1990 NCAA Division I-A football season

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The 1990 NCAA Division I-A football season ended with a split national championship and the ensuing controversy helped lead to the creation of the Bowl Coalition, a precursor to the Bowl Championship Series. The national title was split between the Colorado Buffaloes and the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. The Buffaloes (11-1-1) took the AP poll while the Yellow Jackets (11-0-1) took the UPI Coaches poll by one vote over Colorado, 847 to 846. During the season Colorado had a particularly controversial victory over Missouri in what would later be known as the "Fifth Down Game".

Arkansas State moved up from Division 1-AA to become a Division 1-A independent bringing the total number of Division 1-A teams up to 107.

Rule Changes[edit]

  • Approved reducing the width of the goal posts from 23 feet 9 inches to 18 feet 6 inches starting in 1991.
  • Mandated visible 25-second clocks at each end zone.
  • Allowed the defense to advance fumbles that occur beyond the line of scrimmage.

Conference Standings[edit]

1990 ACC football standings
Conf     Overall
Team W   L   T     W   L   T
#2 Georgia Tech 6 0 1     11 0 1
#9 Clemson 5 2 0     10 2 0
#23 Virginia 5 2 0     8 4 0
Maryland 4 3 0     6 5 1
North Carolina 3 3 1     6 4 1
NC State 3 4 0     7 5 0
Duke 1 6 0     4 7 0
Wake Forest 0 7 0     3 8 0
† – Conference champion
Rankings from AP Poll
1990 Big 8 football standings
Conf     Overall
Team W   L   T     W   L   T
#1 Colorado 7 0 0     11 1 1
#24 Nebraska 5 2 0     9 3 0
#17 Oklahoma 5 2 0     8 3 0
Iowa State 2 4 1     4 6 1
Kansas 2 4 1     3 7 1
Kansas State 2 5 0     5 6 0
Missouri 2 5 0     4 7 0
Oklahoma State 2 5 0     4 7 0
† – Conference champion
Rankings from AP Poll
1990 Big Ten football standings
Conf     Overall
Team W   L   T     W   L   T
#7/8 Michigan § 6 2 0     9 3 0
#16/14 Michigan State § 6 2 0     8 3 1
#25/24 Illinois § 6 2 0     8 4 0
#18/16 Iowa § 6 2 0     8 4 0
Ohio State 5 2 1     7 4 1
Minnesota 5 3 0     6 5 0
Indiana 3 4 1     6 5 1
Northwestern 1 7 0     2 9 0
Purdue 1 7 0     2 9 0
Wisconsin 0 8 0     1 10 0
§ – Conference co-champions
Rankings from AP Poll / Coaches' Poll
1990 Big West Conference football standings
Conf     Overall
Team W   L   T     W   L   T
San Jose State 7 0 0     9 2 1
Fresno State 5 1 1     8 2 1
Utah State 5 1 1     5 5 1
Long Beach State 4 3 0     6 5 0
UNLV 3 4 0     4 7 0
Pacific 2 5 0     4 7 0
New Mexico State 1 6 0     1 10 0
Cal State Fullerton 0 7 0     1 11 0
† – Conference champion
Rankings from AP Poll
1990 Mid-American Conference football standings
Conf     Overall
Team W   L   T     W   L   T
Toledo § 7 1 0     9 2 0
Central Michigan § 7 1 0     8 3 1
Ball State 5 3 0     7 4 0
Western Michigan 5 3 0     7 4 0
Miami 4 3 1     5 5 1
Bowling Green 2 4 2     3 5 2
Eastern Michigan 2 6 0     2 9 0
Kent State 2 6 0     2 9 0
Ohio 0 7 1     1 9 1
§ – Conference co-champions
Rankings from AP Poll
