|1973 college football season|
|Total # of teams||130|
|Preseason AP #1||USC Trojans|
|Number of bowls||10|
|Champions|| Notre Dame Fighting Irish (AP) |
Alabama Crimson Tide (Coaches)
|Heisman||John Cappelletti, Penn State RB|
| College football seasons
The 1973 college football season was the first for the NCAA's current three-division structure. Effective with the 1973–74 academic year, schools formerly in the NCAA "University Division" were classified as Division I (later subdivided for football only into today's Division I FBS and Division I FCS). Schools in the former "College Division" were classified into Division II, which allowed fewer athletic scholarships than Division I, and Division III, in which athletic scholarships were prohibited.
In its inaugural season, Division I had two NCAA-recognized national champions, and they faced each other at year's end in the Sugar Bowl. The New Orleans game matched two unbeaten teams, the Alabama Crimson Tide (11-0-0), ranked #1 by AP and UPI, and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (10–0), ranked #3 by AP and #4 by UPI.
While both wire services ranked Alabama #1 at the end of the regular season, AP took another poll after the bowl games. By agreement with the American Football Coaches' Association, however, UPI bestowed its championship before the postseason bowl games. Thus, Alabama was crowned champion by UPI on December 4, 1973 . UPI ranked Notre Dame #4. One coach had given the Irish a first place vote, compared to 21 for Alabama.
In a game where the lead changed six times, Notre Dame won by a single point, 24–23, to claim 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 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 1973, the UPI issued its final poll before the bowls, but the AP Trophy was withheld until the postseason was completed. The AP poll in 1973 consisted of the votes of as many as 63 sportswriters and broadcasters, though not all of them voted in every poll. UPI's voting was made by 34 coaches. 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.
- In the preseason poll released on September 3, 1973, the defending champion USC Trojans were ranked first by 55 of the 63 voters, followed by #2 Ohio State, #3 Texas, #4 Nebraska and #5 Michigan.
- On September 8, #4 Nebraska beat #10 UCLA, 40–13. Most teams had not yet opened the season. The poll was: 1.USC 2.Nebraska 3.Ohio State 4.Texas 5.Michigan
- September 15: #1 USC beat Arkansas, 17-0. #2 Nebraska and #4 Texas were idle. #3 Ohio State beat Minnesota 56-7. #5 Michigan had beat Iowa 31-7. #6 Alabama, which beaten California 66–0 in Birmingham, rose to fourth, while Texas fell to sixth. The poll was: 1.USC 2.Nebraska 3.Ohio State 4.Alabama 5.Michigan.
- On September 22, #1 USC beat Georgia Tech at Atlanta, 23-6. #2 Nebraska beat #14 N.C. State 31–14. #3 Ohio State was idle. #4 Alabama won at Kentucky, 28–14. #5 Michigan beat Stanford 47–10. The next poll was: 1.USC 2.Nebraska 3.Ohio State 4. Michigan 5.Alabama
- September 29: #1 USC was tied by #8 Oklahoma, 7–7. #2 Nebraska beat Wisconsin 20–16. #3 Ohio State beat TCU 37–3. #4 Michigan beat Navy 14–0. #5 Alabama won at Vanderbilt, 44–0. In the next poll, the Buckeyes rose to first place: 1.Ohio State 2.Nebraska 3.Alabama 4.USC 5. Michigan
- October 6: #1 Ohio State beat Washington State 27-3. #2 Nebraska won at Minnesota 48-7. #3 Alabama beat Georgia at home, 28-14. #4 USC won at Oregon State, 21-7. #5 Michigan beat Oregon 24-0. The poll remained unchanged: 1.Ohio State 2.Nebraska 3.Alabama 4.USC 5. Michigan
- October 13: #1 Ohio State won at Wisconsin 24-0. #2 Nebraska lost at #12 Missouri 13-12. #3 Alabama won at Florida 35-14. #4 USC beat Washington State 46-35.
