The 1980 NCAA Division I-A football season saw Georgia take its first national title since World War II.
Nine days following the bowl games to close the 1979 season, tragedy struck when new LSU coach Bo Rein died when the plane he was flying in crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Virginia. Rein, who coached North Carolina State to the Atlantic Coast Conference championship in 1979, was named on November 30 of that year as the successor to Charles McClendon, who coached LSU to an 137-59-7 mark from 1962 through 1979. Jerry Stovall, a former LSU All-American and St. Louis Cardinals defensive back, was named to succeed Rein approximately 36 hours after the crash.
The Georgia Bulldogs starred freshman running back Herschel Walker, who made his NCAA debut against Tennessee. Down 15-2 at halftime, Georgia sent in Walker, the third string running back at the time, to try to light a spark. Walker ran over All-American safety Bill Bates, in a play that would set the tempo for the rest of his career.
This year was the final season in which long time rivals Rutgers and Princeton played against each other. The rivalry between the New Jersey schools has not been played since.
This year's edition of Florida–Georgia game was won on a last minute 92 yard pass from Georgia's own endzone, known by the play by play call "Run, Lindsay, run!".
The Bulldogs ran through the rest of the season unscathed, beating Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl. Walker rushed for 150 yards against Notre Dame, a defense which had not given up a hundred yard game that whole season. He did this with a dislocated shoulder.
The Pittsburgh Panthers also had a stellar season, led by offensive tackle Mark May. The team went 11-1 and finished ranked #2, finishing the season with a rout of South Carolina and Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers in the Gator Bowl. 29 players from this team went on the play in the NFL.
Florida State defeated #3 ranked Nebraska on the Cornhuskers' home turf, and the following week defeated the #2 ranked Pitt Panthers
It was an unusual year for the Pac-10 as 5 of its 10 members were placed on probation by the conference (but not the NCAA) including traditional powers USC and UCLA, along with both Oregon schools and Arizona State. So half the conference was ineligible for bowl games and it was feared that the 4th or 5th place finisher would end up in the Rose Bowl. Ironically, USC and UCLA both got as high as #2 in the polls before being upset. As it turned out, the probation didn't matter as Washington won the conference outright with a 6-1 record.
This year's edition of the Holiday Bowl was a classic as the BYU staged a fourth quarter comeback, led by future NFL star Jim McMahon. Down 45-25 to SMU with less than four minutes left, McMahon threw three touchdown passes, including a Hail Mary as time expired, caught in the endzone by Clay Brown, despite being surrounded by three SMU defenders.
Rules changes for 1980 
- Offensive linemen are permitted full arm extension on so-called "retreat" blocking during pass plays, and clenched hands are permitted.
- The "chop block" (a second offensive player blocking a defensive player below the knees while engaged with another offensive player) is outlawed.
- A tie-breaker system was proposed for the post-season (similar to the one adopted for the 1995 post-season, except the start of overtime was at the 15-yard line and no defensive scores allowed), but failed to gain acceptance by the bowls.
- Facemasking now includes grabbing the helmet as well as the facemask.
Season Recap 
The pre season poll had a top six of 1. Ohio State, 2. Alabama, 3. Pittsburgh, 4. USC, 5. Oklahoma, and 6. Nebraska. Also of note is that Georgia was ranked 16th. For the first month of the season, the top 6 teams did not change, although there was some movement within the top 6. Going into games on September 27, the poll was 1. Alabama, 2. Ohio State, 3. Nebraska, 4. Oklahoma, 5. USC, and 6. Pittsburgh. On that day, Oklahoma lost at home to John Elway and Stanford, 31-14. Texas replaced Oklahoma in the top 5, and the new rankings were 1. Alabama, 2. Ohio State, 3. Nebraska, 4. USC, and 5. Texas.
On October 4, #2 Ohio State was shut out at home by #11 UCLA, 17-0. Nebraska was also upset at home, losing to #16 Florida State 18-14. The new poll was 1. Alabama, 2. USC, 3. Texas, 4. Pittsburgh, and 5. UCLA.
On October 11, #4 Pittsburgh suffered their only loss of the season, losing to #11 Florida State in Tallhassee by a score of 36-22. It was one of only two games all season in which the stout Panthers allowed more than 14 points. Undefeated Notre Dame, with three wins over top 20 teams, joined the top 5 after their 32-14 win over #13 Miami. The new poll was 1. Alabama, 2. USC, 3. Texas, 4. UCLA, and 5. Notre Dame.
On October 18, #2 USC got bogged down in the rain at Oregon and had to settle for a 7-7 tie. Thus the Trojans fell out of the top 5, to be replaced by undefeated Georgia. The new poll was 1. Alabama, 2. Texas, 3. UCLA, 4. Notre Dame, and 5. Georgia.
On October 25, for the 5th straight week, a top 5 team lost. This time, it was #2 Texas falling to SMU by a score of 20-6. Texas would end up losing 5 of its last 7 games after a 5-0 start. Florida State would take the Longhorns place in the new top 5 that was 1. Alabama, 2. UCLA, 3. Notre Dame, 4. Georgia, and 5. Florida State.
After 5 straight weeks of major upsets, November 1 may have been the craziest day of all. Alabama, who had held the top ranking for 6 weeks, was knocked off by Mississippi State, 6-3. Having heard the news that Alabama lost, #2 UCLA went out and promptly lost to Arizona in Tucson, 23-17. USC and Nebraska re-entered the top 5. The new poll was 1. Notre Dame, 2. Georgia, 3. Florida State, 4. USC, and 5. Nebraska.
