The idea is simple: The College Football Lineal Title. To pick up the title, beat the current title holder. To lose the title, lose a game; the team that beat you becomes the new titleholder. It's a similar concept to that which exists for boxing and other combat sports.
It's a very intuitive concept that applies well to college football, so much so that although I came up with the idea independently, I'm not the first to do so. David Wilson's site links to two sites with the same idea: HeavyweightFootballChamps.com and CollegeFootballBelt.com.
I have elected to start the title with the famed "first college football game" between Rutgers and Princeton. Because Princeton, after winning the rematch of that 1869 game, went undefeated through 1876, I call this lineage "the Princeton Title" as a slang name. This is the same starting point used by HeavyweightFootballChamps.com.
I've done research on the subsequent history of the title using the scores of James Howell, sorted by date by Wilson here. Because I do not restrict who can hold the title, my records may be incomplete, because Howell's scores only include games involving Division I-A or equivalent.
I have made two modifications to the basic concept:
- Due to the regional nature of college football's early years, before the proliferation of the bowls, many of the best teams never got a shot at the Princeton title, which didn't leave the Northeast until 1918. Michigan had a long undefeated streak at the beginning of the twentieth century but never got a crack at the Princeton title. I have decided to recognize a "Michigan title" during this streak that starts changing hands when the University of Chicago broke the streak in 1905. From 1908 on, every team that goes undefeated gets their own lineal title if they do not already hold one.
- During the early 1910s, there are three main titles with, in my opinion, a claim to national status: the Princeton title; the aforementioned Michigan title, merged with the Princeton title in 1916; and a title I call the Lafayette-Navy-Pitt title, aka the Pop Warner Memorial Title, starting with Lafayette's undefeated season of 1909, and marked by a long reign by Warner's Pitt team from 1915 to 1918. The LNP title ended when Pitt lost to a WWI-created Cleveland Naval Reserves team. I give recognition to these titles due to the large number of other titles that ultimately merged with them.
- There are also three titles with claims to national status in the 1920's and 30's: the Princeton title; a title I call the Knute Rockne title, created from the merger of the 1918 Virginia Tech title (aka Virginia Tech-Lafayette-Pitt) and the 1917 Texas A&M title (aka Texas A&M-Vanderbilt), and so called because Knute Rockne's Notre Dame teams won this title more often than the single time they won the Princeton title, and because the 1919 Notre Dame title, Rockne's first undefeated team as coach, had its lineage become part of it; and the Rose Bowl title, aka the 1916 Oregon title, so named because the first modern Rose Bowl was played with this title. The Knute Rockne and Rose Bowl titles merged in 1936, and the Knute Rockne title merged with the Princeton title on New Year's Day 1939, when Knute Rockne holder Tennessee defeated Princeton holder Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl. Strangely, at both unifications the Princeton title was arguably the less prestigious title.
- I've also extended the concept to the NFL, where the analogy doesn't hold as well. Split titles are created when the title holder does not make the NFL Championship Game, and later the Super Bowl. By that defintion, the current title holder is the St. Louis Rams, not the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts do hold a separate Super Bowl XLI title.
Research done by both sites shows that this year's BCS National Championship Game had the Princeton title on the line, and Florida is the current Princeton title holder. Boise State also holds a new lineal title by going undefeated. My own research shows that the 2004 Utah undefeated team has their title in the hands of BYU, and the 2004 Auburn title is currently held by LSU. 2000 Oklahoma's title was merged with Princeton in the 2003 Rose Bowl, after being merged with 1998 Tulane. I haven't done research further back than that (I have done 1999 Marshall and 1998 Tennessee), partly because since the BCS started, 1998, 2000 (when Miami (FL) got snubbed) and 2003 (when USC got snubbed) are the ONLY years where the BCS Title Game was not for the Princeton Title. However, I strongly doubt any other split titles have remained split long enough to remain extant today.