We close out the 1980s on MNC Wednesday with a season that could have been a lot more complicated with different bowl results. Sometimes we can say that; sometimes we cannot. One interesting thing about this year, too, is that a school won its third AP title of the decade—each time with a different coach (1983 and 1987). That is pretty impressive, even if we didn’t agree with all three mythical national championships.

Enough of that! One with the show, as we are prone to say here too often …

The 1989 MNC: Another surprise, for sure, even to us!

Here is the Associated Press Top 10, including final record with key bowl results:

1. Miami-FL: 11-1-0 — W, Sugar, 33-25
2. Notre Dame: 12-1-0 — W, Orange, 21-6
3. Florida State: 10-2-0 — W, Fiesta, 41-17
4. Colorado: 11-1-0 — L, Orange, 6-21
5. Tennessee: 11-1-0 — W, Cotton, 31-27
6. Auburn: 10-2-0 — W, Hall of Fame, 31-14
7. Michigan: 10-2-0 — L, Rose, 10-17
8. USC: 9-2-1 — W, Rose, 17-10
9. Alabama: 10-2-0 — L, Sugar, 25-33
10. Illinois: 10-2-0 — W, Citrus, 31-21

The Hurricanes got the nod from the AP voters, and since they beat the Fighting Irish head-to-head during the regular season, that eliminates Notre Dame from the analysis right away. The Seminoles handed Miami its only loss of the season, so Florida State advances to the next round of consideration.

The Irish did everyone a favor by beating the Buffaloes in the Orange Bowl, but what about the SEC mess this year? Alabama, Auburn, and Tennessee all finished with 6-1 conference records—in a true three-way tie, as the Crimson Tide beat the Vols, while Tennessee beat the Tigers, and … yep, you guessed it, Auburn won the Iron Bowl. That means we can slide the Vols along the conveyor belt to further processing.

That’s it for the above, but what about any other schools? Clemson went 10-2, but those Tigers did not win the ACC. Arkansas won the Southwest Conference and finished 10-2, the Hogs lost the Cotton Bowl to the Vols. Oh, and Fresno State posted an 11-1 mark with a California Bowl win over Ball State, but the schedule was terrible.

That leaves us with only three teams, really, to consider. But they are three legit teams. Here are their respective SOS ratings, after sorting through all worthy teams above:

  • Tennessee: 12 Division I-A opponents, 5.41 SOS rating, 14th of 106
  • Florida State: 12 Division I-A opponents, 7.64 SOS rating, 5th
  • Miami-FL: 12 Division I-A opponents, 3.04 SOS rating, 40th

Ho hum, look at what we have here: There is no way the Hurricanes hold on to this MNC with that scheduling deficiency. So this comes down to the Seminoles and the Vols—and technically, the Florida State SOS is a hair short of being able to erase the team’s extra loss, as we have always looked at a 10-spot edge in the rating system as the benchmark there.

So, by the slimmest of margins we look at the Vols here, who did lose to the team that the Hurricanes beat in the Sugar Bowl. But that fortunately eliminated Alabama from the conversation, so the loss for Tennessee doesn’t hurt in that comparative sense. We have dodged a few quagmires this way recently, we know, but it is what it is.

Again, scheduling matters: The only truly lame team on the Vols’ schedule was Akron (6-4-1). Otherwise, Tennessee played a strong slate of opponents and won its bowl game over another major-conference champion. We are a little surprised the Vols were so overlooked in the polls, but again, this era of voting really didn’t know squat about what was truly important.

This is Tennessee’s third MNC in our book, as they also took our trophy for the 1985 season after again being forsaken by the AP poll. And believe us, we are just as surprised as you are by this one.

Congratulations to the 1989 Tennessee Volunteers, the mythical national champion!

Check in every Wednesday for a new feature on the mythical national championship in college football on The Daily McPlay.