|1977 NCAA Division I football season|
|Preseason AP #1||Oklahoma Sooners|
|Regular season||September 2 – November 26, 1977|
|Number of bowls||13|
|Bowl games||December 17, 1977 – January 2, 1978|
|Champion||Notre Dame Fighting Irish (AP, Coaches, FWAA, NFF)|
|Heisman||Earl Campbell, Texas RB|
The 1977 NCAA Division I football season was one in which the top five teams finished with 11–1 records. Notre Dame, which beat top-ranked and undefeated Texas in the Cotton Bowl, became the national champion.
The 1977 season was the last before NCAA's Division I was divided into I-A and I-AA. On the eve of a national playoff for the smaller programs that would be I-AA, the Sugar Bowl in 1977 became the fourth bowl game to sign a contract guaranteeing an appearance by a major conference champion. The result was that meetings between the media poll choices for the top two teams were less likely, unless those teams were in the Big Ten and Pac-8 (which met in the Rose Bowl), or one of the teams was not obligated to play in a particular bowl game.
Besides the Big Ten-Pac-8 matchup in the Rose Bowl, the Southwest champion played in the Cotton, the Big Eight titlist in the Orange, and the SEC champ in the Sugar. Top teams that had their choice of which bowl to play were either independent or in a conference outside the five major powers (such as the ACC or WAC).
During the 20th century, the NCAA had no playoff for major college football teams, which became Division I-A in 1978. The NCAA Football Guide, however, did note an "unofficial national champion" based on the top ranked teams in the final "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). The AP poll consisted of the votes of as many as 64 writers, though not all voted in each poll, and the UPI poll was taken of a 42-member board of coaches.
Conference and program changes
In the preseason poll released on September 5, the AP ranked Oklahoma first, followed by Michigan, Notre Dame, USC, and Ohio State. Sixth was Alabama, and defending champion Pittsburgh (minus Tony Dorsett and Johnny Majors) was ranked seventh.
September 10 No. 1 Oklahoma opened its season at home against Vanderbilt, 2–9 the year before. Though the Sooners avoided an upset, their narrow 25–23 win didn't impress the pollsters, and OU dropped to fifth. No. 2 Michigan won 37–9 at Illinois, and No. 3 Notre Dame won 19–9 at Pittsburgh. No. 4 USC won 27–10 at Missouri, and No. 5 Ohio State beat visiting Miami (FL) 10–0. No. 6 Alabama beat Mississippi 34–13 at Birmingham. Although the top six teams all won their openers, The next poll shuffled the rankings (2-4-3-6-1-5): 1.Michigan 2.USC 3.Notre Dame 4.Alabama 5.Oklahoma 6. Ohio State.
September 17 No. 1 Michigan beat Duke 21–9 and No. 2 USC won at Oregon State, 17–10. A week after losing to Alabama, Mississippi stunned the nation with a 20–13 defeat of No. 3 Notre Dame on a humid 100 °F (38 °C) day in Jackson. The Irish dropped to eleventh, and as low as fourteenth the week after. No. 11 Maryland fell 24–16 to unranked West Virginia at home in College Park. No. 4 Alabama lost 31–24 at No. 14 Nebraska. No. 5 Oklahoma crushed visiting Utah, 62–24. No. 6 Ohio State and No. 10 Penn State which beat Minnesota 38–7 and Houston 31–14, respectively, reached the top five: 1.Michigan 2.USC 3.Oklahoma 4.Ohio State 5.Penn State
