Oklahoma State just won a college football national title. The 1945 college football national title.
In the case of Oklahoma State, its football website led Thursday with a black-and-white photo of “Blond Bomber” Bob Fenimore, carrying the football with his oh-so-cool jersey number of 55. The attached story heralded the announcement that a panel of coaches from the American Football Coaches Association had anointed the Oklahoma A&M Aggies, a program that later morphed into Oklahoma State Cowboys, the 1945 champions. That panel has been trying to discern who deserved titles between 1922, when the AFCA was born, and 1949, when it began ranking teams.
Why it sat around for 27 years without rankings teams is anyone’s guess; everybody else was.
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).
That number has just doubled, and with some heft.
It throws a bit of nice attention toward Coach Jim Lookabaugh (1902-1982), who retired in 1950 and later chaired the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority, among other contributions; and Fenimore, the all-everything rusher (No. 1 in the country in 1945), interceptor (18 for his career), third in Heisman Trophy voting; and Neill Armstrong, the receiver and defensive back who later went on to one of the nation’s most traditionally thankless jobs, head coach of the Chicago Bears (1978-81).
When Southern California gained its retroactive title for its 8-0-2 season of 1939, it came from the Dickinson System, and it led to the school honoring the team during halftime of a game in October 2004. It also added to its titles granted from, as listed in College Football Data Warehouse, Harry Frye and Ray Byrne, for a total of three. Two other services that year chose Tennessee (10-1), four chose Cornell (8-0) and 31 chose Texas A&M (11-0).
For decades after that, an inept nation still grappled with how to solve this annual puzzle, often granting shared titles, such as in the worst decision ever, in 1978, when the top two polls, AP and United Press International, split between Alabama (11-1) and Southern California (12-1), even though the latter had traveled all the way to Birmingham to defeat the former by 24-14 during the season.
Only in 2014, with the advent of the College Football Playoff, did it figure out how to whittle down to nil the toil of the Data Warehouse, which lists only one national champion each for 2014 and 2015, after years of listing “recognized champions” plus other champions.
In the case of the aforementioned 1959, 43 different services awarded national titles. One chose LSU. Eight chose Mississippi. Thirty-four chose Syracuse. Had the reader mentioned that Syracuse, including the AP, won 79.0697 percent of the 1959 national title, that would have been intricately accurate.
Further, never let anyone peddle the hogwash that times were simpler back then.