1990 Pacific-10 football standings
Conf     Overall
Team W   L   T     W   L   T
#5 Washington 7 1 0     10 2 0
#20 USC 5 2 1     8 4 1
Oregon 4 3 0     8 4 0
California 4 3 1     7 4 1
Arizona 5 4 0     7 5 0
UCLA 4 4 0     5 6 0
Stanford 4 4 0     5 6 0
Arizona State 2 5 0     4 7 0
Washington State 2 6 0     3 8 0
Oregon State 1 6 0     1 10 0
† – Conference champion
Rankings from AP Poll
1990 SEC football standings
Conf     Overall
Team W   L   T     W   L   T
#13 Florida 6 1 0     9 2 0
#8 Tennessee 5 1 1     9 2 2
#21 Ole Miss 5 2 0     9 3 0
Alabama 5 2 0     7 5 0
#19 Auburn 4 2 1     8 3 1
Kentucky 3 4 0     4 7 0
LSU 2 5 0     5 6 0
Georgia 2 5 0     4 7 0
Mississippi State 1 6 0     5 6 0
Vanderbilt 1 6 0     1 10 0
† – Conference champion
  • Florida ineligible for SEC championship due to NCAA probation.
    Rankings from AP Poll
1990 Southwest Conference football standings
Conf     Overall
Team W   L   T     W   L   T
#12 Texas 8 0 0     10 2 0
#10 Houston 7 1 0     10 1 0
#15 Texas A&M 5 2 1     9 3 1
Baylor 5 2 1     6 4 1
Rice 3 5 0     5 6 0
TCU 3 5 0     5 6 0
Texas Tech 3 5 0     4 7 0
Arkansas 1 7 0     3 8 0
SMU 0 8 0     1 10 0
† – Conference champion
Rankings from AP Poll
1990 Division I-A independents football records
Conf     Overall
Team W   L   T     W   L   T
#14 Louisville         10 1 1
#3 Miami         10 2 0
#4 Florida State         10 2 0
#6 Notre Dame         9 3 0
#11 Penn State         9 3 0
Louisiana Tech         8 3 1
Southern Miss         8 4 0
Temple         7 4 0
Syracuse         7 4 2
Army         6 5 0
Northern Illinois         6 5 0
South Carolina         6 5 0
Virginia Tech         6 5 0
East Carolina         5 6 0
Southwestern Louisiana         5 6 0
Navy         5 6 0
Memphis         4 6 1
Boston College         4 7 0
Tulane         4 7 0
West Virginia         4 7 0
Akron         3 7 1
Arkansas State         3 7 1
Pittsburgh         3 7 1
Rutgers         3 8 0
Tulsa         3 8 0
Cincinnati         1 10 0
Rankings from AP Poll
1990 WAC football standings
Conf     Overall
Team W   L   T     W   L   T
#22 BYU 7 1 0     10 3 0
Colorado State 6 1 0     9 4 0
San Diego State 5 2 0     6 5 0
Wyoming 5 3 0     9 4 0
Hawaii 4 4 0     7 5 0
Air Force 3 4 0     7 5 0
Utah 2 6 0     4 7 0
New Mexico 1 6 0     2 10 0
UTEP 1 7 0     3 8 0
† – Conference champion
Rankings from AP Poll

Bowl Games[edit]

Final AP Poll[edit]

1990 Final AP Poll
School Record (W-L-T) Points
1 Colorado (39) 11-1-1 1,475
2 Georgia Tech (20) 11-0-1 1,441
3 Miami (FL) (1) 10-2-0 1,388
4 Florida State 10-2-0 1,303
5 Washington 10-2-0 1,246
6 Notre Dame 9-3-0 1,179
7 Michigan 9-3-0 1,025
8 Tennessee 9-2-2 993
9 Clemson 10-2-0 950
10 Houston 10-1-0 940
11 Penn State 9-3-0 907
12 Texas 10-2-0 887
13 Florida 9-2-0 863
14 Louisville 10-1-1 775
15 Texas A&M 9-3-1 627
16 Michigan State 8-3-1 610
17 Oklahoma 8-3-0 452
18 Iowa 8-4-0 370
19 Auburn 8-3-1 288
20 Southern California 8-4-1 266
21 Mississippi 9-3-0 253
22 Brigham Young 10-3-0 246
23 Virginia 8-4-0 188
24 Nebraska 9-3-0 185
25 Illinois 8-4-0 146

