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A playoff would have given us one hell of a Notre Dame-Alabama game in 1977

Notre Dame lost to a solid Ole Miss team, subbed in its third-string quarterback, and became the best team in the country. There's your one-sentence summary of 1977.

That QB, of course, was Joe Montana, who apparently must not have cared much about practicing, as he entered his junior season still behind Rusty Lisch and Gary Forystek on the depth chart, even though he had put together a couple of thrilling performances in 1975 (he redshirted in 1976 with a shoulder injury). But when he got another shot after Forystek suffered a major injury, he took total advantage. He led Notre Dame to a comeback win against Purdue, and the Irish outscored their final nine opponents by a margin of 357-86. Only Michigan State (16-6) and Clemson (21-17) stayed relatively close.

The 1977 season was a funny mix of expected and unexpected. The top two teams in the final AP poll were Notre Dame and Alabama, which made sense (both were in the preseason top 6), and five other preseason top tenners finished in the top 13. But Kentucky and Washingtno came out of nowhere, Arkansas and Texas rebounded from down years more quickly than expected, and of the 13 teams ranked below seventh in the preseason poll, only three finished the season ranked. There was a lot of churn beneath the surface.

Meanwhile, we had another cruddy set of bowls. No. 1 Texas got rocked by No. 5 Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl, allowing the Irish to jump up to the top spot (and juding by the Est. S&P+ ranking, this was somewhat justifiable). Meanwhile, No. 2 Oklahoma played No. 6 Arkansas in the Orange Bowl (and got whooped), No. 3 Alabama played No. 9 Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl, No. 4 Michigan played No. 13 Washington in the Rose Bowl, and No. 8 Penn State played No. 15 Arizona State in the Fiesta Bowl. Alabama crushed Ohio State by 29 points but still got leaped by Notre Dame. I doubt "Well, the numbers liked the Irish, too" was much of a consolation.

Hello, HBCUs

For this one season, HBCUs were considered Division I football programs.

There was an almost total lack of connectivity between their schedules and the rest of Division I, as most continued to play only HBCUs of different divisions. Grambling played Temple in Tokyo at the end of the year but otherwise played fellow HBCUs. Alcorn State played Central Michigan. That was about it. So that makes it hard to truly judge them against the other schools listed here.

That said, it drops a hint. Integration of all major college football teams in the 1970s would eventually take a heavy toll on HBCUs in the 1980s, but there was still some serious quality on the field here. Tennessee State's defense graded out better than anyone else's, Grambling's offense (led by Doug Williams) ranked fifth, and with a limited schedule, Jackson State squeezed into the top 50 as well. Even if they are boosted higher than they should have been because of the lack of effective opponent adjustments, TSU and Grambling were almost certainly top-40 teams, and JSU was almost certainly top-75.

(I don't know about you, but a top 50 that includes MAC, SWAC, and Ivy schools is all sorts of fun for me.)

It would have been interesting to see what would have happened had the SWAC remained in Division I. Obviously integration would have still affected the talent pool, but maybe a few would have been able to establish top-60 levels consistently.

