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Notre Dame wrecked some dreams in the 1970s

Because it ended with so many name brands at the top -- final AP top five: Nebraska, Notre Dame, Texas, Tennessee, Ohio State -- you might figure that the 1970 season was relatively run-of-the-mill. Not so fast, my frend!

Ohio State and Texas were the preseason top 2, and Notre Dame was sixth, so it's not like there was NO continuity. But there were quite a few interesting rises and falls. USC began the season third, fell unranked in November, and rallied to 15th. Penn State followed the same arc, starting seventh, falling all the way out, and finishing 18th.

Arkansas began fourth, immediately lost to Stanford, clawed its way back to fourth, then finished the season by getting destroyed by Texas. Ole Miss began fifth and finished the regular season unranked. The teams ranked 12th through 17th had all fallen out of the rankings by week 4. And unranked Tennessee rose all the way to fourth. Oh yeah, and Toledo, Dartmouth, Air Force, and Tulane all finished in the top 17. Ahead of Oklahoma and Alabama.

Texas was the rock this season, spending all year at either No. 1 or No. 2. And then the Horns laid a bit of an egg, losing 24-11 to Joe Theismann and Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl and handing the AP national title to Nebraska.

Notre Dame not only won two national titles in the 1970s, the Irish also wrecked some dreams in Austin and Tuscaloosa. They beat No. 1 Texas in the Cotton Bowl in both 1970 and 1977, they beat No. 1 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl in 1973, and they beat No. 2 Alabama in the Orange Bowl in 1974. They were heavyweights and mighty underdogs at the same time.

