|West Virginia’s Elite Eleven|
|No. 9, 2007 (11-2)|
|No. 11, 2005 (11-1)|
|No. 3, 1993 (11-1)|
|No. 7, 1988 (11-1)|
|No. 10, 1982 (9-3)|
|No. 12, 1954 (8-1)|
|No. 10, 1953 (8-2)|
|No. 9, 1925 (8-1)|
|No. 7, 1924 (8-1)|
|No. 9, 1923 (7-1-1)|
|No. 8, 1922 (10-0-1)|
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Leave it to the Signal Caller to glaze our eyes over with some summertime math and a Roger Bruns counterfactual history reference!
Yesterday, our Jed Drenning sorted through all of the College Football Playoff, BCS, Bowl Coalition and Associated Press polls dating back to 1936 to come up with the West Virginia teams good enough to qualify for a 12-team College Football Playoff, which is under discussion in Chicago right now by the College Football Playoff management committee.
For a quick refresher, the proposed format includes the six highest-ranked conference champions, plus the next six-highest ranked teams, with the top four conference champs receiving first-round byes.
Teams ranked five through eight would host first-round playoff games, meaning No. 5 would face No. 12, No. 6 would meet No. 11 and so on.
Based on the Signal Caller’s summer ciphering, since 1936, West Virginia would have had seven teams qualify for the playoffs – all of them occurring from 1953 on. Jed had Pappy Lewis’ 1953 and 1954 squads playoff bound, as well as Don Nehlen’s 1982, 1988 and 1993 teams.
Rich Rodriguez’s two best ball clubs in 2005 and 2007 would have also made a 12-team College Football Playoff.
In the Close-But-No-Cigar category were Rich’s 2006 and 2002 teams, plus Bill Stewart’s 2009 squad. Actually, you could also add Lewis’ 1955 team in there as well. The Mountaineers feasted on a weak schedule to get to No. 6 in the Nov. 7 AP poll before getting blown out at Pitt, 26-7.
That’s the game when the Sugar Bowl selection committee flew to Pittsburgh to scout West Virginia and ended up taking the Panthers instead. Near the end of the game, when fullback Joe Marconi had to weave through some inebriated Pitt fans to score WVU’s only touchdown, referee John H. Coles awarded the Mountaineers the extra point in order to get the two teams safely off the field.
Pitt assistant coach Steve Petro was enraged with Coles’ decision because he didn’t want to concede the point, which illustrates just how much these two teams hated each other back then.
From the late 1920s, after Clarence Spears left West Virginia for Minnesota, until Lewis in the early 1950s, there were some very lean years on the gridiron for the Mountaineers. The 1948 and 1937 teams were Sun Bowl champions, but neither were respected enough by national sportswriters to earn top 20 consideration.
Prior to the adoption of the Associated Press Poll in 1936, Rat Rodgers’ 1928 squad would have been good enough to crack the polls. That’s the team that upset Jock Sutherland’s Pitt Panthers in Pittsburgh and finished with an 8-2 record – its two losses being shutout defeats to Davis & Elkins and Georgetown.
The website TipTop25.com ranked that Mountaineer squad 25th in the country, one spot behind the Panthers.
Nevertheless, four West Virginia teams in the early 1920s would have been good enough to make a 12-team college football playoff, based on William Boand’s mathematical college football rankings. For years, Boand’s Azzi Ratem system was published in Football News and is still recognized by the NCAA as the national championship selector for its official record book.
Boand supposedly combined the best parts of other mathematical systems with the opinions of prominent coaches Knute Rockne, Howard Jones and Pop Warner, among others, to formulate his ratings.
So, based on Boand’s Azzi Ratem system, Doc Spears’ 1922, 1923 and 1924 teams would have qualified for the playoffs, as well as the 1925 team that Spears left Rat Rodgers when he departed for Minnesota.
The 1922 Mountaineer squad that defeated Gonzaga in the East-West Bowl in San Diego was just a 12-12 tie to Washington & Lee away from perfection. That’s the game Spears decided to skip and let Rodgers coach while he scouted week-five opponent Rutgers.
Based on the 12-team playoff formula currently under discussion, West Virginia would have earned a No. 8 seeding for the playoffs that year and would have hosted Big Ten runner-up Michigan at 15,000-seat “Splinter Stadium” in the area where the Mountainlair now sits.
We can only imagine how much complaining Fielding Yost would have done if he had to bring his esteemed Wolverines to Morgantown, West Virginia, for a college football playoff game!
The four byes that year would have been conference champs Cal (Pacific Coast), Iowa (Big Ten), Vanderbilt (Southern) and Nebraska (Missouri Valley).
In addition to the West Virginia-Michigan game, the rest of the playoff field in 1922 would have been comprised of No. 5 Princeton hosting No. 12 Pitt, No. 6 Cornell hosting No. 11 Harvard and No. 7 Army hosting No. 10 Notre Dame.
