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Useful Notes: Collegiate American Football
American Football is enjoyed on more than one tier. While fans of the pros have the National Football League, fans of college football have their own leagues. Most schools of any size will at least have one sport; football is a popular one because a successful football team, particularly in the southern states, is a huge boon on prestige and enrollment. In some schools, it's the only men's sport - the federal Title IX requires equal amounts be spent on men's and women's athletics based on gross expenditure so a top-tier football program is a major resource hog by that standard even if the whole point of running it at that level is that it's a profit center for the school and the black from football makes up for the red most if not all of the other sports operate in. A collegiate football player's career begins in high school, with National Signing Day. Prospects, rated on a scale from one to five stars, are selected by the colleges of their choice and are given scholarships.

College football players are not allowed to be directly paid, and schools face harsh punishment if they are found to have paid their players, directly or indirectly. The University of Southern California was found guilty of providing "improper benefits" to football player Reggie Bush in 2004 and 2005, and as a consequence USC was required to forfeit all the games in which Bush appeared after receiving the gifts, including the 2005 national championship gamenote . The player himself was scrubbed from team records and university promotional materials. Many other schools have suffered similar fates, most infamously Southern Methodist, which is the only football program to have received the NCAA "death penalty", for over a decade of widespread payments to players. The combination of penalties (including two canceled seasons and 55 scholarships lost) and stigma (few players wanted to play for SMU after the scandal) was so damaging that it took 22 years before SMU, a former powerhouse, had its first winning season since the scandal (by which point none of the current players had even been born when the scandal broke), and the school still hasn't come anywhere near its former prominence.note 

College football is played mostly on Saturdays, but there is at least one game every week on Thursday and Friday and often also Tuesday and/or Wednesday, and the opening week of the season sees the remaining two days of the week represented as well.note  As with high school football, the playing season is basically the same as the fall semester, but some schools will play a defense vs. offense team scrimmage in the spring to make sure the players are keeping themselves in shape. There is a "bye-week" for most teams to give them some mid-season rest, although some teams use a Thursday for this purpose instead, while others, such as Penn State, play the entire season through without a break. Virtually all college football games are sanctioned by the National Collegiate Athletic Association. The NCAA is divided into four divisions: Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly I-A), Division I Football Championship Subdivision (formerly I-AA), Division II, and Division III. Each division, in turn, is divided into conferences of about a dozen teams who play most games amongst themselves. A handful of teams (most notably Notre Dame) are independent of any conference.

Division I FBS is the highest level of play and garners the most national attention. There is no officially sanctioned national football champion at this level, with the most widely acknowledged champions being chosen in polls of sportswriters or coaches, with a sole "national champion" being unofficially crowned if both polls agree and a split national championship if they don't. (Originally the sport was primarily played in a number of regional conferences that no one particularly bothered to organize into a coherent whole; the AP didn't start crowning a "national champion" until the 30s.) A number of "bowl games" are played between high-ranked teams at fixed sites in late December and early January, but they don't form any sort of organized tournament. (Originally the bowls were exhibitions; there wasn't even any polls taken after the bowls until the 60s.) The term "bowl game" comes from the earliest bowl, the Rose Bowl Game, which was named after the bowl-shaped stadium where it's played (which in turn got its name from Yale University's stadium, the Yale Bowl; the Rose Bowl was designed as simply a bigger version of the Yale Bowl...and in better climate since it's Pasadena, California). There have been a few systems that have attempted to pair up #1 and #2 ranked teams in a championship bowl game; complaining about the systems is in some circles as cherished a pastime as football itself. Currently, the system is known as the Bowl Championship Series (BCS), which rotates a "BCS National Championship Game" among the sites of four major bowl games functions as a theoretical national championship, and cuts down dramatically on split titles since many of the polls are contractually obligated to vote the winner of that game #1 in the final ballot. Very few actually like the BCS (more on that below), and there has been much debate about a better system, and part of the deadlock was about the large sums of money these bowl games made. Starting with 2014 season, there will be a four team playoff system in FBS football that will crown the National Champion, although this too has already garnered its share of critics before it has even been implemented (see below).

The lower divisions of the NCAA actually have national championship tournaments, and have for decades, but these divisions get little interest except from students and alumni of the participating schools themselves (along with NFL scouts, as many successful pro players have come from the lower-division schools), and sometimes not even then.

The rules of collegiate football are very similar to those detailed on the page about American football, so we won't go into them here save for the most basic explanation: 11 guys on offense, 11 guys on defense. Scoring is almost the same as in the professional leagues as well—the defending team can score a point on a blocked PAT and college overtime rules are complicatednote . There are a few different rule changesnote , but nothing enough to disrupt the basic flow of the game.

