The 1971 NCAA University Division football season saw Coach Bob Devaney's Nebraska Cornhuskers repeat as national champions. Ranked a close second behind Notre Dame in the preseason poll, Nebraska moved up to first place the following week, remained there for the rest of 1971, and convincingly won the Orange Bowl in a No. 1 vs. No. 2 game against Alabama.
Prior to the 1971 season, two programs were elevated to the University Division. The new programs were Temple and Texas-Arlington. The change brought the total number of programs in the University Division to 119.
During the 20th century, the NCAA had no playoff for major college football in its University Division (now the Football Bowl Subdivision in Division I). 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). Prior to the 1974 season, the UPI issued its final poll before the bowls, but since the 1968 season, the AP Trophy was withheld until the postseason was completed. The AP poll in 1971 consisted of the votes of as many as 55 sportswriters, though not all of them voted in every poll. Those who cast votes would give their opinion of the ten best teams. Under a point system of 20 points for first place, 19 for second, etc., the "overall" ranking was determined.
|School||1970 Conference||1971 Conference|
|Bradley Braves||Independent||Dropped Program|
|Buffalo Bulls||Independent||Dropped Program|
|Drake Bulldogs||Independent||Missouri Valley|
|Louisiana Tech Bulldogs||Gulf States||Southland|
|Southwestern Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns||Gulf States||Southland|
|South Carolina Gamecocks||ACC||Independent|
|West Texas State Buffaloes||Independent||Missouri Valley|
In the preseason poll released on September 6, Notre Dame was ranked No. 1, with defending champion Nebraska was second. Nebraska had more first place votes (26) than Notre Dame (15), but fewer points overall (870 vs. 885). Texas, Michigan and USC rounded out the Top Five. The poll was 1.Notre Dame 2.Nebraska 3.Texas 4.Michigan 5.USC
On Friday night in Los Angeles, Alabama beat No. 5 USC, 17-10, marking a successful debut for Bear Bryant's new Wishbone offense. The next day, No. 2 Nebraska won its opener at home, 34-7 over Oregon. No. 4 Michigan won 21-6 at No. 20 Northwestern. Notre Dame and Texas did not start their seasons until the following week. In the poll that followed, Nebraska received 31 of the 50 first place votes, while Ohio State took USC's No. 5 spot.
The poll was 1.Nebraska 2.Notre Dame 3.Texas 4.Michigan 5.Ohio State
Nebraska beat Minnesota 35-7, and No. 3 Texas won its opener 28-10 at UCLA. No. 2 Notre Dame opened with 50-7 win over Northwestern, No. 4 Michigan shut out Virginia and No. 6 Auburn beat UT-Chattanooga ; they moved up to No. 5, as idle Ohio State dropped to sixth.
Poll: 1.Nebraska 2.Notre Dame 3.Texas 4.Michigan 5.Auburn
Nebraska beat Texas A&M, 34-7, and No. 3 Texas beat Texas Tech 28-0. No. 2 Notre Dame narrowly won at Purdue, 8-7, and No. 4 Michigan beat visiting UCLA, 38-0. No. 6 Ohio State lost 20-14 to visiting No. 10 Colorado. No. 5 Auburn edged No. 9 Tennessee at home, 10-9. Michigan and Notre Dame traded places in the poll that followed.
Poll: 1.Nebraska 2.Michigan 3.Texas 4.Notre Dame 5.Auburn
Fifteen of the Top 20 teams remained unbeaten, including the Top 12. Nebraska handled Utah State in Lincoln, 42-6, while No. 2 Michigan registered its third straight shutout at home, beating Navy 46-0. No. 3 Texas defeated Oregon 35-7, No. 4 Notre Dame beat Michigan State 14-2, and fell to seventh in the next poll. No. 5 Auburn beat Kentucky 38-6, and No. 6 Colorado rose to fifth after beating Kansas State 31-21.
Poll: 1.Nebraska 2.Michigan 3.Texas 4.Auburn 5.Colorado
The top 9 teams improved their records to 4-0 or 5-0. In their first Big Eight conference game and first on the road, No. 1 Nebraska shut out Missouri 36-0. No. 3 Texas lost to No. 8 Oklahoma in their rivlary game at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, 48-27, while No. 2 Michigan won at Michigan State, 24-13. No. 4 Auburn beat Southern Miss 27-14, and No. 5 Colorado won 24-14 at Iowa State, but dropped in the poll to sixth, while No. 6 Alabama won 42-0 at Vanderbilt and rose to fourth. Texas dropped to tenth place, while Oklahoma rose to second.
