|1979 NCAA Division I-A season|
|Number of teams||139|
|Preseason AP No. 1||USC|
|Heisman Trophy||Charles White (running back, USC)|
|Champion(s)||Alabama (AP, Coaches, FWAA)|
|Division I-A football seasons|
The 1979 NCAA Division I-A football season saw the Alabama Crimson Tide bring home a national title with a perfect 12–0 season. The title was Alabama's 11th claimed, and their 6th Associated Press awarded title.
This was an extremely dominant Alabama team, only giving up 67 points the entire season and shutting out five opponents. The team won a tight game against LSU 3–0 and beat Auburn by a touchdown before beating Arkansas 24–9 in the Sugar Bowl.
There was very little movement at the top of the rankings throughout the season, as only three different teams held the top spot in the AP poll and only two in the UPI poll. USC was the pre-season top-ranked team, and held the number one ranking until a 21–21 tie with Stanford, a game USC led at halftime 21–0. A fumbled hold on the snap from center cost the Trojans a chance at a last-second field goal. Stanford was led by quarterback Turk Schonert, while freshman John Elway served as his backup. USC ended up finishing second in the country, but running back Charles White brought home the Heisman Trophy.
No. 2 Alabama then took over the top spot and never relinquished that position in the UPI poll. In the AP poll, however, Ohio State took over the top spot in the last regular season poll of the season. Ohio State had defeated No. 13 Michigan in Ann Arbor by a score of 18–15 to earn the Big Ten title. Two weeks later, Alabama defeated No. 14 Auburn 25–18 in Birmingham, but the AP voters saw fit to jump Ohio State ahead of them.
Thus, Ohio State came within one point of a national title under first-year coach Earle Bruce, who replaced coach Woody Hayes, falling to USC 17–16 in the Rose Bowl after an undefeated season.
|School||1978 Conference||1979 Conference|
|East Tennessee State Buccaneers||Ohio Valley (I-AA)||Southern (I-A)|
|Hawaiʻi Rainbow Warriors||Independent||WAC|
While Georgia Tech joined the ACC in non-football sports, the Yellow Jackets would not join ACC football until 1983.
The preseason AP Poll featured last year’s respective Coaches’ Poll and AP champions, USC and Alabama, at No. 1 and No. 2, followed by No. 3 Oklahoma, No. 4 Texas, and No. 5 Penn State.
September 8: No. 1 USC began the year on the road with a 21-7 victory over Texas Tech in Lubbock, while No. 2 Alabama traveled to Atlanta for a 30-6 win over Georgia Tech. The other teams in the top five had not yet started their seasons, but No. 6 Purdue moved up to No. 5 in the next poll with a 41-20 defeat of Wisconsin. The top four remained the same.
September 15: No. 1 USC obliterated Oregon State 42-5. No. 2 Alabama was idle. No. 3 Oklahoma opened their schedule with a 21-6 victory over Iowa. No. 4 Texas still had not started their season. In a bad day for Big Ten teams, No. 5 Purdue traveled to Los Angeles and lost 31-21 to UCLA, while No. 6 Michigan fell 12-10 to No. 9 Notre Dame on a blocked field goal attempt as time expired. Notre Dame rose to No. 5, with the top four remaining the same.
September 22: No. 1 USC beat Minnesota 48-14, No. 2 Alabama shut out Baylor 45-0, No. 3 Oklahoma defeated Tulsa 49-13, and No. 4 Texas finally began play with a 17-9 victory over Iowa State. No. 5 Notre Dame matched up against No. 17 Purdue, the team which they had just replaced in the top five, and lost 28-22 on a second-half comeback by the Boilermakers. No. 9 Missouri moved up to No. 5 with a 33-7 win at Mississippi. The top four again remained the same.
September 29: No. 1 USC visited No. 20 LSU and won 17-12. No. 2 Alabama opened conference play in dominant fashion with a 66-3 victory at Vanderbilt, while Oklahoma overpowered Rice 63-21. No. 4 Texas and No. 5 Missouri squared off in Columbia, and the Longhorns shut out the Tigers 21-0. For the fourth week in a row, the top four remained the same with a new team at No. 5. This time the newcomer was Nebraska, which moved up from No. 6 by defeating No. 18 Penn State 42-17.
