The 1991 NCAA Division I-A football season was the main college football season sanctioned by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). The season began on August 28, 1991, and ended on January 1, 1992. For the second consecutive season, there was a split national championship. Both the Miami Hurricanes and the Washington Huskies finished the season undefeated (12–0) and with the top ranking in a nationally recognized poll.
Under the conference-bowl selection alignments of the time, the Hurricanes and Huskies could not meet in a decisive title game because Washington was slotted into the Rose Bowl as the Pac-10 champions, and the other spot in the Rose Bowl was automatically given to the Big Ten champions (in 1991, that was Michigan). The Rose Bowl's selection terms later thwarted potential title matchups of undefeated teams following the 1994 and 1997 seasons. Following the 1998 Bowl Championship Series (BCS) realignment, several Pac-10 and Big Ten teams were able to play in a BCS title game instead of being forced to play a non-title contender in the Rose Bowl; these include the Ohio State Buckeyes in 2002, 2006 and 2007, the USC Trojans in 2004 and 2005 and the Oregon Ducks in 2010.
Miami closed the 1991 season with a 22–0 shutout over No. 11 Nebraska in the Orange Bowl, but their season was defined by a dramatic November victory over then No. 1 ranked and perennial rival Florida State. That game ended with the FSU place kicker missing a field goal, wide right, which would become a theme in the Florida State–Miami football rivalry; this game later took on the moniker "Wide Right I." Nebraska lost to both national champions in 1991 and finished at 9–2–1, ranked No. 15 in the AP poll.
Washington posted a 15-point victory at No. 9 Nebraska in September, a seven-point win at No. 7 California in October, and repeated as Pac-10 champions. They went on to win the Rose Bowl by 20 points over No. 4 Michigan, the Big Ten champions who featured Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard; it was Washington's second consecutive Rose Bowl win. Michigan finished at 10–2, ranked at No. 6 in both polls.
The Florida Gators captured their first official SEC title in school history (they had previously won the 1984 SEC title, but it was later vacated) in dominating fashion. Alabama finished second in the SEC with an 11–1 record, but were shutout 35–0 by the Gators. Florida's luck ran out in the Sugar Bowl, as No. 18 Notre Dame powered their way to a 39–28 win.
The NCAA adopted the following rule changes for the 1991 season:
- Repealing a rule change from 1959, the width of the goal posts were shortened from 23 feet, 4 inches to 18 feet, 6 inches, matching the NFL width. The hashmarks did not change from their position of 53 feet, 4 inches apart, causing drastically difficult angles for field-goal attempts.
- Offensive holding, illegal use of hands, and clipping penalties committed behind the line of scrimmage will be enforced from the spot of the foul, rescinding a 1982 rule that enforced those penalties from the previous spot.
- When kickoffs and free kicks go out of bounds untouched in the field of play, the receivers have the option to put the ball in play 30 yards from the spot of the kick, in addition to the two other options (putting the ball in play at the out-of-bounds spot or re-kick after a five-yard penalty).
- When a fumble occurs anywhere in the field of play on fourth down, only the fumbling player can recover and/or advance the fumble. If a teammate recovers the fumble, the ball is dead at the spot of the fumble, unless the recovery was made behind the spot of the fumble, in which case the ball is dead at the spot of recovery. This mirrors the NFL's "Stabler fumble rule" adopted in 1979 after the "Holy Roller" game.
- After numerous taunting incidents in the 1991 Cotton Bowl, unsportsmanlike conduct (15 yard) penalties will be enforced for any taunting acts (such as finger-pointing, baiting an opponent verbally, etc.) and individual celebrations in the field of play.
- Teams attempting the "fumblerooski" must inform the referee of their intentions before the play. If a team fails to do this, they are penalized five yards.
No. 1 and No. 2 progress
In the pre-season poll, Florida State was ranked No. 1 with 54 of the 59 votes cast, Michigan was 2nd, and Miami 3rd. As of the September 10th poll, Florida State remained the overwhelming choice for No. 1 and Miami reached No. 2. Those two Sunshine State teams would continue to be 1 and 2 as their November 16 meeting approached. On November 16th in Tallahassee, the long-awaited No. 1 & No. 2 showdown had the 10–0 Seminoles hosting the 8–0 Hurricanes. Visiting Miami won, 17–16 to take the top spot. In the Pacific Northwest, Washington won its Apple Cup game by 35 points on November 23 and finished the regular season at 11–0; the Huskies took over the No. 2 spot in the final two polls of the regular season.
In the coaches poll, Florida State and Miami opened up the season 1-2 and remained that way until Miami's win on November 16 put the Hurricanes No. 1 and allowed the Huskies to move to No. 2. After the end of the regular season, the coaches moved the Washington Huskies to the No. 1 ranking. They would keep the top spot after their Rose Bowl win over Michigan to split the National Title.
Heisman Trophy voting
The Heisman is given to the Most Outstanding Player of the year
- Desmond Howard, Michigan, Jr. - WR-KR
- Casey Weldon, Florida State, Sr. - QB
- Ty Detmer, BYU, Sr. - QB - (1990 winner)
- Steve Emtman, Washington, Jr. - DT
- Shane Matthews, Florida, Jr. - QB
- Vaughn Dunbar, Indiana, Sr. - TB
- Jeff Blake, East Carolina, Sr. - QB
- Terrell Buckley, Florida State, Jr. - DB
- Marshall Faulk, San Diego State, Fr. - RB
- Bucky Richardson, Texas A&M, Sr. - QB