It happened again.
Quarterback Tony Rice, the special guest on this week's Irish Huddle, led Notre Dame to its most recent "consensus" national title in 1988.
During the Dec. 2 BCS National Title teleconference, Alabama was introduced as the program going for its “15th national title” while Notre Dame was referred to as competing for its “12th.”
Here we go again about setting the record straight. One of these years it might actually work.
Alabama undoubtedly is the current benchmark on the field in college football. On Jan. 7, it will attempt to join Notre Dame from 1946-49 and Nebraska from 1994-97 as the third program to capture three national titles in four years since the end of World War II.
However, Notre Dame and Alabama have different guidelines on what define a national title.
Notre Dame goes strictly by “consensus” titles, and the NCAA records show the Fighting Irish have recorded 11: 1924, 1929, 1930, 1943, 1946, 1947, 1949, 1966, 1973, 1977 and 1988. By Notre Dame parameters, it was not inaccurate that it was announced the Irish are going for their “12th.”
When it comes to consensus, Alabama can be recognized with 10: 1925, 1926, 1961, 1964, 1965, 1978, 1979, 1992, 2009 and 2011.
The slippery slope is when Alabama points to striving for its 15th. Who actually has won the most national titles in college football?
The answer is if you use every poll system ever used since the birth of football in 1869 —wire services, historical research documents, mathematical rating systems, retroactive polls — Princeton has 28 and Yale 27. Princeton was awarded 20 titles from 1869-99, and Yale had 19 prior to 1900.
The last one for Princeton was 1950 (Boand and Poling), and the last for Yale was 1927 (a poll simply called Football Research).
As for 1900 through 2011, there are three different ways one can count national titles:
System No.1: Every Poll Ever Used/Recognized
There have been approximately 30 different rating systems charted in the NCAA record book. This cheapens titles — including some for Notre Dame and Alabama. Here are two examples, one for each school:
In 1967, the Dunkel System awarded the national title to Notre Dame over consensus champion USC — even though the Trojans finished 10-1 while the Irish were 8-2. Moreover, the Trojans won in Notre Dame Stadium, 24-7. It defies explanation how Dunkel (begun in 1929 as a power index rating system) could reach its conclusion while omitting common sense.
In 1941, there were 15 different services that awarded a national title, and Minnesota was recognized as the “consensus” champion because 12 different organizations (including AP) voted the 8-0 Golden Gophers No. 1.
Two gave the nod to 8-1-1 Texas (4th in the AP) and one gave it to 9-2 Alabama — an organization named Houlgate (1927-58), a mathematical rating system developed by Deke Houlgate of Los Angeles, Calif., and syndicated to newspapers.
That year Alabama finished No. 20 in the AP poll with a 9-2 record and shutout losses to Mississippi State and Vanderbilt — yet it still claims it as “a national title year.” C'mon, Man!
There have been several years where five or six teams were recognized as "national champions" by one unrecognized poll or another.
The University of Miami won the Berryman and Sagarin poll in 1988 over Notre Dame, despite losing to 12-0 Notre Dame.
Meanwhile, Notre Dame earned No. 1 recognition in 1993 from Matthews Grid Rating over consensus champion Florida State, which had lost in November to the Irish.
Schools will sometimes publicize these “national titles” in their media guide.
Although Notre Dame received some national title notice in 1919 and 1920, its first consensus title was with Knute Rockne in 1924. That was the season the “Four Horsemen and Seven Mules” defeated Stanford in the Rose Bowl and were rated No. 1 in 10 of the 11 polls used back then. (Penn won the Parke Davis poll that season.)
For the record, here are the top 10 national champions from 1900-2011 if you used every one of these polls as a reference: Notre Dame (21), Alabama (18), Michigan, Oklahoma and USC (16), Ohio State (12), Nebraska and Pittsburgh (11), Princeton and Yale (8).
System No. 2: Two Wire Service Polls
The Associated Press poll began in 1936, and the United Press International (UPI) — now known as the USA Today/ESPN Coaches’ poll — sprung up in 1950. They became the mainstays of national title recognition by the NCAA.
