The AP poll in 1965 consisted of the votes of 55 sportswriters, each of whom would give their opinion of the ten best teams. Under a point system of ten points for first place, nine for second, etc., the "overall" ranking was determined. In the preseason poll for 1965, the writers cast first place votes for nine different teams, and the range of points between the highest six finishers ranged from 252 to 311 points. Nebraska was first, followed by Texas, Notre Dame, Michigan, Alabama, and Arkansas. As the regular season progressed, new polls were issued weekly on Mondays.
At season's end, Michigan State, Arkansas, and Nebraska were all unbeaten at 10–0. As champions of their respective conferences (Big Ten, Southwest, and Big Eight), they played in three separate bowl games (Rose, Cotton, and Orange) on New Year's Day. Arkansas and Michigan State lost during the day, and Alabama defeated Nebraska at night in Miami. In the final poll, taken after the bowls, Alabama was crowned the national champion by the Associated Press. The Crimson Tide had been first in both final polls at the end of the 1964 regular season and crowned as national champions, but lost the Orange Bowl.
In addition to 1964 and 1965, the UPI national champions in 1970 and 1973 also lost their respective bowl games. Beginning with the 1974 season, the UPI released its final poll after the bowls.
In Week One (September 18) Alabama and USC both fell out of the Top Ten. USC played Minnesota to a 20–20 tie on a Friday night game in Los Angeles while No. 5 Alabama narrowly lost to Georgia, 18–17.
No. 1 Nebraska beat Texas Christian (TCU) at home, 34–14. No. 2 Texas shut out Tulane 31–0 in a game which was shifted from New Orleans to Austin due to the devastation of Hurricane Betsy across the Crescent City. No. 3 Notre Dame crushed California 48–6 at Berkeley, and No. 4 Michigan won 31–24 at North Carolina. Following the 48–6 win, Notre Dame rose to No. 1 in the next poll, Nebraska and Texas fell to 2nd and 3rd, Michigan stayed at fourth and Arkansas (which had beaten Oklahoma State 28–14) was fifth. Michigan State defeated UCLA 13–3 at East Lansing and was seventh.
On September 25, No. 1 Notre Dame stayed in Indiana as it lost to No. 6 Purdue 25–21 at West Lafayette. No. 2 Nebraska won 27–17 over Air Force in Colorado Springs, and No. 3 Texas beat Texas Tech 33–7. No. 4 Michigan barely won over unranked California 10–7 and No. 5 Arkansas 20–12 defeated Tulsa. In next poll, Texas, Purdue and Nebraska had had 15, 14 and 13 first place votes in a tight race for No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3. Arkansas rose to fourth, while the LSU Tigers, coming from a 42–14 win over Rice, placed fifth. Michigan State rose to sixth, while Michigan and Notre Dame fell to seventh and eighth place respectively.
October 2, No. 1 Texas hosted Indiana and won 27–12; Purdue played SMU to a 14–14 tie in Dallas. No. 3 Nebraska shut out Iowa State 44–0, while No. 4 Arkansas blanked TCU 28–0. In an SEC matchup at Gainesville, visiting No. 5 LSU fell to the Florida Gators 14–7. No. 10 Georgia beat No. 7 Michigan 15–7 in Ann Arbor and climbed into the top five, while Michigan State beat Illinois at home, 22–12. The next poll was 1.Texas 2.Nebraska 3.Arkansas 4.Georgia and 5.Michigan State
In October 9 play, all five of the top teams remained unbeaten. No. 1 Texas shut out Oklahoma, 19–0 at Dallas. No. 2 Nebraska held visiting Wisconsin scoreless 37–0. No. 3 Arkansas won at Baylor 38–7 and No. 4 Georgia beat Clemson at home, 23–9. No. 5 Michigan State followed Georgia's visit to Ann Arbor with one of its own, beating Michigan 24–7. The Spartans and Bulldogs traded places in the next poll, which was 1.Texas 2.Nebraska 3.Arkansas 4.Michigan State 5.Georgia
On October 16 the No. 1 Texas met the No. 3 Arkansas at Fayetteville in a Southwest Conference matchup between the two 4–0 teams and Arkansas won, 27–24. Meanwhile, No. 2 Nebraska recorded its third straight shutout, a 41–0 win at Kansas State. In a game that ultimately decided the Big Ten title, No. 4 Michigan State beat Ohio State 32–7, and No. 5 Georgia lost 10–3 to Florida State at Tallahassee. Arkansas was the new No. 1 in the poll that followed, followed by Michigan State and Nebraska. The USC Trojans, who had beaten Stanford 14–0 and remained unbeaten (4–0–1) were No. 4 while Texas dropped from first to fifth.
