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A 1973 College Football Playoff selection would have set the Midwest on fire

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Six undefeated teams: a nightmare for almost any method of determining a national champion.

Perhaps no season in this sport's history has felt as incomplete as 1973. The season ended with about 17 different story lines still open and undecided. It also ended with Oklahoma, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Michigan, and Penn State (and Miami-Ohio!) without a loss.

So how did this giant mess occur?

  • September 29: Oklahoma and USC tie, 7-7, in Los Angeles. The Sooners are banned from the postseason and will finish 10-0-1.
  • November 24: Michigan and Ohio State tie, 10-10, after Michigan misses two late field goals. The Big Ten controversially votes to send Ohio State to the Rose Bowl over the Wolverines, who (since the Big Ten still stubbornly only sends one team to a bowl) gets left at home.
  • January 1: Ohio State beats USC, 42-21, in the Rose Bowl to complete its unbeaten season at 10-0-1. Meanwhile, Penn State wraps up a 12-0 campaign with a 16-9 win over LSU in the Orange Bowl. LSU is one of only two PSU opponents who won at least nine games. Whereas PSU scheduled plenty of interesting home-and-homes in the 1970s (they had played at Tennessee in 1972 and would play Ohio State in 1975-76), this year was devoid of marquee win opportunities.
  • Also on January 1: 11-0 Notre Dame beats 11-0 Alabama, 24-23, in the Sugar Bowl to take the national title. Notre Dame's schedule wasn't any more impressive than PSU's -- the Irish did play USC, but the Trojans were the only regular-season opponent to win more than six games -- but the Irish got the shot at Alabama and took advantage. Alabama had reached 11-0 by destroying a weak schedule, as well. The Tide played an eight-game SEC schedule (and the SEC was weak that year, with only two teams in the Est. S&P+ top 21), and the non-conference slate was 4-7 Cal, 2-9 Virginia Tech, and 5-6 Miami. They completely dominated this schedule, but still.
  • USC was basically the only common tie among these teams. And as usual, the bowls didn't help. We did get #1 vs. #3 (Bama-ND), but #2 and #5 were at home, #4 Ohio State played #7 USC, #6 PSU played #13 LSU, and #8 Texas played (and got whooped by) #12 Nebraska.

Again, an unfinished, unconnected season. Yuck. Lots of great teams playing mostly mediocre opponents.

