1981 NCAA Division I-A season
Number of teams137[1]
Preseason AP No. 1Michigan[2]
Post-season
Bowl games16
Heisman TrophyMarcus Allen (USC RB)
Champion(s)Clemson (AP, Coaches, FWAA)
Division I-A football seasons
← 1980
1982 →

The 1981 NCAA Division I-A football season ended with the Clemson Tigers, unbeaten and untied, claiming the national championship after a victory over Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. This was also the first year of the California Bowl, played in Fresno, California; this game fancied itself as a "junior" version of the Rose Bowl[citation needed] as it pitted the Big West Conference champion vs. the Mid-American Conference champion.

Rule changes

Conference and program changes

School 1980 Conference 1981 Conference
Illinois State Redbirds D-I Independent Missouri Valley
Villanova Wildcats I-A Independent Dropped Program -- Reinstated in 1985

September

The AP’s preseason top 5 were No. 1 Michigan, No. 2 Oklahoma, No. 3 Notre Dame, No. 4 Alabama, and No. 5 USC.

September 5: No. 4 Alabama began its season with a 24-7 win at LSU. With all other highly-ranked teams remaining idle, the Crimson Tide moved up in the next poll: No. 1 Michigan, No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Oklahoma, No. 4 Notre Dame, and No. 5 USC.

September 12: The first full week of the season featured two major upsets. No. 1 Michigan was shocked 21-14 by Wisconsin, while No. 2 Alabama fell 24-21 to a Georgia Tech team which wouldn’t win another game all year. No. 3 Oklahoma beat Wyoming 37-20, No. 4 Notre Dame defeated LSU 27-9, and No. 5 USC won 43-7 over Tennessee. No. 6 Georgia, the defending champion, beat California 27-13, and No. 9 Penn State opened their schedule with a 52-0 shutout of Cincinnati. The next poll featured No. 1 Notre Dame, No. 2 USC, No. 3 Oklahoma, No. 4 Georgia, and No. 5 Penn State.

September 19: The new No. 1 lost to the old No. 1, as Notre Dame was defeated 25-7 by No. 11 Michigan. The Fighting Irish, under the new leadership of former high school coach Gerry Faust, soon fell out of the polls and finished 5-6, their first losing season since 1963. No. 2 USC shut out Indiana 21-0, while No. 3 Oklahoma and No. 5 Penn State were idle. No. 4 Georgia was another upset victim, falling 13-3 to Clemson. No. 6 Texas beat North Texas State 23-10, and No. 7 Pittsburgh defeated Cincinnati 38-7. The next poll featured No. 1 USC, No. 2 Oklahoma, No. 3 Penn State, No. 4 Texas, and No. 5 Pittsburgh. Clemson entered the rankings at No. 19.

September 26: In a No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown in Los Angeles, USC scored a touchdown in the final seconds to nip Oklahoma 28-24. No. 3 Penn State won 30-24 over No. 15 Nebraska, No. 4 Texas defeated No. 14 Miami 14-7, and No. 5 Pittsburgh was idle. The next poll featured No. 1 USC, No. 2 Penn State, No. 3 Texas, No. 4 Pittsburgh, and No. 5 Oklahoma.

October

October 3: No. 1 USC opened their conference schedule with a 56-22 win over Oregon State. No. 2 Penn State shut out Temple 30-0, No. 3 Texas was idle, and No. 4 Pittsburgh beat South Carolina 42-28. No. 5 Oklahoma was tied 7-7 by No. 20 Iowa State. No. 6 North Carolina moved up with a 28-7 win over Georgia Tech: No. 1 USC, No. 2 Penn State, No. 3 Texas, No. 4 Pittsburgh, and No. 5 North Carolina.

October 10: No. 1 USC was upset at home by Arizona, 13–10. No. 2 Penn State beat Boston College 38-7, but the Nittany Lions were leapfrogged by No. 3 Texas, who beat No. 10 Oklahoma 34-14. No. 4 Pittsburgh shut out West Virginia 17-0, No. 5 North Carolina beat Wake Forest 48-10, and No. 6 Michigan won 38-10 at Michigan State. The next poll featured No. 1 Texas, No. 2 Penn State, No. 3 Pittsburgh, No. 4 North Carolina, and No. 5 Michigan.

