The final wire-service polls yesterday made official what Georgia had made inevitable Thursday with its 17-10 Sugar Bowl victory over Notre Dame: the Bulldogs are the 1980 champions of college football.
Finishing with the only perfect, 12-0 record among Division 1-A teams, Georgia completed one of football's more unlikely Cinderella stories by winning its first national championship in 89 years of intercollegiate competition in the sport.
The Bulldogs received 58 1/2 first-place votes from the 65 writers voting in The Associated Press poll to finish with 1,251 points, well ahead of second-place Pittsburgh, which received 3 1/2 first-place votes and had 1,187 points. Georgia receive 36 of 40 first-place votes in the UPI coaches' poll, with Pittsburgh getting three votes and fourth-place Michigan one.
The two polls were identical in positions one through eight, and included 19 of the same squads. The teams not included in both polls were Florida, which finished 19th in UPI's poll and Mississippi State, 19th in AP.
Pittsburgh's Panthers (11-1), finishing in the nation's top six for the third time in Jackie Sherrill's four years as coach, ended their season with an impressive, 37-9 victory over South Carolina in the Gator Bowl.
Oklahoma (10-2), which finished third for a third consecutive season, received one AP first-place vote, as did fourth-place Michigan (10-2) and fifth-place Florida State (10-2). Oklahoma won its last eight games after a 2-2 start, finsihing with an 18-17 Orange Bowl victory over Florida State, knocking the Seminoles out of the second spot. It was still FSU's highest finish ever. Michigan also started slowly, losing to Notre Dame and South Carolina during the first three weeks of the season, but came on to win nine in a row, including a 23-6 domination of Washington in the Rose Bowl, Coach Bo Schembechler's first bowl win in eight tries.
Alabama (10-2), the national champion a year ago, finished sixth this year after whipping Baylor, 30-2, in the Cotton Bowl, and Nebraska (10-2) was seventh. Penn State, rebounding from a controversy-filled, 8-4 1979 season, was eighth in the AP poll after completing a 10-2 season with a 31-19 upset of Ohio State in the Fiestal Bowl. Notre Dame (9-2-1 afrer a 7-0 start that put the Irish in the top spot for one week, was ninth in AP, 10th in UPI, while North Carolina (11-1), after its 16-7 Bluebonnet Bowl victory over Texas, was 10th in AP and ninth in UPI, the only Atlantic Coast Conference team that merited a top 20 spot.
Southern California (8-2-1), ineligible for bowl play because of Pacific-10 sanctions, was 11th in the final AP poll, followed by Brigham Young (12-1); UCLA (9-2 and also on Pac-10 probation); Baylor (10-2); Ohio State (9-3), the team picked No. 1 in both preseason polls; Washington (9-3); Purdue (9-3); Miami (Fla.) (9-3); Mississippi State (9-3) and Southern Methodist (8-4).
The UPI poll had Brigham Young ahead of Southern California; Baylor flip-flopped with UCLA; Purdue and Washington switched in 16th and 17th, and Florida, 8-4 after an 0-10-1 record in 1979, in Mississippi State's 19th spot.
But the story of the final polls, as it has been the last two months of the season, was Georgia. The Bulldogs were picked 15th in the preseason AP poll after a disappointing 6-5 1979 season, a year in which they were picked fifth in preseason polls only to fade quickly from sight.
But after the conclusion of that disastrous season, Georgia Coach Vince Dooley won perhaps the most important battle of his 17-year career at Georgia when he wrested a 6-foot-1, 218-pound Wrightsville, Ga., teen-ager named Herschel Walker away from Southern California in a recruiting war so intense that the NCAA sent investigators to the schools Walker visited.
Walker quickly made Dooley's preseason prediction, that it would be a year before he became a major contributor, look silly, coming off the bench to lead a second-half comeback from a 15-0 deficit against Tennessee that ended with Georgia winning, 16-15. From there, Walker rolled and the Bulldogs tagged along. They survived a tough, 13-10 game with South Carolina when Heisman Trophy-winner George Rogers fumbled at the Georgia 10 late in the fourth quarter. They escaped Florida, 26-21, on a miraculous 93-yard Buck Belue-to-Lindsay Scott pass with 1:29 left in the game. Then, they wrapped up the national title Thursday even though they were outgained by Notre Dame, 328 yards to 127, using two crucial turnovers and 150 yards and two touchdowns from Walker to culminate their season.
Pittsburgh and Oklahoma were the only members of the preseason top five to finish there, as Ohio State, Alabama and Southern California all ran into problems. The Buckeyes were probably the season's biggest disappointment, scoring only three points in losses at home to UCLA and Michigan after going 11-1 a year ago.
Houston and Texas and Arkansas all top 10 teams in preseason, failed to crack the top 20 as all three finished with disappointing 7-5 records. Maryland was unranked for the fourth consecutive season.
The major suprises outside of Georgia were Miami, Mississippi State, Baylor and SMU, all of which revived sagging programs to reach bowl games this season.