by Travis Normand
October 26, 2022
This past weekend, I was watching an Oklahoma State football game when I noticed they had a sign in their end zone that laid claim to the 1945 National Championship. Somewhere in my mind I remembered that Oklahoma State had claimed a retro-active title, but I guess I wasn’t aware that it was the 1945 title (which rightfully belongs to Army). My first and immediate thought was that any school that would claim a share of Army’s national title (retroactively) was either extremely arrogant, ignorant of history, or both.
Having said that, I set out to do a little research and figure out why Oklahoma State would even attempt to claim the 1945 title, and the following is what I found.
The first thing I found was the following article (at The Oklahoman.com) which I thought summed everything up pretty nice (emphasis added):
Why is Oklahoma State on an island with the retroactive titles?
Published August 23, 2017
OSU won a football national championship last season, 71 years after the fact. You remember the story. The American Football Coaches Association announced a program by which it would honor with a retroactive national title deserving teams that played before 1950, when the coaches instituted the UPI poll and began handing out national titles.
The AFCA awarded OSU’s great 1945 team, which went 9-0 and beat Saint Mary’s 33-13 in the Sugar Bowl.
I thought it was a cool story. I generally like historical projects like this. Bill James and other baseball historians have done something similar, going back and selecting MVP and Cy Young awards retroactively, in the days before anyone thought of such awards.
The most tradition-rich sports in America are baseball and college football. Anything we can do to celebrate the old days is fine by me.
But there were a couple of problems with OSU’s 1945 title.
1) First was the season. 1945 was quite the unfortunate year for the Cowboys to claim a national title. 1945 was not a season in which any college football fan sat around wondering who should be No. 1.
In 1945, Army had one of the greatest football seasons in history. The Cadets went 9-0, and five of their nine victims were ranked at the time of the game. Six of Army’s victims finished in the AP top 20, including five in the top 13 and four in the top nine.
Army beat Michigan 28-7 in Yankee Stadium; the Wolverines were ranked ninth and finished sixth. Army beat Notre Dame 48-0 in Yankee Stadium; the Fighting Irish were ranked second and finished ninth.
Army beat Penn 61-0 at Franklin Field in Philadelphia; the Quakers were ranked sixth and finished eighth. Army beat Navy 32-13 at Philadelphia Municipal Stadium (later known as Kennedy Stadium); the Midshipmen were ranked second and finished that way.
Army’s Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis finished 1-2 in the Heisman voting. They would finish 4-1 the next year. They finished 3-2 in 1944.
Army was not just the greatest football team of 1945. That might be the greatest football team of any season.
There were sociological reasons for that, of course. America was at war until just before that season kicked off. Most college football teams were short-handed. Most of the athletic pool was in the military service or had just gotten out. Most of those who remained on college campuses had some kind of military deferment.
Army, of course, had the same kind of players it always had. And it always had great players.
We can debate the fairness of such a season. Heck, we can debate whether such a season should even have been played, although I assume football was a great diversion on war-weary campuses all over America. But we cannot debate who was the best college football team of 1945.
2) Second was the process adopted by the American Football Coaches Association.
The AFCA did not convene a panel of historians to go season-by-season and award a national championship. That’s what a serious project would have done. Go to 1922, study the evidence as a later-day pollster would have done and award a trophy.
Instead, the AFCA opened the process up for proposals. It invited schools to nominate teams they felt were deserving. Then a committee would vote yea or nay on said team.
The problems with such a process are many. Starting with this – the AFCA acknowledged it could hand out multiple awards for the same season. In other words, if Army wanted to submit its 1945 team consideration, the AFCA could – and would, unless it wanted to proclaim its insanity – give the Cadets a 1945 trophy, too.
That completely undermined the coolness of the project. This wasn’t a project to go back and recognize overlooked teams whose only crime was playing before 1950. This was some kind of marketing ploy by the AFCA, though no one is quite sure what. Some have speculated that it was a fundraising effort, since those trophies are not cheap.
OSU’s embracement of the AFCA recognition is understandable. Those Jim Lookabaugh teams of 1944 and 1945 were great teams. And on a campus void of great football history, those teams should be celebrated. Probably haven’t been celebrated enough.
