|1978 NCAA Division I-A season|
|Number of teams||138|
|Duration||September 1, 1978 –|
January 1, 1979
|Preseason AP No. 1||Alabama|
|Duration||December 16, 1978 – |
January 1, 1979
|AP Poll No. 1||Alabama|
|Coaches Poll No. 1||USC|
|Heisman Trophy||Billy Sims (Oklahoma HB)|
|Division I-A football seasons|
The 1978 NCAA Division I-A football season was the first season of Division I-A college football; Division I-A was created in 1978 when Division I was subdivided into Division I-A and Division I-AA for football only. With the exception of seven teams from the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC), Division I teams from the 1977 season played in Division I-A during the 1978 season. The SWAC teams, along with five conferences and five other teams formerly in Division II, played in Division I-AA.
The Division I-A season came down to a rare #1 vs. #2 post-season meeting as #1 Penn State and #2 Alabama met in the New Year's Day Sugar Bowl. The game is most remembered for Alabama's goal line stand with four minutes left in the game. On fourth down and a foot, Alabama managed to keep Penn State out of the end zone and went on to win, 14–7. Keith Jackson, who did the play by play for ABC, called it the greatest game he'd ever seen. 76,824 people packed the Louisiana Superdome, which was tremendously loud.
Alabama's only loss that year was 24–14 in Birmingham to USC. Both schools claim this year as a national title year. Alabama claimed the national title because it defeated top-ranked Penn State on the field. USC claimed the title because it defeated Alabama in the regular season and also finished with only one loss. The AP Poll and most other voting outlets (including the Football Writers Association of America and the National Football Foundation) crowned Alabama as national champion, while the UPI Coaches' Poll selected USC.
- Unsuccessful field goals are returned to the previous line of scrimmage. Previously they were placed at the 20-yard line. Unsuccessful attempts where the previous line of scrimmage was inside the 20 are placed at the 20.
- Balls may not be altered and new or nearly new balls are to be used.
- Receivers knocked out of bounds by a defender can return and catch a legal forward pass.
- Intentional grounding is defined as a pass thrown with the intent of avoiding loss of yardage that lands where no eligible receivers are located.
- Players whose jerseys are torn are required to leave the field for one play to change or a time-out will be charged to his team.
- The penalty for an ineligible receiver touched by a forward pass is reduced from 10 yards and loss of down to 5 yards and loss of down.
- Delay of game (5 yards) penalties can be assessed against the defense when crowd noise prevents the offense from running its plays.
Conference and program changes
- After adding Arizona and Arizona State from the WAC, the Pacific-8 Conference was renamed the Pacific-10 Conference.
|School||1977 Conference||1978 Conference|
|Arizona State Sun Devils||WAC||Pacific-10|
|Indiana State Sycamores||D-I Independent||Missouri Valley|
|San Diego State Aztecs||PCAA (Big West)||WAC|
|UNLV Rebels||D-II Independent||I-A Independent|
|Utah State Aggies||D-I Independent||PCAA (Big West)|
The pre-season ranking of the top 5 were 1. Alabama, 2. Arkansas, 3. Penn State, 4. Oklahoma, and 5. Notre Dame.
On September 2, Alabama avenged its only loss from the prior season when they topped #10 Nebraska, 20-3. #2 Arkansas would not start its season for another two weeks. #3 Penn State struggled in beating Temple 10-7 and dropped to 5th, #4 Oklahoma was idle, as was #5 Notre Dame. 1. Alabama, 2. Arkansas, 3. Oklahoma, 4. Notre Dame, 5. Penn State
On September 9, #1 Alabama and #2 Arkansas were not scheduled, while #3 Oklahoma opened its season with a 35-29 win at Stanford. #4 Notre Dame was stunned at Missouri, 3-0, while #5 Penn State beat Rutgers, 26-10. #6 Michigan, who had yet to begin their season, replaced Notre Dame in the top 5. 1. Alabama, 2. Arkansas, 3. Oklahoma, 4. Michigan, 5. Penn State.
September 16 saw #1 Alabama win at #11 Missouri, 38-20 while #2 Arkansas opened its season with a 48-17 win over Vanderbilt. #3 Oklahoma walloped West Virginia 52-10, and #4 Michigan started its campaign with a 31-0 shutout of Illinois. #5 Penn State blanked #6 Ohio State 19-0 and would regain the #3 ranking, tying Oklahoma in the voting. 1. Alabama, 2. Arkansas, 3. Penn State, 3. Oklahoma, 5. Michigan.
On September 23, #1 Alabama lost in Birmingham to #7 USC, 24-14. #2 Arkansas struggled in beating Oklahoma State 19-7, #3 Penn State struggled with SMU but won 26-21, #3 Oklahoma would vault to the top spot on the strength of their 66-7 win over Rice, and #5 Michigan won at #14 Notre Dame, 28-14. The new poll was 1. Oklahoma, 2. Arkansas, 3. USC, 4. Michigan, 5. Penn State.
