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National Title Losers: 1986

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The college football off-season is notorious for its lack of brevity. The longest break of any major sport, when August rolls along and we're still a month away from the first kickoff. As such, we will continue this multi-part series on great past Miami Hurricane teams.

We all know of the illustrious history of the 5 national title winning teams. What many outside the super fandom do not know is how many times Miami was in the title game on the losing side. This fact is what separates Miami from any other program of the last 30 years. Today’s focus: the 1987 Fiesta Bowl losing edition.

Originally I was going to do this post and one more about the 1994 Orange Bowl losing team, but then remembered even if Miami beat Nebraska, Penn State would have won the ‘94 title. Plus, these posts take a long 'effin time to research. I’m taking a slightly different approach for this one, since research on individual games has been near impossible to come by. The season is fast approaching, so……lets roll.

After stomping South Carolina on the road to open the season, Testaverde and Co. flew to Gainesville and beat the Gators on their home turf. No game recap links, but did manage to find a clip of the 4th quarter. Watch an absolutely brutal pick by Vinny, followed by an absolutely beautiful off-balanced heave to Brett Perriman on the next drive. It's easy to forget how great Testaverde was.

After pounding Texas Tech at the Orange Bowl by 50 points, Oklahoma came to town.

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Game 4: @ Miami 28, Oklahoma 16

The build up for this game was perhaps comparable to Alabama vs LSU of last year, if not more so. The #1 and #2 teams rarely met in the post season, let alone the regular season. Why is the 1971 Oklahoma/Nebraska game considered the best ever? A pessimist could claim because the top two teams never meet in season, so if the game is close, you have an automatic "best ever" criterion attached. See Alabama/LSU last year (terrible game) or Michigan/Ohio State in 2006 (zero defense). We probably have to go back to the 2006 Rose Bowl between Texas and USC for a truly great game pitting the two top ranked teams. Regardless, after beating #1 Oklahoma, Testaverde rolled along onto his Heisman winning campaign.

With seven straight wins to finish the season, including a 41-23 victory over a sub-par Florida State squad, Miami was ranked #1, yet had no automatic bowl invitation.

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Game 12: Fiesta Bowl: Penn State 14, Miami 10

Little known fact about the Fiesta Bowl? They bought this de facto title game between Miami and Penn State. The beginning of the end for college football, if you will. Back in the mid-80s, the four major bowl games (Rose, Sugar, Cotton, Orange) all had conference tie-ins. Miami and Penn State were both independent, so both the Fiesta and Citrus Bowls did a massive campaign to attract this fantastic match-up. Their exuberance in winning was well worth it; the game attracted the highest viewership ever in college football history, garnering a 25.0 rating. Compare that with last year's SEC West divisional round title game rating of 16.2 or the past decade of BCS games, which topped out at a 21.7 for the 2006 Rose Bowl. The Fiesta Bowl won the bid, and the rest is history. Two years later Notre Dame played West Virginia down in Arizona for the title game, and when the Bowl Coalition was established in 1992, the Fiesta Bowl was included. It’s fun to think about how college football was one failed sales job away from having the title game at Disney World every four years.

We all know the history of this game. Miami out gains Penn State in yardage 445 to 162, and holds their QB John Shaffer to 5 of 16 for 53 yards. But Vinny throws out a Dorsey BC-esque amounts of picks, mostly to Shane Conlan, including one on the potential game winning drive from Penn State’s 7 yard line with :18 seconds left. Heartbreaking.

The place in Miami’s all time history (#2) for this ‘86 squad would easily be #1 if they won title. Not the most talented (2001) or the most celebrated (1983), this team is what fully established Miami as a new powerhouse. The 1983 team was most certainly considered a fluke of minor proportions. Nothing to be worried about, move along people, the Oklahomas and Nebraska will still rule the land with their Wishbones and Triple Options. After Miami came back with two multiple loss seasons in ‘84 and ‘85, I’m sure the national media was bestowing a retroactive title to Tom Osborne. If he only would’ve kicked that extra point the media wouldn’t even know who Miami was. I reckon many in the college football world were writing off Miami as a one and done. This ‘86 team’s absolute dominance prior to the Fiesta Bowl changed everything. Their arrogance leading up to the game cemented the program’s still burgeoning legacy.

Speaking of that arrogance, Canes fans can thank Ara Parseghian for starting the national hatred towards Miami. During the pounding (58-7) Miami put on Notre Dame in the OB to finish the ‘85 season, Parseghian called out Jimmy Johnson for running up the score. That was all Middle White Bread America needed to hear. Once Miami showed up to the pre-game press conference in the fatigues, it was all over in terms of their national reputation.

We think today in terms of the SEC being this unstoppable juggernaut, six straight BCS titles, one team replacing the next, only capable of beating themselves. But consider this run for Miami:

  • 1983: 11-1 (National title)
  • 1984: 8-5
  • 1985: 10-2 (Lost to Tennessee in Sugar Bowl ranked #2 going into the game)
  • 1986: 11-1 (Lost to Penn State for national title)
  • 1987: 12-0 (National title)
  • 1988: 11-1 (Lost to eventual champ Notre Dame in regular season, finished #2)
  • 1989: 11-1 (National title)
  • 1990: 10-2 (Finished #2 after beating #3 Texas by 43 points in Cotton Bowl)
  • 1991: 12-0 (National title)
  • 1992: 11-1 (Lost to Alabama for national title)

A ten year run of excellence. Overall record: 107-14, for an .884 winning percentage. Three coaches. Four national titles, four more potential titles lost. One way or another, they played for the national title in the post season 7 out of 10 years. This type of run will never be repeated.

Lets be honest here, I'm not trying to label this as revisionist history. Miami won the years they won, lost the years they lost. Hopefully with these posts I've shown the long time Hurricanes fans, including college football fans across the country, just how unique the University of Miami program really was, and will continue to be. It's time to create new memories as we move forward into yet another new era of Miami Hurricane football. Go Canes.