Former Alabama football head coach Paul “Bear” Bryant just added another national title, if you believe the Kentucky Wildcats’ claim.
Only 66 years later, the University of Kentucky is claiming the 1950 college football national championship based on a retroactive computer poll. Jeff Sagarin, who constructs rankings for USA Today, has reevaluated earlier seasons in college football history. His 1950 National Champion? Kentucky, despite finishing 7th in the final AP poll.
The Wildcats even had their own national championship trophy made, which is strikingly similar to the BCS crystal ball.
It appears comical at first glance, but there is an argument to be made for former Alabama football head coach Bear Bryant’s 1950 Kentucky squad over No. 1 Oklahoma. In an era where bowl games were played as a meaningless exhibition to end the year, Kentucky defeated Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl, but the Sooners were already awarded the AP and UPI National Championships before the Sugar Bowl was ever played.
This is why national championships during this time frame are often referred to as “mythical”, as it’s difficult for any of us to decipher who the true champions were. Most all blue bloods of college football claim a national title from a year in which they lost a bowl game. They were essentially the equivalent of an NBA All-Star game.
The 1950 season also marks Kentucky’s first and only outright SEC Championship (split with Georgia in 1976), a feat that may only be accomplished by Bear Bryant for the rest of eternity. Bryant’s Kentucky team lost to Tennessee and General Neyland by a score of 7-0, while UT finished second in the conference. Kentucky did not play Alabama or Tulane, who finished third and fourth in a noticeably weak SEC. Fifth place Georgia Tech, who Kentucky beat 28-14, ended their season with a 5-6 record. Seven teams finished below the Yellow Jackets in the conference standings.
While there are some compelling arguments for Kentucky’s 1950 team, most notably the Sugar Bowl victory, there are plenty of arguments to debunk their title claim. A weak overall conference, avoiding 2 of the top 4 teams in the conference, and a loss to the only ranked team on their regular season schedule are all crippling to Kentucky’s claim.
Of course, there is no statute of limitations on this type of claim, but 66 years seems excessive. Kentucky is not the first school to retroactively win a title. Auburn, Alabama, Texas A&M, and others have all claimed old championships. Auburn recognizes itself for the 100-plus-year-old 1913 championship, a title that they won in 2014, apparently. They also lay claim to the 1993 national championship, a year in which they were banned from postseason play for NCAA violations. In the same breath, Alabama’s 1941 national championship is, well, not really a National Championship at all.
Kentucky does not stand alone.
Did Bear Bryant win his 7th National Championship this month? Probably not. But, a new trophy does look good to recruits in Kentucky’s new 100,000 square foot, 45 million dollar football training facility.