The Miami Hurricanes Had a Say in the Creation of a National Championship Game

Feb 5, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Fox Sports broadcaster Jimmy Johnson before Super Bowl LI at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 5, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Fox Sports broadcaster Jimmy Johnson before Super Bowl LI at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

The first true National Championship game was the 1987 Fiesta Bowl between the Miami Hurricanes and Penn State Nittany Lions. The game was the first time that two independents ranked number one and number two played each other in a bowl game.

The Miami Hurricanes got routed in Sugar Bowl following the 1985 season with an outside chance at the National Championship. Miami used the 35-7 loss against Tennessee in New Orleans on New Year’s Day as motivation for the 1986 season.

The 1986 Miami Hurricanes team was one of the most dominant in college football history and one of the best to not win the National Championship. The Hurricanes were third in the country in scoring at 35.8 points per game and fourth in points allowed at 12.5 ppg.

Vinnie Testaverde finished the season with 2,557 yards, 26 touchdowns, and nine interceptions. He won the Heisman Trophy by over 1,500 points in the voting.

The Hurricanes opened the season ranked number three. They earned the nation’s top ranking by September 30th and stayed there through the rest of the regular season.

Miami took over the nation’s top ranking after whacking Oklahoma 28-16 on September 27th. The Hurricanes two other wins over ranked teams that season were victories over number 13 Florida and Number 20 Florida State.

Athlon recently named the 1987 Fiesta Bowl as one of college football’s 50 biggest innovations over the last 50 years.

"33. Fiesta Bowl: No. 1 vs. No. 2Now that college football chooses a national champion by a tournament, rather than an election, it’s hard to remember what it was like in the Old Days, when men in funny-colored jackets tried to make deals with schools to play in their bowl games.When the 1986 regular season ended, Miami and Penn State were Nos. 1 and 2 in the polls. More important, each was an Independent and therefore not tied to any one particular postseason game due to conference affiliation.The Citrus Bowl tried to money-whip the teams into playing each other in Orlando, but the Fiesta Bowl convinced the Hurricanes and Nittany Lions to get it on in Tempe. Then, NBC stepped in and moved the game — which suddenly had more cachet than the more established Rose, Orange, Sugar and Cotton Bowls — to Jan. 2, to create a stand-alone national championship event. The move worked. More people watched the Fiesta Bowl, a 14–10 Penn State win, than any other bowl to that point."

This created the first time a true national championship game was arranged instead of by circumstance. In the past when number one met number two in a bowl game one of the teams had been in the game via a conference tie-in.

The other team was always an independent having to play that team in their conference’s bowl game. The only exception was when the Pac 8/10 Champion had met the Big Ten Champion in the Rose Bowl.

Miami opened the game as a seven-point favorite but it could be argued the spread should have been bigger. The Hurricanes dominated the stat sheet in virtually every way but turnover margin.

As Canes Warning examined earlier this week:

"“It was a game Miami should have won…They outgained Penn State 455 yards to 162. Miami was destroying the Nittany Lions on the ground.”"

The Hurricanes turned the ball over seven times to Penn State’s three. That was the major difference in the Nittany Lions’ 14-10 victory.

From the organizers’ view the game was a huge success. The ratings of 25.1 percent of households tuned into the game with 70 million viewers was the highest-rated college football game in history. That’s a mark that still stands today.

The game was largely viewed as Miami’s brash aggressive style of play versus Penn State more subdued and traditional team. The interest set a standard and paved the way for the BCS. The BCS then eventually spawned the college football playoff.

Next: Three Miami Hurricanes Make ESPN’s Fantasy Top 200

When the Hurricanes get into the playoff for the first time in their history remember that they had a huge role in trying to determine a national champion on the field instead of in the polls.