#5 Michigan won at Michigan State, 31-0. #6 Oklahoma beat #13 Texas 52-13 in Dallas #7 Penn State beat visiting Army, 54-3, to extend its record to 5-0-0 and rise to the top five. The poll: 1.Ohio State 2.Alabama 3.Oklahoma 4.Michigan 5.Penn State
- October 20: #1 Ohio State won at Indiana 37-7. #2 Alabama beat #10 Tennessee at Birmingham, 42-21. #3 Oklahoma beat #16 Colorado 34-7. #4 Michigan beat Wisconsin 35-6. #5 Penn State won at Syracuse 49-6. The poll was unchanged:
1.Ohio State 2.Alabama 3.Oklahoma 4.Michigan 5.Penn State
- October 27: #1 Ohio State beat Northwestern 60-0. #2 Alabama crushed Virginia Tech at home, 77-6. #3 Oklahoma won at Kansas State 56-14. #4 Michigan won at Minnesota 31-0. #5 Penn State crushed West Virginia 62-14. #8 Notre Dame rose to fifth after its 23-14 win over USC. The poll was 1.Ohio State 2.Alabama 3.Oklahoma 4.Michigan 5.Notre Dame
- November 3: #1 Ohio State won at Illinois 30-0. #2 Alabama beat Mississippi State in Jackson, 35-0. #3 Oklahoma beat Iowa State 34-17. #4 Michigan beat Indiana 49-13. #5 Notre Dame beat Navy 44-7. The poll was unchanged: 1.Ohio State 2.Alabama 3.Oklahoma 4.Michigan 5.Notre Dame
- November 10: #1 Ohio State recorded its 3rd shutout, a 35-0 win over visiting Michigan State. #2 Alabama was idle. #3 Oklahoma won at #10 Missouri 31-3. #4 Michigan beat Illinois 21-6. #5 Notre Dame won at #20 Pittsburgh 31-10. The poll: 1.Ohio State 2.Alabama 3.Oklahoma 4.Michigan 5.Notre Dame
- November 17: #1 Ohio State beat Iowa 55-13. #2 Alabama beat Miami (Florida) at home, 43-13. #3 Oklahoma beat #18 Kansas 48-20. #4 Michigan won at Purdue, 34-9. #5 Notre Dame was idle.
1.Ohio State 2.Alabama 3.Oklahoma 4.Michigan 5.Notre Dame
- On Thanksgiving Day, #2 Alabama beat #7 LSU 21-7 and #5 Notre Dame beat Air Force 48-15. The next day, #3 Oklahoma beat #10 Nebraska 27-0. The big matchup was on Saturday, November 24, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where #1 Ohio State (9-0-0) and #4 Michigan (10-0-0) met. The two teams played to a 10-10 tie. Alabama, still unbeaten and untied, took over the top spot in the next poll: 1.Alabama 2.Oklahoma 3.Ohio State 4.Michigan 5.Notre Dame
- December 1: The top six teams were unbeaten. #1 Alabama shut out Auburn in Birmingham 35-0, avenging Auburn's shocking upset in the previous year, to close the regular season with an 11-0-0 record. #2 Oklahoma won at Oklahoma State 45-18. #5 Notre Dame won at Miami (Florida) 44-0.
In the final regular season poll, the top six schools were unbeaten. 1.Alabama (11-0) 2. 2.Notre Dame (10-0) 3.Oklahoma (10-0-1) 4.Ohio State (9-0-1) 5.Michigan (10-0-1) and 6.Penn State (11-0). The other major college unbeaten, Miami (Ohio) (10-0-0), was #15. Oklahoma, however, was on probation for having used an ineligible player in three 1972 games, and was ineligible to play in a bowl game. #1 Alabama and #2 Notre Dame accepted invitations to play in the Sugar Bowl.
