|1990 NCAA Division I-A season|
|Number of teams||106|
|Preseason AP No. 1||Miami (FL)|
|Duration||December 8, 1990 – |
January 1, 1991
|AP Poll No. 1||Colorado|
|Coaches Poll No. 1||Georgia Tech|
|Heisman Trophy||Ty Detmer (quarterback, BYU)|
|Champion(s)|| Colorado (AP, FWAA) |
Georgia Tech (Coaches)
|Division I-A football seasons|
The 1990 NCAA Division I-A football season ended with a split national championship and the ensuing controversy helped lead to the creation of the Bowl Coalition, a precursor to the Bowl Championship Series. The national title was split between the Colorado Buffaloes and the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. The Buffaloes (11–1–1) took the AP poll while the Yellow Jackets (11–0–1) took the UPI Coaches poll by one vote over Colorado, 847 to 846. During the season Colorado had a particularly controversial victory over Missouri in what would later be known as the "Fifth Down Game".
|2||Georgia Tech (20)||11–0–1||1,441|
|3||Miami (FL) (1)||10–2–0||1,388|
The Heisman is given to the Most Outstanding Player of the year
|WEEKS||No. 1||No. 2||Event|
|PRE-1||Miami||Notre Dame||BYU 28, Miami 21||Sep 8|
|2||Notre Dame||Auburn||Florida St 48, Ga. Southern 6||Sep 15|
|3–5||Notre Dame||Florida State||Stanford 36, Notre Dame 31||Oct 6|
|6||Michigan||Virginia||Michigan St. 28, Michigan 27||Oct 13|
|7||Virginia||Miami||Notre Dame 29, Miami 20||Oct 20|
|8||Virginia||Auburn||Auburn 17, Miss. St. 16||Oct 27|
|9||Virginia||Notre Dame||Georgia Tech 41, Virginia 38||Nov 3|
|10||Notre Dame||Washington||UCLA 25, Washington 22||Nov 10|
|11||Notre Dame||Colorado||Penn State 24, Notre Dame 21||Nov 17|
|12||Colorado||Miami||Miami 33, Syracuse 7||Nov 24|
|13–14||Colorado||Georgia Tech||End regular season|
Voters were divided in the first poll of the 1990 college football season. The first rankings reflected the lack of consensus for a number one.
Each of the top five teams received at least three first-place votes in the initial poll. The season opening game was the Disneyland Classic between the Colorado Buffaloes and the Tennessee Volunteers in Anaheim, California. The game ended in an exciting 31–31 tie, keeping both teams alive for the national championship.
Although the first game was played on August 26, 1990, the first regular season poll was not released until September 4. Polls in 1990 were released on the Tuesday after the game.
There was little movement in the polls as most teams either played against non-competitive foes or did not begin the season until September 8. The only significant drop was Colorado, who fell from No. 5 to No. 6 with a 31–31 tie with No. 8 Tennessee in the first ever Pigskin Classic, played at Anaheim Stadium.
The most significant game and slight upset of week two came in Provo, Utah, where the No. 16 BYU Cougars, led by 1990 Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer, held off the defending champion, No. 1 ranked Miami Hurricanes, 28–21. A comeback by No. 6 Colorado staved off defeat against unranked Stanford, 17–14. The pollsters remained unimpressed by Colorado, dropping them to No. 9 despite the win. The Gene Stallings era began for the No. 13 Alabama Crimson Tide with a loss to the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles, 27–24, quarterbacked by Brett Favre; the Tide opened their season with 3 straight losses. The Steve Spurrier era also began at the University of Florida. In Charlottesville, the No. 14 Virginia Cavaliers beat No. 9 Clemson in what was viewed as an upset. It was Virginia's first win ever over the Tigers, after 29 consecutive losses since their first meeting in 1955. The top five teams for the week ending September 8 were: Notre Dame, Auburn, Florida State, Michigan, and BYU.
