No other season lives in Mississippi State lore quite like the 1941 season. Many wearers of the Maroon and White feel the school should retroactively claim the national championship from that season. Read on, and be the judge of that claim.
One would think that after the season Mississippi State College put together in 1940, they would have some love going into the 1941 season. Nope--They started the season out of the polls, but they quickly jumped to No. 19 (the AP poll only ranked 20 teams at the time) after taking down Florida 6-0. The next week, the Maroons tackled the Crimson Tide 14-0 in Tuscaloosa. Interestingly enough, even after the win, Mississippi State dropped out of the rankings.
After playing to a scoreless tie in Baton Rouge, the team regrouped, knocking off Union 56-7 to re-enter the polls at No. 17. Mississippi State then knocked off Southwestern (Rhodes) 20-6 in Memphis to move up to No. 16, and a 14-7 victory over Auburn in Birmingham saw the Maroon and White climb to No. 13.
Then in a loss that I am sure CroomDiaries would say proves his point about scheduling, Mississippi State traveled to Duquesne, the tenth ranked squad, and lost 16-0. ***
Mississippi State regrouped to knock of Millsaps College 49-6 before beating No. 14 Ole Miss 6-0 in Oxford. The Maroon and White finished their season with a win at San Francisco 26-13. The team finished the season ranked No. 16.
Because of the closure of airports and train stations, the SEC champions were unable to participate in a bowl game.
As to the question of the national title, it is a stretch to say Mississippi State could claim it. In fact, the better claim may have been in 1940. At the end of the 1941 season, the defending champions, Minnesota, stood undefeated and No. 1 in the AP poll. The Duke Blue Devils (?!?!?!) finished 9-0 and were undefeated.
The biggest stumbling block for Mississippi State would be that the only team that defeated them, Duquesne, finished 8-0 and ranked No. 8.
The 1940 and 1941 seasons are the only ones to date in which Mississippi State finished undefeated in SEC play.
Alabama, who finished No. 20 in the polls, claims the title because they earned it in the Houlgate Poll, which is explained here.***
Brian Hadad and I talked about this season on an early edition of Bulldog Legends.
***If you wonder how Alabama finished ahead of Mississippi State in 1941 in the Houlgate Poll, it is a poll based on strength of schedule, only counting DI (now FBS) schools. If my research and math are correct, Alabama finished that season with 37 points in the poll. Mississippi State absorbed zero points in their games against Millsaps, Mississippi College, and Southwestern and lost one point for the loss to Duquesne, finishing with 22 points. Had the Bulldogs played stronger teams in those games, they would have made up the difference with Alabama by beating three three-loss teams, and in fact, would have won the national title.
Minnesota finished the season with only 33 points. Their eight game schedule featured only three teams with winning records.