Mike Gundy talked last week about how OSU’s tradition still is in the building stage. How it’s a slow process to get the Cowboys mentioned as a perennial top-20 program, much less top-10, to which OSU aspires. And he’s right.
So the AFCA’s honoring of the 1945 team was rightfully welcomed by OSU. The university has placed a sign on the wall beyond Boone Pickens Stadium’s east end zone. “1945 NATIONAL CHAMPIONS.”
It’s not gaudy. It’s not overbearing. It’s not in huge letters on the north side of the stadium’s façade, where it could have been seen from Ponca City.
It’s not historically accurate, if you know anything about Army. But much of college football’s earlier awards and honors were not historically accurate.
I don’t blame OSU for putting on its best face. It’s like shaving before a date. Make yourself look the best you can.
There’s just one problem. No other school has taken the bait. The AFCA’s Vince Thompson told me Wednesday that no other school, in the year since the AFCA made the project available, has submitted a team for consideration.
Not Oklahoma, which had a powerhouse 11-0 team in 1949 but finished No. 2 behind Notre Dame. ‘
Not Notre Dame, which went 9-0 in 1948 but finished No. 2 behind Michigan.
Not Michigan, which went 9-0 in 1947 but finished No. 2 behind Notre Dame.
Not Army, which went 9-0-1 in 1946, tying Notre Dame, but finished No. 2 behind Notre Dame.
Not Alabama, which will claim any national title it can get its hands on. Bama didn’t ask for a trophy from 1945, when the Tide was 9-0, or 1934 or 1930 or 1925, when Alabama was unbeaten and untied.
Not Minnesota, which had perfect records in both 1934 and 1935 and also could use a little boost in its football pedigree.
Not Princeton, which has always taken a backseat to Harvard and Yale but which went unbeaten in 1933 and 1934.
Not Colgate, Michigan or Southern Cal, all unbeaten in 1932.
Not Tennessee, the only unbeaten team from 1931.
Not Purdue, perfect in 1929.
Not Boston College, perfect in 1928.
Not any school. OSU stands alone.
And that’s strange. That makes you pause even more than Army’s 1945 résumé. No other school has been tempted by the AFCA’s offer.
I don’t know. I asked an OU source why the Sooners didn’t pursue the 1949 title. He said it was casually brought up in conversation, but the prevailing theory was that the fan base wouldn’t be excited. I sort of disagree with that theory. I think OU fans, especially old-timers, would be excited about the 1949 recognition, because that was one hellacious football team.
But I wonder if schools just think it’s sort of silly. Maybe the respect for history isn’t as great anymore. Maybe they think, like I do, that while the result could be beneficial, the process is goofy.
Whatever the reason, OSU now shares a 1945 national title with Army. But OSU shares the process with no one.
OSU is like the guy who goes to a restaurant at dinner time and is the only customer. You start to wonder. Maybe the food’s good, but why am I the only one in here.
Why is OSU the only school that accepted the AFCA’s offer? OU fans will say the Cowboys were just desperate for tradition. But even if that’s true, it’s not any moreso than Purdue fans, or Boston College fans, or Minnesota fans. If you think Bedlam or Alabama-Auburn is a rivalry, you need to spend some time in East Coast board rooms, where Harvard, Yale and Princeton is a daily snoot fest.
Yet none of those schools asked for AFCA consideration. Only Oklahoma State.“Why is Oklahoma State on an island with the retroactive titles?,” by Berry Tramel, Published August 23, 2017 at theOklahoman.com: https://www.oklahoman.com/story/sports/columns/berry-tramel/2017/08/23/why-is-oklahoma-state-on-an-island-with-the-retroactive-titles/60580085007/
The article above is from 2017, and it pretty much covers everything that needs to be said. However, I found some other things that I thought were interesting and figured I would share them as well.
AFCA National Champions
As of October 26, 2022, the list of AFCA National Championships (found here) starts in 1945 with the retroactive championship awarded to Oklahoma State; but then jumps to the 1950 title which was awarded to Oklahoma.
