1981 NCAA Division I-A football season

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1981 NCAA Division I-A season
Number of teams 137[1]
Preseason AP #1 Michigan Wolverines[2]
Post-season
Bowl games 16
Heisman Trophy Marcus Allen, USC RB
Winner Clemson Tigers
Division I-A football seasons
← 1980
1982 →

The 1981 NCAA Division I-A football season ended with the Clemson Tigers, unbeaten and untied, claiming the national championship after a victory over Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. This was also the first year of the California Bowl, played in Fresno, California; this game fancied itself as a "junior" version of the Rose Bowl[citation needed] as it pitted the Big West Conference champion vs. the Mid-American Conference champion.

This was the final season in which the Ivy League, Southern Conference, and Southland Conference competed in Division I-A; the leagues were lowered to Division I-AA (later known as the FCS) for 1982.[3] Through the 2012 season, the Ivy League has yet to participate in the post-season tournament, despite an automatic bid, citing academic concerns. This season the total number of teams in Division 1-A decreased from 138 to 137 due to the loss of Villanova, who dropped their football program following the 1980 season.

Rule changes[edit]

  • Continuing the trend of liberalizing blocking rules, offensive linemen now are allowed to use extended arms with open hands.
  • The head coach or captain may request a conference with the referee if the coach feels the rules were misinterpreted or misapplied. If the referee is correct, the requesting team will be charged with a timeout (or delay of game if no timeouts).
  • Players blocked into a kicked ball inbounds will not be considered to have touched the kick.
  • Holding penalty is reduced to 10 yards.
  • During a field goal/PAT attempt, players are not allowed to stand, step, or jump on an teammate or opponent (leaping) or place a hand on or be picked up by a teammate (leverage) to block the kick.

Octoberfest[edit]

Florida State played a brutal series of games known as "Octoberfest", playing traditional powers Nebraska, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and LSU all on the road and going 3–2 in that stretch.

September[edit]

The pre season top 5 was 1. Michigan, 2. Oklahoma, 3. Notre Dame, 4. Alabama, and 5. USC. On September 5, Alabama beat LSU 24–7 and moved up to #2 in the new poll that was 1. Michigan, 2. Alabama, 3, Oklahoma, 4. Notre Dame, and 5. USC. Clemson was not ranked.

On September 12, #1 Michigan opened its season in Madison and lost to Wisconsin, 21-14. #2 Alabama lost in Birmingham to Georgia Tech, 24–21. By beating LSU 27-9, Notre Dame leapfrogged Oklahoma, who beat Wyoming 37–20, into the #1 spot. #4 USC beat Tennessee 43–7 so they also vaulted over Oklahoma to #2. Georgia at #4 and Penn State at #5 replace Michigan and Alabama in the top 5.

On September 19, #1 Notre Dame lost at #11 Michigan 25–7. #4 Georgia lost at unranked Clemson, 13–3. Thus, USC moved up to #1, Oklahoma #2, Penn State #3, Texas joined the top five at #4, and Pittsburgh moved up to #5.

On September 26 in a 1 vs. 2 showdown in Los Angeles, USC scored in the final seconds to nip Oklahoma, 28–24. Thus, Oklahoma slipped to #5 while Penn State, Texas and Pittsburgh were number 2, 3, and 4.

October[edit]

On October 3, Oklahoma, still stung by its last second loss to USC, was shocked at home in a 7–7 tie with Iowa State. North Carolina moved up to replace Oklahoma at #5 in the next poll.

On October 10, #1 USC was upset by Arizona, 13–10. #3 Texas beat #10 Oklahoma 34–13 and jumped over Penn State into the #1 spot. Michigan returned to the top 5 in the new poll that was: 1. Texas, 2. Penn State, 3. Pittsburgh, 4. North Carolina, and 5. Michigan.

On October 17, #1 Texas was steamrolled by Arkansas 42–11. #5 Michigan lost at Iowa 9–7 in the game that ultimately decided the Big 10's Rose Bowl berth.[citation needed] Clemson and USC replaced Texas and Michigan in the new top 5 that was: 1. Penn State, 2. Pittsburgh, 3. North Carolina, 4. Clemson, and 5. USC.

