1971 college football season
|1971 NCAA University Division football season|
|Total # of teams||128|
|Preseason AP #1||Notre Dame Fighting Irish|
|Number of bowls||12|
|Heisman||Pat Sullivan, Auburn QB|
The 1971 NCAA University Division football season saw Coach Bob Devaney's Nebraska Cornhuskers repeat as national champions. After being ranked 2nd in the preseason poll, Nebraska captured first place the following week and remained there for the rest of 1971 and won the Orange Bowl 38–6 in a #1 vs. #2 game against Alabama.
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 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 1971, the UPI issued its final poll before the bowls, but the AP Trophy was withheld until the postseason was completed. The AP poll in 1971 consisted of the votes of as many as 55 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.
- The crackback block was outlawed.
- Punts that land in the end zone untouched will result in an automatic touchback.
- Team time-outs were reduced from four to three.
- After penalties, the clock restarts on the ready-for-play signal. Previously, the clock started after penalties on the snap.
- Penalties occurring behind the scrimmage line are enforced from the previous spot instead of the spot of the foul.
Conference and program changes
- The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference played its first season of football this year; membership included Delaware State, Howard, Maryland Eastern Shore, Morgan State, North Carolina A&T, North Carolina Central, and South Carolina State.
- The New England Small College Athletic Conference, now a Division III conference, began football play in 1971.
|School||1970 Conference||1971 Conference|
|Bradley Braves||Independent||Dropped Program|
|Buffalo Bulls||Independent||Dropped Program|
|Drake Bulldogs||Independent||Missouri Valley|
|Louisiana Tech Bulldogs||Gulf States||Southland|
|Southwestern Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns||Gulf States||Southland|
|West Texas State Buffaloes||Independent||Missouri Valley|
- In the preseason poll released on September 6, 1971, Notre Dame was ranked #1, while defending champion Nebraska was second. Nebraska had more first place votes (26) than Notre Dame (15), but fewer points overall (870 vs. 885). Texas, Michigan and USC rounded out the Top Five. The poll was 1.Notre Dame 2.Nebraska 3.Texas 4.Michigan 5.USC
- On Friday, September 10, in Los Angeles, Alabama beat #5 USC, 17–10. The next day, September 11 #2 Nebraska won its opener, 34–7 against Oregon. #4 Michigan won at #20 Northwestern 21–6. #3 Texas had not started its season. In the poll that followed, Nebraska received 31 of the 50 first place votes, while #5 Ohio State took USC's #5 spot. The poll was 1.Nebraska 2.Notre Dame 3.Texas 4.Michigan 5.Ohio State
September 18 #1 Nebraska beat Minnesota 35–7 #3 Texas won at UCLA, 28–10. #2 Notre Dame beat Northwestern 50–7. #4 Michigan shut out Virginia, 56–0. #5 Ohio State was idle and fell to 6th. #6 Auburn, which crushed UT-Chattanooga 60–7, reached #5. The poll was 1.Nebraska 2.Notre Dame 3.Texas 4.Michigan 5.Auburn
September 25 #1 Nebraska beat Texas A&M, 34–7. #3 Texas beat Texas Tech 28–0. #2 Notre Dame narrowly won at Purdue, 8–7. #4 Michigan beat visiting UCLA 38–0. #6 Ohio State lost to visiting #10 Colorado, 20–14. #5 Auburn edged #9 Tennessee at home, 10–9. Michigan and Notre Dame traded places in the poll that followed: 1.Nebraska 2.Michigan 3.Texas 4.Notre Dame 5.Auburn
