National and Big 12 recap – 1996
The Florida Gators captured their first-ever National Championship under head coach Steve Spurrier with a dominating 52-20 win over arch-rival Florida State in the Sugar Bowl.
Florida, 24-21 losers to the Seminoles late in the regular season, would not have had the chance for the re-match and the opportunity for the national title had it not been for some late season fades by other title hopefuls. Ohio State saw its undefeated season go by the boards with a late season loss to Michigan. The Arizona State Sun Devils could have laid claim to a least a piece of the title, but fell to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, 20-17. Nebraska, vying for an unprecedented third consecutive National Championship, was in line for a title game against Florida State before being shocked by Texas in the Big 12 Championship game. The losses Ohio State and Arizona State left the Florida State Seminoles as the only undefeated team in the nation heading into the Sugar Bowl, but the Florida Gators, with a 12-1 overall record, took the title. Also heading to Gainesville was the Heisman Trophy, awarded to Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel.
In the inaugural season of the Big 12 Conference, the Nebraska Cornhuskers dominated the Northern Division in the same manner as they had the Big Eight, going 8-0 in conference play. The Southern Division was taken by the Texas Longhorns. Left for dead early in the season with a 3-4 record, Texas rebounded with four straight wins to earn the Southern Division’s first title. The Conference’s first-ever title game was played in St. Louis. Featuring inspired play by the underdog Longhorns, and secured by a gutsy fourth-down call by head coach John Mackovic, the Longhorns won, 37-27.
In all, the Big 12 sent five teams to bowl games in 1996.
Nebraska rebounded from the loss to Texas with a decisive 41-21 win over Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl, earning a final ranking of No. 6 with a record of 11-2. Colorado finished ranked eighth, completing a 10-2 campaign with a 33-21 win over Washington in the Holiday Bowl. A third team from the Northern Division, Kansas State, finished with the next highest ranking in the final polls for the Big 12 Conference. The Wildcats came in 17th after losing to BYU, 19-15, in the Cotton Bowl.
Texas could not duplicate its effort of the Nebraska game a month earlier, falling to Penn State, 38-15, in the Fiesta Bowl to complete the year 8-5 and ranked 23rd. Finally, unranked Texas Tech was no match for Iowa in the Alamo Bowl, falling 27-0 to finish 1996 with a record of 7-5.