The big game on October 24 was between ACC rivals #3 North Carolina and #4 Clemson in Chapel Hill. Clemson won 10–8 to move up to #3, and Georgia replaced North Carolina in the top 5.

On October 31, #1 Penn State was upset by unranked Miami (FL) 17–14 and fell to #6. Texas re-emerged in the top 5 that was: 1. Pittsburgh, 2. Clemson, 3. USC, 4. Georgia, and 5. Texas.

November[edit]

On November 7, #5 Texas was tied by Houston 14–14 and was replaced by Penn State at #5. The rest of the top 5 was unchanged.

On November 14, #3 USC lost to Washington, 13–3 and #5 Penn State was knocked off by Alabama, 31–16. The new poll was 1. Pittsburgh, 2. Clemson, 3. Georgia, 4. Alabama, and 5. Nebraska.

The poll would remain unchanged until games of November 28, when Penn State beat #1 Pitt 48–14. The final regular season poll was 1. Clemson, 2. Georgia, 3. Alabama, 4. Nebraska, and 5. SMU.

Important game[edit]

Clemson's match-up with North Carolina proved to be the landmark game of the season and a huge turning point for the ACC. This game which Clemson won 10–8 marked the first time two ACC teams met while ranked in the top 10. ABC broadcast this game live nationally, a huge bit of exposure for what was usually known as a basketball conference. The game ended with Jeff Bryant recovering a lateral with a minute left.

Conference standings[edit]

