The 1953 college football season finished with the Maryland Terrapins capturing the AP, INS, and UPI national championship after Notre Dame held the top spot for the first nine weeks. The #4 Oklahoma Sooners defeated Maryland in the Orange Bowl, but there was no further polling after the November 30 results were released. However, Notre Dame was selected as the National Champions by 10 other polls and the Oklahoma Sooners received first in 2 polls. However, despite the team receiving National Championship rings, the University of Notre Dame does not recognize this title due to their policy of only recognizing AP or coaches' poll titles during the polling era (1936–present). Maryland was also the first champion of the Atlantic Coast Conference, which had been formed earlier in 1953 by seven colleges formerly with the Southern Conference. The year 1953 also saw the Michigan State Spartans, previously an independent, join the Big Nine Conference, which then became the Big Ten; MSU won the conference title in that first year and was the conference representative to the Rose Bowl, which it won 28-20 over UCLA.
During the 20th century, the NCAA had no playoff for the college football teams that would later be described as "Division I-A". The NCAA did recognize a national champion based upon the final results of "wire service" (AP and UPI) polls. The extent of that recognition came in the form of acknowledgment in the annual NCAA Football Guide of the "unofficial" national champions. The AP poll in 1953 consisted of the votes of as many as 378 sportswriters.
Though not all writers voted in every poll, each would give their opinion of the twenty best teams. Under a point system of 20 points for first place, 19 for second, etc., the "overall" ranking was determined. Although the rankings were based on the collective opinion of the representative sportswriters, the teams that remained "unbeaten and untied" were generally ranked higher than those that had not. A defeat, even against a strong opponent, tended to cause a team to drop in the rankings, and a team with two or more defeats was unlikely to remain in the Top 20. Generally, the top teams played on New Year's Day in the four major postseason bowl games: the Rose Bowl (near Los Angeles at Pasadena), the Sugar Bowl (New Orleans), the Orange Bowl (Miami), and the Cotton Bowl (Dallas).
Conference and program changes
- Three conferences began play in 1953:
- One conference changed its name in 1953:
In the preseason poll released on September 14, 1953, Notre Dame was rated first, followed by the defending champion, Michigan State, Georgia Tech, UCLA, and Alabama. As the regular season progressed, a new poll would be issued on the Monday following the weekend's games.
In a Friday night game at Los Angeles, #4 UCLA beat Oregon State 41-0. Meanwhile, at Montgomery, AL, #5 Alabama was shocked by Southern Mississippi, 25-19. The next day, September 19 #3 Georgia Tech beat Davidson, 53-0. Notre Dame and Michigan State began their seasons the following week.
On September 26 #1 Notre Dame won 28-21 at #6 Oklahoma. #2 Michigan State won at Iowa, 21-7. #3 Georgia Tech went to #15 Florida and was held to a 0-0 tie. #4 UCLA beat Kansas 19-7. Still at #5, Alabama, trying to salvage some respect against a second unranked opponent, went to 0-1-1 after a 7-7 tie against LSU in Mobile; in the poll that followed, the Crimson Tide fell completely out of the Top 20. #9 Maryland, which had won 52-0 at Washington and Lee, rose to third, and previously unranked Michigan (a 50-0 victor over Wisconsin, entered the poll at fourth.
The poll: 1.Notre Dame 2.Michigan State 3.Maryland 4.Michigan 5.UCLA
October 3 With the exception of #4 Michigan, which beat Tulane 26-7 at home, the other top teams won on the road, with #1 Notre Dame at Purdue, 37-7, #2 Michigan State at Minnesota 21-0, #3 Maryland at Clemson, 20-0, and #5 UCLA defeated Oregon 12-0 in an away game. #6 Ohio State, which won 33-19 at California, rose to third in the next poll, knocking UCLA out. The Big Ten had three of the spots in the top five:
- 1. Notre Dame
- 2. Michigan State * 3. Ohio State
- 4. Maryland
- 5. Michigan
October 10 #1 Notre Dame was idle, but stayed at #1 after #2 Michigan State's 26-19 win over TCU. #4 Maryland won 40-13 over Georgia and #5 Michigan edged Iowa 14-13. The night before, #3 Ohio State had lost 40-21 to Illinois, while #6 UCLA returned to the top bracket with a 13-0 win over visiting Wisconsin. The poll: 1.Notre Dame 2.Michigan State 3.Maryland 4.UCLA 5.Michigan
October 17 #1 Notre Dame beat Pittsburgh 23-14. #2 Michigan State defeated Indiana 47-18. #3 Maryland won 26-0 at North Carolina. #4 UCLA lost at Stanford, 21-20.
