The 1956 college football season saw the Sooners of the University of Oklahoma finish a third consecutive season unbeaten and untied to again win the national championship. 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 did recognize a national champion based upon the final results of "wire service" (AP and UPI) polls. The extent of that recognition came in the form of acknowledgment in the annual NCAA Football Guide of the "unofficial" national champions. The AP poll in 1956 consisted of the votes of as many as 198 sportswriters. Though not all writers voted in every poll, each would give their opinion of the twenty best teams. Under a point system of 20 points for first place, 19 for second, etc., the "overall" ranking was determined. Although the rankings were based on the collective opinion of the representative sportswriters, the teams that remained "unbeaten and untied" were generally ranked higher than those that had not. A defeat, even against a strong opponent, tended to cause a team to drop in the rankings, and a team with two or more defeats was unlikely to remain in the Top 20. Generally, the top teams played on New Year's Day in the four major postseason bowl games: the Rose Bowl (near Los Angeles at Pasadena), the Sugar Bowl (New Orleans), the Orange Bowl (Miami), and the Cotton Bowl Classic (Dallas). Because the rules of the time for Oklahoma's conference (at that time, Big 7) did not permit consecutive bowl appearances,[3] #1 Oklahoma did not play in the postseason, with runner up Colorado going to the Orange Bowl instead.


In the preseason poll released on September 17, 1956, the defending champion Oklahoma Sooners of Oklahoma University were the first place choice for 116 of 149 writers casting votes, followed by Michigan State, Notre Dame, Georgia Tech and Ohio State. As the regular season progressed, a new poll would be issued on the Monday following the weekend's games.

On September 22, #1 Oklahoma and #2 Michigan State were idle. #3 Notre Dame lost in Dallas to unranked Southern Methodist University (SMU), 19-13 and dropped out of the Top 5 permanently (it would finish 2-8-0), while SMU would rise to #5. #4 Georgia Tech won at Kentucky, 14-6. #5 Ohio State, which had not started play, fell out of the Top 5 and was replaced by #7 Texas Christian University (TCU), which had opened with a 32-0 win at Kansas. The first regular AP poll was 1.Oklahoma 2.Georgia Tech 3.Michigan State, 4.TCU and 5.SMU.

September 29, #1 Oklahoma opened its season with a 36-0 win over North Carolina. In Dallas, #2 Georgia Tech visited #5 SMU and narrowly won 9-7. #3 Michigan State won at #12 Stanford, 21-7. #4 TCU was idle and dropped to 8th, while #8 Ohio State rose to 4th after a 34-7 win hosting Nebraska. #13 Michigan, which had beaten UCLA 42-13, rose to 5th. The next poll was 1.Oklahoma 2.Michigan State 3.Georgia Tech 4.Ohio State 5.Michigan.


October 6 #1 Oklahoma registered another shutout, beating Kansas State 66-0. #2 Michigan State met #5 Michigan in the rain before a crowd of 101,001 at Ann Arbor, and MSU Coach Duffy Daugherty's "umbrella defense" forced two Michigan turnovers that led to their 9-0 win #3 Georgia Tech was idle, and #4 Ohio State won 32-20 at home before 82,881 over Stanford.[4] The poll saw Michigan drop to 12th, while #8 TCU (which beat Arkansas 41-6 on national television) returned to the top five: 1.Oklahoma 2.Michigan State 3.Georgia Tech 4.TCU 5.Ohio State

October 13 At Dallas, #1 Oklahoma beat Texas 45-0, having outscored its opposition 147-0 in three games. A commentator of the day wrote, "The overpowering charge of the big red-shirted Oklahoma line ahead of adroit Quarterback Jimmy Harris is just one of the reasons bhy Oklahoma may be the greatest college football team of all time... They showed it in the sudden, lifting charge of a line which moved all of a piece, like a wave breaking evenly along a beach." [5] #2 Michigan State defeated Indiana 53-6 at home. #3 Georgia Tech beat LSU, 39-7. #4 TCU won at Alabama 23-6, and #5 Ohio State won 26-6 at Illinois. The poll remained unchanged: 1.Oklahoma 2.Michigan State 3.Georgia Tech 4.TCU 5.Ohio State

