Tragedy dominated college football to a degree perhaps unprecedented since the Vietnam War saw players graduate and quickly go die in Southeast Asia. Multiple tragedies of varying degrees took up too much space in news print and television commentary, and the end of the season was as unsatisfying as quenching one's thirst with salt. Indeed, the only happy people at the end of the season lived in close proximity to Coral Gables, Florida. It was a year of "what might have been," the year a fairy tale season for Colorado ended in ignominious defeat, a great year by Alabama was left in ruins on the field not yet named for Pat Dye in Jordan-Hare Stadium, and the first-ever black quarterback winning the Heisman nobody cared about because nobody actually saw the poor kid play. The longest lasting legacy of 1989 was one nobody could have seen at the time, the hiring of Bill Snyder as head coach by the unchallenged worst college football team of the game's first century, Kansas State. Traditional powers dominated the preseason top ten in what appeared to be just one more ho-hum season: 1) Michigan 2) Notre Dame 3) Nebraska 4) Miami 5) USC 6) Florida St 7) LSU 8) Auburn Notre Dame returned from an undefeated season as the defending national champion with what seemed to be a full roster of returning starters and future stars and the pressure off of Lou Holtz, who not only won the Irish their first national title since 1977 but also his first-ever, a personal goal he had held for over 30 years. A soap opera unfolded in the center of the nation at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, where Bill McCartney was methodically constructing a team he was specifically building to beat Nebraska. He thought he had all the pieces in place for a very good team in 1989. His home life was in shambles with a developing scandal that saw his only daughter pregnant with the child of his star quarterback, Sal Aunese. McCartney had successfully hidden the story from prying eyes in Boulder when he was confronted with a new problem - Aunese, only twenty years old at the time, went to the doctor and was diagnosed with an inoperable stomach tumor and given six months to live at most; indeed, McCartney was told that Aunese might not live so much as a week. Aunese had been part of a "California pipeline" that McCartney had built to Boulder in an effort to overtake Nebraska as Big Eight champion, his stated goal (and one for which he received much mockery in the Cornhusker state). In fact, Colorado's 1990 national championship team had 32 players from southern California on the roster, including Darian Hagan (Los Angeles), Oakland Salavea (Aunese's best friend), Deon Figures, and many other stars, while the 1989 version featured Pomona's J J Flanigan. Both Nebraska and Colorado were hot on Aunese's trail, and the job of successfully recruiting him to Boulder was left in the hands of Buffaloes assistant Les Miles, who would later put Aunese's son on his LSU team as a walk-on. While this pipeline would reap major dividends for CU shortly, the bigger issues were personal: McCartney had a white daughter pregnant by a black (Samoan) football star, who just happened to be dying of cancer. The story blew up in a particularly vicious hit piece by the Boulder Daily Camera in August of 1989, a piece that trashed McCartney's daughter as a play toy for the football team and mocked his Christian faith. Days after the article, McCartney was told by a religious friend that he had had a vision that Colorado would have "a golden season." By fate, prophecy, or just plain old coincidence, McCartney's troops blasted Texas on Labor Day night behind their new quarterback, Darian Hagan, 27-6, and one newspaper declared, "Buffs Begin Golden Season." Voters moved Colorado quickly up from 14 to 8 in the second poll of 1989. Notre Dame's early win over what turned out to be a rather decent Virginia team by the rout score of 36-13 in the opener impressed voters enough to move the Irish above Michigan to number one. The ranking didn't really matter as Michigan was primed to open the season against the Irish in South Bend on September 16. The opening weekend, however, claimed three prime victims: Florida State, LSU and USC. The Trojans were in the beginning stage of a long decline, but at least the foe, eventual 10-2 Illinois led by Jeff George, was respectable. The same could not be said - at the time anyway - of the shocking upset of Florida State by upstart little