1986 NCAA Division I-A football season

Last updated
1986 NCAA Division I-A season
Number of teams105 [1]
Preseason AP No. 1 Oklahoma [2]
Bowl games 18
Heisman Trophy Vinny Testaverde (quarterback, Miami (FL))
Champion(s) Pennsylvania State (AP, Coaches, FWAA)
Division I-A football seasons

The 1986 NCAA Division I-A football season ended with Penn State winning the national championship. Coached by Joe Paterno, they defeated Miami (Fl) 14–10 in the Fiesta Bowl. This Fiesta Bowl was the first in the game's history to decide the national championship, launching it into the top tier of bowls.


Miami came into the game No. 1 and Penn State No. 2. In a move that would come to symbolize the game for years to come, Miami arrived wearing combat fatigues while Penn State arrived wearing suits and ties.

Despite all the hype surrounding Miami, Penn State's defense harassed and harried Heisman trophy winner Vinny Testaverde throughout the Fiesta Bowl. The Hurricanes committed seven turnovers, including five interceptions thrown by Testaverde – the last of which, in the end zone with 18 seconds left, won the game for the Nittany Lions.

Conference and program changes

School1985 Conference1986 Conference
Northern Illinois Huskies MAC I-A Independent
Tulsa Golden Hurricane Missouri Valley I-A Independent
Wichita State Shockers Missouri Valley I-A Independent

Rule changes

Conference standings

1986 Atlantic Coast Conference football standings
Conf  Overall
TeamW L T  W L T
No. 17 Clemson $511  822
NC State 520  831
North Carolina 520  741
Georgia Tech 330  551
Maryland 231  551
Wake Forest 250  560
Duke 250  470
Virginia 250  380
  • $ Conference champion
Rankings from AP Poll
1986 Big Eight Conference football standings
Conf  Overall
TeamW L T  W L T
No. 3 Oklahoma $700  1110
Colorado 610  660
No. 5 Nebraska 520  1020
Oklahoma State 430  650
Iowa State 340  650
Missouri 250  380
Kansas State 160  290
Kansas 070  380
  • $ Conference champion
Rankings from AP Poll
1986 Big Ten Conference football standings
Conf  Overall
TeamW L T  W L T
No. 8 Michigan +710  1120
No. 7 Ohio State +710  1030
No. 16 Iowa 530  930
Minnesota 530  660
Michigan State 440  650
Indiana 350  660
Illinois 350  470
Northwestern 260  470
Purdue 260  380
Wisconsin 260  390
  • + Conference co-champions
Rankings from AP Poll
1986 Mid-American Conference football standings
Conf  Overall
TeamW L T  W L T
Miami $620  840
Toledo 530  740
Bowling Green 530  560
Kent State 530  560
Ball State 440  650
Eastern Michigan 440  650
Central Michigan 440  550
Western Michigan 350  380
Ohio 080  1100
  • $ Conference champion
1986 Pacific Coast Athletic Association football standings
Conf  Overall
TeamW L T  W L T
San Jose State $700  1020
Fresno State 610  920
Long Beach State 430  650
UNLV 340  650
Utah State 340  380
Pacific (CA) 250  470
Cal State Fullerton 250  390
New Mexico State 160  1100
  • $ Conference champion
1986 Pacific-10 Conference football standings
Conf  Overall
TeamW L T  W L T
No. 4 Arizona State $511  1011
No. 14 UCLA 521  831
No. 18 Washington 521  831
No. 11 Arizona 530  930
Stanford 530  840
USC 530  750
Oregon 350  560
Washington State 261  371
California 270  290
Oregon State 160  380
  • $ Conference champion
Rankings from AP Poll
1986 Southeastern Conference football standings
Conf  Overall
TeamW L T  W L T
No. 10 LSU $510  930
No. 6 Auburn 420  1020
No. 9 Alabama 420  1030
Georgia 420  840
Ole Miss 420  831
Tennessee 330  750
Mississippi State 240  650
Kentucky 240  551
Florida 240  650
Vanderbilt 060  1100
  • $ Conference champion
Rankings from AP Poll
1986 Southwest Conference football standings
Conf  Overall
TeamW L T  W L T
No. 13 Texas A&M $710  930
No. 15 Arkansas 620  930
No. 12 Baylor 620  930
Texas Tech 530  750
SMU 530  650
Texas 440  560
Rice 260  470
TCU 170  380
Houston 080  1100
  • $ Conference champion
Rankings from AP Poll
1986 Western Athletic Conference football standings
Conf  Overall
TeamW L T  W L T
San Diego State $710  840
BYU 620  850
Air Force 520  650
Hawaii 440  750
Colorado State 440  650
Wyoming 440  660
New Mexico 250  480
UTEP 260  480
Utah 170  290
  • $ Conference champion
1986 NCAA Division I-A independents football records
Conf  Overall
TeamW L T  W L T
No. 1 Penn State      1200
No. 2 Miami (FL)      1110
No. 20 Virginia Tech      921
No. 19 Boston College      930
Tulsa      740
Florida State      741
Army      650
Southwestern Louisiana      650
Southern Miss      650
Temple      650
Pittsburgh      551
Rutgers      551
Cincinnati      560
Notre Dame      560
Syracuse      560
South Carolina      362
Tulane      470
West Virginia      470
Louisville      380
Navy      380
Wichita State      380
East Carolina      290
Northern Illinois      290
Memphis State      1100
Rankings from AP Poll

