|1972 NCAA University Division football season|
|Preseason AP No. 1||Nebraska|
|Regular season||September 9 – December 2, 1972|
|Number of bowls||11|
|Bowl games||December 18, 1972 – January 1, 1973|
|Champion(s)||USC (AP, Coaches, FWAA, NFF)|
|Heisman||Johnny Rodgers (wingback, Nebraska)|
The 1972 NCAA University Division football season saw the USC Trojans, coached by John McKay, go undefeated and win the national championship as the unanimous choice of the 50 AP panelists. Eighth-ranked in the preseason, the Trojans were narrowly voted #1 in the first AP poll, and stayed out front for the rest of the year.
Prior to the 1972 season, two programs were elevated to the University Division. The new programs were Long Beach State and Tampa. The change brought the total number of programs in the University Division to 121.
During the 20th century, the NCAA had no playoff for the major college football teams in the University Division, which became Division I in 1973 (and Division I-A in 1978). The NCAA Football Guide, however, did note an "unofficial national champion" based on the top ranked teams in the "wire service" (AP and UPI) polls. The "writers' poll" by Associated Press (AP) was the most popular, followed by the "coaches' poll" by United Press International) (UPI). Through the 1973 season, the UPI issued its final poll in early December before the bowls, but since 1968 (and 1965) the AP Trophy was withheld until the postseason was completed. The AP poll in 1972 consisted of the votes of fifty sportswriters, though not all of them voted in every poll. Those who cast votes would give their opinion of the ten best teams. Under a point system of twenty points for first place, nineteen for second, etc., the "overall" ranking was determined.
This season was historically significant because it was the first in which freshmen were eligible to play varsity football in the University Division. The NCAA had historically prohibited freshmen from varsity competition, except during the United States involvement in World War II and the Korean War. In 1968, the NCAA allowed freshman eligibility in the University Division in all sports, except football and basketball, and extended the rule to those sports effective with the 1972–73 academic year.
- Kickoffs that land in the end zone untouched by the receivers are blown dead and the ball put in play by the receiving team at their own 20-yard line (touchback).
- Official time-outs are called for players who are "obviously injured." Previously, teams were charged a time-out for an injured player.
- Fouls committed by the team not in possession of the ball behind the dead-ball spot are enforced from the dead-ball spot.
- Jerseys must be replaced if the numbers are no longer readable. (Tear-aways were popular for backs & receivers, later prohibited)
- Mouthpieces are made mandatory starting with the 1973 season.
Conference and program changes
This was the last season for the "University" and "College" divisions. For the 1973 season, the NCAA created the three-division structure that exists today with teams and conferences designated accordingly:
- The University Division became Division I
- The College Division was subdivided into Division II and Division III
Five years later in 1978, Division I was subdivided (for football only) into I-A and I-AA. In 2006, these were renamed Division I FBS and FCS, respectively. Many of the teams and conferences now in FCS (Big Sky, Ohio Valley, SWAC, Yankee) were initially in Division II and moved up to I-AA.
|School||1971 Conference||1972 Conference|
|Appalachian State Mountaineers||Independent||Southern|
|McNeese State Cowboys||Independent||Southland|
|New Mexico State Aggies||Independent||Missouri Valley|
|Trinity (TX) Tigers||Southland||Independent|
- Stanford University officially changed their nickname from Indians to Cardinals in 1972; it became the singular Cardinal in 1982.
- The Gulf South Conference, now in Division II, began football play in 1972.
- In the preseason poll released on September 4, two-time defending national champion Nebraska Cornhuskers was ranked first, followed by their Big 8 conference rival, Colorado. Next was Ohio State, Arkansas, and Penn State.
