1976 NCAA Division I football season

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The 1976 NCAA Division I football season ended with a championship for the Panthers of the University of Pittsburgh. Led by head coach Johnny Majors (voted the AFCA Coach of the Year), the Pitt Panthers brought a college football championship to the home of the defending pro football champions, the Steelers. Pitt also had the Heisman Trophy winner, Tony Dorsett; the Panthers had been ranked ninth in the preseason AP poll.


During the 20th century, the NCAA had no playoff for major college football teams, which became Division I-A in 1978. The NCAA Football Guide, however, did note an "unofficial national champion" based on the top ranked teams in the "wire service" (AP and UPI) polls. The "writers' poll" by Associated Press (AP) was the most popular, followed by the "coaches' poll" by United Press International) (UPI). The AP poll consisted of the votes of as many as 62 writers, though not all voted in each poll, and the UPI poll was taken of a 25-member board of coaches.

Rule changes

Conference and program changes

School1975 Conference1976 Conference
Eastern Michigan Hurons D-II Independent MAC
Houston Cougars Independent Southwest
Richmond Spiders Southern Independent


In the preseason poll released on September 7, the AP ranked Nebraska first, followed by Michigan, Arizona State (the highest preseason ranking for a WAC team), Ohio State, and Oklahoma.

September 11 No. 1 Nebraska failed to win its opening game, being tied 6–6 by LSU in Baton Rouge, escaping with the stalemate only after the Bayou Bengals missed a 44-yard field goal attempt in the closing seconds. No. 2 Michigan beat Wisconsin 40–27, and No. 3 Arizona State lost its home opener 28–10 to No. 17 UCLA, and dropped to 18th, then out of the Top 20 entirely. No. 4 Ohio State beat Michigan State 49–21, and No. 5 Oklahoma won 24–3 at Vanderbilt. After a 31–10 win at No. 11 Notre Dame, No. 9 Pittsburgh rose to third. With Nebraska and Arizona State dropping to 8th and 18th, and Pitt and UCLA moving up, the Top Five was: 1.Michigan 2.Ohio State 3.Pittsburgh 4.Oklahoma 5.UCLA.

September 18 The top five teams all won: No. 1 Michigan beat Stanford 51–0, and No. 2 Ohio State won 12–7 at No. 7 Penn State. No. 3 Pittsburgh beat Georgia Tech 42–14 in Atlanta, No. 4 Oklahoma beat California 28–17, and No. 5 UCLA beat Arizona 37–9. The poll remained unchanged: 1.Michigan 2.Ohio State 3.Pittsburgh 4.Oklahoma 5.UCLA.

September 25 No. 1 Michigan crushed Navy 70–14, and No. 2 Ohio State lost 22–21 to Missouri and fell to sixth. No. 3 Pittsburgh beat Temple 21–7, No. 4 Oklahoma beat Florida State 24–9, and No. 5 UCLA beat Air Force, 40–7. No. 6 Nebraska, which beat TCU 64–10, returned to the Top 5: 1.Michigan 2.Pittsburgh 3.Oklahoma 4.UCLA and 5.Nebraska


October 2 No. 1 Michigan beat Wake Forest 31–0, and No. 2 Pittsburgh won 44–31 at Duke. No. 3 Oklahoma won 24–10 at Iowa State, while No. 4 UCLA traveled to Columbus and played No. 6 Ohio State to a 10–10 tie. No. 5 Nebraska beat Miami (FL) 17–9, but dropped to sixth. No. 6 Georgia shut out No. 10 Alabama 21–0 and moved up to fourth. Top Five: 1.Michigan 2.Pittsburgh 3.Oklahoma 4.Georgia 5.UCLA

October 9 No. 1 Michigan defeated Michigan State 42–10, and No. 2 Pittsburgh beat Louisville 27–6. No. 3 Oklahoma played its annual game in Dallas against No. 16 Texas to a 6–6 tie. No. 4 Georgia was upset 21–17 at Mississippi, No. 5 UCLA beat Stanford 38–20, while No. 6 Nebraska won 24–12 at Colorado and rose to third. No. 7 Maryland, which beat NC State 16–6, rose to fifth. The Top Five was: 1.Michigan 2.Pittsburgh 3.Nebraska 4.UCLA 5.Maryland

October 16 After playing its first five games at home, No. 1 Michigan traveled to Evanston and defeated Northwestern, 38–7. No. 2 Pittsburgh beat Miami (FL), 36–19. No. 3 Nebraska shut out Kansas State 51–0, No. 4 UCLA beat Washington State 62–3, but No. 5 Maryland narrowly beat Wake Forest 17–15, and fell to sixth. No. 6 Oklahoma returned to the Top Five after a 28–10 win at No. 15 Kansas. The top five was: 1.Michigan 2.Pittsburgh 3.Nebraska 4.UCLA 5.Oklahoma

