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 while USC nipped Ohio State in the Rose. But there were other compelling stories, as teams raced for what were then just four major bowl spots (Rose, Sugar, Orange, Cotton)…
*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.
*The Southwest Conference produced two major bowl teams—Houston won the league and the Cotton Bowl date that went with it. Arkansas, led by Lou Holtz, finished the regular season ranked #6 and got a shot at Alabama in the Sugar.
*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.
This compilation includes four articles, all published individually on TheSportsNotebook.com. The road all eight teams took to the major bowls are described in an article focusing on that particular bowl. You’ll read about their key players, big wins, poll movements and tough losses, as the best college football teams marched the road to January 1.