S&P+ Rk Team Record Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
1 Notre Dame 11-1 27.8 99.61% 37.2 1 9.4 5
2 Penn State 11-1 24.6 99.09% 36.4 2 11.8 9
3 Alabama 11-1 24.5 99.07% 33.9 7 9.4 4
4 Pittsburgh 9-2-1 23.7 98.85% 35.3 4 11.6 8
5 Texas 11-1 19.4 96.82% 34.4 6 15.1 27
6 Oklahoma 10-2 19.3 96.75% 35.4 3 16.2 39
7 Tennessee State 8-1-1 18.3 96.04% 22.9 42 4.6 1
8 Arkansas 11-1 17.0 94.81% 28.9 16 11.9 10
9 Kentucky 10-1 16.6 94.41% 24.7 32 8.2 2
10 USC 8-4 16.2 93.92% 31.8 8 15.7 33
11 Nebraska 9-3 16.1 93.84% 29.5 14 13.4 15
12 Ohio State 9-3 15.8 93.51% 27.2 22 11.4 7
13 Michigan 10-2 15.5 93.16% 27.6 19 12.1 11
14 Florida State 10-2 14.8 92.25% 27.6 20 12.7 12
15 Washington 8-4 14.3 91.44% 29.6 13 15.3 29
16 North Texas 9-2 12.5 88.38% 28.9 15 16.5 42
17 Grambling State 10-1 12.4 88.28% 34.9 5 22.5 92
18 Fresno State 9-2 12.2 87.79% 31.0 10 18.8 60
19 North Carolina 8-3-1 12.2 87.79% 20.7 70 8.6 3
20 Clemson 8-3-1 12.0 87.56% 22.3 49 10.2 6
21 NC State 8-4 10.7 84.78% 23.7 38 12.9 13
22 Mississippi State 5-6 9.4 81.64% 23.8 37 14.4 20
23 Colorado 7-3-1 8.9 80.38% 24.5 35 15.5 32
24 Colgate 10-1 8.9 80.32% 29.9 12 21.0 80
25 Louisiana Tech 9-1-2 8.5 79.13% 22.2 51 13.7 17
S&P+ Rk Team Record Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
26 San Diego State 10-1 8.3 78.58% 28.0 18 19.7 68
27 Iowa State 8-4 7.9 77.42% 21.9 57 14.1 19
28 BYU 9-2 7.6 76.82% 31.1 9 23.4 102
29 Ole Miss 5-6 7.3 75.81% 22.0 55 14.7 24
30 Texas A&M 8-4 7.2 75.36% 30.9 11 23.7 104
31 Missouri 4-7 7.0 74.78% 20.5 75 13.5 16
32 UCLA 7-4 6.9 74.60% 24.6 33 17.7 50
33 Washington State 6-5 6.9 74.48% 25.3 27 18.4 54
34 Maryland 8-4 6.8 74.29% 21.4 62 14.6 23
35 Yale 7-2 6.5 73.34% 21.0 67 14.5 22
36 Rutgers 8-3 6.5 73.29% 22.6 45 16.1 37
37 Michigan State 7-3-1 6.4 72.95% 22.4 48 16.0 36
38 Texas Tech 7-5 6.3 72.84% 25.1 29 18.7 58
39 Ball State 9-2 6.2 72.40% 26.6 24 20.4 77
40 Duke 5-6 6.1 72.08% 23.6 39 17.5 49
41 Central Michigan 10-1 6.1 72.00% 25.0 30 18.9 63
42 California 7-4 5.8 71.09% 26.2 26 20.4 75
43 Arizona State 9-3 5.4 69.87% 27.6 21 22.1 88
44 Temple 5-5-1 5.4 69.84% 28.1 17 22.6 94
45 Navy 5-6 5.1 68.81% 23.3 41 18.1 52
46 Jackson State 3-0 5.1 68.79% 19.0 88 13.9 18
47 Miami-OH 10-1 4.5 66.73% 21.5 60 17.0 46
48 East Carolina 8-3 4.5 66.70% 21.4 61 16.9 44
49 Southern Miss 6-6 4.4 66.20% 20.5 74 16.2 38
50 Memphis 6-5 4.3 65.93% 21.3 64 17.0 45
S&P+ Rk Team Record Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
51 UL-Lafayette 6-4-2 4.1 65.37% 19.5 83 15.4 31
52 William & Mary 6-5 3.8 64.26% 20.3 76 16.5 41
53 Auburn 5-6 3.4 62.87% 22.0 52 18.6 57
54 Syracuse 6-5 3.4 62.78% 22.2 50 18.8 61
55 Houston 6-5 3.3 62.29% 26.3 25 23.0 96
56 South Carolina 5-7 3.2 62.10% 18.9 91 15.7 34
57 LSU 8-4 3.0 61.47% 26.9 23 23.9 106
58 UT-Arlington 5-6 3.0 61.46% 18.4 97 15.3 30
59 Colorado State 9-2-1 3.0 61.24% 21.9 58 18.9 62
60 West Virginia 5-6 2.9 61.11% 24.6 34 21.6 86
61 Stanford 9-3 2.6 59.82% 24.8 31 22.2 89
62 Minnesota 7-5 2.3 58.77% 15.7 115 13.4 14
63 Georgia Tech 6-5 2.2 58.24% 21.3 65 19.1 65
64 Miami-FL 3-8 2.0 57.45% 17.8 99 15.8 35
65 Tennessee 4-7 1.7 56.32% 21.7 59 20.0 71
66 Army 7-4 1.4 55.41% 25.2 28 23.8 105
67 Florida 6-4-1 1.4 55.21% 22.8 43 21.4 83
68 Baylor 5-6 1.3 54.99% 21.0 68 19.7 69
69 Cincinnati 5-4-2 1.2 54.73% 17.4 102 16.2 40
70 Princeton 3-6 0.9 53.61% 16.0 114 15.1 28
71 Louisville 7-4-1 0.7 52.69% 21.3 63 20.6 79
72 Harvard 4-5 0.6 52.37% 19.6 81 19.0 64
73 Northwestern State 6-5 0.0 49.89% 17.3 104 17.4 47
74 Brown 7-2 -0.1 49.58% 14.3 126 14.4 21
75 Villanova 4-7 -0.2 49.33% 22.4 47 22.5 93