1981 ACC football standings
Conf     Overall
Team W   L   T     W   L   T
#1 Clemson 6 0 0     12 0 0
#9 North Carolina 5 1 0     10 2 0
Maryland 4 2 0     4 6 1
Duke 3 3 0     6 5 0
NC State 2 4 0     4 7 0
Wake Forest 1 5 0     4 7 0
Virginia 0 6 0     1 10 0
† – Conference champion
Rankings from AP Poll
1981 Big 8 football standings
Conf     Overall
Team W   L   T     W   L   T
#11 Nebraska 7 0 0     9 3 0
#20 Oklahoma 4 2 1     7 4 1
Kansas 4 3 0     7 5 0
Oklahoma State 4 3 0     7 5 0
#19 Missouri 3 4 0     8 4 0
Iowa State 2 4 1     5 5 1
Colorado 2 5 0     3 8 0
Kansas State 1 6 0     2 9 0
† – Conference champion
Rankings from AP Poll
1981 Big Ten football standings
Conf     Overall
Team W   L   T     W   L   T
#15/12 Ohio State § 6 2 0     9 3 0
#18/15 Iowa § 6 2 0     8 4 0
#12/10 Michigan 6 3 0     9 3 0
Illinois 6 3 0     7 4 0
Wisconsin 6 3 0     7 5 0
Minnesota 4 5 0     6 5 0
Michigan State 4 5 0     5 6 0
Purdue 3 6 0     5 6 0
Indiana 3 6 0     3 8 0
Northwestern 0 9 0     0 11 0
§ – Conference co-champions
Rankings from AP Poll / Coaches' Poll
1981 Ivy League football standings
Conf     Overall
Team W   L   T     W   L   T
Yale § 6 1 0     9 1 0
Dartmouth § 6 1 0     6 4 0
Princeton 5 1 1     5 4 1
Harvard 4 2 1     5 4 1
Brown 2 5 0     3 7 0
Cornell 2 5 0     3 7 0
Columbia 1 6 0     1 9 0
Pennsylvania 1 6 0     1 9 0
§ – Conference co-champions
Rankings from AP Poll
1981 Mid-American Conference football standings
Conf     Overall
Team W   L   T     W   L   T
Toledo 8 1 0     9 3 0
Miami 6 1 1     8 2 1
Central Michigan 7 2 0     7 4 0
Bowling Green 5 3 1     5 5 1
Western Michigan 5 4 0     6 5 0
Ohio 5 4 0     5 6 0
Kent State 3 6 0     4 7 0
Ball State 2 6 0     4 7 0
Northern Illinois 2 7 0     3 8 0
Eastern Michigan 0 9 0     0 11 0
† – Conference champion
Rankings from AP Poll
1981 Missouri Valley Conference football standings
Conf     Overall
Team W   L   T     W   L   T
Drake § 5 1 0     10 1 0
Tulsa § 5 1 0     6 5 0
Southern Illinois 5 2 0     7 4 0
West Texas State 3 3 0     7 4 0
Wichita State 3 3 1     4 6 1
Indiana State 2 4 1     5 5 1
New Mexico State 1 5 0     3 8 0
Illinois State 0 5 0     3 7 0
§ – Conference co-champions
Rankings from AP Poll
1981 Pacific-10 football standings
Conf     Overall
Team W   L   T     W   L   T
#10 Washington 6 2 0     10 2 0
#16 Arizona State 5 2 0     9 2 0
#14 USC 5 2 0     9 3 0
Washington State 5 2 1     8 3 1
UCLA 5 2 1     7 4 1
Arizona 4 4 0     6 5 0
Stanford 4 4 0     4 7 0
California 2 6 0     2 9 0
Oregon 1 6 0     2 9 0
Oregon State 0 7 0     1 10 0
† – Conference champion
Rankings from AP Poll
1981 Pacific Coast Athletic Association football standings
Conf     Overall
Team W   L   T     W   L   T
San Jose State 5 0 0     9 3 0
Utah State 4 1 1     5 5 1
Fresno State 2 3 0     5 6 0
Pacific 2 3 0     5 6 0
Cal State Fullerton 1 4 0     3 8 0
Long Beach State 1 4 0     2 8 0
† – Conference champion
Rankings from AP Poll
1981 SEC football standings
Conf     Overall
Team W   L   T     W   L   T
#7 Alabama § 6 0 0     9 2 1
#6 Georgia § 6 0 0     10 2 0
Mississippi State 4 2 0     8 4 0
Tennessee 3 3 0     8 4 0
Florida 3 3 0     7 5 0
Auburn 2 4 0     5 6 0
Kentucky 2 4 0     3 8 0
LSU 1 4 1     3 7 1
Ole Miss 1 4 1     4 6 1
Vanderbilt 1 5 0     4 7 0
§ – Conference co-champions
Rankings from AP Poll
1981 Southern Conference football standings
Conf     Overall
Team W   L   T     W   L   T
Furman 5 2 0     8 3 0
VMI 3 1 1     6 1 1
East Tennessee State 4 2 0     6 5 0
Chattanooga 3 2 1     7 3 1
The Citadel 3 2 1     7 3 1
Western Carolina 3 4 0     4 7 0
Appalachian State 1 5 1     3 7 1
Marshall 1 5 0     2 9 0
† – Conference champion
Rankings from AP Poll
1981 Southland Conference football standings
Conf     Overall
Team W   L   T     W   L   T
Texas–Arlington 4 1 0     6 5 0
McNeese State 3 1 1     7 3 1
Arkansas State 3 2 0     6 5 0
Louisiana Tech 2 2 1     4 6 1
Lamar 1 3 1     4 6 1
Southwestern Louisiana 0 4 1     1 9 1
† – Conference champion
Rankings from AP Poll
1981 Division I-A independents football records
Conf     Overall
Team W   L   T     W   L   T
#3 Penn State           10 2 0
#4 Pittsburgh           11 1 0
#8 Miami           9 2 0
Southern Miss           9 2 1
#17 West Virginia           9 3 0
Colgate           7 3 0
Virginia Tech           7 4 0
Navy           7 4 1
Cincinnati           6 5 0
Florida State           6 5 0
Holy Cross           6 5 0
Tulane           6 5 0
UNLV           6 6 0
South Carolina           6 6 0
Temple           5 5 0
Boston College           5 6 0
East Carolina           5 6 0
Northeast Louisiana           5 6 0
Louisville           5 6 0
Notre Dame           5 6 0
Rutgers           5 6 0
William & Mary           5 6 0
Syracuse           4 6 1
Richmond           4 7 0
Army           3 7 1
North Texas           2 9 0
Georgia Tech           1 10 0
Memphis           1 10 0
Rankings from AP Poll
1981 Southwest Conference football standings
Conf     Overall
Team W   L   T     W   L   T
#5 SMU 7 1 0     10 1 0
#2 Texas 6 1 1     10 1 1
Houston 5 2 1     7 4 1
Arkansas 5 3 0     8 4 0
Texas A&M 4 4 0     7 5 0
Rice 3 5 0     4 7 0
Baylor 3 5 0     5 6 0
TCU 1 6 1     2 7 2
Texas Tech 0 7 1     1 9 1
† – Conference champion
Rankings from AP Poll
1981 WAC football standings
Conf     Overall
Team W   L   T     W   L   T
#13 BYU 7 1 0     11 2 0
Hawaii 5 1 0     9 2 0
Utah 4 1 1     8 2 1
Wyoming 6 2 0     8 3 0
New Mexico 3 4 1     4 7 1
Air Force 2 3 0     4 7 0
San Diego State 3 5 0     6 5 0
UTEP 1 6 0     1 10 0
Colorado State 0 8 0     0 12 0
† – Conference champion
Rankings from AP Poll