September 24 No. 1 Michigan beat Navy, 14–7. No. 2 USC beat visiting TCU 51–0. No. 3 Oklahoma and No. 4 Ohio State met in Columbus in the season's first big matchup. In a close game, the visiting Sooners won 29–28 after a touchdown, an onside kick recovery, and a last second field goal by Uwe von Schamann, and reclaimed first place in the next poll. No. 5 Penn State beat Maryland, 27–9. No. 6 Texas A&M, which won 33–17 at No. 7 Texas Tech, reached the top five: 1.Oklahoma 2.USC 3.Michigan 4.Penn State 5.Texas A&M
October 1 No. 1 Oklahoma beat Kansas 24–9 and No. 2 USC was idle, but the Trojans were voted No. 1 anyway in a split vote (23 vs. 19 for OU and 16 for UM). No. 3 Michigan beat No. 5 Texas A&M 41–3. No. 4 Penn State lost 24–20 at Kentucky, and No. 6 Ohio State won 35–7 at SMU. No. 8 Texas defeated visiting Rice 72–15. With USC having a plurality of votes (23 vs. 19 for OU and 16 for UM), the poll was: 1.USC 2.Oklahoma 3.Michigan 4.Ohio State 5.Texas
October 8 In Los Angeles, No. 1 USC was beaten 21–20 by No. 7 Alabama; on a two-point conversion try by USC in the final minute, the Tide intercepted to seal the upset. Earlier in Dallas, No. 2 Oklahoma and No. 5 Texas met in their annual game, and Texas won 13–6. In Big Ten play, No. 3 Michigan won 24–14 at Michigan State and No. 4 Ohio State beat Purdue 46–0. No. 6 Colorado beat visiting Oklahoma State 29–13 to move to third, and the Wolverines returned to the top: 1.Michigan 2.Texas 3.Colorado 4.Alabama 5.Ohio State
October 15 No. 1 Michigan beat No. 14 Wisconsin 56–0, and No. 2 Texas won at No. 7 Arkansas, 13–9. No. 3 Colorado played at Kansas, a 17–17 tie. No. 4 Alabama beat Tennessee in Birmingham, 24–10. No. 5 Ohio State beat Iowa 27–6. No. 6 USC beat Oregon 33–15 to return to the top five: 1.Michigan 2.Texas 3.Alabama 4.Ohio State 5.USC
October 22 No. 1 Michigan (6–0) was shut out 16–0 at unranked Minnesota, and No. 2 Texas won 30–14 at SMU. No. 3 Alabama beat Louisville 55–6, and No. 4 Ohio State won 35–15 at Northwestern. No. 11 Notre Dame wore their green jerseys for the first time in decades and overwhelmed No. 5 USC 49–19. No. 7 Oklahoma beat No. 16 Iowa State 35-16 and returned to the top five, and the Longhorns became the fourth team to lead the poll: 1.Texas 2.Alabama 3.Ohio State 4.Oklahoma 5.Notre Dame
October 29 No. 1 Texas beat visiting No. 14 Texas Tech 26–0, and No. 2 Alabama beat Mississippi State 37–7 in Jackson. No. 3 Ohio State beat Wisconsin 42–0, No. 4 Oklahoma won 42–7 at Kansas State, and No. 5 Notre Dame beat Navy 43–10. Other than the Sooners' trade with the Buckeyes, the poll was stable: 1.Texas 2.Alabama 3.Oklahoma 4.Ohio State 5.Notre Dame
November 5 No. 1 Texas won 35–21 at Houston, and No. 2 Alabama defeated No. 18 LSU 24–3 in Baton Rouge. No. 3 Oklahoma won 61–28 at Oklahoma State, No. 4 Ohio State won 35–0 at Illinois, and No. 5 Notre Dame beat Georgia Tech 69–14. For the first time since the season began, the top five remained unchanged (in fact, the top nine were the same): 1.Texas 2.Alabama 3.Oklahoma 4.Ohio State 5.Notre Dame
November 12 No. 1 Texas beat TCU 44–14 and No. 2 Alabama beat the visiting Miami Hurricanes, 36–0. No. 3 Oklahoma routed Colorado 52–14, No. 4 Ohio State beat Indiana 35–7, and No. 5 Notre Dame won at No. 15 Clemson, 21–17. No. 6 Michigan won 40–7 at Purdue and returned to the top five: 1.Texas 2.Alabama 3.Oklahoma 4.Ohio State 5.Michigan
November 19 No. 1 Texas beat Baylor 29–7, while No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Oklahoma were idle. Once again, the Big Ten title came down to a meeting between No. 4 Ohio State and No. 5 Michigan, 7–0 and 6–1 in conference play, respectively. Michigan won 14–6 at home and gained the trip to the Rose Bowl. No. 6 Notre Dame beat Air Force 49–0. The poll: 1.Texas 2.Alabama 3.Oklahoma 4.Michigan 5.Notre Dame