October 17: No. 1 Texas was steamrolled by Arkansas 42–11. No. 2 Penn State beat Syracuse 41-16, No. 3 Pittsburgh defeated No. 11 Florida State 42-14, and No. 4 North Carolina won 21-10 at North Carolina State. No. 5 Michigan suffered its second conference loss, falling 9-7 to No. 12 Iowa; the surprising Hawkeyes had already defeated two top-ten teams in non-conference play. No. 6 Clemson won 38-10 at Duke, and No. 7 USC moved up again with a 25-17 defeat of Stanford. The top five in the next poll were No. 1 Penn State, No. 2 Pittsburgh, No. 3 North Carolina, No. 4 Clemson, and No. 5 USC.

October 24: No. 1 Penn State won 30-7 over West Virginia, while No. 2 Pittsburgh beat Syracuse 23-10. No. 3 North Carolina lost 31-13 to South Carolina. No. 4 Clemson hosted North Carolina State and won 17-7, No. 5 USC won 14-7 at Notre Dame, and No. 7 Georgia blanked Kentucky 21-0. The next poll featured No. 1 Penn State, No. 2 Pittsburgh, No. 3 Clemson, No. 4 USC, and No. 5 Georgia.

October 31: The No. 1 team lost for the fifth time in eight weeks, as Penn State was upset 17-14 by Miami. No. 2 Pittsburgh won a close one, 29-24, at Boston College. No. 3 Clemson scored 12 touchdowns on 756 yards of offense (including a school-record 536 rushing yards) in an 82-24 rout of Wake Forest. No. 4 USC beat No. 14 Washington State 41-17, No. 5 Georgia overwhelmed Temple 49-3, and No. 6 Texas defeated Texas Tech 26-9. The next poll featured No. 1 Pittsburgh, No. 2 Clemson, No. 3 USC, No. 4 Georgia, and No. 5 Texas.

November

November 7: No. 1 Pittsburgh blew out Rutgers 47-3. No. 2 Clemson matched up with No. 8 North Carolina in the highest-ranked ACC matchup up to that time, with the Tigers prevailing 10-8. No. 3 USC won 21-3 at California, and No. 4 Georgia beat Florida 26-21 behind four Herschel Walker touchdowns. No. 5 Texas was tied 14-14 by Houston, and No. 6 Penn State moved back up with a 22-15 win over North Carolina State: No. 1 Pittsburgh, No. 2 Clemson, No. 3 USC, No. 4 Georgia, and No. 5 Penn State.

November 14: No. 1 Pittsburgh shut out Army 48-0, and No. 2 Clemson defeated Maryland 21-7. No. 3 USC lost 13-3 to Washington. No. 4 Georgia beat Auburn 24-13, but No. 5 Penn State fell 31-16 to No. 6 Alabama. No. 7 Nebraska, which had dominated its Big 8 schedule, won 31-7 over Iowa State to clinch the conference title and a spot in the Orange Bowl. The next poll featured No. 1 Pittsburgh, No. 2 Clemson, No. 3 Georgia, No. 4 Alabama, and No. 5 Nebraska.

November 21: No. 1 Pittsburgh registered its third consecutive dominant win, 35-0 over Temple. No. 2 Clemson completed an undefeated regular season with a 29-13 win at South Carolina. No. 3 Georgia and No. 4 Alabama were idle. No. 5 Nebraska finished its season with a 37-14 win over Oklahoma, and the top five remained the same. Several conference races were also decided on this day. No. 6 SMU clinched the SWC title with a 32-18 win at No. 16 Arkansas, but No. 8 Texas would represent the conference in the Cotton Bowl because the Mustangs were on probation. For the first time in 14 years, neither Ohio State nor Michigan would appear in the Rose Bowl, as the No. 7-ranked Wolverines were upset by the unranked Buckeyes, giving the Big Ten title to Iowa. Meanwhile, No. 10 USC blocked a last-second field goal attempt to beat No. 15 UCLA 22–21 and knock the Bruins out of Rose Bowl contention; this delivered the Pac-10 championship to No. 17 Washington.

November 26-28: One week away from a perfect season, No. 1 Pittsburgh was crushed 48-14 by their biggest rival, No. 11 Penn State. This left No. 2 Clemson, which had finished its schedule, as the last undefeated team and the seventh team to reach the top of the polls this year. No. 3 Georgia was idle; their last game, a 44-7 nonconference win over Georgia Tech, would come after the final poll. Alabama coach Bear Bryant won his 315th game when the No. 4-ranked Crimson Tide defeated archrival Auburn 28-17 in Birmingham, setting a new NCAA Division I record for coaching victories and tying Georgia for the SEC championship. No. 5 Nebraska and No. 6 SMU had finished their seasons, and they moved up in the final poll: No. 1 Clemson, No. 2 Georgia, No. 3 Alabama, No. 4 Nebraska, and No. 5 SMU.

