The 1990 Miami Hurricanes came into the season atop the college football world in every way. They won their third national championship in seven years in 1989, each one under a different coach and making Dennis Erickson 1-for-1 in winning titles in his first year. The Hurricanes were ranked #1 to begin the 1990 college football season. This was another excellent season in Coral Gables, but one that fell short of the standards the program had established for itself.
An NFL-style passing game differentiated the Miami offense and they were led by quarterback Craig Erickson (no relation to his coach). Erickson averaged a healthy 8.6 yards-per-attempt and finished with 22/7 TD-INT ratio. Randall Hill, an eventual first-round NFL draft choice led a deep receivers corp that included Lamar Thomas and tight end Rob Chudzinski.
Miami was no less outstanding on defense, led by tackle Russell Maryland, who went first overall in the following spring’s NFL draft. Defensive end Shane Curry was a second-round pick. The rest of the defense and offensive line was sprinkled with players the pro scouts had their eyes on. The Hurricanes would finish in the Top 10 in both scoring offense and scoring defense, even as they played a rigorous schedule.
That schedule proved to be their undoing though. They traveled to BYU for the opener and gave up over 400 yards passing to Ty Detmer, who launched a successful Heisman campaign by upsetting Miami 28-21. The ‘Canes rebounded with easy wins over Cal and eventual Big Ten co-champ Iowa. Miami was ranked ninth in the polls as the calender turned to October.
On October 6, the ‘Canes put themselves back in the national championship race with a decisive win over archrival and second-ranked Florida State. Miami scored on four straight possessions in the first half and built a 24-6 lead. When the lead was cut to ten, they used a power running game to salt it away. Stephen McGuire ran for 176 yards and Leonard Conley added 144 more. A 14-play scoring drive in the fourth quarter sealed a game that ended 31-22.
Miami was now #3 and going to South Bend to face Notre Dame in the last installment of the “Catholics vs. Convicts” Rivalry that was the hottest in all of sports from 1988-90. Another Heisman contender—Notre Dame’s Raghib Ismail, who finished second to Detmer—made his case against the ‘Canes and led the Irish to a 29-20 win. Miami fell to #8.
In most years that would have ended their national championship hopes, but 1990 was taking chaos to new levels in college football. The Hurricanes won their final five games, getting a scare only at San Diego State in the finale and finished the regular season 9-2 and ranked #4.
The reward was a Cotton Bowl trip to play third-ranked Texas and a national title was still a possibility. Colorado and Georgia Tech were in the 1-2 poll spots, but playing in separate bowls. From Miami’s standpoint, the only downside was that Colorado was playing #5 Notre Dame and if the Buffs lost, the Irish—with the same two-loss record and a head-to-head win, might jump over Miami.
That meant Miami needed to not only win and get plenty of help, but they needed to look impressive doing it. No one can say they weren’t motivated on a dreary Dallas afternoon on New Year’s Day.
Texas tried to play man coverage on Miami’s receivers and it blew up quickly. Erickson hit Wesley Carroll for a pair of first-half touchdowns and the lead was 19-3 by the half. In the second half, the game got completely out of control. The Hurricanes couldn’t be stopped and won 46-3, one of the most stunning routs in the history of college football bowl games. They also couldn’t contain their excitement and accrued over 200 yards in penalties, many of the personal foul and taunting variety.
As it turned out, Georgia Tech was taking care of its business at the same time and Colorado edged Notre Dame that night. It’s interesting to think of how a Miami-Notre Dame vote might have turned out had it come to that, because the Hurricanes were the talk of college football in the aftermath—both for how badly they crushed the #3 team in the country and for what poor sportsmanship had been shown in the process.
Miami had still sent a message about how good they were capable of being and it set the tone for an even stronger message in 1991—when they won yet another national championship.