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Looking back at national championship games played in South Florida

South Florida has hosted 7 previous national championship games
Florida State Seminoles head coach Bobby Bowden hugged after beating Nebraska in Orange Bowl to win 1993 national championship
Posted at 9:52 AM, Jan 10, 2021

As South Florida gets set to serve as host to its first College Football Playoff National Championship at Hard Rock Stadium, takes a look back at the previous national championship games to be played in the region and the historical significance of each.

Orange Bowl
Jan. 1, 1994
Miami Orange Bowl | Miami

No. 1 Florida State (11-1) 18
No. 2 Nebraska (11-0) 16

Florida State Seminoles kicker Scott Bentley celebrates with Danny Kanell after kicking game-winning field goal vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers in 1994 Orange Bowl
Florida State kicker Scott Bentley celebrates in the arms of holder Danny Kanell after he kicked the game-winning field goal against Nebraska in the final moments of the Orange Bowl, Jan. 1, 1994, in Miami. The Seminoles defeated the Cornhuskers 18-16.

The first true national championship game played at the Orange Bowl involved a Florida school that was in the midst of a dynastic run. The Seminoles compiled a 109-13-1 record in the 1990s, the most wins of any team during the decade. Florida State kicker Scott Bentley's field goal with 21 seconds left in the game split the uprights and Nebraska kicker Byron Bennett's last second attempt sailed wide left, giving the Seminoles an 18-16 victory over the previously undefeated Cornhuskers and their first national championship in school history. But it wasn't without controversy. Notre Dame, which finished second in both major polls, believed it should have been playing in the Orange Bowl, considering the Fighting Irish had handed the Seminoles their lone loss -- a 31-24 decision at Notre Dame Stadium -- earlier in the season. West Virginia also believed it had been unfairly passed over, but the third-ranked Mountaineers were routed in a 41-7 loss to No. 8 Florida in the Sugar Bowl. As just the second national title game since the advent of the Bowl Coalition, which was established in 1992 after co-national champions were crowned the previous two seasons, it was a step in the right direction.

Orange Bowl
Jan. 1, 1995
Miami Orange Bowl | Miami

No. 1 Nebraska (12-0) 24
No. 3 Miami (10-1) 17

Nebraska Cornhuskers fullback Cory Schlesinger scores game-winning TD in 1995 Orange Bowl vs. Miami Hurricanes
Nebraska fullback Cory Schlesinger outruns Miami safety Malcolm Pearson to the end zone for the game-winning touchdown at the Orange Bowl, Jan. 1, 1995, in Miami. Top-ranked Nebraska defeated Miami 24-17.

Because of the tie-in with the (now defunct) Big Eight Conference champion, the Orange Bowl served as the national championship game for a second straight season. The game was a rematch of the historic 1984 Orange Bowl that gave Miami its first of four national championships (plus a split national championship with Washington in 1991). Penn State, which was undefeated and ranked No. 2, was contractually obligated to play in the Rose Bowl as the Big Ten Conference champion, allowing the Hurricanes the opportunity to stay home on New Year's Day. Miami led 10-7 at halftime and stretched the lead to 17-7 in the third quarter before the Cornhuskers answered with 17 unanswered points to claim their first national championship in school history. A pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns by Nebraska fullback Cory Schlesinger proved to be the difference.

Orange Bowl
Jan. 2, 1998
Pro Player Stadium | Miami

No. 2 Nebraska (12-0) 42
No. 3 Tennessee (11-1) 17

Nebraska Cornhuskers coach Tom Osborne after winning 1998 Orange Bowl
Nebraska coach Tom Osborne holds the Orange Bowl trophy after defeating Tennessee, Jan. 2, 1998, at Pro Player Stadium.

The final national championship game of the old Bowl Coalition had Nebraska playing for its third title in four seasons. Because top-ranked Michigan was playing in the Rose Bowl, No. 2 Nebraska was matched against No. 3 Tennessee and All-American quarterback Peyton Manning. Nebraska took a 14-3 lead at halftime and never relinquished it as quarterback Scott Frost outplayed Manning, who finished second to Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson in the Heisman Memorial Trophy voting. Frost ran for three touchdowns and Ahman Green added two more scores while rushing for an Orange Bowl-record 201 yards. It was the final game for Nebraska head coach Tom Obsorne, who retired after 25 seasons. The Cornhuskers were crowned champions by the coaches, but the voters kept Michigan No. 1 in the final Associated Press poll, paving the way for the inclusion of the Big Ten and Pacific 10 conferences in determining a bona fide champion beginning the following season.

Orange Bowl
Jan. 3, 2001
Pro Player Stadium | Miami

No. 1 Oklahoma (12-0) 13
No. 3 Florida State (11-1) 2

Oklahoma Sooners head coach Bob Stoops and players celebrate after 2001 Orange Bowl victory
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, left, celebrates with players J.T. Thatcher (15) and Ontei Jones (11) as they pose with the national championship trophy after beating Florida State 13-2 in the Orange Bowl, Jan. 3, 2001, at Pro Player Stadium.

Florida State was playing for its third consecutive national championship in as many seasons of the Bowl Championship Series. But it wasn't without controversy. Although third-ranked FSU lost to No. 2 Miami earlier in the season, the BCS computer rankings were inversed, sending the Seminoles to the Orange Bowl and relegating the Hurricanes to the Sugar Bowl. Defense dominated the Orange Bowl, with top-ranked Oklahoma scoring the lone touchdown of the game on a 10-yard run by Quentin Griffin in the fourth quarter. The Sooners were poised for a shutout until the Seminoles got on the scoreboard thanks to a safety with under a minute left to play. A lackluster offensive showing by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Chris Weinke and the Seminoles, who were without star receiver Snoop Minnis (ruled academically ineligible), signified the end of an era in FSU football history. The game marked the end of a 14-year stretch in which the Seminoles won 10-or-more games and finished among the top four in the final AP or coaches polls. Meanwhile, Miami took out its frustrations by handling No. 7 Florida 37-20 in New Orleans.

BCS National Championship
Jan. 8, 2009
Dolphin Stadium | Miami Gardens, Fla.

No. 1 Florida (12-1) 24
No. 2 Oklahoma (12-1) 14

Florida Gators QB Tim Tebow passes vs. Oklahoma Sooners in 2009 BCS National Championship
Florida quarterback Tim Tebow looks to pass during the BCS National Championship game against Oklahoma, Jan. 8, 2009, in Miami Gardens, Fla.

South Florida was once more the setting for a national championship game involving Oklahoma. Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks Tim Tebow and Sam Bradford combined to throw four interceptions, but Tebow's two touchdown passes helped Florida outlast Oklahoma 24-14 in South Florida's first standalone national championship game. Tebow's jump pass to receiver David Nelson in the fourth quarter put away the Sooners and gave the Gators their second national title in three seasons under head coach Urban Meyer. It was in the midst of a stretch of dominance for the Southeastern Conference in which SEC teams won seven straight national championships from 2006-12 that the Gators got started, but another program was on the rise and about to emerge.

BCS National Championship
Jan. 7, 2013
Sun Life Stadium | Miami Gardens, Fla.

No. 2 Alabama (12-1) 41
No. 1 Notre Dame (12-0) 14

Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish in 2013 BCS National Championship
Alabama offensive linesman Barrett Jones (75) prepares to snap the ball against Notre Dame during the first half of the BCS National Championship, Jan. 7, 2013, in Miami Gardens, Fla.

The final national championship game of the BCS era to be played in South Florida was all Alabama. The second-ranked Crimson Tide embarrassed top-ranked and previously undefeated Notre Dame to win their third national championship in four seasons. Alabama led 35-0 late into the third quarter after quarterback A.J. McCarron threw three of his four touchdown passes and running back Eddie Lacy ran for two touchdowns. Alabama receiver and Miami native Amari Cooper added a pair of touchdowns. Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson threw a touchdown pass and ran for a score for the Irish's only points of the game. Alabama would go on to be selected as one of the four teams to earn a spot in the first five seasons of the College Football Playoff era, winning two more championships and playing in four straight championship games. The Tide could add to their trophy case Monday night against Ohio State.