The 1990 college football season remains as chaotic a season as the sport has ever seen. Teams fell from the #1 ranking as quickly as they rose. New teams emerged and a rivalry that was as epic as it was short-lived, said farewell.
Notre Dame and Miami defined college football over a three-year period that culminated in 1990. The bad blood between the schools was high enough that their rivalry came to an end. But both took their turns at the #1 spot in the polls, both were in the mix all year and they played one last terrific football game with each other on an October afternoon in South Bend.
But unlike the previous two seasons, it wasn’t the Irish or the Hurricanes that landed on top of the polls when all was said and done. Colorado emerged as a national power in 1989 and in this 1990 season, they nipped Notre Dame in a dramatic Orange Bowl game and were voted a share of the national championship.
Who got the other share? For much of the season, it looked like Virginia was going to be the upstart crashing the party. The Cavaliers were unbeaten and ranked #1 in November. But a crushing home loss to Georgia Tech ended UVA’s dreams and opened the door for Tech. The Yellow Jackets finished the regular season 10-0-1 and then thumped Nebraska in a bowl game. Georgia Tech deservedly got national championship recognition.
Washington was re-emerging as a serious national contender in the Pac-10 after spending six years out of the limelight. The Huskies won the conference title, flirted with the top of the polls and their decisive Rose Bowl win foreshadowed an even bigger year in 1991.
Two other powers lurked on the national stage all season. One was Texas, who made a resurgence in the old Southwest Conference. The Longhorns concluded the regular season ranked #3 and went into bowl season with a real shot at winning at all. But to say their Cotton Bowl date with Miami didn’t go well would be something of an understatement.
And Bobby Bowden’s Florida State Seminoles continued what was now a recent patter of staying on the national stage and winning most every big game except the one they played every year with Miami. FSU racked up another top 5 finish in the polls when all was said and done.
These eight teams did the most to shape the race for the national championship in the wild year that was 1990. Links to articles about their seasons—the key players, big games and important moments—are below. Taken collectively, the articles are a great way to re-live the drama of the 1990 college football season through the eyes of its most consequential teams.