Southern Mississippi in Jacksonville. USM was an unknown quantity coming off a decent 10-2 season, but the Golden Eagles did have one nuclear bomb in the arsenal, a then unknown quarterback named Brett Favre. When FSU was given a second field goal chance to take the lead on USM, Favre responded by driving downfield and tossing a two-yard TD pass with only 23 seconds left that shocked both the Seminoles and the nation. People would be hearing a whole lot more about this Favre guy in the future. LSU, meanwhile, was on the long road to mediocrity that was just now beginning and would span 11 years until Nick Saban breathed new life into their program. The Tigers flopped against Texas A/M in new coach RC Slocum's first game in College Station, and the top ten was clearing quickly. Nothing significant happened in week two save the debut of the Ericksons at Miami, coach Dennis and quarterback Craig, who opened with a 51-3 pasting of Wisconsin. One week later, however, the college football world was introduced to a Pennsylvania-raised flanker of great reputation known simply as "the Rocket." With a number one ranking on the line, Notre Dame and Michigan came out slugging. Typical Midwest rain set the stage and the two teams both traded punts for a dozen straight possessions, each playing conservatively and close to the vest. A Michigan fumble at their own 23 set up Notre Dame for a touchdown on Tony Rice's only pass completion of the entire game that gave the Irish a 7-0 lead. Just before halftime, Michigan countered with a touchdown, but the PAT hit the upright and the halftime score saw the Irish ahead, 7-6. Entering the game, Michigan had not surrendered a kickoff return for a touchdown since the Soviets launched Sputnik (1957). Having won the toss and deferred to the second half, Raghib "the Rocket" Ismail made up for lost time by returning the kickoff for 88 yards and a quick 14-6 lead for Notre Dame. A field goal gave the Irish a 17-6 lead and the defense was playing well. An injury to Michigan starting quarterback Michael Taylor almost was the Irish undoing as redshirt freshman Elvis Grbac came on the scene having never played a single down of college ball. Coming on like a seasoned pro, Grbac put together a 17 for 24 day that netted 134 yards and two touchdown passes. The first made it 17-12 as Michigan missed the attempted two-point conversion. Unfortunately, Michigan had to kick off the Ismail again. And once again, Rocket made them pay with brutal force, a 92-yard scamper that gave the Irish a 24-12 lead that virtually sealed the game. Although Grbac got the Wolverines to within five with four minutes left, Michigan opted for an onside kick that they botched, and the Irish ran the clock out, including a fourth down conversion with 1:58 left. Notre Dame had beaten Michigan and further solidified their attempt at a repeat. All 60 votes in the following poll went to either #1 Notre Dame or #2 Miami. The tension was already building for the possible match up, but much football remained to be played. Pollsters did not punish Michigan overly harshly, dropping them only from 2 to 5, keeping them ahead of Colorado. On the day Notre Dame was beating Michigan, the Buffaloes were blasting number 10 Illinois, 38-7. Aunese, weakened by chemotherapy, attended the first the games of CU's season, which were all in Boulder. His teammates would celebrate touchdowns by pointing to the press box where Sal sat as if to say, "This one's for Sal." Colorado realized that Aunese didn't have long, and in a touching tribute, the television broadcasters named Aunese "the player of the game" in what turned out to be his final football game as a fan. Several players and assistant coach Gary Barnett speculated that Sal was going to die during the off week - and that's exactly what happened on September 23. The state of Colorado was plunged into mourning and at the funeral McCartney publicly acknowledged for the first time that Aunese was the father of his grandchild. On the same day Aunese died, Michigan kept it exciting with a shocking win over UCLA - shocking because they trailed the Bruins on the road by eight points with only 95 seconds remaining and won via touchdown, successful onside kick, and 25-yard field goal to stun the Bruins in Los Angeles. Nothing, though, was quite as shocking as what unfolded the following week at Husky Stadium in Seattle. Still grieving and traveling halfway across the country, the University of Washington