COUNTERPOINT: Should LSU Administration Claim 1908 National Championship?

Yesterday, we said that yes, LSU should claim the 1908 national championship. There is ample reason to do so.

But it cannot be that big of a slam dunk in the affirmative if LSU has not officially put it in its record books. There have to be reasons as to why 1908 isn’t on a banner along with 1958, 2003, 2007, and 2019.

Read much more about the 1908 season here.

One reason many Tiger fans do not want to see 1908 become a part of championship history is because our buddies in Tuscaloosa have written the book on claiming retroactive titles. Not that the NCAA recognizes a Tide championship in 1941, but the most glaring example of what Alabama does to accrue titles–and probably the biggest butt of the joke–is from that year.

Bama claims the 1941 championship–using the “Houlgate” rating system. The Tide went 9-2, finished third in the SEC, and 20th in the AP poll.

But Deke Houlgate said so, so Bama claims it.

This is why many Tiger fans are content with four championships. We’ve finally beaten Bama. No need to be them.

Incidentally, Mr Houlgate did not award his 1908 championship to LSU, in case you were wondering.

Truth be told, if LSU were to base its championship claims on various polls, we would be talking more than just five titles. A look at 1935, 1936, and 2011 shows that LSU, if it were like Bama, could claim those titles as well.

And some may argue even more than that.

In 1935, Williamson, one of the 13 selectors the NCAA recognizes as official, named LSU a co-national champion.

In 1936, LSU was undefeated in the regular season and recorded shutouts in five of its final six games. It outscored opponents 281-34. They did lose in the Sugar Bowl, but the NCAA-recognized champ that year, Minnesota, played only eight games, didn’t win its conference, was shut out by Northwestern, and didn’t play in a bowl game.

LSU’s claim for 1936 appears far more legitimate than Minnesota’s.

And who could forget about 2011?

In perhaps the greatest season in Tiger history not dated 2019, LSU went 13-1, won the SEC, and beat Alabama in the regular season. Same thing it did in 2003.

The Tigers put up the most impressive resume of any team in the BCS era in 2011. They defeated five teams with at least 10 wins. They beat three teams that went on to play in BCS bowl games. And they became the first and only team to score a perfect 1.000 in the final BCS standings since the format was adopted in 2004.

On the other hand, Alabama finished 12-1 in 2011, without the extra game in the SEC Championship, and of course only evened the score in the Sugar Bowl to steal the title.

Based on the entire 2011 season, LSU was the best team.

This is an argument based only on historical precedent and the numbers, of course. Alabama was the 2011 national champion, post hoc fallacy notwithstanding. No one can dispute that anymore than the fact that LSU was the national champion in 2003 because of the rules everyone was playing by.

And that may be the biggest reason some Tiger fans don’t want to claim a title for 1908. It opens up a game of numbers and the dreaded slippery slope, where if you claim one, do you start claiming others based on just one more piece of criteria? Do you say you were a national champion just because one index says you were?

Can you say Colley Matrix and 2017 Central Florida in one breath?

But besides the slippery slope argument and general disdain for all things Alabama, there is another more glaring reason why LSU officials perhaps have balked at hanging the banner.

Back then, it was the northeast teams, like Penn, the “other” 1908 champion, who were the traditional powers. LSU wasn’t a major program at the time. This article claims that LSU’s was only a one-game schedule (Auburn), and that the National Championship Foundation, in awarding its retroactive titles, did not give credit to more difficult schedules. The article is extremely well-researched, but entirely too dense for my purposes here.

Here is a comparison of the Tigers’ and Quakers’ schedules.

Oct 3 vs New Orleans Gym Club (non-IA) W 41-0
Oct 11 vs Jackson Br-New Orleans (non-IA) W 81-5
Oct 17 vs Texas A&M (3-5) @ New Orleans, W 26-0
Oct 26 vs Rhodes (non-IA) W 55-0
Oct 3 @ Auburn (6-1) W 10-2
Nov 7 vs Mississippi State (3-4) W 50-0
Nov 10 vs Baylor (3-5) W 89-0
Nov 16 vs Haskell (3-5-1) @ New Orleans, W 33-0
Nov 23 @ Louisiana Tech (non-IA) W 22-0
Nov 26 vs Arkansas (5-4) @ Little Rock W 36-4
(All games except two were played at Franklin Field in Philadelphia)
Sept 26 West Virginia W 6-0
Sept 30 Ursinus W 30-0
Oct 3 Bucknell W 16-0
Oct 7 Villanova W 11-0
Oct 10 Penn State W 6–0
Oct 14 Gettysburg W 23-4
Oct 17 Brown W 12-0
Oct 24 Carlisle T 6-6
Oct 31 @ Carnegie Tech W 25-10
Nov 7 Lafayette W 34-4
Nov 14 @ Michigan W 29-0
Nov 26 Cornell W 17-4

LSU played only six teams that counted, only two of which finished with winning records. Penn played and beat more teams with winning records.

So maybe this is part of the reason why LSU officials don’t want to claim 1908. Maybe they don’t want to be Central Florida.

Or…

Or…

Or…

There is obviously a slippery slope to all of this retroactive stuff, and it seems to inform any piece of evidence you introduce.

There is a legitimate counterargument to LSU claiming the 1908 national championship, and obviously school officials agree. But if you are still in the number who believe LSU should hang the flag in Tiger Stadium, you have one other argument that not many fans know, not even this writer before doing research for this article:

As well-known and acknowledged as the 1958 championship is, as beautiful as that golden flag is rippling in the wind, did you know that officially we share it with Iowa?

Crazy to say, but college football sure was nuts back in the day. There can be no arguing that.

Writer Jeff LeJeune has an M.A. in English, is a high school and college instructor, and is a former college athlete. In addition to his writing work for The Hayride, he is a ghostwriter, editor, and novelist. His website is www.jefflejeune.net.



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