|1997 NCAA Division I-A season|
|Number of teams||112|
|Preseason AP No. 1||Penn State|
|Duration||December 20, 1997 – |
January 2, 1998
|AP Poll No. 1||Michigan|
|Coaches Poll No. 1||Nebraska|
|Heisman Trophy||Charles Woodson (cornerback, Michigan)|
|Bowl Alliance Championship|
|1998 Orange Bowl|
|Site||Pro Player Stadium|
Miami Gardens, Florida
|Division I-A football seasons|
The 1997 NCAA Division I-A football season, play of college football in the United States organized by the National Collegiate Athletic Association at the Division I-A level, began in late summer 1997 and culminated with the major bowl games in early January 1998. The national championship was split for the third time in the 1990s. The Michigan Wolverines finished the season atop the AP Poll after completing a 12–0 campaign with a Big Ten Conference championship and a victory in the Rose Bowl over Washington State. The Nebraska Cornhuskers garnered the top ranking in the Coaches' Poll with a 13–0 record, a Big 12 Conference championship, and a win over Tennessee in the Orange Bowl. Michigan's Charles Woodson, who played primarily at cornerback, but also saw time on offense as a wide receiver and on special teams as a punt returner, won the Heisman Trophy, becoming the first primarily defensive player to win the award. The 1997 season was the third and final season in which the major bowl games were organized under the Bowl Alliance system. The Bowl Championship Series was instituted the following year.
In Tom Osborne's last season as head coach, Nebraska took over the No. 1 ranking in the nation after defeating Texas Tech midway through the season. Three weeks later, Nebraska slipped to a No. 3 ranking in both polls, as voters weren't impressed by the way the Cornhuskers won their game against an unranked Missouri team (a controversial kicked ball was caught for the game-tying TD as time expired in regulation, leading to a 45-38 overtime win). Michigan moved to No. 1 in the AP Poll after its 34–8 victory over previously No. 2 ranked Penn State, while the Coaches Poll selected Florida State as No. 1 due to their 20-3 win over previously No. 5 North Carolina.
Florida State went into their final regular season game undefeated and still ranked No. 1 in the Coaches Poll. However, Fred Taylor of Florida would run for 162 yards and four touchdowns on the nation's top-ranked run defense, one of those touchdowns being the winning score with less than two minutes to play. This game is commonly referred to as "The Greatest Game Ever Played in the Swamp".
Thus, the consensus No. 1 team going into the bowl season was undefeated Michigan, now ranked No. 1 in both polls. Led by coach of the year Lloyd Carr and Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson, Michigan went into the 1998 Rose Bowl against No. 8 Washington State. Michigan defeated Washington State 21–16.
Meanwhile, undefeated No. 2 Nebraska squared off in the 1998 Orange Bowl versus the No. 3 ranked Tennessee Volunteers. The Cornhuskers made a point of smacking down Tennessee as they defeated the Volunteers 42–17. Unusually for the low-key Osborne and his straight-ahead team, after the game he campaigned openly for Nebraska to be named the consensus national champion (Grant Wistrom stated that if "they wanted to give it to Michigan because they haven't won one in 50 years, we don't want it anyway.").
After the bowl games, the AP poll awarded the national championship to Michigan, and the Coaches Poll awarded the national championship to Nebraska, giving Osborne his third national title in four seasons to cap his career. This also marked the last time that a Big 10 (or Pac-10) team would be bound to play in the Rose Bowl instead of heading to a No. 1-No. 2 title game, due to the 1998 BCS realignment.
The Humanitarian Bowl, now known as the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, began play in Boise, Idaho to help publicise the dwindling Big West Conference and Boise State. The Broncos with their blue turf had just made the jump to Division I-A a year earlier. The Big West champion had formerly gone to the Las Vegas Bowl, but the now only 6 team conference wasn't much of a seat filler.
The Motor City Bowl, now the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, began play in Detroit hosted by a MAC team.
The Copper Bowl gained corporate sponsorship and was now known as the Insight.com Bowl; it is now known as the Cactus Bowl.
The MAC also grew to a 12-team, two-division conference with a championship game after the return of two former MAC members—Northern Illinois, returning from the independent ranks, and Marshall, moving up from Division I-AA. Marshall's addition increased the number of teams in Division I-A to 112. In a scenario similar to the Big West in 1992, this up-and-comer from I-AA was able to win its division and the inaugural conference championship game in its first year. The Thundering Herd had gone unbeaten and won the I-AA national title the previous season, and had future NFL stars Randy Moss and Chad Pennington.