S&P+ Rk Team Record Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
1 Oklahoma 10-0-1 27.6 99.29% 38.1 2 10.5 7
2 Alabama 11-1 24.6 98.54% 36.9 4 12.3 13
3 Ohio State 10-0-1 22.9 97.89% 33.1 8 10.2 5
4 Nebraska 9-2-1 22.1 97.49% 30.6 11 8.5 3
5 Notre Dame 11-0 20.3 96.40% 31.6 10 11.3 11
6 Michigan 10-0-1 19.9 96.13% 28.0 20 8.1 2
7 Penn State 12-0 19.1 95.47% 33.6 7 14.5 23
8 Arizona State 11-1 17.5 93.95% 37.6 3 20.1 58
9 Kent 9-2 16.6 92.98% 27.3 21 10.7 9
10 Texas 8-3 16.1 92.30% 32.1 9 16.0 36
11 UCLA 9-2 15.6 91.68% 38.3 1 22.7 76
12 Houston 11-1 15.6 91.66% 28.8 18 13.2 17
13 LSU 9-3 15.4 91.35% 25.8 32 10.4 6
14 USC 9-2-1 15.3 91.30% 29.5 13 14.2 20
15 NC State 9-3 14.8 90.52% 34.4 6 19.6 55
16 Oklahoma State 5-4-2 14.3 89.74% 29.4 14 15.1 31
17 Miami-OH 11-0 14.1 89.50% 20.6 69 6.4 1
18 Texas Tech 11-1 14.1 89.43% 29.1 17 15.0 30
19 San Diego State 9-1-1 12.9 87.31% 26.9 23 14.0 19
20 East Carolina 9-2 12.8 87.15% 29.3 15 16.5 38
21 Missouri 8-4 11.7 85.10% 21.2 62 9.5 4
22 Georgia 7-4-1 11.2 83.96% 21.8 56 10.6 8
23 Maryland 8-4 10.7 82.93% 25.2 36 14.5 22
24 Kansas 7-4-1 9.4 79.75% 24.4 41 15.0 28
25 Richmond 8-2 9.3 79.49% 26.2 29 16.9 42
S&P+ Rk Team Record Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
26 Yale 6-3 8.5 77.37% 23.8 44 15.3 32
27 Iowa State 4-7 8.3 76.86% 26.0 30 17.7 45
28 Pennsylvania 6-3 8.1 76.45% 27.1 22 19.0 52
29 Colorado 5-6 7.9 75.73% 26.2 28 18.4 47
30 Stanford 7-4 7.6 75.06% 25.8 31 18.2 46
31 Ole Miss 6-5 7.2 73.85% 20.8 67 13.6 18
32 Utah 7-5 7.0 73.24% 36.2 5 29.2 110
33 Southern Miss 6-4-1 6.5 71.66% 21.1 64 14.6 25
34 Boston College 7-4 6.3 71.23% 23.7 45 17.4 44
35 Kansas State 5-6 6.1 70.45% 22.8 47 16.8 39
36 Kentucky 5-6 6.1 70.44% 22.2 53 16.1 37
37 Temple 9-1 6.0 70.28% 28.7 19 22.7 75
38 Dartmouth 6-3 5.6 69.02% 20.5 70 14.9 27
39 Tulane 9-3 5.4 68.40% 20.2 75 14.8 26
40 Florida 7-5 5.1 67.52% 18.1 89 12.9 15
41 Texas A&M 5-6 4.9 66.76% 26.2 26 21.4 70
42 South Carolina 7-4 4.7 66.27% 30.1 12 25.4 93
43 Memphis 8-3 4.6 65.78% 21.9 55 17.3 43
44 Auburn 6-6 4.4 65.21% 17.2 95 12.8 14
45 Arizona 8-3 4.4 65.19% 24.9 39 20.5 61
46 Cincinnati 4-7 4.4 65.14% 16.6 97 12.2 12
47 Utah State 7-4 4.3 64.96% 24.9 38 20.6 62
48 Pittsburgh 6-5-1 4.2 64.66% 20.2 73 16.0 35
49 Tennessee 8-4 3.7 62.75% 24.3 42 20.6 64
50 Harvard 7-2 3.1 61.00% 25.5 34 22.3 74
S&P+ Rk Team Record Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
51 San Jose State 5-4-2 3.1 60.95% 19.0 84 15.8 34
52 Rice 5-6 2.9 60.16% 18.6 87 15.7 33
53 Miami-FL 5-6 2.7 59.55% 19.6 80 16.9 41
54 Brown 4-3-1 2.6 59.04% 23.2 46 20.6 63
55 Michigan State 5-6 2.5 58.84% 13.8 111 11.3 10
56 Minnesota 7-4 2.4 58.36% 26.2 27 23.9 86
57 Mississippi State 4-5-2 2.4 58.28% 22.8 49 20.4 60
58 Navy 4-7 2.2 57.76% 21.7 57 19.5 53
59 Washington State 5-6 2.1 57.36% 25.6 33 23.5 81
60 Bowling Green 7-3 1.8 56.43% 25.2 35 23.4 78
61 Ohio 5-5 1.8 56.42% 20.2 74 18.4 49
62 Cornell 3-5-1 1.7 55.85% 20.2 76 18.5 50
63 Wisconsin 4-7 1.6 55.75% 21.4 60 19.8 56
64 Arkansas 5-5-1 1.6 55.64% 14.7 108 13.1 16
65 Oregon 2-9 1.2 54.30% 20.8 66 19.6 54
66 BYU 5-6 1.1 53.79% 26.8 24 25.7 97
67 Wyoming 4-7 0.7 52.46% 24.8 40 24.2 87
