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10. BYU 21, Notre Dame 14 (October 15, 1994)
9. BYU 31, TCU 17 (September 28, 2006)
8. BYU 70, Utah 31 (November 18, 1989)
7. BYU 18, Texas A&M 17 (September 8, 1979)
6. BYU 20, Pittsburgh 14 (September 1, 1984)
5. BYU 14, Oklahoma 13 (September 5, 2009)
4. BYU 24, Michigan 17 (December 21, 1984)
3. BYU 19, Kansas State 15 (January 1, 1997)
2. BYU 46, SMU 45 (December 19, 1980)
Those old enough to remember this game will tell you that this game was on its way to the worst 10 games list until the 3:58 mark of the fourth quarter. Down 45-25, the final 3:58 was so great and miraculous that not only does this game make the top 10, but it ranks number 2 all-time.
Led by Jim McMahon’s 4,571 passing yards and 47 touchdown passes, BYU had its most prolific offense in 1980 as the team bounced back from an opening day loss to win the next 11 games. That is why surrendering 45 points and over 300 yards rushing to Craig James and Eric Dickerson was so deflating. There were some bright spots before the miraculous comeback. McMahon had connected with Clay Brown for a 64-yard touchdown and Via Sikahema returned a punt 83 yards for another touchdown. However, BYU was tired of losing bowl games. Therefore, with 3:58 left to play and down 45-25, Jim McMahon put the team on his back and led the greatest comeback in BYU history.
McMahon drove BYU the length of the field for the first touchdown to cut the lead to 45-31. After a successful on sides kick, McMahon got BYU close to the goal line within seconds by completing a long pass to Bill Davis. Scott Phillips ran the ball in, and then caught the two point conversion to close the gap to six with 1:57 to play. The ensuing on sides kick failed. The defense rose to the occasion and stopped SMU on three straight runs to force a punt. Bill Schoephlin blocked the punt to give BYU the ball at the SMU 41-yard line with 13 seconds to play. Two incomplete passes and 10 seconds later, BYU had one last chance. Everyone knew what was coming, yet somehow, Clay Brown was able to pull down McMahon’s perfect Hail Mary with three SMU defenders surrounding him. This play, however, only tied the game. Kurt Gunther then came on to the field and put the cherry on top by splitting the uprights.
Score (maximum points for each category is in parenthesis):
1. Caliber of opponent: 20 points (25). SMU came into this game ranked number 19. The Mustangs had posted an 8-3 regular season record and had placed second in the Southwest Conference (SWC). Four SMU players were drafted in the 1981 NFL draft, three players were selected in the 1982 draft, and Eric Dickerson (2nd pick overall) and Craig James were selected in 1983.
2. Was was at stake: 16 points (20). National respect was at stake. Despite an 11-1 regular season BYU was only ranked number 14. BYU had played in four bowl games since 1974 and had lost all of them.
3. What was the impact: 16 points (20). BYU got the bowl-loss-monkey off its back. BYU gained substantial national respect. The win pushed BYU’s win streak to 12 games, which was then a school record.
4. Underdog: 5 points (10). One internet site rates this game as the 35th best all-time sports upset, so I’ll give this game five points. BYU had the better record and better ranking, so I can’t justify giving more points.
5. Dramatic win: 10 points (10). I dare you to find a more dramatic finish (a hail mary, a blocked punt, onside kicks—yes, that is plural, a 20 point comeback with under four minutes in the fourth quarter).
6. Underlying storylines: 4 points (5). BYU was under pressure to win having lost the first two Holiday Bowls. LaVell Edwards is on record saying he felt more pressure in this game than the 1984 Holiday Bowl. The game was a total contrast in styles; SMU had the Pony Express and BYU had the passing game. BYU had tied the school record for most consecutive wins (11) and needed a win to establish a new record.
7. Nostalgia: 10 points (10). Those last 3:58 seconds were so great, no one cares that the defense was horrible that night for 56:02. Even 30 years later, this game is nationally recognized as one of the best bowl games and greatest comebacks of all-time.
8. Total: 81 points
Video Highlights: BYU vs. SMU, 1980
Full game footage: BYU vs. SMU, 1980
1. BYU 28, Miami 21 (September 8, 1990)