The madness continued on November 8 as new #1 Notre Dame was held to a 3-3 tie by Georgia Tech, dropping the Irish to #6. 2nd ranked Georgia trailed rival #20 Florida late in the game when QB Buck Belue hit WR Lindsay Scott on an out pattern; Scott turned up field and went 90 yards for the winning score in the season's most memorable play. It was Scott's only TD reception all season and it gave the Bulldogs a 26-21 win. Alabama would take Notre Dame's place in the top five of the new poll that was 1. Georgia, 2. USC, 3. Florida State, 4. Nebraska, and 5. Alabama.
The surprises continued the following week on November 15. #2 USC lost at home to Washington as the Huskies clinched the Pac-10 title. #6 Notre Dame went down to Birmingham and beat #5 Alabama 7-0; this win vaulted the Irish over Alabama, Nebraska, and Florida State to #2 in the new poll. Ohio State, who started at #1 and had just the one loss to UCLA, returned to the top 5 that was 1. Georgia, 2. Notre Dame, 3. Florida State, 4. Nebraska, and 5. Ohio State.
On November 22, in the showdown for the Big 8 title and Orange Bowl berth, #4 Nebraska was dumped at home by #9 Oklahoma, 21-17. In the game to decide the Big 10 title and Rose Bowl berth, #10 Michigan beat #5 Ohio State in Columbus, 9-3. #6 Pittsburgh returned to the top 5 by winning at #7 Penn State, 14-9. The new poll was 1. Georgia, 2. Notre Dame, 3. Florida State, 4. Pittsburgh, and 5. Oklahoma.
Although there were still games left to be played, the major bowls extended their invitations. Top ranked Georgia earned a Sugar Bowl berth by virue of its SEC championship and Notre Dame was invited to play them in a 1 vs. 2 matchup. #5 Oklahoma earned the Big 8's Orange Bowl berth and would play #3 Florida State. 6th ranked Michigan would face #16 Washington in the Rose Bowl, while #7 Baylor earned the Cotton Bowl berth by winning the SWC. Most people assumed #4 Pittsburgh would earn a major bowl bid and face Baylor, but the Cotton Bowl opted for #9 Alabama instead. The Fiesta Bowl also passed over Pitt, inviting #11 Ohio State and #10 Penn State (who had just lost to Pittsburgh). Thus, Pittsburgh had to settle for a Gator Bowl bid vs. #18 South Carolina and Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers.
On November 29, #17 USC spoiled the 1 vs. 2 Sugar Bowl matchup by upsetting #2 Notre Dame by a score of 20-3. The final regular season top five was 1. Georgia, 2. Florida State, 3. Pittsburgh, 4. Oklahoma, and 5. Michigan.
Conference standings 
#1 and #2 Progress 
||UCLA 17, Ohio State 0 (Oct. 4)
||Oregon 7, USC 7 (Oct 18)
||SMU 20, Texas 6 (Oct 25)
||Miss. St 6, Alabama 3 (Nov. 1) & Arizona 23, UCLA 17 (Nov. 1)
||Ga. Tech 3, Notre Dame 3 (Nov. 8)
||Washington 20, USC 10 (Nov 15)
||USC 20, Notre Dame 3 (Dec 6)
||End Regular Season
Notable rivalry games 
- Michigan 9, Ohio State 3
- #9 Oklahoma 21, #5 Nebraska 17
- UCLA 20, USC 17
Bowl games 
- Sugar Bowl: #1 Georgia 17, #7 Notre Dame 10
- Orange Bowl: #4 Oklahoma 18, #2 Florida State 17
- Rose Bowl: #5 Michigan 23, #16 Washington 6
- Cotton Bowl Classic: #9 Alabama 30, #6 Baylor 2
- Gator Bowl: #3 Pittsburgh 37, #18 South Carolina 9
- Sun Bowl: #8 Nebraska 31, #17 Mississippi State 17
- Fiesta Bowl: #10 Penn State 31, #11 Ohio State 19
- Peach Bowl: #20 Miami 20, Virginia Tech 10
- Bluebonnet Bowl: #13 North Carolina 16, Texas 7
- Liberty Bowl: Purdue 28, Missouri 25
- Hall of Fame Classic: Arkansas 34, Tulane 15
- Tangerine Bowl: Florida 35, Maryland 20
- Holiday Bowl: #14 BYU 46, #19 SMU 45
- Garden State Bowl: Houston 35, Navy 0
- Independence Bowl: Southern Mississippi 16, McNeese State 14
Final AP Poll 
- Florida State
- Penn State
- Notre Dame
- North Carolina
- Brigham Young
- Southern California
- Ohio St
- Miami (FL)
- Mississippi State
Final Coaches Poll 
- Florida St.
- Penn St.
- North Carolina
- Notre Dame
- Brigham Young
- Southern California
- Ohio St.
- Miami (FL)
- Southern Methodist
Heisman Trophy voting 
- George Rogers South Carolina, RB
- Hugh Green Pittsburgh, DE
- Herschel Walker Georgia, RB
- Mark Herrmann Purdue, QB
- Jim McMahon Brigham Young, QB
Other major awards