Spears’ 1923 WVU team that defeated Pitt and tied Penn State at Yankee Stadium in New York City just missed earning an invitation to the Rose Bowl when it lost its Thanksgiving Day game in ankle-deep mud to Washington & Jefferson in Morgantown.
Yost was actually in attendance and supposedly offered Spears some post-game critiquing, which Spears did not take too kindly. That’s also the game when Mountaineer fans were asked to donate money for the new football stadium, but most of the hand-written pledges had to be discarded because the soggy conditions had rendered them illegible!
Despite this stinging defeat, WVU would have made it into the playoffs as a No. 9 seed and would have faced Knute Rockne’s Fighting Irish on the road in a first-round matchup.
The four byes that year would have been Illinois (Big Ten), Cal (Pacific Coast), SMU (Southwest Conference) and Kansas (Missouri Valley).
The other first-round matchups would have pitted No. 5 Yale against No. 12 Texas, No. 6 Michigan against No. 11 Syracuse and No. 7 Cornell against No. 10 Chicago.
Spears’ 1924 Mountaineer squad was his strongest, and ranks right there with Don Nehlen’s 1988 and Rich Rodriguez’s 2007 teams as the best in school history. That team outscored its opponents, 282-48, for the season, and was just a 14-7 loss at Pitt away from perfection.
A 40-7 rout of Washington & Jefferson (ranked 15th by Boand) in Morgantown in the regular-season finale would have given the Mountaineers plenty of momentum heading into the playoffs.
Boand ranked West Virginia fourth, but the ’24 Mountaineers would have moved down to No. 7 because of its independence. The top four seeds would have been conference champs Cal (Pacific Coast), Illinois (Big Ten), Alabama (Southern) and Missouri (Missouri Valley).
West Virginia would have hosted John McEwan’s No. 10 Army Cadets in Morgantown in a first-round playoff game. This contest would have taken place in 33,000-seat Mountaineer Field, although the official dedication game for the new stadium didn’t occur until Nov. 14, 1925, when the Mountaineers toppled Penn State, 14-0.
The other playoff games that season would have pitted No. 5 Notre Dame versus No. 12 USC, No. 6 Yale against No. 11 Centre College, and No. 8 Penn versus No. 9 Stanford.
West Virginia’s final pre-1936 playoff team would have occurred in 1925.
Despite athletic director Harry Stansbury’s offer to triple Spears’ salary to $15,000 – some $236,000 in today’s dollars – Spears chose instead to accept Minnesota’s offer to coach the Golden Gophers. Stansbury promoted Rodgers to head coach, and fortified by Spears’ players, the Mountaineers won eight of nine games with their lone loss coming against Pitt in Pitt Stadium.
West Virginia finished the season with a flourish, blanking Boston College, 20-0, at Braves Field, topping Penn State, 14-0, in the stadium dedication game, and whitewashing arch-rival Washington & Jefferson, 19-0, to conclude the regular season. The Mountaineers posted seven shutouts and allowed their opponents to score only 18 points for the entire season!
That would have been good enough to earn WVU a No. 9 seeding in a 12-team playoff and the Mountaineers’ great season-ending flourish would have been rewarded with a long train ride out to Palo Alto, California, to face eighth-seeded Stanford.
The four byes in 1925 would have been conference champions Alabama (Southern), Michigan (Big Ten), Washington (Pacific Coast) and Missouri (Missouri Valley).
The other playoff games would have pitted No. 5 Pitt against No. 12 USC, No. 6 Dartmouth versus No. 11 Texas A&M and No. 7 Tulane vs. No. 10 Wisconsin.
In the Close-But-No-Cigar category was Mont McIntire’s 1919 team, led by consensus All-American Rat Rodgers. WVU won eight of 10 games that season, including noteworthy victories over Princeton and Washington & Jefferson, but the two defeats at Pitt and to Centre College at Laidley Field in Charleston would have kept the Mountaineers just outside the top 12 at No. 13.
The top 12 that season included Illinois, Harvard, Notre Dame, Centre, Texas A&M, Penn State, Alabama, Auburn, Ohio State, Pitt, Dartmouth and Vanderbilt.
McIntire’s 1917 squad that upset Navy, famously ending coach Gil Dobie’s 64-game unbeaten streak, would have fallen six spots outside the top 12, according to TipTop25.com. West Virginia’s three blemishes that season were to No. 2 Pitt, to 5-3 Dartmouth and a 20-0 upset loss to West Virginia Wesleyan at Norwood Park in Clarksburg.
The Mountaineers also tied No. 6 Rutgers, 7-7, at Neilson Field in New Brunswick, New Jersey, in perhaps one of the wildest and wackiest seasons in school history!