The most important game of week three was a top five match-up of No. 1 Notre Dame against No. 4 Michigan. In an exciting game, the Fighting Irish prevailed, 28–24, to remain No. 1. The other game that would have season long significance was (No. 21) Illinois' upset of (No.9) Colorado, 23–22. The game would figure prominently in the national championship argument in January. Steve Spurrier also won his SEC debut, with his No. 24 Florida team besting the Alabama Crimson Tide, 17–13. While No. 2 Auburn and No. 3 Florida State both won, the Seminole's 48–6 win over Georgia Southern brought it to No. 2 in the polls. At the close of the week, the top five teams were: Notre Dame, Florida State, Auburn, BYU, and USC. Climbing into the top ten was Virginia with a 3–0 record.
The game to watch was Notre Dame trying to keep its top ranking in the polls. The No. 1 Fighting Irish had yet another tough game, as they prevailed against No. 24 Michigan State, on the road, 20–19. No. 5 USC had a horrible game, as they were blown out by No. 21 Washington, 31–0. No. 20 ranked Colorado gained another win against No. 22 Texas, 29–22, but the win did not improve their ranking. By the next poll, the top five teams were: Notre Dame, Florida State, Auburn, BYU, and Tennessee. Virginia was still going up in the polls, ranking No. 7.
There wasn't as much poll action as last week, but the surprise was when No. 20 Colorado beat No. 12 Washington, 20–14. The tie between No. 3 Auburn and No. 5 Tennessee, 26–26, caused their rankings to go down slightly. Top ranked Notre Dame kept their top ranking for at least one more week after topping Purdue, 37–11. The top five teams on the October 1 poll were: Notre Dame, Florida State, Michigan, Virginia, and Auburn.
The most controversial game of the season—and one of the most controversial of all-time—occurred in Columbia, Missouri, where No. 12 Colorado beat Missouri on a last minute lunge by back-up quarterback Charles Johnson. The problem, however, was that Johnson actually scored on Fifth Down due to an error by the seven officials calling the game. The game would have major ramifications for the national championship at year's end, but the subsequent poll did punish Colorado by dropping them two spots to No. 14. This play became especially controversial at the end of the season, as Georgia Tech would have most likely been undisputed champions had this mistake not been made and Missouri had won (although Colorado likely would not have spiked the ball on what would have been fourth down had the down markers accurately reflected the number of plays run).
The day's other stunner came in South Bend where Stanford, with a 1–3 record, stunned the unbeaten No. 1 Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, 36–31, in a game where the Irish muffed three punts. Meanwhile, No. 9 Miami met No. 2 Florida State, with the Hurricanes prevailing, 31–22. The loss dropped the second-ranked Seminoles to No. 10 and vaulted the Hurricanes back into the national championship picture. Idle No. 6 Tennessee picked up a first-place vote despite two ties in their first five games.
The stunning loss of Notre Dame scattered the first-place AP votes among a number of teams. Michigan, Virginia, Miami, Oklahoma, and Tennessee—the top five in the poll of October 9, 1990—each received first place votes as did No. 8 Nebraska, No. 10 Florida, and No. 13 Houston. Despite two ties on their record, Tennessee moved up to No. 5 when No. 5 Auburn escaped a major upset at the hands of Louisiana Tech, 16–14.
After sitting on top of the college rankings for only four days, Michigan became the third number one team of the year to get knocked off the top spot, losing 28–27 at home in Ann Arbor to archrival Michigan State; the Wolverines failed a two-point conversion with seconds to go as future 1991 Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard could not hold on to the ball when he was allegedly interfered with, in what was a very controversial no-call by the referees. The day's other upset of a top five team was No. 4 (AP only) Oklahoma's 14–13 loss to unranked Texas in the Red River Shootout. That loss did not affect the national championship picture, since Oklahoma was not eligible to play in a bowl game due to NCAA probation, nor could it be ranked in the coaches poll. No. 9 (AP only) Florida also endured their first loss in the Steve Spurrier era, losing a 45–3 rout at the hands of No. 5 Tennessee despite being down only 7–3 at halftime, and No. 18 Georgia Tech knocked off No. 15 Clemson, 21–19, in a game that was to be of greater importance at the end of season. The top five rankings released on October 13, 1990: Virginia, Miami, Georgia Tech, Nebraska, Auburn.
