Difficult as it is to rank the various elevens at the end of a football season, there usually is one team which, although it does not meet all championship contenders, stands in front as the best all-around eleven of the year.
In only four years since 1869, when intercollegiate football began, has the championship failed to be awarded; in two of those years, during the war, there were only informal teams, and in another, there were no games at all. The task of picking the premier team has often proved so difficult that first honors have been divided among two or more contenders, who either defeated all opponents but tied each other, or defeated all opponents but did not meet.
During the early years of Eastern football, Princeton, Yale, and the University were considered the "Big Three", and from 1870 until 1896 one of these teams captured the championship each time. There was even a period of about 15 years when Yale and Princeton passed first honors back and forth almost regularly. Since those times the so-called "Big Three", although perhaps not losing prestige, have not been able to stay at the top as consistently.
The University did little bidding for championship honors until comparatively recently. In the last 20 years, however, the Crimson has carried off supreme honors in the East six times, a number equal to Yale's during the same period, and twice as great as Princeton's.
Of late years the presence on the first honors list of the western teams and elevens from the smaller colleges is particularly noticeable, showing the spread of football and the universality of the best coaching methods.
Of the championships awarded Yale has won or divided 24, Princeton 22, Harvard 10, Pennsylvania 3, Penn. State 2, Army, Cornell, Dartmouth, Lafayette, Pittsburg and Rutgers; one each.
Last year Penn State was the logical holder of first place, since it went through a stiff schedule undefeated, although Cornell also preserved a clean slate, but did not run up against such powerful opponents.
The complete list of the champions from 1869 to 1921 inclusive is as follows: