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American Football is enjoyed on more than one level. 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 sportnote  - 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.


NCAA football 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 (by the NCAA) national football champion at this level. For most of the FBS's history, national champions were chosen in polls of sportswriters or coaches, with a sole "national champion" being unofficially crowned if both polls agreed and a split national championship resulting if they didn'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.) Only one split national championship has occurred since the 1998 introduction of a postseason system that gives the top teams (two since 1998, four since 2014) an opportunity to compete against each other for the title.

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 has long been able to score a point on a blocked PAT (a rule that the NFL didn't adopt until 2015) and college overtime rules are complicated.note  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 participate in no more than four gamesnote  (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, split among number of conferences. There are a total of 10 conferences in FBS, not including the various independents - such as Notre Dame. While you can find a list of these conferences further down the page, we also have a separate page with more information, including each league's current membership.

The Bowl Games

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 tournamentnote . (Originally the bowls were exhibitions; there wasn't even any polls taken after the bowls until the 60s.) Today, a team must have at least as many wins as losses (at least six wins for a typical twelve-game schedule) in order to participate in a bowl game, although the NCAA can make exceptions.

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 the better wintertime climate of Pasadena, California).

The lower divisions of the NCAA actually have NCAA-operated 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 (although in recent years, FCS teams such as Eastern Washington, Youngstown State and most notably, North Dakota State have been getting some national attention).

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. The current system is the College Football Playoff (CFP), launched in 2014, with the survivor being recognized as national champions.note  The season ends with numerous bowl games that are played between schools. The "New Year's Six" games associated with the CFP are:

  • Fiesta Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl – The four games that were part of the BCS.
  • Cotton Bowl, Peach Bowl – Added to the mix when the CFP began.

In the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) era from 1998 through 2013, the #1 and #2 ranked teams were placed in the BCS National Championship Game, which was played about a week after the other major bowl games. The NCG rotated between the stadiums of the four major bowls of that era.note 

These games had (and still have) conference tie-ins, giving certain conference champions automatic invitations. The Rose Bowl invited the Pac-12 and Big Ten champions, the Orange Bowl invited the ACC champion, the Sugar Bowl invited the SEC champion and the Fiesta Bowl invited the Big 12 champion. All of these tie-ins still exist in the CFP era except for the Fiesta Bowl, whose Big 12 tie-in shifted to the Sugar Bowl. When a conference champion was unavailable due to playing in the national championship game, the runner-up traditionally took their place in the bowl game, although this was at the individual bowl's discretion and they were not strictly mandated to take the runner-upnote .

In addition to the conferences with tie-ins, during the BCS system, the Big East champion was guaranteed a spot in a BCS bowl, but not in any specific one. Together, the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10/Pac-12 and SEC were the "Automatic Qualifying" conferences. The champion of a non-AQ conference (an FBS conference other than those six) could be guaranteed a spot if they were in the top 12 in the year's final BCS ranking, or in the top 16 and ranked higher than the champion of at least one AQ conference (in practice, usually the Big East). If more than one non-AQ champion met those criteria, only the highest-ranking one was guaranteed a BCS bowl selection. Non-AQ teams who met these qualifications were referred to as "BCS busters".

If Notre Dame was in the top 8 of the final BCS ranking, they were guaranteed a BCS bowl. No conference could have more than two teams playing in BCS bowls, unless the two teams selected to the championship game were from the same conference and neither was the conference champion.note 

If there were any berths remaining after these criteria are dealt with, and the team ranked third in the final BCS ranking was from one of the AQ conferences and was eligiblenote , they got a bid, and if this didn't fill the last bid and the #4 team in the final BCS rankings met those same criteria, they were given a bid. If there were still any berths in BCS games left, any remaining eligible teams in the top 14 of the final BCS rankings could be given at-large bids to fill them, at the individual bowl game's discretion, though if somehow there weren't enough eligible teams in the top 14, this could be extended to the top 18, then the top 22, and so on in increments of four until the bids were filled.

Things finally came to a head at the end of the 2011 season, when the BCS selected LSU and Alabama, two teams from the SEC West (the same division of the same 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 was adopted beginning in the 2014 season to replace the BCS.

The new four-team playoff model features 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 are played at existing bowl sites (to be rotated between the Rose, Sugar, Orange, Fiesta, Cotton, and Peach Bowls), and the Championship game is 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, 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 129-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.

The second tier of games consists of lower profile bowls such as the Camping World Bowlnote , Citrus Bowlnote , Outback Bowlnote , Sun Bowlnote , Gator Bowlnote , and Alamo Bowlnote  which are treated with some respect, but usually feature 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 long sought to regain its former status and become the fifth major bowl, and is now played in the showplace Cowboys Stadium (the world's largest domed stadium) to demonstrate this. The Cotton Bowl succeeded in this quest when it became one of the "New Year's Six" bowls of the College Football Playoff system. The Cotton Bowl stadium itself remains in use by the decidedly less tradition-filled First Responder Bowlnote .

Like the BCS and CFP bowls, these second-tier bowls also have conference tie-ins, but for second place, third place (and so on) teams in the conferences in question. Most of the tie-ins are to the major conferences, making it rare for a mid-major team to play in one of these bowls.note  Which of these games is the most prestigious is debatable. While the Cotton Bowl has strongest tradition and retains its famous name, the Camping World Bowl has the largest cash payout of any non-CFP bowl; the Chick-fil-A Bowl, which reverted to its historic name of Peach Bowl when it became part of the New Year's Six (though retaining Chick-fil-A as name sponsor), usually had the best attendance among non-BCS bowls in the BCS era.

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. In fact, ESPN actually runs many of these bowls themselves nowadays). 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 Holiday Bowl (the same outfit was the last name sponsor of the now-defunct Poinsettia Bowl), Quick Lane Bowlnote , Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl note , the Redbox Bowlnote , the Famous Idaho Potato Bowlnote , the Belk Bowlnote , the Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowlnote , the Walk-On's Independence Bowlnote  or the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowlnote . 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 LendingTree 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 a bowl in a nice vacation spot, such as the Hawaii Bowl or Bahamas Bowl, of course.

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. In fact, the proliferation of bowls got so ridiculous that the NCAA called time on it in 2016, imposing a three-year freeze on certification of new bowl games. 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.

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 64. Each of these has its 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 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, National Junior College Athletic Association, and California Community College Athletic Association.note note  While these organizations are greatly overshadowed by the NCAA, several NAIA, NJCAA, and CCCAA football players have gone on to play in the NCAA and/or the NFL.


As in most American college sports, college football teams are divided into regional athletic conferences. These conferences determine most of a team's schedule, and winning a conference is an easy way to get into a major bowl game.

Within the FBS, there are ten conferences, but not all conferences are created equal. The NCAA officially divides the conferences into two tiers: the Power Five (or "Big Five") and the Group of Five. Power Five conferences are bigger and more competitive, and the winners of these conferences are guaranteed qualification to one of the six top-level bowl games. Depending on their conference, this will be the Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl, or Orange Bowl, unless that bowl is hosting a national semifinal game. Group of Five conferences are considered more like mid-major conferences; they're smaller, not as well known, and not as likely to win championships. Only one Group of Five conference winner is automatically given a shot at a major bowl game, either the Cotton Bowl, the Fiesta Bowl, or the Peach Bowl. The other five teams to play in those bowls are selected by committee.

The Power Five conferences are...