For the second year in a row, the national championship was impacted by a premature bowl-game selection. As in 1980, the Sugar Bowl organizers hoped to create a de facto national title game by inviting an undefeated independent team to play against the SEC champion. However, just as Notre Dame had done the previous year, Pittsburgh lost its last regular season game after having already agreed to play in the Sugar Bowl. The Panthers had fallen all the way to No. 10 in the rankings by the time they faced off against No. 2 Georgia. Therefore, the Orange Bowl between No. 1 Clemson and No. 4 Nebraska became the highest-rated bowl-game pairing. The major bowls were rounded out by the Cotton Bowl which pitted No. 3 Alabama against No. 6 Texas and the Rose Bowl which matched No. 12 Washington against No. 13 Iowa.

Important game

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Clemson's match-up with North Carolina proved to be the landmark game of the season and a huge turning point for the ACC. This game which Clemson won 10–8 marked the first time two ACC teams met while ranked in the top 10. ABC broadcast this game live nationally, a huge bit of exposure for what was usually known as a basketball conference. The game ended with Jeff Bryant recovering a lateral with a minute left.

Conference standings

1981 Atlantic Coast Conference football standings
Conf Overall
Team W   L   T W   L   T
No. 1 Clemson $ 6 0 0 12 0 0
No. 9 North Carolina 5 1 0 10 2 0
Maryland 4 2 0 4 6 1
Duke 3 3 0 6 5 0
NC State 2 4 0 4 7 0
Wake Forest 1 5 0 4 7 0
Virginia 0 6 0 1 10 0
  • $ – Conference champion
Rankings from AP Poll
1981 Big Eight Conference football standings
Conf Overall
Team W   L   T W   L   T
No. 11 Nebraska $ 7 0 0 9 3 0
No. 20 Oklahoma 4 2 1 7 4 1
Kansas 4 3 0 7 5 0
Oklahoma State 4 3 0 7 5 0
No. 19 Missouri 3 4 0 8 4 0
Iowa State 2 4 1 5 5 1
Colorado 2 5 0 3 8 0
Kansas State 1 6 0 2 9 0
  • $ – Conference champion
Rankings from AP Poll
1981 Big Ten Conference football standings
Conf Overall
Team W   L   T W   L   T
No. 15 Ohio State + 6 2 0 9 3 0
No. 18 Iowa + 6 2 0 8 4 0
No. 12 Michigan 6 3 0 9 3 0
Illinois 6 3 0 7 4 0
Wisconsin 6 3 0 7 5 0
Minnesota 4 5 0 6 5 0
Michigan State 4 5 0 5 6 0
Purdue 3 6 0 5 6 0
Indiana 3 6 0 3 8 0
Northwestern 0 9 0 0 11 0
  • + – Conference co-champions
Rankings from AP Poll
1981 Ivy League football standings
Conf Overall
Team W   L   T W   L   T
Yale + 6 1 0 9 1 0
Dartmouth + 6 1 0 6 4 0
Princeton 5 1 1 5 4 1
Harvard 4 2 1 5 4 1
Brown 2 5 0 3 7 0
Cornell 2 5 0 3 7 0
Columbia 1 6 0 1 9 0
Penn 1 6 0 1 9 0
  • + – Conference co-champions
1981 Mid-American Conference football standings
Conf Overall
Team W   L   T W   L   T
Toledo $ 8 1 0 9 3 0
Miami 6 1 1 8 2 1
Central Michigan 7 2 0 7 4 0
Bowling Green 5 3 1 5 5 1
Western Michigan 5 4 0 6 5 0
Ohio 5 4 0 5 6 0
Kent State 3 6 0 4 7 0
Ball State 2 6 0 4 7 0
Northern Illinois 2 7 0 3 8 0
Eastern Michigan 0 9 0 0 11 0
  • $ – Conference champion
1981 Missouri Valley Conference football standings
Conf Overall
Team W   L   T W   L   T
Drake + 5 1 0 10 1 0
Tulsa + 5 1 0 6 5 0
Southern Illinois 5 2 0 7 4 0
West Texas State 3 3 0 7 4 0
Wichita State 3 3 1 4 6 1
Indiana State 2 4 1 5 5 1