S&P+ Rk Team Record Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
1 Notre Dame 10-1 23.4 98.32% 32.7 7 9.3 3
2 Texas 10-1 23.4 98.30% 37.8 1 14.4 15
3 Tennessee 11-1 22.5 97.94% 31.5 11 9.0 2
4 Nebraska 11-0-1 22.4 97.88% 36.9 2 14.5 17
5 Dartmouth 9-0 21.3 97.32% 31.0 13 9.7 4
6 Auburn 9-2 20.0 96.54% 35.9 3 15.9 21
7 LSU 9-3 18.5 95.30% 25.9 32 7.4 1
8 Ohio State 9-1 17.6 94.51% 29.3 17 11.7 7
9 Stanford 9-3 17.2 94.07% 31.5 10 14.3 14
10 USC 6-4-1 15.6 92.11% 34.1 4 18.5 46
11 Arkansas 9-2 15.5 92.06% 32.7 8 17.1 31
12 Toledo 12-0 15.1 91.43% 27.2 25 12.1 9
13 Arizona State 11-0 15.0 91.30% 32.7 6 17.7 38
14 Michigan 9-1 14.3 90.33% 26.0 30 11.7 8
15 UCLA 6-5 13.2 88.36% 30.0 15 16.8 26
16 Alabama 6-5-1 13.1 88.27% 31.5 9 18.4 43
17 Washington 6-4 12.5 87.16% 33.9 5 21.4 65
18 Georgia Tech 9-3 12.4 86.96% 22.7 47 10.3 5
19 Colorado 6-5 11.7 85.59% 29.3 16 17.6 36
20 Oklahoma 7-4-1 11.6 85.42% 28.5 18 16.9 28
21 Air Force 9-3 11.4 84.98% 31.0 12 19.6 53
22 Yale 7-2 11.3 84.84% 24.7 39 13.3 11
23 Georgia 5-5 9.8 81.22% 24.6 40 14.8 18
24 Houston 8-3 9.4 80.21% 25.9 31 16.5 24
25 Ole Miss 7-4 9.3 80.17% 30.6 14 21.3 63
S&P+ Rk Team Record Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
26 Western Michigan 7-3 9.2 79.78% 25.0 35 15.8 20
27 San Diego State 9-2 8.5 77.84% 26.4 28 17.9 40
28 Long Beach State 9-2-1 8.3 77.42% 22.8 46 14.5 16
29 Penn State 7-3 8.2 77.16% 27.3 22 19.1 49
30 Tulane 8-4 7.9 76.31% 18.7 75 10.8 6
31 Missouri 5-6 7.8 76.16% 25.1 34 17.3 32
32 Northwestern 6-4 7.3 74.69% 23.3 44 16.0 22
33 Iowa State 5-6 6.4 71.79% 27.4 21 21.1 61
34 Harvard 7-2 6.3 71.65% 25.0 36 18.7 47
35 Florida State 7-4 6.0 70.69% 23.4 42 17.4 35
36 Kansas State 6-5 5.4 68.66% 21.2 57 15.8 19
37 South Carolina 4-6-1 5.3 68.51% 27.2 24 21.9 70
38 California 6-5 5.2 68.17% 26.3 29 21.1 62
39 North Carolina 8-4 4.9 67.10% 27.5 20 22.6 77
40 Miami-OH 7-3 4.7 66.65% 17.2 88 12.5 10
41 Texas Tech 8-4 4.6 66.33% 18.3 77 13.7 12
42 Oregon 6-4-1 4.4 65.44% 26.8 27 22.5 75
43 Oregon State 6-5 4.3 65.22% 22.6 48 18.3 42
44 Kansas 5-6 4.0 64.14% 26.9 26 22.9 81
45 Wake Forest 6-5 3.5 62.53% 21.4 56 17.8 39
46 New Mexico 7-3 3.0 60.63% 27.2 23 24.3 93
47 Florida 7-4 2.8 60.01% 23.2 45 20.4 57
48 Cincinnati 7-4 2.8 59.95% 16.6 91 13.8 13
49 Purdue 4-6 2.5 59.10% 18.7 73 16.2 23
50 Louisville 8-3-1 2.4 58.78% 19.4 69 16.9 30
S&P+ Rk Team Record Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
51 Mississippi State 6-5 2.1 57.55% 20.8 60 18.7 48
52 Cornell 6-3 1.8 56.37% 21.1 58 19.3 50
53 Utah 6-4 1.4 55.03% 19.9 66 18.5 45
54 Princeton 5-4 1.2 54.39% 21.4 55 20.2 55
55 Ohio 4-5 0.8 53.06% 24.9 38 24.0 90
56 Duke 6-5 0.7 52.46% 22.2 53 21.5 66
57 Wisconsin 4-5-1 0.5 51.95% 19.9 65 19.3 52
58 Rice 5-5 0.4 51.53% 17.3 84 16.9 27
59 Michigan State 4-6 0.4 51.37% 20.4 62 20.0 54
60 Pennsylvania 4-5 0.3 51.01% 21.9 54 21.7 67
61 Boston College 8-2 0.2 50.82% 23.4 43 23.1 84
62 Dayton 5-4-1 0.2 50.78% 17.9 79 17.7 37
63 SMU 5-6 -0.1 49.75% 17.2 87 17.3 33
64 Memphis 6-4 -0.2 49.38% 20.5 61 20.6 58
65 Oklahoma State 4-7 -0.2 49.29% 25.0 37 25.2 98
66 Southern Miss 5-6 -0.6 47.74% 23.6 41 24.2 92
67 Syracuse 6-4 -0.8 46.98% 22.4 50 23.3 86
68 Kentucky 2-9 -0.9 46.76% 16.0 97 16.9 29
69 Vanderbilt 4-7 -1.0 46.52% 16.4 93 17.3 34
70 San Jose State 2-9 -1.0 46.22% 22.3 52 23.3 87
71 West Virginia 8-3 -1.6 44.15% 22.5 49 24.1 91
72 Tulsa 6-4 -1.7 43.91% 16.5 92 18.2 41
73 Minnesota 3-6-1 -1.8 43.44% 19.9 64 21.8 69
74 Fresno State 8-4 -2.2 42.07% 25.7 33 27.9 107
75 Texas A&M 2-9 -2.3 41.76% 20.4 63 22.7 78
S&P+ Rk Team Record Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
76 Colorado State 4-7 -2.5 41.08% 19.8 67 22.2 72
77 Columbia 3-6 -2.8 40.05% 20.9 59 23.7 88
78 TCU 4-6-1 -3.0 39.19% 19.3 70 22.3 74
79 West Texas A&M 7-3 -3.1 38.90% 17.2 86 20.3 56
80 Arizona 4-6 -3.4 37.82% 17.3 83 20.7 59
81 Pittsburgh 5-5 -3.9 36.31% 19.3 71 23.1 83
82 Pacific 5-6 -4.0 35.88% 15.3 102 19.3 51
83 Bowling Green 2-6-1 -4.2 35.23% 14.3 107 18.4 44
84 UTEP 6-4 -4.3 34.69% 22.4 51 26.7 104
85 Army 1-9-1 -4.7 33.34% 17.2 85 22.0 71
86 Clemson 3-8 -6.0 29.27% 18.7 74 24.7 96
87 Baylor 2-9 -6.3 28.34% 14.6 105 20.9 60
88 Northern Illinois 3-7 -6.8 26.83% 19.6 68 26.4 103
89 Illinois 3-7 -6.8 26.73% 18.8 72 25.6 100
90 Marshall 3-6 -7.0 26.17% 16.2 95 23.2 85
91 BYU 3-8 -7.1 25.87% 14.2 108 21.4 64
92 Virginia Tech 5-6 -7.2 25.76% 15.8 98 23.0 82
93 Kent 3-7 -7.5 24.84% 15.4 101 22.9 79
94 Utah State 5-5 -7.9 23.71% 18.2 78 26.1 102
95 Washington State 1-10 -7.9 23.64% 27.7 19 35.6 122
96 Navy 2-9 -8.1 23.12% 16.8 90 24.9 97
97 Miami-FL 3-8 -8.5 22.16% 17.3 82 25.8 101
98 Virginia 5-6 -9.0 20.75% 14.9 103 23.9 89
99 Brown 2-7 -9.1 20.36% 13.7 111 22.9 80
100 North Texas 3-8 -9.1 20.33% 13.4 115 22.6 76
S&P+ Rk Team Record Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
101 NC State 3-7-1 -9.2 20.20% 7.4 123 16.6 25
102 Iowa 3-6-1 -10.5 16.93% 14.1 109 24.6 95
103 Villanova 9-2 -10.8 16.32% 13.5 114 24.4 94
104 East Carolina 3-8 -11.2 15.48% 14.0 110 25.2 99
105 Maryland 2-9 -11.5 14.76% 10.2 119 21.7 68
106 The Citadel 5-6 -11.7 14.45% 15.5 100 27.2 105
107 Richmond 4-6 -11.9 13.99% 16.1 96 28.0 108
108 Wyoming 1-9 -12.9 12.06% 14.5 106 27.4 106
109 Furman 8-3 -13.6 10.87% 8.7 121 22.3 73
110 Idaho 4-7 -14.0 10.18% 18.4 76 32.4 115
111 New Mexico State 4-6 -14.9 8.87% 17.0 89 31.9 113
112 Santa Barbara 2-9 -15.0 8.65% 17.9 80 32.9 116
113 William & Mary 5-7 -15.5 8.05% 14.7 104 30.2 110
114 Rutgers 5-5 -15.9 7.48% 15.6 99 31.5 112
115 Buffalo 2-9 -17.0 6.20% 13.6 113 30.6 111
116 Davidson 2-8 -17.3 5.80% 17.6 81 34.9 120
117 Indiana 1-9 -18.5 4.71% 10.9 118 29.3 109
118 Wichita State 0-9 -19.1 4.13% 16.3 94 35.5 121
119 Colgate 5-6 -20.9 2.91% 11.3 116 32.2 114
120 Los Angeles State 1-9 -22.7 1.98% 11.3 117 34.0 119
121 Xavier 1-9 -24.3 1.36% 9.5 120 33.8 118
122 VMI 1-10 -24.7 1.24% 13.7 112 38.4 123
123 Holy Cross 0-10-1 -25.3 1.08% 7.7 122 33.1 117