While professional football players can ostensibly play as long as they like (10-15 year runs are not uncommon and 20 years is not unheard of, especially for kickers and punters since they tend not to get hit very often), a college football player's eligibility is more or less limited to four years. We say "more or less" because there is the option of redshirting, where a coach is allowed to stretch a player's eligibility to five years instead of four, with the stipulation that one of those years (most commonly the first, as many freshman are felt to be not quite ready for the collegiate level) will be spent sitting on the bench, and that the player not participate in any games (but can participate in practices, which is the origin of the name; such players traditionally wore a red jersey in practice). Extra redshirt seasons are occasionally granted in extreme cases of injury where a player is sidelined for multiple seasons. Finally, a college player has the option after he is three years out of high school, if he so decides, to forgo the rest of his collegiate eligibility and enter the NFL Draft early. Also, a player forfeits his eligibility in a sport if he accepts a salary to play the same sport (but not a different sport - mostly notably a few high-profile college footballers have played minor league baseballnote ), accepts endorsements or signs with a sports agent. A player who leaves early for the NFL Draft but pulls out of the draft before it's held can apply for reinstatement of college eligibility, and the NCAA normally grants it. But once the draft has been held, it's too late even if he isn't drafted.

The Football Bowl Subdivision has quite a few teams, separated, as stated earlier, into a number of conferences. There are a total of 10 conferences in FBS, not including the various independents - such as Notre Dame. You can find a list of the conferences here.

The only major independents are Notre Dame, which has had a legendary place in the history of college football (they're the only team, collegiate or otherwise, who have a national television contract for all home games, and still have more national championships than any other team, despite the most recent occurring in 1988) and is the traditional flagship team of American Catholicism (as Notre Dame is a Catholic school), BYU which is a large Mormon university, and Army and Navy, the preeminent service academy teams. The Army-Navy game serves as the traditional last game of the season, and it is still televised despite both service academies having been out of top 25 contention for decades; the service academies have very strict academic and physical requirements (specifically weight limits) that preclude the ability to compete with more forgiving civilian schools. (That hasn't stopped the Air Force from being in contention every now and then, but they're the Air Force.) In 2011, Brigham Young left the Mountain West Conference to become the 4th major independent team. After a major conference realignment that led to the Western Athletic Conference dropping football, Idaho and New Mexico State were left without a football conference and became the 5th and 6th independents in 2013—but were soon rescued by the Sun Belt Conference, which will take them in as football-only members in 2014. Navy will leave the independent ranks in 2015 to join the American Athletic Conference (the league formerly known as the Big East) for football only.

The Bowl Games

As stated above, the current college football system lacks a true playoff or a true national champion, but that will change in 2014. However, at the end of the season, there are numerous bowl games that are played between schools. The four largest bowl games are the Fiesta Bowl, the Sugar Bowl, the Rose Bowl, and the Orange Bowl. A fifth national championship game will be played after these, with the #1 and #2-ranked teams in the nation playing each other. The BCS National Championship Game is played one week after the four largest bowls, and rotates between the stadiums of the four. For the first 8 years of the BCS, one of the four BCS bowls was the championship game (with the same system of rotation), but the 5th game was added in 2007. These games have conference tie-ins, giving certain conference champions automatic invitations. The Rose Bowl invites the Pac-12 and Big Ten champions, the Orange Bowl invites the ACC champion, the Sugar Bowl invites the SEC champion and the Fiesta Bowl invites the Big 12 champion. When a conference champion is unavailable due to playing in the national championship game, the runner-up traditionally takes their place in the bowl game, although this is at the individual bowl's discretion and they are not strictly mandated to take the runner-upnote . In addition to the conferences with tie-ins, the Big East champion is guaranteed a spot in a BCS bowl, but not in any specific one. These are the "Automatic Qualifying" conferences. The champion of a non-AQ conference can be guaranteed a spot if they're in the top 12 in the year's final BCS ranking, or the top 16 and is ranked higher than the champion of at least one AQ conference (in practice, usually the Big East). If more than one non-AQ champion meets those criteria, only the highest-ranking one is guaranteed a BCS bowl selection. Non-AQ teams who meet these qualifications are referred to as "BCS busters". If Notre Dame is in the top 8 of the final BCS ranking, they're guaranteed a BCS bowl. No conference can have more than two teams playing in BCS bowls, unless the two teams selected to the championship game are from the same conference and neither is the conference championnote . If there are any berths remaining after these criteria are dealt with, and the team ranked third in the final BCS ranking is from one of the AQ conferences and is eligiblenote , they get a bid, and if this didn't fill the last bid and the #4 team in the final BCS rankings meets those same criteria, they're given a bid. If there are still any berths in BCS games left, any remaining eligible teams in the top 14 of the final BCS rankings can be given at-large bids to fill them, at the individual bowl's discretion, though if somehow there aren't enough eligible teams in the top 14, this can be extended to the top 18, then the top 22, and so on in increments of four until the bids are filled.

