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It was Miami, Florida State, and everybody else in 1987

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1987 was basically a one-game season, and that game happened on October 3.

That's over-simplyfing, of course. Nebraska-Oklahoma was No. 1 vs. No. 2 over Thanksgiving weekend, and it was a fantastic game, even if it was *merely* a battle of top-10 teams (per my computer). Syracuse had a lovely year, going 11-0 before a Sugar Bowl tie with Auburn. (And strangely enough, despite the fact that I was only 9 at the time and had no built-in rooting interest, I remember quite a bit about that game.) Plus, as we'll discuss, there were some fascinating "great on paper, mediocre results" teams this year.

Still, it was a one-game season. The two best teams in the country played in Tallahassee on October 3, and while it didn't finish with a Wide Right, it might have been the greatest game in the history of the series. You can watch it above. It's spectacular. The craziness starts around 1:45:00 or so.

This was FSU's first huge year after a downward spell in the mid-1980s -- after going just 30-15-3 over the previous four years (not terrible, but not great), the Seminoles finished second in the polls this year and wouldn't finish out of the top five again until 2001. But they went for two against Miami and failed and lost the national title because of it.

(The real national title game was pretty fun, too, though: Miami beat Oklahoma, 20-14, in the Orange BowlIt might have been the game that broke the Wishbone.)

