Like when Bobby Bowden won his first national title at Florida State. His No. 1-ranked Seminoles lost to Holtz’s No. 2-ranked Notre Dame team in a “Game of the Century” late in the 1993 season and then a week later Notre Dame lost on a last-second field goal to Boston College.
There was a huge controversy about who should play Nebraska in the Orange Bowl for the national championship, and the voters chose FSU. The Seminoles would go on to beat Nebraska for the national title on a last-second field goal miss by the Cornhuskers.
“To win the national championship, you gotta have some luck,” Bowden said. “Every national champion was lucky.”
To this day, Holtz believes Notre Dame, because of beating FSU head-to-head and having the same number of losses as the Seminoles, should have been voted into the national title game.
He points to 1989 when Notre Dame played the toughest schedule in the country but lost one game to Miami and then watched as the one-loss Hurricanes got to play Alabama for the national title. Holtz believes there was an anti-Notre Dame sentiment among voters because the Fighting Irish had just signed an exclusive national TV deal with NBC.
“In 1989, everybody said Miami should play for the national title because they beat us head-to-head,” Holtz said. “But that wasn’t the way it was in 1993 when we beat FSU head-to-head. It doesn’t matter what season or which national champion you’re talking about, every one of them had to have an extreme amount of luck.”
Steve Spurrier can certainly vouch for that. His only national championship at Florida in 1996 was filled with a set of unlikely circumstances. The Gators lost the final game of the regular season to Bowden’s Seminoles, but then incredulously stood by and watched the undefeated teams ranked ahead of them — Nebraska and Arizona State — eventually lose in the Big 12 Conference title game and the Rose Bowl, respectively. That meant the Florida-Florida State rematch in the Sugar Bowl would determine the national champion, and the Gators took advantage by destroying the Seminoles 52-20.
“God,” Spurrier insisted then, “is smiling on the Gators.”
A decade later, Spurrier once again sensed that the Gators — Urban Meyer’s Gators — were the benefactors of divine intervention. He stood in the losing locker room as the coach of South
Carolina in 2006 after Florida blocked three kicks, including one on the final play of the game, to beat the Gamecocks by a point.
“Looks like it could be the year of the Gator,” Spurrier said afterward, shaking his head. “Everything’s going right for them.”
And it continued as all the undefeated teams ahead of them went down. West Virginia lost. Louisville lost. Michigan lost. Texas lost. Auburn lost. Then, on the final week of the season, Southern Cal inexplicably lost to UCLA. That’s right, UCLA held high-powered USC to just nine points and then would give up 44 to a mediocre Florida State team in the Emerald Bowl.
How did this happen?
Shelley Meyer — formerly of UF and now, ironically, the first lady of Ohio State — pulled something out of her purse that day in 2006 and showed it to me.
The lucky buckeye.
It’s just a nutty business.
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