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.



July 31st, 2012 at 11:25 PM ^

What Bo talked about was not being given the opportunity to PLAY in the Rose Bowl—that's all. Trying to rectify that injustice by giving him something that his team didn't earn would piss him off.

Bo NEVER claimed—NOT ONCE—NOT EVER—that Michigan should have been awarded the national championship for that season.

If Bo didn't try to claim it, why should we, 40 years later?

Yost Ghost

August 1st, 2012 at 12:23 AM ^

injustice that I spoke of was not about Bo getting a title but being denied the opportunity to earn it on the gridiron. No one can give Bo the one game he spent years wishing he could have played, the game vs. USC in the 1974 Rose Bowl. Judging by what Ohio did to the Trojans threre's no doubt in my mind that UM would have perfomed similarly. We can't give Bo that matchup but we can do the next best thing. We can legitimize what the Poling System and National Championship Foundation considered as National Champs that year. We can give Bo the title that his storied career deserves and that he was denied from realizing.


August 1st, 2012 at 11:39 AM ^

Because there was no National Championship game to play in. It was still going to be the polls.  And he wasn't denied it by not playing it in the Rose Bowl, but by tying Ohio State.  If he wanted both, he needed to beat Ohio State. Ohio State went on to win the Rose Bowl and they don't claim it. Why would Bo and Michigan?  It's sad that he never got things to all come together for an undefeated season, and such a great career is missing that.  But he wasn't denied it...he just never accomplished it.  And it make one up for him is kinda insulting to his actual career accomplishments.

Yost Ghost

August 1st, 2012 at 11:37 PM ^

well taken. The MNC back then was determined by regular season performance alone. Bowl performance played no part. Not sure what the logic was behind that decision. Since ND & Bama were undefeated after their regular season they split the MNC. OSU and UM, although undefeated, each had a number in that third column that ND & Bama didn't have. However based on ND common opponents, the Bama loss and the fact that UM outplayed Ohio I think UM deserved the MNC.

Wolverine Devotee

July 31st, 2012 at 11:26 PM ^

Let's not forget alabama's CLASSIC claim of the 1941 title. They went 8-2-0, didn't win the SEC, finished ranked #20 with several other SEC teams ranked ahead of them. Losses to vandy and mississippi state........yet they're national champs.

Someone with a functioning brain not wearing an alabama jersey and overalls wanna give me an explanation?

Wolverine Devotee

July 31st, 2012 at 10:40 PM ^

Michigan claims the 1903 national title, where they went 11-0-1 and princeton went 11-0-0.

Michigan also claims the 1933 national title where they went 7-0-1, and Fritz Crisler's prinecton tigers went 9-0-0.


July 31st, 2012 at 10:41 PM ^

Im with you. Alabama claiming it with a loss to ND kind of pisses me off in an unreasonable mgo kind of way. It doesnt even make sense. How do they argue it i wonder? I mean can anyone just declare themselves national champions?


July 31st, 2012 at 11:14 PM ^

You can be undefeated with a tie, because you weren't defeated....
Besides, a tie against the #1 team in the nation seems more prestigious than playing Army, Navy, Air Force, and Rice....


July 31st, 2012 at 10:28 PM ^

If we wanted to claim it, it should have been done in 1974, regardless of USC and Aabama's choices. As for Bo's legacy, anyone that cares to look can already see that some people considered Michigan the top team in 1973, recognizing it in a program or on a wall forty years after the fact won't change anything.

Still, good info in the OP and it seems like a well thought out question.


July 31st, 2012 at 10:35 PM ^

Didn't we have like 2 or 3 FG's miss against OSU and one that might have been good, but was way over the sidebars so you couldn't tell if it was in or not?

And we have way more claim than Alabama (I wish the National Media would call them out on their fraud titles), but we don't have a Bowl Game. What if we had lost the Rose Bowl?


July 31st, 2012 at 10:58 PM ^

I remember Lantry's missed FGs.

Lantry inspired me to try place kicking.  I lived out in the country, so rather than kicking through uprights I marked out yards in a field and kicked up against the side of the barn.  My best was 37 yards.  I wore Timberland boots.

M Fanfare

July 31st, 2012 at 11:29 PM ^

Yeah, Lantry missed two FGs in the 10-10 tie, one that barely missed from 58 (!) yards, and another inside the final minute from 45 yards.

The one that's disputed whether it was good or not because it was kicked so high came at the end of the 1974 Ohio game, a 12-10 Michigan loss. He actually got a lot of letters from Ohio fans telling him they were glad to win but that they thought the refs blew the call.


