The 1978 college football season came down to a whole lot of drama on the goal line. All the biggest games were decided by a mix of excitement and controversy right at the threshold of the end zone.
*Oklahoma was ranked #1 and smelling a national championship until they went to Nebraska on November 11. Six turnovers did them in, the last one on the goal line when the Sooners were driving for the winning score late. Nebraska won 17-14.
*Penn State finished the regular season at the top of the polls, but the last win against Pitt didn’t come easy. The Lions had to finish off a late drive with a touchdown and after a couple failed attempts from close in, a fourth-down conversion finally produced the needed points.
*Notre Dame’s bid to win a second straight national championship fell short early with two losses in September, but the Irish rebounded to win the Cotton Bowl. A dramatic comeback against Houston was punctuated when Joe Montana completed a fourth-down pass to the end zone on the game’s final play.
*Alabama was the team that would get the bowl crack at #1 Penn State and the Sugar Bowl was merely settled by one of the most famous goal-line stands in history, as the Tide denied the Lions late in the fourth quarter to preserve a 14-7 win.
*USC was looking to make its own claim for the national championship and a Rose Bowl win over Michigan helped them do it. But there was no shortage of controversy. Instant replay showed that Trojan running back Charles White had clearly fumbled prior to crossing the goal line in the second quarter. The play was ruled a touchdown. It was the margin of victory in the 17-10 final.
Alabama and USC ended up splitting the national championship. Penn State and Michigan licked their wounds and hoped to get back soon for another shot. Oklahoma and Nebraska rematched in the Orange Bowl. Notre Dame took a brief step back while Montana went on to become an NFL legend.
The articles below contain the stories of these seven teams, the ones that defined the race for the national championship in the 1978 college football season. Read about their key players, big games and important poll movements. It’s the way to see how the ’78 season looked as it was unfolding, through the eyes of its best teams.