SOUTH BEND, Ind. — 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.
Here are some of the national championships involving Alabama and Notre Dame.
1964 — Alabama (10-1), led by Joe Namath, is named No. 1 in both the AP and coaches poll at the end of the regular season. Notre Dame was ranked No. 1 for the last month of the season, but was upset in the season finale by Southern California 20-17 when Craig Fertig completed a 15-yard TD pass to Rod Sherman with 1:33 left. The Irish finish No. 3 while Alabama then loses 21-17 to Texas in the Orange Bowl when the officials rule Namath didn’t make it into the end zone on a quarterback sneak.
1966 — Notre Dame (9-0-1) was ranked No. 1 by the AP and coaches at the end of the regular season, the only blemish on its record was a 10-10 tie against No. 2 Michigan State. Some criticized Irish coach Ara Parseghian for settling for a tie instead of going for the victory. Defending national champion Alabama (11-0) finished No. 3. Berryman named Alabama national champion, but the school does not count it.
1973 — Alabama (11-1) finishes the regular season undefeated and is declared the national champion in the coaches poll, where the Irish were ranked No. 4. Notre Dame (11-0) then beats Bear Bryant’s Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl after Bob Thomas kicked the game-winning field goal with 4:26 remaining. The AP names Notre Dame national champion.
1977 — Notre Dame (11-1), after losing 20-13 to Mississippi in the second game of the season, wins the rest of its games, including a 38-10 rout of Texas in the Cotton Bowl, and is ranked No. 1 by in the AP and coaches poll. Alabama (11-1), after losing 31-24 to Nebraska in the second game, wins the rest of its games, including a 35-6 win over Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl. The Tide winds up No. 2.
1930 — Alabama, coached by Wallace Wade, posted a 10-0 record, shutting out eight of its opponents, including a 24-0 win over Washington State in the Rose Bowl. Alabama is named the national champion by College Football Researchers. Notre Dame, in its last season under Knute Rockne, also went 10-0, including wins over Army and Southern California in the final two games. The Fighting Irish were named national champion by multiple organizations. Parke Davis calls Alabama and Notre Dame co-champions.
1941 — Alabama posts a 9-2 record, finishes ranked No. 20 in the AP Poll but is ranked No. 1 by Houlgate. Minnesota (8-0) is ranked No. 1 by AP and several other groups. Notre Dame (8-0-1) finishes the season ranked No. 3.
1924 — Notre Dame, led by the famed Four Horsemen, finished 10-0. There was no national champion declared at the time, but two years later University of Illinois economics professor Frank Dickinson devised a mathematical point system to determine a national champion, Stephens said. Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne persuaded Dickinson to retroactively determine a national champion for the 1925 (Dartmouth) and 1924 seasons. Others also were retroactively declared national champions.