  • The Atlantic Coast Conference, which started out as a conference covering the Carolinas and Virginia, but has since extended out to cover teams from all over the East Coast as far north as Boston College and as far south as UMiami. It now has spread well beyond the East Coast to include Louisville for all sports and Notre Damenote  for most sports apart from football. Notre Dame isn't officially part of any football conference, but it is considered connected to the ACC due to that school's full but non-football membership.note  The ACC champion is guaranteed a spot in the Orange Bowl, and Notre Dame also has a chance to get in the Orange Bowl, depending on the year. Home to traditional powers Clemson, Florida State, and Miami.
  • The Big Ten (sometimes called "B1G", from its logo), which originally just covered the Great Lakes region but recently expanded in both directions to include members in Nebraska, Maryland and New Jersey. It's the oldest conference of the NCAA, dating back all the way to the 1890s, and between its age and its Midwestern heartland is unsurprisingly reputed for conservative "three yards and a cloud of dust" strategies (whether or not that happens to be accurate today is another story). Confusingly, it has fourteen member teams. The Big Ten champion is guaranteed a spot in the Rose Bowl. While the conference has many storied schools, the best-known are arguably (as of 2020) eternal rivals Michigan and Ohio State.
  • The Big 12 consists of teams from Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Iowa and West Virginia (which is nowhere near any of the other states with Big 12 teams). It's the newest of the major conferences, having been formed when two other conferences merged into one. The Big 12 champion is guaranteed a spot in the Sugar Bowl, with the second team potentially going to the Orange Bowl. Just to make things confusing, the Big 12 has ten teams. Yes, the Big Ten has 14 teams (12 from 2011 to 2014, 11 from 1991 to 2010) and the Big 12 has ten (it seriously considered expanding to 12 or 14 in the 2016 offseason, but decided against it). No, that doesn't make any sense. Don't think about it too hard. Because they only have ten members, they lack the two-divisional format that the other Power Five conferences have and play a full round-robin, but they've held a championship game anyway since 2017.
  • The Pac-12 covers the entire West Coast, as well as Arizona, Colorado, and Utah. For most of The New '10s, it was considered the second-strongest conference in the NCAA, though the ACC and Big Ten are now pushing the SEC for supremacy, and the Pac-12 champion plays the Big Ten champion in the Rose Bowl. USC has historically been the flagship team of the conference, but Oregon, known for its flashy offense and flashier uniforms, pushed them strongly in the first part of this century, and then Stanford rose to prominence in the 2010s behind a decidedly non-flashy, smashmouth style.
  • The Southeastern Conference, better known as the SEC, has long been considered far and away the strongest college football conference (and the only one where a chant for the conference [which consists of "SEC! SEC!"] exists among the schools within it). As with all the other conferences, its name isn't 100% geographically accurate, since it has teams from Missouri and eastern Texas. The SEC is home to some of the biggest rivalries, coaches, and players in all of college football right now, especially the SEC West division, to the point that from 2007, the year the BCS National Championship Game was established as separate from any other bowl game, to the end of the BCS system, there was at least one SEC team playing every year, and it wasn't until the last of those that a non-SEC team won. In fact, the reason the BCS finally collapsed was that the 2012 championship paired two SEC West teams against each other, which caused chaos with scheduling other bowl matchups and demonstrated how poorly designed the BCS really was. As it turned out, it only took four seasons for the CFP to produce an all-SEC title game, with Alabama (which didn't even win the SEC West) defeating Georgia for the 2017 title. While the league has many traditional football powers (plus academic ringer Vanderbiltnote  and basketball superpower Kentucky), the biggest name in recent years is Alabama, with five national titles since current head coach Nick Saban arrived in 2007. The reigning national champion is LSU, one of Alabama's divisional rivals. Around November it becomes a Running Gag that the SEC champion should be promoted to the NFL, with that league's worst team relegated; that's how strong the SEC is.

The Group of Five conferences are...

  • The American Athletic Conference is considered the successor to the Big East, which collapsed due to instability between the basketball and football sides of that conference, but unlike the Big East, it isn't considered a power conference. Geographically, its members are all over the place; most are from the old Big East, but it also includes teams from Texas and Oklahoma. Navy, located in the old Big East footprint, joined for football only in 2015. It's usually considered the strongest of the Group of Five, and has begun branding all of their equipment with a "Power 6" logo in an apparent hope that if they say it often enough, it'll come to pass.
  • Conference USA, which includes teams from all over the South and whose geographical center has been the most flexible since its 1995 formation. Its membership has shifted more towards the Sun Belt as conference realignments changed up its membership. Right now, its most notable teams are Florida Atlantic, thanks to its former media-hound head coach Lane Kiffin (who's now taken his shtick to Ole Miss), and UAB (Alabama–Birmingham), whose football team returned in 2017 after a two-season hiatus... and proceeded to have its best three seasons ever, with the most successful being 2018, featuring a conference title and bowl win. The latter school had dropped the sport after the 2014 season, citing financial concerns, but the move was heavily criticized as being more about Alabama politics than money; see this story for a quick overview.
  • The Mid-American Conference, which covers the Great Lakes area. For a few years, it had an outlier for football only in UMass (Massachusetts), but the Minutemen were effectively kicked out after the 2015 season due to incredible futility. Also home to one of the three FBS schools with a non-traditionally colored football field; Eastern Michigan's is gray. See immediately below for the first and most famous example. The MAC's most historically important program, though not necessarily the most dominant one, is Miami University (or "Miami (OH)"),note  known as the "Cradle of Coaches" for having been a training ground for many prominent coaches in both college and the NFL. It's also one of three FBS conferences whose full-time membership consists exclusively of public schools, and one of two in which all of said schools are state-supported.
  • The Mountain West Conference, which includes teams from the Mountain West, a few California teams, and even a team in Hawaii (though that team is only a member in football). It's the youngest of the conferences, having started up in 1999. Its most notable member at the moment is Boise State, which earned a reputation in the late 2000's for performing on par with power conference teams and getting into major bowls. The Broncos, however, may be even more famous for their blue football field. The MW is the second of the three all-public FBS conferences, but it's not all state schools, since Air Force is a member.
  • The Sun Belt Conference, like the SEC and Conference USA, is mostly located in the South. From 2013 through 2017, it included Idaho (very much non-Southern) and New Mexico State (more Southwestern but still "Sun Belt") for football only. However, these teams were bounced from the football league after the 2017 season; Idaho then returned to FCS football, while New Mexico State chose to go independent. Coastal Carolinanote  joined Sun Belt football in 2017, the second year of its transition to FBS; it had already joined the Sun Belt as a full but non-football member in 2016. Incidentally, Coastal also has a non-traditional field color, in this case teal. Like the Big 12, the Sun Belt only has 10 football playing members; however, the Sun Belt uses a divisional format for its championship game, added in 2018. It's the last of the three FBS conferences whose full-time members are all public schools, including non-football members Little Rock and Texas–Arlington.

Additionally, the next college football season of 2020 will have seven independent football programs in Division I FBS that do not belong to a conference (all have home conferences for most, if not all, of their other sports).