July 31st, 2012 at 10:38 PM ^

I didn't know all of that and not sure why we didn't claim it at the time. Since we didn't I guess we shouldn't, but who or how would it have been claimed? Maybe Bo was so upset he said no if he was asked.


July 31st, 2012 at 10:42 PM ^

The only argument, in my mind, is whether it is betraying his wishes to claim it after knowing he wanted no part of it!  It was a bitter pill to swallow ( the Big Ten presidents pick of OHIO) and they changed the rules to late on that one.

Monocle Smile

July 31st, 2012 at 10:47 PM ^

I think it's bullshit how Sparty parades ALL of their shared titles like outright titles when most (if not all) of them were hotly contested and not jokes like '97 Michigan-Nebraska.

1973 is over and we didn't even have the best record anyway. It probably shouldn't go to Alabama, but Michigan is out of the running.

This is probably the best discussion thread in a month, though. Props.

turd ferguson

July 31st, 2012 at 10:45 PM ^

My answer to your question is "I don't know," but I think this is a really interesting, fun, well constructed post.  (Thank you.)

Didn't we have a key injury in 1973, which was part of the justification for sending OSU (that they'd be full strength and therefore maybe a stronger team in the Rose Bowl)?

Also, it's funny that college football has been this incapable of resolving this kind of thing for so long... and yet only recently have we moved toward a playoff or at least #1 vs. #2 national championship game.


July 31st, 2012 at 11:19 PM ^

I watched every home game of Dennis Franklin's career from '72 through '74. While I'm sure that Larry Cipa would have given it everything he had if Michigan had played in that Rose Bowl, he compared to Dennis Franklin in the same way that Pat Sheridan compares to Denard Robinson.


July 31st, 2012 at 10:57 PM ^

Undefeated Notre Dame beat the consensus #1 team (Alabama) in the Sugar Bowl. ND was the only undefeated, untied team in the country when the smoke cleared, and to try to contest their NC is frankly pathetic, whether by Alabama or Michigan.

I was at the 10-10 tie, and while we should have won the game, we didn't. Blaming it all on MIke Lantry unfairly absolves all the other players of their failures to get the extra yard, the additional first down, the winning touchdown.

Bo would be embarrassed by these retroactive attempts to give him something that he didn't win on the field. His legacy is unassailable on its own merits. Leave it be.


August 1st, 2012 at 3:37 AM ^

I agree with this. Notre Dame was the only team that won every game they played that season, including a victory over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. (For those wondering how Alabama wound up with a claim to begin with, at the time the Coaches cast their final vote before the bowl games. I cannot attempt to explain why Alabama claims this title, but that is how they ended up #1 in a poll.)

It's certainly an interesting discussion, but at the end of the day, IMO Notre Dame was clearly the National Champion in 1973. And they would have been even if Michigan went to the Rose Bowl and destroyed USC.

If we want to give Bo a National Championship, I think his 1985 team might have as good a claim as the 73 team. (To be clear, I'm not saying the 85 team was better than the 73 team...) That was the only time he finished ranked #2 in the polls. Our only loss was that famous 1 vs. 2 game in Iowa, along with the godforsaken 3-3 tie in Illinois(I can still see White's fumble when I close my eyes.). Oklahoma was selected National Champion by virtually every selector that season, but unlike Notre Dame in 73, they had a loss - at home, to Miami, by 13 points. They won the title by beating the only remaining undefeated team, Penn State, in the Orange Bowl.

If you want to do the common opponent comparison thing, there were two: Minnesota and Nebraska. Oklahoma barely beat Minnesota 13-7, while Michigan destroyed Minnesota 48-7, both in Minnesota. Oklahoma beat Nebraska 27-7 at home while Michigan beat them 27-23 in the Fiesta Bowl.

I'm not saying they should claim the title in 1985, but I think it'd be as legitimate a discussion as the hypothetical 1973 title.


July 31st, 2012 at 11:03 PM ^

Up until that year, Big 10 teams could not go to the Rose Bowl in consecutive years - a Big 10 rule. Since OSU had gone the year before, people expected UM to be voted in (despite the end of the consecutive years rule). There was a prevailing idea that it was UM's turn.

UM's star QB Dennis Franklin broke his collarbone in the game, and this supposedly played a role in swinging votes to OSU, as they would be better prepared for the Rose Bowl.

MSU's athletic director voted for OSU.


July 31st, 2012 at 11:07 PM ^

How did both ND and ourselves have such weak schedules? We only beat 2 teams with winning records that year. I guess it was before everyone in our conference started the year with 3 or 4 cupcakes though.