S&P+ Rk Team Record Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
76 Oklahoma State 4-7 -0.5 47.99% 22.6 46 23.1 100
77 Arizona 5-7 -1.0 46.37% 20.6 72 21.6 84
78 VMI 7-4 -1.2 45.29% 16.8 105 18.1 51
79 Indiana 5-5-1 -1.2 45.26% 19.0 87 20.3 74
80 Iowa 4-7 -1.3 45.21% 17.5 100 18.8 59
81 Utah State 4-7 -1.4 44.79% 18.6 96 19.9 70
82 SMU 4-7 -1.5 44.33% 24.1 36 25.6 119
83 Texas Southern 6-4-1 -1.7 43.57% 19.6 82 21.3 82
84 Georgia 5-6 -1.9 42.68% 14.8 121 16.7 43
85 McNeese State 5-5-1 -1.9 42.62% 12.8 131 14.7 25
86 Kent 6-5 -2.3 41.27% 18.9 92 21.2 81
87 Virginia Tech 3-7-1 -2.3 41.26% 16.3 112 18.6 56
88 Purdue 5-6 -2.4 40.88% 20.5 73 22.9 95
89 Eastern Michigan 8-3 -2.5 40.60% 16.7 107 19.2 66
90 San Jose State 4-7 -2.5 40.51% 22.0 56 24.5 109
91 Hawaii 5-6 -2.5 40.45% 19.8 79 22.3 90
92 West Texas A&M 6-4-1 -2.6 40.14% 19.0 90 21.6 85
93 Western Michigan 4-7 -2.6 40.14% 20.8 69 23.4 101
94 Pacific 6-5 -2.6 40.07% 15.6 116 18.2 53
95 Oregon State 2-9 -2.8 39.29% 20.2 77 23.1 98
96 UT-Chattanooga 6-1-1 -3.0 38.71% 18.8 93 21.8 87
97 Bowling Green 5-7 -3.0 38.54% 23.4 40 26.5 126
98 Boston College 6-5 -3.0 38.51% 22.0 53 25.1 117
99 Kansas State 1-10 -3.1 38.20% 17.4 103 20.5 78
100 Pennsylvania 5-4 -4.0 35.15% 14.5 124 18.4 55
S&P+ Rk Team Record Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
101 Kansas 3-7-1 -4.1 34.82% 16.1 113 20.2 72
102 New Mexico 5-7 -4.2 34.42% 22.6 44 26.8 129
103 Long Beach State 4-6 -4.7 32.72% 22.0 54 26.7 127
104 Dartmouth 6-3 -5.0 31.75% 9.9 142 14.8 26
105 The Citadel 5-6 -5.2 30.85% 12.2 133 17.4 48
106 Tulane 3-8 -5.6 29.61% 18.6 95 24.2 107
107 Illinois State 3-7-1 -6.9 25.56% 18.1 98 25.0 116
108 Alcorn State 3-8 -6.9 25.37% 16.6 109 23.5 103
109 Vanderbilt 2-9 -8.2 21.53% 14.8 120 23.0 97
110 Wisconsin 5-6 -8.4 20.92% 10.9 138 19.3 67
111 Wichita State 5-6 -8.8 19.93% 19.8 80 28.6 132
112 Columbia 2-7 -8.8 19.89% 16.8 106 25.7 120
113 Wyoming 4-6-1 -8.9 19.73% 15.5 117 24.4 108
114 Cornell 1-8 -9.2 19.02% 11.2 136 20.4 76
115 Mississippi Valley State 5-5 -9.5 18.25% 16.4 110 25.9 122
116 New Mexico State 4-7 -9.6 17.96% 16.6 108 26.2 123
117 Arkansas State 7-4 -10.0 17.00% 13.1 130 23.1 99
118 Virginia 1-9-1 -10.0 16.86% 10.2 141 20.2 73
119 Illinois 3-8 -10.3 16.16% 14.5 123 24.8 115
120 Richmond 3-8 -10.7 15.36% 13.8 127 24.5 110
121 Southern 3-7-1 -10.9 14.76% 15.0 119 25.9 121
122 Western Carolina 6-4-1 -11.2 14.20% 15.5 118 26.7 128
123 Utah 3-8 -11.5 13.47% 21.2 66 32.7 137
124 Holy Cross 2-9 -11.8 12.93% 16.4 111 28.2 131
125 Indiana State 3-7 -11.9 12.70% 14.4 125 26.3 124
S&P+ Rk Team Record Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
126 Air Force 2-8-1 -12.3 11.90% 12.5 132 24.8 113
127 Northwestern 1-10 -12.8 10.95% 13.5 129 26.4 125
128 Fullerton State 4-7 -13.3 10.08% 20.7 71 34.0 139
129 Furman 4-5-2 -13.5 9.82% 13.7 128 27.2 130
130 Northern Illinois 3-8 -14.1 8.80% 10.5 139 24.6 112
131 Toledo 2-9 -14.2 8.72% 11.0 137 25.2 118
132 Wake Forest 1-10 -14.3 8.50% 10.2 140 24.5 111
133 Oregon 2-9 -14.4 8.43% 17.5 101 31.8 135
134 Lamar 2-9 -14.4 8.39% 8.1 143 22.5 91
135 Ohio 1-10 -14.7 7.93% 20.1 78 34.8 140
136 Appalachian State 2-9 -16.2 6.01% 14.7 122 30.9 133
137 Tulsa 3-8 -16.6 5.63% 18.6 94 35.2 141
138 UTEP 1-10 -17.1 5.08% 19.3 85 36.4 142
139 TCU 2-9 -17.4 4.81% 19.5 84 36.9 143
140 Rice 1-10 -18.5 3.80% 19.2 86 37.7 144
141 Prairie View A&M 3-8 -19.5 3.05% 12.0 134 31.5 134
142 Southern Illinois 3-8 -19.9 2.84% 4.9 145 24.8 114
143 Marshall 2-9 -20.4 2.53% 19.0 89 39.4 145
144 Drake 2-9 -22.0 1.76% 11.8 135 33.8 138
145 UL-Monroe 2-9 -24.5 0.94% 7.5 144 32.0 136