  • The University of Notre Dame has 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 none since 1988). They are also the traditional flagship team of American Catholicism (as Notre Dame is a Catholic school). Notre Dame is thought of as a "Power 5" school and has special arrangements to appear in the Orange Bowl as a potential opponent for an ACC team. It can also appear in lower-profile bowls instead of an ACC team and plays at least 5 ACC opponents a year, as part of a deal made when Notre Dame's other sports teams joined the ACC in 2013.
  • Army (the United States Military Academy), one of the service academy teams. Navy's football team was also independent until it joined the American Athletic Conference in 2015, while Air Force has been in conferences since 1980, first in the Western Athletic Conference and since 1999 in the the Mountain West Conference. Like Navy and Air Force, Army is considered on par with the "Group of 5" teams. However, two of the Power Five leagues (the Big Ten and SEC) have included Army as a surrogate Power Five opponent for purposes of non-conference scheduling.note  The Army-Navy game serves as the traditional last game of the season, and it is still televised nationally despite both service academies having been out of title 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.
  • Brigham Young University (BYU) has been independent in football since 2011. BYU's football team has been successful in recent years. It is the traditional flagship team of American Mormonism (BYU being a Mormon university); indeed, BYU can be seen as a kind of Mormon Notre Dame. BYU also owns their own television network, which is grouped with the religious channels on most cable systems but also shows the occasional sporting event. The ACC, Big Ten, and SEC count BYU as a surrogate Power Five team for non-conference scheduling purposes.
  • A more recent entry to the independent ranks is UMass, more properly the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The Minutemen had been a fairly decent team at the FCS level, even winning a national championship in 1998, but decided to move up to FBS, gaining football-only membership in the MAC starting with the 2012 season. UMass enjoyed little success at its new level, yet decided to turn down an offer of full MAC membership; the MAC responded by not renewing their football-only membership contract after it ended with the 2015 season.note  It remains to be seen whether UMass will stay at FBS level or return to FCS... watch this space.
  • The aforementioned New Mexico State stayed in FBS as an independent after being bounced from Sun Belt football. They've been largely in the shadow of cross-state rival New Mexico in football, and went from 1960 through 2016 without a bowl appearance. The Aggies did make their final season in Sun Belt football an eventful one, going to and winning a bowl game.
  • NMSU had company as a new independent in 2018 in the form of Liberty, a former Strawman U (of the "Jim Jonestown U" variety) from Virginia that became far less legalistic (though still conservative) since the passing of its founder, televangelist Jerry Falwell. The Flames began a transition from FCS in the 2017 season, with the NCAA giving them a waiver from its normal rules requiring that a school have an invite from an FBS conference to begin the transition. They became full FBS members in 2019, winning a bowl game in their first season as such. Liberty has been heavily lobbying for an invite from the Sun Belt in the last few years, so it may not be an independent for too long.
  • In 2020, UConnnote  will join the independent ranks after leaving the American Athletic Conference to join several of their former basketball rivals in today's Big East Conference. The Huskies had enjoyed little success at the FBS level since moving from what was then I-AA in 2002, and their bread-and-butter sports of men's and women's basketball were being visibly hurt by being in the geographically far-flung American (the women weren't hurt on the court, but suffered from an utter lack of in-conference competition). In the end, basketball won out.


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 and also a focal point for the oldest and strongest Interservice Rivalry in the American military, 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.
  • The Pac-12 divides neatly into six regional groupings, providing for many natural rivalries.
    • UCLA vs. USC ("The Battle for the Victory Bell"/"The Battle of Los Angeles")
    • California (Berkeley) vs. Stanford ("The Big Game"; see also "The Play", which refers to the downright surreal ending to the 1982 edition of The Big Game.) 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.)
    • Oregon vs. Oregon State ("The Civil War")
    • Washington vs. Washington State (The Apple Cup) note 
    • 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 )
    • Colorado vs. Utah (The "Rumble in the Rockies") – Had been one of the hottest rivalries in the West for the first half of the 20th century, but stopped after 1962. Revived in 2011 when Colorado and Utah joined the Pac-12 and were placed in the same football division.
  • 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 did not continue) note 
  • 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 ) – An offshoot of "Braggin' Rights", a longer-standing men's basketball rivalry between the two schools, with those games also being played in St. Louis.
  • 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 Virginia vs. Virginia Tech (Battle for the Commonwealth Cup) note 
  • Colorado vs. Colorado State ("The Rocky Mountain Showdown")
  • 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. South Carolina – The second oldest uninterrupted FBS 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 in FBS.
  • 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 was a long-standing traditional Thanksgiving Day game, but like the Border War it ended 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 ("The Revivalry"note ) - 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. The series has been closely fought throughout its history, with TCU leading (as of 2019) by a mere 55–53–7.
  • Iowa State vs. Kansas State ("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)
  • Florida State vs. Virginia (awarding the "Jefferson-Eppes Trophy"note )
  • Nebraska vs. Oklahoma, which ran from 1912 to 2010, when Nebraska left the Big 12 - because the Big 12 wouldn't schedule the game every season. note  The highlight was the 1971 "Game of the Century", with #1-ranked Nebraska narrowly beating out #2-ranked Oklahoma. The rivalry will return in 2021 and 2022 with two specially-scheduled games.
  • Cincinnati vs. Miaminote  - The longest-running current non-conference rivalry in the United States (though they were briefly in the same conference in the late 1940s and early 1950s), the most-played currently active FBS rivalry between teams from the same state (see immediately below for an even more frequently-played intrastate rivalry), and the oldest rivalry west of the Allegheny Mountains. They play for the Victory Bell. Since Cincinnati moved to the Big East in 2005, however, the rivalry has been rather one-sided, with Miami's last victory coming in 2005.
  • Lafayette vs. Lehigh ("The Rivalry") – A matchup between two lower-level FCS teams, both members of the Patriot League and located in the Lehigh Valley of eastern Pennsylvania. It's notable here as the most-played matchup in college football history (the 2019 game was the 155th) and the longest uninterrupted rivalry (since 1897) in all of college football. The Leopards and Mountain Hawks first played in 1884; the large number of games is because the teams played twice each season from 1884 to 1901 (except 1896, when they didn't play at all, and 1891, when they played three times), as well as in the war years of 1943 and 1944. The game is so old that it predates rivalry trophies—the winning team just gets to keep the game ball.

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, Maxwell, and Walter Camp awards all being practically the same.) Positions are also supplied for winners of awards that aren't position-specific.

  • 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. Most recent winner: Joe Burrow, QB, LSU
  • Bronko Nagurski Trophy: Award given to the best defensive player in college football. Most recent winner: Chase Young, DE, Ohio State
  • Buck Buchanan Award: Award given to the best defensive player in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) of college football. Most recent winner: Dante Olson, LB, Montana
  • Burlsworth Trophy: One of the newer awards (first presented in 2010), which is given to the most outstanding player who began his college career as a "walk-on" (not offered a scholarship). Most recent winner: Kenny Willekes, DE, Michigan State
  • 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. Most recent winner: Isaiah Simmons, Clemson
  • Campbell Trophy: Presented to the top scholar-athlete in all of college football—not only the FBS, but also including the FCS, Divisions II and III, and the NAIA. Uniquely among nominal all-divisions awards, the Campbell Trophy has actually been won once by a D-III player. Most recent winner: Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon
  • Chuck Bednarik Award: Award given to the defensive "player of the year" in college football. The Nagurski Trophy recipient frequently gets this award as well. Most recent winner: Young
  • 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. Most recent winner: Burrow
  • 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. Most recent winner: Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsinnote 
  • Fred Biletnikoff Award: Award given to the best receiver in college football. Although the award rules state that anyone who catches the ball on offense is eligible, every winner to date has been a wide receiver. (Which makes sense, given that the award's namesake played that position.) Most recent winner: Ja'Marr Chase, LSU
  • Gagliardi Trophy: Award given to the "most outstanding" player in Division III football. Most recent winner: Broc Rutter, QB, North Central (IL)
  • Gene Upshaw Award: Award given to the best lineman, offensive or defensive, in Division II football. Most recent winner: Austin Edwards, DE, Ferris State
  • Harlon Hill Trophy: Award given to the "most valuable" player in Division II football. Most recent winner: Roland Rivers III, QB, Slippery Rock
  • Jerry Rice Award: Along with the Jet Award (immediately below), the newest major US-based award (first presented in 2011). Presented to the top freshman player in FCS football, making it the only recognized national award for first-year players in any division. Most recent winner: Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
  • Jet Award: Along with the Rice Award, the newest major US-based award (first presented in 2011note ), which is given to the top return specialist in college football. "Jet" comes from the nickname of legendary 1970s Nebraska receiver/return man Johnny Rodgers. Most recent winner: Joe Reed, Virginia
  • Jim Thorpe Award: Award given to the top defensive back in college football. Most recent winner: Grant Delpit, LSU
  • John Mackey Award: Award given to the "most outstanding" tight end in college football. Most recent winner: Harrison Bryant, Florida Atlantic
  • Johnny Unitas Award: Award given to the best quarterback who has spent at least four seasons in college football (i.e., either a senior or a redshirt junior). Originally, only seniors were eligible, but redshirt juniors have been added, probably because many top QBs now leave for the NFL before their fourth season. Most recent winner: Burrow
  • Jon Cornish Trophy: The newest significant award in college football, first presented for the 2017 season. Unlike any of the other awards listed here, it's a specifically Canadian award, presented to the outstanding player of that nationality in NCAA football. The voting body consists of Canadian media, CFL scouts, and former NCAA players with a connection to the country. The award's namesake is former CFL star Jon Cornish, who played college ball in the States at Kansas. Another unique distinction of this award is that the winner doesn't get to keep the trophy beyond the award ceremony—it's permanently displayed at the Canadian Football Hall of Fame at Tim Hortons Field, home of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Still another unique tradition is being established around the trophy, namely that the winner signs its back. Most recent winner: Chuba Hubbard, RB, Oklahoma State
  • Lombardi Award: From 1970 to 2016, this award, named after legendary NFL coach Vince Lombardi, was presented to the top lineman or linebacker. Originally presented by the service club Rotary International, it came under the control of the Lombardi Foundation in 2017, and the award became yet another "best college player" award, though the award criteria include leadership and character. Most recent winner: Burrow
  • Lou Groza Award: Award given to the top placekicker in college football. Most recent winner: Rodrigo Blankenship, Georgia
  • Manning Award: Another award given to the best quarterback in college football; named after the Manning quarterbacking family.note  Whenever a QB wins the Heisman, there is a good chance that he will win this award as well. Like the now-apparently-defunct awards presented by the Touchdown Club of Columbus, it's not awarded until after the bowl games; in fact, the voting deadline is deliberately set after the CFP title game. Most recent winner: Burrow
  • 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. Most recent winner: Burrow
  • Outland Trophy: Award given to the best "interior lineman" in college football. This includes any offensive linemen, as well as defensive tackles. Most recent winner: Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
  • Paul Hornung Award: Another relatively new award (first given in 2010), presented to the most versatile player in college football. Most recent winner: Lynn Bowden Jr., WR/RS/QB, Kentucky
  • Ray Guy Award: Award given to the top punter in college football. Most recent winner: Max Duffy, Kentuckynote 
  • Rimington Trophy: Award given to the top center in college football. Notable in that the award winner is not determined by vote of a designated committee, but instead on a points system based on placement in four specific All-America teams. Most recent winner: Tyler Biadasz, Wisconsin
  • Senior CLASS Award:note  Presented since 2008 to the most outstanding senior student-athlete in FBS football, based on both excellence of play and community involvement.note  Most recent winner: Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn
  • 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. Most recent winner: Burrow
  • 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. Most recent winner: Lance
  • Wuerffel Trophy: Presented for outstanding community service by an FBS player; named after 1996 Heisman winner Danny Wuerffel. Most recent winner: Jon Wassink, QB, Western Michigan
  • The Touchdown Club of Columbus presented a complete suite of seasonal awards through the 2018 season, most notably the Archie Griffin Award (most valuable player) and Chic Harley Award (player of the year). However, the club announced that due to a failure to gain corporate sponsorship, it would not hold its anticipated 2019 awards banquet, and strongly hinted that it would fold completely. Assuming this is the case, the final winners of the two main awards were both QBs—Clemson's Trevor Lawrence (Griffin) and Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins (Harley). The TD Club's awards were unusual in that they were not presented until after all bowl games were played.