68 Purdue 5-6 0.7 52.45% 19.1 82 18.4 48
69 Illinois 5-6 0.5 51.60% 14.7 107 14.3 21
70 West Virginia 6-5 -0.4 48.73% 21.6 58 21.9 73
71 Tulsa 6-5 -0.4 48.72% 20.3 71 20.7 65
72 SMU 6-4-1 -0.5 48.34% 21.3 61 21.8 72
73 Louisville 5-6 -1.1 46.13% 13.9 110 15.0 29
74 Air Force 6-4 -1.2 45.77% 22.5 50 23.7 83
75 New Mexico 4-7 -1.3 45.48% 24.1 43 25.4 95
S&P+ Rk Team Record Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
76 North Carolina 4-7 -1.5 44.83% 22.4 52 23.8 85
77 Colgate 5-5 -2.1 42.66% 26.7 25 28.8 107
78 Vanderbilt 5-6 -2.5 41.39% 18.9 86 21.3 69
79 Pacific 7-2-1 -2.6 40.82% 17.7 92 20.4 59
80 Furman 7-4 -2.9 39.98% 15.9 101 18.8 51
81 Indiana 2-9 -3.5 37.92% 17.4 93 20.9 67
82 Southern Illinois 3-7-1 -3.8 36.78% 29.2 16 33.0 125
83 Tampa 8-3 -4.0 36.12% 17.4 94 21.4 71
84 Villanova 3-8 -4.3 35.09% 12.6 116 16.9 40
85 Northwestern 4-7 -4.6 34.17% 19.9 78 24.4 88
86 Western Michigan 6-5 -4.7 33.83% 16.2 99 20.9 66
87 Clemson 5-6 -5.1 32.41% 19.9 77 25.0 91
88 TCU 3-8 -5.4 31.47% 19.1 83 24.5 89
89 Toledo 3-8 -5.5 31.43% 21.0 65 26.4 101
90 Georgia Tech 5-6 -5.5 31.15% 15.5 103 21.0 68
91 Oregon State 2-9 -5.8 30.30% 18.0 91 23.8 84
92 Long Beach State 1-9-1 -6.5 28.07% 8.0 127 14.6 24
93 California 4-7 -6.8 27.35% 25.1 37 31.9 122
94 Marshall 4-7 -7.1 26.47% 19.8 79 26.9 104
95 William & Mary 6-5 -7.5 25.33% 22.0 54 29.5 114
96 Appalachian State 3-7-1 -7.5 25.28% 16.0 100 23.5 80
97 Colorado State 5-6 -8.3 22.96% 22.4 51 30.7 118
98 Iowa 0-11 -8.7 22.10% 20.3 72 29.0 108
99 Baylor 2-9 -9.1 21.02% 20.6 68 29.6 115
100 Virginia Tech 2-9 -9.3 20.36% 22.8 48 32.2 123
S&P+ Rk Team Record Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
101 Syracuse 2-9 -9.4 20.21% 14.2 109 23.6 82
102 Princeton 1-8 -9.5 20.04% 15.2 104 24.7 90
103 Duke 2-8-1 -9.7 19.45% 10.3 122 20.0 57
104 Dayton 5-5-1 -10.0 18.86% 13.5 112 23.4 79
105 North Texas 5-5-1 -10.0 18.69% 12.9 114 23.0 77
106 Rutgers 6-5 -10.2 18.39% 15.2 105 25.4 94
107 Holy Cross 5-6 -10.7 17.22% 14.8 106 25.5 96
108 Northern Illinois 6-5 -10.7 17.13% 21.2 63 31.8 121
109 Virginia 4-7 -12.7 13.04% 16.4 98 29.0 109
110 UT-Arlington 4-6 -12.9 12.61% 16.9 96 29.8 116
111 UT-Chattanooga 2-4 -13.1 12.27% 12.9 115 26.0 99
112 New Mexico State 5-6 -13.4 11.68% 18.0 90 31.4 119
113 Xavier 5-5-1 -14.8 9.52% 19.2 81 34.0 126
114 Washington 2-9 -15.1 9.00% 21.4 59 36.5 127
115 The Citadel 3-8 -15.2 8.88% 10.1 123 25.3 92
116 Fresno State 2-9 -15.2 8.87% 10.5 121 25.7 98
117 Wake Forest 1-9-1 -16.1 7.61% 10.0 124 26.2 100
118 Florida State 0-11 -16.4 7.31% 11.3 119 27.7 105
119 VMI 3-8 -16.7 6.91% 11.3 120 28.0 106
120 Drake 2-9 -16.9 6.74% 9.9 125 26.7 103
121 Wichita State 4-7 -17.0 6.61% 12.5 117 29.4 111
122 Davidson 2-8 -17.1 6.46% 15.6 102 32.7 124
123 Columbia 1-7-1 -17.6 5.97% 12.0 118 29.5 113
124 Army 0-10 -18.7 4.86% 13.1 113 31.8 120
125 West Texas A&M 2-9 -20.4 3.52% 9.1 126 29.5 112
S&P+ Rk Team Record Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
126 Lamar 5-5 -23.1 2.03% 3.4 129 26.5 102
127 Idaho 4-7 -23.6 1.83% 18.4 88 42.0 128
128 UL-Lafayette 0-10 -23.6 1.81% 6.5 128 30.1 117
129 UTEP 0-11 -24.7 1.41% 19.0 85 43.7 129