November 25–26 On Thanksgiving weekend, USC defeated UCLA 29–27 on a last-second field goal on Friday night to knock the Bruins out of the Rose Bowl and put Washington in. Earlier in the day, No. 3 Oklahoma beat No. 11 Nebraska 38–7 to go to 10–1. On Saturday, No. 1 Texas won 57–28 at No. 12 Texas A&M for an 11–0 record, the SWC title, and a trip to the Cotton Bowl. No. 2 Alabama closed its season in Birmingham, beating Auburn 48–21. The Crimson Tide was unbeaten (7–0) in SEC conference play, as was Kentucky (6–0, 10–1 overall), which was ineligible for bowls because of NCAA probation. No. 4 Michigan (10–1) had completed its regular season, and No. 5 Notre Dame was idle until December 3, a 48–10 win at Miami. The final regular season poll had been released on November 28: 1.Texas 2.Oklahoma 3.Alabama 4.Michigan 5.Notre Dame
- Offensive linemen will be allowed to charge downfield ahead of a screen pass, provided the pass is caught at or behind the line of scrimmage. Previously, this resulted in a five-yard ineligible receiver downfield penalty.
No. 1 and No. 2 progress
|WEEKS||No. 1||No. 2||Event|
|PRE||Oklahoma||Michigan||Michigan 37, Illinois 9 (Sept 10)|
|1-2||Michigan||USC||Oklahoma 29, Ohio State 28 (Sept 24)|
|4||USC||Oklahoma||Alabama 21, USC 20 (Oct 8)|
|5-6||Michigan||Texas||Minnesota 16, Michigan 0 (Oct 22)|
|7-11||Texas||Alabama||Oklahoma 38, Nebraska 7 (Nov 25)|
|12-Bowls||Texas||Oklahoma||Notre Dame 38, Texas 10 (Jan 2)|
|Final||Notre Dame||Alabama||Notre Dame 38, Texas 10 (Jan 2)|
Monday, January 2, 1978
|Cotton||No. 5 Notre Dame Fighting Irish||38||No. 1 Texas Longhorns||10|
|Sugar||No. 3 Alabama Crimson Tide||35||No. 9 Ohio State Buckeyes||6|
|Rose||No. 13 Washington Huskies||27||No. 4 Michigan Wolverines||20|
|Orange||No. 6 Arkansas Razorbacks||31||No. 2 Oklahoma Sooners||6|
Two former NFL head coaching failures became college football successes, upsetting the No. 1 and No. 2 teams. Dan Devine had been unspectacular at Green Bay before succeeding Ara Parseghian at Notre Dame in 1975, while Lou Holtz had coached the New York Jets to a 3–11 finish in 1976 before taking over at Arkansas.
The largest crowd in Cotton Bowl history (76,701) turned out in Dallas to watch the unbeaten No. 1 Texas Longhorns to attempt to finalize a national championship. Notre Dame's defense forced five turnovers, which set up five scores. Running back Vagas Ferguson scored three touchdowns, including one on a pass from Joe Montana in a 38–10 win. For Texas, both Earl Campbell and Johnny Lam Jones were injured. Devine changed his mind about resigning his Irish coaching job.
Following Texas' loss in the Cotton Bowl, No. 4 Michigan hoped an impressive win over the Washington might vault them to a possible national championship. However, the Huskies, led by Rose Bowl MVP Warren Moon, raced to a 24–0 lead in the third quarter and held on for a 27–20 upset.
With No. 1 Texas and No. 4 Michigan out of the way, No. 2 Oklahoma was in a position to claim the championship with a win over No. 6 Arkansas in the nightcap in Miami. The Razorbacks had finished behind Texas in SWC play and had settled for the Orange Bowl. The week of the game, Holtz suspended the Hogs' top rusher, Ben Cowins, and the top receiver, Donny Bobo for violating team rules. The Sooners were 18-point favorites but Cowins' backup Roland Sales rushed for two touchdowns and over 200 yards as the Razorbacks shut down the Sooners' ground game en route to a 24–0 lead after three quarters and a massive 31–6 upset.