New Mexico State 1 5 0 3 8 0
Illinois State 0 5 0 3 7 0
  • + – Conference co-champions
1981 Pacific Coast Athletic Association football standings
Conf Overall
Team W   L   T W   L   T
San Jose State $ 5 0 0 9 3 0
Utah State 4 1 1 5 5 1
Fresno State 2 3 0 5 6 0
Pacific (CA) 2 3 0 5 6 0
Cal State Fullerton 1 4 0 3 8 0
Long Beach State 1 4 0 2 8 0
  • $ – Conference champion
1981 Pacific-10 Conference football standings
Conf Overall
Team W   L   T W   L   T
No. 10 Washington $ 6 2 0 10 2 0
No. 16 Arizona State 5 2 0 9 2 0
No. 14 USC 5 2 0 9 3 0
Washington State 5 2 1 8 3 1
UCLA 5 2 1 7 4 1
Arizona 4 4 0 6 5 0
Stanford 4 4 0 4 7 0
California 2 6 0 2 9 0
Oregon 1 6 0 2 9 0
Oregon State 0 7 0 1 10 0
  • $ – Conference champion
Rankings from AP Poll
1981 Southeastern Conference football standings
Conf Overall
Team W   L   T W   L   T
No. 6 Georgia + 6 0 0 10 2 0
No. 7 Alabama + 6 0 0 9 2 1
Mississippi State 4 2 0 8 4 0
Tennessee 3 3 0 8 4 0
Florida 3 3 0 7 5 0
Auburn 2 4 0 5 6 0
Kentucky 2 4 0 3 8 0
LSU 1 4 1 3 7 1
Ole Miss 1 5 1 4 6 1
Vanderbilt 1 5 0 4 7 0
  • + – Conference co-champions
Rankings from AP Poll
1981 Southern Conference football standings
Conf Overall
Team W   L   T W   L   T
Furman $ 5 2 0 8 3 0
VMI 3 1 1 6 3 1
East Tennessee State 4 2 0 6 5 0
Chattanooga 3 2 1 7 3 1
The Citadel 3 2 1 7 3 1
Western Carolina 3 4 0 4 7 0
Appalachian State 1 5 1 3 7 1
Marshall 1 5 0 2 9 0
  • $ – Conference champion
Rankings from AP Poll
1981 Southland Conference football standings
Conf Overall
Team W   L   T W   L   T
Texas–Arlington $ 4 1 0 6 5 0
McNeese State 3 1 1 7 3 1
Arkansas State 3 2 0 6 5 0
Louisiana Tech 2 2 1 4 6 1
Lamar 1 3 1 4 6 1
Southwestern Louisiana 0 4 1 1 9 1
  • $ – Conference champion
1981 Southwest Conference football standings
Conf Overall
Team W   L   T W   L   T
No. 5 SMU $ 7 1 0 10 1 0
No. 2 Texas 6 1 1 10 1 1
Houston 5 2 1 7 4 1
Arkansas 5 3 0 8 4 0
Texas A&M 4 4 0 7 5 0
Rice 3 5 0 4 7 0
Baylor 3 5 0 5 6 0
TCU 1 6 1 2 7 2
Texas Tech 0 7 1 1 9 1
  • $ – Conference champion
Rankings from AP Poll
1981 Western Athletic Conference football standings
Conf Overall
Team W   L   T W   L   T
No. 13 BYU $ 7 1 0 11 2 0
Hawaii 5 1 0 9 2 0
Utah 4 1 1 8 2 1
Wyoming 6 2 0 8 3 0
New Mexico 3 4 1 4 7 1
Air Force 2 3 0 4 7 0
San Diego State 3 5 0 6 5 0
UTEP 1 6 0 1 10 0
Colorado State 0 8 0 0 12 0
  • $ – Conference champion
Rankings from AP Poll
1981 NCAA Division I-A independents football records
Conf Overall
Team W   L   T W   L   T
No. 4 Pittsburgh       11 1 0
No. 3 Penn State       10 2 0
No. 8 Miami (FL)       9 2 0
Southern Miss       9 2 1
No. 17 West Virginia       9 3 0
Colgate       7 3 0
Virginia Tech       7 4 0
Navy       7 4 1
Cincinnati       6 5 0
Florida State       6 5 0
Holy Cross       6 5 0
Tulane       6 5 0
UNLV       6 6 0
South Carolina       6 6 0
Temple       5 5 0
Boston College       5 6 0
East Carolina       5 6 0
Northeast Louisiana       5 6 0
Louisville       5 6 0
Notre Dame       5 6 0
Rutgers       5 6 0
William & Mary       5 6 0
Syracuse       4 6 1
Richmond       4 7 0
Army       3 7 1
North Texas State       2 9 0
Georgia Tech       1 10 0
Memphis State       1 10 0
Rankings from AP Poll

