BYU is 9-8 in bowl games since the year 2000. Of course, in the entire history of BYU football, the Cougars have played in some seriously thrilling games that stand the test of time in college football history. The 1980 Miracle Bowl and 1996 Cotton Bowl come to mind to start. The 1984 Holiday Bowl won the Cougars a national title.
Let’s focus on BYU’s bowl history since the turn of the millennium, ranking all nine wins. The rankings factor in the drama of the game itself as well as the context of what the win meant to BYU as a program at that time.
9. 2016 Poinsettia Bowl vs. Wyoming
The location of the game was certainly to die for. What’s better than Christmas in San Diego? That is about all that was appealing about this game. First, there was a historic rain storm that made the field mucky and tough to play on at the now torn-down Qualcomm Stadium. Quarterback Tanner Mangum only amassing 96 yards on 15 attempts in a slog of a game that made it tough to air it out. That led to Jamaal Williams ripping up the Cowboys on the ground to the tune of 210 yards and a touchdown.
The Cougars built a 24-7 lead in the fourth quarter, before Wyoming, now Bills QB Josh Allen, sparked a comeback attempt. The Cowboys scored two unanswered touchdowns to bring the game within three points with two minutes left. Wyoming got the ball back with a chance to win it, before safety Kai Nacua picked off Allen to seal the 24-21 win. It was a sloppy game that BYU nearly blew late, but held on to earn a ninth win.
8. 2010 New Mexico Bowl vs. UTEP
After an uncharacteristic 6-6 season from Bronco Mendenhall’s Cougars, they drew UTEP in a lackluster bowl. Jake Heaps became BYU’s first freshman to start a bowl game at quarterback and lit up the Miners with four passing touchdowns and 264 yards. Running back Josh Quezada added 101 yards on the ground as BYU blasted UTEP 52-24 to finish with a winning season.
7. 2018 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl vs. Western Michigan
The bowl location and opponent certainly could make a case for this to be the last-ranked game. However, two words boost the ranking- Zach. Wilson. The Cougars, donning their royal tops and bottoms on top of the blue turf in Boise, blasted the Broncos of Western Michigan. Wilson threw the football version of the “perfect game,” going 18-for-18 for 317 yards and four touchdowns, becoming just the second player in FBS history to have a 100-percent completion percentage, minimum of 10 attempts. Riley Burt added 110 yards on the ground and the Cougars totaled 490 yards and outscored WMU 42-8 in the second half alone. This game put Wilson squarely on the map as an uber-talented quarterback and hinted at his bright future.
6. 2020 Boca Raton Bowl vs. UCF
2020 was certainly a trying time for all, with the pandemic blasting a crater in the sports world. One of the brightest spots in the tough year was BYU starting out 9-0 on their way to a No. 11-ranked finish in the AP poll. First, they had to deal with a talented UCF team on their home soil, in a state where BYU had never won before. The Cougars wanted to make a statement that the College Football Playoff committee had made a mistake ranking them so low and out of the New Year’s Six conversation- statement made. UCF never stood a chance as BYU built a 35-10 lead by halftime. Wilson put together yet another video game-esque bowl performance, with 425 passing yards and five total touchdowns. This also was the foreshadowing game for Tyler Allgeier, who ran for 173 yards, ahead of his record-setting 2021 campaign. BYU torched UCF in their own state, 49-23, capping an 11-1 season, one of the best in school history.
5. 2011 Armed Forces Bowl vs. Tulsa
BYU entered the bowl against Tulsa looking for their 10th win of the season, in the first year of independence. The Golden Hurricane jumped out to a 14-3 lead. Things looked bleak after Riley Nelson threw an interception. However, Tulsa fumbled a punt, which led to BYU driving down to score and make it 14-10. That was the spark they needed. It went back and forth after that, with Tulsa taking a 21-17 lead early in the fourth quarter. After a few failed drives, the Cougars had a chance to win the game late. With the clock running down, BYU had the ball inside the Tulsa 5 yard line. Most thought Nelson was going to line up and spike the ball, but he faked it and tossed a strike to Cody Hoffman for the go-ahead touchdown with just two seconds left. The Cougars won their 10th game of the season on the last second.
