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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)
BYU finished the 1996 season, the longest season in NCAA history (15 games), on the first day of 1997. Even though the Cotton Bowl was the first January bowl game for BYU, playing in the game was bittersweet. Just a few weeks earlier, the Bowl Alliance passed on BYU, ranked number 5 in both major polls, for one of its three lucrative bowls.
The final score does not indicate it, but BYU controlled this game. The defense held Kansas State to 41 yard rushing on 32 carries and only 233 yards passing (113 of those yards came on two throws). The Wildcats were only able to score on two fluke pass plays (Hail Mary at the end of the first half that bounced into the Kansas State receiver's hands, and a long run after BYU missed a tackle on a short slant pass). Shay Muirbrook registered six sacks. The only other time that Kansas State was able to move the ball was the last 3:30 after BYU scored the go ahead touchdown. BYU jumped out to an early 5-0 lead, and the offense accumulated 350 yards of total offense while overcoming poor officiating (two blatant pass interference penalties were not called) to win the game.
It was only fitting that Steve Sarkisian hooked up with K.O. Kealaluhi for the game winning touchdown. The magic in 1996 started when these two connected in the first game on a 46-yard touchdown to upset 13th ranked Texas A&M. After the touchdown pass to Kealaluhi, Kansas State drove into scoring range. Both cornerbacks made huge plays to win the game. Kansas State quarterback Matt Kavanagh threw a pass high into the back of the end zone. Kevin Lockett leaped and pulled it in, but Tim McTyer made a heads up play and pushed Lockett out of bounds. Then, Omarr Morgan stepped in front of a slant pattern and intercepted the pass to seal the victory.
Score (maximum points for each category is in parenthesis):
1. Caliber of Opponent: 20 points (25). Kansas State was ranked number 14 with a 9-2 regular season record. Three Kansas State players were drafted in the next two NFL drafts (all were first or second round picks).
2. What was at stake: 20 points (20). BYU had a lot to lose in this game. Having been snubbed by the Bowl Alliance, this was a must win situation. A loss would legitimize the snub, a win would leave America questioning what might have, or even should have, been. BYU was ranked number 5—the second highest ranking ever for a BYU team—and a win would preserve this lofty ranking. A win would set a school and NCAA record for wins in a season.
3. What was the impact: 20 points (20). BYU won its first January bowl game, ended the season ranked number 5, and set a new NCAA and school record with 14 wins in a season. Most importantly, the win had national ramifications. It put a chink in the Bowl Alliance armor and led to a guaranteed at-large invite to a Bowl Alliance/BCS bowl if a team was ranked in the top 6. Later, LaVell Edwards would testify before Congress regarding the injustices of the Bowl Alliance.
4. Underdog: 0 points (10). I can’t find anything indicating who was favored by the odds makers. Whoever was favored, it wasn’t by much as Kansas State had more fans in the stadium, less miles to travel, and that oh so important Big XII conference label.
5. Dramatic win: 9 points (10). Poor officiating when BYU was trying to make a comeback. Two fourth quarter touchdowns, the final touchdown came with less than four minutes to play. Kansas State was driving to answer and take back the lead when Omarr Morgan intercepted a pass inside the 5-yard line to seal the win. Tim McTyer pushing Kevin Lockett out of the end zone on a pass that would have won the game.
6. Underlying storylines: 5 points (5). The Bowl Alliance snub alone is enough to get full points for this category, but we should not forget that tight end Itula Mili did not play having injured his knee in the WAC Championship game. First January bowl game in BYU history. Sarkisian tied the Cotton Bowl record with 21 pass completions.
7. Nostalgia: 6 points (10). The entire 1996 season was so great that this game tends to get caught up in the collective greatness of that year. Rather than stand on its own as a great GAME, as the years have passed the Cotton Bowl has become the capstone to a remarkable year.
8. Total: 80 points.
BYU vs. Kansas State, 1997, #1
BYU vs. Kansas State, 1997, #2
Full game footage:
BYU vs. Kansas State, 1997
2. BYU 46, SMU 45 (December 19, 1980)
1. BYU 28, Miami 21 (September 8, 1990)