The NCAA divided Division I schools into two divisions starting in 1978: The Football Bowl Subdivision (known as Division I-A from 1978–2005) does not have a playoff system, but instead stages Bowl Games. The Championship Game participants are chosen based on their end-of-season conference standings and positions in national rankings (compiled by polls and computers). Participants to other bowl games are based on this, plus discretion of that bowl's organizers (what teams will deliver a compelling game, including TV & Gate receipts). The Football Championship Subdivision (known through this same period as Division I-AA) plays in a sixteen-team, single elimination tournament for a recognized national championship, with the notable exception of the Ivy League and the Southwestern Athletic Conference, which abstain from participation in this playoff. The Ivies choose to limit their football schedule to 10 games and have a long-standing policy against playing postseason football, whereas the SWAC opts for a longer, more easily scheduled regular season, and profitable rivalry games like the nationally televised Bayou Classic in the Louisiana Superdome and the SWAC Championship Game. Between 1991 and 1999, the Heritage Bowl matched top teams from the historically black colleges and universities in a Division I-AA bowl game.
NCAA by-laws state that a school with a record of 6–6 in regular season play is eligible only if conferences cannot fill out available positions for bowl games with teams possessing seven (or more) wins (excluding games played in Hawaiʻi and conference championship games in the ACC, Big 12, Conference USA, Mid-American Conference and the SEC). An example was in 2008 when the Big Ten, the Big 12 and SEC each had two teams selected for the Bowl Championship Series games – Ohio State and Penn State from the Big Ten, Texas and Oklahoma from the Big 12 and Alabama and Florida from the SEC. With each conference sending two teams to the BCS, these three conferences forfeited several bowl game slots due to a lack of teams with a winning record.
As with the 2006 and 2008 seasons, all eligible teams with at least 7 wins made it in to a bowl game. Of the 71 eligible teams, only 68 could play in a game, and all three eligible teams that sat out bowl season were 6-6: Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe, and Notre Dame, who opted not to play in a bowl game themselves after the firing of head coach Charlie Weis.
Kelly left Cincinnati to take the same job at Notre Dame.
Jones left Central Michigan to fill the Cincinnati vacancy.
Leach was suspended by Texas Tech on December 28 when redshirt sophomore wide receiver Adam James, son of ESPN analyst Craig James, and his family filed a complaint alleging mistreatment by Leach after the younger James had suffered a concussion. Two days later, Leach was fired.
On December 26, Florida head coach Urban Meyer announced his resignation due to health concerns, effective after the Gators'Sugar Bowl appearance. However, Meyer had a change of heart and announced the following day that he would instead take an indefinite leave of absence, and expected to be back coaching by the start of the 2010 season. Offensive coordinator Steve Addazio took over Meyer's duties during his leave. Meyer returned to his job in time to lead the Gators' 2010 spring practice.
All dates and game times for the 34 2009–10 season bowl games were announced on April 30, 2009, and are subject to change. They received licenses from the NCAA Football Issues Committee. NOTE: Rankings from final BCS Standings of December 6, 2009.
^Troy finished their regular season with a perfect 8–0 conference record, earning the Sun Belt title and the conference's lone automatic bowl bid; however, the New Orleans Bowl opted for Middle Tennessee, a Sun Belt team guaranteed an at-large, because Troy and Southern Miss had played each other in the 2008 New Orleans Bowl.
^Hawaiʻi played a 13-game schedule this season, and lost to Wisconsin on December 5 to finish the season at 6–7, rendering them ineligible for a bowl game. As a result, the berth passed to another WAC team, Nevada.
^Because the Big Ten received two bids into the BCS, the spot normally filled by the #7 Big Ten team was instead be filled by the at-large Thundering Herd.
^Army, had to defeat Navy in its final game to be bowl-eligible, but lost 17–3 December 12. Conference USA has a contingency contract for this slot if Army fails to beat Navy; however, all bowl-eligible C–USA teams were already in bowls.
^The ACC had only seven bowl-eligible teams this season. The MAC has a contingency slot with this bowl if the ACC does not produce eight bowl-eligible teams, and all five of its bowl-eligible teams have at least 7 wins, so Temple received this berth.
^The MWC did not qualify enough teams to fill all of its bowl bids as a result of TCU receiving a BCS bid.
^Navy won seven games to be bowl-eligible, as they are playing a 13-game schedule. They secured the bid on November 7 with a 23–21 win over Notre Dame.
^This slot became an at-large slot after the ACC produced only seven bowl-eligible teams.