4. 2006 Las Vegas Bowl vs. Oregon
Some pregame context is necessary for this game. First, BYU had not won a bowl game since the 1997 Cotton Bowl. Plus, Oregon head coach Mike Bellotti suggested the Mountain West, and consequently BYU, did not belong on the same field as the high and mighty Pac-10. The Cougars entered this game with some extra juice, and it showed. Right from the jump, BYU took control and never relinquished it. They scored 31 unanswered points before Oregon finally a touchdown early in the fourth quarter. By then, the game was well in hand. The game was essentially a celebration of the solid 2006 BYU squad. John Beck threw for 375 yards and two touchdowns. Curtis Brown ran for 120 yards and two scores. It was emphatic statement to end an 11-2 season that saw them receive a No. 16 ranking at the end of the season, their highest finishing ranking since 1996.
3. 2012 Poinsettia Bowl vs. SDSU
This game is simply known as the “Kyle Van Noy” game. For the majority of the game, it was a defensive slugfest. SDSU led 6-3 at halftime, with backup quarterback James Lark struggling to spark BYU’s offense. After Lark was intercepted deep in SDSU territory, spoiling a golden chance to take the lead. However, BYU’s defense stepped up in a huge way. Snapping from their own 3 yard line, Aztecs QB Adam Dingwell dropped back into his own end zone. Kyle Van Noy came streaking off the edge for the strip sack, which he recovered in the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown. This gave BYU a 10-6 lead early in the fourth quarter. He wasn’t done. After BYU extended the lead with a Jamaal Williams rushing score to make it 16-6, SDSU was looking to answer. Van Noy intercepted a pass and ran it 17 yards for the game-sealing touchdown. The Cougars won 23-6 and the now two-time Super Bowl champion Van Noy ended the night with eight tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, a fumble forced, an interception and two defensive touchdowns.
2. 2009 Las Vegas Bowl vs. Oregon State
2009 was an exciting season for Cougars fans. It started with a huge upset of No. 3 Oklahoma in Arlington and ended with a matchup in Las Vegas against ranked Oregon State. The Cougars were looking to cap off another 11-win season and send one of the most prolific quarterbacks in school history, Max Hall, off with a win. Boy, did the Cougars deliver. After the Beavers took an early 7-0 lead, BYU scored 37 unanswered points. BYU took the lead after a fumble by heralded running back Jacquizz Rodgers coughed it up for Oregon State, as Matt Bauman picked it up and ran it in to give BYU a 14-7 lead at the end of the first quarter. The Cougars never looked back. Hall threw for 192 yards and three touchdowns while the defense forced three Beaver turnovers. It was a satisfying end of an era at BYU, beating a ranked PAC-10 opponent in a prime time bowl game. The Cougars finished 12th in the final AP poll.
1. 2007 Las Vegas Bowl vs. UCLA
This game had loads of intrigue to start. First, BYU was seeking revenge as the Bruins had handed the Cougars one of their only two losses of the season earlier in the year in the Rose Bowl. BYU entered 10-2 and ranked No. 17. The Bruins stifled BYU’s high-flying offense for most of the game and did not allow BYU to score a single point after halftime, when they led 17-13. The second half was nothing but defense. After UCLA cut the deficit to one with a field goal, they had the ball again late, looking to drive down and score to win the game. The Bruins marched 87 yards over the final two minutes of the game, setting up a makeable 28-yard field goal try to win the bowl game. Kai Forbath launched the kick low and BYU defensive lineman Eathyn Manumaleuna got a finger on it and tipped it just enough for the attempt to fall short, sealing the win for the Cougars. It capped back-to-back 11-win seasons for the Cougars in dramatic fashion.