1989: Notre Dame and Miami each finished the season with one loss, and capped off their respective years with bowl victories. Notre Dame had played a brutal schedule throughout, with wins over both ends of the Rose Bowl, in Michigan and USC, plus 10-win Virginia, plus eight-win teams in Penn State, Pitt, Air Force and Michigan State. On the other hand, Miami had played a lighter slate, beating Michigan State and Pitt, while losing to Florida State in Tallahassee. If the story ends here, there's no question Notre Dame is #1. But the Irish and Hurricanes met on the field on the Saturday after Thanksgiving and the 'Canes handled ND to the tune of 27-10. There is a long tradition in all of sports, particularly in football, regarding the primacy of head-to-head competition. Miami won the national championship.
1993: Notre Dame and Florida State each finished the season with one loss and capped off their respective years with bowl victories. Florida State had played a brutal schedule throughout, beating national powers Miami and Florida, plus solid wins over competitive ACC schools in N.C. State, Virginia and Clemson. On the other hand, Notre Dame played a lighter slate, beating Michigan in a down year, USC in a down year and six-win foes in Michigan State and BYU. If the story ends here, there's no question Florida State is #1. But the Seminoles and Irish met on the field on the second Saturday in November and ND handled the 'Noles. The 31-24 final was deceptively close--it took a fluke 4th-and-20 conversion off a batted pass to keep FSU in a game they were whipped at the line of scrimmage. There is a long tradition in all of sports, particularly in football, regarding the primacy of head-to-head competition...and...wait a minute. Never mind. Florida State won the national championship.
To read more about the 1989 & 1993 seasons, along with many others, check out Dan Flaherty's book The Last New Year's, chronicling all the best moments and best arguments in the New Year's era.
Are you serious? How does anyone argue that Holtz's Irish shouldn't have been crowned in one of these seasons? If it were up to me, I'd have voted Miami in 1989 and Notre Dame in 1993, because while their schedules weren't great, they weren't awful either--it wasn't as if either team could spend the season pointing towards their one big game. But I respect the alternative view, held by a friend of mine, who backed '89 Notre Dame and '93 Florida State on the grounds that strength of schedule, not head-to-head, should be the first tiebreaker. The only reason for completely freezing Notre Dame out is anti-Irish bias, which is really no reason at all. In the college football version of Cold Case, it's time to get Dr. Lou some justice and get him a second national championship ring. Justice delayed is better than justice denied.
Image from arkansasonline.com
Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network, offering daily commentary in college football ,game analysis in the NFL. and coverage of college basketball. He is the author of The Last New Year's, a book that revisits the historic high points of college football's New Year's Day bowl games.