Final UPI/Coaches Poll[edit]

  1. Georgia Tech
  2. Colorado
  3. Miami (FL)
  4. Florida State
  5. Washington
  6. Notre Dame
  7. Tennessee
  8. Michigan
  9. Clemson
  10. Penn State
  11. Texas
  12. Louisville
  13. Texas A&M
  14. Michigan State
  15. Virginia
  16. Iowa
  17. Brigham Young
  18. Nebraska
  19. Auburn
  20. San Jose State
  21. Syracuse
  22. USC
  23. Mississippi
  24. Illinois
  25. Virginia Tech

Heisman Trophy Voting[edit]

The Heisman is given to the Most Outstanding Player of the year
Winner: Ty Detmer, BYU, Jr. QB

Other Major Awards[edit]

  • Maxwell (MVP) - Ty Detmer, BYU
  • Camp (Back) - Raghib Ismail, Notre Dame
  • O'Brien Award (Quarterback) - Ty Detmer, BYU
  • Lombardi (Linebacker) - Chris Zorich, Notre Dame
  • Outland (Interior) - Russell Maryland, Miami-FL
  • AFCA Coach of the Year - Bobby Ross, Georgia Tech

National Title[edit]

#1 and #2 Progress[edit]

WEEKS #1 #2 Event
PRE-1 Miami Notre Dame BYU 28, Miami 21 Sep 8
2 Notre Dame Auburn Florida St 48, Ga. Southern 6 Sep 15
3-5 Notre Dame Florida State Stanford 36, Notre Dame 31 Oct 6
6 Michigan Virginia Michigan St. 28, Michigan 27 Oct 13
7 Virginia Miami Notre Dame 29, Miami 20 Oct 20
8 Virginia Auburn Auburn 17, Miss. St. 16 Oct 27
9 Virginia Notre Dame Georgia Tech 41, Virginia 38 Nov 3
10 Notre Dame Washington UCLA 25, Washington 22 Nov 10
11 Notre Dame Colorado Penn State 24, Notre Dame 21 Nov 17
12 Colorado Miami Miami 33, Syracuse 7 Nov 24
13-14 Colorado Georgia Tech End regular season

Recap of the Year[edit]

Voters were divided in the first poll of the 1990 college football season. The first rankings reflected the lack of consensus for a number one.

1. Miami 2. Notre Dame 3. Auburn 4. Florida State 5. Colorado

Each of the top five teams received at least three first-place votes in the initial poll. The season opening game was the Disneyland Classic between the Colorado Buffaloes and the Tennessee Volunteers in Anaheim, California. The game ended in an exciting 31-31 tie, keeping both teams alive for the national championship.

Although the first game was played on August 26, 1990, the first regular season poll was not released until September 4. Polls in 1990 were released on the Tuesday after the game.

Week One: September 1, 1990[edit]

There was little movement in the polls as most teams either played against non-competitive foes or did not begin the season until September 8. The only significant drop was Colorado, who fell from #5 to #6 the 31-31 tie with #8 Tennessee.

Week Two: September 8, 1990[edit]

The most significant game and slight upset of week two came in Provo, Utah, where the #16 BYU Cougars, led by 1990 Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer, held off the defending champion, #1 ranked Miami Hurricanes, 28-21. A comeback by #6 Colorado staved off defeat against unranked Stanford, 17-14. The pollsters remained unimpressed by Colorado, dropping them to #9 despite the win. The Gene Stallings era began for the #13 Alabama Crimson Tide with a loss to the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles, quarterbacked by Brett Favre. The Steve Spurrier era also began at the University of Florida. In Charlottesville, the #14 Virginia Cavaliers beat #9 Clemson in what was viewed as an upset. It was Virginia's first win ever over the Tigers, after 29 consecutive losses since their first meeting in 1955. The top five teams for the week ending September 8 were: Notre Dame, Auburn, Florida State, Michigan, and BYU.