October 2 Fifteen of the Top 20 teams remained unbeaten, including the Top 12. #1 Nebraska beat Utah State at home, 42-6. #3 Texas defeated Oregon 35-7. #4 Notre Dame beat Michigan State 14-2, and fell to 7th place in the next poll. #2 Michigan registered its third straight shutout at home, beating Navy 46-0. #5 Auburn Tigers beat Kentucky 38-6 #6 Colorado rose to 5th after beating Kansas State 31-21 Poll: 1.Nebraska 2.Michigan 3.Texas 4.Auburn 5.Colorado
October 9 The top 9 teams improved their records to 4-0 or 5-0. In their first Big 8 game and first on the road, #1 Nebraska shut out Missouri 36-0. #3 Texas lost to #8 Oklahoma in Dallas, 48-27. #2 Michigan won at Michigan State 24-13. #4 Auburn Tigers beat Southern Mississippi 27-14. #5 Colorado won at Iowa State, 24-14, but dropped in the poll to 6th. #6 Alabama, which won at Vanderbilt 42-0, rose to 4th. Texas dropped to 10th place, while Oklahoma rose to 2nd. The poll: 1.Nebraska 2.Oklahoma 3.Michigan 4.Alabama 5.Auburn
October 16 #1 Nebraska crushed Kansas 55-0, raising its record to 6-0-0 and outscoring its opposition 238-27. #2 Oklahoma beat visiting #6 Colorado 45-17. #3 Michigan beat Illinois 35-6. #4 Alabama beat #14 Tennessee 32-15 at Birmingham. #5 Auburn won over Georgia Tech in Atlanta, 31-14. Eight teams had records of 5-0 or 6-0. The next poll: 1.Nebraska 2.Oklahoma 3.Michigan 4.Alabama 5.Auburn 6.Notre Dame 7.Penn State 8.Georgia.
October 23 Seven of the top 8 teams stayed unbeaten, playing unranked opponents. #1 Nebraska allowed Oklahoma State to reach double digits, but still won at Stillwater, OK, 41-13. #2 Oklahoma invaded Manhattan, KS and decimated the Kansas State Wildcats 75-28. #3 Michigan won at Minnesota, 35-7. #4 Alabama hosted Houston and won 34-20. #5 Auburn beat Clemson 35-13. #6 Notre Dame lost to visiting USC, 28-14. #7 Penn State walloped visiting TCU 66-14, #8 Georgia beat Kentucky at home, 34-0
Poll: 1.Nebraska 2.Oklahoma 3.Michigan 4.Alabama 5.Auburn 6.Penn State 7.Georgia
October 30 #1 Nebraska handed visiting #9 Colorado a 31-7 defeat. #2 Oklahoma beat Iowa State 43-12 #3 Michigan rolled over visiting Indiana 61-7. #4 Alabama beat Mississippi State at Jackson, Miss., #5 Auburn beat Florida 40-7, #6 Penn State won at West Virginia, 35-7, and #7 Georgia recorded its third consecutive shutout, at South Carolina, 24-0
All of the aforementioned games were overshadowed by the tragic death of TCU coach Jim Pittman, who suffered a massive heart attack during the Horned Frogs' rivalry game with Baylor in Waco. TCU somehow overcame its grief to oust the Bears 34-27. Pittman was in his first season at Fort Worth after five seasons at Tulane, where he guided the Green Wave to an 8-4 record in his final season of 1970, capped off by a 17-3 victory over Colorado in the Liberty Bowl.
The Top 7, all staying unbeaten, remained the same in the next poll: 1.Nebraska 2.Oklahoma 3.Michigan 4.Alabama 5.Auburn 6.Penn State 7.Georgia
November 6 #1 Nebraska beat Iowa State 37-0. #2 Oklahoma won at Missouri, 20-3. #3 Michigan crushed Iowa, 63-7. #4 Alabama won at #18 LSU, 14-7. #5 Auburn beat Mississippi State 30-21. #6 Penn State won 63-27 over Maryland. #7 Georgia beat Florida at Jacksonville. As the Top 7 teams extended their records to 8-0 or 9-0, the poll stayed unchanged: 1.Nebraska 2.Oklahoma 3.Michigan 4.Alabama 5.Penn State 6.Auburn 7.Georgia
November 13 #1 Nebraska won at Kansas State 44-17. #2 Oklahoma beat Kansas 56-10. #3 Michigan narrowly won at Purdue, 20-17. #4 Alabama defeated the visiting Miami Hurricanes, 31-3 #5 Auburn (8-0-0) and #7 Georgia (9-0-0) met at Athens, Ga., with the Auburn winning a decisive 35-20 victory. #6 Penn State beat North Carolina State 35-3.
