1997 NCAA Division I-A season
Number of teams112
Preseason AP No. 1Penn State
Post-season
DurationDecember 20, 1997 –
January 2, 1998
Bowl games20
AP Poll No. 1Michigan
Coaches Poll No. 1Nebraska
Heisman TrophyCharles Woodson (cornerback, Michigan)
Bowl Alliance Championship
1998 Orange Bowl
SitePro Player Stadium
Miami Gardens, Florida
Champion(s)Nebraska
Division I-A football seasons
← 1996
1998 →

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.

Rule changes

Conference and program changes

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

Conference standings

1997 Atlantic Coast Conference football standings
Conf Overall
Team   W   L     W   L  
No. 3 Florida State $   8 0     11 1  
No. 6 North Carolina   7 1     11 1  
Virginia   5 3     7 4  
No. 25 Georgia Tech   5 3     7 5  
Clemson   4 4     7 5  
NC State   3 5     6 5  
Wake Forest   3 5     5 6  
Maryland   1 7     2 9  
Duke   0 8     2 9  
  • $ – Conference champion
Rankings from AP Poll
1997 Big 12 Conference football standings
Conf Overall
Team   W   L     W   L  
Northern Division
No. 2 Nebraska † xy$   8 0     13 0  
No. 8 Kansas State  %   7 1     11 1  
No. 23 Missouri   5 3     7 5  
Colorado   3 5     5 6  
Kansas   3 5     5 6  
Iowa State   1 7     1 10  
Southern Division
No. 20 Texas A&M xy   6 2     9 4  
No. 24 Oklahoma State   5 3     8 4  
Texas Tech   5 3     6 5  
Texas   2 6     4 7  
Oklahoma   2 6     4 8  
Baylor   1 7     2 9  
Championship: Nebraska 54, Texas A&M 15
  • x – Division champion/co-champions
  • y – Championship game participant
  • † – Coaches Poll National Champion
    $ – Bowl Alliance representative as champion
    % – Bowl Alliance at-large representative
Rankings from AP Poll
1997 Big East Conference football standings
Conf Overall
Team   W   L     W   L  
No. 21 Syracuse $   6 1     9 4  
No. 23 Virginia Tech   5 2     7 5  
Pittsburgh   4 3     6 6  
West Virginia   4 3     7 5  
Miami (FL)   3 4     5 6  
Temple   3 4     3 8  
Boston College   3 4     4 7  
Rutgers   0 7     0 11  
  • $ – Conference champion
Rankings from AP Poll
1997 Big Ten Conference football standings
Conf Overall
Team   W   L     W   L  
No. 1 Michigan $   8 0     12 0  
No. 12 Ohio State   6 2     10 3  
No. 16 Penn State   6 2     9 3  
No. 15 Purdue   6 2     9 3  
Wisconsin   5 3     8 5  
Iowa   4 4     7 5  
Michigan State   4 4     7 5  
Northwestern   3 5     5 7  
Minnesota   1 7     3 9  
Indiana   1 7     2 9  
Illinois   0 8     0 11  
  • $ – Conference champion
Rankings from AP Poll
1997 Big West Conference football standings
Conf Overall
Team   W   L     W   L  
Utah State +   4 1     6 6  
Nevada +   4 1     5 6  
Boise State   3 2     5 6  
Idaho   2 3     5 6  
North Texas   2 3     4 7  
New Mexico State   0 5     2 9  
  • + – Conference co-champions
1997 Conference USA football standings
Conf Overall
Team   W   L     W   L  
No. 19 Southern Miss $   6 0     9 3  
Tulane   5 1     7 4  
East Carolina   4 2     5 6  
Cincinnati   2 4     8 4  
Memphis   2 4     4 7  
Houston   2 4     3 8  
Louisville   0 6     1 10  
  • $ – Conference champion
Rankings from AP Poll
1997 Mid-American Conference football standings
Conf Overall
Team   W   L     W   L  
East Division
Marshall x$   7 1     10 3  
Miami   6 2     8 3  
Ohio   6 2     8 3  
Bowling Green   3 5     3 8  
Kent State   3 5     3 8  
Akron   2 7     2 9  
West Division
Toledo x   7 1     9 3  
Western Michigan   6 2     8 3  
Ball State   4 4     5 6  
Eastern Michigan   4 5     4 7  
Central Michigan   1 7     2 9  
Northern Illinois   0 8     0 11  
Championship: Marshall 34, Toledo 14
  • $ – Conference champion
  • x – Division champion/co-champions
1997 Pacific-10 Conference football standings
Conf Overall
Team   W   L     W   L  
No. 9 Washington State +   7 1     10 2  
No. 5 UCLA +   7 1     10 2  
No. 14 Arizona State   6 2     9 3  
No. 18 Washington   5 3     8 4  
Arizona   4 4     7 5  
USC   4 4     6 5  
Oregon   3 5     7 5  
Stanford   3 5     5 6  
California   1 7     3 8  
Oregon State   0 8     3 8  
  • + – Conference co-champions
Rankings from AP Poll
1997 Southeastern Conference football standings
Conf Overall
Team   W   L     W   L  
Eastern Division
No. 7 Tennessee x$   7 1     11 2  
No. 10 Georgia   6 2     10 2  
No. 4 Florida   6 2     10 2  
South Carolina   3 5     5 6  
Kentucky   2 6     5 6  
Vanderbilt   0 8     3 8  
Western Division
No. 11 Auburn xy   6 2     10 3  
No. 13 LSU x   6 2     9 3  
No. 22 Ole Miss   4 4     8 4  
Mississippi State   4 4     7 4  
Arkansas   2 6     4 7  
Alabama   2 6     4 7  
Championship: Tennessee 30, Auburn 29
  • $ – Conference champion
  • x – Division champion/co-champions
Rankings from AP Poll
1997 Western Athletic Conference football standings
Conf Overall
Team   W   L     W   L  
Mountain Division
New Mexico x   6 2     9 4  
Rice   5 3     7 4  
SMU   5 3     6 5  
Utah   5 3     6 5  
BYU   4 4     6 5  
UTEP   3 5     4 7  
Tulsa   2 6     2 9  
TCU   1 7     1 10  
Pacific Division
No. 17 Colorado State x$   7 1     11 2  
Air Force   6 2     10 3  
Fresno State   5 3     6 6  
Wyoming   4 4     7 6  
San Diego State   4 4     5 7  
San Jose State   4 4     4 7  
UNLV   2 6     3 8  
Hawaii   1 7     3 9  
Championship: Colorado State 41, New Mexico 13
  • $ – Conference champion
  • x – Division champion/co-champions
Rankings from AP Poll
1997 NCAA Division I-A independents football records
Conf Overall
Team   W   L     W   L  
Louisiana Tech       9 2  
Navy       7 4  
Notre Dame       7 6  
UAB       5 6  
UCF       5 6  
Northeast Louisiana       5 7  
Army       4 7  
Arkansas State       2 9  
Southwestern Louisiana       1 10  
Rankings from AP Poll

