The 1986 season was pretty cut and dry. Both Miami and Penn State finished the season with identical undefeated 11-0 record. With both teams being independent at the time, the Fiesta snatched up the chance to match them up for a defacto National Championship Game.
Oklahoma was the pre-season number one as the defending National Champion. They stayed there until Heisman Trophy Winner Vinny Testaverde and the ‘Canes defeated OU 28-16 at the Orange Bowl in September. Miami gained the number-one ranking after beating Oklahoma and held it throughout the rest of the regular season.
The Hurricanes had an earlier win over then number 13 Florida and would later defeat number 20 Florida State. Penn State’s only significant regular-season win was a 23-3 victory at then number two Alabama in October. The Crimson Tide finished the regular season 9-3 and ranked 13th.
If there had been a playoff, things all were pretty secure who the other two teams would have been. Number three Oklahoma and Number Four Michigan were the only other major teams with one loss and no ties. Michigan’s one loss was to Minnesota.
The Hurricanes and Wolverines would have matched up and Oklahoma and Penn State would have squared a rematch of 1985’s defacto national championship game. As it was Miami dominated the Fiesta Bowl in every statistical category except turnovers and the scoreboard.
Testaverde struggled in his second straight bowl, throwing five interceptions. Johnson and the Hurricanes came up short for the second consecutive year and Penn State won their second National Championship.