You think Florida State is the national champion. And maybe it should be. Cripes, the Seminoles had only one loss, and they beat the No. 1 team in the coaches' poll in a hair-puller in the Orange Bowl on New Year's night. But Florida State can't be the national champion. How can you give the title to a team that went to Notre Dame in November to prove itself the greatest bunch in the land and came back with a hatful of nothing? And nobody outside Omaha thought Nebraska was really No. 1, or else how did Florida State come up a monster 17½-point favorite? Of course, the odds-makers turned out to be right—about the half-point part. As for the rest of it, the Seminoles got outplayed and outcoached and won 18-16 thanks only to Wide Left. Even coach Bobby Bowden, who had to wait 28 years for this moment, said, "Nebraska played as good or better than us." A team that plays like chunky soup every other outing is No. 1? Wrong.
You think Notre Dame is the national champion. And maybe it should be. The Irish had only one loss, and for crying out loud, before New Year's Day they had already won the national-championship game when they beat Florida State mano a mano in South Bend. Not only that, but the Irish went and won the Cotton Bowl over a Texas A&M team that was as stubborn as cockroaches. But Notre Dame can't be the national champion. How can you give the title to a team that had the championship framed in gold and hung majestically over its fireplace and then threw a jar of Ragu all over it the next week? Right after defeating the Seminoles, the Irish allowed Boston College to come into South Bend and tweak the nose of Touchdown Jesus himself; Notre Dame gave up 41 large points and got its butt beat. Then, with a chance on Jan. 1 to redeem themselves, the Irish gummed Texas A&M to death, 24-21. A team that loses at home to the 17th-ranked team in the country and can't whip a dadburned Southwest Conference school is No. 1? Also wrong.
You think Nebraska is the national champion. And maybe it should be. Chrissakes, the Cornhuskers had only one ref-aided, two-point-conversion-missing loss, to Florida State, and that was in the Orange Bowl, the Seminoles' de facto home stadium. If Florida State can say it's No. 1 because it lost only one game to a great team on that team's home turf, then why can't Nebraska say the same thing? But Nebraska can't be the national champion. How can you give the title to a team whose regular-season opponents were the Osteopathic Nurses' College and International Harvester and who then went to a bowl and got beat by a Seminole team that looked like it couldn't score if it were locked with Heidi Fleiss in a Motel 6 for a three-day weekend? Florida State was 1 for 12 on third-down conversions. Nebraska is a very nice team. A good-looking, hard-studying, polite-to-the-scoutmasters team. But please. A team that hasn't beaten a higher-ranked opponent since 1985 is No. 1? Wronger than wrong.
You think Auburn is the national champion. And maybe it should be. The Tigers had no losses while playing in the nation's toughest conference. Auburn is the only big school—other than Penn—that went undefeated. And if Auburn had played Penn, there would be nothing left but smudge marks and laptop remnants. Auburn may well be the best football team in the country. But Auburn can't be the national champion. How are you going to give the title to a team whose payroll exceeds the NCAA salary cap? Quadruple wrong.
And so, ladies and gentlemen, here and now we present the undisputed champion of college football, the team that proved itself to be far and away the best in the land, a squad that truly deserves to be etched in history as the finest of 1993....
It's no disgrace. Happens all the time. Some weeks nobody wins the lottery. Every now and then, no one is deemed worthy of a Pulitzer or a Nobel Prize. Lots of trials end in hung juries. Why shouldn't it be the same in college football?
Forcing the football world to pick a national champion this year is like asking a woman to choose her favorite Baldwin brother. They are all lovely to look at but far too alike to tell apart. The football polls weren't that helpful. Florida State won the Associated Press poll comfortably (46-12 was the margin in No. 1 votes), but the USA Today/CNN coaches' poll was a closer call (36-25). If you stand up and say "We are the national champions" because you won the polls by those margins, you will not go straight into history alongside the Four Horsemen.
Not that Bowden should care one little bit. Bowden figures that after 28 years, he deserves any national championship he had to win twice.
Exactly 26 minutes into the second day of January 1994, Bowden was sure he had finally won, as he says, "the big 'un." The clock read zero. The victory ice bath soaked his back. ESPN was in his face for the instant interview. The delirious hand grabbers and shoulder clappers and Nikon flashers smothered the Seminole coach. The thunder of it all knocked the spectacles from his 64-year-old face and the monkey from his tired back. The dulcet taste of a national title was finally in his mouth.