Week Three: September 15, 1990[edit]

The most important game of week three was a top five match-up of #1 Notre Dame against #4 Michigan. In an exciting game, the Fighting Irish prevailed, 28-24, to remain #1. The other game that would have season long significance was (#21) Illinois' upset of (#9) Colorado, 23-22. The game would figure prominently in the national championship argument in January. Steve Spurrier also won his SEC debut, with his #24 Florida team besting the Alabama Crimson Tide, 17-13. While #2 Auburn and #3 Florida State both won, the Seminole's 48-6 win over Georgia Southern brought it to #2 in the polls. At the close of the week, the top five teams were: Notre Dame, Florida State, Auburn, BYU, and USC. Climbing into the top ten was Virginia with a 3-0 record.

Week Four: September 22, 1990[edit]

The game to watch was Notre Dame trying to keep its top ranking in the polls. The #1 Fighting Irish had yet another tough game, as they prevailed against #24 Michigan State, on the road, 20-19. #5 USC had a horrible game, as they were blown out by #21 Washington, 31-0. #20 ranked Colorado gained another win against #22 Texas, 29-22, but the win did not improve their ranking. By the next poll, the top five teams were: Notre Dame, Florida State, Auburn, BYU, and Tennessee. Virginia was still going up in the polls, ranking #7.

Week Five: September 29, 1990[edit]

There wasn't as much poll action as last week, but the surprise was when #20 Colorado beat #12 Washington, 20-14. The tie between #3 Auburn and #5 Tennessee, 26-26, caused their rankings to go down slightly. Top ranked Notre Dame kept their top ranking for at least one more week after topping Purdue, 37-11. The top five teams on the October 1 poll were: Notre Dame, Florida State, Michigan, Virginia, and Auburn.

Week Six: October 6, 1990[edit]

The most controversial game of the season - and one of the most controversial of all-time - occurred in Columbia, Missouri where #12 Colorado beat Missouri on a last minute lunge by back-up quarterback Charles Johnson. The problem, however, was that Johnson actually scored on Fifth Down due to an error by the seven officials calling the game. The game would have major ramifications for the national championship at year's end, but the subsequent poll did punish Colorado by dropping them two spots to #14. This play became especially controversial at the end of the season, as Georgia Tech would have most likely been undisputed champions had this mistake not been made and Missouri had won.

The day's other stunner came in South Bend where Stanford, with a 1-3 record, stunned the unbeaten #1 Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. Meanwhile, #9 Miami met #2 Florida State, with the Hurricanes prevailing, 31-22. The loss dropped the second-ranked Seminoles to #10 and vaulted the Hurricanes back into the national championship picture. Idle #6 Tennessee picked up a first-place vote despite two ties in their first five games.

The stunning loss of Notre Dame scattered the first-place AP votes among a number of teams. Michigan, Virginia, Miami, Oklahoma, and Tennessee - the top five in the poll of October 9, 1990 - each received first place votes as did #8 Nebraska, #10 Florida, and #13 Houston. Despite two ties on their record, Tennessee moved up to #5 when #5 Auburn escaped a major upset at the hands of Louisiana Tech, 16-14.

Week Seven: October 13, 1990[edit]

After sitting on top of the college rankings for only four days, Michigan became the third number one team of the year to get knocked off the top spot, losing 28-27 at home in Ann Arbor to arch rival Michigan State. The day's other upset of a top five team was #4 Oklahoma's 14-13 loss to unranked Texas in the Red River Shootout. #9 Florida also endured their first loss in the Steve Spurrier era, losing a 45-3 rout at the hands of #5 Tennessee, and #18 Georgia Tech knocked off #15 Clemson in a game that was to be of greater import at the end of season. The top five rankings released on October 13, 1990: Virginia, Miami, Georgia Tech, Nebraska, Auburn.

