If you've followed me on Twitter for a decent period of time, you've probably found me always grappling with BYU's football past, especially with how the program now compares to back then, the "glory days" of LaVell Edwards, Heisman candidates, and passing records.
I don't intend to denigrate the accomplishments of Saint LaVell when I draw these comparisons. He built the brand and won a national title, for Jimmer's sake. I draw the comparisons to show that to some degree, many fans live their BYU sports fanhood through a lens of revisionist history; that the further away from LaVell we get, the more we forget the mediocre times, causing some fans to deride Bronco for not living up to a standard that LaVell didn't even meet.
The first major piece is that Bronco's winning percentage remains stride for stride virtually identical to Edwards'. That's just one piece, though. Having viewed a tweeter proclaim "I'm tired of the 9 years of irrelevance Bronco has given us," I thought I'd examine another piece of the puzzle to comparing past and present: being ranked in the Top 25.
(Again, I recognize failure to link to said tweet opens the door for it to appear like I am fabricating fan sentiment to push an agenda. Woody Paige I am not; I just don't want to get in the business of calling out in an article specific fans and possibly open them up to crazy 10%ers who might harass them. Just my judgment call. In a forum like this, I'll take the heat as the writer over shining the light on an individual fan.)
I've argued before that using national rankings to evaluate which teams are good is inconsistent at best, poor at worst. I still believe this to be true, as there is too much bias and not enough time for individual voters to watch enough football to be accurate in their ballots.
However, I believe Top 25 rankings do measure "relevance" to a certain extent. These are programs who get noticed when they win games and are considered "good football programs." Programs at this stature don't have to start 8-0 before they get ranked. BYU entered the polls after starting just 2-0 with a win over Texas. In my estimation, that feels like one good measure of relevance.
With that baseline, I wanted to examine the data on how often BYU gets ranked under which coaches. The most available, accurate historical data for this is for the AP Top 25, cataloged by Sports-Reference.
Here's the shakedown for your consideration:
In 29 seasons, LaVell Edwards-coached BYU teams spent 179 weeks ranked in the AP Top 25. This is an average of 6.2 weeks per season. That's not bad.
BYU finished the season ranked 12 times under LaVell, 41.3% of his 29 seasons.
Best finish: #1
In 4 seasons, Gary Crowton-coached BYU teams spent 14 weeks ranked in the AP Top 25, all in 2001. This is an average of 3.5 weeks per season.
BYU finished ranked once under Crowton, 25% of his time as coach.
Best finish: #25
The 10th season of Bronco Mendenhall is still in progress. BYU has spent 4 weeks ranked in the AP Top 25 this season and has just dropped out with the loss to Utah State. At 4-1, BYU sits in the mythical 31st spot in the AP poll based on their position in the "others receiving votes" section. If the Cougars can manage to pick up wins against Central Florida and Nevada and get back to 6-1, the Top 25 story for this season may not entirely be finished. A lot of questions, for sure, but just qualifying the numbers to follow during an incomplete season.
In 9+ seasons, Bronco Mendenhall-coached BYU teams have spent 47 weeks ranked in the AP Top 25. If BYU does not appear again this season, that would be an average of 4.7 weeks per season.
BYU has finished ranked under Mendenhall 4 times, which is currently 44%. If the Cougars don't finished ranked this season, it would be 40% - both very comparable to LaVell's finishes, though total number of weeks is lower.
Best finish: #12