Notable rivalry games

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Consensus All-Americans

Main article: 1981 College Football All-America Team

Offense

Defense

No. 1 and No. 2 progress

Weeks No. 1 No. 2 Event
PRE Michigan Oklahoma
1 Michigan Alabama Wisconsin 21, Michigan 14 Sep 12
2 Notre Dame USC Michigan 25, Notre Dame 7 Sep 19
3 USC Oklahoma USC 28, Oklahoma 24 Sep 26
4–5 USC Penn State Arizona 13, USC 10 Oct 10
6 Texas Penn State Arkansas 42, Texas 11 Oct 17
7–8 Penn State Pittsburgh Miami 17, Penn State 14 Oct 31
9–12 Pittsburgh Clemson Penn State 48, Pitt 14 Nov 28
13 Clemson Georgia Clemson 22, Nebraska 15 Jan 1

Bowl games

Main article: 1981–82 NCAA football bowl games

Rankings reflect final regular-season AP poll

Other Bowls:

Orange Bowl

Clemson's Orange Bowl opponent Nebraska featured future NFL stars Roger Craig, Irving Fryar, Mike Rozier, and Dave Rimington while finishing second nationally in rushing with 330 yards per game. But Clemson was able to take advantage of an injury to Husker quarterback Turner Gill. Eight out of twelve Nebraska possessions ended in a three and out, they crossed the fifty only four times and ended up with just two scoring opportunities.

Entering the game, the top four teams in order were Clemson, Georgia, Alabama, and Nebraska. After Georgia and Alabama had lost in Sugar and Cotton Bowls respectively, the Orange Bowl was for the national championship. The final score was 22–15, in favor of Clemson.

Pittsburgh, which was the consensus number one until being beaten soundly by Penn State in their season finale, beat defending national champion Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. Also in the national title hunt till the very end, Alabama lost to number six Texas in the Cotton Bowl Classic.

Kenneth Sims of Texas was the first pick overall in the 1982 NFL Draft and was the winner of the Lombardi Award, given to the nation's best lineman.

Southern Methodist won the Southwest Conference and was ranked fifth, but was ineligible for post-season play due to NCAA probation, but could have still qualified for the national title.[citation needed]

Final AP Poll

Main article: 1981 NCAA Division I-A football rankings

  1. Clemson
  2. Texas
  3. Penn State
  4. Pittsburgh
  5. Southern Methodist
  6. Georgia
  7. Alabama
  8. Miami (FL)
  9. North Carolina
  10. Washington
  11. Nebraska
  12. Michigan
  13. Brigham Young
  14. Southern California
  15. Ohio State
  16. Arizona State
  17. West Virginia
  18. Iowa
  19. Missouri
  20. Oklahoma

Heisman Trophy

  1. Marcus Allen – TB, USC, 1,797 points
  2. Herschel Walker – TB, Georgia, 1,199
  3. Jim McMahon – QB, BYU, 706
  4. Dan Marino – QB, Pittsburgh, 256
  5. Art Schlichter – QB, Ohio State, 149
  6. Darrin Nelson – RB, Stanford, 148
  7. Anthony Carter – WR, Michigan, 42
  8. Kenneth Sims – DL, Texas, 34
  9. Reggie Collier – QB, Southern Miss, 30
  10. Rich Diana – RB, Yale, 23

Source:[4][5]

Award winners

References

  1. ^ "1981 NCAA Division IA Football Power Ratings".
  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-10-02. Retrieved 2009-01-01.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. ^ New York Times – 2006-11-17
  4. ^ "USC's Allen takes his place in history". Eugene Register-Guard. Associated Press. December 6, 1981. p. 1B.
  5. ^ "Heisman: Individual voting". Eugene Register-Guard. Associated Press. December 6, 1981. p. 6B.