Date: January 1st, 1994
Location: Orange Bowl, Miami, Florida
Opponent: No 2. Nebraska
Most will remember this as the contest that finally delivered a title to Tallahassee, yet the game was fraught with controversy— before, during, and after.
1. The undefeated Auburn Tigers claimed that they should be considered for the title game, but they were ineligible due to NCAA violations.
2. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish claimed that they should be competing for the national title, because they beat the Seminoles, but were left out because of their loss to Boston College just one week after.
3. West Virginia felt that it deserved the spot. Besides having an unblemished record, the Mountaineers beat BC but were left out because of their strength of schedule.
The Seminoles played seven ranked teams throughout the season. They went 6-1 against these opponents, outscoring them by 137 points. FSU entered the game against Nebraska favored by 17 ½ points. But the Cornhuskers — and the aforementioned controversy — kept it much closer than that.
The first quarter was dominated by the defenses and no points were scored. It did, however, bring about one of the most controversial calls of the game when Nebraska receiver Corey Dixon went 71-yards for an apparent touchdown on a punt return. Instead, it was called back, leading some viewers (especially those wearing red and white) to dub the play the “phantom clipping penalty” or one of the “worst calls in college football history.” The second quarter ended with a pair of field goals made by FSU’s Scott Bentley and a lucky Nebraska touchdown, when a pass from ’Huskers quarterback Tommy Frazier tipped of the hands of Florida State safety Devin Bush into the hands of Nebraska’s Reggie Baul.
Heading into the second half, Nebraska led 7-6. With 12:30 left in the third quarter, Seminoles running back William Floyd scored the only ’Noles touchdown of the game with a 1-yard run. Further argument ensued when questions arose as to whether or not Floyd fumbled before scoring. The touchdown stood and gave FSU a 12-7 lead after a failed two-point conversion.
And while scoring plays tend to command the spotlight, perhaps Floyd’s most impressive contribution to the win came later in the quarter. With just over five minutes remaining in the third and the ball on its own 7-yard line, FSU was behind the chains, facing a 2nd and 10. Floyd quickly changed that, running off the right side and bulldozing his way through multiple Nebraska defenders to get Florida State out to its own 45-yard line. With points at such a premium, field position was of the utmost importance in this one, and the drive would ultimately lead to a 39-yard field goal that gave the Seminoles a 15-7 lead.
Those three points would prove pivotal.
With Florida State leading 18-16 and the clock racing toward zero, time appeared to have run out on a late Nebraska drive after Frazier connected with tight end Trumane Bell for a 29-yard gain. The FSU sideline and on-field reporters began to celebrate the new national champions as the clock hit zero. But announcers’ voices rang through the stadium to inform the cheering crowd that that the game was, in fact, not over. After clearing the field, the referees put one more second on the clock and further reviewed what the Seminoles thought was going to be a 51-yard field-goal try for Nebraska, to actually be a 45-yarder. But the Cornhusker’s Byron Bennett ended up kicking it wide left, securing the Seminoles’ first National Championship and their ninth-straight bowl victory.
In 1996, it was reported that nine Florida State players on the 1993 team violated rules by allowing agents to pay for a shopping spree at a Footlocker. The investigation led to a one-year probation, but did not involve any bowl game bans, losses in athletic scholarships, or the vacating of any wins, including the triumph over Nebraska.
In 2014, Auburn would claim themselves as National Champions for their 1993 undefeated season. A year later, they withdrew the claim.