The 1969 college football season was celebrated as the centennial of college football (the first season being the one in 1869).
During the 20th century, the NCAA had no playoff for the major college football teams, later known as "Division I-A." 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). In 1969, the UPI issued its final poll before the bowls, but the AP Trophy was withheld until the postseason was completed.
The AP poll in 1969 consisted of the votes of as many as 45 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. In 1969, there were four regular season games that matched "Top Five" teams.
This was the last season in which teams were limited to ten games during the regular season; the NCAA allowed eleven starting in 1970.
September 20: #1 Ohio State had not yet started its season, and #2 Arkansas beat Oklahoma State 39-0 at Little Rock. #3 Penn State won 45–22 at Navy, #4 Texas won 17–0 at California, #5 USC won 31–21 at Nebraska. Poll: 1. Ohio State, 2. Penn State, 3. Arkansas, 4. Texas, 5. USC
September 27: #1 Ohio State opened its season with a 62–0 dismantling of TCU. #2 Penn State beat Colorado 27–3, and #3 Arkansas overpowered Tulsa 55–0. #4 Texas won 49-7 over Texas Tech and #5 USC beat Northwestern at home 48–6. Rutgers hosted Princeton, just as it had one hundred years earlier on November 6, 1869, the first college football game. In 1869, Rutgers had 6 goals to Princeton's four, and a century later, Rutgers won 29–0. The first seven spots in the poll remained unchanged: 1.Ohio State 2.Penn State 3.Arkansas 4.Texas 5.USC
October 4: #1 Ohio State beat Washington 41–14 at Seattle, but Penn State narrowly won 17–14 at Kansas State and fell to fifth in the poll. Arkansas beat TCU 24–6 at Little Rock, #4 Texas beat Navy 56–17, and USC won 31–7 at Oregon State. Poll: 1. Ohio State, 2. Texas, 3. Arkansas, 4. USC, 5. Penn State
October 11: the top teams played ranked opponents. #1 Ohio State beat #19 Michigan State 54–21 at home. #2 Texas defeated #8 Oklahoma 27–17 in their Dallas rivalry game and #3 Arkansas was idle. #4 USC got past #16 Stanford 26–24, and #5 Penn State beat #17 West Virginia 20–0 at home. Poll: 1. Ohio State, 2. Texas, 3. USC, 4. Arkansas, 5. Penn State
October 18: #1 Ohio State won 34–7 at Minnesota, and #2 Texas was idle. #3 USC tied #11 Notre Dame 14–14 at South Bend, and dropped to seventh, while Notre Dame fell to twelfth. #4 Arkansas won 21–7 at Baylor, and #5 Penn State narrowly stayed unbeaten at Syracuse, winning 15–14, and fell to eighth. #7 Tennessee beat #20 Alabama 41–14 in Birmingham for its fifth win, rose to third, while unbeaten Missouri reached fifth after its 31–21 win over Oklahoma State.
Poll: 1. Ohio State, 2. Texas, 3. Tennessee, 4. Arkansas, 5. Missouri
October 25: #1 Ohio State shut out Illinois 41–0 and #2 Texas blanked Rice 31–0 in Austin. #3 Tennessee was idle. #4 Arkansas beat Wichita State 52–14 in Little Rock. #8 Penn State defeated Ohio University 42–3 and returned to the Top 5. Missouri lost at unranked Colorado 31–24 and USC beat Georgia Tech 29–18. Poll: 1. Ohio State, 2. Texas, 3. Tennessee, 4. Arkansas, 5. Penn State
November 1: #1 Ohio State won at Northwestern 35–6, and #2 Texas beat SMU 45–14 at Dallas. #3 Tennessee won 17–3 at #11 Georgia, #4 Arkansas beat Texas A&M 35–13, and #5 Penn State beat Boston College 38–16. The poll remained unchanged: 1. Ohio State, 2. Texas, 3. Tennessee and 4. Arkansas were all at 6–0; 5. Penn State was 7–0, and 6. USC and 7. UCLA stayed unbeaten at 6–0–1 and 7–0–1, respectively.
November 8: #1 Ohio State beat Wisconsin 62–7, and #2 Texas beat Baylor 56–14. #3 Tennessee beat South Carolina 29–14, #4 Arkansas defeated Rice in Houston 30–6, and #5 Penn State was idle. The poll remained unchanged: 1. Ohio State, 2. Texas, 3. Tennessee and 4. Arkansas and 5. Penn State were all 7–0, and 6. USC and 7. UCLA were both at 7–0–1, respectively.
November 15: #1 Ohio State hosted #10 Purdue and won 42–14. By this time, Woody Hayes' Buckeyes had outscored their opposition 371–69 and had an 8–0 record with one game left. #2 Texas was comparably dominant, having outscored its opponents 360-76 after beating TCU 69–7 at home to go 8-0, but in Jackson, #3 Tennessee was shut out 38–0 by #18 Mississippi. #4 Arkansas beat SMU 28–15 in Dallas, #5 Penn State blanked Maryland 48–0, and #6 USC beat Washington 16–7 at Seattle. In the next poll, Ohio State and Texas stayed at #1 and #2 for the 7th straight week, each with a 62-point win over their common opponent (TCU, otherwise a 4-4 team). The teams ranked 4, 5, 6, 7, 8,and 9 (Arkansas, Penn State, USC, UCLA, Missouri and Notre Dame) each moved up a notch.
