|1990 NCAA Division I-A season|
|Number of teams||107|
|Preseason AP No. 1||Miami Hurricanes|
|Duration||December 8, 1990 –
January 1, 1991
|AP Poll No. 1||Colorado Buffaloes|
|Coaches Poll No. 1||Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets|
|Heisman Trophy||Ty Detmer, BYU QB|
|Winner||Colorado Buffaloes (AP)
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (Coaches)
|Division I-A football seasons|
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.
- 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.
- Rose Bowl: Washington 46, Iowa 34
- Sugar Bowl: Tennessee 23, Virginia 22
- Gator Bowl: Michigan 35, Mississippi 3
- Cotton Bowl: Miami (FL) 46, Texas 3
- Fiesta Bowl: Louisville 34, Alabama 7
- Florida Citrus Bowl: Georgia Tech 45, Nebraska 21
- Orange Bowl: Colorado 10, Notre Dame 9
- Hall of Fame Bowl: Clemson 30, Illinois 0
- John Hancock Bowl: Michigan St. 17, Southern California 16
- Copper Bowl: California 17, Wyoming 15
- Holiday Bowl: Texas A&M 65, Brigham Young 14
- Freedom Bowl: Colorado St. 32, Oregon 31
- Peach Bowl: Auburn 27, Indiana 23
- All-American Bowl: North Carolina St. 31, Southern Mississippi 27
- Blockbuster Bowl: Florida St. 24, Penn St. 17
- Liberty Bowl: Air Force 23, Ohio St. 11
- Aloha Bowl: Syracuse 28, Arizona 0
- Independence Bowl: Louisiana Tech 34, Maryland 34
- California Bowl: San Jose St. 48, Central Michigan 24
Final AP Poll
|2||Georgia Tech (20)||11–0–1||1,441|
|3||Miami (FL) (1)||10–2–0||1,388|
Final UPI/Coaches Poll
- Georgia Tech
- Miami (FL)
- Florida State
- Notre Dame
- Penn State
- Texas A&M
- Michigan State
- Brigham Young
- San Jose State
- Virginia Tech
- Florida, Houston and Oklahoma were not eligible to be ranked in the coaches poll due to NCAA probation.
Heisman Trophy voting
- 2. Raghib Ismail, Notre Dame, Jr. WR
- 3. Eric Bieniemy, Colorado, Sr. RB
- 4. Shawn Moore, Virginia, Sr. QB
- 5. David Klingler, Houston, Jr. QB
Other major awards
- Maxwell Award – Ty Detmer, BYU
- Walter Camp Award – Raghib Ismail, Notre Dame
- O’Brien Award – Ty Detmer, BYU
- Lombardi (Linebacker) – Chris Zorich, Notre Dame
- Outland (Interior) – Russell Maryland, Miami-FL
- AFCA Coach of the Year – Bobby Ross, Georgia Tech
#1 and #2 progress
|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
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.
- Notre Dame
- Florida State
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
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 with a 31–31 tie with #8 Tennessee in the first ever Pigskin Classic, played at Anaheim Stadium.
Week Two: September 8, 1990
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, 27–24, quarterbacked by Brett Favre; the Tide opened their season with 3 straight losses. 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
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
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
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
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 (although Colorado likely would not have spiked the ball on what would have been fourth down had the down markers accurately reflected the number of plays run).
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, 36–31, in a game where the Irish muffed three punts. 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
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 archrival Michigan State; the Wolverines failed a two-point conversion with seconds to go as future 1991 Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard could not hold on to the ball when he was allegedly interfered with, in what was a very controversial no-call by the referees. The day's other upset of a top five team was #4 (AP only) Oklahoma's 14–13 loss to unranked Texas in the Red River Shootout. That loss did not affect the national championship picture, since Oklahoma was not eligible to play in a bowl game due to NCAA probation, nor could it be ranked in the coaches poll. #9 (AP only) Florida also endured their first loss in the Steve Spurrier era, losing a 45-3 rout at the hands of #5 Tennessee despite being down only 7–3 at halftime, and #18 Georgia Tech knocked off #15 Clemson, 21–19, in a game that was to be of greater importance 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
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 scored 10 points in the last 4 minutes to beat #7 Florida State 20–17 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 thanks to a Scott Sisson field goal in the closing seconds. 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 by a single point, this time to Iowa, 24–23, following their ascent to number one.
The top five lined up as: Virginia, Auburn, Notre Dame, Nebraska, Illinois
Week Nine: October 27, 1990
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
In perhaps the most exciting game of the 1990 college season, #16 Georgia Tech made a stunning comeback from 14 points down at half time and outlasted #1 ranked Virginia, 41–38, at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville, on a Scott Sisson field goal with 7 seconds left. 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:
- Notre Dame
- Georgia Tech
Week Eleven: November 10, 1990
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, when the Bruins kicked the game-winning FG with seven seconds left, 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, 45–24, 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 at home and lost to Ohio State, 27–26, as the Buckeyes scored the game-winning touchdown with one second left, 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. #7 Georgia Tech again came back in the fourth quarter and beat Virginia Tech, 6–3.
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 Twelve: November 17, 1990
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, on a Craig Fayak field goal with 4 second left, coming back from a 14-point deficit. 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 Thirteen: November 24, 1990
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 defeat of the Bulldogs in their annual showdown. The Yellow Jackets now had the nation's longest current unbeaten streak at 15 games.
Three of the top four teams were contractually obligated to bowl games that left no chance for a #1 vs. #2 match-up. As the Big Eight champion, #1 Colorado went to the Orange Bowl, and #2 Georgia Tech represented 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 45–21 pounding of #19 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 clipping penalty. Deon Figures intercepted Rick Mirer's desperation pass to clinch the national title for Colorado.
UPI rankings shake-up
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, in Lincoln while Georgia Tech had beaten them in the Florida Citrus Bowl, 45–21.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-01-29. Retrieved 2009-01-03.