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.

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    Theodore Roosevelt 
  • Yes, that Theodore Roosevelt. It is quite likely that without him, college football (and American football in general) would never have made it out of the first few years of the 20th century. Though his near-sightedness prevented him from playing while a student at Harvard, he was an avowed fan of the sport. As more and more institutions banned the sport due to its violence (including spinal cord injuries, fractured skulls, and outright fatalities common in the sport's early years), Roosevelt looked to save it by making it safer. After 19 collegiate players died in 1905 and Roosevelt's own son (a freshman at Harvard) suffered a broken nose in a game, Roosevelt brought together prominent head coaches (including Walter "the Father of Football" Camp, see below) to establish rules for making it safer. Rule changes that were instituted included limiting teams to 11 players on the field at a time, the creation of a "neutral zone" between the offense and defense, the easing of restrictions on the forward pass. By 1909, fatalities were almost nonexistent and injuries had dropped significantly. The contributions of coaches like Camp, Amos Alonzo Stagg, John Heisman, and Knute Rockne (see below under "Coaches and Administrators") in the years that followed would go on to make college football America's second most popular sport (behind baseball) in the early half of the 20th century and pave the way for the NFL's rise to dominance in the latter half.

     Coaches and Administrators 
  • Dana Bible: Was a head coach for five different schools in the first half of the 20th century, including most famously Texas A&M where he won two national championships (while also serving as head basketball and baseball coach). He holds the distinction of being the only head coach in college football history to hold opponents completely scoreless for two full seasons, doing so in 1917 and 1919 while at Texas A&M (defeating opponents by a combined 545-0 in those seasons). The reason for the gap in between? He left to serve as a pilot during World War I. He would later have successful stints at both Nebraska and Texas, as well as serving on the college football rules committee for 25 years, helping to establish many of the rules of the sport as it is known today.
  • 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: Often considered the definitive college football coach, he played for Alabama in the 30s, then spent 25 years as the Crimson Tide's head coach (1958 to 1982), after shorter stints at Maryland, Kentucky and Texas A&M. 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. Famously wore a houndstooth fedora on the sidelines. One of the many awards for the National Coach of the Year bears his name. In 2019, celebrating college football's 150th anniversary, ESPN put Bryant at #1 on their list of the 150 greatest college football coaches of all time. Got his nickname at age 13 when he accepted a traveling carnival's offer to wrestle a bear for a dollar (which they never paid).
  • Walter Camp: Known as the "Father of Football", Camp was one of the early pioneers of sport, first as a player at Yale and later as a coach at Yale and Stanford. He codified the early rulebook for the game, including standardizing the number of players on the field at 11, establishing the idea of the line of scrimmage, the snap from the center, the offense getting four downs to convert, and the scoring system still in use today. Won three national championships in the 1890s and his career coaching record of 79-5-3 makes for the second-best winning percentage of all time (.926), narrowly surpassed by Larry Kehres (see below). He worked closely with Theodore Roosevelt to improve the safety standards of the game and is credited with writing over 30 books on the sport which helped to popularize it. He also introduced the idea of an "All-American" team and published his own list each year until his death. One of the many annual "player of the year" awards is named after him. He is also notable for having coached two teams in the same season, Yale and Stanford in 1892 (Stanford playing later in the year after Yale's season was over.)
  • Jim Delany: A name little-known except to the most dedicated college sports geeks, but along with Mike Slive (also listed below) he arguably had more impact on the 21st-century college sports scene (not just football) than anyone else. Unlike (most of) the others listed in this section, he was an administrator rather than a coach. After playing basketball at North Carolina, he went to law school, and a couple of years after graduating took a position with the NCAA. He then became commissioner of the FCS-level Ohio Valley Conference in 1979, and then in 1989 moved to the position where he made his true mark—Big Ten commissioner. His first major splash came in 1990 when he oversaw Penn State's entry into the conference. Later that decade, Delany became the main architect of the Bowl Championship Series, and in the following years was a major behind-the-scenes opponent of the playoff system championed by Slive (which became today's College Football Playoff). He was also the main force behind the creation of the Big Ten Network. Though not the Ur-Example of conference-specific cable networks (that would be the Mountain West Conference's now-defunct MountainWest Sports Network), it was the Trope Maker and Trope Codifier for future efforts of that type, launching in 2007. Though not immediately successful, it became a major cash cow for the already-wealthy conference by the time the 2010s rolled around. Most notably, Delany helped to trigger the seismic conference realignments of the early 2010s with his wish to expand the BTN footprint, with the Big Ten bringing in Nebraska in 2011 and Maryland and Rutgers in 2014. Announced his retirement in 2019, effective at year's end.
  • LaVell Edwards: Was the coach who brought Brigham Young University to football relevance. Before Edwards, the school had won only a single conference title in its entire history. Edwards would coach there for 28 years, win 257 games (6th most all time, 2nd most with a single school), win 19 conference titles, and win a national championship in 1984 (the only "mid-major" school to win one in modern college football history). Edwards is credited for jumpstarting the idea of high-volume passing offenses in college football, doing so in order to gain a competitive edge against other dominant teams who relied much more on power running and stout defenses. He would coach several NCAA record-setting quarterbacks (including Ty Detmer, see below) as well as ones who went on to NFL success (Steve Young, Jim McMahon). BYU's stadium is named in his honor; in fact, it was formally renamed for Edwards immediately before his last home game, making him one of a small number of coaches to lead a team in a stadium named after him.
  • Hayden Fry: Was the head coach of three schools over his nearly 40 year career, including most famously as with Iowa for 20 years. His coaching tree is one of the most expansive in college football, with 13 of his assistants going on to become head coaches themselves, including most famously his successor at Iowa, Kirk Ferentz, as well as the Stoops brothers (Bob, Mike, Mark), and Bill Snyder, a fellow College Football Hall of Fame coach famous for his time at Kansas State. Craig T. Nelson's character in the sitcom Coach was named Hayden Fox in Fry's honor.
  • Phillip Fulmer: Is the current athletic director at Tennessee, where he first was a player and later a national championship winning head coach. He is considered one of the greatest "recruiter" head coaches in college football history (including convincing Peyton Manning to play at Tennessee instead of at his father Archie's alma mater, Ole Miss) and famously never lost to rival Kentucky, going 17-0 against them. He was infamously fired at the end of the 2008 season (just one year after taking the team to 10 wins and a #12 final ranking), after which the Volunteers program went into an epic nosedive for nearly a decade including six straight seasons finishing unranked.
  • John Gagliardi:note  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. He was also famous for his unorthodox coaching style: he didn't subject his players to practice staples like full contact, full uniforms, tackling sleds, or wind sprints. He also told his players to call him "John" instead of "Coach". The award for the top D-III player bears his name.note 
  • Jim Harbaugh: Was a successful QB at Michigan and then in the NFL for over a decade before entering the college coaching ranks, first with FCS San Diego and then with Stanford, who he built up from Pac-12 bottom-feeder into a legitimate title contender. After a stint in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers (which went better than the NFL coaching experiences of most other coaches on this list such as Saban and Spurrier - making it to the playoffs in three of his four seasons and to the Super Bowl where he lost to his brother John's Ravens), he returned to his alma mater as head coach. Despite being relatively successful (winning 10 games in three of his first four years and finishing ranked inside the top 15 three times), his tenure as Wolverines head coach has been disappointing to fans as Harbaugh has yet to defeat hated rival Ohio State (with four of the losses coming in blowout fashion) and is a disappointing 1-4 in bowl games. His teams tend to play more of a "smashmouth", older-school style that wouldn't have looked out of place in Harbaugh's playing days 20-30 years ago.
  • Woody Hayes: Was the coach who put Ohio State on the map as a college football heavyweight, winning five national championships during his tenure with the school. Hayes was also known for his fiery temper (which was possibly aggravated by diabetes in his later years), and he got involved in a number of fights both on and off the field. His most infamous incident happened during the 1978 Gator Bowl against Clemson. After a Clemson defender intercepted an Ohio State pass, the defender returned it and went out of bounds along the Ohio State sideline. The defender stood up taunting the Buckeyes sideline, where Hayes punched him in the throat, triggering a bench-clearing brawl. Shortly after, Hayes attacked the referee, drawing multiple Personal Foul penalties. Hayes would be fired as head coach the next day, but would remain employed by the school for several more years as a history professor.
  • John Heisman: Was a college football pioneer, first as a player and later as a coach. He coached for eight schools, compiling a record of 186–70–18, while winning the 1917 national championship. Heisman was instrumental in the legalization of the forward pass, forever changing the game of football to what we all recognize today. He's also notable for having been the head coach of Georgia Tech for their infamous 222-0 victory over Cumberland in 1916. The Heisman Trophy, detailed above under the "Awards" section, is named after him. (Ironically, Heisman was an offensive lineman in his playing days, a position which in modern times is rarely even considered for the award.note )
  • Lou Holtz: Spent nearly 40 years as the head coach of six different schools, including most famously for Notre Dame in the late 80s and early 90s. He was also the head coach of their last National Championship team in 1988. To younger fans, Holtz is likely more famous as an analyst working alongside Mark May for ESPN's various college football shows including Scoreboard, Final, and Live. Holtz went into semi-retirement from broadcasting in 2015, though still makes occasional appearances on the network.