S&P+ Rk Team Record Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
1 Florida State 11-1 26.5 99.45% 40.3 1 13.8 8
2 Miami-FL 12-0 24.5 99.06% 34.6 4 10.1 2
3 Nebraska 10-2 21.7 98.12% 36.5 2 14.8 15
4 UCLA 10-2 20.2 97.37% 36.0 3 15.8 18
5 South Carolina 8-4 19.6 97.02% 30.7 9 11.1 4
6 Oklahoma 11-1 18.9 96.52% 32.7 5 13.8 9
7 Auburn 9-1-2 17.9 95.71% 27.5 23 9.6 1
8 Notre Dame 8-4 17.1 94.93% 31.7 7 14.7 13
9 LSU 10-1-1 16.4 94.19% 31.1 8 14.7 14
10 Syracuse 11-0-1 15.4 93.05% 30.0 14 14.6 12
11 Florida 6-6 15.0 92.55% 27.3 24 12.3 6
12 Michigan State 9-2-1 13.8 90.71% 24.0 45 10.3 3
13 Texas A&M 10-2 13.0 89.38% 26.7 25 13.7 7
14 Georgia 9-3 12.3 88.17% 27.6 22 15.3 16
15 Alabama 7-5 12.1 87.63% 26.0 33 14.0 10
16 USC 8-4 11.7 87.00% 28.8 17 17.0 20
17 Michigan 8-4 10.5 84.25% 26.2 29 15.7 17
18 Oklahoma State 10-2 10.2 83.64% 32.3 6 22.1 49
19 Tennessee 10-2-1 8.9 80.48% 30.2 13 21.3 40
20 Clemson 10-2 8.8 79.99% 25.5 38 16.8 19
21 Ohio State 6-4-1 8.2 78.36% 22.4 56 14.2 11
22 West Virginia 6-6 8.0 77.91% 26.6 26 18.6 26
23 Iowa 10-3 7.8 77.33% 28.2 21 20.3 35
24 Pittsburgh 8-4 7.5 76.39% 19.3 73 11.8 5
25 Arizona State 7-4-1 7.4 76.00% 28.6 19 21.2 39
S&P+ Rk Team Record Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
26 Wyoming 10-3 6.2 72.37% 30.0 15 23.8 59
27 Penn State 8-4 5.8 71.00% 24.9 42 19.2 29
28 Kentucky 5-6 5.3 69.50% 22.8 53 17.5 22
29 Arkansas 9-4 5.3 69.44% 22.6 54 17.3 21
30 Air Force 9-4 5.1 68.89% 28.5 20 23.4 54
31 Washington 7-4-1 4.8 67.88% 25.3 39 20.5 36
32 San Jose State 10-2 4.6 67.13% 30.3 12 25.6 67
33 Indiana 8-4 4.5 66.85% 24.0 46 19.4 32
34 Eastern Michigan 10-2 4.5 66.80% 26.1 30 21.6 43
35 TCU 5-6 4.5 66.66% 25.1 41 20.7 37
36 Colorado 7-4 4.3 65.91% 22.5 55 18.2 24
37 Arizona 4-4-3 4.2 65.83% 24.1 44 19.8 33
38 Texas 7-5 4.2 65.81% 29.7 16 25.4 66
39 Boston College 5-6 4.1 65.19% 25.9 34 21.8 44
40 Stanford 5-6 3.2 62.16% 25.7 36 22.5 51
41 Oregon 6-5 3.1 61.59% 22.3 57 19.2 30
42 Missouri 5-6 2.3 58.91% 20.9 66 18.5 25
43 California 3-6-2 2.2 58.21% 24.1 43 21.9 46
44 BYU 9-4 2.1 57.87% 25.8 35 23.7 57
45 Houston 4-6-1 1.6 56.21% 26.1 31 24.4 61
46 Virginia 8-4 1.4 55.46% 25.2 40 23.8 58
47 Texas Tech 6-4-1 0.5 51.91% 26.5 27 26.0 71
48 North Carolina 5-6 -0.2 49.24% 19.0 75 19.2 28
49 Vanderbilt 4-7 -1.2 45.30% 28.6 18 29.9 89
50 Rutgers 6-5 -1.3 44.95% 16.6 91 17.9 23
S&P+ Rk Team Record Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
51 Southern Miss 6-5 -1.5 44.40% 26.2 28 27.7 81
52 Wake Forest 7-4 -1.6 44.01% 17.7 88 19.3 31
53 Tulane 6-6 -1.6 43.93% 30.4 11 32.0 94
54 East Carolina 5-6 -1.7 43.61% 25.7 37 27.4 79
55 Washington State 3-7-1 -2.1 42.17% 26.0 32 28.1 82
56 Miami-OH 5-6 -2.1 41.85% 17.7 87 19.9 34
57 Maryland 4-7 -2.4 40.94% 21.3 61 23.7 56
58 UTEP 7-4 -2.7 39.62% 23.2 51 25.9 70
59 Duke 5-6 -2.8 39.38% 23.5 47 26.3 74
60 Memphis 5-5-1 -3.1 38.39% 17.8 86 20.9 38
61 Fresno State 6-5 -3.1 38.38% 18.8 76 21.9 45
62 Virginia Tech 2-9 -3.1 38.35% 21.3 60 24.4 60
63 Mississippi State 4-7 -3.1 38.31% 18.5 82 21.5 42
64 Baylor 6-5 -3.1 38.14% 19.6 70 22.8 52
65 Minnesota 6-5 -3.2 38.06% 22.8 52 26.0 72
66 Kent 7-4 -3.8 35.94% 18.3 83 22.1 48
67 Northern Illinois 5-5-1 -3.8 35.70% 23.3 50 27.1 77
68 Bowling Green 5-6 -4.3 33.89% 19.2 74 23.5 55
69 San Diego State 5-7 -4.5 33.29% 30.6 10 35.1 102
70 NC State 4-7 -4.7 32.69% 21.2 63 25.9 69
71 Illinois 3-7-1 -5.0 31.46% 13.8 100 18.8 27
72 Central Michigan 5-5-1 -5.1 31.20% 16.2 93 21.3 41
73 Western Michigan 5-6 -5.8 28.77% 18.7 77 24.5 62
74 Purdue 3-7-1 -6.7 26.04% 18.5 79 25.2 65
75 Toledo 3-7-1 -6.9 25.40% 15.1 96 22.0 47
S&P+ Rk Team Record Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
76 Hawaii 5-7 -6.9 25.30% 22.2 58 29.1 88
77 Ball State 4-7 -6.9 25.29% 18.2 85 25.1 64
78 Ole Miss 3-8 -7.0 24.98% 20.2 67 27.3 78
79 Fullerton State 6-6 -7.1 24.70% 21.2 62 28.4 85
80 Army 5-6 -7.8 22.69% 14.6 98 22.4 50
81 Wisconsin 3-8 -8.4 21.06% 18.6 78 27.0 76
82 Cincinnati 4-7 -9.0 19.36% 19.6 71 28.6 86
83 Colorado State 1-11 -9.5 18.16% 20.9 65 30.4 90
84 Northwestern 2-8-1 -9.7 17.56% 18.5 80 28.2 84
85 Temple 3-8 -9.8 17.43% 13.4 101 23.2 53
86 Oregon State 2-9 -9.9 16.99% 23.4 48 33.3 98
87 Utah State 5-6 -10.0 16.93% 18.2 84 28.2 83
88 UL-Lafayette 6-5 -10.1 16.55% 17.3 90 27.4 80
89 Georgia Tech 2-9 -10.9 14.87% 15.3 94 26.1 73
90 Iowa State 3-8 -11.3 13.95% 21.2 64 32.5 96
91 Tulsa 3-8 -11.6 13.28% 19.3 72 30.9 91
92 Utah 5-7 -11.7 13.04% 22.1 59 33.8 99
93 Navy 2-9 -12.4 11.72% 14.2 99 26.6 75
94 Pacific 4-7 -12.8 11.05% 13.0 102 25.7 68
95 Rice 2-9 -12.9 10.80% 23.3 49 36.2 103
96 Louisville 3-7-1 -13.6 9.64% 18.5 81 32.0 95
97 Kansas 1-9-1 -13.6 9.64% 19.7 69 33.2 97
98 Akron 4-7 -13.7 9.48% 15.2 95 28.9 87
99 UNLV 5-6 -13.9 9.18% 17.6 89 31.5 93
100 Ohio 1-10 -14.5 8.27% 10.7 103 25.1 63
S&P+ Rk Team Record Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
101 Long Beach State 4-7 -16.0 6.27% 15.1 97 31.0 92
102 Kansas State 0-10-1 -17.8 4.34% 16.5 92 34.4 100
103 New Mexico 0-11 -19.8 2.87% 19.9 68 39.7 104
104 New Mexico State 2-9 -28.3 0.33% 6.1 104 34.5 101

