The Brigham Young Cougars got off to a slow start in the 2010 season. Inexperience, poor coaching, and injuries were common explanations for the poor start. The schedule was pretty tough, too. Five weeks into the season, three of BYU’s opponents were ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 (Air Force #25, Florida State #23, Nevada #21), with two future opponents ranked even higher (Utah #10, TCU #5). BYU is used to playing top quality opponents, but rarely does BYU play so many in the same year.
When the 2010 season concluded, four of these five were still ranked in the USA Today poll. TCU was the Rose Bowl Champion and Nevada had done the unthinkable—beat Boise State. Was the 2010 schedule BYU’s hardest ever, or is there another that posed more difficulty?
Using the opponents’ winning percentage seems to be the best way to weed through almost 90 years of football history and determine the seasons that deserve closer attention. Before 2010, BYU’s opponents’ winning percentage has ranked among the nation’s top 20 five times—1967, 1991, 1999, 2003, and 2004.
Opponents’ winning %: 0.5778 (13th in the nation)
Top opponents: Wyoming (10-0, #6), Oregon State (7-2-1, #7), Arizona State (8-2), UTEP/Texas Western (6-2-1).
Number of ranked teams played: 4* (2 top 10)
* = The rankings in 1967 only ranked the top 10 teams. Arizona State and UTEP fell into the “Others receiving votes” category. Only 22 teams total (the top 10 plus 12 others) received votes in the final poll that year. For consistency, with the polls going to 25 teams now, all four of these opponents will be counted as being ranked.
Opponents’ winning %: 0.6076 (9th in the nation)
Top opponents: Penn State (11-2, #3), Florida State (11-2, #4), Iowa (10-1-1, #10), UCLA (9-3, #18), Air Force 10-3 (10-3, #24)
Number of ranked teams played: 5 (3 top 10)
Other considerations: Every one of the top opponents won their bowl games, except Iowa (tied BYU). San Diego State had Marshall Faulk. Only one of the games against the top opponents (Air Force) was played at home; the rest were split 2 road 2 neutral.
Opponents’ winning %: 0.5794 (18th in the nation)
Top opponents: Marshall (13-0, #10), Utah (8-3), Colorado State (8-3)
Number of ranked teams played: 1
Opponents’ winning %: 0.5912 (13th in the nation)
Top opponents: USC (12-1, #2), Boise State (13-1, #15), Utah (10-2, #21)
Number of ranked teams played: 3 (1 top 10)
Other considerations: USC won the AP National Championship
Opponents’ winning %: 0.5897 (16th in the nation)
Top opponents: USC (13-0, #1), Utah (12-0, #5), Boise State (11-1, #12)
Number of ranked teams played: 3 (2 top 10)
Other considerations: USC won the National Championship. USC QB, Matt Leinart won the Heisman Trophy. USC RB Reggie Bush and Utah QB Alex Smith were Heisman Trophy finalists.
Opponents’ winning %: 0.5454
Top opponents: TCU (13-0, #2), Nevada (13-1, #13), Florida State (10-4, #16), Utah (10-3, #23)
Number of ranked teams played: 4 (1 top 10)
Other considerations: Only one game against the top opponents was a home game (Nevada) the rest were road games.
It is easy to dismiss the 1999 team from consideration. While the opponents’ winning percentage was high, the number of quality opponents was not. It is also easy to dismiss the 2010 team. The winning percentage is much lower than all the others. Notwithstanding the good pool of quality opponents in 2010, the overall schedule was not as strong as other years.
The year 2003 is the next to go. Despite USC winning the AP national championship, having only one top ten ranked opponent and three ranked opponents overall hurts.
That leaves 1967, 1991, and 2004. The 1967 and 2004 schedules can fight it out for the number 2 spot because 1991 stands head and shoulders above them both. The 1991 schedule is tops in all categories: opponents’ winning percentage, number of ranked teams, and number of top 10 teams. Hands down, the 1991 schedule was the hardest BYU football schedule ever.
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