The Best College Football Team You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

The final 1943 Associated Press college football poll had a lot of familiar names: Notre Dame, Michigan, Washington and Texas were all ranked in the Top 20.

But among the top 10 were some teams you won’t find in this season’s poll: No. 2, Iowa Pre-Flight; No. 6, Great Lakes Navy; No. 8, Del Monte Pre-Flight; and No. 10, March Field.

The world of college football was transformed for a few years during World War II, when military training camps fielded their own teams, which competed with college football’s best.

The service teams had the advantage of older players, some of them former professionals, who were preparing for military service. Dick Todd, 29, Iowa Pre-Flight’s fullback, had already played four seasons with the Washington Redskins, the team he would rejoin for four more years after the war. Perry Schwartz was an end with the Brooklyn Dodgers of the N.F.L. There were Bears, Rams and Giants alumni as well.

Having lost players to the armed forces, college teams were often shorthanded. Many dropped football altogether. The shortage allowed freshmen to play temporarily for the varsity.

Iowa Pre-Flight was based at the University of Iowa, in Iowa City. But the team was distinct from the university’s Hawkeyes.

The Seahawks, as the Iowa Pre-Flight squad was known, were mostly a traveling team in 1943, playing just two home games at Iowa Stadium (now known as Kinnick Stadium). The team was coached by the former Missouri coach Don Faurot, orginator of the Split-T formation, then a lieutenant. Bud Wilkinson, who went on to become a coaching legend at Oklahoma, was his assistant.

The Seahawks were involved in the biggest game of 1943, a battle of unbeatens with Notre Dame. Both were 8-0, although Notre Dame had played a tougher schedule that included wins over Michigan and strong Army and Navy squads.

The Seahawks were hampered by some injuries and by the last-minute transfer of six players, including their starting quarterback, Jack Williams, to other bases.

The game was played on Nov. 21, 1943. American forces had just invaded Tarawa, an atoll in the Pacific. British troops had captured the town of Archi, in Abruzzo, Italy. The Germans and Russians were battling in the Kiev bulge. And the biggest football game of the year was played in South Bend, Ind.

Anticipation was high. Notre Dame had Johnny Lujack at quarterback who, after a stint in the Navy, would go on to win the Heisman Trophy in 1947 and play for the Bears. He was replacing Angelo Bertelli, who would win the Heisman later that year despite an abbreviated season. Bertelli had been called up to the Marines after Notre Dame’s first six games and eventually fought on Iwo Jima.