1936 was an enormous year in the history of college football as the first poll was born. The Associated Press (AP) poll began on October 19th, 1936. Alan J. Gould is credited with coming up with the idea, although the book "Tales from College Football's Sidelines" credits Cy Sherman of the Lincoln Star, who suggested that Gould poll sports editors of AP-affiliated newspapers. (In case you're wondering, that would be the same Cy Sherman who began using the term "Cornhuskers" to describe Nebraska's football team in 1899.)
College Football Warehouse recognizes 1934 as the first AP poll, but it wasn't done on a continual basis until 1936. Previous to the AP Poll, rankings were done regionally.* There wasn't a national effort placed on determining a national title winner. After the first poll ran on October 19th, there were six more polls, done weekly until the final poll released on December 1st.
Minnesota won the first national title, as headline from December 1st, 1936, states "Gophers Picked by 25 of 35 Experts in Final Associated Press Ranking List". Northwestern finished #7, while Nebraska finished #9. Of interest - Northwestern won the conference title with a 6-0 record (7-1 overall). Minnesota had a 4-1 conference record (7-1 overall), their sole loss coming against Northwestern 6-0. So what happened? Northwestern lost in November to Notre Dame and dropped in the poll. And you thought controversy was limited to recent years?
The 1936 poll ranked the Top 20 teams, and stuck with 20 until 1962 when only the top 10 teams were recognized. In 1968, the poll moved back to 20, and in 1989 expanded to its current form of the Top 25. Preseason polls didn't start until 1950.
The AP Poll wasn't the first ranking system, however. That was invented by University of Illinois economics professor Frank Dickinson and became known as the "Dickinson System". The Dickinson System was a simple points system, pretty crude by today's standards:
The Dickinson system awards 30 points for a victory over a strong team, and 20 for victory over a weak team. Defeats count half as much as victories [15 pts vs. strong team, 10 pts vs. weak team], and ties are considered as games half won and half lost [22.5 points vs. strong, 15 vs. weak]. Dividing this total by the number of games played gives the final rating."
Schools have claimed national titles by using the Dickinson System, mostly as a means of more marketing and chest-thumping. In 2004, USC recognized their 10th national title, having won it in 1932 using Dickinson. Never mind that in 1932, USC was 9-0-1, while Georgia Tech was 11-0, and is largely accepted as the national champion that season.
Whether or not you love the polls (I still do), whether you think they're crazy or not, the AP Poll was responsible for bringing college football together as a national sport. Will it always be with us? Given that people have been talking about a college football playoff for decades without much movement, I'd have to say yes. There's plenty of reasons as to why they'll stick around, and Stewart Mandel's book "Bowls, Polls And Tattered Souls" is still the best explanation as to how this all works (or doesn't, depending upon your point of view).
* I'll be honest, this deserves a little more research. I am, however, on a deadline to finish this year's Cornhusker Kickoff Nebraska Football Yearbook and time is pretty tight.
36 Points: The Lowest Scoring Game in the History of the Big Ten Basketball Tournament.
Last season a new record was set in the Big Ten basketball tournament. Penn State sucked less than Wisconsin in a game that ended with a 36-33 Penn State victory. It was so bad it was accused of killing college basketball. You think Doc Sadler will fight right in or what?