The second tier of games consists of lower profile bowls such as the Capital One Bowlnote , Outback Bowlnote , Sun Bowlnote , Gator Bowl, Chick-fil-A Bowlnote , Cotton Bowl Classic and Alamo Bowl which are treated with some respect, but usually matchups among the teams in the middle of the pack of their conferences, with mid-major conference champions and major-conference runners-up making the occasional appearance. For many years prior to the implementation of the BCS, the Cotton Bowl was one of the top four bowl games, but was surpassed by the Fiesta Bowl and demoted to second-tier status by the time the BCS came around, mainly because of the condition of the Cotton Bowl stadium and heavy campaigning by the Fiesta Bowl contingent to up their game's reputation (and the fact that when the Big Eight became the Big 12, they switched their affiliation from the Cotton Bowl to the Fiesta Bowl). It still seeks to regain its former status and become the fifth major bowl, and is now played in the showplace Cowboys Stadium (the world's largest dome stadium) to demonstrate this; the Cotton Bowl stadium itself remains in use by the decidedly less tradition-filled Heart of Dallas Bowl Bowl. Like the BCS bowls, these second-tier bowls also have conference tie-ins, but for second or third-place teams in the conferences in question. All of the tie-ins are to the major conferences, making it exceptionally rare for a mid-major team to play in one of these bowls. Which of these games is the most prestigious is debatable. While the Cotton Bowl has strongest tradition and retains its famous name, the Capital One Bowl has the largest cash payout of any non-BCS bowl and the Chick-fil-A Bowl tends to have the best attendance among non-BCS bowls. Current plans are that when the playoff is implemented, the Cotton Bowl and Chick-fil-A Bowl (which will regain its old Peach Bowl name) will join the current BCS bowls to form an expanded top tier.

The lower tier of bowl games exists solely as cash grabs and Padding for ESPN during the traditionally quiet holiday week in sports, and the stadiums and cities the games are played in (until ESPN grabbed a monopoly on most bowl games in the 1990's, most of these games were still few and far between, aired on syndicated broadcast television and were special). If there was a playoff in college football, the teams in these bowls would be blown out of the first round of the playoffs by the top teams or not even make it, as they usually have records which are only one game above .500 (if that)note . These games are usually sponsored by Names to Run Away From Really Fast, such as the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl, Little Caesars Pizza Bowlnote , Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texasnote , the Fight Hunger Bowlnote , the Famous Idaho Potato Bowlnote , the Belk Bowlnote , the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowlnote , the Duck Commander Independence Bowlnote  or the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl St. Petersburgnote . Many of these bowls used to have less embarrassing names, before the trend of sponsors using their own name as the sole name of the bowl instead of just tagging their name in front of the bowl name (something near-universally loathed by football fans) came aboutnote . These games are solely of interest to the universities playing only (or will be a future Old Shame if your team is invited to the not-very-prestigious-at-all GoDaddy Bowlnote ), and about the only accomplishment to be earned by the players outside of a free unwanted trip to Detroit, Boise, Shreveport, Louisiana or Birmingham, Alabama is a Cosmetic Award which means nothing. Unless the team lucks out and gets invited to the Hawaii Bowl. There now so many lower tier bowl games that a majority of FBS teams will play in a bowl game every year, a fact widely ridiculed by fans. In the 2010–11 season, there was even some worry that there wouldn't be enough bowl eligible teamsnote  to play all the bowl games, which would have required teams with losing records to be invited to fill the remaining slots; two years later, this worry resurfaced when four separate teams ended up on postseason bans at once and all four would've otherwise been bowl eligible including one that went undefeated. While ultimately this didn't happen, it illustrates what a meager accomplishment being invited to a minor bowl has become. Once again, there are conference tie-ins for these bowls, but they tend to be a lot less strictly enforced than in higher-tier bowls (especially since a conference might not have enough bowl-eligible teams to fill all its tie-ins, but also because a major conference probably doesn't care all that much about the tie-in for its 6th place team and a minor conference lacks the influence to do anything about it if their tie-in is ignored). Since non-AQ conferences' tie-ins are exclusively with the bottom-tier bowls, non-AQ champions are almost always stuck in these bowls, but with exceptional seasons they can become BCS busters and jump all the way to the top four bowls.note 

