The 1993 Miami Hurricanes were a solid football team by any reasonable measure. Any measure that is, except the one the program had established in the preceding decade. A Cinderella national title in 1983 was followed by titles in 1987, 1989 and 1991. The ‘Canes narrowly missed more two more titles in 1986 and 1988. For seven years running, they had finished in the top three of the final national polls.
But the end to the 1992 season showed a crack in the armor. Miami went to the Sugar Bowl ranked #1 and heavily favored to defeat #2 Alabama. Instead, the Hurricanes were beaten decisively. They were licking their wounds and trying to re-establish their mojo in 1993.
The defense was the strong point of the team and that unit was anchored up front. Kevin Patrick was an All-American defensive lineman. Darren Krein was second-team All-American. In the secondary, Dexter Siegler got some love in the All-American voting. Overall, the D ranked seventh in the nation in points allowed.
It was the offense which stumbled and it started with instability at quarterback. Frank Costa and Ryan Collins shared duties. Collins’ overall production was better—60 percent completion rate and 8.3 yards-per-attempt, compared to 54 percent and 6.7 for Costa. But Collins also threw twice as many interceptions.
Nor was the running game as potent as it had been in years past. James Stewart had a good year, rushing for over 600 yards at nearly six yards a carry. But Donnell Bennett, who got the most carries, had a pedestrian 563 yards and was held under four a pop. The receivers were good—Chris T. Jones, Jonathan Harris and A.C. Tellison could stretch the field. But the revolving door at quarterback prevented any of them from posting huge numbers. Miami ended up 34th in the country in points scored.
1993 was the first year the Big East would be a full-fledged football conference, playing a complete round-robin schedule. It was an eight-team league. Miami, obviously, was the favorite and the flagship program. Boston College, Virginia Tech, Syracuse and West Virginia were expected to produce respectable teams. Pitt and Rutgers were seen as subpar. Temple was simply awful.
Miami had played a number of games against these teams when they were all independents and the last time they had lost one was 1984 against Boston College, a legendary game when Doug Flutie’s desperation pass to Gerald Phelan on the final play became one for the ages. So perhaps it was fitting that a road trip to BC was how Miami would open this 1993 season.
This was a Top 20 game on the Saturday before Labor Day, with the Hurricanes ranked fifth nationally and the Eagles ranked #20. Miami made a strong early statement. They sacked BC quarterback Glenn Foley four times and intercepted him three more. The ‘Canes completely shut down the run. Costa went 15/31 for 205 yards. The final was 23-7 and the BC touchdown didn’t come until very late in the game.
Virginia Tech came to Coral Gables and the defense was again locked in, delivering a 21-2 win. The only points Miami had allowed in two weeks against pretty good teams were a meaningless touchdown and a safety.
A difficult September schedule continued with a trip to play #13 Colorado and the first problems popped up. Not at first—Bennett rushed for 123 yards and Miami led 35-15 in the fourth quarter. Then they gave up two touchdowns and the Buffaloes got the ball back. Colorado drove to the Miami 11-yard line before a facemask penalty set them back and the Hurricanes hung on for the 35-29 win.
The big story of the game afterwards though, was a brawl that had broken out just before halftime. Both benches cleared and overall, twelve players were ejected. Coaches for both teams—Dennis Erickson for Miami and Colorado’s Bill McCartney admitted there was shared fault. But given Miami’s reputation for such antics—most notably their huge number of unsportsmanlike penalties in 1990 against Texas—it was the ‘Canes who took the brunt of the public relations hit.
They returned home and cleaned up on Georgia Southern, a non-Division I program, in an easy 30-7 win. That set the stage for a trip to Florida State.
The Miami-Florida State rivalry of this era was the stuff of legend, easily the top rivalry in college football from a national perspective and probably the hottest rivalry in all of sports. And Miami consistently got the best of their in-state brethren. This year, the Seminoles were ranked #1 in the country and everyone was wondering if they could finally get over the hump that was Miami.
In previous years, Miami might have thrived on such a challenge. But they did not play well on this day and lost 28-10. The Hurricanes were still #6 in the polls, but their national championship hopes had taken a seemingly fatal hit.
Miami came to a soft part of the schedule and blasted Syracuse, Temple and Pitt by a combined score of 126-14. A 31-17 win over Rutgers wasn’t impressive, but the ‘Canes were back up to #4 in the polls. They needed a lot of help to have a serious national championship shot. But that help was coming.
On the same day as Miami’s win over Rutgers, Florida State lost to second-ranked and undefeated Notre Dame. A week later, the Irish turned around and lost to Boston College. The national championship picture was in utter chaos.
The only two undefeated teams left were Nebraska and West Virginia…and the Hurricanes would visit the Mountaineers in the game that started just after the conclusion of Notre Dame’s upset loss to BC. The Miami-West Virginia game was now more than a battle for the inaugural Big East title, it was going to shape how the national championship picture looked.
For those of us that hated the ‘Canes back in the day, it was like a bad dream that would never end. You couldn’t let this team off the mat. But this was a different Miami team than what we were used to. Again, they did not play well in a big road game. Some missed West Virginia opportunities allowed the ‘Canes to take a 14-10 lead into the fourth quarter, but a punt return gave the Mountaineers a short field and they drove it for the winning touchdown.
Miami wrapped up the season with a 41-17 win over a respectable Memphis team. The Hurricanes were still ranked #10 and they still got a major bowl bid—a Fiesta Bowl matchup with #16 Arizona. There was still an opportunity to go out on a good note.
But this was a program for whom nothing less than the national championship was worth playing for. Arizona, by contrast, was hungry and welcomed the opportunity. They had a terrific defense, led by defensive end Tedy Bruschi. In a season marked by spotty performances in big games, Miami played their worst one yet in a 29-0 loss. They concluded the season ranked #15.
It was an un-Miami like finish and started a two-year cycle where the Hurricanes would be a good, contending team. But they would also be a team that clearly was a notch below the superpowers we’d all become accustomed to seeing come out of Coral Gables. And the latter part of the 1990s would not be good ones for Miami football.