I am not sure how the AFCA explains that their (1945) national title was not awarded to Army. I guess they start by saying that they really didn’t give a national championship in 1945; however, when they gave a retro-active title, the AFCA would also have to say that they felt as if Oklahoma State was more deserving, right? But if and when they are pressed on how they reached that decision (as to how Oklahoma State was more deserving), they have to tell people that Army didn’t apply for their retroactive title, while Oklahoma State did.
As pointed out in the article above, there are a lot of teams that could have applied for an AFCA retroactive national championship, yet none of them did (except Oklahoma State). Even Army failed to apply for the 1945 title; as if they didn’t need further affirmation from the AFCA for their accomplishment in 1945. However, I am also guessing that Army never thought the AFCA would be so “crazy” as to award the 1945 championship to anyone but them.
A Blue Ribbon Commission of Coaches
In the 2017 Oklahoman.com article, it says that: “The AFCA did not convene a panel of historians to go season-by-season and award a national championship. That’s what a serious project would have done. Go to 1922, study the evidence as a later-day pollster would have done and award a trophy.”
Now, compare the 2017 statement with what was written in articles a year prior in 2016:
“As for how a team can be awarded a national title 71 years after the fact, the decision was made by the American Football Coaches Association. The AFCA put together a committee of coaches to retroactively select schools who deserve the Coaches Trophy between the seasons of 1922 and 1949. Schools who felt they had a legitimate bid for the title submitted their reasons why, and the committee would then hear their case and decide.”“WHY OKLAHOMA STATE HAS BEEN NAMED COLLEGE FOOTBALL’S 1945 NATIONAL CHAMPION,” BY TOM FORNELLI, OCTOBER 13, 2016: HTTPS://WWW.CBSSPORTS.COM/COLLEGE-FOOTBALL/NEWS/WHY-OKLAHOMA-STATE-HAS-BEEN-NAMED-COLLEGE-FOOTBALLS-1945-NATIONAL-CHAMPION/
“After gathering all the pertinent information and doing our due diligence, it is the pleasure of our Blue Ribbon Commission of coaches to officially recognize Oklahoma State’s 1945 championship season with the AFCA Coaches’ Trophy,” said AFCA executive director Todd Berry in a release announcing the decision.“Why Oklahoma State has been named college football’s 1945 national champion,” by Tom Fornelli, October 13, 2016: https://www.cbssports.com/college-football/news/why-oklahoma-state-has-been-named-college-footballs-1945-national-champion/
According to the CBSSports.com article (in 2016), the AFCA did put together a committee of coaches to retroactively select schools who deserve the Coaches Trophy between the seasons of 1922 and 1949. Yet, only one school was awarded a trophy, and that was Oklahoma State in 1945.
What about all the other schools from 1922 to 1949? Did the “Blue Ribbon Commission of Coaches” not find a deserving school in each of those years? Or did the CBSSports.com article forget to mention that the AFCA would only be selecting teams that apply for the award (and that no one else applied)?
There is also this story (or release from the AFCA) that was published on OkState.com (Oklahoma State’s official athletic department website) regarding the 1945 Championship, which read (emphasis added):
“At the request of multiple schools, the AFCA established a panel of national championship coaches to retroactively select Coaches’ Trophy winners from 1922 (when the AFCA was founded) up to 1949 (the year before the Coaches’ Poll was first published). That panel of coaches took information submitted by schools who felt they were worthy of consideration and used that data in the research and selection process”(AFCA PRESS RELEASE) “AFCA Recognizes Oklahoma State as 1945 National Champion;” October 13, 2016; posted at: https://okstate.com/news/2016/10/13/football-afca-recognizes-oklahoma-state-as-1945-national-champion.aspx
I am dying to know who the “multiple schools” were that requested the AFCA to establish this panel and retroactively give this award. I am also dying to know why none of those schools applied for a retroactive national championship of their own.
Also, at this point in time, I cannot seem to find any other teams that are claiming a retroactive national title from the AFCA; which means that the AFCA did not actually sit down and go season-by-season, as the AFCA claims they did. In fact, they only gave it to those who applied for it, and the only one that applied for it was Oklahoma State.
