|1996 NCAA Division I-A season|
|Number of teams||111|
|Preseason AP No. 1||Nebraska|
|Heisman Trophy||Danny Wuerffel (quarterback, Florida)|
|Bowl Alliance Championship|
|1997 Sugar Bowl|
|Site|| Louisiana Superdome,|
New Orleans, Louisiana
|Champion(s)||Florida (AP, Coaches, FWAA)|
|Division I-A football seasons|
The 1996 NCAA Division I-A football season ended with the Florida Gators being crowned National Champions after defeating rival Florida State in the Sugar Bowl, which was the season's designated Bowl Alliance national championship game. Florida had faced Florida State earlier in the year, when they were ranked No. 1 and No. 2, and lost 24–21. However, unranked Texas's upset of No. 3 Nebraska in the first ever Big 12 Championship Game set up the rematch of in-state rivals in New Orleans. In the Sugar Bowl, Florida's Heisman Trophy-winning senior quarterback Danny Wuerffel and head coach Steve Spurrier led the Gators to a 52–20 victory and their first national championship.
Because the Pac-10 and Big Ten Conferences were not yet part of the Bowl Alliance, their champions met in the Rose Bowl as they had for decades. In 1996, these conference champions were potential national title contenders in No. 2 Arizona State and No. 4 Ohio State. In a close Rose Bowl contest, Arizona State's Jake Plummer ran for a touchdown with 1:40 left to play to give his team the lead, but Ohio State responded with its own touchdown drive led by backup quarterback Joe Germaine and won 20–17. Ohio State finished No. 2 in the final AP poll behind No. 1 Florida, and Arizona State finished No. 4 behind Florida State. The poll results helped push the Pac-10 and Big Ten to give up their Rose Bowl tradition. Before the 1998 season, they both agreed to join an expanded Bowl Championship Series (BCS) agreement, giving their programs a chance to play in a national championship game. Another controversy that led to the creation of the BCS was that No. 5 BYU was not invited to a major bowl game but were snubbed in favor of lower ranked teams from Bowl Alliance conferences.
The 1996 season saw ongoing realignment of many conferences. One of the most notable developments was the creation of the Big 12 Conference, which consisted of programs from the old Big 8 along with four former members of the dissolved Southwest Conference, namely Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, and Baylor. The Big 12 began play as a two division conference, with Oklahoma and Oklahoma State joining the South Division, breaking up the classic Nebraska–Oklahoma rivalry, but renewing the Texas-Oklahoma rivalry, known as the Red River Shootout. The first Big 12 football game featured Texas Tech and Kansas State. Kansas State won by a score of 21–14.
The 1996 season was also notable as it marked the end of ties in college football, as an overtime system was put into place across all of Division I. Though it has been modified slightly, the "Kansas Playoff" overtime rules have been used ever since. (The 1995 season also had overtime rules, but only for postseason games, and they were not used since none of the affected games ended regulation play in a tie.)
Four teams upgraded from Division I-AA prior to the season and one university dropped its football program. As such, the total number of Division I-A schools increased to 111.
