Notre Dame football: How the 1993 National Championship was stolen

Notre Dame football (Photo by Bernstein Associates/Getty Images)
Notre Dame football (Photo by Bernstein Associates/Getty Images) /

A look at the 1993 National Championship, and how Notre Dame deserved it over the Florida State Seminoles due to their head-to-head win.

Florida State came to South Bend as a heavy favorite, despite Notre Dame being ranked second in the country. It was November in Indiana, and the wind was whipping. Still, everyone seemed to presume the outcome. The Irish didn’t have the weapons to keep up with the Seminoles high flying attack.

It made sense at the time. Charlie Ward was well on his way to winning the Heisman Trophy. Ward’s Florida State offense was blowing teams out. The four ranked teams they played before the Irish were Clemson, North Carolina, Miami, and Virginia. They won those games by a combined score of 158-31.

On the other hand, Notre Dame lacked big-name players. Jerome Bettis left after the 1992 season, as did Rick Mirer and Irv Smith. Their schedule had also been much weaker. Michigan was the only ranked opponent that Notre Dame played before Florida State came to town, and the Irish squeezed by them 27-23.

Given all of that, maybe Florida State deserved to be the favorite, but Notre Dame proved why they were worthy of the moment.

The Irish jumped out to a big lead in the first half, largely on the back of their defensive effort. Florida State’s passing offense struggled to deal with the wind in Notre Dame stadium, especially in the 2nd quarter when they were driving into it. Notre Dame forced turnovers and took a 21-7 lead into halftime.

The Irish forced Florida State to drive into the wind for the second half as well. The idea being that if they can’t handle it, then bury them. Don’t let it be a fight in the 4th quarter. That didn’t work out as well as Lou Holtz had hoped because his offense got stuck in the mud, but Florida State didn’t gain much ground and at one point in the 4th quarter Notre Dame held a 31-17 lead.

The Florida State offense was more than explosive, though, and nearly came all the way back to score as time expired. By doing so, coach Bobby Bowden would need to decide if he wanted to go for the Ara Parseghian style tie or the Jimmy Johnson two-point conversion attempt.

Instead of a touchdown, Ward threw an interception in the endzone. Notre Dame won and put themselves in the driver’s seat to win the 1993 National Championship.

Of course, we all know what came next. Boston College came into Notre Dame and beat the Irish on a last moment field goal. It was a trap game to a ranked team, and Notre Dame made a slight stumble.

Meanwhile, Florida State slid back into the number one overall slot. This time, they didn’t give it up. They beat Florida, and then Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. They’d become the 1993 National Champions. Notre Dame, the team they lost to, finished with a Cotton Bowl win and the number two ranking.

So, if these two teams are the best two in the country, and one lost to the other, how is the one who lost National Champion?

We know Notre Dame is better than Florida State, head-to-head. There’s no room to debate that. The Irish won. The Seminoles lost.

Unfortunately, for Notre Dame, this was an era where championships were decided by an imperfect, opinionated vote. The voters decided that Florida State’s overall resume was more impressive. They also decided that losing to Notre Dame was less egregious than losing to Boston College.

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It’s a shame because we all know there’s a reason they play the games. It’s to see who the better team is. That was indisputably decided on the field. Now, it’s hard to think about the great performance by that Notre Dame team without thinking about how they were robbed of their 12th National Championship.