- On September 9, #1 Nebraska lost 20–17 on a late field goal to unranked UCLA at night in Los Angeles and dropped to tenth place. #2 Colorado beat California 20–10. #3 Ohio State was idle, and #4 Arkansas lost 31–10 to #8 USC in Little Rock. #5 Penn State had not begun its season and fell to sixth. #7 Alabama beat Duke 35–12 in Birmingham, reached the top five, as did #6 Oklahoma, which had not yet played a game and moved up two slots. In the next poll, USC received 13 first place votes, and Colorado and Oklahoma had 12 apiece, but USC had a narrow lead in points, 779 to Colorado's 769. The poll was: 1.USC 2.Colorado 3.Ohio State 4.Oklahoma 5.Alabama
- September 16: #1 USC trounced Oregon State 51–6, and #2 Colorado was idle. #3 Ohio State blanked Iowa 21–0, and #4 Oklahoma shut out Utah State 49–0. #5 Alabama was idle, and #7 Tennessee took its place in the next poll: 1.USC 2.Oklahoma 3.Colorado 4.Ohio State 5.Tennessee
- September 23: #1 USC won 55–20 at Illinois, and #2 Oklahoma crushed Oregon 68–3. #3 Colorado won 38–6 at Minnesota, #4 Ohio State was idle, and #5 Tennessee beat Wake Forest 45–6. The poll was 1.USC 2.Oklahoma 3.Colorado 4.Tennessee 5.Ohio State
- September 30: #1 USC played another Big Ten opponent, beating Michigan State 51–6 at the Coliseum in Los Angeles. #2 Oklahoma beat Clemson 52–3, having outscored its first three opponents 169–6. #3 Colorado lost 31–6 at Oklahoma State, and #4 Tennessee lost 10–6 to Auburn in Birmingham. #5 Ohio State beat North Carolina 29–14. #6 Alabama beat Vanderbilt 48–21, and #8 Michigan defeated Tulane 41–7, and both returned to the top five. The poll was 1.USC 2.Oklahoma 3.Ohio State 4.Alabama 5.Michigan
- October 7: #1 USC won 30–21 at Stanford; the nine-point margin of victory was the closest of their perfect season. #2 Oklahoma was idle, and #3 Ohio State won 35–18 at California. #4 Alabama won 25–7 at Georgia and #5 Michigan beat Navy 35–7. The poll was 1.USC 2.Oklahoma 3.Alabama 4.Ohio State 5.Michigan
- October 14: #1 USC went back to winning big, 42–14 over California. #2 Oklahoma shut out rival Texas 27–0 at Dallas, and #3 Alabama beat Florida 24–7. #4 Ohio State beat Illinois 25–7, and #5 Michigan blanked Michigan State 10–0, but dropped to sixth, replaced by #6 Nebraska, which rolled over Missouri 62–0. The poll was 1.USC 2.Oklahoma 3.Alabama 4.Ohio State 5.Nebraska
- October 21: #1 USC beat Washington 34–7, but #2 Oklahoma yielded its first touchdown of the season at Colorado, and eventually fell 20–14. #3 Alabama won at Tennessee 17–10, #4 Ohio State won at Wisconsin 28–20, and #5 Nebraska won 56–0 at Kansas to continue its rise in the polls. #6 Michigan won 31–7 at Illinois and returned to the top five. The poll was 1.USC 2.Alabama 3.Nebraska 4.Ohio State 5.Michigan
- October 28: #1 USC won 18–0 at Oregon, its only shutout in a perfect season. #2 Alabama beat Southern Mississippi 48–11 in Birmingham, and #3 Nebraska registered its fourth consecutive shutout, 34–0 at Oklahoma State. Including a 77–7 win at Army, the Cornhuskers had outscored their opponents 271–14 after their opening loss. #4 Ohio State handled Indiana 44–7, and #5 Michigan beat Minnesota 27–19. The poll was 1.USC 2.Alabama 3.Nebraska 4.Michigan 5.Ohio State
- November 4: #1 USC beat Washington State 44–3 in Seattle, and #2 Alabama defeated Mississippi State 58–14. #3 Nebraska won 33–10 at Colorado, #4 Michigan won 21–7 at Indiana, and #5 Ohio State beat Minnesota 27–19. The poll remained unchanged at: 1.USC 2.Alabama 3.Nebraska 4.Michigan 5.Ohio State
- November 11: #1 USC had the week off, and #2 Alabama beat LSU 35–21 at Birmingham. #3 Nebraska visited Iowa State and played to a 23–23 tie. #4 Michigan won 31–0 at Iowa to extend its record to 9–0. #5 Ohio State lost 19–12 at Michigan State, and #7 Oklahoma beat Missouri 17–6 to return to the top five. The poll was: 1.USC 2.Alabama 3.Michigan 4.Oklahoma 5.Nebraska
- November 18: #1 USC beat #14 UCLA, 24–7, and #2 Alabama beat Virginia Tech 52–13. #3 Michigan got past Purdue 9–6, #4 Oklahoma won 31–7 at Kansas and #5 Nebraska beat Kansas State 59–7. The top nine stayed unchanged; the top five: 1.USC 2.Alabama 3.Michigan 4.Oklahoma 5.Nebraska
- November 25: #1 USC and #2 Alabama were idle, while #3 Michigan (10–0) and #9 Ohio State (9–1) met at Columbus to determine the Big Ten title and the Rose Bowl berth. Ohio State won 14–11, and #4 Oklahoma returned the favor of last year's Game of the Century, and beat #5 Nebraska 17–14 on the road in Lincoln. Oklahoma accepted a bid to the Sugar Bowl to face #6 Penn State, which beat visiting Pittsburgh 49–27 to close its regular season at 10–1. The poll: 1.USC 2.Alabama 3.Oklahoma 4.Ohio State 5.Penn State
- December 2: #1 USC closed its regular season at home with a 45–23 win over Notre Dame to finish at 11–0. #2 Alabama (10–0) was preparing to do the same as it met Auburn (8–1) in their annual Iron Bowl rivalry game in Birmingham. Auburn spoiled perfection, beating Alabama 17–16, and #3 Oklahoma closed its regular season with a 10–1 record after a 38–15 win over Oklahoma State. #4 Ohio State and #5 Penn State had both finished their regular seasons. The final regular season poll was: 1.USC 2.Oklahoma 3.Ohio State 4.Alabama 5.Penn State.
