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What I Love: The 1990 Virginia-Georgia Tech Game

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Honestly, I should probably just title this What I Love: 1990 Minus One Play.

That whole season was nuts. As a fan of a non-traditional, non-elite program, I do enjoy the occasional 'nothing makes sense' season full of underdogs and upsets, and aside from 2007 (which had the added benefit of including my team in the hot mess), 1990 was about as ridiculous as any season could be.

Things started out normal enough. Your preseason Top 10: 1) Miami (who had won two titles in three years), 2) Notre Dame, 3) Auburn, 4) Florida State, 5) Colorado, 6) Michigan, 7) Nebraska, 8) Tennessee, 9) USC, 10) Clemson.  Virginia started out a respectable 15th, and Georgia Tech was unranked.  But things fell apart almost immediately.  Miami lost at Ty Detmer and BYU, who jumped all the way to fourth before losing to unranked Oregon. USC lost to Arizona and fell from fifth to 18th.

By thumping Clemson and handling their business against lesser teams, Virginia managed to rise to No. 4 by October 2.  Then No. 1 Notre Dame lost at home to lowly Stanford and No. 2 Florida State lost to Miami.  Michigan rose to No. 1 ... and immediately lost to Michigan State at home, leaving Virginia -- Virginia! -- ranked first in the country.  The top-ranked Hoos held off N.C. State and Wake Forest with chaos still reigning beneath them (Miami had risen back to No. 2 and lost, as did No. 3 Tennessee).  Then came the game of the year, and on a day in which four of the country's top five teams (No. 1 Virginia, No. 3 Nebraska, No. 4 Auburn, No. 5 Illinois) all lost.

From The USA Today College Football Encyclopedia, 2009-2010, in beautiful, abbreviated, Phil Steele-like prose:

Virginia (7-1) QB Shawn Moore set school record with 344y passing on 18-28, WR Herman Moore caught 9/234y, including fake-reverse 63y TD bomb in 3rd Q. All seemed in order for no. 1 Virginia in taking 10-0 lead in 1st Q, 28-14 lead by H. But, resourceful Georgia Tech (7-0-1) took advantage of 2 3rd Q errors to tie it at 28-28. Tech scored 4 plays after recovering FUM on opening possession of 3rd Q. LB Calvin Tuggle's INT at Jackets 10YL stopped ensuing Cavs drive; and Georgia Tech gained field position for QB Shawn Jones' (17-29/257y, 2 TDs) 26y scoring pass to WR Emmett Merchant. Virginia's Moores then countered with their long TD bomb, but RB William Bell tied it 35-35 with 8y run late in 3rd Q. Tech took its 1st lead on K Scott Sisson's 35y FG with 7:17 left. Back came Virginia, gaining 1st-and-goal 6 inches from GL, a move sparked by 48y Moore-to-Moore pass. But, Cavs were penalized twice in next 5 plays, once nullifying TE Aaron Mundy's TD catch. Virginia had to settle for K Jake McInerney's tying FG with 2:30 to go. Jackets went 56y in 5 plays to position Sisson for game-winning FG with 7 secs left, keys being Jones-to-Bell 23y pass, Bell's 13y run on which he fell on own FUM, and Jones-to-WR Greg Lester 15y pass.

It was such a devastating, rather self-inflicted loss that Virginia never recovered; they lost four of five to finish the season 8-4.  Meanwhile, Georgia Tech rose from 16th to seventh in one week.

The next week, with Notre Dame No. 1 again, No. 2 Washington lost at home to a bad UCLA team, and No. 3 Houston (!!) got whipped by No. 14 Texas.  On November 13, three teams that had begun the season unranked (Georgia Tech, Florida, Texas) were in the Top 7.  That just doesn't happen.

All of this craziness, and I haven't even mentioned the Fifth Down or The Clip yet.

Honestly, 1990 had everything people could possibly complain about -- a split national title, with one team winning the title with assistance from an interesting clipping penalty and a fifth down, for starters.  Plus, this was the season of the infamous Miami-Texas Cotton Bowl.  But there was just so much to love about this season: the chaos, the equality (traditional and non-traditional powers all got equal opportunities to blow their chance at a title) ... and this incredible game.