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On This Date in Sports January 1, 1992: Splitting the Title

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For the second straight season, the National Championship is split. Miami defeats Nebraska 22-0 and claims the AP National Championship with a 12-0 season. Meanwhile, Washington also finishes 12-0 and beats Michigan 34-14 in the Rose Bowl, and ends the season ranked #1 in the Coaches Poll. There was a call for the two unbeaten teams to meet in a bowl game, but as Pac-10 Champions, Washington was locked into the Rose Bowl, where they beat #3 Michigan. The Hurricanes defeated #11 Nebraska in the Orange Bowl to win their fourth National Championship in eight years. For the Huskies, it was their first National Championship from a significant poll. 

It was the era of the U. The University of Miami had become a college football dynasty after winning the 1983 National Championship in the 1984 Orange Bowl. Over the next eight years, Miami won two more National Championships in 1987 and 1989, while just missing in 1986 and 1988. Miami made a statement in the 1991 Sugar Bowl, humiliating Texas 46-3 while collecting over 200 yards in penalties, most of which were unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, leading to the "Miami Rule." The Hurricanes led by Dennis Erickson took no prisoners in 1991, winning all 11 games on their schedule. This included a thrilling 17-16 win on November 16th against rival Florida State on a missed field goal as time expired. 

Washington took a more subtle approach as they began the season in the Top-5 but never caught the Nation's attention playing in the Pacific Northwest. Coached by Don James, the Huskies had the finest season in program history, going 11-0. Washington was backed by a strong defense led by Steve Etman, who would win the Lombardi and Outland Trophies and would be selected first in the 1992 NFL Draft. Partially due to East Coast Bias, Washington spent the season in the shadow of Miami, but most observers considered them the better team. 

Sadly there would be no meeting of Miami and Washington, the two best teams in the country. All conferences were locked into bowl games. While the Big East football conference was launched in 1991, keeping Miami's options open, Washington was locked into the Rose Bowl against the Big Ten Champions. There was no BCS, meaning the two unbeaten teams had to win and impress to claim the National Championship.

The Rose Bowl kicked off first in Pasadena. Michigan ranked #3 had a shot at winning the National Championship if they beat Washington and Miami lost to Nebraska. The Wolverines, coached by Gary Moeller, finished 10-1 as Desmond Howard won the Heisman Trophy. After a scoreless first quarter, Billy Joe Hobert scored on a two-yard bootleg to give Washington the lead. Michigan quickly answered as Walter Smith caught a nine-yard touchdown pass from Elvis Grbac. The Huskies would get a pair of field goals from Travis Hanson to build a 13-7 lead at the half. 

Washington extended the lead to 21-7 in the third quarter as Hobert, the game's MVP, had a five-yard touchdown pass to Mark Bruener. Billy Joe Hobert added a third touchdown with a two-yard pass to Aaron Pierce. Mark Brunnel would get into the action with a 38-yard touchdown pass to Mario Bailey, following a turnover on downs. Michigan would get a 53-yard touchdown run by Tyrone Wheatly, but the Huskies would leave the field claiming their share of the National Championship with a 34-14 win. 

Miami took the field at the Orange Bowl, knowing that Washington had won their game. It was all but assured the Coaches Poll would crown the Huskies. The Hurricanes had to worry about beating #11 Nebraska, who went 9-1-1 in the regular season, with a 36-21 loss to Washington on September 21st. It was considered a Nebraska home game, and the Hurricanes were not allowed to use their smoke machine. Looking for a mental edge, Miami's mascot improvised using a fire extinguisher to create smoke and fire up the crowd. 

The mental edge appeared to work, as Miami jumped out to a quick lead with Kevin Williams catching an eight-yard touchdown pass from Gino Torretta. Miami would hold a 13-0 lead at the end of the first quarter, as they dominated both sides of the ball but settled for two field goals from Carlos Huerta. 

Tom Osborne's high-powered Husker offense could not get anything going. The Miami defense dominated with future superstar Dwayne Johnson playing a reserve role as  Nebraska was shut out for the first time in two decades as the Hurricanes held them to 169 yards total offense. Miami added a touchdown by Larry Jones and a third field goal by Huerta to win the game 22-0, earning a share of the National Championship from the AP Writers Poll.

Both Miami and Washington claimed to be the actual National Champions. Washington beat Miami in a computer simulation, but there would be no resolution on the field. The Huskies would beat Miami in 1994, ending the Hurricanes 58-game winning streak at the Orange Bowl.