The national championship was disputed as there were six teams with one loss: Alabama, Arkansas, Notre Dame, Texas, Penn State, and Kentucky (prohibited from playing in a bowl due to NCAA probation). Notre Dame had lost to Mississippi, who lost to Alabama, who lost to Nebraska, who lost to Oklahoma, who lost to Arkansas, who lost to Texas who lost to Notre Dame. Penn State lost to Kentucky and Kentucky lost to Baylor who had lost to Texas, Arkansas, and Nebraska. Amidst this confusion, there were several good choices for a champion; giant killers Notre Dame and Arkansas, and third-ranked Alabama, and Texas. Notre Dame, on the strength of its lopsided win over No. 1 Texas, vaulted over Texas, Oklahoma (who lost in the Orange Bowl), Alabama (who won in the Sugar Bowl), and Michigan (who lost in the Rose Bowl). Alabama fans cried foul as they assumed, as the No. 3 team before the bowls, that if No. 1 Texas and No. 2 Oklahoma lost (which they did), they would rise to No. 1 with a win over Ohio State.
In the final polls, the electors for AP and UPI were expectedly divided, but a majority in each picked Notre Dame. With one AP writer naming all three schools as number one, the writers poll was 37⅓ for Notre Dame, 19⅓ for Alabama and 5⅓ for Arkansas. UPI had 23 for Notre Dame, 13 for Alabama and 2 for Arkansas. Devine, who had followed in the footsteps of both Vince Lombardi and Parseghian, reversed his earlier plans and continued as head coach in 1978.
|Fiesta||Tempe||Arizona||December 25||No. 8 Penn State||42–30||No. 15 Arizona State|
|Sun||El Paso||Texas||December 31||Stanford||24–14||LSU|
|Gator||Jacksonville||Florida||December 30||No. 10 Pittsburgh||34–3||No. 11 Clemson|
|Tangerine||Orlando||Florida||December 23||No. 19 Florida State||40–17||Texas Tech|
|Astro-Bluebonnet||Houston||Texas||December 31||No. 20 USC||47–28||No. 17 Texas A&M|
|Liberty||Memphis||Tennessee||December 19||No. 12 Nebraska||21–17||No. 14 North Carolina|
|Peach||Atlanta||Georgia||December 31||NC State||24–14||Iowa State|
|Independence||Shreveport||Louisiana||December 17||Louisiana Tech||24–14||Louisville|
|Hall of Fame||Birmingham||Alabama||December 22||Maryland||17–7||Minnesota|
- Earl Campbell, RB – Texas, 1,547 points
- Terry Miller, RB – Oklahoma State, 812
- Ken MacAfee, TE – Notre Dame, 343
- Doug Williams, QB – Grambling State, 266
- Ross Browner, DE – Notre Dame, 213
- Guy Benjamin, QB – Stanford, 111
- Matt Cavanaugh, QB – Pittsburgh, 86
- Rick Leach, QB – Michigan, 59
- Charles Alexander, RB – LSU, 54
- Wes Chandler, WR – Florida, 50
- 1977 NCAA Division I football rankings
- 1977 College Football All-America Team
- 1977 NCAA Division II football season
- 1977 NCAA Division III football season
- "AP, UPI agree – it's Notre Dame". St. Petersburg Times. Florida. AP, UPI. January 4, 1978. p. 1C.
- "It might not add up, but Irish are clearly No. 1". Eugene Register-Guard. Oregon. AP, UPI. January 4, 1978. p. 3C.
- "Notre Dame corrals Longhorns by 38-10", Daily Herald (Chicago), Jan. 3, 1978, p4-1
- "Holtz' hot Hogs make Sales pitch", Syracuse Herald Journal, Jan 3, 1978, p39
- Galveston County News, Jan 4, 1978, p27
- "Earl Campbell". Heisman Trophy. 1977. Retrieved January 13, 2017.
- "Heisman to Texas back". Spokane Daily Chronicle. Washington. Associated Press. December 9, 1977. p. 34.