On September 30, new #1 Oklahoma beat #14 Missouri 45-23, #2 Arkansas was unimpressive in a 21-13 win over Tulsa, #3 USC thumped Michigan State 30-9, #4 Michigan beat Duke 52-0, and #5 Penn State crushed TCU 58-0. 1. Oklahoma, 2. USC, 3. Michigan, 4. Arkansas, 5. Penn State.
On October 7, #1 Oklahoma solidified its ranking with a 31-10 win over #6 Texas. #2 USC was idle, #3 Michigan struggled in beating Arizona 21-17, #4 Arkansas beat TCU 42-3, and #5 Penn State avenged its only loss from 1977 in shutting out Kentucky, 30-0. The new poll was 1. Oklahoma, 2. USC, 3. Penn State, 4. Arkansas, 5. Michigan
October 14 was a day of surprises. #1 Oklahoma escaped with a 17-16 win over Kansas, #2 USC lost to Arizona State in Tempe 20-7, and #5 Michigan lost to Michigan State, 24-15. #3 Penn State and #4 Arkansas escaped the madness by being idle. Alabama rejoined the top 5 by beating Florida 23-12, and Nebraska cracked the top 5 by beating Kansas State 48-14. 1. Oklahoma, 2. Penn State, 3. Arkansas, 4. Alabama, 5. Nebraska
October 21 saw more upheaval in the rankings as #3 Arkansas lost to #8 Texas 28-21. #1 Oklahoma beat Iowa State 34-6, #2 Penn State won over Syracuse 45-14, #4 Alabama beat Tennessee 30-13, and #5 Nebraska won at Colorado 52-14. Maryland jumped into the top 5 with a 39-0 win over Wake Forest. New poll: 1. Oklahoma 2. Penn State 3. Alabama 4. Nebraska 5. Maryland
On October 28, #1 Oklahoma beat Kansas State 56-19, #2 Penn State beat West Virginia 49-21, #3 Alabama beat Virginia Tech 35-0, #4 Nebraska beat Oklahoma State 22-14, and #5 Maryland got ready for their upcoming showdown with Penn State by thumping Duke 27-0.
On November 4, Oklahoma beat Colorado 28-7, #2 Penn State stymied #5 Maryland 27-3, #3 Alabama topped Mississippi State 35-14, and #4 Nebraska beat Kansas 63-21. USC returned to the top 5 after a 13-7 win at Stanford.
November 11 saw #1 Oklahoma lose to #4 Nebraska 17-14 in the game that decided the Big Eight title. #2 Penn State claimed the top spot with a 19-10 win over N.C. State. #3 Alabama rolled along with a 31-10 win at #10 LSU. #5 USC beat #19 Washington 28-10. The new poll was 1. Penn State 2. Nebraska 3. Alabama 4. Oklahoma 5. USC.
On November 18, #1 Penn State was idle while #2 Nebraska was knocked off at home by Missouri 35-31 and fell to 7th. #3 Alabama was also idle, and #4 Oklahoma won its final game over Oklahoma State 62-7. In the showdown to decide the Pac-10 title and Rose Bowl berth, #5 USC stopped #14 UCLA by a score of 17-10. Houston, who had beaten #6 Texas the week before to clinch the SWC title and Cotton Bowl berth, moved up to #5. New poll: 1. Penn State 2. Alabama 3. USC 4. Oklahoma 5. Houston
On November 24, #1 Penn State wrapped up its undefeated regular season with a 17-10 over #15 rival Pittsburgh. #2 Alabama had one more week off before its game with rival Auburn. #3 USC needed a controversial call (an apparent fumble was ruled an incomplete pass thus keeping the final drive alive) and last second field goal to beat #8 Notre Dame 27-25. #5 Houston was upset by Texas Tech 22-21. #6 Michigan clinched the Rose Bowl berth with a 14-3 win over rival Ohio State.
On December 2, #2 Alabama finished its season with a win in the Iron Bowl rivalry game over Auburn, 34-16. Thus, the final regular season top 5 was: 1. Penn State 2. Alabama 3. USC 4. Oklahoma 5. Michigan. Penn State accepted the Sugar Bowl bid to set up a 1 vs. 2 matchup with Alabama. USC and Michigan would square off in a Rose Bowl battle of 1 loss teams, while the Orange Bowl surprised everyone by inviting Big 8 runner up Oklahoma (over 7th ranked ACC champ Clemson) to play Big 8 champ Nebraska in a rematch of their regular season meeting. Of note is that Clemson went to the Gator Bowl instead, where it beat Ohio State 17-15. It was near the end of that game when legendary Ohio State coach Woody Hayes punched Clemson linebacker Charlie Bauman after his game clinching interception, leading to Hayes' dismissal as Ohio State coach.
