clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The 1989 national title went to Miami, the elite team that lost first

New, 11 comments
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

1989 was a fun exercise in the randomness of a short season.

Despite mostly playing 11-game regular seasons, we ended up with 15 teams with 10-plus wins and another two elite teams with nine. The non-conference seasons weren't broad enough to include lots of elite-vs-elite matchups, and we ended up learning very, very little about who the best team of 1989 truly was. Plus, with nobody above even 98.5 percent, there really wasn't a "best team" of 1989, at least by the standard of most seasons.

We did have four teams that stood out from the pack a bit -- Notre Dame, Florida State, Miami, Colorado -- and the order in which they played each other basically determined the national title.

Oct. 28: No. 9 Florida State 24, No. 2 Miami 10 in Tallahassee

Nov. 25: No. 7 Miami 27, No. 1 Notre Dame 10 in Miami

Jan. 1: No. 4 Notre Dame 21, No. 1 Colorado 6 in Miami

Losing to FSU earlier in the year allowed Miami to recover after dropping from second in the polls to seventh. Losing to Miami at the end of the regular season meant Notre Dame didn't have time to recover. And losing to Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl eliminated Colorado from contention. Miami lost first and therefore won the national title. Meanwhile, FSU stumbled early, losing to both Southern Miss and Clemson out of the gates before winning 10 in a row; the Seminoles' role was that of spoiler, and they nearly did a good job of it.

More on randomness

Here's your preseason AP top 10: 1 Michigan, 2 Notre Dame, 3 Nebraska, 4 Miami, 5 USC, 6 Florida State, 7 LSU, 8 Auburn, 9 UCLA, 10 Arkansas. Compare that to the Est. S&P+ ratings below. Seven of these teams finished in the Est. S&P+ top 11, and two more (Arkansas, LSU) came pretty close. From a ratings perspective, only UCLA (No. 40) really bombed. Meanwhile, the relative surprises on the below list -- Colorado, Clemson, Houston -- were all ranked in the preseason poll.

The prognosticators did a pretty good job, in other words. But looking only at records, we still had some funky-looking results.

LSU, for instance, ranked 22nd in Est. S&P+, which was a little disppointing ... and finished 4-7, which was a LOT disappointing. Six of the Tigers' seven losses were against teams in the Est. S&P+ top 26, and three of those were by six points or loess (none were by more than 16). Meanwhile, they beat No. 36 Ole Miss on the road and rocked three lesser opponents (No. 51 Mississippi State, No. 76 Tulane, No. 100 Ohio) by an average score of 43-11. They took on a brutal schedule and mostly looked the part of a top-30 team, but somebody had to lose. (Well, that's technically not true -- you could have tied -- but you know what I'm saying.)

The AP poll finished with Tennessee (unranked in the preseason) fifth and Colorado (14th) fourth, while Alabama (preseason 16th) and Illinois (preseason 22nd) sneaked into the top 10. But the teams that were supposed to be good, were good.

