The 1992 NCAA Division I-A football season was the first year of the Bowl Coalition and concluded with Alabama's first national championship in thirteen years—their first since the departure of Bear Bryant. One of Bryant's former players, Gene Stallings, was the head coach, and he used a style similar to Bryant's, a smashmouth running game combined with a tough defense.
The members of the Bowl Coalition were the Sugar Bowl, Orange Bowl, Cotton Bowl Classic, and Fiesta Bowl. Under the agreement the Sugar Bowl, Orange Bowl, and Cotton Bowl Classic hosted the Southeastern Conference, Big 8, and Southwest Conference champions, respectively, and then a pool of at large teams was formed between the Atlantic Coast Conference champ, the Big East champ, Notre Dame, and two conference runner ups from the Big 8, SWC, ACC, Big East and Pac-10. The highest ranked host team would play the highest ranked at-large team. If the two highest ranked teams were both at-large teams, the championship game would be hosted by the Fiesta Bowl.
So for this year, (host) SEC champ Alabama played (at-large) Big East Champ Miami-FL, the Orange Bowl featured (host) Big-8 champ Nebraska and (at-large) ACC champ Florida St., the Cotton Bowl Classic featured (host) SWC champ Texas A&M and (at-large) independent Notre Dame, and the Fiesta Bowl featured (at-large) Big East runner up Syracuse and (at-large) Big 8 runner up Colorado.
The 1992 season also saw the expansion of the SEC and the first conference championship game to be played in the country. Before the 1992 season, the Arkansas Razorbacks and the South Carolina Gamecocks joined the SEC, which expanded the conference to twelve teams. The conference then split into two divisions, and the winner of each division would face off in the SEC Championship Game in Birmingham's historic Legion Field (later moved to Atlanta's Georgia Dome, in 1994). In the first year of the new system, Alabama won the SEC West, Florida won the SEC East, and the Tide won the match-up 28-21 on an Antonio Langham interception return for a touchdown in the closing minutes.
In the Sugar Bowl, to decide the national champion, Miami came in a heavy favorite with even heavier swagger. The Tide defense, however, with its eleven man fronts and zone blitzes, heavily confused Heisman Trophy winner Gino Torretta and Alabama won in a defensive rout, 34-13.
Fumbles can now be recovered and advanced by the defense anywhere on the field (previously it only applied to fumbles beyond the line of scrimmage), except for backward passes and muffed punts/kickoffs.
The distance between the hashmarks was narrowed from 53 feet, 4 inches (the same as high school football) to 40 feet (the standard used by the National Football League through the 1971 season). This cut down on severe angles for kickers who attempted short field goals, although angles would still be far greater than those encountered by kickers in the NFL, where the hashmarks are the same width as the goalposts, 18 feet, 6 inches.
Until the November 10, 1992 poll, #1 and #2 shifted between Miami and Seattle, as the Miami Hurricanes and the Washington Huskies were only points apart at the top. In the preseason poll, Miami had 40 of the 62 first place votes cast, and Washington 12. After both teams went 5-0, they each got first place votes from 31 electors, split 31½ each, and on October 13, the Huskies were ahead by a single point 1,517½ to 1,516½. The following week, there was a tie for first place for the first time in the history of the AP poll, with Miami and Washington each collecting 1,517 points (Miami had more first place votes, 31 to 30, as another writer went with 7-0-0 Alabama). The next week, Miami was ahead 1,517 to 1,516, and the week after, Washington was on top again. On November 7, the Huskies lost at Arizona, 16-3 to fall to 8-1-0. In the remaining polls, Miami was the clear cut favorite for #1, with 61 of the 62 votes, and Alabama was everyone's favorite #2. Both finished the regular season unbeaten. Since Miami was an "at-large" school, and Alabama was the highest ranked of the "host schools" (qualifying for the Sugar Bowl as the Southeastern Conference champion), the #1 vs. #2 matchup would take place in New Orleans.