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To help pass the quiet summer months, or to just take your mind off the conference expansion buzz. I am counting down the Top 10 games in BYU history. One game per day for the next two weeks. At the end of the game summary, I have included links to video highlights of the game. If you have additional insights to the game or links for highlights feel free to use the comments section to share.
BYU has won one national championship, 23 conference championships, and 505 games since 1922. In the process of achieving these milestones, the BYU Cougars have had many individual games that stand out. While each win is reflected equally in the wins column, we all can agree that certain wins are more significant and meaningful than the others.
In composing this top 10 list, I scored each game based on the following factors (point value in italics):
1. The caliber of the opponent. This includes national ranking, overall win-loss record, future NFL players, etc. 25 points
2. What was at stake? 20 points
3. What was the impact of the game? Maybe the game did not have much riding on it, but as a result of the game, accolades and honors came to BYU and its players, or it put BYU in a position to achieve something that would otherwise be improbable. 20 points
4. Was BYU the underdog or the favorite? Winning the games you are supposed to lose means more than winning the games you are supposed to win. 10 points
5. Was there a dramatic finish? If BYU was heavily favored to win a dramatic finish is not awarded points. 10 points
6. What were the other underlying storylines? (i.e. injuries, Bowl Alliance snub, revenge, record setting performances) 5 points
7. Nostalgia. As history passes what is truly great takes on a life of its own, so while “style points” are nice, “staying power” better dictates if a game is top 10 or not. 10 points
Without further ado, here is number 10.
10. BYU 21, Notre Dame 14 (October 15, 1994)
This game makes the list because, well, this was Notre Dame, and the game was in South Bend. This win, also, helped propel BYU into the coaches’ poll top 10 at year’s end, despite having three losses (BYU has never finished a three loss season ranked higher than 16, and many two and one loss seasons have not produced a top 10 ranking).
BYU had lost by a combined score of 87-36 in games against Notre Dame the last two years. This year BYU controlled the game. Jamal Willis starred as he led the team in rushing (75 yards) and receiving (83 yards) and scored both BYU touchdowns (one rushing, one receiving). His biggest highlight was when he leaped and reached to haul in a John Walsh pass with one hand. Photos after the game revealed that the ball landed outside Willis’ hand on his wrist making this catch even more spectacular.
The defense was led by Travis Hall and Randy Brock up front, and a young Shay Muirbrook at linebacker. They stuffed Notre Dame as the Fighting Irish leaned on the run game despite averaging only 2.5 yards per carry. BYU shutout Notre Dame in the second half. A Jon Pollock sack when Notre Dame was inside the 5-yard line forced a field goal that was blocked.
This was a classic case of BYU outplaying a football powerhouse, but the game remained close because of turnovers. BYU fumbled five times, losing three of them, and Walsh added an interception.
1. Caliber of Opponent: 15 points. Notre Dame was ranked number 17 at the time, but finished the year 6-5-1. Five Notre Dame players were selected in the 1995 NFL draft, and four more were selected in 1996.
2. What was at stake: 10 points. National respect.
3. What was the impact: 15 points. BYU was voted number 10 by the coaches at season’s end. This year marks the year Notre Dame was knocked off its pedestal. Notre Dame football has not been the same since, and BYU played a roll in this college football paradigm shift.
4. Underdog: 5 points. BYU was the underdog.
5. Dramatic win: 5 points. BYU scored the go ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. I don’t remember it being a last minute score. I don’t remember when Pollock's sack erased the threat of a Notre Dame touchdown, but if they still attempted a field goal after that there was enough time that Notre Dame thought they could drive down and score a touchdown to win since it was a 7-point game.
6. Underlying Storylines: 2 points. The Notre Dame mystique: Knute Rockne, The Four Horsemen, the 11 national championships, 7 Heisman Trophies, The Golden Dome.
7. Nostalgia: 5 points. Although BYU beat Notre Dame in what ended as a down year, Notre Dame was still Notre Dame (the Fighting Irish were 11-1 and ranked #2 in 1993, and they rebounded to 9-3 in 1995). Plus, the game was in South Bend. However, this game has gotten lost in the shuffle during the intervening years (Wikipedia does not even mention this game on the BYU Cougars Football page). It happened during a year that is not considered one of BYU’s best, and the quarterback that day was not a legendary BYU QB (John Walsh).
8. Total: 57 points.
Video highlights: BYU vs. Notre Dame, 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)
1. BYU 28, Miami 21 (September 8, 1990)