Poll: 1.Nebraska 2.Oklahoma 3.Michigan 4.Alabama 5.Auburn 6.Penn State
November 20 Four of the Top 5 teams were idle. #1 Nebraska and #2 Oklahoma were preparing for their Thanksgiving Day meeting at Norman, OK, while #4 Alabama and #5 Auburn prepared for their season closer in Birmingham. #3 Michigan (10-0-0) defeated Ohio State, 10-7, to win the Big 10 title and earn the Rose Bowl berth. #6 Penn State won at Pittsburgh 55-18 Poll: 1.Nebraska 2.Oklahoma 3.Michigan 4.Alabama 5.Auburn 6.Penn State
As the regular season neared its close, Big 8 rivals Nebraska and Oklahoma were unbeaten, as were SEC rivals Alabama and Auburn, and Big 10 champ Michigan. On Thanksgiving Day, #1 Nebraska (10-0-0) and #2 Oklahoma (9-0-0) met on the Sooners' field in a game that would determine the Big 8 title, the #1 ranking, and a trip to the Orange Bowl. The Nebraska Cornhuskers won a classic battle with a touchdown with 90 seconds left, 35-31. The loss dropped Oklahoma behind the unbeatens into 5th place in the polls. That weekend (November 27), #4 Alabama (10-0-0) and #5 Auburn (9-0-0) played their annual season-ender at Birmingham, with Alabama handing the Tigers their first loss, 31-7; as a result of this impressive win, Alabama jumped over Michigan. As SEC champion, Bama was invited to, but not obligated to play in, the Sugar Bowl; instead accepted a bid to play #1 Nebraska in the Orange Bowl instead. Auburn went to the Sugar Bowl instead, to face Oklahoma in a meeting of the runners up in the SEC and the Big 8. #6 Penn State was idle. The next poll:
1.Nebraska 2.Alabama 3.Michigan 4.Penn State 5.Oklahoma
December 4 #1 Nebraska, with an 11-0-0 record, had NCAA permission to play a 12th game... in Hawaii. They beat the Rainbows 45-3 for their 12th win. #4 Penn State took its unbeaten (10-0-0) record to face #12 Tennessee (8-2-0), and lost, 31-11. #4 Oklahoma's season ender was in Stillwater, Oklahoma, for their annual game against Oklahoma State, which the Sooners won 58-14. The final regular season poll was 1.Nebraska 2.Alabama 3.Michigan 4.Oklahoma 5.Auburn. Colorado, who lost only to Big 8 conference foes Nebraska and Oklahoma, was ranked 6th and headed for the Bluebonnet Bowl.
The following is an incomplete list of conference standings:
|ORANGE||#1 Nebraska Cornhuskers||38||#2 Alabama Crimson Tide||6|
|COTTON||#10 Penn State Nittany Lions||30||#12 Texas Longhorns||6|
|SUGAR||#4 Oklahoma Sooners||40||#5 Auburn Tigers||22|
|ROSE||#16 Stanford Indians*||13||#3 Michigan Wolverines||12|
- Last game Stanford used nickname "Indians." Nickname was changed to "Cardinals" early in 1972. Nickname was changed again to "Cardinal" in 1981.
