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Whose Decade of Dominance was best: Miami’s 1980s or FSU’s 1990s?

These two Florida schools ruled the college football world in the pre-internet days of the 80s and 90s.

University of Miami (FL) Hurricanes vs Florida State Seminoles Photo by Jim Gund/Allsport/Getty Images

The Miami Hurricanes are the “Team of the 80s” in college football. There’s really no disputing that. The Florida State Seminoles took that mantle for the following decade (Nebraska Cornhuskers fans will beg to differ, as they won National Championships in 1994, 1995, and 1997). However, for the sake of this article, FSU is the “Team of the 90s.” Whose decade was more impressive? I will be using statistics from the 1980-89 seasons for Miami and 1990-99 seasons for FSU. Let’s break it down!

Regular season and bowl record

Miami had a regular season record of 99-20 and a bowl record of 5-3 (they didn’t play in a bowl game after the ‘81 and ‘82 seasons). The Canes were Independent and played a tough schedule every season. This allowed them to measure themselves against top teams on a nearly weekly basis. This was a large part of former head coach Howard Schnellenberger’s blueprint for success. Hurricanes fans know the story of what Coach Schnellenberger did for both the University of Miami and the city of Miami as whole. South Florida embraced Canes football as they became the most popular team in the region. Coach Schnellenberger passed his blueprint along to Jimmy Johnson, who then passed it to Dennis Erickson. The blueprint obviously worked, with all three coaches winning a national championship during the 1980s while at Miami. RIP Howard Schnellenberger.

Florida International at Miami
The coaching legend with his 1983 championship team.
Charles Trainor Jr./Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

FSU had a regular season record of 109-13 and a bowl record of 8-2. They played in a big-name bowl game in all but one season (1991 Blockbuster Bowl). Remember Blockbuster Video? I miss going there as a kid with my dad, hoping there would be at least one copy of the “new release”, then inevitably being disappointed when there were zero copies of said “new release”, not even in the drop off box! Ah, the good ole days. Anyway, the Seminoles finished every season of the 1990s in the top five of the AP Poll. In. credible. Their two bowl losses were in the 1996 and 1998 National Championship games, against great teams UF and Tennessee, respectively. Former head coach Bobby Bowden had his team prepared every week for a decade, knowing the other team’s season highlight would be taking down his Seminoles squad.

University of Miami vs Florida State University
Miami couldn’t catch FSU QB Charlie Ward in the early 90s.

Verdict: Has to be FSU. Their consistent regular season dominance and bowl success puts them ahead of Miami for this one. They didn’t have an 8-5 record like Miami’s rebuilding 1984 season, Jimmy Johnson’s first in Coral Gables.

Best win

The 1984 Orange Bowl is the easy and correct answer for Miami. They came out of nowhere to win the 1983 National Championship. Considering all the great teams of the 21st century, it’s hard to remember the 1983 Nebraska team was considered the greatest college football team ever up until that point, so much so that they were an 11-point favorite playing in Miami’s home stadium. Crazy. Miami quarterback Bernie Kosar led Coach Schnellenberger’s pro-style offense to perfection, jumping out to double digit leads in both the first and third quarters. Personally, it’s one of my five favorite Miami games to watch. It’s essentially the birth of The U. The dramatic win put the rest of the college football world on notice. Miami was going to be a force for the rest of the decade.

University of Miami vs University of Nebraska, 1984 Orange Bowl
Miami’s 1984 Orange Bowl victory began their decade of dominance.
Set Number: X29484 TK1 R30 F4

I hate to be a copycat, but FSU’s first championship should be the choice. The Seminoles also won their first natty in the Orange Bowl, and it was also against Nebraska. It came in 1994, exactly ten years after Miami’s. FSU started having championship expectations in the late ‘80s, recruiting and playing similarly to The U. The Seminoles came up just short of going all the way with regular season losses to Miami in 1988 and 1992. Former FSU head coach Bobby Bowden was well respected; he did not shy away from challenging schedules. Even as a die-hard Miami fan, it was cool to see him finally win a title.

Florida State University vs University of Nebraska, 1994 FedEx Orange Bowl
Bobby Bowden won his first national championship in Miami: The 1994 Orange Bowl.
Set Number: X45501 TK1 R4 F24

Verdict: Miami’s 1984 Orange Bowl win is one of the most memorable in the history of the sport. It confirmed Coach Schnellenberger’s predictions for the small private school, and started their dynasty. To top it off, the game was an all-time classic.


Miami went 7-3 against FSU from 1980-89. I will let Bobby Bowden, the Hall of Fame coach of Miami’s biggest rival, sum it up: “As good as we were, we didn’t win a national championship until 1993, mainly because we kept losing to Miami on missed kicks. I used to get mad because nobody else would play Miami. Notre Dame would play them, then drop them. Florida dropped them. Penn State dropped them. We would play Miami and lose by one point on a missed field goal, and it would knock us out of the national championship. I didn’t want to play them, either, but I had to play them. That’s why I said, ‘When I die, they’ll say, ‘At least he played Miami.’” What a quote.

