Much of the 1979 college football season was spent arguing over the merits of Alabama and USC. The two teams finished as co-national champions in 1978 and were each running at the top of the polls again this season.
Alabama rolled to an undefeated season, another SEC title and a third straight Sugar Bowl appearance. But USC stumbled—a little bit. They played to a tie with Stanford.
The standards were high in 1979 and that single tie game removed the Trojans from the picture, but it didn’t end the arguing. Ohio State, in their first year post-Woody Hayes was rolling along undefeated and concluded the season 11-0. They reached the Rose Bowl against USC in position to share the title with Alabama.
These three programs—Alabama, USC and Ohio State—defined the race for the national title in 1979, one the Tide would win, as they won the Sugar Bowl over Arkansas while USC nipped Ohio State in the Rose. Three other teams were also crucial to understanding the national championship picture
*Oklahoma and Nebraska continued a dominance of the old Big Eight Conference that lasted through the entire 1970s and almost all of the 1980s. The Sooners claimed the league title and the automatic Orange Bowl ticket. The Cornhuskers went to the Cotton Bowl where they lost a heartbreaker to Houston.
*And the upstart on the New Year’s stage was a then-unheard of head coach named Bobby Bowden, who led up-and-coming Florida State to the Orange Bowl. It was the first time Bowden reached a major bowl and most definitely would not be his last.
The articles below look at the seasons enjoyed by all six national contenders—their key players, big wins, poll movements and tough losses as they marched the road to January 1.