1978 NCAA Division I-A football season

Last updated
1978 NCAA Division I-A season
Number of teams138 [1]
DurationSeptember 1, 1978 –
January 1, 1979
Preseason AP No. 1 Alabama [2]
DurationDecember 16, 1978 –
January 1, 1979
Bowl games 15
AP Poll No. 1 Alabama
Coaches Poll No. 1 USC
Heisman Trophy Billy Sims (Oklahoma HB)
Champion(s) Alabama (AP)
USC (Coaches)
Division I-A football seasons
« 1977

The 1978 NCAA Division I-A football season was the first season of Division I-A college football; Division I-A was created in 1978 when Division I was subdivided into Division I-A and Division I-AA for football only. With the exception of seven teams from the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC), Division I teams from the 1977 season played in Division I-A during the 1978 season. The SWAC teams, along with five conferences and five other teams formerly in Division II, played in Division I-AA.


The Division I-A season came down to a rare No. 1 vs. No. 2 post-season meeting as No. 1 Penn State and No. 2 Alabama met in the New Year's Day Sugar Bowl. The game is most remembered for Alabama's goal line stand with four minutes left in the game. On fourth down and a foot, Alabama managed to keep Penn State out of the end zone and went on to win, 14–7. Keith Jackson, who did the play by play for ABC, called it the greatest game he'd ever seen. 76,824 people packed the Louisiana Superdome, which was tremendously loud.

Alabama's only loss that year was 24–14 in Birmingham to USC. Both schools claim this year as a national title year. Alabama claimed the national title because it defeated top-ranked Penn State on the field. USC claimed the title because it defeated Alabama in the regular season and also finished with only one loss. The AP Poll and most other voting outlets (including the Football Writers Association of America and the National Football Foundation) crowned Alabama as national champion, while the UPI Coaches' Poll selected USC.

Rules changes

Conference and program changes

New conferences

Membership changes

School1977 Conference1978 Conference
Arizona Wildcats WAC Pacific-10
Arizona State Sun Devils WAC Pacific-10
Indiana State Sycamores D-I Independent Missouri Valley
San Diego State Aztecs PCAA (Big West) WAC
UNLV Rebels D-II Independent I-A Independent
Utah State Aggies D-I Independent PCAA (Big West)

Program changes


The pre-season ranking of the top 5 were 1. Alabama, 2. Arkansas, 3. Penn State, 4. Oklahoma, and 5. Notre Dame.

On September 2, Alabama avenged its only loss from the prior season when they topped No. 10 Nebraska, 20–3. No. 2 Arkansas would not start its season for another two weeks. No. 3 Penn State struggled in beating Temple 10–7 and dropped to 5th, No. 4 Oklahoma was idle, as was No. 5 Notre Dame. 1. Alabama, 2. Arkansas, 3. Oklahoma, 4. Notre Dame, 5. Penn State

On September 9, No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Arkansas were not scheduled, while No. 3 Oklahoma opened its season with a 35–29 win at Stanford. No. 4 Notre Dame was stunned at Missouri, 3–0, while No. 5 Penn State beat Rutgers, 26–10. No. 6 Michigan, who had yet to begin their season, replaced Notre Dame in the top 5. 1. Alabama, 2. Arkansas, 3. Oklahoma, 4. Michigan, 5. Penn State.

September 16 saw No. 1 Alabama win at No. 11 Missouri, 38–20 while No. 2 Arkansas opened its season with a 48–17 win over Vanderbilt. No. 3 Oklahoma walloped West Virginia 52–10, and No. 4 Michigan started its campaign with a 31–0 shutout of Illinois. No. 5 Penn State blanked No. 6 Ohio State 19–0 and would regain the No. 3 ranking, tying Oklahoma in the voting. 1. Alabama, 2. Arkansas, 3. Penn State, 3. Oklahoma, 5. Michigan.