  • Howard Jones: Put the University of Southern California on the map as a football powerhouse. He was first a player and later coach at Yale, where he won a national championship in 1909. Four schools laternote , he went west to USC and won four more championships as head coach of the Trojans. Compiling a career record of 194–64–21, the gap between his first national championship win (1909) and his last (1939) is the longest span of any coach with at least two national championship victories.
  • Larry Kehres:note  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).
  • Mike Leach: Is the current head coach at Mississippi State and is perhaps best known for his time as head coach at Texas Tech, typically a Big 12 bottom-feeder who Leach transformed into a winning program and never experienced a losing season while with the school. Leach is credited with inventing the "Air Raid" offense while serving as an assistant coach under his mentor, Hal Mumme. Originally seen as a gimmick offense with artificially inflated passing numbers due to its pass-heavy and up-tempo nature, Leach's success caused it to proliferate throughout college football, to the point where even historically dominant schools such as USC and Oklahoma are now running some variation of it. In large part due to the influence of the Air Raid, Leach has had numerous assistant coaches, and even some of his former quarterbacks, go on to land head coaching jobs. (Most prominent is former Texas Tech QB Kliff Kingsbury, who coached at his alma mater and is currently he head coach of the NFL's Arizona Cardinals.) Despite his success at the school, Texas Tech fired Leach after he was accused of improperly treating RB Adam James who suffered a concussion. Later revelations showed that Leach may not have knowingly committed any wrongdoing, and that his firing came after significant lobbying from Adam's father, former NFL RB and then-current ESPN analyst Craig James, who was upset at his son's lack of playing time. Leach took Texas Tech to court, but being a state school, the case was dismissed on the grounds of sovereign immunity. He eventually ended up at typical Pac-12 bottom-feeder Washington State, taking them to respectability they hadn't seen since Drew Bledsoe and Ryan Leaf were there in the 1990s. After six bowl appearances in his eight seasons on the Palouse, including five straight from 2015–2019, he left for SEC mid-pack fixture Mississippi State.
  • Urban Meyer: Is the current assistant athletic director at Ohio State after serving as head coach, with prior stops at Florida, Utah, and Bowling Green. A three time national champion (once with Ohio State, twice with Florida), Meyer is credited with popularizing the "spread option" offense throughout college football. Using this offense, he led drastic turnarounds at each school where he served as head coach.
  • Les Miles: The current head coach at Kansas, which he is trying to take from doormat to respectability, but is most famous for his 11+ years at LSU, with whom he won a national title in 2007. He had continued success into the 2010s, but the rise of Nick Saban at conference (and division) rival Alabama coincided with Miles' and LSU's decline. Miles went just 3-7 against Saban, including a loss in the first ever all-SEC national championship game in 2012 (an ugly 21-0 shutout at that). Also known for his unusual habit of chewing on grass from the playing field.
  • Tom Osborne: While he wasn't the coach who turned Nebraska into a football powerhouse—that would be his predecessor Bob Devaney—Osborne took the program to even greater heights. In his 25 years as head coach of the Cornhuskers, Osborne won three national championships, finished in the AP Top 15 24 times, and never posted fewer than nine wins in a season. Well known for his I-formation option offense which emphasized a powerful rushing attack and mobile quarterbacks, his Nebraska teams frequently led the NCAA in rushing. Osborne retired from coaching in 1997 and a few years later went into politics, winning election to the U.S. House in 2000 and serving three terms. His political career ended with an unsuccessful run for governor of Nebraska, not making it out of the 2006 Republican primary. The next year, he returned to Lincoln as the Huskers' athletic director, overseeing the school's move from the Big 12 to the Big Ten during his tenure.
  • Joe Paterno: An institution at Penn State for over 60 years, arriving as an assistant in 1950 and becoming head coach in 1966, JoePa won two national titles, had five unbeaten seasons, won 24 bowl games, and amassed an FBS record of 409 career wins. However, his once-pristine image was badly tarnished in 2011 with the revelation that the school had covered up the sex crimes of former assistant Jerry Sandusky for more than a decade. He was fired during the season, died only two months later, and had all 111 wins between 1998 and his firing stricken from the record books by the NCAA, giving Bowden the record for most FBS wins. The wins were restored in January 2015, once again making him the winningest FBS coach, after it came out that the NCAA had, shall we say, bent its own rules to the breaking point in the Sandusky investigation.
  • Eddie Robinson: Started up the football program at Grambling State University, a historically black school in Louisiana, in 1941, and stayed for next 57 seasons (not counting two years without a team during World War II), retiring in 1997. Won 17 conference titles and nine black college national titles, and ended his career with 408 wins, at the time the most in college history at any level (now third behind Gagliardi and Paterno). Another one of the many national coach of the year awards bears his name.
  • 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. Rockne's 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.
  • Nick Saban: Currently the colossus of college coaching, with five national titles at Alabama since his 2007 arrival (2009, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2017). Also coached LSU to a national title in 2003, and before that enjoyed great success at Toledo and Michigan State. We will not mention his two seasons with the Miami Dolphins between LSU and Bama. Fun fact: As of the end of the 2019 season, Saban has led the Crimson Tide in 19 games in which the opposing head coach was one of his former assistants. Bama's record in these games? 19–0.
  • Bo Schembechler: Was the coach of University of Michigan during the 70s and 80s, putting the program back on the map after a few Dork Age decades in the 50s and 60s. He played under and later was an assistant coach under Woody Hayes (see above) at Miami University (OH), before the two ended up at hated rival schools. Schembechler's first 10 years at Michigan coincided with Hayes' final 10 at Ohio State, and this period is known as the "Ten-Year War". In head-to-head meetings during that period, Schembechler narrowly won the "war", compiling a 5-4-1 record against Hayes' Buckeyes. However, Schembechler was never able to win a national championship, and struggled in bowl games in general (compiling a 5-12 bowl record, including 2-8 in the coveted Rose Bowl.)
  • Mike Slive: Along with the aforementioned Jim Delany, Slive was also an administrator little-known to the general sporting public who had a huge impact on the 21st-century college sports scene. While Slive had several administrative gigs in his earlier career, including being the inaugural commissioner of two D-I leagues (the non-football Great Midwest Conference, and its successor Conference USAnote ), he truly made his mark while commissioner of the SEC from 2002 to 2015. First, he cleansed some of the stench around the SEC, telling league members who had complaints about other members' recruiting practices to take them to the league offices instead of the NCAA. The number of SEC schools facing sanctions dropped, though it's unclear whether it actually changed their practices. Next, he was the main architect of today's College Football Playoff, for better or worse. Slive had proposed a similar system as early as 2004, and thought he had the votes to get it approved in 2008. He didn't; the swing conferences of the Big East and Big 12 were opposed. But then the SEC, for want of a better term, became THE SEC, especially on the football field. The Big 12 came on board with Slive's plan in 2012, and the Big East (at least in its original form) imploded the next year, paving the way for the CFP to start in 2014. While we're on the topic of realignment, Slive was also responsible for luring Texas A&M and Missouri into the SEC in 2012, which helped pave the way for his final great accomplishment—the SEC Network. Slive, seeing the success of the Big Ten Network, saw his own opportunity to make the already ridiculously-wealthy SEC even more so, and his overtures to A&M (and to a lesser extent Mizzou) were driven by his desire to get more potential viewers. He teamed up with ESPN to bring the network to reality, and its 2014 launch was arguably the most successful for any US cable network (not just in sports!), with virtually every cable and satellite provider offering the service to viewers within the conference footprint. Retired in 2015 and passed in 2018.
  • Steve Spurrier: Was a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback at the University of Florida in the 60s and later came back as head coach during the 90s, where he won a national championship. Famous for his "run and shoot" offensenote , he is also the only Heisman-winning head coach to coach a Heisman-winning player (QB Danny Wuerffel, 1996). His time at Florida is sandwiched between two other reasonably successful head coaching stints at Duke and later South Carolina. Like Nick Saban above, it's best not to bring up his time in the NFL... He's also notable for having coached in the USFL and the AAF.
  • Amos Alonzo Stagg: Another pioneer in college football. First, while a student at Yale, he was a member of Walter Camp's very first All-America team in 1889. He then went into coaching, compiling a 314–199–35 record at three schools—most notably Chicago, where he coached for 41 seasons and won national titles in 1905 and 1913. Even after being forced out at his last head coaching job at Pacific in 1946 (at age 84), he still wasn't done with football—he served as top assistant to his son at Susquehanna, a small Pennsylvania school, for five seasons, and after that was a kicking coach for six seasons at a California junior college until finally retiring at age 96 (he finally passed at age 102 in 1965). Stagg was responsible, at least in part, for innovations such as the huddle, lateral pass, man in motion, varsity letters, and uniform numbers, and also invented some equipment, notably the tackling dummy. He was a member of the first induction class of the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951 as both a player and coach—and the only person to be inducted in both roles until the 1990s. The NCAA Division III championship game is named the Stagg Bowl in his honor.
    • Stagg's accomplishments go far beyond football. He also lived to be an inaugural member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1959—Stagg played in the first public game of basketball in 1892, a few months after James Naismith invented the sport, and was responsible for fixing the number of players per side at five. In baseball, he invented the batting cage. Stagg also has a footnote in the history of the Atomic Age—in 1942, the first controlled nuclear chain reaction was created under the west stands of the University of Chicago's abandoned football stadium: Stagg Field.
  • William "Dabo" Swinney: The head coach of Clemson which, under his leadership, has been one of the few programs (perhaps the only program) to regularly compete with Alabama under Nick Saban. Winner of the 2016 and 2018 national championships, beating Alabama in both instances. (Swinney played WR at Alabama in the early 90s.) Made the somewhat unprecedented leap from Clemson Wide Receivers Coach straight to Head Coach in 2008 after the previous coach resigned and then kept the job after salvaging Clemson's season. Got his nickname as an infant when his older brother mispronounced "that boy".