The poll: 1.Nebraska 2.Oklahoma 3.Michigan 4.Alabama 5.Auburn
Top-ranked Nebraska crushed Kansas 55-0, raising its record to 6-0 and outscoring its opposition 238-27. No. 2 Oklahoma beat visiting No. 6 Colorado 45-17 and No. 3 Michigan beat Illinois 35-6. No. 4 Alabama beat No. 14 Tennessee 32-15 at Birmingham and No. 5 Auburn won over Georgia Tech in Atlanta, 31-14. Eight teams had records of 5-0 or 6-0.
The next poll: 1.Nebraska 2.Oklahoma 3.Michigan 4.Alabama 5.Auburn 6.Notre Dame 7.Penn State 8.Georgia.
Seven of the top 8 teams stayed unbeaten, playing unranked opponents. No. 1 Nebraska allowed Oklahoma State to reach double digits, but easily won at Stillwater, 41-13. No. 2 Oklahoma decimated Kansas State 75-28 in Manhattan. No. 3 Michigan won 35-7 at Minnesota, No. 4 Alabama hosted Houston, and No. 5 Auburn beat Clemson 35-13. No. 6 Notre Dame lost to visiting USC, 28-14. No. 7 Penn State walloped visiting TCU 66-14, No. 8 Georgia beat Kentucky at home, 34-0.
Poll: 1.Nebraska 2.Oklahoma 3.Michigan 4.Alabama 5.Auburn 6.Penn State 7. Georgia
Number one Nebraska handed visiting No. 9 Colorado a 31-7 defeat, and No. 2 Oklahoma beat Iowa State 43-12. No. 3 Michigan rolled over Indiana 61-7, and No. 4 Alabama beat Mississippi State 41-10 at Jackson. No. 5 Auburn beat Florida 40-7, No. 6 Penn State won 35-7 at West Virginia, and No. 7 Georgia recorded its third consecutive shutout, 24-0 at South Carolina.
All of the aforementioned games were overshadowed by the death of TCU head coach Jim Pittman, who suffered a massive heart attack during the Horned Frogs' rivalry game with Baylor in Waco. TCU somehow overcame its grief to oust the Bears 34-27. Pittman was in his first season at Fort Worth after five seasons at Tulane, where he guided the Green Wave to an 8-4 record in his final season of 1970, capped off by a 17-3 victory over Colorado in the Liberty Bowl. The top seven all stayed unbeaten and the poll was unchanged:
1.Nebraska 2.Oklahoma 3.Michigan 4.Alabama 5.Auburn 6.Penn State 7.Georgia
Nebraska beat Iowa State 37-0 and No. 2 Oklahoma won 20-3 at Missouri. No. 3 Michigan crushed Iowa, 63-7, and No. 4 Alabama won at No. 18 LSU, 14-7. No. 5 Auburn beat Mississippi State 30-21, No. 6 Penn State won 63-27 over Maryland, and No. 7 Georgia beat Florida at Jacksonville. As the Top 7 teams extended their undefeated records, the poll stayed unchanged:
1.Nebraska 2.Oklahoma 3.Michigan 4.Alabama 5.Penn State 6.Auburn 7.Georgia (all undefeated)
Nebraska won at Kansas State 44-17, and No. 2 Oklahoma beat Kansas 56-10. No. 3 Michigan narrowly won at Purdue, 20-17, and No. 4 Alabama defeated the visiting Miami Hurricanes, 31-3. No. 5 Auburn (8-0) and No. 7 Georgia (9-0) met at Athens, with the Auburn winning a decisive 35-20 victory. No. 6 Penn State beat North Carolina State 35-3.
Poll: 1.Nebraska 2.Oklahoma 3.Michigan 4.Alabama 5.Auburn 6.Penn State (all undefeated)
Four of the top five teams were idle. No. 1 Nebraska (10-0) and No. 2 Oklahoma prepared for their Thanksgiving Day meeting in Norman, while No. 4 Alabama and No. 5 Auburn prepared for their season closer in the Iron Bowl in Birmingham. No. 3 Michigan defeated Ohio State, to win the Big 10 title and earn the Rose Bowl berth, and No. 6 Penn State won at Pittsburgh
Poll: 1.Nebraska 2.Oklahoma 3.Michigan 4.Alabama 5.Auburn 6.Penn State (all undefeated)
As the regular season neared its close, Big Eight rivals Nebraska and Oklahoma were unbeaten, as were SEC rivals Alabama and Auburn, and Big Ten champ Michigan. On Thanksgiving Day, No. 1 Nebraska and No. 2 Oklahoma met on the Sooners' field in a game that would determine the Big Eight title, the No. 1 ranking, and a trip to the Orange Bowl in Miami. In the decade's Game of the Century, Nebraska won a classic back-and-forth battle 35-31; Husker I-back Jeff Kinney scored his fourth and game-deciding touchdown with 98 seconds left, capping a 5½-minute, 74-yard drive. The loss dropped Oklahoma behind the unbeatens into fifth place in the polls.