Key matchups and upsets

Oklahoma and Michigan began the season at No. 1 and No. 2. A 28–16 defeat of Oklahoma by Miami on September 27 pushed the Hurricanes into the No. 1 ranking and ultimately proved the spoiler for the Sooners, who finished the 1986 season ranked first in all four major defensive statistical categories – a feat not to be duplicated until 2012, by Alabama. The Crimson Tide moved into the number 2 spot following the Sooners' loss. Probably the strongest case for Penn State was a defeat of the well-regarded, then-No. 2 ranked Alabama squad by a score of 23–3, at Tuscaloosa on October 26. [3] This pushed Penn State into the number two spot. Otherwise, both Miami and Penn State had a number of teams on their schedule that were not strong opponents. [4] Michigan defeated Iowa in a rematch of the previous season's No. 1 vs No. 2 game. Three games later, Michigan was number 2 and undefeated after Penn State fell in the rankings following a 17–15 close win to Maryland.

Arizona State Sun Devils quarterback Jeff Van Raaphorst threw five interceptions in a 21–21 tie with Washington State [5] ASU's 16–9 win over the UCLA Bruins in the Rose Bowl stadium on October 4 would later prove to be the deciding game in the conference. The Sun Devils beat both USC and UCLA in Los Angeles, the first Pacific-10 conference team to do so. The Sun Devils defeated outgoing coach Joe Kapp's California Golden Bears team 49–0. Kapp had unzipped his pants in front of the Seattle media following an embarrassing 50–18 loss against Washington on October 4. [5] The win over Cal, combined with the UCLA loss to Stanford, enabled the Sun Devils to clinch the Rose Bowl Berth on November 8. [5] The early clinching of the Rose Bowl bid for Arizona State began a scramble for all the Bowl games to confirm teams before the bids were to be extended on November 22.

The Michigan Wolverines football team began the season ranked number 2 in the nation. A No. 1 vs No. 2 matchup the previous season between Iowa and Michigan had decided the race for the 1986 Rose Bowl; in the 1986 rematch, the Wolverines defeated Iowa 20–17. Minnesota, a 25–point underdog to number two ranked Michigan, was regarded as being likely to provide an easy victory for the Wolverines in the November 15 game at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor; [6] the Gophers had not defeated the Wolverines since 1977. With two minutes to go, Michigan scored a touchdown to tie the game at 17. On the ensuing Minnesota possession, quarterback Rickey Foggie scrambled to put Chip Lohmiller in field goal position; Lohmiller connected for a 20–17 Gophers victory. [6] The Gophers took home the Little Brown Jug from Michigan for the first time since 1962. The Wolverines fell to No. 6 and then faced arch rival Ohio State for the right to play in the Rose Bowl. Jim Harbaugh guaranteed a Michigan Victory over Ohio State. "We don't care where we play the game", said the senior quarterback early in the week. "I hate to say it, but we could play it in the parking lot. We could play the game at 12 noon or midnight. We're going to be jacked up." [7] The Wolverines won 26–24.

