As we get closer to the end, I'm going to slow down and take three seasons per post. That allows me to get more in depth on each season, offering more detail as to why the season ranks where it does. The top 15 was really tough to rank; BYU has some tremendous seasons, and some seasons that were almost tremendous. As always, please agree or disagree in the comments section. I know that all 5 of you who read this series will enjoy it.
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
Coach: LaVell Edwards
Bowl: 47-17 loss to Ohio State in the Holiday Bowl
Point Differential per game: 13.42
Opp. Winning %: .540
What you didn't know: BYU had 13 players named first- or second-team All-WAC in 1982, including WAC offensive player of the year Steve Young, current AD Tom Holmoe, legendary TE Gordon Hudson, and future NFL standouts Bart Oates and Todd Shell.
I realize this is going to seem too high to many of you. "A 4-loss, unranked team ahead of 2001, 1994, or even 1999? Have you lost it Adam?" It all comes down to the schedule for me. The Cougars played only one complete dog in 1982: 2-10 UTEP. That is not typical for BYU teams. Yes, one of the losses was to a 5-6 Utah State team, but the other three losses were to 11-1 Georgia (finished ranked 4th), a 1-point loss to a decent Air Force team, and a crushing bowl loss to Ohio State, who finished ranked 14th.
Steve Young was very, very good (though not what he would be in 1983) finishing with 3100 yards passing, 18 passing TDs, and 407 yards rushing. The defense was suffocating, except for lapses against Air Force and OSU. This team is a top 15 team in BYU history for me, even if the won-loss record looks like it should be a little lower.
Coach: LaVell Edwards
Ranking: 22nd in the AP poll, 18th in the coaches poll
Bowl: 50-39 loss to Penn State in the Holiday Bowl
Point Differential per game: 13.38
Opp. Winning %: .473
What you didn't know: In 1989, the Cougars averaged more than 65,000 fans at home games. The BYU road games only averaged 30,000.
Ty Detmer as a sophomore: 4560 yards, 32 TDs and 64% completions. Read that again. He was a sophomore.
He did have some good weapons in 1989: Chris Smith was an excellent TE (60 catches, 1090 yards) and flex back Matt Bellini had a combined 1089 yards rushing and receiving and 12 TDs. He also was protected by a very good offensive line, led by senior Outland Trophy winner Mo Elewonibi.
The defense was not good. The Cougar D gave up almost 27 points per game and a little over 400 total yards per game. The poor defense included meltdowns in all three of the team's losses, including 622 offensive yards and 56 points in Hawaii. (I hate playing in Hawaii, and I would guess that Ty Detmer does as well).
This season can't go any higher because of that defense and because there's no true signature win. Yes, they beat good Air Force and Oregon teams; but they also lost to 6-5 Washington State. Ty Detmer is the man, a Hall of Famer; and this season, while not breaking into my top 10, is part of the fabric of that Hall of Fame career.
Coach: LaVell Edwards
Ranking: 25th in the coaches poll; unranked in the AP poll
Bowl: 13-13 tie against Iowa in the Holiday Bowl
Point Differential per game: 8.62
Opp. Winning %: .582
What you didn't know: The first four teams BYU played in 1991 combined for a 41-10 record. The rest of the schedule (including Iowa in the Holiday Bowl) was a combined 47-53.
Don't you hate ties? In modern terms, is this a 5-loss team? A 3-loss team? A 4-loss team? If they had played overtimes in 1991 and BYU had either won or lost both, it would be a very different year, right?
This season started out as a disaster. A year after opening the the season by beating No. 1 Miami and having Ty Detmer win the Heisman Trophy, the Cougars dropped their first three games: preseason No. 1 Florida State (who finished ranked 4th); at UCLA (finished ranked 19th); and at Penn State (finished ranked 3rd). How many BYU teams go better than 0-3 against that schedule? Not many.
Then the team started rolling, with only a crazy 52-52 tie against San Diego State (Marshall Faulk had 235 total yards and 4 TDs) keeping them from 9 wins in 9 games. And then the Cougars matched an Iowa team that came into the game 10-1 and ranked 7th in the country.
So I get why some might not view this as a top 15 season, but it is. They played an impossibly tough schedule. Ty Detmer followed up his historic 1990 season by throwing for 4000+ yards and 35 TDs, despite having Eric Drage as his only elite weapon on offense. This was an extremely good team, better than my memory had them, and they played 4 of the best 15 teams in the country, tieing one, hanging with two others, and only getting blasted on the road in State College. I don't think any of the teams below them on this list would have fared as well.