Notable rivalry games[edit]

  • Alabama 28, Auburn 17
  • Ohio State 14, Michigan 9
  • #5 Nebraska 37, Oklahoma 14
  • USC 14, Notre Dame 7
  • USC 22, UCLA 21
  • Penn State 48, Pitt 14

Orange Bowl[edit]

Clemson's Orange Bowl opponent Nebraska featured future NFL stars Roger Craig, Irving Fryar, Mike Rozier, and Dave Rimington while finishing second nationally in rushing with 330 yards per game. But Clemson was able to take advantage of an injury to Nebraska quarterback Turner Gill. Eight out of twelve Nebraska possessions ended in a three and out, they crossed the 50 only four times and ended up with just two scoring opportunities.

Entering the game, Clemson was ranked #1, Georgia #2, then Alabama and Nebraska in one poll and Pittsburgh in another. After Georgia and Alabama had lost in Sugar and Cotton Bowls respectively, The Orange Bowl was for the national championship, although with Pitt beating Georgia, it is likely that Nebraska would have split the title with Pitt had they beaten Clemson. The final score was 22–15.

Pittsburgh, which was the consensus number one until being beaten soundly by Penn State in their season finale, beat defending national champion Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. Also in the national title hunt till the very end, Alabama lost to number six Texas in the Cotton Bowl Classic.

Kenneth Sims of Texas was the first pick overall in the 1982 NFL Draft and was the winner of the Lombardi Award, given to the nation's best lineman.

Southern Methodist won the Southwest Conference and was ranked fifth, but was ineligible for post-season play due to NCAA probation, but could have still qualified for the national title.[citation needed]

Consensus All-Americans[edit]

Offense[edit]

Defense[edit]

#1 and #2 progress[edit]

Weeks #1 #2 Event
PRE Michigan Oklahoma
1 Michigan Alabama Wisconsin 21, Michigan 14 Sep 12
2 Notre Dame USC Michigan 25, Notre Dame 7 Sep 19
3 USC Oklahoma USC 28, Oklahoma 24 Sep 26
4–5 USC Penn State Arizona 13, USC 10 Oct 10
6 Texas Penn State Arkansas 42, Texas 11 Oct 17
7–8 Penn State Pittsburgh Miami 17, Penn State 14 Oct 31
9–12 Pittsburgh Clemson Penn State 48, Pitt 14 Nov 28
13 Clemson Georgia Clemson 22, Nebraska 15 Jan 1

Bowl games[edit]

Final AP Poll[edit]

  1. Clemson
  2. Texas
  3. Penn State
  4. Pittsburgh
  5. Southern Methodist
  6. Georgia
  7. Alabama
  8. Miami (FL)
  9. North Carolina
  10. Washington
  11. Nebraska
  12. Michigan
  13. Brigham Young
  14. Southern California
  15. Ohio State
  16. Arizona State
  17. West Virginia
  18. Iowa
  19. Missouri
  20. Oklahoma

Heisman Trophy[edit]

  1. Marcus Allen – TB, Southern California
  2. Herschel Walker – TB, Georgia
  3. Jim McMahon – QB, Brigham Young
  4. Dan Marino – QB, Pittsburgh
  5. Art Schlichter – QB, Ohio State

Award winners[edit]

References[edit]