October 23 No. 1 Michigan won 35–0 at Indiana, while No. 2 Pittsburgh won 45–0 at Navy. No. 3 Nebraska lost 34–24 to No. 17 Missouri. Though Mizzou finished with a 6–5 record, they had also upset USC and Ohio State. No. 4 UCLA won 35–19 at California, No. 5 Oklahoma lost 31–24 at home to Oklahoma State, No. 6 Maryland won 30–3 at Duke to reach 7–0. No. 7 USC (which had lost its opener to Missouri, then won four, beat Oregon State 56–0, and crashed the top 5: 1.Michigan 2.Pittsburgh 3.UCLA 4.USC 5.Maryland

October 30 No. 1 Michigan beat Minnesota 45–0 and No. 2 Pittsburgh beat Syracuse, 23–13, as both teams reached 8–0. No. 3 UCLA won 30–21 at Washington and No. 4 USC beat California 20–6. No. 5 Maryland beat Kentucky 24–14, but fell back to sixth place in the polls, trading places with Texas Tech, which had beaten No. 15 Texas 31–28. The top five was: 1.Michigan 2.Pittsburgh 3.UCLA 4.USC 5.Texas Tech


November 6 No. 1 Michigan lost 16–14 at Purdue, and fell from the top spot. No. 2 Pittsburgh's 37–7 win over Army allowed it to take over the top spot. No. 3 UCLA beat Oregon 46–0, No. 4 USC won 48–24 at Stanford. No. 5 Texas Tech won 14–10 at TCU. The top five was: 1.Pittsburgh 2.UCLA 3.USC 4.Michigan 5.Texas Tech

November 13 No. 1 Pittsburgh beat West Virginia 24–16, and No. 2 UCLA won 45–14 at Oregon State to extend its record to 9–0–1. No. 3 USC beat Washington 20–3, No. 4 Michigan beat Illinois 38–7, and No. 5 Texas Tech beat SMU 34–7 to reach 8–0. The Top Five was unchanged: 1.Pittsburgh 2.UCLA 3.USC 4.Michigan 5.Texas Tech

November 20 While No. 1 Pittsburgh was idle, three conference championships were determined on the same day. In Los Angeles, No. 2 UCLA and No. 3 USC were both unbeaten in the Pac-8, so their crosstown game determined the conference title for the Rose Bowl berth. UCLA suffered its first loss of the season, falling to the Trojans 24–14. The same day in Columbus, Ohio, the Big Ten's two best teams were meeting to determine the other berth in the Rose Bowl. In conference play, No. 4 Michigan had one loss and was second to No. 8 Ohio State; it was no contest as Michigan won 22–0 over the Buckeyes and climbed to second. The Southwest Conference title and a trip to the Cotton Bowl came down to a meeting between No. 5 Texas Tech and No. 9 Houston, in its first year of membership; the visiting Cougars handed the Red Raiders their first loss, 27–19. No. 6 Maryland closed an 11–0 regular season with a 28–0 win at Virginia, and the ACC champion was invited to meet SWC champion Houston in the Cotton Bowl. Top-ranked Pittsburgh was invited to play in the Sugar Bowl after the players took a vote and made it clear that they would prefer to play SEC champion No. 5 Georgia there rather than face lower ranked Big 8 co-champion Colorado in the Orange Bowl. [2] The Orange Bowl then controversially selected Big 10 runner up Ohio State to play Colorado over Pac-8 runner up UCLA, even though UCLA had a better record and higher ranking than Ohio State. It was believed that Ohio State would bring more fans to Miami for the warm weather than UCLA would, and Orange Bowl officials did not like the prospect of a UCLA - Colorado matchup as it would be two schools from the west playing back east. The Top Five was: 1.Pittsburgh 2.Michigan 3.USC 4.Maryland 5.Georgia

November 27 No. 1 Pittsburgh moved its game against Penn State from its campus to Three Rivers Stadium. Pitt had not beaten the Nittany Lions in its last ten meetings, but on the night after Thanksgiving, cruised to a 24–7 win. Tony Dorsett, who rushed for 224 yards and scored two of Pitt's touchdowns, breaking the record for yards in a season (1,948) and becoming the first college player to reach 6,000 yards rushing in a career, closing with 6,082. [3] (He was awarded the Heisman Trophy the following week.) USC maintained its No. 3 ranking with a 17–13 win over Notre Dame, and the final regular season poll was 1.Pittsburgh 2.Michigan 3.USC 4.Maryland 5.Georgia.