S&P+ Rk Team Record Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
1 Notre Dame 12-1 23.5 98.43% 35.4 6 12.0 3
2 Florida State 10-2 23.2 98.33% 37.6 4 14.4 9
3 Miami-FL 11-1 21.9 97.76% 34.0 8 12.1 5
4 Colorado 11-1 21.5 97.56% 37.0 5 15.5 13
5 USC 9-2-1 18.4 95.44% 28.7 28 10.2 2
6 Houston 9-2 18.4 95.42% 42.9 1 24.5 58
7 Clemson 10-2 18.1 95.13% 30.6 18 12.6 6
8 Auburn 10-2 16.9 93.92% 25.7 37 8.8 1
9 Michigan 10-2 16.6 93.56% 29.9 23 13.3 8
10 Alabama 10-2 16.0 92.85% 31.9 13 15.9 17
11 Nebraska 10-2 15.4 92.07% 37.9 3 22.5 42
12 Tennessee 11-1 15.2 91.81% 31.0 15 15.9 16
13 Washington 8-4 14.1 90.26% 30.3 21 16.1 19
14 Illinois 10-2 13.9 89.87% 28.3 30 14.4 11
15 Michigan State 8-4 13.3 88.85% 28.2 32 15.0 12
16 Texas A&M 8-4 12.8 88.04% 28.7 27 15.9 15
17 Arkansas 10-2 12.6 87.61% 31.9 12 19.3 27
18 Virginia 10-3 12.1 86.75% 31.4 14 19.2 25
19 Penn State 8-3-1 11.4 85.22% 23.5 52 12.1 4
20 BYU 10-3 10.0 82.11% 39.4 2 29.4 83
21 Washington State 6-5 9.2 80.16% 33.2 10 24.0 55
22 LSU 4-7 9.1 79.80% 29.4 26 20.3 29
23 Arizona 8-4 9.0 79.57% 22.2 61 13.2 7
24 West Virginia 8-3-1 8.5 78.33% 27.6 34 19.1 24
25 Oregon 8-4 8.3 77.79% 30.4 19 22.1 40
S&P+ Rk Team Record Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
26 Florida 7-5 7.6 75.62% 23.3 54 15.7 14
27 Texas Tech 9-3 7.1 74.30% 30.3 20 23.2 47
28 Pittsburgh 8-3-1 6.9 73.58% 28.5 29 21.6 37
29 Oklahoma 7-4 6.8 73.46% 29.8 24 23.0 45
30 Colorado State 5-5-1 6.5 72.44% 33.0 11 26.5 69
31 Virginia Tech 6-4-1 5.8 70.41% 20.3 73 14.4 10
32 Air Force 8-4-1 5.4 69.12% 34.8 7 29.4 82
33 Georgia 6-6 5.4 69.01% 21.4 67 15.9 18
34 Baylor 5-6 4.8 67.12% 22.1 62 17.3 20
35 Louisiana Tech 5-4-1 4.2 64.98% 29.7 25 25.5 64
36 Ole Miss 8-4 4.1 64.80% 27.4 35 23.3 49
37 Hawaii 9-3-1 3.6 63.04% 30.8 17 27.1 71
38 Fresno State 11-1 3.6 62.90% 27.8 33 24.2 57
39 Ohio State 8-4 3.5 62.43% 28.3 31 24.8 60
40 UCLA 3-7-1 3.3 61.79% 22.3 58 19.0 23
41 Texas 5-6 2.9 60.42% 24.6 46 21.7 38
42 Southern Miss 5-6 2.8 60.11% 23.7 51 20.9 33
43 Syracuse 8-4 2.7 59.61% 23.3 55 20.7 32
44 South Carolina 6-4-1 2.6 59.32% 23.8 50 21.2 35
45 Duke 8-4 2.3 58.35% 30.9 16 28.6 80
46 Maryland 3-7-1 1.9 57.01% 21.5 65 19.6 28
47 NC State 7-5 1.7 56.10% 22.2 59 20.5 31
48 Georgia Tech 7-4 1.4 55.06% 22.5 57 21.1 34
49 UL-Lafayette 7-4 1.1 54.03% 19.7 76 18.6 22
50 Indiana 5-6 -0.1 49.50% 25.0 42 25.1 63
S&P+ Rk Team Record Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
51 Mississippi State 5-6 -0.2 49.18% 18.3 88 18.5 21
52 Louisville 6-5 -0.3 48.85% 23.4 53 23.8 53
53 Akron 6-4-1 -0.6 47.91% 24.1 48 24.6 59
54 Central Michigan 5-5-1 -1.0 46.23% 18.3 90 19.3 26
55 Arizona State 6-4-1 -1.1 46.15% 22.1 63 23.2 48
56 Northern Illinois 9-2 -1.2 45.57% 27.2 36 28.4 78
57 Wyoming 5-6 -1.5 44.52% 25.6 38 27.1 72
58 Kentucky 6-5 -1.6 44.04% 18.8 84 20.4 30
59 Minnesota 6-5 -1.7 43.88% 24.1 49 25.7 66
60 San Diego State 6-5-1 -2.3 41.76% 30.0 22 32.3 94
61 Eastern Michigan 7-3-1 -2.5 40.98% 19.9 75 22.4 41
62 Oregon State 4-7-1 -2.6 40.58% 21.3 68 23.9 54
63 California 4-7 -2.7 40.29% 20.8 72 23.5 50
64 San Jose State 6-5 -2.8 39.78% 25.3 41 28.1 76
65 Stanford 3-8 -2.8 39.76% 18.8 85 21.6 36
66 East Carolina 5-5-1 -2.9 39.46% 24.6 45 27.5 73
67 Ball State 7-3-2 -3.0 39.09% 19.0 81 22.0 39
68 Tulsa 6-6 -3.3 37.94% 22.2 60 25.5 65
69 Fullerton State 6-4-1 -3.5 37.32% 25.6 39 29.1 81
70 Iowa 5-6 -4.0 35.55% 19.5 77 23.6 51
71 Iowa State 6-5 -4.7 33.32% 24.9 43 29.6 84
72 Purdue 3-8 -4.8 32.85% 18.1 92 23.0 44
73 Boston College 2-9 -5.4 30.90% 18.2 91 23.6 52
74 TCU 4-7 -5.7 30.17% 19.1 79 24.8 61
75 New Mexico 2-10 -5.9 29.44% 25.3 40 31.2 91
S&P+ Rk Team Record Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
76 Tulane 4-8 -6.7 26.86% 21.0 71 27.7 74
77 Oklahoma State 4-7 -7.0 25.95% 21.3 69 28.3 77
78 Utah 4-8 -7.7 24.02% 33.3 9 41.0 105
79 Rice 2-8-1 -7.7 23.97% 18.3 89 26.0 67
80 Army 6-5 -7.9 23.31% 14.8 101 22.7 43
81 Western Michigan 5-6 -8.1 22.79% 15.0 99 23.1 46
82 UNLV 4-7 -8.3 22.41% 23.3 56 31.6 93
83 Navy 3-8 -8.7 21.37% 16.3 96 24.9 62
84 Wisconsin 2-9 -9.1 20.27% 18.8 83 27.8 75
85 Toledo 6-5 -9.2 20.01% 19.3 78 28.5 79
86 Vanderbilt 1-10 -9.4 19.41% 14.7 102 24.1 56
87 Rutgers 2-7-2 -10.9 15.87% 20.2 74 31.1 90
88 Wake Forest 2-8-1 -11.3 14.97% 18.7 86 30.1 86
89 Utah State 4-7 -11.5 14.59% 19.1 80 30.6 87
90 Missouri 2-9 -11.6 14.43% 18.5 87 30.1 85
91 Bowling Green 5-6 -12.4 12.72% 18.9 82 31.3 92
92 UTEP 2-10 -12.6 12.44% 21.5 66 34.1 99
93 Temple 1-10 -13.2 11.23% 17.4 93 30.6 88
94 Memphis 2-9 -13.5 10.84% 17.4 94 30.8 89
95 Kansas 4-7 -13.6 10.56% 21.9 64 35.5 100
96 North Carolina 1-10 -15.7 7.43% 11.0 105 26.8 70
97 Pacific 2-10 -15.9 7.27% 16.4 95 32.3 95
98 SMU 2-9 -15.9 7.27% 24.4 47 40.3 104
99 Long Beach State 4-8 -16.2 6.85% 21.2 70 37.4 102
100 Ohio 1-9-1 -17.0 5.91% 16.0 97 33.0 98
S&P+ Rk Team Record Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
101 Kansas State 1-10 -17.4 5.54% 15.1 98 32.5 96
102 Northwestern 0-11 -17.9 5.05% 24.7 44 42.6 106
103 Miami-OH 2-8-1 -17.9 5.03% 8.4 106 26.3 68
104 Cincinnati 1-9-1 -18.4 4.54% 14.1 104 32.6 97
105 Kent 0-11 -22.1 2.12% 14.2 103 36.4 101
106 New Mexico State 0-11 -24.0 1.37% 14.8 100 38.9 103

