SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Quick, name the college football team that has won the most national championships. Alabama? Notre Dame? Princeton?
If you gave any of those answers, and maybe a few others, you might be right. Because over the years there have been a lot of organizations using different methods to determine who they think is national champion.
No wonder “mythical” is the word that often precedes national title.
“There is no official standard because there is no official national champion,” said Kent Stephens, historian at the College Football Hall of Fame in South Bend. “It all depends on the standard the school wishes to utilize. The national champion is in the eye of the beholder.”
This explains how Princeton can claim 28 national championships, starting with the first one in 1869. The Tigers went 1-1 that season against Rutgers in the only two games played in college football that year. They were retroactively crowned champion by several ranking organizations.
Among more traditional powerhouses, Alabama claims the most national championships with 14, followed by Notre Dame with 11, which is the same number Southern California and Michigan say they deserve.
The Fighting Irish and Crimson Tide are tied at eight for the number of times they have been declared national champions by The Associated Press since the wire service started its poll in 1936. One of the teams will be awarded its ninth AP title in the wee hours of Jan. 8, after the BCS title game.
The biggest difference between the number of overall national championships Alabama and Notre Dame claim is the way they add up their titles.
Notre Dame senior associate athletic director John Heisler said the school only counts seasons when it feels as if most of the rating services agreed the Fighting Irish were the champs.
“When there isn’t any debate, that Notre Dame would be considered the consensus national champions,” Heisler said.
Alabama associate athletic director Doug Walker said The Tide feels its claim is just as solid.
“We acknowledge that some question one of our claimed national championships, the title from 1941, but we do claim 14 football national championships,” he said.