October 20 #1 Oklahoma gave up its first points of the season, but registered its fourth win, 34-12, at Kansas. #2 Michigan State stayed unbeaten with a 47-14 win at Notre Dame. #3 Georgia Tech beat Auburn 28-7. In a game that would ultimately determine the SWC championship, #4 TCU lost at #14 Texas A&M, 7-6. #5 Ohio State lost to Penn State by the same 7-6 score. #7 Tennessee, which had beaten Alabama 24-0 rose to 4th, and #8 Michigan returned to the Top 5 after its 34-20 win over Northwestern. The poll: 1.Michigan State 2. Oklahoma 3.Georgia Tech 4.Tennessee 5.Michigan.

October 27 The new #1, Michigan State went to Champaign, and had a 13-0 lead over the unranked Illini at halftime. Abe Woodson plunged for a score to cut the lead to 13-6 after three quarters. In the fourth, Woodson ran 70 yards from scrimmage to help tie the game 13-13. After an MSU field goal was short, Woodson ran the ball up to the Illini 18. Woodson, who had once held the world record in the 50 yard high hurdles,[6] took a short pass and dashed 82 yards for a touchdown, leaping over State's Art Johnson 30 yards from goal, to pull off the 20-13 upset.

#2 Oklahoma was determined to prove itself number 1, and Coach Bud Wilkinson directed the team to six touchdowns for a 40-0 win at Notre Dame. #3 Georgia Tech beat #15 Tulane by the same 40-0 marvgin. #4 Tennessee beat Maryland 34-7 to stay unbeaten. #5 Michigan had its second loss, falling to unranked Minnesota at home, 20-7. #7 Texas A&M, which had extended its record to 5-0-1 with a 19-13 win at #8 Baylor, replaced the Wolverines. The poll: 1.Oklahoma 2.Georgia Tech 3.Tennessee 4.Michigan State 5.Texas A&M.


November 3 Unbeaten (5-0-0) and #1 Oklahoma, met the once-beaten (5-1-0) Colorado Buffaloes on the road, and were losing 19-6 at halftime to a team that was four-touchdown underdog, but came back with touchdowns by Tommy McDonald and Clendon Thomas for a difficult 27-19 win.[7] #2 Georgia Tech won at Duke, 7-0. #3 Tennessee beat North Carolina 20-0. #4 Michigan State crushed Wisconsin 33-0. #5 Texas A&M beat Arkansas 27-0. The poll remained unchanged.

November 10 While #1 Oklahoma registered its fifth shutout in seven games, trouncing Iowa State 44-0, #2 Georgia Tech and #3 Tennessee met in Atlanta for a game that proved to determine the SEC title. There were 23 punts altogether, and no score until midway through the third quarter, when Tennessee end Buddy Cruze noticed that Tech had stopped double-teaming him. Quarterback Johnny Majors (who would later be head coach for UT) passed to Cruze at the 35 yard line, and Cruze ran 64 yards down to the Tech goal line, setting up the touchdown that won the game, 6-0.[8] In the poll that followed, Tennessee was the new #1 by a margin of 2 points (1,446 to 1,444) over Oklahoma. #4 Michigan State narrowly beat Purdue, 12-9. #5 Texas A&M beat SMU 33-7 in Dallas, and increased its record to 7-0-1, with the Southwest Conference title and a trip to the Cotton Bowl Classic, and on November 12, was still fifth in the poll. Though on probation since 1955 for recruiting violations, the Aggies had appealed to the NCAA to allow them to play postseason. The next day, however, the NCAA announced that Texas A&M was still banned, because of an additional recruiting violation of a basketball player.[9] The poll: 1.Tennessee 2.Oklahoma 3.Michigan State 4.Georgia Tech 5.Texas A&M.

