The Wolverines (8–1–2) were the runner-up in the Big Ten Conference, after falling to rivalOhio State in Ann Arbor, 21–14. This was the first season that the Big Ten (and Pac-8) allowed multiple bowl teams.
The Sooners were co-champions in the Big Eight Conference with Nebraska. Oklahoma opened with eight wins before an unexpected 23–3 loss at home to Kansas, which snapped a 28-game winning streak (37-game unbeaten streak) and dropped them from second to sixth in the rankings. With wins over Missouri and Nebraska, they rose to third.