College Football Bowl Games: Your Grandpa's Bowl Games, 50 Years Ago (1961-62)

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College Football Bowl Games: Your Grandpa's Bowl Games, 50 Years Ago (1961-62)
Heisman winner Ernie Davis (left) met President Kennedy (center).

Fifty years ago, bowl games were more meaningful.

They were scarcer. While the number of FBS (I-A) programs today is actually somewhat smaller than the number of eligible football programs 50 years ago, there are almost three times as many bowl games (12 in 1961-62; 35 in 2011-12).

In my previous article, I examined the bowl season of 1986-87; by doing so, I intended to convey to today's college undergraduates (few of whom have any memory of top-tier college football before the Bowl Championship Series (BCS), much less of a Big Ten with exactly 10 member schools) what the college football landscape—especially that of the the postseason—looked like when their fathers were undergraduates (or thereabouts).

In this article, I look to the college football postseason of 50 years ago—two generations (approximately)—when the grandfathers of today's undergraduates were of college age (or thereabouts).

The 1986-87 season marked a major threshold in the college football postseason; specifically, the beginnings of what was to become the BCS. It also planted the seeds for the proliferation of bowl games, for conference expansion and for the disappearance of independents.

1961-62 was not a major threshold in that sense, but it still can be considered a watershed year for three reasons:

1. Syracuse running back Ernie Davis (pictured above meeting President John F. Kennedy) becomes the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy.


2. Ohio State's faculty council turns down the Buckeyes' invitation to the Rose Bowl.


3. Bear Bryant wins his first "national championship" at Alabama; this was also the Crimson Tide's first consensus major poll (AP, 1936-present; UPI/coaches, 1950-present) "national championship."

Other things of note:

TCU, though it finished with a losing record, played spoiler, tying Ohio State and beating Texas. The Horned frogs also beat bowl-bound Kansas, and lost to four other bowl-bound teams: Rice, Baylor, Arkansas, and UCLA.

Most schools played regular season schedules of 10 games, though the Big Ten, MAC, Ivy and some independents played nine-game regular season schedules.

The AP and UPI named their national champions before the bowl games, at the end of the regular season. The AP would continue to do so until the 1968-69 season (with the exception of 1965-66); UPI would continue to do so until the 1974-75 season.

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