One team upgraded from Division I-AA prior to the season. As such, the total number of Division I-A schools increased again, from 111 to 112.
|School||1996 Conference||1997 Conference|
|Marshall Thundering Herd||Southern (I-AA)||MAC (I-A)|
|Northern Illinois Huskies||I-A Independent||MAC|
|East Carolina Pirates||I-A Independent||Conference USA|
|WEEK||No. 1||No. 2||No. 3||Event|
|PRE-1||Penn State+||Florida||Florida State|
|8||Penn State+||Nebraska||Florida State|
|9-11||Nebraska||Penn State+||Florida State|
+Penn State and Michigan were Big Ten teams, and Washington was a Pac-10 team. The Big Ten and Pac-10 conferences played in the Rose Bowl rather than the Bowl Alliance championship game.
Main article: 1997–98 NCAA football bowl games
|Rose Bowl||No. 1 Michigan||21||No. 8 Washington State||16||Pasadena|
|Orange Bowl||No. 2 Nebraska||42||No. 3 Tennessee||17||Miami|
|Sugar Bowl||No. 4 Florida State||31||No. 9 Ohio State||14||New Orleans|
|Cotton Bowl Classic||No. 5 UCLA||29||No. 20 Texas A&M||23||Dallas|
|Florida Citrus Bowl||No. 6 Florida||21||No. 11 Penn State||6||Orlando|
|Gator Bowl||No. 7 North Carolina||42||Virginia Tech||3||Jacksonville|
|Fiesta Bowl||No. 10 Kansas State||35||No. 14 Syracuse||18||Tempe, Arizona|
|Outback Bowl||No. 12 Georgia||33||Wisconsin||6||Tampa|
|Peach Bowl||No. 13 Auburn||21||Clemson||17||Atlanta|
|Independence Bowl||No. 15 LSU||27||Notre Dame||9||Shreveport|
|Sun Bowl||No. 16 Arizona State||17||Iowa||7||El Paso|
|Alamo Bowl||No. 17 Purdue||33||No. 24 Oklahoma State||20||San Antonio|
|Holiday Bowl||No. 18 Colorado State||35||No. 20 Missouri||24||San Diego|
|Aloha Bowl||No. 21 Washington||51||Michigan St||23||Honolulu|
|Liberty Bowl||No. 22 Southern Mississippi||41||Pittsburgh||7||Memphis|
|Carquest Bowl||No. 25 Georgia Tech||35||West Virginia||30||Miami|
|Insight.com Bowl||Arizona||20||New Mexico||14||Tucson, Arizona|
|Las Vegas Bowl||Oregon||41||Air Force||13||Las Vegas|
|Motor City Bowl||Mississippi||34||Marshall||31||Detroit|
|Humanitarian Bowl||Cincinnati||35||Utah State||19||Boise|
Main article: 1997 NCAA Division I-A football rankings
Others receiving votes: 26. Arizona; 27. Oregon; 28. Air Force; 29. Marshall; 30. Virginia; 31. Clemson; 32. Louisiana Tech; 33. Mississippi St.; 34. Michigan St.; 35. Wisconsin; 36. New Mexico ; 37. Cincinnati; 38. Notre Dame; 39. Iowa; 40. Virginia Tech.
Main article: 1997 NCAA Division I-A football rankings
Others receiving votes: 26. Clemson (58); 27. Georgia Tech (55); 28. Iowa (32); 29. Louisiana Tech (31); 30. Oregon (25); 31. Cincinnati (24); 32. Arizona (23); 33. Mississippi St. (20); 34. Michigan St. (16); 35. New Mexico and Wisconsin (13); 37. Tulane (10); 38. Virginia (9); 39. West Virginia (7); 40. Marshall (4); 41. Notre Dame (1).
Charles Woodson of Michigan won the Heisman Trophy, awarded to the "most outstanding player in collegiate football."
|3||Ryan Leaf||Washington State||Junior||Quarterback||70||203||241||861|
|4||Randy Moss||Marshall||Sophomore||Wide receiver||17||56||90||253|
|5||Ricky Williams||Texas||Junior||Running back||3||18||20||65|
|6||Curtis Enis||Penn State||Junior||Running back||3||18||20||65|
|7||Tim Dwight||Iowa||Senior||Wide receiver||5||3||11||32|
|10||Amos Zereoué||West Virginia||Sophomore||Running back||3||1||10||21|