On September 23, No. 1 Alabama lost in Birmingham to No. 7 USC, 24–14. No. 2 Arkansas struggled in beating Oklahoma State 19–7, No. 3 Penn State struggled with SMU but won 26–21, No. 3 Oklahoma would vault to the top spot on the strength of their 66–7 win over Rice, and No. 5 Michigan won at No. 14 Notre Dame, 28–14. The new poll was 1. Oklahoma, 2. Arkansas, 3. USC, 4. Michigan, 5. Penn State.

On September 30, new No. 1 Oklahoma beat No. 14 Missouri 45–23, No. 2 Arkansas was unimpressive in a 21–13 win over Tulsa, No. 3 USC thumped Michigan State 30–9, No. 4 Michigan beat Duke 52–0, and No. 5 Penn State crushed TCU 58–0. 1. Oklahoma, 2. USC, 3. Michigan, 4. Arkansas, 5. Penn State.


On October 7, No. 1 Oklahoma solidified its ranking with a 31–10 win over No. 6 Texas. No. 2 USC was idle, No. 3 Michigan struggled in beating Arizona 21–17, No. 4 Arkansas beat TCU 42–3, and No. 5 Penn State avenged its only loss from 1977 in shutting out Kentucky, 30–0. The new poll was 1. Oklahoma, 2. USC, 3. Penn State, 4. Arkansas, 5. Michigan

October 14 was a day of surprises. No. 1 Oklahoma escaped with a 17–16 win over Kansas, No. 2 USC lost to Arizona State in Tempe 20–7, and No. 5 Michigan lost to Michigan State, 24–15. No. 3 Penn State and No. 4 Arkansas escaped the madness by being idle. Alabama rejoined the top 5 by beating Florida 23–12, and Nebraska cracked the top 5 by beating Kansas State 48–14. 1. Oklahoma, 2. Penn State, 3. Arkansas, 4. Alabama, 5. Nebraska

October 21 saw more upheaval in the rankings as No. 3 Arkansas lost to No. 8 Texas 28–21. No. 1 Oklahoma beat Iowa State 34–6, No. 2 Penn State won over Syracuse 45–14, No. 4 Alabama beat Tennessee 30–13, and No. 5 Nebraska won at Colorado 52–14. Maryland jumped into the top 5 with a 39–0 win over Wake Forest. New poll: 1. Oklahoma 2. Penn State 3. Alabama 4. Nebraska 5. Maryland

On October 28, No. 1 Oklahoma beat Kansas State 56–19, No. 2 Penn State beat West Virginia 49–21, No. 3 Alabama beat Virginia Tech 35–0, No. 4 Nebraska beat Oklahoma State 22–14, and No. 5 Maryland got ready for their upcoming showdown with Penn State by thumping Duke 27–0.


On November 4, Oklahoma beat Colorado 28–7, No. 2 Penn State stymied No. 5 Maryland 27–3, No. 3 Alabama topped Mississippi State 35–14, and No. 4 Nebraska beat Kansas 63–21. USC returned to the top 5 after a 13–7 win at Stanford.

November 11 saw No. 1 Oklahoma lose to No. 4 Nebraska 17–14 in the game that decided the Big Eight title. No. 2 Penn State claimed the top spot with a 19–10 win over N.C. State. No. 3 Alabama rolled along with a 31–10 win at No. 10 LSU. No. 5 USC beat No. 19 Washington 28–10. The new poll was 1. Penn State 2. Nebraska 3. Alabama 4. Oklahoma 5. USC.

On November 18, No. 1 Penn State was idle while No. 2 Nebraska was knocked off at home by Missouri 35–31 and fell to 7th. No. 3 Alabama was also idle, and No. 4 Oklahoma won its final game over Oklahoma State 62–7. In the showdown to decide the Pac-10 title and Rose Bowl berth, No. 5 USC stopped No. 14 UCLA by a score of 17–10. Houston, who had beaten No. 6 Texas the week before to clinch the SWC title and Cotton Bowl berth, moved up to No. 5. New poll: 1. Penn State 2. Alabama 3. USC 4. Oklahoma 5. Houston

On November 24, No. 1 Penn State wrapped up its undefeated regular season with a 17–10 over No. 15 rival Pittsburgh. No. 2 Alabama had one more week off before its game with rival Auburn. No. 3 USC needed a controversial call (an apparent fumble was ruled an incomplete pass thus keeping the final drive alive) and last second field goal to beat No. 8 Notre Dame 27–25. No. 5 Houston was upset by Texas Tech 22–21. No. 6 Michigan clinched the Rose Bowl berth with a 14–3 win over rival Ohio State.


