By David Villavicencio
The University of Miami has won five National Championships in football and each title-winning team has been unique from the others.
From 1983-2002, the Hurricanes won five of a possible 20 championships, the most of any school in that two-decade span. Five different head coaches guided the program over those 20 years, building one of the greatest dynasties in college football history.
After highlighting the award-winning #BuildingChampions campaign, HurricaneSports.com looked at the characteristics of what made the 1987 team champions and the 1983 one-point win over Florida State that propelled the Canes into a match-up against No. 1 Nebraska. The series also looked at arguably the greatest team assembled in college football history, the 2001 Miami Hurricanes, and the “It Starts With U” initiative to increase Hurricane Club membership.
This week’s edition of #BuildingChampions Wednesday breaks down what made the 1989 Miami Hurricanes national champions.
The Hurricanes were known as the “Team of the ‘80s”, having won two national titles and amassing an impressive 88-19 record over the first nine years of the decade.
But the 1989 Canes were a team in transition.
Miami dominated the decade under Howard Schnellenberger and Jimmy Johnson, but new head coach Dennis Erickson and his staff brought a one-back offense and new ideas to Hurricane football.
While learning a new system, the Canes had to replace several standouts on the field including quarterback Steve Walsh, running back Cleveland Gary, linebacker Randy Shannon and cornerback Bubba McDowell.
Erickson’s changes in Coral Gables led to the same results Schnellenberger and Johnson attained as Miami opened the season with six straight victories. The Hurricanes climbed to No. 2 in the polls and maintained the level of excellence established by Erickson’s predecessors.
The Hurricanes, who were without injured starting quarterback Craig Erickson, suffered their first defeat of the season in Week 7. The 24-10 loss to No. 9 Florida State dropped Miami to No. 7 in the polls, but the talented and resilient Hurricanes ran off four consecutive wins to close out the regular season 10-1. The Canes won the first three of their final four games in dominant fashion, scoring 106 points while allowing just 19 over the three-game stretch.
Miami’s success came as a result of several factors, including the return of a healthy Craig Erickson and a stout defense that didn’t allow a touchdown for one 10-quarter stretch during the regular season.
The Canes D, which was led by All-American defensive end Greg Mark and future Top-3 NFL Draft selections Russell Maryland and Cortez Kennedy, held six opponents without a touchdown and allowed just 9.3 points per game in 1989.
Along with being the only defense to allow an average below 10 points per game, the Hurricanes held opponents to a Division IA-best 216.5 yards per game on the season. Miami’s defense was the only team to allow fewer than 10 touchdowns on the year (8).
Miami ended the regular season by knocking off defending national champion and top-ranked Notre Dame, 27-10. The victory snapped the Irish’s 23-game win streak and marked the seventh time the decade in which UM had defeated a No. 1-ranked team.
Erickson and the No. 2-ranked Hurricanes headed to New Orleans for a Sugar Bowl matchup against No. 7 Alabama. The Canes beat the Crimson Tide, 33-25, and moved into the top spot of the rankings when Notre Dame knocked off top-ranked Colorado in the Orange Bowl, giving the Miami its third national title in seven seasons.
The transition to Erickson and his staff proved to be a smooth one that capped an impressive decade of Hurricanes football. Miami earned three national titles and remaining ranked in the Top 20 in nine of the 10 years in the 1980s. From 1985-89, the Canes were never ranked outside the Top 10 in the final Associated Press poll. That streak was part of a seven-year run ranked among the final AP Top 10, a feat that has never been matched in school history.