No. 1 and No. 2 Progress

WEEKSNo. 1No. 2Event
PRE Oklahoma Michigan Miami 23, Florida 15Sep 6
1-3OklahomaMiamiMiami 28, Oklahoma 16Sep 27
4-7Miami Alabama Penn State 23, Alabama 3Oct 25
8-9MiamiPenn StatePenn State 17, Maryland 15Nov 8
10MiamiMichigan Minnesota 20, Michigan 17Nov 15
11-13MiamiPenn StatePenn State 14, Miami 10Jan 2

Notable rivalry games

Arkansas' victory over Texas was the Razorbacks' first win in Austin since 1966.

Bowl games

With Arizona State having clinched the Rose Bowl berth on November 8, and the Fiesta Bowl and Citrus Bowl scrambling to bid for the No. 1 Miami (Florida) vs. No. 2 Penn State Game, the Cotton Bowl struck an agreement to take the loser of the Michigan-Ohio State game. [7] All the bowl games attempted to line up participants before the official bids were extended on November 22. The Sugar Bowl agreed to take the loser of the Oklahoma-Nebraska game to match the SEC winner, and the Orange Bowl agreed to take the second place SWC team to match the Big 8 winner. The Citrus Bowl, which moved to January 1, got a second place SEC team in Auburn, and, what they hoped would be a good matchup, in 7–2 USC. The Trojans would lose to UCLA and Notre Dame after they were invited.

Other bowls


Final AP Poll

  1. Penn State
  2. Miami (FL)
  3. Oklahoma
  4. Arizona State
  5. Nebraska
  6. Auburn
  7. Ohio State
  8. Michigan
  9. Alabama
  10. LSU
  11. Arizona
  12. Baylor
  13. Texas A&M
  14. UCLA
  15. Arkansas
  16. Iowa
  17. Clemson
  18. Washington
  19. Boston College
  20. Virginia Tech

Final Coaches Poll

  1. Penn State
  2. Miami (FL)
  3. Oklahoma
  4. Nebraska
  5. Arizona St.
  6. Ohio St.
  7. Michigan
  8. Auburn
  9. Alabama
  10. Arizona
  11. LSU
  12. Texas A&M
  13. Baylor
  14. UCLA
  15. Iowa
  16. Arkansas
  17. Washington
  18. Boston College
  19. Clemson
  20. Florida St.


Heisman Trophy

  1. Winner: Vinny Testaverde, Miami (Fl), Sr. QB
  2. Paul Palmer, Temple, Sr. TB
  3. Jim Harbaugh, Michigan, Sr. QB
  4. Brian Bosworth, Oklahoma, Sr. LB
  5. Gordie Lockbaum, Holy Cross, Jr. TB

Other major awards

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  1. "1986 NCAA Division IA Football Power Ratings". Jhowell.net. 1999-05-11. Retrieved 2012-08-03.
  2. "1986 Preseason Football Polls - College Poll Archive - Historical College Football and Basketball Polls and Rankings". College Poll Archive. Retrieved 2012-08-03.
  3. Looney, Douglas S. – A Midseason Run For Respect. Penn State made believers out of 'Bama and gave two minor bowls major hopes for New Year's Day. Sports Illustrated, November 3, 1986.
  4. Reilly, Rick – It Only Hurts For A Little While. Just ask Cincinnati or any number of other college football have-nots who, week after week, are willing to serve as fodder for powerhouses like Miami and Penn State, most of whom have discovered that a prerequisite for a trip to the top of the polls—and into a major bowl game—is a cream-puff schedule. Sports Illustrated, November 24, 1986
  5. 1 2 3 Reilly, Rick – Coming Out Of The Desert Darkness With The Sun Devils. Sports Illustrated, November 17, 1986
  6. 1 2 Neff, Craig – Bo Tries On A Tie, Gets A Boot. Sports Illustrated, November 24, 1986
  7. 1 2 Hersch, Hank – Short On Style, But Plenty Long On Substance. Sports Illustrated, December 1, 1986