|School||1995 Conference||1996 Conference|
|Alabama–Birmingham Blazers||I-AA Independent||I-A Independent|
|Arkansas State Indians||Big West||I-A Independent|
|Baylor Bears||SWC||Big 12|
|Boise State Broncos||Big Sky (I-AA)||Big West (I-A)|
|Central Florida Knights||I-AA Independent||I-A Independent|
|Colorado Buffaloes||Big 8||Big 12|
|Cincinnati Bearcats||I-A Independent||Conference USA|
|Houston Cougars||SWC||Conference USA|
|Idaho Vandals||Big Sky (I-AA)||Big West (I-A)|
|Iowa State Cyclones||Big 8||Big 12|
|Kansas Jayhawks||Big 8||Big 12|
|Kansas State Wildcats||Big 8||Big 12|
|Louisiana Tech Bulldogs||Big West||I-A Independent|
|Louisville Cardinals||I-A Independent||Conference USA|
|Memphis Tigers||I-A Independent||Conference USA|
|Missouri Tigers||Big 8||Big 12|
|Nebraska Cornhuskers||Big 8||Big 12|
|North Texas Mean Green||I-A Independent||Big West|
|Northern Illinois Huskies||Big West||I-A Independent|
|Oklahoma Sooners||Big 8||Big 12|
|Oklahoma State Cowboys||Big 8||Big 12|
|Pacific Tigers||Big West||Dropped Program|
|San Jose State Spartans||Big West||WAC|
|Southern Miss Golden Eagles||I-A Independent||Conference USA|
|Southwestern Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns||Big West||I-A Independent|
|TCU Horned Frogs||SWC||WAC|
|Texas Longhorns||SWC||Big 12|
|Texas A&M Aggies||SWC||Big 12|
|Texas Tech Red Raiders||SWC||Big 12|
|Tulane Green Wave||I-A Independent||Conference USA|
|Tulsa Golden Hurricane||I-A Independent||WAC|
|UNLV Rebels||Big West||WAC|
The Bowl Alliance did not include the Pacific-10 and Big 10 conferences, whose champions played in the Rose Bowl. Thus, Arizona State and Ohio State (who met in the Rose Bowl) were excluded from the Bowl Alliance championship.
|PRE-4||Nebraska||Big 12||Tennessee||SEC||Arizona St. 19, Nebraska 0||September 21|
|5-6||Florida||SEC||Florida State||ACC||Ohio State 38, Penn State 7||October 5|
|7-14||Florida||SEC||No. 3 Florida State||ACC||Florida St. 24, Florida 21||November 30|
|15||Florida State||ACC||No. 3 Nebraska||Big 12||Texas 37, Nebraska 27||December 7|
|16||Florida State||ACC||No. 3 Florida||SEC||Florida 52, Florida State 20||January 1|
|Sugar Bowl||No. 3 Florida||52||No. 1 Florida St.||20||1/2/97|
|Rose Bowl:||No. 4 Ohio St.||20||No. 2 Arizona St.||17||1/1/97|
|Cotton Bowl Classic:||No. 5 Brigham Young||19||No. 14 Kansas St.||15||1/1/97|
|Fiesta Bowl:||No. 7 Penn State||38||No. 20 Texas||15||1/1/97|
|Florida Citrus Bowl:||No. 9 Tennessee||48||No. 11 Northwestern||28||1/1/97|
|Gator Bowl:||No. 12 North Carolina||20||No. 25 West Virginia||13||1/1/97|
|Outback Bowl:||No. 16 Alabama||17||No. 15 Michigan||14||1/1/97|
|Peach Bowl||No. 17 LSU||10||Clemson||7||1/1/97|
|Orange Bowl:||No. 6 Nebraska||41||No. 10 Virginia Tech||21||12/31/96|
|Sun Bowl:||Stanford||38||Michigan State||0||12/31/96|
|Independence Bowl||Auburn||32||No. 24 Army||29||12/31/96|
|Holiday Bowl:||No. 8 Colorado||33||No. 13 Washington||21||12/30/96|
|Alamo Bowl:||No. 21 Iowa||27||Texas Tech||0||12/29/96|
|Carquest Bowl||No. 19 Miami (FL)||31||Virginia||21||12/27/96|
|Liberty Bowl||No. 23 Syracuse||30||Houston||17||12/27/96|
|Las Vegas Bowl||Nevada||18||Ball State||15||12/18/96|
Others receiving votes: 26. West Virginia; 27. East Carolina; 28. Southern Mississippi; 29. Stanford; 30. Wisconsin; 31. San Diego St.; 32. Virginia; 33. Clemson
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Winner: Danny Wuerffel, Florida, Quarterback (1363 points)
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