Dorsett was a college football running back at the University of Pittsburgh, and helped lead them to a national title in 1976, picking up the Heisman Trophy, the Maxwell Award, the Walter Camp Award (Player of the Year), and the UPI Player of the Year along the way as he led the nation in rushing with 1,948 yards. He was a three-time First-team All-American (1973, 1975, 1976) and a Second-team All-American in 1974 by UPI and NEA. Dorsett finished his college career with 6,082 total rushing yards, then an NCAA record. This would stand as the record until it was surpassed by Ricky Williams in 1998.
Tony Dorsett's point total of 2,357 was second only to O.J. Simpson's 2,853 in 1968. Dorsett registered a 1,011-point margin of victory over Southern Cal's Ricky Bell, whose 1,346 total would have been high enough to win in several years. In what was primarily a two-man race, Dorsett and Bell finished one-two in all five sections.
Dorsett is considered one of the greatest running backs in college football history. In 2007, he was ranked #7 on ESPN's Top 25 Players In College Football History list.
In the first game of the 1976 season, the Panthers faced off against Notre Dame in Notre Dame, Indiana. Dorsett finished with a total of 290 yards. A year earlier, Dorsett had finished with 303 yards rushing in Pitt's 34-20 victory over the Irish. "They even grew the grass high" said Carmen DeArdo, a diehard Pitt alumnus, "and everyone knew Tony would get the ball." "They didn't let that grass grow long enough," Dorsett said later. He darted 61 yards on his first run of the season and tacked on 120 more by the end of the 31-10 Pitt win.