October 6: All of the highly-ranked teams won easily. No. 1 USC won 50-21 over Washington State, No. 2 Alabama blanked Wichita State 38-0, No. 3 Oklahoma defeated Colorado 49-24, No. 4 Texas beat Rice 26-9, and No. 5 Nebraska shut out New Mexico State 57-0. The top five remained the same.
October 13: This week finally saw some movement at the top of the polls. No. 1 USC blew a 21-0 halftime lead to Stanford, and the game ended in a 21-21 tie. No. 2 Alabama took over the top spot with a 40-0 victory over Florida; the Crimson Tide had outscored their first five opponents 219-9. No. 3 Oklahoma and No. 4 Texas met in the annual Red River Shootout, and the Longhorns prevailed 16-7. The Sooners’ other major rival, No. 5 Nebraska, shut out Kansas 42-0, while No. 7 Houston moved up with a 17-14 victory over Texas A&M. The next poll featured No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Texas, No. 3 Nebraska, No. 4 USC, and No. 5 Houston.
October 20: No. 1 Alabama finally allowed an opponent to reach double digits in points, but still beat No. 18 Tennessee 27-17. No. 2 Texas fell 17-14 to No. 10 Arkansas, the Razorbacks’ first victory over the Longhorns in eight years. No. 3 Nebraska beat Oklahoma State 36-0 for their third consecutive shutout win. No. 4 USC got back on track with a 42-23 victory over No. 9 Notre Dame. No. 5 Houston defeated SMU 37-10, but still fell out of the top five. Ohio State had not been expected to be a major contender after the controversial firing of coach Woody Hayes, but the Buckeyes had risen to No. 6 in the polls under the direction of Earle Bruce, and a 59-0 win over Wisconsin brought them even higher. The next poll featured No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Nebraska, and No. 3 USC, with Arkansas and Ohio State tied at No. 4.
October 27: No. 1 Alabama hosted Virginia Tech and won 31-7. No. 2 Nebraska allowed an opponent to score for the first time in almost a month, but the Cornhuskers were still dominant in a 38-10 win over Colorado. No. 3 USC defeated California 24-14. No. 4 Arkansas and No. 6 Houston met in Fayetteville, and the Cougars won 13-10 on a late field goal. Ohio State, tied with the Razorbacks at No. 4, recorded a second consecutive shutout by beating Michigan State 42-0. The next poll featured No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Nebraska, No. 3 USC, No. 4 Houston, and No. 5 Ohio State.
November 3: No. 1 Alabama defeated Mississippi State 24-7. No. 2 Nebraska had a close call against Missouri, which had beaten them in an upset the previous year. But the Cornhuskers pulled out a 23-20 win, beginning a 24-game winning streak over the Tigers which lasted into the 21st century. No. 3 USC won 34-7 over Arizona, No. 4 Houston defeated TCU 21-10, and No. 5 Ohio State beat Illinois 44-7. The Buckeyes moved up in the next poll: No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Nebraska, No. 3 Ohio State, No. 4 USC, and No. 5 Houston.
November 10: No. 1 Alabama had trouble against unranked LSU, who held the Crimson Tide to a single field goal, but two fourth-quarter interceptions preserved a 3-0 win for coach Bear Bryant’s squad. No. 2 Nebraska also struggled against last-place Kansas State, winning 21-12 despite losing five fumbles. No. 3 Ohio State won 34-7 over Iowa. No. 4 USC clinched the Pac-10 title and a Rose Bowl berth with a 24-17 win over the second-place team, No. 15 Washington. No. 5 Houston suffered its first loss, falling 21-13 to No. 8 Texas. No. 7 Florida State improved their record to 9-0 with a 27-7 win over No. 19 South Carolina and moved up in the next poll: No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Ohio State, No. 3 Nebraska, No. 4 USC, and No. 5 Florida State.
November 17: No. 1 Alabama recorded their fifth shutout of the year, 30-0 over Miami. As was so often the case in the 1970s, the Big Ten title was decided in the Ohio State-Michigan game. The Wolverines had defeated the Buckeyes three years in a row (holding them without a touchdown in each game), but this time No. 2 Ohio State prevailed 18-15 over No. 13 Michigan. No. 3 Nebraska won 34-3 over Iowa State. No. 4 USC, who would be Ohio State’s Rose Bowl opponent, was idle. No. 5 Florida State blasted Memphis 66-17. The top five remained the same.