Week Eight: October 20, 1990[edit]

The stunning season continued to shock as ten of the 25 ranked teams went down to defeat on an unforgettable Saturday. In a battle of national powers, #6 Notre Dame knocked off #2 Miami, 29-20, in South Bend and assured the Hurricanes would not repeat as national champions. The loss dropped Miami to #8 while raising the Irish to #3. Perhaps an even greater upset came in Knoxville, where Alabama (with a 2-3 record), stunned #3 Tennessee, 9-6, just one week after the Volunteers had put 45 points on the Florida Gators. The Vols lined up to kick a potential game winning FG with less than two minutes left only to see Stacy Harrison block the kick. The momentum from the block sent the ball forty yards back downfield and put Alabama in position to win on a last second field goal by All-American Phillip Doyle. The loss was the Vols first in a year and dropped them out of the top ten. #5 Auburn beat #7 Florida State in a match-up of top ten teams. Auburn's win put them at #2 in the nation, their highest ranking since they won the national championship in 1957. #11 Georgia Tech suffered their first imperfection of the season, but they did not lose the game. Their tiff with North Carolina ended in a 13-13 tie that would later haunt the Yellow Jackets. Michigan lost their second game in a row following their ascent to number one.

The top five lined up as: Virginia, Auburn, Notre Dame, Nebraska, Illinois

Week Nine: October 27, 1990[edit]

A harrowing escape due to missed extra point attempt resulted in a drop of #2 Auburn by two spots in the AP poll. Mississippi State (3-3), showing signs of promise for Coach Rockey Felker, fought the 4-0-1 Tigers to the very end, scoring a touchdown on the final play. A successful point after try would net the Bulldogs a tie, but a block by Auburn's special teams preserved a 17-16 win at Scott Field. There was little other movement in the top ten, although BYU fell one spot from #9 to #10 despite routing New Mexico. The reason for the Cougars' fall was Colorado's impressive win over formerly #4-ranked Oklahoma. The Sooners had lost three games in a row, but Colorado's win put them at number nine. Auburn's drop enabled both #3 Notre Dame and #4 Nebraska to move up one spot each. Otherwise, the top five remained the same.

Week Ten: November 3, 1990[edit]

In perhaps the most exciting game of the 1990 college season, #16 Georgia Tech made a stunning comeback and outlasted #1 ranked Virginia, 41-38, at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville. The loss dropped the Cavaliers out of the #1 spot and made Virginia the fourth different number one to lose in 1990. But the game shared top billing with the showdown in Lincoln, Nebraska between #3 Nebraska and #9 Colorado. Trailing by 12 points with only 12 minutes to play, the Buffaloes scored four touchdowns, all from Eric Bieniemy, to win, 27-12, and all but clinch the Big Eight title for the second straight year. And just when the shock had worn off, #15 Florida routed #4 Auburn, 48-7, to send the Tigers tumbling all the way to #15.

The rankings on the morning of November 6, 1990 when the AP poll was released:

1. Notre Dame 2. Washington 3. Houston 4. Colorado 5. Miami 6. Iowa 7. Georgia Tech 8. BYU 9. Tennessee 10. Florida

Week Eleven: November 10, 1990[edit]

In keeping with the strange season where the uncommon became commonplace, four of the top nine teams lost and the muddy national title picture got a little clearer when the AP poll was released on November 13. The #2 Washington Huskies, poised for a possible shot at the title, lost a stunner at home to UCLA, 25-22, ending a national title dream, although the Huskies still had the inside track to the Rose Bowl. #3 Houston, with Heisman Trophy candidate David Klingler filling the shoes of departed 1989 Heisman winner, Andre Ware, finally lost, falling to #14 Texas and ending speculation that the national championship might go to a team on probation. Houston's bowl ineligibility assured they would be given no consideration in the final poll for a top ranking. #6 Iowa stumbled on the road and lost to Minnesota, 31-24, ending the Hawkeyes' title bid. And despite being given consideration time and again, #9 Tennessee managed a fourth imperfection on their record - two losses and two ties - when they fell to #1 Notre Dame, 34-29, in a nationally televised encounter.

