USC Now Will Recognize Its 1939 Football Team As A National Champion
July 26, 2004
USC now will recognize its 1939 football team as a national champion, giving the Trojan program 10 national titles in the sport, Trojan athletic director Mike Garrett announced.
USC will salute the surviving members of that 1939 squad at its Oct. 16 home game against Arizona State.
'It was brought to our attention by various individuals that we should be claiming the 1939 Trojans among our national champions in football,' said Garrett. 'We took this matter seriously, did significant research and determined this to be true. That 1939 team was one of the greatest in our history. In fact, its coach, the legendary Howard Jones, acknowledged as much when at the team banquet that year he said this squad was his finest ever at USC, at least in terms of depth.'
The 1939 Trojans were presented with the Knute Rockne Intercollegiate Memorial Trophy, at the time emblematic of the nation's No. 1 team. The trophy (originally called the Rissman National Trophy) was given to the team that finished atop the Dickinson System, a mathematical point formula devised by Illinois economics professor and nationally-respected football analyst Frank G. Dickinson. His system crowned a national champion from 1926 to 1940 (with predated rankings in 1924 and 1925). It was the first to gain widespread national public and media acceptance as a 'major selector,' according to the NCAA Football Records Book (the Associated Press poll didn't begin until 1936).
Dickinson claimed that in 1939 'the Trojans were the best team in the best section...and the nation's other top teams did not play as strong a schedule as USC.'
Jones' fourth Trojan national championship team came in the next to last of his 16 years at USC. His 1939 Thundering Herd went 8-0-2, shutting out six teams and allowing just seven points to three others. Only 33 points were scored on Troy that year, still a school record. Among its key victories: a 14-0 win over No. 2 Tennessee in the Rose Bowl against a Volunteer team that hadn't been scored upon in 16 games and hadn't lost in 24 games, a 20-12 win over No. 7 Notre Dame in South Bend (USC wouldn't win again at Notre Dame Stadium until 1967) and a 19-7 win over No. 11 Oregon State in Portland. The regular season finale was an epic scoreless tie with No. 9 UCLA in front of 103,303, the second-largest crowd in Coliseum history (the other tie came in the season opener versus Oregon, 7-7).
In 1939, there were 13 polls and systems that chose a national champion. Texas A&M (in 10) and Cornell (in 2) finished first in the others that season.
USC has long claimed its first national championship in football in 1928, when-like in 1939-it was named only by the Dickinson System (Georgia Tech and Detroit were picked No. 1 by that season's eight other selectors). Yet for some undetermined reason, USC never acknowledged 1939 among its national titlists...until now.
USC now recognizes its football teams of 1928, 1931, 1932, 1939, 1962, 1967, 1972, 1974, 1978 and 2003 as national champions. There were five other years (1929, 1933, 1976, 1979 and 2002) in which the Trojans finished atop at least one poll, but USC does not consider the selectors in those years as being all-encompassing enough at the time to claim a national championship.
The NCAA does not conduct a national championship in Division I football and is not involved in the selection process. Over the years, there have been nearly 30 selectors of national champions using polls, historical research and mathematical rating systems. It is up to individual schools to determine whether a No. 1 selection in any of these systems merits a national championship claim. It is not unusual for more than one school to claim a football national championship in the same year (as USC and LSU did in 2003).
Stanford (in 1926), Michigan (in 1932) and SMU (in 1935) claim a football national championship after being selected almost solely by the Dickinson System.