#5 Michigan beat Northwestern 20-12. #6 Georgia Tech, which beat Auburn 36-6, took UCLA's place in the next poll: 1.Notre Dame 2.Michigan State 3.Maryland 4.Georgia Tech 5.Michigan.
October 24 #1 Notre Dame stayed unbeaten with a 27-14 win over #4 Georgia Tech.
#2 Michigan State lost 6-0 at Purdue and #5 Michigan lost at Minnesota 22-0.
#3 Maryland won a Friday game at Miami, 30-0. Coming into the Top Five were #6 Baylor (14-13 over Texas A&M), 7 Illinois (20-13 over Syracuse), and #8 West Virginia (52-20 over VMI). The poll: 1.Notre Dame 2.Maryland 3.Baylor 4.Illinois 5.West Virginia
October 31 #1 Notre Dame beat Navy 38-7. #2 Maryland beat South Carolina 24-6.
#3 Baylor beat TCU 25-7. #4 Illinois defeated Purdue 21-0. beat Oregon State 34-6. #5 West Virginia won at Penn State 20-19. #6 Michigan State, which beat Oregon State 34-6, rose to fifth. The poll: 1.Notre Dame 2.Maryland 3.Baylor 4.Illinois 5.Michigan State
November 7 #1 Notre Dame won 28-20 at Penn. #2 Maryland beat George Washington University 27-6 at a game in Washington, DC. #3 Baylor lost at Texas, 21-20. #4 Illinois beat Michigan 9-3. #5 Michigan State won 28-13 at Ohio State, but still dropped in the poll. #6 Georgia Tech, which beat Clemson 20-7, rose to fifth.
November 14 #1 Notre Dame won at North Carolina, 34-14, and #2 Maryland beat Mississippi 38-0 as both stayed unbeaten and untied. #4 Michigan State beat Michigan 14-6. On the other hand, #3 Illinois lost to Wisconsin, 34-7 and #5 Georgia Tech fell 13-6 to Alabama in a game at Birmingham. Returning to the Top Five to take their place were #6 Oklahoma and #7 UCLA, which had defeated Iowa (47-0) and Washington (22-6), respectively.
November 21 Number one since the season began, #1 Notre Dame played to a 14-14 tie with Iowa. #2 Maryland closed its season with a 21-0 win over Alabama to finish the season unbeaten and untied, at 10-0-0, to take the top rung on the AP poll. #3 Michigan State closed with a 21-15 win over Marquette. #4 Oklahoma beat Nebraska 30-7, and #5 UCLA beat USC, 13-0.
November 28 The new #1, Maryland, had already finished its season. #2 Notre Dame, with a 48-14 win at USC, and #4 Oklahoma (42-7 over Oklahoma State) were the only Top Five members who hadn't closed their seasons. The following Saturday, December 5, Notre Dame beat visiting SMU 40-14.
In the Final AP poll, released November 30, #1 Maryland, the only unbeaten and untied team, received 187 first place votes, and unbeaten, but once-tied #2 Notre Dame had 141 votes. ACC member Maryland accepted a bid to the Orange Bowl to meet once-beaten (8-1-1), Big 7 champ, and #4 Oklahoma, while #3 Michigan State and #5 UCLA would meet in the Rose Bowl. Notre Dame declined to participate in a postseason game.
After the AP National Champion Maryland lost in the Orange Bowl, there was a lot of controversy since the AP Poll had been finalized beforehand and could not be changed to take this result into account. This Maryland loss resulted in Notre Dame being ranked #1 by 10 polls, including Billingsley , Boand, DeVold, Dunkel, National Championship Foundation, Williamson, and several others. As a reward for beating the Terrapins, the Sooners received #1 from Berryman and Football Research.
The following is an incomplete list of conference standings: