MIAMI -- When Dennis Erickson went to sleep this morning at around 3:30 a.m., he knew that his top-ranked University of Miami football team had at least a share of this season's national championship.
Erickson said he also had an inkling that a share would be all the 12-0 Hurricanes would get, that the University of Washington (12-0) would get its piece of college football's most coveted prize.
"I had a feeling it was going to be a split," Erickson said a few hours later. "I had a feeling we weren't going to win the coaches' poll. Thanks to the writers, we won the AP poll. Obviously the writers know a lot more about voting than the coaches."
One thing the coaches and writers seemed to agree on: Miami's 22-0 victory over Nebraska last night in the Federal Express Orange Bowl wasn't as impressive as Washington's 34-14 win over Michigan in the Rose Bowl. At least that's what the final vote indicated.
Though they managed to finish No. 1 in the Associated Press poll, the Hurricanes lost 3 1/2 first-place votes and finished with the slimmest margin of victory in the poll's 56-year history. After being tied with Washington in the USA Today-CNN poll of coaches going into the bowls, and having more first-place votes than the Huskies, Miami finished second.
"It doesn't make a difference," said Erickson. "You have two great football teams. Both teams were undefeated. That we split the vote for the national championship, I have no problems with that. It's a national championship for us, the second in three years."
The championship for Erickson made him the only active Division I-A coach aside from Penn State's Joe Paterno to have won more than one national title. It was also the third in five years and the fourth in nine for Miami. It was the first for Washington.
Asked how he could settle the debate as to who's No. 1, Erickson joked, "Play [Washington coach] Don James in golf this summer."
Erickson, who votes in the coaches' poll, had no problem with its outcome, but couldn't believe that one of his colleagues voted Miami third. The identity of that voter will not be made public, in accordance with the agreement between USA Today and the coaches' association.
"I think in a poll like this you have to have accountability," said Erickson. "The one coach who voted us third, I'd like to know what he was drinking last night."
Miami's loss of votes seemed a little shocking, considering the one-sided nature of its victory over the Cornhuskers. The Hurricanes led 13-0 late in the first quarter, had a 70-yard touchdown run by Kevin Williams called back by a penalty and became the first team to shut out Nebraska since 1973.
The defense was so dominant that the Cornhuskers, who led the nation in rushing this year and averaged over 500 yards offense a game, were held to 80 yards on the ground and 169 yards total. Miami freshman fullback Larry Jones, the game's Most Valuable Player, outrushed (140 yards on 30 carries) and outscored Nebraska (one touchdown).
"Offense wins games, but defense wins national championships," said Miami defensive end Rusty Medearis, who had four of his team's five sacks. "I can tell you who's got the best defense in the country."
But there's no way of telling who's got the best team. Washington had beaten Nebraska 36-21 Sept. 28 in Lincoln, and had defeated only one other Top 10 team (California). Miami defeated Penn State in mid-October and then, ranked No. 2, went into Tallahassee and upset then top-ranked Florida State, 17-16.
By this morning, the Miami players were resigned to sharing the national championship with Washington. Unlike past Hurricane teams, which won with crass, this group took the same line as their diplomatic coach.
"There would have been a lot more controversy if one team had won both polls," said Medearis. "A lot more bad blood. I'd still like to play them, but it's not going to happen."
Said junior quarterback Gino Torretta, "It's fine with me that it's a split. Both teams are undefeated. I know I would have been upset if Washington was No. 1 in both polls and I'm sure they would have been upset if we were No. 1."
It's interesting to see how both Miami and Washington had to overcome some preseason skepticism. The Hurricanes, who had new starters, were thought to be a year away. The Huskies were supposed to be in trouble after losing quarterback Mark Brunnell in spring practice.
Months later, they are No. 1 and 1-A, unbeaten and unbothered by the split vote. It was the eighth time since the coaches poll began in 1950 that there were co-national champions, and the second year in a row. Last year, Colorado and Georgia Tech shared the title.