  • Joe Burrow: Was a Heisman-winning QB for LSU, winning the award in 2019 by the largest margin in history (receiving 93.8% of the possible points) after setting SEC single-season records for passing yards, passing touchdowns, and completion percentage. He started his college career at Ohio State, but transferred to LSU after failing to win the starting job in his fourth year with the school. Put an exclamation point on his season for the ages by leading the Tigers to the national title, in the process also setting all-time FBS single-season records for passing touchdowns and touchdowns responsible for (i.e., combined passing and rushing). Now with the Cincinnati Bengals, who made him the first pick in the 2020 NFL Draft and released longtime QB Andy Dalton, effectively making Burrow the starter from Day One.
  • 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.
  • Tommie Frazier: Was a record-setting option quarterback for Nebraska in the early 1990s. He went 33-3 as a starter, led his team to national championships in 1994 and 1995, and was the Heisman Trophy runner up in 95. Frazier unfortunately suffers from blood clots, causing him to go undrafted by the NFL, though he briefly spent time in the CFL.
  • Mark Harmon: Prior to his acting career, Harmon was a wishbone quarterback at UCLA.
  • Case Keenum: Was a record-shattering quarterback for the University of Houston. He is the current holder of the NCAA career records for passing touchdowns, passing yards, and completions. He is also the only quarterback in NCAA history to throw for 5000+ yards in three seasons (in fact, only two other quarterbacks have even passed for more than 4000 yards three times). Despite his college success, Keenum went undrafted but would go on to have some moderate NFL success as a journeyman spot starter.
  • Trevor Lawrence: Is a quarterback prodigy for the Clemson Tigers who took over the starting job as a true freshman and won his first 28 games with the team, including a National Championship after the 2018 season. (It is widely believed that, despite only being a true freshman, he would have been drafted #1 overall in the 2019 NFL Draft had he been eligible.) He brought Clemson back to the National Championship game in his second season, but suffered his first loss to the aforementioned Joe Burrow and his LSU team.
  • 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. He was one of the first members of the College Football Playoff Selection Committee, but took a health-related leave in the fall of 2014 and resigned from the committee the next spring, never having participated in any voting.
  • Kellen Moore: Was the quarterback of the perennial "BCS Buster" Boise State 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. Moore had a short NFL playing career and went into coaching; he's now the Dallas Cowboys' offensive coordinator.
  • 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.
  • Keenan Reynolds: The triggerman for Navy's option offense from 2012 to 2015, Reynolds is notable for a couple of reasons. First, he is arguably one of the greatest running QBs in NCAA history, notably setting an all-time FBS record for most career rushing touchdowns (88), and also holding the all-time FBS record for career scoring at 530 points (88 TDs and one two-point conversion). Second, despite holding two of the NCAA's highest-profile records, he will never be in the College Football Hall of Fame (at least under current rules). The Hall currently requires that inductees have received first-team All-America honors before being considered. In the modern game, QBs are evaluated mostly as passers, with running being a secondary factor. However, Navy's offense is heavily run-oriented (being more similar to the types of option offenses seen in the last third of the 20th century), which means that Reynolds was never able to put up the type of passing numbers that would have given him All-American notice.
  • Tim Tebow: Two-time BCS Championship-winning QB for Florida and winner of the 2007 Heisman Trophy. Another candidate for greatest running QB 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. Returned to college football as an analyst for the SEC Network; gave the NFL another try in 2015 with the Philadelphia Eagles, but was one of the last roster cuts, and is now playing minor league baseball. A 2019 ESPN program celebrating college football's 150th anniversary named him as the greatest college football QB of all time.
  • 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.
  • Felix "Doc" Blanchard & Glenn Davis: One of the most famous running duos in the sport's history, "Mr. Inside" (Blanchard) and "Mr. Outside" (Davis) played at Army from 1944 to 1946, helping the Cadetsnote  to a 27–0–1 record, with the only blemish being a famous scoreless tie against Notre Dame in 1946. They set a record for most touchdowns by a pair of teammates that lasted for over 50 years, and Davis set a record for yards per carry in a career (8.3) that stands to this day.note  Each won a Heisman Trophy, Blanchard in 1945 (the first junior to win) and Davis in 1946, and both are in the College Football Hall of Fame.
  • Reggie Bush: Was an All-American running back and return specialist for the University of Souther California during their run of dominance in the mid-2000s. He would win the Heisman Trophy in 2005 with the largest margin of victory in that award's lengthy history at the time, but would have to forfeit it (along with USC forfeiting their 2004 national championship victory) when an NCAA investigation revealed that Bush's family received over $290,000 worth of improper gifts from a sports agent. Bush was selected #2 overall in the NFL Draft in 2006 with immense hype, but would have a rather middling NFL career marred by frequent injuries.
  • Jon Cornish: Not a big name unless you're a Kansas fan... or Canadian. The Vancouver-area native saw little action in his first two seasons at Kansas, then redshirted and emerged as a two-time All-Big 12 performer. He then returned to Canada and became a huge star for the Calgary Stampeders. In 2013, he won both of the CFL's MVP awards, one for its top Canadian player and the other for its top player of any nationality, and also became one of the few football players to win the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada's top athlete across all sports. Cornish would win the CFL's award for top Canadian two more times, and also helped the Stamps win two Grey Cups. The award for the top Canadian player in NCAA football is named after him.
  • Bill Cosby: Played fullback at Temple University before dropping out to launch his stand-up comedy career.
  • Ernie Davis: Was a halfback and linebacker for Syracuse University, where he won a national championship in 1959 and the Heisman Trophy in 1961 (in one of the closest votes of all time). He was selected #1 overall in the 1962 NFL Draft by the Washington Redskins, the NFL's last segregated team who only drafted Davis because the federal government threatened to revoke their stadium lease if they didn't sign at least one black player, but Davis refused to play for them and demanded a trade, which he received to the Cleveland Browns. Unfortunately, Davis was diagnosed with leukemia and died before playing a down of professional football. His death was treated as a national tragedy, with both houses of Congress eulogizing Davis and President John F. Kennedy sending a message to be read at Davis' funeral. He is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and his high school in Elmira, New York later changed the names of its athletic teams to the Elmira Express, which was Davis' nickname.
  • 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.
  • Marcus Dupree: Was a running back for Oklahoma in the early 1980s who is best known for the being perhaps the most hyped and heavily recruited player in NCAA history. Dupree was massive (6'3, 220+) while also running a blazing 4.29 40 yard dash. After a record setting high school career, Dupree's high school coach was recieving over 100 calls a day from college coaches who were trying to recruit Dupree. Ultimately, it came down to hated rivals Texas and Oklahoma. After verbally committing to Texas, Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer sent former Sooners RB and Heisman Trophy winner Billy Sims to appeal to Dupree. This worked and Dupree committed to Oklahoma. He lived up to the hype as a freshman, setting school records and making highlight reel runs in nearly every game. However, a combination of bad attitude (his reliance on physical gifts over practice and work infuriated his college coaches, leading to an ultimate split), bad luck (injuries marred his sophomore year and derailed his pro career), and bad decisions (leaving Oklahoma, then quitting college altogether) left Dupree as a major example of What Could Have Been. Switzer later called his handling of Dupree - riding him hard out of both frustration for Dupree's lack of drive outside of game day and not quite knowing how to handle someone that young with that much talent - his most regrettable move as a head coach.
  • 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 State 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)
  • Charles "Chic" Harley: Was a legendary halfback (as well as safety, kicker, and punter) who helped to establish Ohio State as a football powerhouse in the early 20th century and, along with Red Grange, helped to popularize college football nationally. Ohio State famously only lost one game in which Harley played (being 21-1-1 during his tenure). He also took a year off from football to serve in World War I. While he was signed by the Chicago Staleys (later the Chicago Bears) to play professionally, he was unfortunately diagnosed with schizophrenia following his time in the army and would live out the remainder of his days in an army hospital. The Touchdown Club of Columbus used to give out an annual "player of the year" award which bore Harley's name. He was a charter member of the College Football Hall of Fame.
  • Paul Hornung: Was primarily a halfback but was known for his versatility, also playing quarterback, safety, kicker, punter, and return man in the 1950s at Notre Dame. Won the 1956 Heisman Trophy, becoming the only player on a losing team to ever win the award (Notre Dame was 2-8 that year) as he led his team in passing, rushing, scoring, punting, and return yardage. He is also the first player in football history to win the Heisman, be selected #1 overall in the NFL Draft (Green Bay), win NFL MVP (1961), and win a Super Bowl (I). He is a member of the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame. The annual award for the "most versatile" player in college football bears his name (though few are ever truly as versatile as Hornung).
  • Nile Kinnick: Was a halfback at the University of Iowa in the late 1930s, winning a host of awards including the 1939 Heisman Trophy. He notably turned down several contract offers from the NFL to instead attend law school, then joined the US Naval Air Reserves during World War II where he was unfortunately killed during a training flight. The University of Iowa renamed their football stadium Kinnick Stadium in his honor.
  • Bronislaw "Bronko" Nagurski: Was a legendary, Canadian-born fullback for Minnesota, who also played tackle on defense. Legend has it that he was virtually impossible to tackle 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.
  • O.J. Simpson: Heisman Trophy-winning running back at USC in 1968 before going on to a Hall of Fame career in the NFL, followed by success as an advertising pitchman and actor... before being accused of murdering his ex-wife and her male friend in 1994. He was acquitted in one of the most sensational trials of all time, but later found liable for the deaths in civil court. Simpson would later be convicted of robbery, serving nine years in Nevada state prison. All this and more made him the subject of an Oscar-winning documentary on his life.
  • Doak Walker: Was a running back (and kicker and punter) for Southern Methodist in the 1940s, winning the Heisman Trophy in 1948. The award for the nation's top RB is named after him. Is a member of both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame.
  • 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 and Tight Ends 
  • 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.
  • Desmond Howard: Was a wide receiver and return specialist at Michigan where he set numerous school records in both categories. He won the Heisman Trophy in 1991 and became known for being the first player to strike the "Heisman pose" after scoring a touchdown, which has become common among contending players in the years since. He currently serves as an analyst alongside Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit on ESPN's College GameDay.
  • John Mackey: Was a tight end for Syracuse in the early 1960s. Known for his rare combination of size and speed (relative to the era), he was a dominating receiver as well as blocker. Was drafted into the NFL and was later inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The annual award for the nation's best tight end is named after him.

