Forecasting the First Year of Brigham Young Cougars Independence

The 2011 football season is the Brigham Young Cougars’ first season as a college football independent. The major question ever since BYU made this move has been can BYU be successful? Forecasting the long term success of BYU as an independent is difficult; however, data is available to help forecast the first season.

Year one as an independent will be a year of transitioning and rebounding. Early indications are that the quarterback position to be a bright spot, and that there is a possibility for a 10 game win streak. 

In this day and age of college football, declaring independent status sounds revolutionary. In reality, BYU leaving the Mountain West Conference (MWC) and becoming independent is simply a transition. BYU has had a pretty good track record in the first year following a major transition.

1996: The Western Athletic Conference (WAC) expanded to 16 teams. Amidst all the hype and hoopla of this bold move by the WAC, the 1996 Cougars recorded the second best season in BYU football history. BYU finished the year ranked number 5 nationally, played in the Cotton Bowl on January 1, and posted a 14-1 record.

1999: BYU left the WAC and was transitioning to the MWC. The season started with an exciting win over Washington. After nine games, BYU was 8-1 and ranked number 12. Three straight losses to end the year resulted in an 8-4 record.

2001: The sun set on the LaVell Edwards era at BYU, and Gary Crowton became head coach. The transition between head coaches started very smooth. Edwards had built a winning tradition at the Y, and win is all Crowton did for the first 12 games. BYU raced as high as number 7 in the national rankings. Crowton’s new offensive scheme produced the 2001 Doak Walker Award Winner. BYU finished the year 12-2 and ranked numbers 24 and 25.

2005: BYU was again transitioning from one head coach to another. Bronco Mendenhall was replacing Crowton. The 2005 season wasn’t sensational, but after three straight bowl-less, losing seasons, Mendenhall guided BYU to a 6-5 regular season and a trip to the Las Vegas Bowl. It was enough for BYU and its fans to feel a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.

BYU has had some problems finishing down the stretch in these years, but the start is usually fantastic. A fast start will be great for BYU in 2011. The schedule is front loaded. Wilting down the home stretch would be hard to see. The final three games are home games with Idaho and New Mexico State and a road game at Hawaii. The Hawaii game could be a trap game, and if BYU loses that one and the TCU game October 28 to finish 2-2 in the final four games, that could be considered a late season letdown.

BYU is on the rebound in 2011. At 7-6, the 2010 season was disappointing. The good news is that BYU tends to rebound well after disappointing seasons.

1975-76: BYU struggled in 1975 to reach 6-5 after winning the WAC the year before. The next year, however, BYU raced to the most wins in school history (9), and played in a bowl game for just the second time ever. Quarterback Gifford Nielsen became the first BYU QB to pass for more than 3,000 yards in a season and was named All-American.

1993-94: The bizarre 1993 season ended with a 6-6 record. BYU had a much better season in 1994 highlighted by a win over Notre Dame in South Bend and a final ranking of 10 in the coaches’ poll after BYU crushed Oklahoma in the Copper Bowl to finish the year 10-3.

1997-98: The Cougars were just 6-5 in 1997. That season was followed by a 9-3 regular season that landed BYU in the WAC championship game for the second time in three years. At one point, BYU won seven straight games. Ronney Jenkins rushed for 1,307 yards (second most in BYU history, at that time). BYU crushed 14th ranked Arizona State 26-6.

2000-01: A 6-6 record was not the parting gift that BYU had in mind for Edwards in his final season. Nevertheless, they did throw a great welcoming party for Crowton, as noted above. The 2001 offense was one of the most lethal offenses in BYU history. Beside Luke Staley winning the Doak Walker Award, quarterback Brandon Doman had a superb season throwing for over 3,500 yards and 33 touchdowns.

BYU has had other seasons that felt disappointing, even though the win-loss record wasn’t near 0.500, namely: 1978 (9-4), 1982 (8-4), 1995 (7-4). Each of these seasons were followed by fantastic seasons: 1979 (11-1, #12/13), 1983 (11-1, #7), and 1996 (14-1, #5).

Only twice has BYU had disappointing seasons (1986 and 2002) and not rebounded immediately.

One common thread with every single disappointing season that BYU had had since 1975 is this: BYU was breaking in a new starting quarterback. The two times that BYU did not rebound immediately, BYU did not have stability at the quarterback position. The 2011 BYU Cougars have stability at quarterback.

If you regularly visit the site, you will have noticed other indicators that point to a posititive forecast for 2011. Here are links to them:
The 2011 season should be mostly sunny for BYU. Transitioning from the MWC to independent status shouldn’t cause any problems, in fact, it is probably a benefit. Coaches and players need to be mindful that it is a long season with two important road games coming near the end of the season, and proper precautions should be taken to avoid fading down the stretch. Rebounding from last year’s disappointments is almost certain to occur. How high BYU rebounds is up for debate, however, there are some other indications that the rebound will be high.

BYU should end the season ranked, and probably will reach the 10 win plateau again. It is even possible that BYU puts together a special season. Perhaps, so special that is it is the first undefeated season in 27 years.

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