Obviously, as stated above, it's far from perfect, but it's also difficult for fans to agree on what exactly would constitute a fair playoff system. (Not to mention the difficulty in untangling the tens of millions of dollars in contracts made between the power conferences and the bowls themselves.) Oh, and the discussion is Serious Business. Even the United States Congress has gotten involved in recent years, in college football's own version of Executive Meddling note , with some members proposing a law that would ban the BCS from being advertised as a "national championship" unless it were converted to a playoff system. To the surprise of very few, the most vocal proponents of this idea were Congressmen whose local schools were perceived as having been "screwed" by the BCS. There are pro-BCS and anti-BCS parties, and while the sheer fatigue from injuries might make an elaborate playoff difficult (though lower-division schools manage it), most feel something has to happen.

Things finally came to a head at the end of the 2011 season, when the BCS selected LSU and Alabama, two teams from the same conference (and even the same division of that conference, meaning that officially one of them was the third place team of the conference), as the #1 and #2 participants in the championship game, thus effectively snubbing every other conference in the entire FBS. After this, discussion of implementing a playoff system accelerated greatly and, after numerous negotiations between the "power" conferences, a brand new "College Football Playoff" model was formally drawn up and will be adopted beginning in the 2014 season to replace the BCS. The new four-team playoff model will feature the teams being chosen by a selection committee (as in the NCAA basketball tournament) instead of by polls. The sites for the first two semifinal games will be played at existing bowl sites (to be rotated between the Rose, Sugar, Orange, Fiesta, Cotton, and Peach bowls), and the Championship game will be awarded to a city based on a bid, much in the same way that the Super Bowl location is decided. Things are still not entirely rosy however. Almost immediately after its announcement however, the new system was met with various criticisms from fans, ranging from concerns that the new selection committee would be no more unbiased in selecting teams as the old BCS formula (which mixed human polls with a set of complicated computer algorithms that nobody outside the programmers actually understands) to complaints that having only 4 teams compete is nowhere near enough to fairly decide a true champion in the 120-team FBSnote . The TV deals for this new system extend through the 2025 season, so any hope of expanding the playoff to 8 or 16 teams is a ways down the road.

Different Levels

Not all American universities, that sponsor varsity football, play within the bowl system. The NCAA has three divisions and Divisions II and III actually have a normal football playoff system. Likewise, Division I has a special subdivision called the "Football Championship Subdivision,"note  where Division I schools, that don't want to put as much emphasis on football as their larger cousins, can play. The current all-divisions record holder for most consecutive winning seasons is Division III's Linfield College, currently at 57. Each of these have their own playoff system to determine a national champion. While most regular season games are done within a division, several teams will play one or two games outside of their division. Teams in the NCAA's Divisions II and III sometimes even play non-NCAA teams. Playing lower-division teams isn't without its risks; when a highly regarded FBS team loses to an FCS team (such as the infamous defeat of then #5 ranked University of Michigan by FCS opponent Appalachian State in 2007, quite possibly the biggest upset in college football history), they become a national laughing stock.note  Also, only one FCS win can count toward bowl eligibility for an FBS team, meaning that if a team schedules two such games they'll need to have at least a 7-5 record instead of 6-6 to qualify for a bowl. By design, this usually discourages FBS teams from playing against more than one FCS team per year. Despite the great majority of these games resulting in a win for the higher-division team, the lower division schools are happy to play them because the higher-division team invariably pays them a lot of money to do it.

There are also smaller college sports organizations outside of the NCAA, including the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics and the National Junior College Athletic Association.note  While these organizations are greatly overshadowed by the NCAA, several NAIA and NJCAA football players have gone on to play in the NCAA and/or the NFL.

Rivalries

While all sports have bitter rivalries, college football tends to have the most pronounced ones in American sports. Some of the more notable have been mentioned above. Rivalries will most commonly feature two teams within a state (like Auburn vs. Alabama), teams whose states border one another (like Texas vs. Oklahoma), and ones with historical significance (like Army vs. Navy).

The following are all notable rivalries. Most feature teams that are frequently in the top 25, and therefore, more likely to put up a good game.

