The 1977 college football season was one in which the top five teams all finished with records of 11-1-0. Notre Dame, which beat a #1 ranked Texas team in the Cotton Bowl Classic, became the national champion. The year 1977 was the last before NCAA's Division I was divided into I-A and I-AA. On the eve of a national playoff for the smaller programs that would be I-AA, the Sugar Bowl in 1977 became the fourth bowl game to sign a contract guaranteeing an appearance by a major conference champion. The result was that meetings between the media poll choices for the top two teams were less likely, unless those teams were in the Big Ten and Pac-8 (which met in the Rose Bowl), or one of the teams was not obligated to play in a particular bowl game.
Besides the Big 10-Pac-8 matchup in the Rose Bowl, the SWC champion played in the Cotton Bowl Classic, the Big 8 titlist in the Orange Bowl, and the SEC champ in the Sugar Bowl. Top teams that had their choice of which bowl to play were either in a conference outside of the five major powers (such as the ACC or the WAC) or those that were "independent" (not affiliated with any conference), During the 20th Century, the NCAA had no playoff for the college football teams that would later be described as "Division I-A". The NCAA Football Guide, however, did note an "unofficial national champion" based on the top ranked teams in the "wire service" (AP and UPI) polls. The "writers' poll" by Associated Press (AP) was the most popular, followed by the "coaches' poll" by United Press International) (UPI). The AP poll consisted of the votes of as many as 64 writers, though not all voted in each poll, and the UPI poll was taken of a 42 member board of coaches.
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