November 23-24: No. 1 Alabama was idle as they prepared for their annual matchup against Auburn, and No. 2 Ohio State had finished its schedule. No. 3 Nebraska and No. 8 Oklahoma, both undefeated in conference play, squared off for the Big 8 title and a spot in the Orange Bowl. The Sooners won 17-14 behind 247 rushing yards from defending Heisman Trophy winner Billy Sims. No. 4 USC finished the year with a 49-14 win over UCLA, and No. 5 Florida State beat Florida 27-16, completing an unexpected perfect season under fourth-year coach Bobby Bowden. The next poll featured No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 USC, No. 3 Ohio State, No. 4 Florida State, and No. 5 Oklahoma.
December 1: No. 1 Alabama was favored against No. 14 Auburn in the Iron Bowl, but the rival Tigers gave the Crimson Tide all they could handle. Alabama finally won 25-18 to preserve their perfect record and earn the SEC title and a Sugar Bowl berth. The other conference race which went down to the last day was the SWC, where No. 6 Texas, No. 8 Arkansas, and No. 10 Houston were all still in contention. A Longhorns loss (13-7 at Texas A&M) and a Cougars win (63-0 over Rice) delivered the Cotton Bowl berth to Houston, which shared the conference title with Arkansas but held the tiebreaker over the Razorbacks by virtue of their head-to-head win in October.
At the end of the regular season, five teams were undefeated and five others had just one loss. Alabama and Ohio State were both 11-0; the Coaches’ Poll kept the Crimson Tide in the top spot, but the AP voters moved the Buckeyes ahead after Alabama struggled to win their final game. In the final AP Poll before the bowls, No. 1 Ohio State and No. 2 Alabama were followed by No. 3 USC (10-0-1), No. 4 Florida State (11-0), No. 5 Oklahoma, No. 6 Arkansas, No. 7 Nebraska, No. 8 Houston (all 10-1), No. 9 Brigham Young (11-0, but with just one game against a major conference opponent), and No. 10 Pittsburgh (10-1). The major bowl matchups were Ohio State vs. USC in the Rose Bowl, Alabama vs. Arkansas in the Sugar, Oklahoma vs. Florida State in the Orange, and Houston vs. Nebraska in the Cotton.
|WEEKS||No. 1||No. 2||Event|
|PRE-5||USC||Alabama||Stanford 21, USC 21 (Oct 13)|
|6||Alabama||Texas||Arkansas 17, Texas 14 (Oct 20)|
|7-9||Alabama||Nebraska||Ohio State 34, Iowa 7 (Nov 10)|
|10-11||Alabama||Ohio State||USC 49, UCLA 14 (Nov 24)|
|13||Ohio State||Alabama||USC 17, Ohio State 16|
|Rose Bowl||No. 3 USC||17||No. 1 Ohio State||16|
|Sugar Bowl||No. 2 Alabama||24||No. 6 Arkansas||9|
|Orange Bowl||No. 5 Oklahoma||24||No. 4 Florida State||7|
|Cotton Bowl||No. 8 Houston||17||No. 7 Nebraska||14|
|Bluebonnet Bowl||No. 12 Purdue||27||Tennessee||22|
|Peach Bowl||No. 19 Baylor||24||No. 18 Clemson||18|
|Hall of Fame Classic||Missouri||24||No. 16 South Carolina||14|
|Gator Bowl||North Carolina||17||No. 14 Michigan||15|
|Fiesta Bowl||No. 10 Pittsburgh||16||Arizona||10|
|Sun Bowl||No. 13 Washington||14||No. 11 Texas||7|
|Liberty Bowl||Penn State||9||No. 15 Tulane||6|
|Tangerine Bowl||LSU||34||Wake Forest||10|
|Holiday Bowl||Indiana||38||No. 9 Brigham Young||37|
|Garden State Bowl||No. 20 Temple||28||California||17|
|Independence Bowl||Syracuse||31||McNeese State||7|
Main article: 1979 NCAA Division I-A football rankings
|4.||Ohio State||Ohio State|