PROVO, UT - AUGUST 30: BYU flags are run around the field after a touchdown during a game against Washington State during the second half of an college football game August 30, 2012 at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo, Utah. BYU beat Washington State 30-6. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
The fact that this season is at the top of this list should be no surprise to anyone. Were they the most dominant team? Probably not. Were they the most talented? Likely not. Was it almost 30 years ago and us Cougar fans should let it go? Absolutely not. This was the only team to go undefeated, and the only Cougar team to win a national title. That's why it's No. 1, and that's why we should remember it.
Read more about the season and check out the whole list of rankings below the jump.
Part 1: Nos. 40-36
Part 2: Nos. 35-31
Part 3: Nos. 30-26
Part 4: Nos. 25-21
Part 5: Nos. 20-16
Part 6: Nos. 15-13
Part 7: Nos. 12-10
Part 8: Nos. 9-7
Part 9: Nos. 6-4
Part 10: No. 3 (1996)
Part 11: No. 2 (1980)
Coach: LaVell Edwards
Ranking: 1st in the AP poll, 1st in the coaches poll
Bowl: 24-17 win over Michigan in the Holiday Bowl
Point Differential per game: 21.00
Opp. Winning %: .418
What you didn't know: BYU started the day on Nov. 17, 1984, ranked third in the country behind Nebraska and South Carolina. The Cornhuskers lost at home to Oklahoma (ranked No. 6), and the Gamecocks lost to an unranked Navy team on the road. The Cougars beat Utah that day 24-14 in Salt Lake City and earned the top spot in the AP poll the next week. They would keep that ranking for the remainder of the season.
In many ways this is the easy, lazy choice for a list like this. The 1984 Cougars won the national title and were the only undefeated team in school history. And as we see every year in college football, going undefeated is very difficult, even against lesser opponents. But picking any other season would be disingenuous and, I believe, trying too hard. So I think I'm safe to call 1984 the program's greatest season.
So let's start with the seasons (few) warts. First off, the schedule was pretty poor. BYU played only one team with 8 wins that seasons, and that was Air Force. The Falcons were probably the best team BYU played all season, and they were never ranked at any point. According to Sports-Reference.com, it was the 41st hardest schedule in BYU's 88 seasons.
Second, BYU's signature wins that seasons are flawed to a certain extent. Pitt was ranked No. 3 preseason, but they would stumble to a 3-7 record. And the Holiday Bowl victory was against a mediocre Michigan team that finished 6-6. To be fair, the Wolverines beat preseason No. 1 Miami to open the season and got up to No. 3 in the polls. But that opening week win against the Hurricanes was one of the season's few highlights for an historic program and legendary coach.
But we're splitting hairs really. The Cougars went undefeated. They were not as dominant statistically as the 1980 squad, but they still outscored their opponents by three touchdowns a game. It was arguably the best defense in BYU history (certainly top 3), and they had a potent offense led by a QB who finished third in the Heisman voting behind a miracle QB at Boston College (Doug Flutie) and a Ohio State RB who had more than 2100 yards from scrimmage and 24 TDs (Keith Byars).
Bosco was extremely good in 1984, completely 62% of his passes for 3800 yards and 33 TDs. The season looks a little pedestrian next to Jim McMahon's 1980 and Steve Young's 1983, but it was a tremendous season. Bosco's favorite targets were TE David Mills and WR Glen Kozlowski, who combined for 115 catches, 1900 yards and 18 TDs.
This team, though widely remembered for the offense of Bosco, was very much built on a stout defense that surrendered about two TDs per game and gave up more than 20 points only twice all season. Five of the eleven starters made First-Team All-WAC, and DB Kyle Morrell won the honor of the conference's defensive player of the year, amassing 70 tackles and 3 INTs.
The story of the season is really the 1984 Holiday Bowl victory. The Cougars knew what was at stake, and even though the 6-5 Wolverines were not the opponent they were hoping for (No. 4 Washington had a chance to play the Cougars, but chose a bigger payday instead of a chance at immortality), it was still a Big Ten team and a traditional power.
After a fumble led to a Wolverine FG early in the fourth quarter, BYU was looking at a 17-10 deficient and watching its place in history evaporate like Marty McFly's photo of his parents. But Bosco led the Cougars on an 80-yard drive to answer, hitting Kozlowski in the back of the endzone for a TD. 17-17 with about 10 minutes to play.
After ineffective possessions by both teams, BYU got the ball back with 4:32 left to play, and Bosco led the most important drive of his career. With about 90 seconds remaining, Bosco connected with Kelly Smith on a 13-yard TD. The stout Cougar D proved up to the task when Marv Allen intercepted the second pass of Michigan's comeback bid. Game over.
The only drama remaining was to see if the voters would discount the victory and hand the title to the winner of the Orange Bowl (the aforementioned Washington Huskies and No. 2-ranked Oklahoma Sooners). But even a win by the Huskies was not enough to unseat the Cougars.
I know that BYU fans get a bad rap sometimes for holding on too tightly to a national championship from almost 30 years ago. I think that criticism is short-sighted and petty. I was only 8 when the Cougars were crowned national champs, and it remains the highlight of my BYU fandom. And I reject the current sports culture of 'what have you done for me lately.' Winning a championship is hard and rare, and it should be remembered and revered even 30 years later.
Do you know how many schools have won national titles in the 28 years since BYU did it? 18, and all of those schools are BCS-conference programs or Notre Dame (though some were independents when they won). Do you know how many schools have won more than one national title? Only 31, and that list is filled with schools like Princeton, Harvard, Army, Minnesota, Cornell and Lafayette -- schools that haven't won a championship in a long time. Only eight schools have won multiple title since BYU's magical 1984 season -- Miami (4), Alabama (3), Florida (3), Nebraska (3), Florida State (2), LSU (2), USC (2) and Oklahoma (2).
All of this is a way to say that winning a national title is extremely special, and even more special when you're not one of the game's power schools.
Cougar fans should keep celebrating this season. It's the best in school history.