Conference standings

1976 Atlantic Coast Conference football standings
Conf  Overall
TeamW L T  W L T
No. 13 Maryland $500  1110
North Carolina 410  930
Wake Forest 330  560
Duke 231  551
NC State 230  371
Virginia 130  290
Clemson 041  362
  • $ Conference champion
Rankings from AP Poll [4]
1976 Big Eight Conference football standings
Conf  Overall
TeamW L T  W L T
No. 5 Oklahoma +520  921
No. 14 Oklahoma State +520  930
No. 16 Colorado +520  840
No. 9 Nebraska 430  931
No. 19 Iowa State 430  830
Missouri 340  650
Kansas 250  650
Kansas State 070  1100
  • + Conference co-champions
Rankings from AP Poll
1976 Big Ten Conference football standings
Conf  Overall
TeamW L T  W L T
No. 3 Michigan +710  1020
No. 6 Ohio State +710  921
Minnesota 440  650
Illinois 440  560
Indiana 440  560
Purdue 440  560
Iowa 350  560
Wisconsin 350  560
Michigan State 350  461
Northwestern 170  1100
  • + Conference co-champions
Rankings from AP Poll
1976 Ivy League football standings
Conf  Overall
TeamW L T  W L T
Yale +610  810
Brown +610  810
Harvard 430  630
Dartmouth 430  630
Columbia 250  360
Penn 250  360
Princeton 250  270
Cornell 250  270
  • + Conference co-champions
1976 Mid-American Conference football standings
Conf  Overall
TeamW L T  W L T
Ball State $410  830
Kent State 620  840
Ohio 620  740
Western Michigan 630  740
Central Michigan 430  740
Bowling Green 430  650
Miami 240  380
Toledo 260  380
Eastern Michigan 150  290
Northern Illinois 060  1100
  • $ Conference champion
1976 Missouri Valley Conference football standings
Conf  Overall
TeamW L T  W L T
Tulsa +211  741
New Mexico State +211  461
West Texas State 112  452
Wichita State 220  470
Drake 130  1100
  • + Conference co-champions
1976 Pacific Coast Athletic Association football standings
Conf  Overall
TeamW L T  W L T
San Jose State $400  740
Fresno State 310  560
Long Beach State 220  830
Cal State Fullerton 130  371
Pacific (CA) 040  290
  • $ Conference champion
1976 Pacific-8 Conference football standings
Conf  Overall
TeamW L T  W L T
No. 2 USC $700  1110
No. 15 UCLA 610  921
Stanford 520  650
California 340  560
Washington 340  560
Washington State 250  380
Oregon 160  470
Oregon State 160  2100
  • $ Conference champion
Rankings from AP Poll
1976 Southern Conference football standings
Conf  Overall
TeamW L T  W L T
East Carolina $410  920
William & Mary 320  740
Appalachian State 221  641
Furman 221  641
VMI 230  550
The Citadel 140  650
  • $ Conference champion
1976 Southeastern Conference football standings
Conf  Overall
TeamW L T  W L T
No. 10 Georgia $510  1020
No. 11 Alabama 520  930
No. 20 Mississippi State 420  920
Florida 420  840
No. 18 Kentucky 420  840
LSU 330  641
Auburn 330  470
Ole Miss 340  560
Tennessee 240  650
Vanderbilt 060  290
  • $ Conference champion
  • Mississippi State later forfeited all 1976 wins due to NCAA violations.
Rankings from AP Poll
1976 Southland Conference football standings
Conf  Overall
TeamW L T  W L T
McNeese State $410  1020
Southwestern Louisiana 410  740
Texas–Arlington 320  560
Louisiana Tech 230  650
Arkansas State 230  560
Lamar 050  290
  • $ Conference champion
  • Southwestern Louisiana forfeited 2 regular season wins.
1976 Southwest Conference football standings
Conf  Overall
TeamW L T  W L T
No. 4 Houston +710  1020
No. 13 Texas Tech +710  1020
No. 7 Texas A&M 620  1020
Baylor 431  731
Texas 440  551
Arkansas 341  551
Rice 260  380
SMU 260  380
TCU 080  0110
  • + Conference co-champions
Rankings from AP Poll
1976 Western Athletic Conference football standings
Conf  Overall
TeamW L T  W L T
BYU +610  930
Wyoming +610  840
Arizona State 430  470
Utah 330  380
Arizona 340  560
New Mexico 340  470
Colorado State 240  650
UTEP 070  1110
  • + Conference co-champions
1976 NCAA Division I independents football records
Conf  Overall
TeamW L T  W L T
No. 1 Pittsburgh     1200
No. 17 Rutgers     1100
San Diego State     1010
No. 12 Notre Dame     930
Colgate     820
Boston College     830
Cincinnati     830
Memphis State     740
North Texas State *    740
Southern Illinois     740
Penn State     750
Villanova     641
South Carolina     650
Virginia Tech     650
Army     560
Florida State     560
Illinois State     560
Richmond     560
West Virginia     560
Georgia Tech     461
Temple     460
Air Force     470
Dayton     470
Louisville     470
Marshall     470
Navy     470
Indiana State     370
Hawaii     380
Holy Cross     380
Miami (FL)     380
Syracuse     380
Utah State     380
Northeast Louisiana     290
Southern Miss     290
Tulane     290
  • North Texas State (originally 6–5) was awarded a forfeit win after Mississippi State was found to be using an ineligible player. [5]
Rankings from AP Poll

