Should Michigan claim their 1973 national title?

Submitted by Wolverine Devotee on July 31st, 2012 at 10:21 PM

I got the idea for this topic from a discussion on my 1973 video of The Game I posted here awhile ago.

Michigan had an undefeated season in 1973 finishing 10-0-1 with their 3rd straight Big Ten title. The only blemish was a 10-10 tie with ohio. To determine who would go to the Rose Bowl, the Big Ten athletic directors voted in favor ohio 6-4 to represent the conference in the Rose Bowl, despite going the year before. Bo was furious and in many on-video interviews in his book he said he'll never forget or forgive the ADs who voted against Michigan. While ohio took a 10-0 halftime lead in The Game, Michigan stormed back in the second half to tie the game 10-10.

There were four schools selected as national champions in 1973, and only two of them claim it. ND & Alabama both claim titles while Michigan and ohio don't claim theirs. Michigan was selected by the Polling System and the National Championship Foundation.

Before you criticize the NCF as a BS selector, Michigan claims two titles with NCF as the sole selector.

1973 is one of Alabama's most fraudulent titles. They claim the national title with a record of 11-1-0. Their only loss? To undefeated ND in the Sugar Bowl that season.

So let's put alabama out of the discussion. Michigan and ND resumed playing in 1978. Let's compare schedules of Michigan and ND with their opponents records being taken into consideration.

                            Michigan's 1973 Schedule

Date Opponent Result Opp. Record
9/15 at Iowa W 31-7 0-11-0
9/22 vs Stanford W 47-10 7-4-0
9/29 vs Navy W 14-0 2-9-0
10/6 vs Oregon W 24-0 2-9-0
10/13 at State W 31-0 5-6-0
10/20 vs Wisconsin W 35-6 4-7-0
10/27 at Minnesota W 34-7 7-4-0
11/3 vs Indiana W 49-13 2-9-0
11/10 vs Illinois W 21-6 5-6-0
11/17 at Purdue W 34-9 5-6-0
11/24 vs #1 Ohio T 10-10 10-0-1

                             ND's 1973 Schedule

Date Opponent Result Opp. Record
9/22 vs Northwestern W 44-0 4-7-0
9/29 at Purdue W 20-7 5-6-0
10/6 vs State W 14-10 5-6-0
10/13 at Rice W 28-0 5-6-0
10/20 at Army W 62-3 0-10-0
10/27 vs #6 USC W 23-14 9-2-1
11/3 vs Navy W 44-7 2-9-0
11/10 at Pitt W 31-10 6-5-1
11/22 vs Air Force W 48-15 6-4-0
12/1 at Miami W 44-0 5-6-0
12/31 Alabama (Sugar Bowl) W 24-23 11-1-0

There are 3 comparisons you can make with both Michigan and ND in 1973. The games in bold both teams share as common opponents.

  • ND struggled with a state team with a losing record at home, while Michigan, blew them out on the road.
  • ND beat purdue on the road by only 13 while Michigan demolished purdue on the road
  • Michigan shut out but didn't have the most dazzling offensive performance against navy while ND put up 44.

Michigan wins the common opponent comparison 2-1. Michigan clearly had the more dominating defense not letting one opponent score above 20 points.

That comes to the million dollar question. Based on the information given, and the fact that Bo Schembechler deserves a national title added to his legacy, should Michigan go and claim it?

It wouldn't be the first time a team went back and claimed a title. In 2004, USC went back and claimed the 1939 national title.

Another thing I just realized is, Dave Brandon may also be pretty interested in this proposal not only due to the facts, but the fact that he would have played on a national championship team.


Wolverine Devotee

July 31st, 2012 at 11:23 PM ^

Well, that time period the conference was known as the "Big 2 and Little 8". So Michigan didn't have a choice, they had to play their conference foes. Michigan's non-conference featured major conference teams with one "cupcake" in Navy.

ND's entire schedule was up to them. Michigan was forced to play crap teams by the conference.


