The Miami-Notre Dame rivalry was at a fever pitch in the 1989 college football season, and for the second straight year, the Hurricanes and Irish ended up 1-2 in the polls. This time they switched positions. Miami’s head-to-head win over Notre Dame on the Saturday after Thanksgiving was the difference in deciding the national championship.
These two heavyweights were clearly the gold standard in college football, but six other teams made notable forays onto the national stage. None was more surprising—or heartwarming—than Colorado.
With their quarterback dying of stomach cancer, the Buffaloes went on to an undefeated regular season in his memory. Only an Orange Bowl loss to Notre Dame denied Colorado the top spot. The Buffs also won the regular season’s second-biggest game, a high-profile showdown with then-unbeaten Nebraska.
Michigan was ranked #1 to start the season, and only a loss to Notre Dame in the season opener marred the Wolverines’ regular season resume. Legendary head coach Bo Schembecler announced his retirement just prior to the Rose Bowl—a game that ended in a tough loss to another one-loss contender in USC.
Alabama hadn’t made a serious run at the national title since the great Bear Bryant was at the helm in 1981, but the Crimson Tide won their first ten games in this 1989 season. Losses to Auburn in the season finale, and Miami in the Sugar Bowl ruined the dream, but it was still a good comeback season for ‘Bama.
And by season’s end, was anyone hotter than Florida State? Two early losses removed the Seminoles from national title consideration. But they never lost again, and were the only team to beat Miami. Florida State finished the season #3, with a lot of observers convinced that had a multi-team playoff existed at the time, the ‘Noles might have been the toughest out of all.
You can read more about all eight contenders at the links below. Their key players and big games are all recounted. Taken collectively, these eight articles are the way to experience the 1989 college football season through the eyes of its best teams.