The following is an incomplete list of conference standings:
Alabama and Notre Dame had never met in a college football game before their encounter in the Sugar Bowl, which was played on December 31, 1973. Two legendary coaches, Bear Bryant and Ara Parseghian brought their teams to New Orleans, and the game was a thriller. The Irish scored first, but missed the extra point. After Alabama took a 7–6 lead, freshman Al Hunter returned the ensuing kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown, and a two point conversion put Notre Dame up 14–7. Alabama went ahead 17–14 in the third, but a fumble on their own 12 yard line gave the Irish a chance to make it 21–17. In the fourth quarter, Bama got back the lead on a trick play, as quarterback Richard Todd handed off to running back, Mike Stock, who then fired a touchdown pass back to Todd; but Bill Davis, who had made 51 of 53 extra point attempts in his career, was wide right, and the score stayed 23–21. In the final minutes, Notre Dame's Bob Thomas (who had missed the earlier point after try) kicked a 19 yard field goal that gave the team the 24-23 win. Asked whether Notre Dame would be voted #1, Coach Parseghian replied, "Certainly. What was the final score?" 
|SUGAR||#2 Notre Dame Fighting Irish||24||#1 Alabama Crimson Tide||23|
|ROSE||#4 Ohio State Buckeyes||42||#7 USC Trojans||21|
|ORANGE||#6 Penn State Nittany Lions||16||#13 LSU Tigers||9|
|COTTON||#12 Nebraska Cornhuskers||19||#8 Texas Longhorns||3|
The final AP writers' poll was split. Notre Dame received a majority of the first place votes, 33 out of 60, followed by #2 Ohio State (11 votes) and #3 Oklahoma (16 votes, but fewer points overall). The #4 spot (held by Notre Dame in the final UPI poll) went to Alabama. UPI, whose crowning of Alabama as national champion proved to be premature, began holding the coaches' poll after the bowl games beginning with the 1974 season.
|SUN||El Paso||Missouri 34||Auburn 17|
|GATOR||Jacksonville||Texas Tech 28||Tennessee 19|
|TANGERINE||Gainesville, Florida||Miami (Ohio) 16||Florida 7|
|ASTRO-BLUEBONNET||Houston||Houston 47||Tulane 7|
|LIBERTY||Memphis||N.C. State 31||Kansas 18|
|PEACH||Atlanta||Georgia 17||Maryland 16|
Beginning in 1973, the NCAA sponsored playoffs to determine the championship for football teams in Division II and Division III. The NAIA had held a championship playoff since 1956, and operated two divisions from 1970 to 1996.
|Small College Poll||#1 Tennessee State Tigers||#2 Western Kentucky Hilltoppers|
|NCAA Division II||Louisiana Tech Bulldogs||34||Western Kentucky Hilltoppers||0|
|NCAA Division III||Wittenberg Tigers||41||Juniata Eagles||0|
|NAIA Division I||Abilene Christian Wildcats||42||Elon Christians*||14|
|NAIA Division II||Northwestern (Iowa) Red Raiders||10||Glenville State Pioneers||3|
- now the Elon Phoenix
- Winner: John Cappelletti, Penn State, Sr. RB - 1,057 Votes
- John Hicks, Ohio State, Sr. OT - 524 Votes
- Roosevelt Leaks, Texas, Jr. RB - 483 Votes
- David Jaynes, Kansas, Sr. QB - 394 Votes
- Archie Griffin, Ohio State, SO. RB - 326 Votes
John Cappelletti had the third best year in Penn State history when he gained 1,117 yards rushing in 1972. In 1973, he had the second best year in Penn State history rushing for 1,522 yards. In his two-year running career, he gained 100 yards in the thirteen games and had a career total of 2,639 yards and twenty-nine touchdowns for an average of 120 yards per game and 5.1 yards per carry. John's acceptance speech at the Heisman Dinner (with Vice President Gerald Ford next to him on the dais) was considered the most moving ever given at these ceremonies, as he honored his brother Joey, a victim of leukemia.