The stunning season continued to shock as ten of the 25 ranked teams went down to defeat on an unforgettable Saturday. In a battle of national powers, No. 6 Notre Dame knocked off No. 2 Miami, 29–20, in South Bend and assured the Hurricanes would not repeat as national champions. The loss dropped Miami to No. 8 while raising the Irish to No. 3. Perhaps an even greater upset came in Knoxville, where Alabama (with a 2–3 record), stunned No. 3 Tennessee, 9–6, just one week after the Volunteers had put 45 points on the Florida Gators. The Vols lined up to kick a potential game winning FG with less than two minutes left only to see Stacy Harrison block the kick. The momentum from the block sent the ball forty yards back downfield and put Alabama in position to win on a last second field goal by All-American Phillip Doyle. The loss was the Vols first in a year and dropped them out of the top ten. No. 5 Auburn scored 10 points in the last 4 minutes to beat No. 7 Florida State 20–17 in a match-up of top ten teams. Auburn's win put them at No. 2 in the nation, their highest ranking since they won the national championship in 1957. No. 11 Georgia Tech suffered their first imperfection of the season, but they did not lose the game thanks to a Scott Sisson field goal in the closing seconds. Their tiff with North Carolina ended in a 13–13 tie that would later haunt the Yellow Jackets. Michigan lost their second game in a row by a single point, this time to Iowa, 24–23, following their ascent to number one.
The top five lined up as: Virginia, Auburn, Notre Dame, Nebraska, Illinois
A harrowing escape due to missed extra point attempt resulted in a drop of No. 2 Auburn by two spots in the AP poll. Mississippi State (3–3), showing signs of promise for Coach Rockey Felker, fought the 4–0–1 Tigers to the very end, scoring a touchdown on the final play. A successful point after try would net the Bulldogs a tie, but a block by Auburn's special teams preserved a 17–16 win at Scott Field. There was little other movement in the top ten, although BYU fell one spot from No. 9 to No. 10 despite routing New Mexico. The reason for the Cougars' fall was Colorado's impressive win over formerly No. 4–ranked Oklahoma. The Sooners had lost three games in a row, but Colorado's win put them at number nine. Auburn's drop enabled both No. 3 Notre Dame and No. 4 Nebraska to move up one spot each. Otherwise, the top five remained the same.
In perhaps the most exciting game of the 1990 college season, No. 16 Georgia Tech made a stunning comeback from 14 points down at half time and outlasted No. 1 ranked Virginia, 41–38, at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville, on a Scott Sisson field goal with 7 seconds left. The loss dropped the Cavaliers out of the No. 1 spot and made Virginia the fourth different number one to lose in 1990. But the game shared top billing with the showdown in Lincoln, Nebraska, between No. 3 Nebraska and No. 9 Colorado. Trailing by 12 points with only 12 minutes to play, the Buffaloes scored four touchdowns, all from Eric Bieniemy, to win, 27–12, and all but clinch the Big Eight title for the second straight year. And just when the shock had worn off, No. 15 Florida routed No. 4 Auburn, 48–7, to send the Tigers tumbling all the way to No. 15.
The rankings on the morning of November 6, 1990, when the AP poll was released:
In keeping with the strange season where the uncommon became commonplace, four of the top nine teams lost and the muddy national title picture got a little clearer when the AP poll was released on November 13. The No. 2 Washington Huskies, poised for a possible shot at the title, lost a stunner at home to UCLA, 25–22, when the Bruins kicked the game-winning FG with seven seconds left, ending a national title dream, although the Huskies still had the inside track to the Rose Bowl. No. 3 Houston, with Heisman Trophy candidate David Klingler filling the shoes of departed 1989 Heisman winner, Andre Ware, finally lost, falling to No. 14 Texas, 45–24, and ending speculation that the national championship might go to a team on probation. Houston's bowl ineligibility assured they would be given no consideration in the final poll for a top ranking. No. 6 Iowa stumbled at home and lost to Ohio State, 27–26, as the Buckeyes scored the game-winning touchdown with one second left, ending the Hawkeyes' title bid. And despite being given consideration time and again, No. 9 Tennessee managed a fourth imperfection on their record—two losses and two ties—when they fell to No. 1 Notre Dame, 34–29, in a nationally televised encounter. No. 7 Georgia Tech again came back in the fourth quarter and beat Virginia Tech, 6–3.