November 17 #1 Tennessee beat visiting #19 Ole Miss, 27-7, while #2 Oklahoma showed off its offense in beating Missouri 67-14, sufficiently enough to regain the top spot in the next poll. #3, Michigan State traveled to Minnesota, which had been #6 a week before, but dropped to #17. The MSU visitors lost, 14-13, and dropped to 10th place in the next poll. #4 Georgia Tech beat Alabama 27-0. #5 Texas A&M beat visiting Rice, 21-7. #7 Iowa, which had beaten #6 Ohio State 6-0, took Michigan State's place in the poll that followed. The Top 5 was 1.Oklahoma 2.Tennessee 3.Iowa 4.Texas A&M 5.Georgia Tech.

November 24 #1 Oklahoma gained 656 net yards in a defeat of visiting Nebraska 54-6. #2 Tennessee beat Kentucky 20-7. #3 Iowa, which had captured the Big Ten title with a 5-1-0 conference record, finished its season with a 48-8 non-league win over Notre Dame, then accepted a bid to the Rose Bowl, where it would face Oregon State. #4 Texas A&M was idle as it prepared for its Thanksgiving Day game with Texas (which it would win 34-21). In Jacksonville, #5 Georgia Tech beat #13 Florida 28-0, and traded places with A&M. Tech would be invited back to the city for the Gator Bowl at season's end. The poll: 1.Oklahoma 2.Tennessee 3.Iowa 4.Georgia Tech 5.Texas A&M.

December 1 #1 Oklahoma closed its season with a 53-0 win over Oklahoma State, finishing 10-0-0, and with a 466-51 finish in points. Only one of its ten opponents (Colorado) finished 1956 with a winning record. In Nashville, #2 Tennessee beat Vanderbilt 27-7 to close with a 10-0 record and a spot in the Sugar Bowl, where it would face 9-1-0 Baylor. #4 Georgia Tech closed with a 35-0 win at Georgia. Unbeaten and once-tied (9-0-1), #5 Texas A&M did win the Southwest Conference title, but the ban against post-season play sent the SWC runner-up, TCU, to the Cotton Bowl Classic instead.

Conference standingsEdit

The following is an incomplete list of conference standings:

1956 Big 7 football standings
v · d · e Conf     Overall
Team W   L   T     W   L   T
#1 Oklahoma 6 0 0     10 0 0
#20 Colorado 4 1 1     8 2 1
Missouri 3 2 1     4 5 1
Nebraska 3 3 0     4 6 0
Kansas 2 4 0     3 6 1
Kansas State 2 4 0     3 7 0
Iowa State 0 6 0     2 8 0
Rankings from AP Poll
1956 Big Ten football standings
v · d · e Conf     Overall
Team W   L   T     W   L   T
#3/3 Iowa 5 1 0     9 1 0
#7/7 Michigan 5 2 0     7 2 0
#12/9 Minnesota 4 1 2     6 1 2
#9/10 Michigan State 4 2 0     7 2 0
#15/NR Ohio State 4 2 0     6 3 0
Northwestern 3 3 1     4 4 1
Purdue 1 4 2     3 4 2
Illinois 1 4 2     2 5 2
Wisconsin 0 4 3     1 5 3
Indiana 1 5 0     3 6 0
† – Conference champion
Rankings from AP Poll / Coaches' Poll
Template:1956 Missouri Valley Conference football standings
1956 PCC football standings
v · d · e Conf     Overall
Team W   L   T     W   L   T
#10 Oregon State 6 1 1     7 3 1
#18 USC 5 2 0     8 2 0
UCLA 5 2 0     7 3 0
Washington 4 4 0     5 5 0
Oregon 3 3 2     4 4 2
Stanford 3 4 0     4 6 0
Washington State 2 5 1     3 6 1
California 2 5 0     3 7 0
Idaho 0 4 0     2 7 0
† – Conference champion
Rankings from AP Poll

