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Best to Never Win a Championship: 1986 Miami Hurricanes

A meltdown in the Fiesta Bowl cost Miami their 2nd National Championship

Penn State v Miami Hurricanes

Jimmy Johnson was in the process of building a monster program, and the 1986 Miami Hurricanes should have been his 1st National Championship squad.

1985 ended with a thud as the Canes were blown out in the Sugar Bowl by Tennessee in a game which cost Miami their 2nd National Championship, so the expectations in 1986 were to win a title. 1986 is absolutely the greatest college football team to not win a Championship, when you look at the players on the roster, and the domination throughout the year. Unfortunately the season will be remembered for the debacle in the Fiesta Bowl that stopped Miami from being voted #1.

Lofty Expectations

Miami entered the season with a pre-season ranking of #3 and opened the season on the road against South Carolina. The Canes dominated in front of 75000 fans at Williams Brice Stadium. Michael Irvin had 6 catches for 101 yards, and Melvin Bratton chipped in with 105 yards and 3 TDs on the ground. Miami would win 34-14 and set the tone for a great season ahead.

Week 2 saw the Canes take to the road again, heading to Gainesville for the annual meeting with the Florida Gators. Miami would trail 9-7 at halftime before taking control in the 2nd half scoring 16 unanswered. Miami would win 23-15 and get through one of the bigger hurdles on the schedule. The Canes rolled past Texas Tech the following week to set up the moment of the year.

Moment of the Year

Jimmy Johnson hated Oklahoma from his time as the head coach at Oklahoma St, and you could tell by the way he approached the game against the Sooners. The hype for this game was real, as it would pit #1 vs. #2, in a battle for the top spot in the country.

In 1985, Miami had gone into Norman Oklahoma and dominated the Sooners 27-14, in a game which saw Miami knock Troy Aikman out of the game. The Sooners though would get the last laugh by winning the National Championship in 1985. Oklahoma, specifically trash talking Brian Bosworth, wanted revenge at the Orange Bowl in 1986. The Boz talked the talk, but the Canes walked the walk in a dominating 28-16 win to become the top team in the country. Oklahoma had come into the game giving up only 3 total points on defense and averaging 50.5 points per game offensively.

The game started with the now infamous scene of Alonzo Highsmith uttering “I Aint Scared of you B….” to the Oklahoma captains. Miami set the tone, and would deliver one of the biggest wins in program history. Vinny Testaverde threw for 4 TDs and had his “Heisman moment” with a weaving run through the Sooners defense. Oklahoma’s wishbone offense could muster only 186 yards of offense against a very fast and aggressive Canes defense. Oklahoma would go 33-3 from 1985-1987 with all 3 losses coming at the hands of Miami.

Cruise Control

After dispatching Oklahoma, the Canes were basically on cruise control for the rest of the season.

Miami would win the remaining of their games 34-0, 58-14, 45-13, 41-23, 37-10, 23-10 and 36-10. The only competitive game was against FSU, but the Canes were able to pull away in the 4th quarter and win by 18.

Where Did It All Go Wrong?

There are a few points that unraveled for the Canes in the Fiesta Bowl, but Vinny Testaverde getting in a Scooter accident may have been the beginning of the end for Miami’s National Championship dreams. Vinny missed the season finale vs. East Carolina with bruises, scrapes and soreness, but I have always wondered did this hinder his ability to prepare 100% for the Fiesta Bowl a month later.

In the Fiesta Bowl Testaverde looked rusty, and nothing like the player who ran away with the Heisman Trophy in 1986. Vinny threw 5 interceptions, and watching the highlights is cringe worthy. Testaverde forced many throws into double and triple coverage, and missed wide open guys all over the field. Miami outgained Penn St 445 to 162 and had 22 1st downs to Penn St’s 8. Miami had chances at the end of the game, but Vinny threw his 5th pick in the end zone to seal a 14-10 defeat.

Some say it went wrong with the infamous “fatigues” and “steak fry” where Miami came across as very cocky. This was just Miami being Miami, and had nothing to do with the outcome of the game. Miami literally played their worst game since the Sugar Bowl the year previous and would have beaten Penn St 9 out of every 10 times they played.

There is also internet rumors/legend that Vinny Testaverde was on the take for this game. I don’t buy it, but it leads to some interesting conversation. Either way, Testaverde will go down as one of the greatest to ever play at Miami, but his legacy will forever be tarnished because of two awful Bowl Game performances that cost the Canes 2 National Titles.

Loaded Roster

The 86 roster was loaded with star players on both offense and defense. The offense was highlighted by Heisman winner Vinny Testaverde who threw for 26 TDs and only 9Ints. Vinny was arguably the best player on the team because he was doing things that were rare in 1986. Miami was running a sophisticated passing game with Gary Stevens as the OC, and averaged almost 260 yards a game through the air.

University of Miami Hurricanes Photo by Miami/Collegiate Images via Getty Images

Running back was a loaded position as well, and the three headed monster of Melvin Bratton, Alonzo Highsmith and Warren Williams combine for almost 1900 yards from scrimmage with 21 touchdowns. These guys all could run it, or be great receivers out of the backfield.

Penn State v Miami Hurricanes

At WR Michael Irvin is arguably the greatest Cane at any position, and he was flanked by Brett Perriman and Brian Blades who both played for many years in the NFL. The 3 of them combine for 19 TD receptions and helped make Miami one of the most explosive units in the country.

Michael Irving runs

On the defensive side the Canes had a bunch of disruptive forces at each level of the defense. Jerome Brown is one of the all-time greats at Defensive Tackle and led the charge for Miami. Danny Stubbs was a pass rushing terror coming off the edge, with George Mira Jr. a tackling machine at MLB, and Bennie Blades garnering 10 interceptions to lead the country in 1986. The Canes were loaded from top to bottom, and had one of the great rosters of all-time.

Jerome Brown - Miami Hurricanes

Why Were They The Best?

Miami dominated everyone during the season and was never really threatened until the Fiesta Bowl, with the closest regular season win coming by 8 on the road at Florida. The Canes had the 3rd best offense in the country averaging 35.8 points per game, and the 4th best defense surrendering only 12.5 points per game.

Testaverde swept most of the major offensive awards winning the Heisman, Walter Camp, Maxwell and O’Brien awards during his outstanding senior season.

During the 1987 NFL Draft, this teams greatness was even further exemplified with 3 players drafted in the Top 9 (Vinny 1st, Highsmith 3rd and Jerome Brown 9th). Miami had 5 of the top 50 picks, and 6 guys taken in the 1st three rounds. In 1988 Michael Irvin and Bennie Blades became 1st round selections, as 12 Canes were picked in the draft. 1989 saw 6 more Miami Hurricanes make it to the NFL.

If Miami wouldn’t have turned the ball over like crazy in the Fiesta Bowl, the 86 Canes would be in the discussion for greatest team ever, unfortunately now they will be known as the greatest team not to win a championship.