Miami Michael Irvin...
The Playmaker! Michael Irvin streaking down the sideline for a fourth quarter touchdown in Miami’s win at FSU in 1987.
SetNumber: X35491

FSU went 6-4 against Miami from 1990-99. Miami actually started the ‘90s with the upper hand, winning the first three matchups of the decade. In 1993, FSU’s Heisman-winning QB Charlie Ward took down the Canes with a convincing 28-10 win in Doak Campbell on the way to FSU’s first National Championship. After an upset win by Miami in ‘94, the Seminoles began a five-year stretch of one-sided contests in their favor. The combined score of the decade-closing win streak was 179-68. Ugh. The streak was tough on Miami fans as we were used to winning games against our rivals, not getting blown out on a regular basis.

Miami V Florida State

Verdict: I’m going with a tie. I know, ties are lame, but hear me out. Miami won some huge matchups in the ‘80s that cost FSU chances at titles. FSU finished the ‘90s with five double-digit wins in a row. The 26-25 comeback victory by Miami in 1987 in Tallahassee was an all-time classic. FSU’s 47-0 destruction of Miami in 1997 was an all-time beatdown. Sometimes there are ties in life.

Worst loss

Miami is no stranger to getting screwed by the refs: 1988 at Notre Dame and the 2003 Fiesta Bowl vs the team from Ohio that shall not be named. Sadly, the 1987 Fiesta Bowl loss to Penn State had nothing to do with the refs. Quarterback Vinny Testaverde looked unfocused and/or distracted, and it caused him to have his worst performance of his college career. One explanation could be Laura Gambucci. Testaverde met the aerobics instructor while in Tempe, AZ for the game, and fell in love. Was his love the reason for his perplexing and terrible play? Possibly. The couple married in 1988. And in one of the all-time athlete couple shockers, they divorced a year later. Curse you Laura! As for the Canes players wearing fatigues, I don’t care. Most of the country hated Miami anyway, so what’s the difference?

University of Miami QB Vinny Testaverde, 1987 Fiesta Bowl
Captain Testaverde went MIA against Penn State in the 1987 Fiesta Bowl.
Set Number: X34197 TK1

FSU closed out their undefeated 1996 regular season with a 24-21 home win over their second biggest rival Florida Gators in front of over 80,000 people at Doak Campbell Stadium. The Seminoles jumped one spot to #1 in the polls, while the Gators dropped to #3. Due to the Pac-10 being contractually obligated to send their top team to the Rose Bowl, a rematch between the two in-state rivals was set to be played on January 2nd, 1997 in the Sugar Bowl. Once #2 Arizona State lost to that team from that Midwest state that begins with an O the day before, the 1997 Sugar Bowl became the de-facto National Championship matchup. The Seminoles couldn’t keep up with 1996 Heisman trophy winner Danny Wuerffel and UF’s Fun-n-Gun offense, losing 52-20. The FSU loss gave former Gators coach Steve Spurrier his first and only National Championship.

Florida QB Danny Wuerffel, 1997 Sugar Bowl
Florida QB Danny Wuerffel torched FSU in their 1997 Sugar Bowl matchup.
SetNumber: X51989

Verdict: I’ll say Miami by the smallest of margins. This is due to the 1986 team being an all-time great team; the best not to win a championship up until that point. That said, FSU losing a rematch to Steve Spurrier and the Gators, in the Sugar Bowl for the natty no less, is about the worst way to finish a season.


As a Miami fan, it’s hard to say their run in the 1980s is less impressive than FSU’s run in the 1990s. Having said that, let’s make the case for the Seminoles. I mentioned it earlier, but it bears repeating: FSU finished every season in the ‘90s ranked in the top five of the AP Poll (the streak is actually fourteen years: 1987-2000). That is freaking incredible. The regular season matters more in college football than any other major sport, especially in the 1980s and ‘90s. To be that good for that long is simply amazing. There are many people who remember Bobby Bowden as the old guy on the sideline without a headset. While this may have been the case later in his career, Coach Bowden built an incredible program in Tallahassee. More importantly, he did it the right way. Respect.

2000 Nokia Sugar Bowl
FSU celebrating their 1999 National Championship.
Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Miami fans know all the dominating stats of the 1980s squads. I have listed many of them here, and in previous articles. The way Howard Schnellenberger brought the Hurricanes out of obscurity and into the college football national spotlight is still one of the greatest accomplishments in the sport. Yeah, Miami finished ranked in the top-15 four times in the 1950s. Still, the Canes didn’t have any history compared to Notre Dame, Alabama, Michigan, or even Florida. Then, within FIVE years of Coach Schnellenberger’s arrival, this little upstart private school with crappy facilities in Coral Gables, FL is beating blue bloods and winning national championships. 1980s Miami great, fullback Alonzo Highsmith, summed it up best: “We were a microwave dynasty.” Piggybacking off that awesome expression, Miami’s three titles in the ‘80s came under three different head coaches. That is one of the most unique stats in the history of college football and will never be repeated again. The Miami Hurricanes of the 1980s stand alone.

University of Miami vs University of Oklahoma, 1988 Orange Bowl
The man. The myth. Jimmy.
Set Number: X35967 TK2 R6 F29

Tell us your answer in the poll below!


Whose decade was more impressive?

This poll is closed

  • 54%
    1980s Miami
    (72 votes)
  • 45%
    1990s FSU
    (60 votes)
132 votes total Vote Now