Final AP Top 20Edit

1. Oklahoma (10-0-0) Big 7
2. Tennessee (10-0-0) SEC
3. Iowa ( 8-1-0) Big 10
4. Georgia Tech (9-1-0) SEC
5. Texas A&M (9-0-1) SWC
6. Miami (8-0-1) Indep.
7. Michigan (7-2-0) Big 10
8. Syracuse (7-1-0) Indep.
9. Michigan State (7-2-0) Big 10
10. Oregon State (7-2-1) Pac 8
11. Baylor (8-2-0) SWC
12. Minnesota (6-1-2) Big 10
13. Pittsburgh (6-2-1) Indep.
14. TCU (7-3-0) SWC
15. Ohio State (6-3-0) Big 10
16. Navy (6-1-2) Indep.
17. GWU (7-1-1) Southern
18. USC (8-2-0) Pac 8
19. Clemson (7-1-2) ACC
20. Colorado (7-2-1) Big 7

Other championsEdit

The Tennessee State Tigers (9-0-0) and the Florida A & M Rattlers (8-0-0) were considered to be the #1 and #2 teams "among the nation's Negro grid powers".[10] The teams from the two historically black universities played at the Orange Bowl stadium in Miami, which hosted the Orange Blossom Classic as well as the New Year's Day, historically white universities, Orange Bowl game. A crowd of 41,808 watched Tennessee State win 41-39.[11]

Unbeaten Montana State University met Saint Joseph's College, Indiana in the Aluminum Bowl at Little Rock in the first playoff to determine the NAIA small college championship, and played to a scoreless tie. Both were declared champions, and a coin flip allowed St. Joseph's to have the trophy for six months, followed by Montana State.[12]

Other schools that finished their seasons unbeaten and untied were Lenoir Rhyne College, the University of Wyoming, New Haven Teachers College, Hillsdale College, Central Michigan University, Kearney State College, Redlands College, Sam Houston State, Westminster College (Pennsylvania), St. Thomas (Minn.) College, Alfred University and Milton College (Wisconsin).[13]

Bowl gamesEdit

SUGAR BOWL #11 Baylor Bears 13 #2 Tennessee Volunteers 7
ROSE BOWL #3 Iowa Hawkeyes 35 #10 Oregon State Beavers 19
ORANGE BOWL #20 Colorado Buffaloes 27 #19 Clemson Tigers 21
COTTON BOWL #14 TCU Horned Frogs 28 #8 Syracuse Orangemen 27

Other bowl games played in 1956 were the Orange Blossom Classic (Tennessee State 41, Florida A&M 39); the Tangerine Bowl (Orlando) Mississippi Southern vs. West Texas State ; the Sun Bowl (El Paso) GWU vs. Texas Western; and the Aluminum Bowl (Little Rock), with unbeaten Montana State 10-0 vs. St. Joseph's College of Indiana.[14] The Refrigerator Bowl (Evansville, IN) was Sam Houston State 27, Middle Tennessee State 13.

See alsoEdit


  3. ESPN Sports Almanac, 2001, p161
  4. Sports Illustrated, October 15, 1956, p70
  5. "Football:Fourth Week, Sports Illustrated, October 15, 1956, p14
  6. "In the Midwest: Illinois Hurdles Over State," Sports Illustrated, Nov. 5, 2006, p16
  7. "Sooners Scared By Buffs, Rally For 27-19 Win," Oakland Tribune, Nov. 4, 1956, p53
  8. "A Day of Decision", Sports Illustrated, Nov. 19, 1956, p28
  9. "Ban Fails To Lift For Aggie Bowl Bid," Amarillo Globe-Times, Nov. 14, 1956, p19
  10. "Negro Teams Clash For Title," The Bee (Danville, VA), Nov. 28, 1956, pD-3
  11. "Tennessee State Tigers Edge Rattlers 41-39 in Orange Blossom Classic," Fort Pierce News-Tribune, Dec. 9, 1956, p9-C
  12. "Aluminum Bowl Contest Played In Rain on Sloppy Field Before Hardy Crowd of 8,000", Helena Independent Record, Dec. 23, 1956, p12
  13. "17 College Teams Still Unbeaten, Untied", UP report, Las Vegas Daily Optic, Nov. 26, 1956, p3
  14. Sports Illustrated, Dec. 3, 1956, p42

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