#1 and #2 progress
|PRE-3||Alabama||Arkansas||USC 24, Alabama 14 (Sept 23)|
|4||Oklahoma||Arkansas||USC 30, Michigan St 9 (Sept 29)|
|5-6||Oklahoma||USC||Arizona St. 20, USC 7 (Oct 14)|
|7-10||Oklahoma||Penn State||Nebraska 17, Oklahoma 14 (Nov 11)|
|11||Penn State||Nebraska||Missouri 35, Nebraska 31 (Nov 18)|
|12-14||Penn State||Alabama||Alabama 14, Penn State 7 (Jan 1)|
Notable rivalry games
- Arizona St. 18, Arizona 17
- Alabama 34, Auburn 16
- Stanford 30, Cal 10
- USC 17, UCLA 10
- USC 27, Notre Dame 25
- Nebraska 17, Oklahoma 14
Top ranked Penn State, as an independent, was not tied to any bowl game so the Nittany Lions accepted the Sugar Bowl invitation where they would meet SEC Champion Alabama, who was ranked 2nd in the AP and 3rd in the UPI. Pac-10 champion USC (ranked 3rd in the AP and 2nd in the UPI) faced #5 Michigan in the Rose Bowl in a battle of one loss teams. Nebraska had upset Oklahoma to earn the Big 8 title and automatic Orange Bowl berth; the Orange Bowl pulled a surprise by inviting the Sooners to play Nebraska in a rematch. Most observers felt Clemson would be invited and Oklahoma would play Houston in the Cotton Bowl Classic. The Cotton Bowl Classic bid went to Notre Dame and Clemson had to settle for the Gator Bowl despite a better record and higher ranking than Notre Dame.
In unusually cold and icy Dallas, Notre Dame overcame a 34–12 fourth quarter deficit to beat Houston 35–34. The Fighting Irish were led by quarterback Joe Montana in his final collegiate game. In New Orleans, Alabama used a 4th quarter goal line stand to upset Penn State 14–7. In Pasadena, USC defeated Michigan 17–10, aided by an incredible performance (including the game-winning touchdown) by Charles White . In the Orange Bowl, Oklahoma won its rematch with Nebraska 31–24. One other Bowl of note saw Clemson beat Ohio State 17–15 in the Gator Bowl; the next day, legendary Ohio State coach Woody Hayes was fired for punching Clemson defensive back Charlie Bauman in the throat after his game-saving interception.
|Cotton||#10 Notre Dame||35||#9 Houston||34|
|Sugar||#2 Alabama||14||#1 Penn State||7|
|Rose||#3 USC||17||#5 Michigan||10|
|Orange||#4 Oklahoma||31||#6 Nebraska||24|
|Gator||#7 Clemson||17||#20 Ohio State||15|
|Fiesta||#8 Arkansas (tie)||10||#15 UCLA (tie)||10|
|Peach||#17 Purdue||41||Georgia Tech||21|
|Sun||#14 Texas||42||#13 Maryland||0|
|Tangerine||North Carolina St.||30||#16 Pittsburgh||17|
|Hall of Fame||Texas A&M||28||#19 Iowa State||12|
|Independence||East Carolina||35||Louisiana Tech||13|
|Garden State||Arizona State||34||Rutgers||18|
The season ended with the top 3 teams (Alabama, USC, and Oklahoma) with one loss. In the AP poll, Alabama (11-1-0), on the strength of their Sugar Bowl win over former #1 Penn State, was voted #1. In the UPI poll, USC (12-1-0) was voted #1, based in a large part on their 24-14 win at Alabama over the Crimson Tide. Oklahoma, who was #1 for most of the season, felt that they should be national champs as they avenged their only loss by beating Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. The Sooners had to settle for the #3 ranking in both polls.
Final AP and UPI rankings
|4.||Penn State||Penn State|
|18.||N.C. State||Texas A&M|
|19.||Texas A&M||Arizona State|
- Billy Sims, HB - Oklahoma, 827 points
- Chuck Fusina, QB - Penn State, 750
- Rick Leach, QB - Michigan, 435
- Charles White, TB - USC, 354
- Charles Alexander, TB - LSU, 282
- Ted Brown, RB - NC State, 82
- Steve Fuller, QB - Clemson, 82
- Eddie Lee Ivery, RB - Georgia Tech, 81
- Jack Thompson, QB - Washington State, 72
- Jerry Robinson, LB - UCLA, 70
Other major awards
- Maxwell (outstanding player) – Chuck Fusina, Penn St. QB
- Outland (Interior Lineman) – Greg Roberts, Oklahoma G
- Camp (Running back) – Billy Sims, Oklahoma RB
- Lombardi (Linebacker) – Bruce Clark, Penn St. D
- Maccambridge, Michael (2005). ESPN college football encyclopedia. ESPN. pp. 1629 p. ISBN 1-4013-3703-1.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-10-02. Retrieved 2008-12-30.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- "Earl Campbell". Heisman Trophy. 1978. Retrieved September 7, 2017.
- "Oklahoma's Sims Heisman winner". Lodi News-Sentinel. (California). UPI. November 29, 1978. p. 18.
- Word, Ron (November 29, 1978). "Billy Sims". Spokesman-Review. (Spokane, Washington). Associated Press. p. 49.