     Offensive Linemen 
  • Brandon Burlsworth: Was an All-American guard for Arkansas, where he started his career as a walk-on. The award for the nation's best former walk-on player, the Burlsworth Trophy, is named after him. Unfortunately, only 11 days after being drafted into the NFL, he was killed in a car accident not far from his hometown.
  • Gerald Ford: Was a center and linebacker (he switched, as happened more often back then) for the Michigan Wolverines in the early 1930s. He was recruited by the Lions and Packers, but decided to go to law school instead, and ended up President of the United States.
  • Tommy Lee Jones: Before his acting career, he was an offensive guard at Harvard, being named first-team All-Ivy League in 1968. In that season, Jones played in perhaps the most famous game in the Harvard–Yale rivalry, in which the Crimson scored 16 points in the final minute to tie Yale 29–29.
  • Vince Lombardi: Before he became a legendary coach with the Green Bay Packers, he was a star lineman at Fordham, entering college football lore as one of the "Seven Blocks of Granite" of the Rams' heyday in the 1930s. Namesake of the Lombardi Award, originally for linemen or linebackers but now an overall player of the year award.
  • 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.
  • Dave Rimington: A two-time All-American center at Nebraska, most notable as the only two-time winner of the Outland Trophy (1981, 1982), as well as the only offensive lineman ever to be Big Eight Conference player of the year (1981). The award for college football's outstanding center bears his name.
  • John Wayne: Yes, the Duke himself was an offensive tackle at the University of Southern California and played for Howard Jones (see under "Coaches" above). In fact, it even jumpstarted his acting career as Jones was a friend of western star Tom Mix who, returning the favor for Jones providing him with tickets to USC games, hired Wayne as a prop boy and extra after Wayne broke his collarbone and lost his athletic scholarship.

