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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Florida State Claims National Title

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Florida State ended the college football season where it began -- at the top of both major polls. But the process by which the Seminoles won their first national championship left runner-up Notre Dame angry and those eager for a playoff system more frustrated than ever.

Only without a playoff could Florida State's victory, in the Associated Press (media) and USA Today-CNN (coaches) polls, be both unanimous and disputed. In the AP poll, Florida State -- which beat Nebraska 18-16 Saturday night in the Orange Bowl -- got 34 more first-place votes than No. 2 Notre Dame. In the USA Today-CNN poll, the first-place differential was 11 and the overall margin a razor-thin 29 points.

Notre Dame argued that it should have been No. 1 because of its 31-24 victory over Florida State at home on Nov. 13. As precedent, it cited the 1989 season, when Notre Dame and Miami each finished with one loss. But the Hurricanes were voted No. 1 because of a late-season victory over the Fighting Irish.

"Everybody talks about the playoff system, but we don't need one this year," said Notre Dame Coach Lou Holtz, whose team beat Texas A&M, 24-21, Saturday in the Cotton Bowl. "Only two teams are left at the top and we beat that (other) team."

Countered Florida State's Bobby Bowden: "We won 12 and lost one. They won 11 and lost one. You need to take the champion on the basis of the season, not one game. And we didn't lose to the Number 17 team (Boston College) at home." The week after its win over Florida State, Notre Dame was upset by the Eagles, 41-39.

The race for No. 1 came down to the final play of the final game, when a 45-yard field goal that almost surely would have given Nebraska the title in both polls sailed wide left, ending a contest in which nearly everything one can imagine -- thrills, irony and mistakes -- happened in abundance.

For starters, college football got itself a new star, Nebraska quarterback Tommie Frazier, whom in many ways was every bit the equal of Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward, the Florida State quarterback. Because his team won and he completed an Orange Bowl-record 24 passes (in 43 tries), Ward was chosen the game's most valuable player. But sophomore Frazier ran (77 yards), passed (13 of 24 for 206 yards and a touchdown) and thought superbly at times.

Frazier drove Nebraska to first and goal at the Florida State 4-yard line late in the fourth quarter, but the Seminoles stopped the clock after stuffing two running plays. After freshman tailback Lawrence Phillips was thrown for a loss, place kicker Byron Bennett stepped into a 27-yard field goal and nailed it. Nebraska 16, Florida State 15 -- with 76 seconds left.

As it developed, the drama was just getting good. Florida State had time to drive 60 yards -- half of them courtesy of two Nebraska penalties.

Toby Wright's 15-yard, pass-interference penalty brought the ball to the Nebraska 3. Here, Bowden second-guessed himself -- for calling time with 24 seconds left instead of letting the clock run down to a point where Nebraska could not counter Scott Bentley's fourth field goal of the game, a 22-yarder.

Bentley's kick was true, but the game was not over. The Seminoles' celebration on the field was too wild and too long -- and they were slapped with a 15-yard penalty on the kickoff. At his 43 after a 23-yard return by Barron Miles, Frazier threw incomplete and then hit Bell for 29 yards to the Florida State 28.

The clock hit 0:00, and fans and players swarmed onto the field. Bowden was even doused by his players. But the officials ruled one second remained, chased everyone off and consulted television replays to make sure Bennett would be kicking from the proper distance. Headed toward that dreaded east end zone, the ball very quickly veered too far left, giving Florida State the national championship.

In other major bowl games, Wisconsin took advantage of UCLA's turnovers to capture the Rose Bowl 21-16. In the Sugar Bowl, previously undefeated West Virginia were exposed as paper tigers when they were blitzed 41-7 by Florida. Penn State trounced Tennessee 31-13 in the Citrus Bowl and Arizona blanked Miami 29-0 in the Fiesta Bowl.