1981 College Football Recap

Updated August 5, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

Final AP Top 20

Bowl Games with Top 20 Teams

Div. 1–A Conference Champs

Heisman Trophy Voting

Other Major Award Winners

Consensus All-America Team

At one time or another during the 1981 season, six different teams were able to say they were Number One. After the bowl games only Clemson could say so.

The Tigers improved their 1980 record of 6–5 to 11–0 then beat Nebraska in the Orange Bowl, giving the ACC its first national champion in 28 years. Thirty-three year-old Danny Ford became the youngest coach to ever win the title and he did it in only his third full year in charge.

Until Clemson held its own in the postseason, being named No.1 by AP was a curse. Michigan was the preseason pick but lost its opening game to Wisconsin. Notre Dame moved up but lost to Arizona. Texas took over and lost (by 31) to Arkansas. Penn State was next and lost to Miami. Then Pittsburgh was promoted and lost (by 34) to Penn State.

Alabama didn't get a chance at No.1, but the Crimson Tide did go 9–1–1 during the regular season. Their 28–17 victory over state rival Auburn was not only ninth straight against the Tigers, but gave Bear Bryant his 315th career win, one more than Amos Alonzo Stagg and a new major college record.

Texas beat Bama in the Cotton Bowl to finish behind Clemson in the final AP poll. Penn State and Pitt placed 3rd and 4th.

Southern Cal's Marcus Allen became the first running back to gain over 2,000 yards in one season, a feat that enabled him to outpoll Georgia sophomore Herschel Walker for the Heisman.

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