Later that weekend, No. 4 Alabama and No. 5 Auburn played their annual season-ender at Birmingham, with Alabama handing the Tigers their first loss, as a result of this impressive win, Alabama jumped over Michigan. As SEC champion, Alabama was invited to, but not obligated to play in, the Sugar Bowl; they deferred and accepted a bid to play top-ranked Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. Auburn went to the Sugar Bowl instead, to face Oklahoma in a meeting of conference runners-up. No. 6 Penn State was idle, but moved up two places.
The next poll: 1.Nebraska 2.Alabama 3.Michigan 4.Penn State 5.Oklahoma
Nebraska had NCAA permission to play a twelfth game... in Hawaii; they beat the Rainbows and ended the regular season at No. 4 Penn State faced No. 12 Tennessee at Knoxville but lost No. 5 Oklahoma's season ender was in state at Stillwater against Oklahoma State, which the Sooners easily won The final regular season poll:
1.Nebraska 2.Alabama 3.Michigan 4.Oklahoma 5.Auburn. 6. Colorado
Saturday, January 1, 1972
|COTTON||No. 10 Penn State Nittany Lions||30-6||No. 12 Texas Longhorns|
|SUGAR||No. 3 Oklahoma Sooners||40-22||No. 5 Auburn Tigers|
|ROSE||No. 16 Stanford Indians ^||13-12||No. 4 Michigan Wolverines|
|ORANGE||No. 1 Nebraska Cornhuskers||38-6||No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide|
With No. 1 Nebraska slated to play No. 2 Alabama in the Orange Bowl on New Year's night, there was little suspense as to which game or games would decide the national title. No. 3 Michigan held out the slim hope that, if they handily defeated Stanford while Nebraska or Alabama barely won or tied, they could leapfrog both teams into the top position. For the second year in a row in the Rose Bowl, underdog Stanford rallied to defeat the undefeated Big Ten champion, besting Michigan 13-12 on a last second field goal by Rod Garcia. (He had missed all five of his kicks (four field goals and an extra point) when Stanford was upset by San Jose State on November 13, by the same score.)
In the final game of the day, Nebraska walloped Alabama in the Orange Bowl to claim its second straight national title. Earlier in the day at the Sugar Bowl, Oklahoma intercepted Heisman Trophy winner three times and easily handled Auburn and regained the runner-up ranking in the final poll. With bowl losses by No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Michigan, and No. 5 Auburn, sixth-ranked Colorado, winner of the Bluebonnet Bowl, rose to third. The Big Eight occupied the top three spots in the final AP poll, with Nebraska receiving all 55 first place votes; Oklahoma was second, and Colorado (whose only losses were to Nebraska and Oklahoma) climbed to third. This was the first time that two teams from the same conference topped the final poll, and it remains as the only time that a conference had the top three.
|SUN||El Paso||Texas||December 18||No. 11 LSU||33-15||Iowa State|
|GATOR||Jacksonville||Florida||December 31||No. 6 Georgia||7-3||North Carolina|
|TANGERINE||Orlando||Florida||December 28||No. 14 Toledo||28-3||Richmond|
|ASTRO-BLUEBONNET||Houston||Texas||December 31||No. 7 Colorado||29-17||No. 15 Houston|
|LIBERTY||Memphis||Tennessee||December 20||No. 9 Tennessee||14-13||No. 18 Arkansas|
|PEACH||Atlanta||Georgia||December 30||No. 17 Mississippi||41-18||Georgia Tech|
|FIESTA (debut)||Tempe||Arizona||December 27||No. 8 Arizona State||45-38||Florida State|
|MERCY||Los Angeles||California||December 11||Cal State Fullerton||17-14||Fresno State|
|PASADENA||Pasadena||California||December 18||Memphis State||28-9||San Jose State|