Your hypothetical 1989 College Football Playoff race

At the end of the 1989 regular season, you had one undefeated team (Colorado) and a giant, glorious, unsalvageable mess.

AP rankings on December 12:

1. Colorado (11-0)
2. Miami (10-1)
3. Michigan (10-1)
4. Notre Dame (11-1)
5. Florida State (10-2 and smoking hot)
6. Nebraska (10-1)
7. Alabama (10-1)
8. Tennessee (10-1)
9. Auburn (9-2)
10. Arkansas (10-1)

Colorado would have been in. But after that?

  • Miami, with only a loss to FSU, probably should have been in.
  • Michigan, with only a tight loss to Notre Dame, probably should have been in.
  • Notre Dame, with only a loss to Miami, probably should have been in.
  • Nebraska, with only a loss to Colorado, probably should have been in.
  • Alabama, Auburn, and Tennessee had split the SEC title -- Alabama's only loss was to Auburn, Tennessee's was to Alabama, and Auburn had lost at Tennessee and at Florida State -- and one of the three probably should have been in.
  • Florida State was probably out because of the Southern Miss loss, but since that loss they had beaten five ranked teams, including Miami and Auburn.

So that's six really, really deserving teams and a seventh (FSU) that was dominant at the end of the year. How do you pick four?

We'll start by eliminating Nebraska, which doesn't get a conference title bump. And we'll eliminate the SEC teams for basically canceling each other out.

Eliminating Nebraska and the SEC? Thank heavens the Internet (and the Playoff, I guess) didn't exist in 1989.

That leaves Colorado, Miami, Michigan, and Notre Dame. At the end of the regular season, Est. S&P+ had CU ranked first, Notre Dame second, Miami fourth, and Michigan 10th.

So we'll say we end up with 1 Colorado vs. 4 Michigan ... and then we get a Notre Dame-Miami rematch in the other game, probably with Miami as the No. 2 seed. The two had just played at the end of the year, which is suboptimal, but a) Notre Dame had already played Michigan, too, and b) with as ridiculously intense as this series was in the late-1980s, I don't think too many would have complained about bonus Irish-Canes.

So CU probably beats Michigan, and the other two games -- ND vs. Miami and then CU vs. the winner -- are basically statistical coin flips. Yeah, that wouldn't have been entertaining at all...

Other thoughts

  • Ahh, the days of the Big 8 Bermuda Triangle ... Missouri 90th ... Kansas 95th ... Kansas State 101st.
  • Illinois was on an underrated run at this point under John Mackovic and (after Mackovic left for Texas) Lou Tepper. Between 1989 and 1995, the Illini ranked in the top 15 twice (1989, 1994) and in the top 40 three times. For one of the more ridiculously up-and-down programs in this sport's history, that's very nearly stability ... even if it included a No. 54 season in 1992 and No. 49 in 1993.
  • That Southern Miss-Florida State game had ... a familiar face involved. And because of a ridiculous schedule that featured FSU, Auburn, Texas A&M and Alabama, plus Mississippi State and TCU, the Golden Eagles were a top-50 team that finished 5-6. Falling asleep and losing to UL-Lafayette (in between road wins over Louisville and Memphis) probably didn't help.

Up next: Cheer, cheer for old Notre Dame ... the second-best team of 1988...