(NOTE: If you are reading this, and you happen to know of any other schools that received a retroactive title from the AFCA, please comment below and tell me who they are; so I can update this post.)
I am sure someone will see this post and point out that retroactive titles (and split national titles) are nothing new. I would agree, as these are not new ideas. However, some make more sense than others. For example, in 1997 the AP and Coaches’ Polls selected different national champions (Michigan and Nebraska), resulting in a split national title. I have no issue with this, and in fact, I actually preferred the poll system of awarding national champions over the playoff system. I also don’t (inherently) have an issue with retroactive titles.
However, I do take issue with titles that are given without a rational or logical basis; that are given despite the best evidence and due diligence; and that are given via a process that seems inherently bizarre (like this one).
Over the course of college football history, certain polls have been given a lot more credibility than others, and thus their national championship carries more weight (see here: “NCAA Major Selectors” & here). For example, the AP Poll (and National Championship) has always been on top with the Coaches’ Poll right behind them. There have been many other polls, all carrying less weight than the AP and/or Coaches.
NOTE: See the NCAA’s FBS 2020 Record Book at: http://fs.ncaa.org/Docs/stats/football_records/2020/FBS.pdf (recognized national championship selectors on pages 112-126; major selectors on page 112; final national poll leaders for the 1945 season on page 116).
No One Awarded a Title to Oklahoma State in 1945
Another 2016 article about the Oklahoma State retroactive title, from The Washington Post, contains the following (emphasis added):
“If you burrow into the vintage cellars of CFBDataWarehouse.com, a practice highly recommended, you will see that in 1945, 41 different services named national champions. Thirty-seven, including the Associated Press, chose the Army (9-0) of Heisman Trophy winner Doc Blanchard, Glenn Davis and Coach Earl Blaik. How much that owed to East Coast bias cannot be pinpointed, but one might guess at one’s leisure.
Three others chose Alabama (10-0), and to Alabama’s credit, its record book does not claim a 1945 title among its cherished 16.
One, listed as ‘Nutshell Sports Football Ratings,’ had chosen Oklahoma State (9-0).”“Oklahoma State just won the 1945 college football national championship,” by Chuck Culpepper, Ocotber 13, 2016, The Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/sports/wp/2016/10/13/oklahoma-state-just-won-the-1945-college-football-national-championship/
I remember CFBDataWarehouse.com and I even knew the owner / operator of the site. It is unfortunately now a defunct website, but I believe the research compiled on that site is still floating around out there somewhere.
Assuming that there were, in fact, 41 different selectors in 1945, 37 (of 41) picked Army (90.2%); while 3 of 41 picked Alabama (.073%); and 1 picked Oklahoma State (.024%). This begs several questions: (1) Is .024% of the then-current national championship selectors enough to claim a national title? (I think the answer is “yes;” but it comes down to how credible the selector is and how much you want to “crow” about it); and (2) who is “Nutshell Sports Football Ratings?”
Nutshell Sports Football Ratings is Ray Wait, who has a list of “Retrodictive Ratings” for each year. You can find his website here: https://wilson.engr.wisc.edu/waits/history.html. As you can see (here), Ray Wait has been ranking teams since 1970 (and not since 1945). Thus The Washington Post article is wrong, as Nutshell Sports did not select Oklahoma State in 1945. You can also see (here) that “NutshellSports.com” is for sale and is no longer in use (the URL’s sales price is $9,695.00). Finally, you can see Ray Wait’s 1945 Retrodictive Ratings here, and he does indeed have Oklahoma State listed as number one.
But unlike what The Washington Post article said, “Nutshell Sports Football Ratings” did not exist in 1945, and thus Ray Wait was awarding a retroactive, or retrodictive, number one ranking. Note that I am saying a “number one ranking” and not a “national championship,” as I am not completely sure that Ray Wait’s intent was to award any kind of “championship,” as he did call it a “retrodictive” ranking.
In any event, it is not uncommon for people to get this information wrong (like The Washington Post did); as polling information is often presented in a very confusing format. It is often hard to tell whether a poll was in existence during the year that it has named a national champion or whether it existed later (and awarded a number one ranking retroactively).