In 1972, only the Rose Bowl (Big Ten vs. Pac-8) and Cotton Bowl (SWC winner) had rigid conference tie-ins. Thus, Big 8 champion Oklahoma passed up an Orange Bowl invitation to play in the Sugar Bowl, while SEC champion Alabama passed the Sugar to meet Texas in the Cotton. For the first time, the Sugar Bowl was played at night on New Year's Eve, rather than New Year's Day afternoon. With two consecutive victories in the Orange Bowl, #9 Nebraska was invited to a third against #12 Notre Dame.
Sunday, December 31, 1972
Monday, January 1, 1973
|Bowl game||Winning team||Losing team|
|Sugar||No. 2 Oklahoma||14||No. 5 Penn State||0|
|Cotton||No. 7 Texas||17||No. 4 Alabama||13|
|Rose||No. 1 USC||42||No. 3 Ohio State||17|
|Orange||No. 9 Nebraska||40||No. 12 Notre Dame||6|
|Sun||El Paso||Texas||December 30||No. 16 North Carolina||32–28||Texas Tech|
|Gator||Jacksonville||Florida||December 30||No. 6 Auburn||24–3||No. 13 Colorado|
|Tangerine||Orlando||Florida||December 29||Tampa||21–18||Kent State|
|Astro-Bluebonnet||Houston||Texas||December 30||No. 11 Tennessee||24–17||No. 10 LSU|
|Liberty||Memphis||Tennessee||December 18||Georgia Tech||31–30||Iowa State|
|Peach||Atlanta||Georgia||December 29||NC State||49–13||No. 18 West Virginia|
|Fiesta||Tempe||Arizona||December 23||No. 15 Arizona State||49–35||Missouri|
- Prior to the 1975 season, the Big Ten and Pac-8 conferences allowed only one postseason participant each, for the Rose Bowl.
The Big Eight Conference dominated the Heisman race in 1972,
as the top three were from Nebraska & Oklahoma:
- Johnny Rodgers, WB – Nebraska, 1310 points
- Greg Pruitt, RB – Oklahoma, 966
- Rich Glover, MG – Nebraska, 652
- Bert Jones, QB – LSU, 351
- Terry Davis, QB – Alabama, 338
- John Hufnagel, QB – Penn State, 292
- George Amundson, RB – Iowa State, 219
- Otis Armstrong, RB – Purdue, 208
- Don Strock, QB – Virginia Tech, 144
- Gary Huff, QB – Florida State, 138
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-10-02. Retrieved 2009-01-03.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- "Tampa, Long Beach Get Major Status". Star-Gazette. June 8, 1972. p. 36 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Frosh now eligible for football, hoops". Spokesman-Review. (Spokane, Washington). Associated Press. January 9, 1972. p. 1, sports.
- "Frosh okayed for football, basketball". Eugene Register-Guard. (Oregon). wire service reports. January 9, 1972. p. 1B.
- Jenkins, Dan (October 30, 1972). "A locomotive for the class of '76". Sports Illustrated. p. 26.
- "1972 Atlantic Coast Conference Year Summary". sports-reference.com. Retrieved January 25, 2013.
- "2018 Media Guide" (PDF). soonersports.com. Oklahoma Athletics. p. 6. Retrieved November 1, 2018.
- "2018 Media Guide" (PDF). huskers.com. Nebraska Athletics. p. 206. Retrieved November 1, 2018.
- "Hey, guess what? USC acclaimed poll champs". Spokane Daily Chronicle. Washington. Associated Press. January 3, 1973. p. 31.
- CFB Data Warehouse – final AP polls – 1970–79
- "Bowl games at a glance". Spokesman-Review. November 22, 1972. p. 15.
- Heisman.com – 1972 – Johnny Rodgers
- "Johnny Rodgers Heisman winner". Spokesman-Review. Spokane, Washington. Associated Press. December 6, 1972. p. 17.