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College football dream tournament finals: The best team ever beats the best of 2005

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Army athletics

Because I am ... me, I thought a 128-team tournament of national champions would be a fun time killer. (I also thought it would be a roundabout way of promoting my new book, The 50 Best* College Football Teams of All Time, which is available now at Amazon!)

I had fun, anyway! Here’s a look back at the results to date:

And here, one last time, is how the results were determined.

1. We’re going to pit national champions from the last 128 years against each other. In the many instances in which more than one team claims a title from a given year, I’ll use Estimated S&P+ to determine the participant — the highest-rated team gets in.

2. We’ll break them up into four ‘regions’ based on the year. Teams from 1889-1920 go in one region, from 1921-52 in another, from 1953-84 in another, and 1985-2016 in another.

3. Within each ‘region,’ we’ll seed the teams based on Estimated S&P+.

4. To simulate each game, we’ll determine win probability based on each team’s Estimated S&P+ rating, then use a random number generator to determine the winner.

In the semifinals, we had 1945 Army surviving a tough test from 1908 LSU and 2005 Texas disposing of a 1973 Alabama team that had to pull a couple of upsets to reach the Final Four.

Are there any surprises in the finals?

Nope.

1945 Army (win prob: 67.1%) def. 2005 Texas. We’ll say the margin was about 10 points, per the random number generator.

Two things about this result:

1. Remember what I said at the very start.

Any time we compare teams from era, a lot of people go down the “How in the world would you compare [recent great team] to [super old great team]? Players from [recent great team] are so much more athletic! No way would a team with 200-pound linemen have a chance!” road.

Don’t.

Teams are judged based on how superior they were to their peers. Yes, 1917 Georgia Tech would probably get waxed by 2016 Clemson — among other reasons, all the players from 1917 Georgia Tech are dead.

This is all based on in-season superiority. Open your imaginations a bit.

This isn’t about physical superiority; pretty sure Army’s linebacker-sized defensive linemen wouldn’t have really known what to do with Vince Young. But in terms of how superior they were to their peers, nobody can touch 1945 Army.

2. Here’s why 1945 Army was so good. It wasn’t Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis — wasn’t just them, at least. It was everybody else.

Because of loose wartime transfer rules — the service academies were basically able to recruit all-star teams — and because Blaik was relentless in milking every advantage, this team featured plenty of stars from other schools.

Halfback Shorty McWilliams was an All-American for Mississippi State in 1944 and returned to Starkville in 1946; in 1945, he was a backup good enough to finish eighth in the Heisman voting. Fullback Bobby Dobbs helped Tulsa to the Sun Bowl in 1942 and backed up Blanchard in 1945. Guard Joe Steffy played for Tennessee in 1944, when the Volunteers when unbeaten in the regular season again.

End Barney Poole played for Ole Miss and would return to Oxford to lead the Rebels to the 1947 SEC title. End Hank Foldberg played for Texas A&M, halfback Dean Sensanbaugher played for Ohio State, fullback Bob Summerhays would thrive at Utah, etc.

Plus, the show was run by quarterback Arnold Tucker, a steady enough hand to finish fifth himself in the Heisman voting (third on his own team) in 1946.

The skill positions were stocked three-deep with star power, and the line was extraordinary. It featured All-American captain John Green and future first-round pick DeWitt “Tex” Coulter, plus Herschel “Ug” Fuson, an athlete versatile enough to play both halfback and center and star at lacrosse.

Coulter would later say that this team had better depth than the 1946 NFL East champion New York Giants team he would join.

In 2005, Texas took down a USC team that, like Army, boasted two Heisman winners. It was an incredible game with an incredible finish. But take that USC team and add the following:

  • Michigan receiver Braylon Edwards
  • Memphis running back DeAngelo Williams
  • Rutgers fullback Brian Leonard
  • Virginia offensive lineman D’Brickashaw Ferguson
  • UAB receiver Roddy White
  • Et cetera.

Does Texas still win? Nope!

This was a team of legal ringers. Hell, Doc Blanchard himself began his career at UNC before ending up at Army. From a competitive standpoint, it had some unfair advantages, but that’s not really the point. It was the closest thing ever to a perfect football team, and it was even significantly better than maybe the best team of the 2000s.


Part of the fun of this exercise (to me) was the single-elimination nature of it. We create Best Of lists all the time, and I could have done the same here, but there’s no tension there. There are no upsets.

Upsets knocked classic teams like 1995 Nebraska and 2001 Miami out of this competition pretty early. I decided to simulate the whole thing again just to see who might redeem themselves. Instead, the bracket imploded in about 11 different spots. Your Dream Tournament II results:

Quarterfinals

(22) 1904 Michigan def. (20) 1906 Princeton
(11) 1924 Notre Dame def. (1) 1945 Army
(7) 1965 Michigan State def. (1) 1971 Nebraska
(23) 1985 Oklahoma def. (20) 2013 Florida State

2005 Texas fell to 1988 Notre Dame in the second round, and this time, not only did 1985 Oklahoma upset 2001 Miami again, Barry Switzer’s Sooners also took down 1988 Notre Dame, 1986 Penn State, and now Jameis Winston’s Seminoles. Meanwhile, the top (oldest) region imploded in similar fashion. And the best team of all time falls to ... the Four Horsemen. Grantland Rice would have written so many poems.

Semifinals

1924 Notre Dame def. 1904 Michigan
1965 Michigan State def. 1985 Oklahoma

Bubba Smith defeats Jamelle Holieway.

Finals

1924 Notre Dame def. 1965 Michigan State

Ew. Give me the first simulation results instead.