However, until 1968 with the AP and 1974 with the UPI, bowl games did not factor into the equation (except in 1965 for the AP). Notre Dame did not go to bowl games from 1925 through 1968 in great part because bowl games had no bearing on the national title. The 1966 Notre Dame squad didn’t have to play in a bowl to be voted the consensus national champ.
The year after the AP started voting after bowl games, Notre Dame returned to the bowl scene for the first time in 45 years.
Consequently, Texas can claim a national title in 1970 even though it lost 24-11 to Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl. That's because the UPI, unlike the AP, awarded national titles prior to the bowl games. The Longhorns finished the 1970 regular season ranked No. 1 in the UPI. This practice by the UPI ceased in 1974.
Thus, Alabama also was the 1973 UPI national champion — even though it lost to Notre Dame, 24-23, in the Sugar Bowl. Because the AP did vote after bowls, Notre Dame was the AP champion. It also was awarded the Grantland Rice Award (Football Writers Association of America) and The MacArthur Bowl (National Football Foundation & Hall of Fame), both emblematic of national titles as recognized by the NCAA. Notre Dame’s national title was deemed “consensus.” Alabama's was not.
However, Alabama still has the right to proclaim 1973 as a "national championship season" because of the UPI. The Crimson Tide also claimed the 1964 national title — both AP and UPI — even though it lost 21-17 to Texas in the Orange Bowl. Again, neither the AP nor UPI voted after bowls back then, so it’s almost like the bowl games were glorified exhibitions.
The Top 10 national champions in the AP and the USA Today/ESPN Coaches poll (formerly UPI) are: Alabama (9, eight with AP and the 1973 vote with UPI) Notre Dame (8), USC and Oklahoma (7), Miami, Nebraska and Ohio State (5), Texas and Minnesota (4), Florida and LSU (3), Florida State, Michigan, Penn State, Pittsburgh, Army, Tennessee and Auburn (2).
System No. 3: The Big Four
Two other entities eventually joined the AP, and USA Today/ESPN/Coaches poll (formerly UPI) as the four that are officially recognized by the NCAA when it comes to awarding national titles.
Since 1954, The Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) has presented the Grantland Rice Award. And since 1959, The National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame has awarded the MacArthur Bowl.
Since 1971, both of these organizations have had the same consensus champion as the AP or coaches poll, but there were exceptions prior to that:
• The Football Writers Association of America in 1970 awarded the MacArthur Bowl to Ohio State — even though the Buckeyes lost 27-17 to Stanford in the Rose Bowl.
• In 1964, Notre Dame was presented the MacArthur Bowl — despite the controversial season-ending loss to USC. As with Ohio State in 1970, this is not recognized as a consensus title but as a share of one.
• In fact, in 1964 the AP and UPI voted Alabama No. 1, the MacArthur Bowl was earned by Notre Dame, and the FWAA awarded it to unbeaten Arkansas, which unlike the Crimson Tide and Irish, finished unbeaten.
However, Alabama was considered the consensus champ while Notre Dame and Arkansas could claim a share of the national title. Arkansas celebrates 1964 as a “national title year” in its football media guide, whereas Notre Dame does not because it’s not “consensus.”
So when you use “The Big Four” from the NCAA, Notre Dame ties Alabama with nine apiece because of the 1964 MacArthur Bowl that was awarded to the Irish. However, Notre Dame has not recognized that as a “consensus” title, thereby only adding the ones under Knute Rockne from 1924, 1929 and 1930 to the eight others since 1943. If it wanted to, it could publicize as many as 21 — just as Alabama does with its “15.” The Crimson Tide can even take it up to 18 if it wants.
Whatever system or spin doctoring one chooses, Notre Dame still has the most national titles since the start of the 20th century.
Right now, all that matters is winning a 9th or 10th …13th … or 22nd … or however you want to define it, on Jan. 7.