We're past the half way mark, and we're leaving behind the decidedly mediocre and poor seasons of the past 40 years. Luke Staley figures prominently into two of these seasons (1999 and 2001), and Jim McMahon in another (1978), two of the best talents to ever put on the Cougar Blue (even if one of them did it with a bib). What do you guys think? Is 2001 too low? Is 1978 too high?
Coach: LaVell Edwards
Bowl: 23-20 loss to Kansas in the Aloha Bowl
Point Differential per game: 8.00
Opp. Winning %: .550
What you didn't know: BYU shared a piece of the WAC title (with Hawaii and Fresno State) despite losing its first two conference games (SDSU and @ Hawaii).
Summary: This team may seem too high, especially with four 9-win and two 10-win teams behind it on the list. But look at the opposition winning percentage (55%!). Sports-Reference.com ranks this as the 3rd toughest BYU schedule of the past 40 years (behind 2003 and 2004). That means this was the toughest schedule in LaVell's career, at least by that measure. After losing to Hawaii (10-2) in a shootout decided by 4 points, the Cougars were 7-1 before the bowl loss to Kansas, the only loss to a 10-1 Notre Dame team. Ryan Hancock played well at QB, utilizing Eric Drage and Jamal Willis to create a potent offense. But the story, much like 2008, is what could have been. In the first season after Ty Detmer, the Cougars were beaten three straight times early in the season, twice by mediocre teams (SDSU and UCLA). When they did find their groove, both offensively and defensively, the opportunity to create a legendary season had evaporated. But it was still good enough to make my top 20.
Coach: LaVell Edwards
Ranking: 18th in the AP, 10th in the coaches
Bowl: 31-6 win over Oklahoma in the Copper Bowl
Point Differential per game: 6.54
Opp. Winning %: .482
What you didn't know: Chad Lewis was the 6th leading received (in both yards and receptions) on this 1994 team. He would go on to play 9 seasons in the NFL, make three Pro Bowls (2000, 2001, 2003) and one all-pro team (2000). He went undrafted in 1997 before making the Philadelphia Eagles as an undrafted free agent.
Summary: This is another team (like 2008) that seems like it should be top 10 material when you look at the roster. An extremely talented running game with Jamal Willis and Hema Heimuli. A decent QB in John Walsh (I ranked his season as the 18th all-time by a QB). But the offense averaged just under 30 points a game, good for 25th among these 40 seasons. The schedule was decent, but hardly one of the most diffcult. The big disaster? Losing to a 3-8 Arizona State in Provo with the defense giving up more than 500 yards. And then the chances for glory were lost against two very good conference teams in Utah (finished 10th in the AP poll) and Colorado State (finished 16th). But the season was at least partially redeemed by crushing a 6-6 Oklahoma team in a bowl game. But a win against ASU, and a split against Utah and CSU, would have made this a very special season.
Coach: LaVell Edwards
Bowl: 21-3 loss to Marshall in the Motor City Bowl
Point Differential per game: 7.00
Opp. Winning %: .558
What you didn't know: Freshman Luke Staley won MWC freshman of the year despite only playing in 8 games. He gained 470 yards rushing (4.7 YPC), had 339 yards receiving, and scored 13 TDs. He scored 48 TDs in his 3-year career in a Cougar uniform, which is the most by any Cougar.
Summary: What a crushing season. After an early season loss at Virginia, the Cougars started to roll and reached as high as a No. 15 ranking in the AP poll. But the season ended with three-straight losses: @ Wyoming (I was there), Utah (yep, I was there too), and a blowout loss to a terrific Marshall team in the Motor City Bowl. The key was an injury to Luke Staley, who was the MWC freshman of the year. Fahu Tahi and the rest of the running game collapsed in Staley's absence, and QB Kevin Feterik was not good enough to make up the difference. Still, they only lost to good teams, had non-conference wins against Washington and Cal, and losing to a 13-0 team in a bowl game is hardly the worst thing in the world.
Coach: LaVell Edwards
Bowl: 23-16 loss to Navy in the Holiday Bowl
Point Differential per game: 9.85
Opp. Winning %: .497
What you didn't know: The WAC featured only three teams with winning records in 1978: BYU (9-4), Utah (8-3) and New Mexico (7-5).
Summary: Over the past 40 seasons, only three BYU defenses have allowed less 14 points per game: 1985, 1978, and 1979. Throw in 1984, 1977 and 2006, and you have the short list for the best defenses in BYU history (at least statistically). The defense was anchored by a very good D-line, including Matt Mendenhall and Ross Varner. The offense was good by 1978 standards, but was only a shadow of what the Cougars would become. Jim McMahon was WAC co-offensive player of the year despite only playing about half the teams snaps and completing less than 50 percent of his passes. This season is on the list where it is not just because of the performance of the defense, but because of its historical significance. It was the launchpad for the best run in BYU history: 8 straight WAC titles, a national title, and and 5 of 6 seasons ranked in the AP top 15. This was a really good team, and we'd find out just how good this group was in 1979 and 1980.
Coach: Gary Crowton
Ranking: 25th in the AP
Bowl: 28-10 loss to Louisville in the Liberty Bowl
Point Differential per game: 15.14
Opp. Winning %: .435
What you didn't know: 2001 is one of 10 seasons where BYU made it in to the AP top 10. The other seasons are: 1984, 1990, 1996, 1983, 1985, 2009, 2008, 1979. The average final position in the AP poll over these 10 seasons is 14th.
Summary: Luke Staley was crazy good in 2001. He averaged 8.1 YPC. Read that again: 8.1! He was, in my estimation, the most potent offensive weapon BYU has ever seen, our version of Bo Jackson: power, speed, and vision. Yes, the offensive line was very good. Yes, Brandon Doman was a good QB. But this offense was awesome, and it was not the same after he got hurt. After opening the season 12-0 and being ranked as high as No. 8 in the country, the Cougars gave up 72 points to Hawaii and then could only score 10 points against Louisville, a team that was not elite defensively. With just two losses, why is this season so low? They didn't beat any top 30 teams (didn't play any actually), and lost to two good but not great teams. If Staley plays the last two games, maybe they don't outscore Hawaii (offense wasn't the problem in that game), but they probably destroy Louisville, and this is a Top 10 season, maybe Top 5.