November 22: After averaging 46 points a game in its first eight, #1 Ohio State could only manage twelve points at #12 Michigan and lost 24–12, ending its 22-game winning streak. The Wolverines (8–2) won the Big Ten championship and a spot in the Rose Bowl. #5 USC, aided by a pass interference penalty on fourth down that led to the late game-winning touchdown, closed with a 14–12 win over city rival #6 UCLA in a matchup of unbeatens (both 8–0–1) that decided the Pac-8 championship and the other Rose Bowl berth. #4 Penn State won 27–7 at Pittsburgh. In the next poll, Texas took the top spot: 1. Texas, 2. Arkansas, 3. Penn State, 4. Ohio State, 5. USC.
In Southwest Conference play on Thanksgiving Day, #1 Texas won at Texas A&M 49–12, while #2 Arkansas beat Texas Tech 33–0 in Little Rock. On Saturday, November 29, #3 Penn State won 33–8 at North Carolina State and was considered for the Cotton Bowl, where the Southwestern Conference champ (Texas or Arkansas) would go. Before Ohio State's loss, however, the players had voted to accept a bid to the Orange Bowl, because they preferred going to Miami instead of Dallas, even though they won the previous Orange Bowl, 15–14 over Kansas. Certain to move up to #2 regardless of how the Texas-Arkansas game came out, Penn State unexpectedly had passed up a chance to go up against the #1 team in the nation.
December 6: #1 and #2 would not meet in a bowl, but faced off at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville, Arkansas, for the final regular season game for both teams. Both unbeaten at 9–0, #1 Texas traveled to meet #2 Arkansas for a game to determine the unofficial champion. Among the 44,000 in attendance was President Richard Nixon, who had with him a plaque to award to the "national champion", while an estimated 50 million viewers watched the game on ABC television. After three quarters, Arkansas led 14–0. In the fourth quarter, Longhorns' quarterback James Street couldn't find a receiver and ran 42 yards for a touchdown, then carried over the ball for two to cut the lead to six at 14–8. With 4:47 to play, the Longhorns were on their own 43 on fourth down with three yards to go. Street threw long to Randy Peschel open downfield, who made the catch and fell out of bounds on the 13-yard line. After Ted Koy ran for eleven yards, Jim Bertelsen went over to tie the score, and the extra point kick by Happy Feller gave Texas a 15–14 lead with just under four minutes remaining. A late interception stopped the Hogs and Texas remained undefeated. Because both teams had been unbeaten in Southwest Conference play, the game also determined the SWC championship, with Texas getting the bid for the Cotton Bowl Classic against #9 Notre Dame; the Irish were making their first postseason appearance in 45 years. President Nixon presented the plaque to Texas head coach Darrell Royal after the game. In the final regular season poll, it was 1. Texas, 2. Penn State, 3. Arkansas, 4. Ohio State, and 5. USC.
At the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, the #1 Texas Longhorns were facing the end of their unbeaten streak before a crowd of 73,000 against #9 Notre Dame, playing in its first bowl game in 45 years, since the 1925 Rose Bowl. Trailing 17–14 with 2:26 left in the game, Texas faced a fourth-and-two situation on the Irish ten-yard line. Settling for a tying field goal was out of the question, but a failure to convert would give Notre Dame the ball and the chance to run out the clock. Texas QB James Street managed to fire a pass over the head of the equally determined linebacker Bob Olson. Cotton Speyrer came down with the ball on the two-yard line, just before the ball hit the ground. The officials paused before ruling that the pass was indeed complete; on third down from the one, Billy Dale took the ball in for the winning points and, ultimately, the title.
In the final poll after the bowls, the Texas Longhorns were the top choice for 36 of the 45 writers voting, and won the AP Trophy. The final AP top 20 was: 1.Texas 2.Penn State 3.USC 4.Ohio State 5.Notre Dame 6.Missouri 7.Arkansas 8.Mississippi 9.Michigan 10.UCLA 11.Nebraska 12.Houston 13.LSU 14.Florida 15.Tennessee 16.Colorado 17.West Virginia 18.Purdue 19.Stanford and 20.Auburn.
With its bowl win, #11 Nebraska (9–2) ended 1969 on a seven-game winning streak. The Huskers were undefeated in the nexttwo seasons to win consecutive national championships, with an unbeaten streak of 32 games.
Prior to 1973, the NCAA was divided into two divisions, University and College. College Division teams (also referred to as "small college") were ranked in polls by the AP (a panel of writers) and by UPI (coaches). The national champion(s) for each season were determined by the final poll rankings, published at or near the end of the regular season, before any bowl games were played.
Many schools, at the behest of the NCAA, commemorated the 1969 season by wearing a special decal on their football helmets. The decal consisted of the numeral "100" inside a football shaped outline. The decal was designed to commemorate the 1869 game between Rutgers and Princeton, often cited as the first college football game. Decals varied greatly from one team to another. Some teams placed the decals unobtrusively on the front or back of the helmet. Other teams placed them prominently on the side, either in addition to or in place of their regular team logo. Colors and design of the decals also varied greatly between teams; with different numeral styles and color schemes in use. One notable exception was Harvard, which abstained from the 1969 commemoration, and had its own special helmet decal made for the 1974 season, which commemorates an 1874 game that Harvard played against McGill that Harvard claims was the "real" first football game.