Friday, August 7, 2009

25 Years

It has been 25 years since the 1984 football season which saw BYU voted number one in the nation by the AP and UPI voters, bringing the school its only football national championship. This CNNSI article provides a good recap of that season and the controversy that surrounded it at the time. (In honor of the silver anniversary, a 25th anniversary diamond logo will appear on this year’s fan t-shirts and will also be worn on the back of the players’ helmets.) The 1984 season was the culmination of several years of football success by the Cougars, which you could say is what made 1984 possible. In this blog entry, we are going to take a closer look at what transpired in the five seasons prior to 1984 (1979-1983), as well as what the Cougars have accomplished in the 25 years since their accomplishment.

1979-1983 (Five seasons leading up to 1984)
55-9 Record (.859)
5 wins over current BCS teams: Texas A&M, Wisconsin, Washington St, UCLA, Missouri
4 Top 15 final AP rankings (13th, 12th, 13th, 7th)
5 Conference championships
5 Bowl games (3-2)
5 Consensus All-Americans
2 Davey O’Brien Awards
3 Sammy Baugh Trophies
4 Top 5 Heisman finishes (2nd, 3rd, 3rd, 5th)
1 Coach of the Year Award
4 College football Hall of Fame inductees
4 First round draft picks
28 Players drafted (5.6 per year; including NFL ROY, 2x NFL MVP, Super Bowl MVP, 2x Super Bowl champion quarterbacks)

13-0 Record
3 Wins over current BCS teams: Pitt, Baylor, Michigan
1 Top 15 final AP ranking (1st)
1 Conference championship
1 Bowl game (1-0)
23 Game winning streak at end of season
1 Top 5 Heisman finish (3rd)
1 Sammy Baugh Trophy
1 Davey O’Brien top two finish (2nd)
1 Coach of the Year Award
1 First round draft pick
6 Players drafted (in 1985 draft)
23 Starters were either drafted or signed contracts

Looking at the accomplishments of the 1984 team it is plain to see that it was just a continuation of a string of successes that had been ongoing for five years. It is also clear, based on post-season awards and draft picks, that the BYU teams of the early 1980’s were clearly talented teams. This body of work would say that the 1984 national championship was not a fluke, but the product of well-coached talent stringing together several consecutive years of success on the field. It would likely take another multi-year string of such successes for BYU or any other team outside the current AQ conferences to once again have a chance at a national championship.

Those were definitely glory days for BYU football. In the 24 seasons that have passed since 1984, BYU has had its share of success, but not quite at the elite level like what they were able to do from 1979-1984. Here is what the program has accomplished since 1984:

204-98 Record (.675)
28 Wins over current BCS teams (1.17 per year): Arizona, 2x Arizona St, Boston College, 2x California, Colorado, Georgia Tech, Iowa (tie), Kansas St, Miami, Mississippi St, 2x Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Oregon, Penn St, Syracuse, 2x Texas, Texas A&M, 2x UCLA, 3x Washington, Washington St, Virginia
2 Top 15 final AP rankings (5th, 14th)
10 Top 25 final AP rankings
12 Conference championships
18 Bowl games (5-12-1)
1 Heisman Trophy, 3 Top 10 Heisman finishes (3rd, 3rd, 9th)
2 Davey O’Brien Awards, 1 top five finish (3rd)
2 Sammy Baugh Trophies
1 Doak Walker Award
2 Outland Trophies
7 Consensus All-Americans
5 First round draft picks
61 Players drafted (2.5 per year)

Looking over this 24 year body of work and comparing it to the six seasons culminating in a championship, it is not nearly as impressive. Although the Cougars have continued to beat some of the biggest teams in the country and have done so consistently, their overall winning percentage has declined, and (despite several individual honors) based on All-American citations and draft picks (although the draft has changed over the years), it appears that the talent level has dropped off since the early 1980s as well. Most glaringly, the rankings have also dropped off—after five top 15 finishes in six years (79-84), there have only been two in the last 24. During this period, the team would average 8-9 wins, a bowl game (usually a loss), and a ranking every 2-3 years. Above average, but not especially note-worthy and not positioning-for-a-national-championship type performance.

Cougar fans would like to believe that the team has turned a corner once again, however, and is building momentum for a BCS-busting season, or even a national title run again in the coming year or years. If so, then one would expect the team to post 1979-1983 like results for a few years prior to a big breakthrough. And, perhaps it is in the middle of doing just that. Here are the results of the most recent three seasons (2006-2008):

32-7 Record (.821)
5 Wins over BCS teams (1.67 per year): Arizona, Oregon, 2x UCLA, Washington
1 Top 15 final AP ranking (14th)
3 Top 25 final AP rankings (14th, 16th, 25th)
2 Conference championships
3 Bowl games (2-1)
0 Consensus All-Americans
0 First round draft picks
5 Players drafted (1.67 per year)

The rankings, big wins, winning percentage, championships, and bowl games are all very similar to the 1979-84 period. The most obvious difference is the lack of individual honors (awards, consensus All-Americans) and draft picks, a sign of perhaps overachieving with lesser talent. If the program can continue on this trajectory and reload at higher talent levels than have been on the field over the last few years (which appears to be the case looking at those committed, signed last year, on missions, and returning from missions), then BYU might be on track to once again be a challenger in the hunt for the national championship.

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