  • Harvard vs. Yale (The Ur Example, though no longer of much importance except to students at the respective schools. Formerly known as "The Game"note  until the more relevant Ohio State vs. Michigan rivalry usurped that name.)
  • Army vs. Navy vs. Air Force (For the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy; Another one of the oldest rivalries, and still going strong. The Army-Navy Game is traditionally the last regular-season game of the year, making it a big draw even when, as is usually the case in the modern era, neither team is nationally relevant.)
  • Auburn vs. Alabama ("The Iron Bowl"note )
  • Texas vs. Oklahoma ("The Red River Rivalry"note )) - played at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, which is almost exactly halfway between the two campuses. Was a non-conference game for decades until becoming a conference rivalry starting in 1996.
  • Ohio State vs. Michigan ("The Game" - voted the #1 rivalry in North American sports by ESPN in 2000.) The final game of their regular season since 1935, and before the expansion of the conference and advent of divisional play it was usually the de facto Big Ten championship game. Like many big rivalries, this one grew out of existing animosity between the bordering states.note 
    Oh, we don't give a damn for the whole state of Michigan
    The whole state of Michigan, the whole state of Michigan
    We don't give a damn for the whole state of Michigan
    We're from O-hi-o!
  • Wisconsin vs. Minnesota ("Paul Bunyan's Axe") and the oldest annual rivalry in FBS football — these teams have played every year since 1907.
  • Florida vs. Georgia ("The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party"note ) - Played on a theoretically neutral field in Jacksonville, Florida.
  • UCLA vs. USC ("The Battle for the Victory Bell"/"The Battle of Los Angeles")
  • BYU vs. Utah ("The Holy War"note )
  • Boston College vs. Notre Dame (also "The Holy War"note )
  • West Virginia vs. Pittsburgh ("The Backyard Brawl", although after WVU left to join the Big 12 Conference in 2012, this series is unlikely to continue) note 
  • California-Berkeley vs. Stanford ("The Big Game"; see also "The Play." Often considered the modern version of Harvard vs. Yale, being played between a pair of very academically prestigious schools... but unlike Harvard and Yale, they still frequently play good football.)
  • Kansas vs. Missouri ("The Border War"/"Border Showdown"note ) - Dates back to 1891, and grew out of the considerable animosity that already existed between the states. Though it had been played for 120 years, interrupted only by the 1918 flu pandemic, the annual rivalry ended when Missouri left the Big 12 for the SEC. Inevitably, fans of each school accused the other of having "surrendered".
  • Illinois vs. Missouri ("The Arch Rivalry"note )
  • Michigan vs. Michigan State ("The Battle for the Mitten"note /"Paul Bunyan—Governor of Michigan Trophy". Taken more seriously by MSU than UM—as UM has OSU to deal with—with the result that MSU takes it even more seriously, in a "what are we, chopped liver?" kind of way. The OSU thing leads to a lot of conflicted emotions for MSU fans, since on the one hand Michigan is the great rival but on the other hand OSU is from Ohio and most MSU fans are Michiganders, leading one to recall Henry Kissinger's comment about the Iran–Iraq War: "It's a shame they can't both lose.")
  • USC vs. Notre Dame ("The Battle for the Jewelled Shillelagh")
  • Mississippi State vs. Ole Miss ("The Battle For The Golden Egg"/"The Egg Bowl") note 
  • Miami note  vs. Florida State - in addition to being a cross-state rivalry, both teams often vie for the ACC championship
  • Florida vs. Florida State - Traditionally the last game of their regular season every year.
  • Georgia vs. Georgia Tech ("Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate") Played every year since 1925.
  • University of Washington vs. Washington State University (The Apple Cup) note 
  • University of Virginia vs. Virginia Tech (Battle for the Commonwealth Cup) note 
  • Colorado vs. Colorado State ("The Rocky Mountain Showdown")
  • Oregon vs. Oregon State ("The Civil War")
  • Tennessee vs. Alabama ("The Third Saturday in October"note ) - Notable for having long winning streaks by whichever team is ascendant in a given decade.
  • Tennessee vs. Florida - One of the newer rivalries, but for most of the 1990s it was the de facto SEC championship game. With both teams having declined since then, it's become lower-profile nationally but remains bitterly contested.
  • Clemson vs. the University of South Carolina—The second oldest annual football rivalry by just two years, dating back to 1909. The rivalry between the schools predates their even having football teams, and indeed traces back to before Clemson actually existed, having originally been fueled by post-Civil War state politics.
  • Southern Methodist and Texas Christian — both are in the same metro area and both are affiliated with different Protestant denominations (SMU with the United Methodist Church and TCU with the Disciples of Christ). The prize is the Iron Skillet. TCU (Fort Worth) has been more victorious since 1987, since SMU's (Dallas) infamous Death Penalty judgment.
  • Auburn vs. Georgia ("The Deep South's Oldest Rivalry") - First played in 1892 and became an annual game in 1898. But interruptions for World War I and World War II prevented it from being the oldest annual rivalry.
  • LSU vs. Auburn ("The Tiger Bowl"note )
  • LSU vs. Arkansas ("The Battle for the Golden Boot"note )
  • Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State ("Bedlam Series"note )
  • Texas vs. Texas A&M ("Lone Star Showdown"note ) - Dates back to 1894 and is a long-standing traditional Thanksgiving Day game, but like the Border War it may be ending because of conference realignment. With A&M leaving the Big 12 for the SEC, Texas has said they have no room on their schedule for the game until 2018 at the earliest. Both fanbases seem to simultaneously blame the other school for the ending of the game as if this is a bad thing, and then claim they didn't really want to play it that much anyway. A significantly less tradition-filled game between Texas and either Baylor or Texas Tech (or TCU since their joining the Big 12) has for the time being stood in for Thanksgiving.
  • Arkansas vs. Texas A&M (An old Southwest Conference rivalry that was recently revived as a non-conference game played in Arlington, and is now entrenched annually as Texas A&M joined the SEC and was placed in the same football division as Arkansas)
  • TCU vs. Baylor (Another old Southwest Conference rivalry with the added enmity that Baylor allegedly played politics to keep TCU out of the Big 12.note  With TCU joining the Big 12, this rivalry has now come full circle.)
  • Iowa St. vs. Kansas St. ("Farmageddon")
  • Kentucky vs. Louisville (The Governor's Cup) – Although hard-fought on the football field, this matchup is much better known as a men's basketball rivalry. This is a relatively recent rivalry—after the first half of the 1920s, UK steadfastly refused to schedule U of L in either sport for decades. The modern basketball rivalry began in 1983 (after no regular-season games for over 60 years), but the modern football rivalry had to wait until 1994, after a 70-year absence.note 
  • North Carolina vs. Virginia ("The South's Oldest Rivalry", which has been played since 1892, continuously since 1919)
  • Arizona vs. Arizona State ("The Duel in the Desert," notable for being played for the Territorial Cupnote , which has been certified as the oldest rivalry trophy in college football, having first been awarded in 1889.note )
  • Florida State vs. Virginia (awarding the "Jefferson-Eppes Trophy"note .)

