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Northwestern football loses national championship bid(s) to Notre Dame

It's June, meaning we've hit the time of year when we want college football to be back, but it's still oh so far away. Thus, we have to create college football so we can debate about it.

This week, Auburn's the team creating some college football news, and it's doing it in a pretty creative way — the Tigers have decided to retroactively claim they won national championships that they didn't win, since no official championships were given out by the NCAA. The program has officially added three more national titles to its website, and in an impressively efficient use of resources, athletic director Jay Jacobs said he plans to form a committee to decide whether to officially claim them.

This isn't a new phenomenon. Alabama and Minnesota have both done it in pretty hilarious fashion, though none have done it in such excruciating detail as Auburn:

In an effort to continue the spirit of the season, SB Nation's Purdue blog, Hammer and Rails, found two more national championships for Purdue to claim, and they found two of them! So with that in mind, I decided to see if I could find any national titles for NU to claim. I mean, if Purdue can claim two of them, NU can at least find one, right?

So here was my methodology:

- Find all undefeated seasons

- Check each of those seasons' schedules

- See who else "claims" a national title that year

1. Find all undefeated seasons

NORTHWESTERN DOESN'T HAVE A SINGLE UNDEFEATED SEASON. What the hell, guys? You couldn't just play ETHS, Lake Forest, Illinois, Wisconsin, Carthage and Michigan in 1890, win all six games, and call yourselves the undefeated national champions? Thanks for nothing. (Note: We're not counting any unconfirmed years when the team went 2-0 in scrimmages against Lake Forest.)

NU's putrid history sort of derails the exercise, but there's still hope to find a national champion among the Wildcats' seven one-loss teams. Because as 2011 taught us, you don't even need to win your conference's division and you can still be a national champion (thanks Bama).

So here's the list of undefeated seasons, via Sport Reference, with S/R's strength of schedule rating and SRS (basically a computer rating system) included.

Year Wins Losses Ties SRS SOS
1896 6 1 2 5.63 -3.26
1903 10 1 3 6.47 -4.1
1916 6 1 0 7.61 -2.54
1936 7 1 0 13.58 6.46
1931 7 1 1 18.36 7.29
1926 7 1 0 18.77 1.89
1930 7 1 0 24.75 9.37

Taking into account the ratings, strength of schedule and records, the only years NU might possibly have a claim to are 1926, 1930 and 1936. So let's take a look.

2. Check the schedules for 1926, 1930 and 1936

So here's each year:


Opponent W/L Score
South Dakota W 34-0
Carleton W 31-3
Indiana W 20-0
Notre Dame L 0-6
at Indiana W 21-0
Purdue W 22-0
Chicago W 38-7
Iowa W 13-6


Opponent W/L Score
Tulane W 14-0
Ohio State W 19-2
at Illinois W 32-0
Centre W 45-7
at Minnesota W 27-6
at Indiana W 25-0
Wisconsin W 20-7
Notre Dame L 0-14


Opponent W/L Score
Iowa W 18-7
North Dakota State W 40-7
Ohio State W 14-13
at Illinois W 13-2
(1) Minnesota W 6-0
Wisconsin W 26-18
at Michigan W 9-0
at (11) Notre Dame L 6-26

Welp ... it's clear the Fighting Methodists were no match for the Fighting Irish. Northwestern was actually No. 1 in the country in the AP Poll heading into the final week of 1936 and probably only needed a win over No. 11 Notre Dame to win a national championship. But just like in the other possible national title years, NU couldn't figure out the Irish.

3. See who else "claims" a national title in each of these three years

1936 is already out of the running because NU finished seventh in the AP Poll, and when you're that low in the voting, you don't have a claim to any titles. So let's check 1926 and 1930 with Wikipedia's list:

1926: Alabama (9-0-1), Lafayette (9-0), Michigan (7-1), Navy (9-0-1), Stanford (10-0-1)

NU probably only has a claim against Michigan (which was named the national champion that year by Sport-Reference). The Wildcats were co-champions of the Western Conference with Michigan that year and did lose to a quality team in Notre Dame. But by that logic, the Fighting Irish (9-1) probably have a better claim to the title than the Wildcats do. So if NU was Auburn, they could maybe claim this title since their conference co-champion did. But it'd be a stretch, and NU isn't Auburn.

1930: Alabama (10-0), Notre Dame (10-0)

This was NU's best one-loss season according to Sport References' computer ratings, but the Wildcats' only loss was to national champion Notre Dame, so there's really no claim to this one.

So, can NU claim any titles?

No, probably not, unless Notre Dame's teams from the 1920s and 1930s have their wins taken away from them. They could maybe sort of claim the title in 1926, because Western Conference co-champion Michigan was named the Sport Reference national champion that year, but that would even surpass Auburn levels of petty.

So for the time being, NU is still without a national championship in football, all thanks to Notre Dame. So when the Wildcats play the Irish this November, understand the significance of the game. This game will be more than just jockeying for bowl positioning in 2014  — it will be revenge for all of the new/old national title banners NU never got to hang up.