No. 1 and No. 2 progress

WEEKSNo. 1No. 2Event
PRENebraskaMichiganLSU 6, Nebraska 6 (Sept 11)
1-2MichiganOhio StateMissouri 22, Ohio State 21 (Sept 25)
3-8MichiganPittsburghPurdue 16, Michigan 14 (Nov 6)
9-10PittsburghUCLAUSC 24 UCLA 14 (Nov 19)
11-FinalPittsburghMichiganPittsburgh 27, Georgia 3


Bowl games

Major bowls

Saturday, January 1, 1977

At the Sugar Bowl at the Superdome in New Orleans, Pitt quarterback Matt Cavanaugh passed for 192 yards, and Dorsett had 32 carries for 202 yards, overcoming Georgia's heralded "Junkyard Dogs" defense. After taking a 21–0 lead at halftime, the Panthers cemented their number one status with a 27–3 win over Georgia. [6] In the Cotton at Dallas, No. 6 Houston beat No. 4 Maryland 30–21, and No. 3 USC beat No. 2 Michigan 14–6 in the Rose in Pasadena. At the nightcap in Miami, Ohio State justified their Orange Bowl invitation by crushing Colorado, 27–10.

SUGAR No. 1 Pittsburgh Panthers 27No. 5 Georgia Bulldogs 3
COTTON No. 6 Houston Cougars 30No. 4 Maryland Terrapins 21
ROSE No. 3 USC Trojans 14No. 2 Michigan Wolverines 6
ORANGE No. 11 Ohio State Buckeyes 27No. 12 Colorado Buffaloes 10

Pittsburgh received 59 of the 62 first place votes cast to win the AP Trophy, and was ranked No. 1 by UPI as well, followed by 2.USC 3.Michigan 4.Houston and 5.Oklahoma. The other Division I unbeaten team, Rutgers (11–0), was ranked 17th in the final poll.

Other bowls

SUN El Paso, TXJanuary 2No. 10 Texas A&M 37–14 Florida
GATOR Jacksonville, FLDecember 27No. 15 Notre Dame 20–9No. 20 Penn State
TANGERINE Orlando, FLDecember 18No. 14 Oklahoma State 49–21 Brigham Young
FIESTA Tempe, AZDecember 25No. 8 Oklahoma 41–7 Wyoming
ASTRO-BLUEBONNET Houston, TXDecember 31No. 13 Nebraska 27–24No. 9 Texas Tech
LIBERTY Memphis, TNDecember 20No. 16 Alabama 36–6No. 7 UCLA
PEACH Atlanta, GADecember 31 Kentucky 21–0No. 19 North Carolina
INDEPENDENCE Shreveport, LADecember 13 McNeese State 20–16 Tulsa

Heisman Trophy

  1. Tony Dorsett , RB - Pittsburgh, 2,357 points
  2. Ricky Bell, RB - USC, 1,346
  3. Rob Lytle, RB - Michigan, 413
  4. Terry Miller, RB - Oklahoma State, 197
  5. Tommy Kramer, QB - Rice, 63
  6. Gifford Nielsen, QB - BYU, 45
  7. Ray Goff, QB - Georgia, 44
  8. Mike Voight, RB - North Carolina, 41
  9. Joe Roth, QB - California, 32
  10. Jeff Dankworth, QB - UCLA, 31

Source: [7] [8] [9]

See also

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  1. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-10-02. Retrieved 2008-12-30.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  2. "Panthers Sweet On Sugar" The Valley Independent (Monessen, Pa.), Nov. 17, 1976 p12
  3. "Dorsett adds to records", New Castle (Pa.) News, November 27, 1976, p15
  4. "1976 Atlantic Coast Conference Year Summary". sports-reference.com. Retrieved January 25, 2013.
  5. https://www.sports-reference.com/cfb/years/1976-standings.html
  6. "Pitt gilds no. 1 ranking", Star-News (Pasadena, Ca.), Jan. 2, 1977, p C-5
  7. "Tony Dorsett". Heisman Trophy. 1976. Retrieved January 13, 2017.
  8. "Dorsett thinks he should have won two straight Heismans". Toledo Blade. (Ohio). Associated Press. December 1, 1976. p. 38.
  9. "Dorsett awes own mates". Pittsburgh Press. December 1, 1976. p. 69.