Your hypothetical Playoff race

As always, here's your end-of-regular-season AP poll:

1. Texas (11-0)
2. Oklahoma (10-1)
3. Alabama (10-1)
4. Michigan (10-1)
5. Notre Dame (10-1)
6. Arkansas (10-1)
7. Kentucky (10-1)
8. Penn State (10-1)

Well isn't THAT a complete and total disaster...

Even taking into account that Kentucky was on NCAA probation and therefore ineligible (good timing there, UK ... you play at an elite level when you can't take advantage of it), that's six nearly indistinguishable teams fighting for three spots.

Oklahoma had beaten Ohio State (No. 9 in this poll) and Nebraska (No. 12) and had lost only to Texas. Alabama lost to Nebraska (No. 12) but won at USC (No. 1 at the time, No. 20 at end of regular season) and LSU. Michigan crushed Texas A&M (No. 5 at the time, No. 17 at end of regular season) and Wisconsin (No. 14 at the time) by a combined 97-3 and beat Ohio State. The Wolverines' confusing 16-0 loss at Minnesota was a black mark, though. Notre Dame had crushed USC and Clemson, and the Irish's only loss came pre-Montana. Arkansas had lost only to Texas. Penn State had lost only to Kentucky.

So Texas is obviously in, and I'm guessing OU's two big wins are enough as well. And I believe that, as the AP had it, Alabama, Michigan, and Notre Dame would have been a step ahead of Arkansas and PSU (even though my computer liked PSU a hell of a lot more than UM). But how do you separate those three? Michigan had some incredibly dominant wins but had by far the worst loss. I'm guessing that, plus the "We haven't lost with Montana" thing might have nudged Notre Dame ahead. I'm sure Bo Schembechler would have taken that well.

So I'm guessing we get 1 Texas vs. 4 Notre Dame and 2 Oklahoma vs. 3 Alabama. Going by both bowl performance and the numbers above, that probably gives us an Irish-Tide final that we didn't get that season. So Tide grievances are addressed ... and Wolverine grievances are not.