College Football Individual Awards

A list of the major awards for college football players presented annually. There are several governing bodies in charge of selecting the various award winners, so some of the awards may seem a little repetitive in terms of what the award stands for. (Ex. the Heisman, Archie Griffin, Maxwell, and Walter Camp awards all being practically the same.)

  • Heisman Memorial Trophy Award (aka "The Heisman"): The top award a college football player can hope to receive. It is given out annually to the "most outstanding" player in college football. It is also the oldest award on the list, with the first being presented in 1935. While any player at any position is eligible to win the award, it has historically been awarded to Quarterbacks and Running Backs by a wide margin. The winner is chosen by voters consisting of "informed, competent, and impartial" sports writers along with every living recipient of the award also getting a vote.
  • Archie Griffin Award: While the Heisman is given to the "most outstanding" player, the Archie Griffin award is given to the "most valuable" player in college football. (Which, unsurprisingly, is also frequently the Heisman winner.)
  • Bronko Nagurski Trophy: Award given to the best defensive player in college football.
  • Buck Buchanan Award: Award given to the best defensive player in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) of college football.
  • Burlsworth Trophy: The "youngest" award of the list (starting in 2010), which is given to the most outstanding player who began his college career as a "walk-on" (not offered a scholarship).
  • Butkus Award: Award traditionally given to the top linebacker in college football. Starting in 2008, the award has expanded to include a professional and high school player each year as well.
  • Chic Harley Award: Also known as the "College Football Player of the Year" award. Like the Archie Griffin Award, it is not uncommon for the winner of the Heisman to win this award as well.
  • Davey O'Brien Award: Award given to the best Quarterback in college football. Whenever a quarterback wins the Heisman, there is a good chance that he will win this award as well.
  • Doak Walker Award: Award given to the best Running Back in college football. Whenever a running back wins the Heisman, there is a good chance that he will win this award as well.
  • Fred Biletnikoff Award: Award given to the best Wide Receiver in college football.
  • Gagliardi Trophy: Award given to the "most outstanding" player in Division III football.
  • Gene Upshaw Award: Award given to the best lineman, offensive or defensive, in Division II football.
  • Harlon Hill Trophy: Award given to the "most valuable" player in Division II football.
  • Jim Thorpe Award: Award given to the top defensive back in college football.
  • John Mackey Award: Award given to the "most outstanding" tight end in college football.
  • Johnny Unitas Award: Award given to the best senior quarterback in college football. Many top QBs will never be eligible, since nowadays they tend to leave for the NFL before their senior season.
  • Manning Award: Another award given to the best quarterback in college football; named after the Manning family. Whenever a quarterback wins the Heisman, there is a good chance that he will win this award as well. Unlike most college football awards, it's given after the bowl games.
  • Lou Groza Award: Award given to the top placekicker in college football.
  • Maxwell Award: Award given to the "best football player in the United States." Predictably, the winner of this award is also frequently the Heisman winner as well.
  • Outland Trophy: Award given to the best "interior lineman" in college football. This includes any offensive linemen, as well as defensive tackles.
  • Ray Guy Award: Award given to the top punter in college football.
  • Walter Camp Award: Award given to the college football "player of the year." Predictably, the winner of this award is also frequently the Heisman winner as well.
  • Walter Payton Award: Award given to the "most outstanding" offensive player in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) of college football. Originally given to the most outstanding player on either side of the ball, but restricted to offensive players since the Buchanan Award was established in 1995.

