In the wee hours Thursday morning, not long after Miami had completed an undefeated football season by beating Nebraska in the Orange Bowl, Hurricane Coach Dennis Erickson finally let head meet pillow. Of course, sleep didn't arrive until Erickson was officially informed of the Associated Press poll results, which, by the narrowest voting margin in football rankings history, showed that Miami had finished No. 1 in the nation.
"That was good enough for me," Erickson said.
Erickson knew better than to wait for the results of the USA Today/CNN coaches' poll. As expected, his peers chose Washington, allowing the unbeaten Huskies to claim half a share of a national championship, the second time in as many years that the title has been split.
Last season, it was Colorado and Georgia Tech who rushed to the engraver's shop on Jan. 2. This time, it is Miami, which certainly knows the way, with two championships in the last three years and four in the last nine, and Washington, which earns its first trophy.
Considering the circumstances--two 12-0 teams, two rankings, two sets of supporters--Thursday's results were appropriate and fair enough.
Washington had negotiated a Pacific 10 Conference schedule that included ranked Stanford and California and had beaten nonconference opponent Nebraska, 36-21, at Lincoln and Michigan, 34-14, in the Rose Bowl. The Huskies began their season without quarterback Mark Brunell, the 1991 Rose Bowl's most valuable player who would have been the starter had he not injured his knee in spring practice. Instead, Billy Joe Hobert took over, and the Huskies never glanced back.
Miami defeated five teams that eventually played in bowls, including Penn State, which finished No. 3, and Florida State, which was No. 1 when the teams met Nov. 16. At season's beginning, Miami was considered a year away from truly challenging for a national championship. With only seven senior starters, the Hurricanes were supposed to be good but not perfect. That was before the Miami defense and team speed asserted itself in ways unstoppable.
"They're a great team and we're a great team, we both went 12-0, and hey, we won a national championship," Erickson said. "That's all that matters."
That's not entirely true. Erickson would like to know which coach voted his Hurricanes No. 3 in the final poll. Unlike the AP media poll, the USA Today/CNN poll guarantees anonymity to its voters, which means Erickson will probably never learn who could place another team, other than Washington, above Miami.
"I wonder what the hell he was drinking (Wednesday) night," a miffed Erickson said.
Or as defensive end Rusty Medearis described the unnamed voter: "He's an idiot, plain and simple."
After their 22-0 Orange Bowl victory over Nebraska, Miami players and coaches predicted a split championship. They got it, but it was closer than expected.
The final AP point total had Miami edging Washington, 1,472 to 1,468. This was 10 fewer points than the Hurricanes had a week earlier, and Miami also lost first-place votes from a week ago, dropping from a 37-23 lead to a 32-28 margin.
Washington's victory in the USA Today/CNN poll was slightly more comfortable. The Huskies received 1,449 1/2 points to the Hurricanes' 1,440 1/2. Last week, the teams were tied. Also, Washington jumped ahead of Miami in first-place votes, finishing with a 33 1/2-25 1/2 advantage. A week ago, the Hurricanes led, 31-28.
If Erickson was concerned about the drop-off in Hurricane voting support or the narrow margin of his AP victory, he didn't act like it. Instead, he said he would cherish this, his second championship in three seasons, more than the first.
"(That's) because of where we were picked (before the season) . . . the youth that we had . . . how it came about, more than anything . . . that we didn't have a so-called superstar," he said.
Washington Coach Don James also has reason to be proud. After finishing second in the polls to surprising Brigham Young in 1984, James, 59, and Washington at last have a national championship to call their own. It is the school's first such title in a major sport.
The Huskies were led by tackle Steve Emtman, who anchored a defense that was probably second only to Miami's in dominating the opposition. Washington's offense was equally impressive, outscoring regular-season opponents by an average of 32.7 points.
"I'd still like to play them," Medearis said, "but that's not going to happen. (A split championship) is really the only way it could happen."
A look at the season-ending college football polls that produced a split vote for the national championship.
Voting by sportswriters and sportscasters. First-place votes in parentheses. Total points based on 25 points for a first-place vote through one point for a 25th-place vote.
No. School Record Points 1. Miami (32) 12-0-0 1,472 2. Washington (28) 12-0-0 1,468 3. Penn State 11-2-0 1,342 4. Florida State 11-2-0 1,310 5. Alabama 11-1-0 1,216 6. Michigan 10-2-0 1,151 7. Florida 10-2-0 1,119 8. California 10-2-0 1,039 9. East Carolina 11-1-0 1,024 10. Iowa 10-1-1 883
Voting by coaches. First-place votes in parentheses. Total points based on 25 points for a first-place vote through one point for a 25th-place vote.
No. School Record Points 1. Washington (33 1/2) 12-0-0 1,449 1/2 2. Miami (25 1/2) 12-0-0 1,440 1/2 3. Penn State 11-2-0 1,321 4. Florida State 11-2-0 1,292 5. Alabama 11-1-0 1,191 6. Michigan 10-2-0 1,071 7. California 10-2-0 1,027 8. Florida 10-2-0 1,020 9. East Carolina 11-1-0 1,003 10. Iowa 10-1-1 944
* GENE WOJCIECHOWSKI
A final analysis of the college football season and one man's No. 1: Miami. C6