories, Oklahoma’s record-setting win streak came to an end on Nov.16, 1957.

A year after the Sooners had handed Notre Dame its worst-ever defeat at home (40–0), the Irish paid them back with a 7–0 shutout at Owen Field in Norman. The lone touchdown was scored by Dick Lynch with 3:50 left in the game.

The defeat was Oklahoma’s only loss in 10 regular season games, but it was enough to prevent a third straight national title. The Sooners did win the Orange Bowl, however, beating Duke 48–21.

AP and UP disagreed on who the new Number One team should be, AP selected Auburn (10–0) but UP liked Ohio State (8–1). Michigan State (also 8–1) placed third in both polls.

Auburn began the decade by going (0–10). Shug Jordan became coach in 1951 and had the Tigers in the Gator Bowl by ’53. Four years later, they not only won their first national championship, but their first SEC title as well. Unfortunately the program was on probation and the team was ineligible for the Sugar Bowl.

Ohio State lost its opening game to TCU then won eight straight, including a come-from-behind, 17–13 win over No.6 Iowa for the Big Ten title. Coach of the Year Woody Hayes sent his Buckeyes into the Rose Bowl as heavy favorites, but they were lucky to beat Oregon, 10–7.

 

1957 College Football Polls

 

1958 College Football Season Recap

LSU coach Paul Dietzel watches from the sideline with Billy Cannon during the Tigers’ drive to the 1958 Championship

Missing from the final AP Top 20 since 1949, LSU not only returned to the ranks in 1958 but finished on top.

Just a .500 club the year before, coach Paul Dietzel got the most out of his bench by capitalizing on a new substituion rule that allowed any player, not just starters, to come off the field and go back in again once each quarter. The rule stopped short of permitting a return to two-platoon football, so Dietzel went with the next best thing—three platoons: a two-way unit of his best players, an offensive second team, and a defensive second team.

The defensive subs were known as the “Chinese Bandits” and their inspired play (they didn’t give up a touchdown all season) symbolized LSU’s remarkable 11–0 campaign. The Tigers reached No.1 the seventh week of the season and went on to win their first Sugar Bowl in five tries.

Another innovation was Army’s “Lonely End” formation. Posting Bill Carpenter 15 yards off the strong side tackle and excusing him from huddles enabled the Cadets to spread the field and get their plays off faster. It not only improved the passing game but opened a lot of holes for halfback Pete Dawkins, who ran off with the Heisman Trophy as No.3 Army went unbeaten in Red Blaik’s final season as coach.

Iowa, the 6th-ranked team in 1957, led the nation in total offense and moved up to No.2. The Hawkeyes tied No.6 Air Force and lost to No.8 Ohio State, but routed Californiato win their second Rose Bowl in three years.

 

1958 College Football Polls

 

 

1959 College Football Season Recap

Ernie Davis of the 1959 Syracuse Orangeman national championship team.

Syracuse was the only unbeaten and untied major college team in the nation in 1959. As such, the Orangemen became the first eastern team outside the military to win the national championship since Pittsburgh did it in 1939.

Number one in both total offense and defense, and winning each week by an average score of 39–6, Syracuse rolled through 10 regular season games and then beat No.4 Texas by nine in the Cotton Bowl.

Ole Miss (10–1) and LSU (9–2) were ranked second and third in the final AP poll. They also played each other in the year’s most memorable game.

On Halloween, defending national champ LSU was ranked No.1 and Ole Miss was No.3. The visiting Rebels led 3–0 at halftime, but the Tigers won the game late on an electrifying 89–yard punt return by Billy Cannon, who would later win the Heisman Trophy. Visions of a second straight national title were dashed the next weekend, however, when LSU was upset 14–13 by Tennessee.

Mississippi and LSU were matched up again in the Sugar Bowl, but it was an anticlimax as the Rebels won easily, 21–0.

For the second year in a row, the NCAA introduced a rule to help promote scoring. Last season it was the two-point conversion option after a touchdown. This year the goalposts were widened from 18–feet 6–inches to 23–feet 4–inches. Place kickers on major college teams responded with 192 field goals in 390 attempts.

 

1959 College Football Polls