Your hypothetical Playoff race

This could have gone in a lot of different directions. Your end-of-regular-season AP poll:

1. Texas (10-0)
2. Ohio State (9-0)
3. Nebraska (10-0-1 with a tie at USC)
4. Tennessee (10-1 with a loss at Auburn)
5. LSU (9-2 with losses to A&M and Notre Dame)
6. Notre Dame (9-1 with a loss to USC)
7. Michigan (9-1 with a loss to Ohio State)
8. Arizona State (10-0)
14. Dartmouth (9-0)
15. Toledo (11-0)

Six unbeaten teams! One-loss heavyweights! This is a bit of a mess.

One assumes the top three are comfortably in. Texas, OSU, and NU are probably the top three seeds in that hour. But who in the world gets the last seed? LSU's almost certainly out with two losses (one to Notre Dame), but ... Tennessee? Notre Dame? Michigan? An awesome mid-major? (Hahaha, okay, we know it's not that last one. God forbid.)

With Michigan getting thumped pretty badly by Ohio State (20-9, which in that series was like 42-9), I assume this comes down to Notre Dame vs. Tennessee, and ... man. I don't know. Strangely enough, ND's win over SEC LSU probably makes the difference. I say ND gets the nod, and we get 1 Texas vs. 4 ND and 2 Ohio State vs. 3 Nebraska. That probably gives us Notre Dame-Nebraska in the finals.

Other thoughts:

  • Dartmouth, by the way: in the book. The Big Green (then the Indians) won the Lambert Trophy as the East's best team, ahead of Penn State and others, and it was actually pretty justifiable. As they were an Ivy team, they didn't play a diverse enough schedule for us to get a truly clear vision of how good they were, but the teams they beat, they whooped. They messed around for a while in the opener against UMass but still won, 27-0, then beat eight Division I opponents by an average of 33-5.

  • Alabama, by the way: also in the book. This was the team that experienced drastically up-and-down play then secretly installed the wishbone offense in the offseason and proceeded to dominate for most of the next decade.

  • Cal State-Los Angeles: maybe the worst multiple-year run in semi-recent college football history. They went 0-9, 1-9, and 2-8 and went away.

  • The top five in the Big Ten: 8 Ohio State, 14 Michigan, 32 Northwestern, 49 Purdue, 57 Wisconsin.

    The top five in the Ivy League: 5 Dartmouth, 22 Yale, 34 Harvard, 52 Cornell, 54 Princeton.

    Yeah, the Big Ten was still bad.

Next up: your 1970s wrap-up.