AP Poll progress

WEEK No. 1 No. 2 No. 3 Event
PRE-1 Penn State+ Florida Florida State
2 Penn State+ Florida Tennessee
3 Penn State+ Florida Washington+
4 Penn State+ Washington+ Florida
5-7 Florida Penn State+ Nebraska
8 Penn State+ Nebraska Florida State
9-11 Nebraska Penn State+ Florida State
12-13 Michigan+ Florida State Nebraska
14-16 Michigan+ Nebraska Tennessee

+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.

Bowl games

Main article: 1997–98 NCAA football bowl games

BOWL Location
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

Final AP Poll

Main article: 1997 NCAA Division I-A football rankings

  1. Michigan
  2. Nebraska
  3. Florida State
  4. Florida
  5. UCLA
  6. North Carolina
  7. Tennessee
  8. Kansas St.
  9. Washington St.
  10. Georgia
  11. Auburn
  12. Ohio St.
  13. LSU
  14. Arizona St.
  15. Purdue
  16. Penn St.
  17. Colorado St.
  18. Washington
  19. So. Mississippi
  20. Texas A&M
  21. Syracuse
  22. Mississippi
  23. Missouri
  24. Oklahoma St.
  25. Georgia Tech

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.

Final Coaches Poll

Main article: 1997 NCAA Division I-A football rankings

  1. Nebraska
  2. Michigan
  3. Florida State
  4. North Carolina
  5. UCLA
  6. Florida
  7. Kansas St.
  8. Tennessee
  9. Washington St.
  10. Georgia
  11. Auburn
  12. Ohio St.
  13. Louisiana St.
  14. Arizona St.
  15. Purdue
  16. Colorado St.
  17. Penn St.
  18. Washington
  19. Southern Mississippi
  20. Syracuse
  21. Texas A&M
  22. Mississippi
  23. Missouri
  24. Oklahoma St.
  25. Air Force

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).

Awards

Heisman Trophy

Charles Woodson of Michigan won the Heisman Trophy, awarded to the "most outstanding player in collegiate football."

Voting

Place Name Team Class Position 1st 2nd 3rd Total
1 Charles Woodson Michigan Junior Cornerback 433 209 98 1,815
2 Peyton Manning Tennessee Senior Quarterback 281 263 174 1,543
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
8 Cade McNown UCLA Junior Quarterback 0 7 12 26
9 Tim Couch Kentucky Sophomore Quarterback 0 5 12 22
10 Amos Zereoué West Virginia Sophomore Running back 3 1 10 21

Other major awards

References