July 31st, 2012 at 11:11 PM ^

Kudos to the OP.  Because this is the most thought provoking post I have seen in a long time.  I have to agree...i am not big on 'claiming' titles...but this one has merit. 


July 31st, 2012 at 11:16 PM ^

Ohio does it... in '61 they were 8-0-1 and Bama was 11-0. Same with '70 when they went 10-1 and lost in the Rose Bowl to Stanford (Nebraska went 10-0-1 and Arizona State went 11-0)...

Their loss was to a three loss Stanford team by 10 pts. Nebraskas Tie was @USC in September of that year...they beat LSU in the Orange Bowl. It wasnt a good season for USC that year either... but a loss by 10 is not the same as even a tie.



July 31st, 2012 at 11:16 PM ^

Ohio does it... in '61 they were 8-0-1 and Bama was 11-0. Same with '70 when they went 10-1 and lost in the Rose Bowl to Stanford (Nebraska went 10-0-1 and Arizona State went 11-0)...

Their loss was to a three loss Stanford team by 10 pts. Nebraskas Tie was @USC in September of that year...they beat LSU in the Orange Bowl. It wasnt a good season for USC that year either... but a loss by 10 is not the same as even a tie.



July 31st, 2012 at 11:54 PM ^

*Ohio State


** Seriously, even though I knew there was a 99% chance that's who you meant, if you're going to talk in historic terms (especially about things that occured decades (!) before many of us were born), why leave in ambiguity?

*** The "Ohio" thing seems played out to me (JUST ONE MAN'S OPINION!!!).  It'd be a lot more funny if we used it as a mocking term.  Instead, when we use it as the "official" term for OSU it just seems like we're mindless followers of Hoke's antiquated mindset.  I guess there's nothing wrong with that - it just seems, I don't know, lame.  If we're mocking them, I'm all for rivalry-driven jesting.  But this movement to call Ohio State "Ohio" when there is actually a school named Ohio is a little childless.  TO ME! JME!


July 31st, 2012 at 11:54 PM ^

Honestly, I'd go to the players on this one. If they want Michigan to claim it, it should be claimed. 

However, the NCF title that year was shared between Michigan, ohio, and ND. Recognizing this title also establishes the precedent that ohio should recognize theirs.


August 1st, 2012 at 12:10 AM ^

I won't comment on claiming the title but this is an interesting topic. 

Poor Mike Lantry.  He was robbed the following year against OSU (and surprisingly got a ton of letters from Buckeye fans telling him he was robbed) but in the '73 game, he had 2 tries in a game that Michigan won the statistic battle. 

We had 303 total yards to OSU's 224.  99 passing yards to none for OSU and 16 first downs to OSU's 9.  In the UM/OSU history DVD, I had to roll my eyes when Archie Griffin mentioned how disappointing the final outcome was when in fact, the bucks were extremely fortunate just to get out of this game with the tie at all.  

It is interesting to hear that Notre Dame had so much trouble with Sparty that season, barely winning by 4 points.  When we played them in East Lansing, the majority of the game was played in a driving rainstorm and by all accounts, it wasn't one of our best games yet we still won 31-0.  And that ass kicking was still on the minds of Spartan nation when they cast the vote against us to go to the Rose Bowl.  

It's interesting to note from books and interviews with Bo, he outwardly claimed (and I believe this was the only time he ever speculated a 'what if' game) that had we gone to Pasadena, we would have killed USC.  His exact words were, "We would have killed them."  They had a great record but according to Bo, it was one of their weaker teams and OSU ended up having the pleasure of pounding them 42-21 in the Rose Bowl. 

Had fate been nicer to Lantry, I could see the 1973 final polls be much like 1948 with us and Notre Dame as co-national champs.  And I guess you could throw Bama in there since they like to claim titles no matter what actually happens on the field.

Even though I wasn't alive yet to see all this unfold, I often think of what players of the 1973 team feel these days when 6-6 teams qualify for bowl games.  They were 10-0-1 and got NOTHING.  Teams ranked below them played in bowls while they were home for the holidays.  I would have been livid.

