Skip to content Skip to sidebar Skip to footer

There have been a lot of years that Michigan football has seemed like it was on the verge of greatness, only to be let down. 2003, 2006, 2016 and 2018 come to mind.

But the worldwide leader has a couple other years where it thinks that the Wolverines should have won a national title. In fact, one year, analyst Bill Connelly suggests that the maize and blue had the best team ever to not win the whole shebang.

In Connelly’s ranking of the best college football teams that didn’t win the national championship, the first team actually shared the distinction with its arch-rival Ohio State. Of course, we’re talking about the tiebreaker year of 1973, when both the Wolverines and Buckeyes each went 10-0-1, the only negative mark — if you can call it that — being the tie they had against one another.

19-18. 1973 Michigan and 1973 Ohio State

Records: 10-0-1 and 10-0-1
AP rank: sixth and second, respectively

Arguably Ohio State’s three biggest wins over Michigan: 30-27 in 2016, 42-39 in 2006 … and 10-10 in 1973. The No. 4 Wolverines missed two field goals in the final 30 seconds against top-ranked Ohio State in Ann Arbor, and the next day Big Ten athletic directors voted to send the Buckeyes to the Rose Bowl instead of the Wolverines despite the fact that OSU had been there the year before.

Most ADs publicly cited an injury to Michigan QB Dennis Franklin as the major reason for the vote. UM head coach Bo Schembechler cried conspiracy until his dying day. Regardless, both of these programs were at their outright peak in 1973. In the 20 games that weren’t against each other, they outscored opponents 723-112. That includes OSU’s 42-21 destruction of USC in the Rose Bowl. Michigan probably would have done something similar.

But the highest of all marks goes to the 1947 team, which Connelly suggests is the greatest team to never win it all. And the reason has to do with another rival: Notre Dame. Michigan actually claims this year as a national championship, but it wasn’t considered such at the time.

Connelly explains:

1. 1947 Michigan

Record: 10-0
AP rank: second

As the story goes, according to Jack Connor’s book, “Leahy’s Lads,” Michigan coach Fritz Crisler told Notre Dame’s Frank Leahy after the Irish’s 35-12 destruction of the Wolverines in Ann Arbor, “This was the rottenest, dirtiest football game I have ever seen and if I have anything to say about it, Michigan will never play Notre Dame again.” Is it corroborated by other sources? Not really. We have no real idea if it’s true. But UM indeed didn’t play the Irish again until 1978, and it ended up depriving both college football of an all-time classic, and Michigan of a national title shot, in 1947.

Beano Cook called the 1947 Notre Dame team the most talented team ever, but on the field Michigan appeared to be its equal. They played three common opponents (Pitt, Northwestern and USC), and while Notre Dame won by a combined 71 points, Michigan won by 146. A midseason hiccup — wins by only 13-6 and 14-7 margins against Minnesota and No. 11 Illinois, respectively — dropped them to No. 2 in the polls behind the Irish, and voters couldn’t take an eventual 49-0 blowout of USC in the Rose Bowl into account. Michigan still claims the title thanks to support from plenty of computer ratings and a nod from the National Championship Foundation, but the Wolverines still qualify for a handsome spot on this list.

Certainly, a year like 2006 or 2016 could have counted if the maize and blue didn’t lose out to finish the year. In our opinion, the Wolverines were among the best teams in each year, but were so deflated following the Ohio State losses that they didn’t show up for the bowl games.


Big Ten post-spring college football power rankings