Your hypothetical Playoff race

Okay, so how would this giant mess of a Playoff race played out? OU being ineligible helps, but this is still weird. Here's the end-of-regular-season AP poll (sans OU):

1. Alabama (11-0)
3. Notre Dame (11-0)
4. Ohio State (10-0-1)
5. Michigan (10-0-1)
6. Penn State (11-0)
7. USC (9-1-1)
15. Miami (Ohio) (11-0)

Poor Miami picked the wrong year to be undefeated.

Pause for a moment, close your eyes, and imagine a universe in which Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State are all unbeaten ... there are two Playoff spots available for the three of them ... and the Internet exists. You just blacked out, didn't you? I can't even imagine how bitter that would have been. Obviously it can't happen now -- they're all in the same Big Ten division, and there are no ties -- but I don't even know how this debate plays out.

Going by AP ranking and Est. S&P+ ranking, it's Ohio State and Michigan. But with the amount of politicking going on, do you see them selecting the two Big Ten teams and leaving out a yelling Joe Paterno?

Then there's this: The Big Ten stuuuuuuunk in 1973. Like, it was as bad as we sometimes pretend it is today. Because of the UM-OSU tie, these three teams got to the end of the season with a single win over a ranked team (Penn State's over No. 20 Pitt). The third-best B1G team this year, per these rankings, was No. 55 Michigan State. There were four Ivy League teams in the top 50; there were two Big Ten teams. So that makes me think Penn State gets a bid ... only ... how in the world do you separate Ohio State and Michigan? Their records and résumés were nearly identical. Est. S&P+ gives Ohio State the edge, in part because the tie happened in Ann Arbor (and adjusting for home field makes it an Ohio State "win"), but computers barely existed in 1973.

I ... think the Committee picks Ohio State and Michigan. I think. Maybe. And that gives us 1 Alabama vs. 4 Michigan and 2 Notre Dame vs. 3 Ohio State. Slight edges go to Bama and Ohio State in this one, but in the meantime, also quietly imagine a Michigan vs. Ohio State national title game. Guh.