Coach Don James, UW players say they have no doubt they were better than Dennis Erickson's Hurricanes team that shared title.
Dennis Erickson, the coach at Arizona State, is approached by a reporter and told the topic is the 1991 Washington Huskies.
“You mean the second-best team in the country,” Erickson says with a smile.
Among Erickson’s nine coaching stops was Miami, where in 1991 he led the Hurricanes to a 12-0 season and a share of the national title with Washington.
He wears the ring from that season regularly.
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“Tell them I wear it with pride,” he said with another smile.
That’s Erickson’s approach to the debate over which team was better — “to have fun with it,” he says.
Asked if he’s ever considered which team would have won a game that season, Erickson says no.
“We won it,” he said. “They won it. What the hell’s the difference?”
Today, of course, the BCS format would have created a matchup of the Huskies and Hurricanes in a national title game. Some UW players take solace that the 1991 season likely helped push matters in that direction.
But in 1991, the teams were left to fight it out in the polls.
Miami was the choice of the writers/broadcasters who voted the Hurricanes No. 1 in the AP poll. Washington won the USA Today/coaches poll.
“We got the one we wanted,” said James, who added that he’s never been bothered much that UW had to split the title.
But unlike Erickson, who says there’s no way to know who would have won a game between the teams, James said he has no doubt.
“I guarantee you one thing, they (were) pretty good but I don’t think there’s anybody could have beaten us that year,” James said.
Cunningham is even more forceful, saying that in years since he has talked to Miami players, who he says generally don’t feel the 1991 team was as good as some other Hurricanes teams of that era despite going undefeated.
“I think we would have mowed the ’91 (Miami) team,” he said. “I think it would have been as bad or worse than Michigan in the Rose Bowl (a 34-14 UW win over the No. 4-ranked Wolverines).”
Each team went 12-0 and each handily beat the two opponents each faced — Miami won at Arizona 36-9 while UW beat the Wildcats 54-0 in Seattle; UW won 36-21 at Nebraska while Miami beat the Cornhuskers 22-0 in the Orange Bowl.
Each spent much of the year trailing No. 1 rated Florida State until the Hurricanes beat the Seminoles 17-16 on Nov. 16 — the “Wide Right I” game as FSU missed a field goal in the final minute.
Miami ascended to No. 1 in both polls the following week. However, when Miami struggled to beat Boston College 19-14 on the day UW won the Apple Cup 56-21, the Huskies moved in front in the coaches poll. That’s the way it stayed after the bowl games.
The two finished 1-2 in the nation in scoring defense, Miami allowing 9.1 points per game and UW 9.2. And each beat three teams ranked in the Top 10.
The Huskies, however, had the more explosive offense (495 points including the bowl game to 386 for Miami).
And UW star defensive tackle Steve Emtman points to the difference at the time in the strength of the Pac-10 versus the Big East (Miami was just joining the league then and mostly played an independent schedule that season, going 2-0 in Big East games).
“It doesn’t really matter to me (that the teams split the polls),” Emtman said. “We did everything we could do. Had we played, I think there is no question to anybody at that time, as strong as the Pac-10 was and everything else. I think we know what would have happened.”
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|Miami vs. UW|
|How the 1991 football season went for each school.|
|1||W, @ Stanford, 42-7||W, @ Arkansas, 31-3|
|2||W, @ Nebraska, 36-21||W, Houston, 40-10|
|3||W, Kansas St., 56-3||W, @ Tulsa, 34-10|
|4||W, Arizona, 54-0||W, Oklahoma St. 40-3|
|5||W, Toledo, 48-0||W, Penn State, 26-20|
|6||W, @ California, 24-17||W, Long Beach St., 55-0|
|7||W, Oregon, 29-7||W, @ Arizona, 36-9|
|8||W, Arizona St., 44-16||W, West Virginia, 27-3|
|9||W, @ USC, 14-3||W, @ Florida St. 17-16|
|10||W, @ Oregon St., 58-6||W, @ Boston College, 19-14|
|11||W, Washington St., 56-21||W, San Diego St., 39-12|
|.||Rose Bowl, W, Michigan, 34-14||Orange Bowl, W, Nebraska, 22-0|
|Totals||W-L, season scoring||W-L, season scoring|
|.||12-0, 495-115||12-0, 386-100|
|Huskies won the coaches’ poll, Hurricanes won the AP poll.|