organized a moment of silence for Aunese just prior to the game. One writer would later observe that it may have been the loudest moment of silence in the history of silent moments. Aunese was memorialized while the Buffaloes players pointed a finger skyward towards Aunese's presumed eternity in heaven - but the picture also suggested a declaration of their hoped for destination of number one. After the moment of silence, how did the Buffaloes respond? By absolutely demolishing Washington, 45-28, in a game they led entering the fourth quarter, 38-6 (the Huskies points were against the backups). It was a moment comparable to the later salute to the Aggies by the University of Texas after the bonfire tragedy in 1999. In lesser known news but of just as much importance, Tennessee knocked Auburn from the ranks of the unbeaten with the dazzling rushing of Reggie Cobb, 21-14. The defeat knocked Auburn from its perch at number four and saw Colorado jump Nebraska to slide into the number three spot. (Remember - poll rankings earlier in the season meant a lot more in 1989 than today because of the obligatory bowl tie-ins). And it was right about this time that Gary Hollingsworth signaled the entry of Alabama into the national picture for only the second time since the passing of Coach Paul Bryant. In week two against Kentucky, Tide quarterback Jeff Dunn went down with strained knee ligaments, a loss of four to six weeks for the third-year starter who had been both a blessing and a problem during his time at the Capstone. Hollingsworth took over and steadily guided Alabama to a "business as usual" 15-3 win over Kentucky and repeated the task the following week against Vanderbilt, 20-14. Hollingsworth's story would be known soon - a Hamilton, Alabama product who had actually grown up a fan of hated Auburn, Hollingsworth would provide Alabama with something it had not had at quarterback since Mike Shula departed after the 1986 season - a steady quarterback who could actually throw more than two decent consecutive passes. The outlook was ominous for Alabama, though. A road trip to Ole Miss brought up memories of Bill Curry's darkest hours as a Tide head coach, when Ole Miss stunned the Tide at the dedication of the Bryant Museum and left Curry and the Tide offense embarrassed. Ole Miss picked up right where they left off in 1988. The game was played not at the then small campus stadium in Oxford but at Mississippi Memorial Stadium in Jackson, MS. After a quick three and out led by two Hollingsworth incompletions, Ole Miss blocked Bill Smith's first punt of the game and recovered at the Bama two. Two players later, Ole Miss led 7-0. On the first play from scrimmage after the ensuing kickoff, Hollingsworth's bad pass was tipped by Craig Sanderson and intercepted by the Ole Miss defender, who took it to the Alabama six. Two runs, another TD, and with the game less than 2 1/2 minutes old, Ole Miss is up, 14-0. Three Murry Hill runs later, and Alabama punted again. Six plays and 53 yards later, Ole Miss was pounding Alabama, 21-0, and the first quarter was less than six minutes old. What followed was nothing short of bizarre - Gary Hollingsworth ensured that as long as he was healthy there would be no quarterback controversy once Jeff Dunn healed. Over the course of the next 24 minutes of game time, Hollingsworth unleashed an Aaron Rodgers-style comeback, pumping in 48 points and seven touchdowns to blow the Rebels right off the field. Amazingly enough, Hollingsworth's first play after the kickoff was an intentional grounding penalty. On third and 13, Hollingsworth his John Cassimus downfield across the middle for a 33-yard gain. Perhaps the play gave Gary a confidence boost as the Tide went right down the field and the late Kevin Turner scored a touchdown on a wide open pass over the middle to bring the Tide within 21-7. The floodgates opened and when it was over, Hollingsworth had led the Tide to a colossal 62-27 pounding of the Rebels with a stat line of 25 for 43, 363 yards, 5 TDs (through the air), and the SEC offensive player of the week award. Indeed, Hollingsworth would win that award for the entire season despite not hitting his stride until October. The polls held steady the following week with only probation riddled Houston (TV ban) falling out of the top ten. The votes were dispersed among the top three, with Notre Dame taking 52 votes, Miami 3, and Colorado gaining support by the week with three first-place votes themselves.