The losses, however, helped clear the way for some other hopefuls. No. 4 Colorado, who only one month earlier had been mired at number twenty, completed a climb all the way back up to No. 2 when they routed Oklahoma State, 41–22. As long as the Buffaloes won their final encounter against 5–5 Kansas State, they were virtually guaranteed a shot at the national championship. No. 15 Auburn, on the other hand, showed how far one could fall the other direction, plummeting from No. 2 only two weeks earlier to No. 24 due to their 13–12 upset loss to Southern Miss.
The championship picture, much clearer just a week earlier, was considerably muddied again when top-ranked Notre Dame became the fifth number one to fall from the top spot as No. 18 Penn State edged the No. 1 Irish, 24–21, on a Craig Fayak field goal with 4 seconds left, coming back from a 14-point deficit.Because bowl invitations were ready to be offered, the upset smothered any chance the Orange Bowl had of determining a consensus national champion. Those problems were exacerbated when former No. 8 Virginia lost to Maryland and in the process lost starting quarterback Shawn Moore due to injury.
The loss by Notre Dame put No. 2 Colorado in the number one spot for the first time since January 1, 1990. Rounding out the top five were Miami, Georgia Tech, BYU, and Florida.
Perhaps bowing to public pressure due to their status as the nation's only unbeaten Division I-A team, the AP poll moved Georgia Tech up one spot from number three to number two after their 40–23 defeat of the Georgia Bulldogs in their annual showdown. The Yellow Jackets now had the nation's longest current unbeaten streak at 15 games.
Three of the top four teams were contractually obligated to bowl games that left no chance for a No. 1 vs. No. 2 match-up. As the Big Eight champion, No. 1 Colorado went to the Orange Bowl, and No. 2 Georgia Tech represented the Atlantic Coast Conference in the Florida Citrus Bowl. Although Miami and Notre Dame, ranked third and fifth respectively, were Independents and thus bound to no bowl, both had claims to make for the national title that necessitated defeating the highest-ranked foe. The Orange Bowl invitation to Notre Dame had already been extended prior to the late season loss by the Irish to Penn State, leaving Miami to face No. 4 Texas in the Cotton Bowl Classic. Although Miami had two losses, the Hurricanes would repeat as national champions if both Colorado and Georgia Tech lost while Miami won. The Hurricanes did their best, routing the Longhorns, 46–3, but the early morning 45–21 pounding of No. 19 Nebraska by Georgia Tech, closed the door on the Hurricanes chances and opened the question of whether Georgia Tech could possibly win a share if Colorado beat Notre Dame.
The wins by Miami and Georgia Tech ensured Notre Dame could not wind up as champion, but the Irish and Buffaloes fought to the finish with Colorado prevailing, 10–9, on a blocked extra point. With only 65 seconds left, it appeared Notre Dame had won when Rocket Ismail ran 91 yards with a punt return for touchdown that was called back on a clipping penalty. Deon Figures intercepted Rick Mirer's desperation pass to clinch the national title for Colorado.
When the final votes were counted, Colorado had won their first national champion as voted by the Associated Press. The UPI coaches poll, however, saw a shake-up that resulted in Georgia Tech moving to No. 1 by one point. The deciding vote was cast by Colorado Buffaloes rival Nebraska's head coach Tom Osborne, the only coach who had played both teams during the 1990 season. Colorado beat Nebraska, 27–12, in Lincoln while Georgia Tech had beaten them in the Florida Citrus Bowl, 45–21.
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