BYU Football Season Rankings: 25-21

Riley Nelson was the QB in 2011, which comes in at No. 24 on our list. No extra credit was giving for high-fiving a ref.

In Part 4 of my football season rankings, we are still in the mediocre, but each of these seasons is remarkable for its place in BYU history in its own way. Either because it was on the way up (1976), on the way down (1986) or elicits a great 'what if' (2008). It's a fascinating set of 5 seasons.

25. 1986
24. 2011
23. 1988
22. 2008
21. 1976

Criteria
Part 1: Nos. 40-36
Part 2: Nos. 35-31
Part 3: Nos. 30-26

25. 1986
Coach: LaVell Edwards
Record: 8-5
Ranking: NA
Bowl: 31-10 loss to UCLA in the Freedom Bowl
Point Differential per game: 5.69
Opp. Winning %: .480
SRS: 5.05

What you didn't know: QB Steve Lindsley's QB rating of 129.7 is 35th best season in BYU history. When he finished the season, it was 14th.
Summary: After winning the WAC (or a share of its title) for 10 straight seasons, the Cougars finished 2nd to the 8-4 SDSU Aztecs (who finished 7-1 in the conference). It was a mediocre year for the WAC, and the Cougars fit right in. The three-headed rushing tandem of Lakei Heimuli, Robert Parker and Bruce Hansen combined for nearly 2,000 yards rushing and 15 TDs. But QB Steve Lindsley threw 18 interceptions in 287 attempts, and averaged just 7.8 yards per pass attempt. The Cougars would not reclaim the WAC title until Ty Detmer became the full-time starter in 1989, and the mediocre QB play between Robbie Bosco and Detmer is a big reason for the conference title drought.

24. 2011
Coach: Bronco Mendenhall
Record: 10-3
Ranking: No. 25 in coaches poll; not ranked in AP or final BCS standings
Bowl: 24-21 win over Tulsa in the Armed Forces Bowl
Point Differential per game: 9.69
Opp. Winning %: .450
SRS: 4.81
What you didn't know
: According to Sports-Reference.com, the 2011 season ranked 45th in strength of schedule in BYU history. That still made it a tougher schedule than several modern seasons (including 2008, 2002, 2001 and 1996).
Summary: This season is the freshest in the collective memory of Cougar fans, so I won't belabor any of these points. The summary is actually pretty easy: the Cougars were 9-0 against the below-average teams on their schedule, and 1-3 against the above-average teams. The offense was good against below-average defenses, but Riley Nelson and company struggled against better defenses. Bad season? Of course not; a 10-3 record and a bowl win keep it out of that territory. Mediocre? Absolutely.

23. 1988
Coach: LaVell Edwards
Record: 9-4
Ranking: N/A
Bowl: 20-17 win over Colorado in the Freedom Bowl
Point Differential per game: 10.77
Opp. Winning %: .513
SRS: 5.32
What you didn't know
: You think BYU's 2011 November was boring? Check out 1988's (October and end of September): 4-7 Utah State (38-3); 1-10 Colorado State (42-7); 4-7 TCU (31-18); 9-3 Hawaii (24-23); 2-10 New Mexico (65-0).
Summary: Sean Covey and freshman Ty Detmer would split the QB duties this season, with neither QB really distinguishing himself. Statistically, they were almost interchangable, but the young Texan had upside that the junior did not. Covey would get most the snaps during an easy October, but faded at the end of the year. Detmer saved the day against Colorado in the Freedom Bowl and wouldn't relinquish the starting job for the next three seasons.

22. 2008
Coach: Bronco Mendenhall
Record: 10-3
Ranking: AP: 25; Coaches: 21; BCS: 16 (pre-bowl game)
Bowl: 31-21 loss to Arizona in the Las Vegas Bowl
Point Differential per game: 12.31
Opp. Winning %: .494
SRS: 4.96
What you didn't know
: Before losing to 8-5 Arizona to end the season, BYU lost to TCU and eventually undefeated Utah, who finished 7th and 2nd in the AP bowl respectively. Arizona did not finish the season ranked, despite beating the Cougars, who were ranked No. 17 at the time.
Summary: Have you ever wondered, as a BYU fan (assuming you are one), if 2008 could have been BYU's year instead of Utah's? The offense featured three future NFL players in QB Max Hall, TE Dennis Pitta, WR Austin Collie, and RB Harvey Unga; yet the team only average 34 points a game, very good, but not great (14th all-time at BYU). The defense was coached by Mendenhall, and starred DL Jan Jorgensen (1st-team all-MWC) and LB David Nixon; but they gave 22 points per game, good for 24th all-time at BYU. On paper, this team should have been able to hang with TCU and Utah, even as talented as they were. But the Horned Frogs crushed them, and a 21-point fourth quarter by Utah sealed the deal in the rivalry game. And then BYU laid an egg against an inferior Arizona team. I can't help but think we missed something really special in 2008.

21. 1976
Coach: LaVell Edwards
Record: 9-3
Ranking: NA
Bowl: 49-21 loss to Oklahoma State in the Tangerine Bowl
Point Differential per game: 11.75
Opp. Winning %: .415
SRS: 6.58
What you didn't know
: Another weak November schedule: The three teams BYU played in November 1976 (UTEP, New Mexico and Utah) combined for 8 wins.
Summary: If 1974 was the a surprise (only the second conference championship in school history), 1976 was the confirmation. A second conference title in three seasons, the second bowl in program history, a signature win against a 10-1 SDSU team, and Gifford Nielsen was the WAC offensive player of the year. 1974-76 was the greatest three-year stretch in Cougar history to that point, and it started the 10-year run that would culminate in a national reputation and a Heisman trophy. And don't forget all-conference WR Brian Billick, who went on to be a coach or something.

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