Blue in Seattle

August 1st, 2012 at 2:08 PM ^

There efforts LEAD to a change in the Big Ten rules for 1975, with Michigan being the first non-Big Ten Champion to go to a bowl game.


Among the changes that were made in the Big Ten Conference were the abolishment of the archaic "Rose Bowl or No Bowl" rule. This would allow conference teams other than the champion to accept invitations to other bowls. Michigan would be the first team to receive such an invite, to the Orange Bowl following the 1975 season. Another change, which also took effect in 1975, was the dropping of the athletic directors' vote in the event of a tie for the championship. The new rule stated the team which had gone the longest without appearing in the Rose Bowl would go to Pasadena. Schembechler had pushed for that reform, claiming that the athletic directors were not qualified to decide which team would better represent the conference in the Rose Bowl.[5]


So, let's not change or claim anything.  We have what we fought for and earned.  Wrongs have been righted. 

In my opinion, Bo never put much emphasis on being the National Championship, since it was by populist vote.  Thus a reward that could not be earned. Of course, Bo and Woody's 10 Year War was helped by the emerging focus of TV Media toward football.  Televising games had started much earlier, but 1969 was the year that Monday Night Football was tried, and became a "viral" success.  This TV growth fuled Bowl Game growth.  Voting for National Champion occurred before bowl games initially, because they were vacations given as rewards to a select few Football Teams who were always very popular.  They weren't a playoff, they were a "show".  In the case of the Rose Bowl, it was an add on event to a Rose Festival who's primary show was a parade.  TV changed all of that.

And Bo was the first to be provided a reward for his team when the rules changed.

I dont' care how many beauty contests Alabama wants to claim, they are not the Leaders and Best.


The Barwis Effect

August 1st, 2012 at 12:05 AM ^

Courtesy of Greg Dooley over at MVictors:


If you are curious, here are a few unclaimed national titles Michigan can go after–so someone email Dave Brandon and tell him to get crackin’:


1910: Billingsley
1925: Sagarin <—you could argue this was Yost’s best team
1964: Dunkel
1973: National Championship Foundation, Poling
1985: Matthews, Sagarin


Ball Hawk

August 1st, 2012 at 12:07 AM ^

Michigan shouldnt claim that title. Who cares about Alabama or Ohio claimed. ND should be the only team to claim it. As Don has stated, its really amazing that after a 100 years of football, the NCAA still has not found a solution to this problem. You cannot have four teams claiming the title. March Madness playoff style is the only way to legitimize who is number 1. We will never go to that simply because of too many games to play and because some never want to say goodbye to the e games


August 1st, 2012 at 9:16 AM ^

Is that they de-emphasize the regular season. 

It doesn't become who is the best team overall, it becomes, who is the best team right now

Admittedly it is, in my opinion, more fair than subjective journalist and coaches polls combined with computer rankings whose methods are kept behind closed doors and subject to who knows what.


August 1st, 2012 at 12:33 AM ^

The battle for irrelevant stats.  ND posted 3 shutouts, UM 2.  ND scored 40+ points in 5 games, UM 2.  Beating ranked teams: UM tied OhioSt.  ND beat 2 top10 teams.  UM had a tie, ND unbeaten and untied.  Oklahoma has more claim to the title than UM, they beat 6 Top25 teams that year and also only had 1 tie, that to USC.  PennSt was also undefeated.


August 1st, 2012 at 12:45 AM ^

I doubt it was a split NC given that ND beat Alabama! Michigan should have beaten OSU at home! Too bad Franklin broke his collar bone, otherwise Michigan would have went to the Rosebowl. Though, Michigan had trouble beating PAC 8 teams in the Rosebowl during the 70s, even though IMO, they had better teams. I don't think we should claim any share of the national championship that year and there is no way Alabama should be claiming # 1! ND looks to be the number 1 team. They were undefeated and they beat the number formerly #1 ranked team.