The losses, however, helped clear the way for some other hopefuls. #4 Colorado, who only one month earlier had been mired at number twenty, completed a climb all the way back up to #2 when they routed Oklahoma State, 41-22. As long as the Buffaloes won their final encounter against 5-5 Kansas State, they were virtually guaranteed a shot at the national championship. #15 Auburn, on the other hand, showed how far one could fall the other direction, plummeting from #2 only two weeks earlier to #24 due to their 13-12 upset loss to Southern Miss.

Week 12: November 17, 1990[edit]

The championship picture, much clearer just a week earlier, was considerably muddied again when top-ranked Notre Dame became the fifth number one to fall from the top spot as #18 Penn State edged the #1 Irish, 24-21. Because bowl invitations were ready to be offered, the upset smothered any chance the Orange Bowl had of determining a consensus national champion. Those problems were exacerbated when former #8 Virginia lost to Maryland and in the process lost starting quarterback Shawn Moore due to injury.

The loss by Notre Dame put #2 Colorado in the number one spot for the first time since January 1, 1990. Rounding out the top five were Miami, Georgia Tech, BYU, and Florida.

Week 13: November 24, 1990[edit]

Perhaps bowing to public pressure due to their status as the nation's only unbeaten Division I-A team, the AP poll moved Georgia Tech up one spot from number three to number two after their 40-23 dismantling of the outmanned Bulldogs in their annual showdown. The Yellow Jackets now had the nation's longest current unbeaten streak at 15 games.

The Bowl Games[edit]

Three of the top four teams were contractually obligated to bowl games that left no chance for a #1 vs. #2 match-up. Number one Colorado was obligated to represent the Big Eight in the Orange Bowl; second-ranked Georgia Tech was forced to represent the Atlantic Coast Conference in the Florida Citrus Bowl. Although Miami and Notre Dame, ranked third and fifth respectively, were Independents and thus bound to no bowl, both had claims to make for the national title that necessitated defeating the highest-ranked foe. The Orange Bowl invitation to Notre Dame had already been extended prior to the late season loss by the Irish to Penn State, leaving Miami to face #4 Texas in the Cotton Bowl Classic. Although Miami had two losses, the Hurricanes would repeat as national champions if both Colorado and Georgia Tech lost while Miami won. The Hurricanes did their best, routing the Longhorns 46-3, but the early morning pounding of Nebraska by Georgia Tech closed the door on the Hurricanes chances and opened the question of whether Georgia Tech could possibly win a share if Colorado beat Notre Dame.

The wins by Miami and Georgia Tech ensured Notre Dame could not wind up as champion, but the Irish and Buffaloes fought to the finish with Colorado prevailing, 10-9, on a blocked extra point. With only 65 seconds left, it appeared Notre Dame had won when Rocket Ismail ran 91 yards with a punt return for touchdown that was called back on a questionable clipping penalty. Deon Figures intercepted Rick Mirer's desperation pass to clinch the national title for Colorado.

UPI Rankings Shake-up[edit]

When the final votes were counted, Colorado had won their first national champion as voted by the Associated Press. The UPI coaches poll, however, saw a shake-up that resulted in Georgia Tech moving to #1 by one point. The deciding vote was cast by Colorado Buffaloes rival Nebraska's head coach Tom Osborne, the only coach who had played both teams during the 1990 season. Colorado beat Nebraska 27-12 while Georgia Tech had beaten them in the Florida Citrus Bowl, 45-21.

See also[edit]

References[edit]