October 23: The No. 1 Arkansas defeated North Texas State 55–20 at Little Rock, No. 2 Michigan State won 14–10 at Purdue, and No. 3 Nebraska beat Colorado 38–13. No. 4 USC fell 28–7 to No. 7 Notre Dame at South Bend, and No. 5 Texas lost its second straight game, falling 20–17 to Rice. After its 4–0 start, the Longhorns finished the season at 6–4. In the next poll, Michigan State received fewer first place votes than Arkansas, but had seven more points overall, 473–466, while Nebraska was third. The three teams were the last to remain unbeaten, all with 6–0 records. Notre Dame was fourth, and LSU, 5–1 after beating South Carolina 21–7, rose from ninth to fifth.
October 30 No. 1 Michigan State overwhelmed Northwestern 49–7 at home in East Lansing. Playing in Little Rock, No. 2 Arkansas shut out Texas A&M 31–0. No. 3 Nebraska won a close one, 16–14, at Missouri and No. 4 Notre Dame won 29–3 over Navy. No. 5 LSU was shut out at home by Mississippi, 23–0. Meanwhile, No. 10 Alabama beat Mississippi State 10–7 at Jackson to take LSU's place at No. 5. The top four stayed the same: 1.Michigan State 2.Arkansas 3.Nebraska 4.Notre Dame 5.Alabama.
On November 6, No. 1 Michigan State won 35–0 win at Iowa, No. 2 Arkansas won 31–0 at Rice, and No. 3 Nebraska won 42–6 over Kansas. All three remained unbeaten, with 8–0 records. No. 4 Notre Dame rolled over host Pittsburgh 69–13, and No. 5 Alabama won 31–7 at LSU to take the SEC title.
November 13 The top three extended their records to 9–0. No. 1 Michigan State beat Indiana 27–13 to guarantee itself the Big Ten title and the trip to Pasadena. No. 2 Arkansas beat SMU 24–3 at Dallas, with only one game left in SWC play, a match against second place Texas Tech. No. 3 Nebraska had a surprisingly difficult game against 1–6 Oklahoma State, winning 21–17 at Stillwater. No. 4 Notre Dame shut out visiting North Carolina, 17–0, and No. 5 Alabama beat South Carolina 35–14 at home.
November 20: With its Big Ten title assured, No. 1 Michigan State visited its most difficult opponent yet, No. 4 Notre Dame, with hopes of finishing its season unbeaten. The Spartans won, 12–3. Though unbeaten, No. 2 Arkansas was only a game ahead of SWC rival Texas Tech (6–0 vs. 5–1) in conference play. The two met at Arkansas, and the Razorbacks beat the Red Raiders 42–24 to get a spot in the Cotton Bowl. In Los Angeles, No. 7 UCLA beat No. 6 USC 20–16 to win the AAWU (Pac-8) title and the right to meet Michigan State in the Rose Bowl. Unranked LSU destroyed Tulane 62–0 (the third time in the past eight meetings the Tigers defeated the Green Wave by that score) and earned the berth in the Cotton Bowl opposite Arkansas.
Thanksgiving Day, No. 3 Nebraska beat Oklahoma at home in Lincoln, 21–9 to gain the Big 8 title and the Orange Bowl spot. No. 5 Alabama and Auburn University both met in their annual season closer at Birmingham on Saturday and the Crimson Tide beat the Tigers 30–3.
On the following December 4 No. 4 UCLA lost to Tennessee 37–34 in a game marred by a questionable pass interference call and the clock stopping for no apparent reason during Tennessee's last minute drive. The next AP poll was 1.Michigan State 2.Arkansas 3.Nebraska 4.Alabama and 5.Tennessee. For the first time, the Associated Press made plans to take its final poll after the bowl games, as its top six teams were all playing on New Year's Day.
† South Carolina forfeited its 4 conference wins (Clemson, NC State, Virginia, Wake Forest) due to an ineligible player. This moved Clemson and NC State to 5–2, making them co-champions. Overall records do not reflect this. Duke and South Carolina were originally co-champions with records of 4–2.
The top three teams in the polls were upset, starting with LSU's 14–7 win over No. 2 Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl. Then came an even bigger stunner, as 13-point underdog UCLA bested top-ranked Michigan State in the Rose Bowl, 14–12. Trailing by eight points, Michigan State scored a touchdown in the final minute but the two-point conversion attempt to tie was stopped just short of the goal line. With the top two teams defeated, the Orange Bowl game that night between No. 3 Nebraska and No. 4 Alabama would determine the national champion. Alabama, led by QB Steve Sloan, beat Nebraska 39–28 to claim the national title. The final AP poll, released three days after the bowls, was No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Michigan State, No. 3 Arkansas, No. 4 UCLA, and No. 5 Nebraska.