I cannot find any national championship selector that existed in 1945 who also had Oklahoma State ranked number one in its final poll / selection. This leaves only Army and Alabama with any real claim to the 1945 title; with Army having the overwhelming majority of the selections (including the AP).
1945 National Champions
Having said that, let’s review who selected who in 1945. The following is a list of teams selected as the National Champion in 1945 by NCAA-designated “major selectors” (as listed in the official Football Bowl Subdivision Records publication).
|Team||Record||NCAA Major Selector|
|Army||9-0||AP, B(QPRS), BR, BS, CFRA, DeS, DuS, |
HAF, HS, L, NCF, PS, SR, WS
[Table Legend: (1) Italics = Retroactive Selector; (2) Bold = Human Poll]
In the above table, you will see the following items of note:
(1) Army was awarded the AP National Championship;
(2) There are 15 “Major Selectors” that either existed in 1945 or have given a retroactive 1945 title (some of these 15 are human polls and some are math/formula polls);
(3) Math/Formula Polls: There are 10 Math/Forumla Polls: B(QPRS); BR; SR; BS; DeS; DuS; HS; L; PS; and WS.
(4) Of the 10 Math/Formula Polls, 3 of them have given retroactive 1945 titles, while 7 existed in 1945. The 3 that gave retroactive titles are: B(QPRS), BR, and SR; while the 7 that existed in 1945 are: BS, DeS; DuS; HS; L; PS; and WS.
(5) None of the Math/Formula Polls selected Oklahoma State as their National Champion.
(6) Human Polls: There are 5 (of 15) “Major Selectors” that are human polls (the AP, CFRA, HAF, NCF, and BRC).
(7) Of the 5 human polls, Army was selected by 4 of them, including the AP, the CFRA, the HAF, and NCF.
(8) Of the 5 human polls, only the AP was in existence in 1945 (and the others were awarded retroactively);
(9) The only poll that selected Oklahoma State was the BRC (Coaches’ Poll); which is a human poll that did not exist in 1945, and awarded their national title to Oklahoma State retroactively (however, the BRC has awarded no other retroactive titles);
(10) The BR poll selected both Army and Ohio State (both as retroactive math polls); and the NCF selected both Alabama and Army (both were retroactively awarded).
NOTE: The above information (in the table) can be found here, along with the full name of each poll. For more information on the NCF Poll Split between Alabama and Army, see here. For a review of the 1945 football season, see here.
Reviewing the 1945 Season
As you can see from reviewing the 1945 season, Oklahoma State’s schedule and performance was not really good enough for national championship consideration, especially in a year that featured a team like Army.
Oklahoma State FKA Oklahoma A&M was a mid-major, playing in the Missouri Valley Conference (of which they were champions in 1945). In 1945, they went 9-0 and finished ranked #5 in the AP poll. They capped the season with a win over #11 St. Mary’s (33-13) in the Sugar Bowl. The star of the 1945 Oklahoma State team was Hall of Fame halfback Bob Fenimore. He was a consensus All American and finished 3rd in the Heisman vote behind Army’s Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis. Fenimore led the nation in rushing with 1,119 yards, and he led the nation in total offense in both 1944 and 1945 (1,758 and 1,641 yards). For his career, Fenimore totaled 4,627 yards of total offense, and on the other side of the ball he snagged 18 interceptions.
Oklahoma A&M’s best game of the 1945 season was the 33-13 rout of St. Mary’s (who had a record of 6-2) in the Sugar Bowl. Their other big win was less impressive, as they beat an 8-3 Tulsa team by a score of 12-6 (at home). St. Mary’s and Tulsa were the only teams that Oklahoma A&M played with a winning record. Additionally, they struggled to get past a 3-7 Arkansas team (by a score of 19-14).
Keep in mind, I am not saying that Oklahoma State didn’t have a great season in 1945. I am just saying that upon review, it doesn’t appear to be national championship worthy (and I fail to see how the AFCA could disagree).
This is especially true when Army played 6 top 25 teams, while Alabama played 4; and nobody came within a touchdown of either team all year. In fact, the closest anyone got to Army was 3 touchdowns.
Oklahoma State was not really close to being a national title contender; and it is a wonder how the AFCA can think otherwise.