August 1st, 2012 at 12:47 AM ^

Michigan has always had multiple authorities declaring us champions, never just the NCF (

Additionally, by 1973, the AP had not only existed for over 35 years but had been established as the premier decider of national champions (along with a coaches poll after 1950). Our three national championships after 1936, when the AP was established, are all recognized by the AP. As a result, we don't look like Alabama--we have claimed only titles for which we have a very good claim. (According to Wikipedia, College Football Data Warehouse also lists 11 NCs for Michigan, based on their decisions of who the 1-2 top championship selectors are for different periods of time).


August 1st, 2012 at 12:51 AM ^

As a note to why Alabama claimed the 1973 championship, they were the Coaches' Poll Champions--it wasn't until 1974 that the coaches final poll was after the bowl games.

So, clearly ND deserves it more, but I think we would have claimed it, too, if we were in Alabama's place.


August 1st, 2012 at 1:36 AM ^

that I just cannot imagine a scenario where Bo would allow the title to be claimed with a game left on the schedule. This isn't like the Big Ten where you can mathematically with the conference two weeks before the season ends, it's a subjective measure of strength that would be affected by the outcome of the Rose Bowl (Sugar Bowl in Alabama's case).

Imagine if VT last year had claimed they were the best team in the country before we played them, or Florida in 2008, or us before USC in 2006. It's just not a smart practice.


August 1st, 2012 at 2:35 AM ^

Of course Michigan would have claimed it. It was the last poll of the season for the UPI. They weren't the first team to lose their bowl game AFTER being declared national champions.

Does Michigan claim the 1947 title based off an unofficial post-bowl vote with only ND and Michigan on the ballot? That's much more sketchy than Alabama claiming a championship based on the rules of the time.


August 1st, 2012 at 1:04 AM ^

Larry Cipa was a good QB, not a Sheridan. He led M on famous '71 winning drive against that school down south. Played 2 or 3 years in NFL with Saints, starting several games. Cipa was no Sheridan.


August 1st, 2012 at 1:17 AM ^

This should be bumped to at least a diary, and perhaps the front page.

I think it's a fun discussion to have as long as Michigan doesn't actually do it--the optics of going back and claiming old titles are incredibly bad.


August 1st, 2012 at 2:28 AM ^

Ohio State and Michigan both finish undefeated with the one tie in 1973. Ohio State goes to the Rose Bowl, whips USC by 21, finishes 2nd in the only poll conducted after the bowl games (AP), and MICHIGAN is the team that should claim a national title for that season.

This isn't really debatable. If the team that won the Rose Bowl with a similar record isn't claiming a championship, why should the team that didn't play in the game do so. It's like a retroactive sour grapes award.

Bill in Birmingham

August 1st, 2012 at 5:24 AM ^

That was a great, great team. It was the team that got me started being a Michigan fan. But let's not be Alabama and start inventing national championships. Every time I see a "Got 14?" bumper sticker (representing the MNC's Alabama claims), I want to vomit.


August 1st, 2012 at 10:32 AM ^

Interesting post. What I find most intriguing about this topic is the inconsistency of the national championship over the history of college football. If you look back at the record books, it's astounding how many different polls/sources there were and how many different national champions they proclaimed every year (because, of course, they didn't play one another). Even more interesting is which ones each school claims as legitimate national championships and which ones they don't--it's totally inconsistent.

Bitch all you want about the current BCS or the impending playoff system, but these are WAY better than the old methods.


August 1st, 2012 at 12:25 PM ^

MSU has 6 NC. not a single one of them is undisputed. 


Edit: Michigan has gone undefeated in 12 seasons that are not cliamed NC. Seems like we should claim some of those !


August 1st, 2012 at 5:00 PM ^

We should have claimed it as part of stadium renovations like Ohio did. Paint the years of national titles on the luxury boxes appropriately and throw in 1973 and 1985 too. So dignified.


August 1st, 2012 at 5:21 PM ^

Claim a National Championship from a less recognized polling service?  Sounds a little too Sparty to me.

And while, yes, Michigan does claim National Championships from the NCF, those were all earned before 1947, when there was no one or two polls that were universally recognized as awarding the legitimate MNC.