Names to know in College Football (alphabetical in category, by last name)

Many of these players also went on to noteworthy NFL careers. Details can found on the National Football League page.

    open/close all folders 

     Coaches and Administrators 
  • Bobby Bowden: While he had early-career gigs at Samford and West Virginia, he's most famous for his long tenure at Florida State (1976–2009), building the school into a national powerhouse. He won two national titles at FSU, and also had 14 consecutive 10-win seasons (1987–2000). Broke Bear Bryant's record for most wins as an FBS head coach., ending with 377 (not counting 12 wins vacated by the NCAA).
  • Paul "Bear" Bryant: Was the legendary head coach of Alabama for 25 years in the 60s and 70s. He won 6 national titles in his time as coach, while also serving as the school's athletic director. His 323 wins were the most ever by a Division I head coach when he retired. The award for the National Coach of the Year bears his name.
  • John Gagliardi: The winningest coach in college football history by wins, regardless of division. Began his head coaching career in 1949 at NAIA school Carroll College in Montana. He then went to Saint John's of Minnesota, an NCAA D-III school, in 1953, and stayed there for 60 seasons, finally retiring in 2012 with 489 total wins. The award for the top D-III player bears his name.
  • Larry Kehres: The winningest coach in college football history by percentage, regardless of division. Coached at D-III Mount Union in Ohio from 1986 to 2012, also serving as AD in his final years on the sidelines. Holds all-division records for winning percentage (.929), national titles (11), unbeaten regular seasons (21), and conference titles (23, with the last 21 of them being in succession).
  • Eddie Robinson: Was the legendary head coach at Grambling, a historically black school in Louisiana, from World War II until the 1990s. Won 17 conference titles and nine black college national titles, and ended his career with 408 wins, second only to Gagliardi and the most among any coach who spent at least 10 seasons in Division I.
  • Knute Rockne: A Norwegian immigrant raised in Chicago, Rockne was the main builder of Notre Dame's football tradition, leading the Fighting Irish to three national titles in his 13 seasons (1918–1930) and also relentlessly publicizing Notre Dame football throughout the country. He also popularized the forward pass, and is also famous for the "Win one for the Gipper" locker-room speech. His winning percentage of .881 is the highest in major-college history, and second only to Kehres among those with at least 10 seasons as a head coach at any level. His death in a plane crash during the 1931 offseason led to an outpouring of national grief comparable to the death of a U.S. president, with his funeral drawing tens of thousands and being broadcast on radio worldwide. The public reaction to his death was also credited with launching a safety revolution in commercial aviation.