On December 2, No. 2 Alabama finished its season with a win in the Iron Bowl rivalry game over Auburn, 34–16. Thus, the final regular season top 5 was: 1. Penn State 2. Alabama 3. USC 4. Oklahoma 5. Michigan. Penn State accepted the Sugar Bowl bid to set up a 1 vs. 2 matchup with Alabama. USC and Michigan would square off in a Rose Bowl battle of 1 loss teams, while the Orange Bowl surprised everyone by inviting Big 8 runner up Oklahoma (over 7th ranked ACC champ Clemson) to play Big 8 champ Nebraska in a rematch of their regular season meeting. Of note is that Clemson went to the Gator Bowl instead, where it beat Ohio State 17–15. It was near the end of that game when legendary Ohio State coach Woody Hayes punched Clemson linebacker Charlie Bauman after his game clinching interception, leading to Hayes' dismissal as Ohio State coach.

Conference standings

1978 Atlantic Coast Conference football standings
Conf  Overall
TeamW L T  W L T
No. 6 Clemson $600  1110
No. 20 Maryland 510  930
No. 18 NC State 420  930
North Carolina 330  560
Duke 240  470
Wake Forest 150  1100
Virginia 060  290
  • $ Conference champion
Rankings from AP Poll
1978 Big Eight Conference football standings
Conf  Overall
TeamW L T  W L T
No. 3 Oklahoma +610  1110
No. 8 Nebraska +610  930
No. 15 Missouri 430  840
Iowa State 430  840
Kansas State 340  470
Oklahoma State 340  380
Colorado 250  650
Kansas 070  1100
  • + Conference co-champions
Rankings from AP Poll
1978 Big Ten Conference football standings
Conf  Overall
TeamW L T  W L T
No. 5 Michigan +710  1020
No. 12 Michigan State +710  830
No. 13 Purdue 611  921
Ohio State 620  741
Minnesota 440  560
Wisconsin 342  542
Indiana 350  470
Iowa 260  290
Illinois 062  182
Northwestern 081  0101
  • + Conference co-champions
Rankings from AP Poll
1978 Ivy League football standings
Conf  Overall
TeamW L T  W L T
Dartmouth $610  630
Brown 520  630
Yale 412  522
Cornell 331  531
Harvard 241  441
Columbia 241  351
Princeton 142  252
Penn 151  261
  • $ Conference champion
1978 Mid-American Conference football standings
Conf  Overall
TeamW L T  W L T
Ball State $800  1010
Central Michigan 810  920
Miami 520  821
Western Michigan 540  740
Bowling Green 350  470
Ohio 350  380
Northern Illinois 240  560
Kent State 260  470
Toledo 270  290
Eastern Michigan 150  370
  • $ Conference champion
1978 Missouri Valley Conference football standings
Conf  Overall
TeamW L T  W L T
New Mexico State $510  650
Tulsa 410  920
Southern Illinois 320  740
Drake 330  470
Indiana State 230  380
Wichita State 240  470
West Texas State 150  380
  • $ Conference champion
1978 Pacific Coast Athletic Association football standings
Conf  Overall
TeamW L T  W L T
Utah State +410  740
San Jose State +410  750
Pacific (CA) 320  480
Cal State Fullerton 220  570
Long Beach State 140  560
Fresno State 140  380
  • + Conference co-champions
  • Utah State's game against Wyoming counted in the conference standings.
1978 Pacific-10 Conference football standings
Conf  Overall
TeamW L T  W L T
No. 2 USC $610  1210
No. 14 UCLA 620  831
Washington 620  740
Arizona State 430  930
No. 17 Stanford 430  840
California 340  650
Arizona 340  560
Oregon 250  290
Oregon State 260  371
Washington State 170  371
  • $ Conference champion
Rankings from AP Poll