     Defensive Players 
  • Chuck Bednarik: Was a linebacker and center for the University of Pennsylvania. Known by his nickname "Concrete Charlie" because he ran a concrete business in the offseason (though it also aptly applies to his hard-hitting playing style as well). Was drafted #1 overall by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1949, the only Ivy League player to ever be taken with that pick. He is a member of both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame. The annual award for the best defensive player in college football is named after him.
  • Buck Buchanan: Was a defensive tackle at Grambling State, a historically black school in Louisiana, where he was coached by the legendary Eddie Robinson (see "Coaches" above). He would go on to be drafted #1 overall in the 1963 AFL Draft, eventually becoming a member of both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame. The annual award for the top defensive player in the FCS is named after him.
  • 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.
  • Terry Crews: Prior to his acting career, Crews was a linebacker for Western Michigan.
  • 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.
  • Dwayne Johnson: Before he was a Hollywood superstar, even before his professional wrestling career, "The Rock" was a defensive lineman at the University of Miami. After a promising freshman season, Johnson lost playing time to budding superstar (and future Pro Football Hall of Famer) Warren Sapp, which helped to accelerate Johnson's jump from the gridiron to the wrestling ring.
  • Carl Weathers: Was a defensive end for San Diego State and played briefly in the NFL before retiring to focus on his acting career.
  • Charles Woodson: The only defensive player to date to receive the Heisman Trophy (winning out over Peyton Manning). This was likely due to the fact that he was occasionally inserted into the offense as a wide receiver/running back, as well as being the most dominant cornerback of his time (not to mention being the team's primary kick/punt returner). The man was essentially the Swiss Army Knife of football.

     Special Teams 
  • Lou Groza: Nicknamed "The Toe", was a kicker and offensive lineman for Ohio State in the 1940s. He joined the US Army to fight in World War II, during which he was offered a contract by legendary NFL head coach Paul Brown to join his newly formed team, the Cleveland Browns. The annual award for the best placekicker in college football is named after him.
  • 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.
  • Johnny Rodgers: Nicknamed "The Jet", Rodgers was a RB, WR, and return specialist for Nebraska in the early 1970s. He won the Heisman Trophy in 1972 and ended his college career with the most all-purpose yardage in NCAA history (since surpassed). The Jet Award is named after him and is given to the top return specialist in college football.

     Broadcasters and Analysts 
  • Lee Corso: Is most famous as a featured analyst for ESPN's College GameDay, where he has served since that program's inception in 1987. Before that, he had a rather mediocre career as a head coach for several schools and before that, was a quarterback at Florida State (where he was famously the roommate of actor Burt Reynolds). Corso is famous for his catchphrase "not so fast, my friend!", typically stated after another analyst or guest on the show gives a prediction to which Corso disagrees, as well as for "donning the headgear" of the school he predicts to win the game at the host site of College GameDay.
  • Kirk Herbstreit: Serves as Lee Corso's co-analyst on ESPN's College GameDay, a role he has been in since 1996. A former Ohio State quarterback, he typically pulls double duty as the color commentator of ESPN's Saturday night college football games, which aren't always in the same location of the GameDay site, meaning he sometimes has to fly cross-country trips in between the programs.
  • Keith Jackson: Was the voice of college football for over 50 years, ranging from the 1950s until his retirement in 2005. He was known for his deep-but-soft soothing voice, homespun phrases (including most famously "Whoa, Nelly!"), and his genuine passion for the sport. He popularized the idea of television play-by-play announcers being joined by color commentators (typically former players or coaches) during broadcasts, which was not common early in his career but has since become ubiquitous. Unfortunately, the College Football Hall of Fame does not recognize journalists or broadcasters (unlike the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which includes them in its "contributor" category), though every few years there is a push for their inclusion to recognize the contributions of people like Jackson (and sports administrators such as Jim Delany and Mike Slive). He passed away in 2018.

     Notorious Players and Coaches 
  • Art Briles: Was one of the most successful high school head coaches in Texas during the 90s before moving into the college ranks, first as the head coach of Houston and later Baylor, which he took from Big 12 bottom-feeder into a perennial contender with one of the top offenses in the NCAA. However, both the program and Briles' NCAA coaching career imploded when it was revealed that Briles conspired with local police and university officials to cover up allegations of rape and other sexual assaults by players on his team. After failing to land a job in the Canadian Football League and spending a season in the Italian Federation of American Football, Briles returned to the high school coaching ranks.
  • Bobby Collins: Was the head coach at Southern Methodist University when the school received the NCAA "death penalty" in 1987. After a number of recruiting violations dating back to the 1970s, it was revealed that SMU recruits were being paid thousands of dollars out of a "slush fund" provided by a booster in order to get them to play at the school. Collins was not directly penalized by the NCAA, but still never returned to coaching in college football in any capacity after the scandal.
  • Jerry Sandusky: Was an assistant defensive coach at Penn St. under Joe Paterno for 30 years, including as defensive coordinator for both of Paterno's national championship teams. He retired in 1999 but continued to use Penn St. facilities as part of his "The Second Mile" charity which served Pennsylvania's underprivileged and at-risk youth. In 2011, following a two-year grand jury investigation, Sandusky was arrested and charged with 52 counts of sexual abuse of young boys, most of whom participated in his charity. A follow-up report implicated Paterno and university leadership in covering up Sandusky's crimes, leading to their firings. (That report was later challenged in court and found to be "self-serving" and "full of unsupported conclusions", forcing the NCAA to restore Paterno's vacated wins and remove the remaining sanctions on the school.) Sandusky himself is now serving 30-60 years in prison for his crimes.

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Alternative Title(s): College Football


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