A clean and easy Playoff

It's been fun looking at how a Playoff would have taken shape in each year as we work backwards, but obviously it's getting a little bit more abstract with each season -- a conference-title bump is a bit of a different concept when so many of the great teams are independents. Regardless, it's a fun exercise, I think.

This year would have been the anti-1988: super-easy. Oklahoma, Miami, and Syracuse were all 11-0. They're all in. Florida State, third in the polls (ahead of Syracuse) with only the loss to Miami, is in. And that's that. The only question is if there would be a Miami-FSU rematch in the semis or finals. I'll say finals -- we get 1 Miami vs. 4 Syracuse and 2 Oklahoma vs. 3 FSU.

So many mediocre records at the top

This really was the anti-1988: In 1988 you had a clean, orderly Est. S&P+ ratings and a super-messy hypothetical Playoff. In 1987, you had the direct opposite. The Playoff is easy, but the ratings are a mess.

  • South Carolina finishes fifth in Est. S&P+ with an 8-4 record. How? By losing to No. 2 Miami, No. 3 Nebraska, and No. 14 Georgia by a combined 20 points, all on the road, while beating No. 20 Clemson by 13, No. 46 Virginia by 48, and Virginia Tech, ECU, NC State, and Wake Forest by an average of 38-6. Joe Morrison's 'Cocks finally faded a bit, losing by 17 to No. 9 LSU in the Gator Bowl, but this team was a couple of breaks (or a flip in home-road status) away from 11-0 or 10-1.
  • Notre Dame finishes eighth at 8-4. How? By beating No. 12 Michigan State and No. 19 Michigan by a combined 57-15 to start the year, by crushing No. 15 Alabama by 31 at the end, and by beating No. 16 USC by 11 in the middle. That built a cushion for a miserable finish: 21-20 loss to Penn State, 24-0 to Miami, 35-10 to Texas A&M.
  • Florida finishes 11th at 6-6. How? By losing to No. 1 FSU, No. 2 Miami, No. 4 UCLA, No. 7 Auburn, No. 9 LSU, and No. 14 Georgia while beating No. 15 Alabama. Eleventh seems a couple of spots high, but only a couple.

There was really strong interconnectivity this year, and when that happens, you get some really good teams losing quite a few games.

Next up: 1986.