The 1981 Peach Bowl was the final game of the 1980-81 NCAA Division I college football season, serving as the national championship game. In it, the No. 1 New Mexico Coyotes, champions of the Heartlands Conference, defeated the No. 2 North Carolina Tar Heels of the Atlantic Conference 23-10, winning their first and to date only national championship. The Coyotes were regardes as "spoilers," as they were not expected to win their conference let alone the national title game that season.
New Mexico Coyotes
The New Mexico Coyotes were the defending Heartlands champions, having won the conference in 1979 during what was generally agreed as a down year for its resident powers Sequoyah, Montana and Nebraska. In 1980, all three of the conference's premier teams started the season ranked in the Top Ten and New Mexico started ranked #22, its championship the previous year thought to be a "storybook fluke," as it was described by sportswriter Gerry Ford.
Coached by Jim Hickey, the Coyotes went undefeated behind a ferocious defense anchored by Glen Haute at linebacker and an offense featuring running back Charles Donald, upsetting then-No. 1 Nebraska on the road and crushing then-No. 1 Sequoyah at home. The Coyotes defeated No. 3 Montana, which featured the best defense in the country and that year's Bosch winner, Lawrence Rogers, on the road in the season finale as a No. 1 team, capping off an undefeated season in which they had beaten three Top Three teams from their own conference and stunned the nation, leading Sports Illustrated to refer to the team as "Destiny in the Desert."
North Carolina Tar Heels
The Oregon State Beavers also finished the year 11-0, the only undefeated season in OSU history. When the Beavers were snubbed in favor of the Tar Heels, who had arguably played a weaker schedule, the Oregon State administration cried foul. With the Beavers' victory in the 1981 Rose Bowl to finish the year 12-0, Oregon State claims a share of the 1980 national title, although they are not officially recognized as dual champions by the NCAA. In 1994, the Football Fan's Association awarded Oregon State a share of their recognized 1980 national championship.