1978 Southeastern Conference football standings
Conf  Overall
TeamW L T  W L T
No. 1 Alabama $600  1110
No. 16 Georgia 501  921
Auburn 321  641
LSU 330  840
Tennessee 330  551
Florida 330  470
Mississippi State 240  650
Ole Miss 240  560
Kentucky 240  461
Vanderbilt 060  290
  • $ Conference champion
Rankings from AP Poll
1978 Southern Conference football standings
Conf  Overall
TeamW L T  W L T
Furman +410  830
Chattanooga +310  731
Appalachian State 420  740
Western Carolina 420  650
The Citadel 230  560
VMI 040  380
Marshall 050  1100
  • + Conference co-champions
Rankings from AP Poll
1978 Southland Conference football standings
Conf  Overall
TeamW L T  W L T
Louisiana Tech +410  650
Arkansas State +410  740
Texas–Arlington 320  560
McNeese State 230  740
Southwestern Louisiana 230  380
Lamar 050  281
  • + Conference co-champions
1978 Southwest Conference football standings
Conf  Overall
TeamW L T  W L T
No. 10 Houston $710  930
No. 11 Arkansas 620  921
No. 9 Texas 620  930
Texas Tech 530  740
No. 19 Texas A&M 440  840
SMU 350  461
Baylor 350  380
Rice 260  290
TCU 080  290
  • $ Conference champion
Rankings from AP Poll
1978 Western Athletic Conference football standings
Conf  Overall
TeamW L T  W L T
BYU $510  940
Utah 420  830
Wyoming 420  570
New Mexico 330  750
Colorado State 240  560
San Diego State 240  470
UTEP 150  1110
  • $ Conference champion
1978 NCAA Division I-A independents football records
Conf  Overall
TeamW L T  W L T
No. 4 Penn State      1110
North Texas State      920
East Carolina      930
Navy      930
No. 7 Notre Dame      930
Rutgers      930
Florida State      830
Temple      731
Pittsburgh      840
Holy Cross      740
Louisville      740
UNLV      740
Southern Miss      740
Northeast Louisiana      641
Georgia Tech      750
Hawaii      650
Miami (FL)      650
South Carolina      551
William & Mary      551
Cincinnati      560
Villanova      560
Army      461
Memphis State      470
Tulane      470
Virginia Tech      470
Air Force      380
Colgate      380
Richmond      380
Syracuse      380
Illinois State      290
West Virginia      290
Boston College      0110
Rankings from AP Poll

No. 1 and No. 2 progress

WEEKSNo. 1No. 2Event
PRE-3AlabamaArkansasUSC 24, Alabama 14 (Sept 23)
4OklahomaArkansasUSC 30, Michigan St 9 (Sept 29)
5-6OklahomaUSCArizona St. 20, USC 7 (Oct 14)
7-10OklahomaPenn StateNebraska 17, Oklahoma 14 (Nov 11)
11Penn StateNebraskaMissouri 35, Nebraska 31 (Nov 18)
12-14Penn StateAlabamaAlabama 14, Penn State 7 (Jan 1)

Notable rivalry games


Bowl bids

Top ranked Penn State, as an independent, was not tied to any bowl game so the Nittany Lions accepted the Sugar Bowl invitation where they would meet SEC Champion Alabama, who was ranked 2nd in the AP and 3rd in the UPI. Pac-10 champion USC (ranked 3rd in the AP and 2nd in the UPI) faced No. 5 Michigan in the Rose Bowl in a battle of one loss teams. Nebraska had upset Oklahoma to earn the Big 8 title and automatic Orange Bowl berth; the Orange Bowl pulled a surprise by inviting the Sooners to play Nebraska in a rematch. Most observers felt Clemson would be invited and Oklahoma would play Houston in the Cotton Bowl Classic. The Cotton Bowl Classic bid went to Notre Dame and Clemson had to settle for the Gator Bowl despite a better record and higher ranking than Notre Dame.