With #1 Nebraska slated to play #2 Alabama in the Orange Bowl, there was little suspense as to which game or games would decide the national title. #3 Michigan held out the slim hope that, if they handily defeated Stanford while Nebraska or Alabama barely won or tied, they could leapfrog both teams into the #1 position. But for the second year in a row, underdog Stanford came from behind to defeat the undefeated Big 10 champion in the Rose Bowl, this time beating Michigan 13–12 on a last second field goal by Rod Garcia (who had missed 4 field goals when Stanford was upset by San Jose State earlier in the season, ironically by the score of 13–12). Nebraska then walloped Alabama in the Orange Bowl 38–6 to claim its second straight national title. In the Sugar Bowl, Oklahoma intercepted Heisman Trophy winner Pat Sullivan 3 times and easily handled Auburn 40-22 to regain the #2 ranking in the final poll. With #2 Alabama, #3 Michigan, and #5 Auburn all losing, #6 Colorado, winner of the Bluebonnet Bowl, rose to #3. In fact, in the final poll, the Big 8 occupied the top 3 spots, with Nebraska claiming all 55 first place votes, Oklahoma #2 and Colorado (whose only losses were to Nebraska and Oklahoma) #3. This is the only time teams from one conference were rated 1-2-3 in the final poll.
- Nebraska 1100 (55), 13–0
- Oklahoma 990, 11–1
- Colorado 746 (3), 10–2
- Alabama 674, 11–1
- Penn State 666, 11–1 
|SUN||El Paso||LSU 33||Iowa State 15|
|GATOR||Jacksonville||Georgia 7||North Carolina 3|
|TANGERINE||Orlando||Toledo 28||Richmond 3|
|ASTRO-BLUEBONNET||Houston||Colorado 29||Houston 17|
|LIBERTY||Memphis||Tennessee 14||Arkansas 13|
|PEACH||Atlanta||Mississippi 41||Georgia Tech 18|
|FIESTA||Tempe, Arizona||Arizona State 45||Florida State 38|
|MERCY||Los Angeles||Cal State Fullerton 17||Fresno State 14|
|PASADENA||Pasadena||Memphis State 28||San Jose State 9|
The schools that are now in the NCAA's "Division I-AA" were ranked in the "small college poll", taken by both the UPI (coaches) and AP (a panel of writers). The University of Delaware Blue Hens, which defeated Rutgers, Villanova and Boston University, averaged 40 points per game, and had a 9-1-0 record, were named best by UPI's 32 member coach board, followed by the (9-0-1) McNeese State Cowboys, #3 Eastern Michigan (7-0-2), #4 Tennessee State (8-1-0) and #5 C.W. Post (8-1-0). The AP writers' panel also ranked Delaware, McNeese and Eastern Michigan 1,2 and 3, with Louisiana Tech fourth and Tennessee State fifth. Delaware and C.W. Post met in the Boardwalk Bowl on December 11 in Atlantic City, with the Blue Hens winning 72-22.
In the NAIA playoffs, Livingston beat Arkansas Tech 14-12 (Div. I) and California Lutheran beat Westminster 30-14 (Div. II)
- Pat Sullivan, QB - Auburn, 1,597 points
- Ed Marinaro, RB - Cornell, 1,445
- Greg Pruitt, RB - Oklahoma, 586 - (only junior in top 10)
- Johnny Musso, RB - Alabama, 365
- Lydell Mitchell, RB - Penn State, 251
- Jack Mildren, QB - Oklahoma, 208
- Jerry Tagge, QB - Nebraska, 168
- Chuck Ealey, QB - Toledo, 137
- Walt Patulski, DE - Notre Dame, 121
- Eric Allen, RB - Michigan State, 109
- "1971 Atlantic Coast Conference Year Summary". sports-reference.com. Retrieved January 25, 2013.
- "Nebraska king with Big Eight in 1-2-3 spots". Eugene Register-Guard. Associated Press. January 4, 1972. p. 1-C.
- "Delaware Named Best In Nation," Daily News (Huntingdon, Pa.), Nov. 24, 1971, p4
- "North Dakota Number Nine," Daily Journal (Fergus Falls, MN), Nov. 24, 1971, p12
- Heisman.com - Pat Sullivan - 1971