     Quarterbacks 
  • Eric Crouch: A record holding QB for Nebraska who won the 2001 Heisman Trophy (in one of the closest votes ever, narrowly beating out Rex Grossman and Ken Dorsey,) as well as being one of the last great "option" quarterbacks in major college football.
  • Ty Detmer: Was a record-shattering passer for BYU and winner of the 1990 Heisman Trophy. Was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2012.
  • Doug Flutie: Won the 1984 Heisman Trophy playing for Boston College. Is probably best remembered for his "Hail Mary" touchdown pass to defeat Miami, which is frequently rated as one of the greatest plays in college football history. Went on to have a successful professional career as well in the CFL and NFL.
  • Matt Leinart: Won a National Championship with USC as well as the 2004 Heisman Trophy. Had an incredibly successful career at USC as part of what is widely considered one of the most talented football teams ever from 2003-2005. Was an NFL first round pick but failed to live up to his college career, being considered one of the bigger NFL Draft "busts" of all time.
  • Archie Manning: College Football Hall of Famer who had a legendary career at Ole Miss. Was a Heisman finalist twice, falling just short both times. Went on to have a moderately successful pro career and is better known nowadays as the father of Peyton and Eli Manning. Is also a member of the NCAA College Football Playoff Selection Committee as of 2014.
  • Kellen Moore: Was the quarterback of the perennial "BCS Buster" Boise St. Broncos of the late 2000s. Though significantly undersized compared to most high level NCAA QBs, he ended his college career as one of the winningest QBs in history, and the winningest at the FBS level.
  • Davey O'Brien: A legendary QB for TCU, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1939. He set a number of records during his college career, a few of which still stand to this day (such as fewest interceptions per passes thrown.) The award given annually to the best quarterback in college football bears his name.
  • Tim Tebow: Two time BCS Championship winning QB for Florida and winner of the 2007 Heisman Trophy. He is one of the great running QBs in NCAA history, with a unique style of preferring to plow through defenders like a fullback (most running quarterbacks are more agile and try to avoid hits). Went on to a brief, somewhat controversial NFL career. Has since returned to college football as an analyst for the SEC Network.
  • Vince Young: Won the 2005 BCS National Championship with Texas and was runner-up in Heisman voting to Reggie Bush (who was later stripped of the award.) Is considered one of the greatest players in Texas' storied history, as well as one of the greatest ever in NCAA history. He was drafted 3rd overall into the NFL but after some initial success, is considered a borderline draft bust.

     Running Backs and Fullbacks 
  • Jay Berwanger: Halfback for the University of Chicago, and winner of the first ever Heisman Trophy. He was also selected as the first ever draft pick in the NFL, but didn't play a single down professionally as he was unable to agree on a salary.
  • Tony Dorsett: A legendary three-time All-American running back for the University of Pittsburgh, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1976. Is a member of both the College and Pro Halls of Fame.
  • Harold Edward "Red" Grange: Was a legendary halfback for Illinois, earning the nickname "the Galloping Ghost." He was one of the first star players in college football and helped to popularize the sport, even appearing on the cover of TIME magazine in 1925. He is a member of the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame. ESPN named him as the greatest college football player of all time in 2008.
  • Archie Griffin: Star running back for Ohio St. and, to date, the only two-time winner of the Heisman trophy. He is also the only player to ever start in four Rose Bowl games. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1986. Also known for being rather undersized for the position, even by today's standards. (5'9", 182)
  • Bronislaw "Bronko" Nagurski: Was a legendary, Canadian born fullback for Minnesota, who also played tackle on defense. Legend has it that he was virtually untacklable with the ball in his hands. He is a member of both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame. He also made a career as a Pro Wrestler when his football career was over. The award given annually to the best defensive player in college football is named after him.
  • Herschel Walker: Legendary running back for Georgia in the early 1980s. He was named an All-American in each of the three years he played, winning the Heisman Trophy in 1982. Went on to have a moderately successful NFL career as well. Expect any analysis of a great college football running back to make at least one comparison to Walker.

     Wide Receivers 
  • Fred Biletnikoff: Was an All-American wide receiver for pre-Bowden Florida State and a member of the College Football Hall of Fame. The award for the best receiver in college football is named for him. Also had a Hall of Fame professional career with the Oakland Raiders.
  • Michael Crabtree: Was a prolific receiver for Texas Tech. He set 7 NCAA receiving records for freshmen in his first season and would become the first two-time Biletnikoff Award winner.
  • Larry Fitzgerald: Was an All-American wide receiver for Pittsburgh and had one of the greatest seasons by any college WR in 2003. He won the Walter Camp, Chic Harley, and Biletnikoff awards and was the runner up in Heisman voting, losing to Oklahoma's Jason White by only a slim margin. It was the highest finish in Heisman voting by a sophomore up to that point. In addition to holding nearly every major school record, he also still holds the NCAA record for most consecutive games with a TD catch at 18. Went on to have an extremely successful pro career as well.

     Offensive Linemen and Tight Ends 
  • Mark May: Was an All-American offensive tackle for Pittsburgh and won the Outland Trophy in 1980. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2006 and famously serves alongside Lou Holtz as an ESPN college football analyst.

     Defensive Players 
  • Dick Butkus: Legendary All-American linebacker for Illinois, who also played center on offense, making him one of the last great two-way players in major college football. The annual award for the nation's best linebacker is named after him. Is a member of both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame.
  • Pat Fitzgerald: All-American linebacker for Northwestern in the mid-1990s, and to date, only player to win the Dick Butkus Award twice. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008. He is the current head coach for his Alma Mater.

     Special Teams 
  • Ray Guy: Was an All-American punter for Southern Miss, and is a member of both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame. The award given out annually to the nation's top punter is named after him.


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alternative title(s): Collegiate American Football; College Football
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