Bowl results

In unusually cold and icy Dallas, Notre Dame overcame a 34–12 fourth quarter deficit to beat Houston 35–34. The Fighting Irish were led by quarterback Joe Montana in his final collegiate game. In New Orleans, Alabama used a 4th quarter goal line stand to upset Penn State 14–7. In Pasadena, USC defeated Michigan 17–10, aided by an incredible performance (including the game-winning touchdown) by Charles White . In the Orange Bowl, Oklahoma won its rematch with Nebraska 31–24. One other Bowl of note saw Clemson beat Ohio State 17–15 in the Gator Bowl; the next day, legendary Ohio State coach Woody Hayes was fired for punching Clemson defensive back Charlie Bauman in the throat after his game-saving interception.

Major BowlsChampionRunner-up
Cotton No. 10 Notre Dame35No. 9 Houston34
Sugar No. 2 Alabama14No. 1 Penn State7
Rose No. 3 USC17No. 5 Michigan10
Orange No. 4 Oklahoma31No. 6 Nebraska24
Other BowlsChampionRunner-up
Gator No. 7 Clemson17No. 20 Ohio State15
Fiesta No. 8 Arkansas (tie)10No. 15 UCLA (tie)10
Bluebonnet Stanford25No. 11 Georgia22
Peach No. 17 Purdue41Georgia Tech21
Sun No. 14 Texas42No. 13 Maryland0
Tangerine North Carolina St.30No. 16 Pittsburgh17
Liberty No. 18 Missouri20LSU15
Holiday Navy23Brigham Young16
Hall of Fame Texas A&M28No. 19 Iowa State12
Independence East Carolina35Louisiana Tech13
Garden State Arizona State34Rutgers18

National champion

The season ended with the top 3 teams (Alabama, USC, and Oklahoma) with one loss. In the AP poll, Alabama (11–1–0), on the strength of their Sugar Bowl win over former No. 1 Penn State, was voted No. 1. In the UPI poll, USC (12–1–0) was voted No. 1, based in a large part on their 24–14 win at Alabama over the Crimson Tide. Oklahoma, who was No. 1 for most of the season, felt that they should be national champs as they avenged their only loss by beating Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. The Sooners had to settle for the No. 3 ranking in both polls.

Final AP and UPI rankings

4.Penn StatePenn State
6.ClemsonNotre Dame
7.Notre DameClemson
12.Michigan StateUCLA
18.N.C. StateTexas A&M
19.Texas A&MArizona State
20.MarylandN.C. State

Heisman Trophy

  1. Billy Sims , HB - Oklahoma, 827 points
  2. Chuck Fusina, QB - Penn State, 750
  3. Rick Leach, QB - Michigan, 435
  4. Charles White, TB - USC, 354
  5. Charles Alexander, TB - LSU, 282
  6. Ted Brown, RB - NC State, 82
  7. Steve Fuller, QB - Clemson, 82
  8. Eddie Lee Ivery, RB - Georgia Tech, 81
  9. Jack Thompson, QB - Washington State, 72
  10. Jerry Robinson, LB - UCLA, 70

Source: [3] [4] [5]

Other major awards

Related Research Articles

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  1. http://www.jhowell.net/cf/cf1978.htm
  2. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-10-02. Retrieved 2008-12-30.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. "Earl Campbell". Heisman Trophy. 1978. Retrieved September 7, 2017.
  4. "Oklahoma's Sims Heisman winner". Lodi News-Sentinel. (California). UPI. November 29, 1978. p. 18.
  5. Word, Ron (November 29, 1978). "Billy Sims". Spokesman-Review. (Spokane, Washington). Associated Press. p. 49.