Food for thought about BYU's 1984 National Championship

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Once again, the BYU Cougars' 1984 College Football National Championship is being attacked. The cause this time around is the fact that the UCF Knights finished the 2017 season with a perfect 13-0 record. No other school in the FBS can claim a perfect record. Georgia and Alabama, the two teams playing for the national championship this Monday, both lost to Auburn earlier this season. The Knights victory over Auburn in the Peach Bowl has fanned the flames.

UCF is publicly claiming the 2017 National Championship. That has, naturally, brought many comparisons to BYU and 1984; the last time a school not in a Power 5 conference won the national championship. As usual, the commentary isn't kind to the Cougars.

Since this criticism isn't new, Blue Cougar Football has previously published a defense to attacks on the 1984 National Championship. At the time, it was mocked, even by BYU fans, as unnecessary and irrelevant. As the last few days have demonstrated, the BYU national championship is always on the verge of being attacked. The 1984 National Championship is the low hanging fruit. BYU is left exposed to the critics and naysayers because it doesn't now and didn't then belong to a conference with established national prominence.  Therefore, a defense is always relevant and necessary, if for nothing else than to keep the facts straight.

While the information in the original defense still applies, it isn't going to be regurgitated here. Click on the link above, and read it. A lot of research was done to put that together. Even if it doesn't persuade a change in opinion, it is always better to make an informed attack than the ignorant one on display above. However, over the last few days, while engaging in the conversation on social media and other online platforms, Blue Cougar Football noticed new details and information that is worth putting out in an organized manner.

Most readers probably won't find this new information, on its own, to be enough to indisputably tip the scales in BYU's favor, which is why this piece is entitled Food for thought. These details and information are primarily similarities between the 1984 schedules for BYU, Washington, and Oklahoma.

A. Washington wasn't impressive against Michigan, either. 

Many people criticize BYU because the Cougars didn't play a top ranked team in the Holiday Bowl. The foe was 6-5 Michigan, and BYU didn't dominate. BYU pulled out a 24-17 win. Coincidentally, Washington also played Michigan that season. The Huskies won by a score of 20-11.

Pretty comparable.

Michigan still had Jim Harbaugh under center in this contest. That might make one want to give an edge to Washington. However, Harbaugh played awful. Even though, the Huskies allowed Michigan to gain 350 yards of total offense (167 rush, 183 pass). In the Holiday Bowl, BYU gave up only 202 yards of total offense (120 rush, 82 pass). The difference in offensive output is what would be expected when a team loses its starting quarterback.

Offensively, BYU and Washington faced the same defensive personnel. The Cougars had 483 yards of total offense (371 pass, 112 rush). Washington totaled 284 (167 pass, 117 rush). Washington also had the advantage of playing with a healthy quarterback. As detailed in the aforementioned defense article, BYU was lucky if Robbie Bosco was 60 percent healthy.

One big difference in the two games was Michigan turned the ball over five times against Washington (three interceptions, two fumbles). Against BYU, Michigan was +5 in turnover margin. While the final scores were comparable, Washington was aided by Michigan turnovers, but BYU was greatly hindered by turnovers. The scores should not have been similar with the winning teams experiencing such a vast difference in turnover margins.

Michigan Head Coach Bo Schembechler's sentiments after the game support the idea that Washington should have won by a more impressive margin. He said, "I've seen us play worse, but I can't remember when. We didn't do anything right. It was one mistake after another."

B. Knocking off the rust; working out the kinks. 

BYU beat Pitt to open the 1984 season. Pitt was ranked number three in the preseason polls, but had a terrible season finishing 3-7-1. That was the first knock on the Cougars' win over the Panthers. The second was the margin of victory. BYU wouldn't be attacked as much if the Pitt game was a 30-point win. Instead, BYU squeezed out a 20-14 win with a 50-yard touchdown on in the final two minutes.

Bare in mind, in 1984 BYU was replacing consensus All-American quarterback and Heisman Trophy runner up Steve Young, consensus All-American tight end Gordon Hudson, its top three running backs from the year before, and seven of its top eight receivers. On defense, BYU had to replace first-round NFL draft pick Todd Shell at linebacker.

As far as season opening games went, Washington and Oklahoma didn't come out firing on all cylinders.

Washington had the best showing, but it wasn't really impressive. A 26-0 home win over Northwestern (2-9). For the young readers, Northwestern was one of, if not the worst, college football programs in the 1980s. From 1976 to 1990, the Wildcats won more than two games on just three occasions, but never more than four games, and they had four winless seasons.

Game two for the Huskies was the game at Michigan.

Oklahoma started the season with a 19-7 win at home against Stanford (5-6). Hardly what is expected from a school with national championship aspirations.

The only fair thing to do is give everyone a pass on margin of victory for week one. Each school won, and that was enough. Clearly, they had to knock off the rust and work out some kinks.

Another scheduling coincidence was Oklahoma playing Pitt the next week and beating the Panthers 42-10. Oklahoma was aided by a fumbled punt return and a failed fake punt. Regardless, it is fair to say the Sooners had the more impressive win over Pitt.

BYU, however, played Baylor in game two. With one game under their belt, the Cougars played like a well oiled machine. Baylor went home 47-13 losers. Two weeks later, Baylor played at Oklahoma and lost 34-15. In this case of common opponents, BYU had the more impressive win.

C. An expert opinion 

Grant Teaff coached the Baylor Bears for 21 seasons from 1972-1992. Having gone against both BYU and Oklahoma in 1984, he gave his expert opinion on the two. From a story in the September 4, 2004, issue of Cougar Illustrated, comes the following:
"We felt we had a chance against Oklahoma, but against BYU all I wanted to do was get the game over with and get out of there," Teaff told the Salt Lake Tribune.
Teaff wasn't just giving lip service. He had a vote in the Coaches Poll that season, and he voted BYU number one.

Fans can argue back and forth, and use data to debate their side, but it is hard to ignore the weight of Teaff's comment backed by his vote. Baylor may not be a college football blue blood like Ohio State, Texas, or Alabama, but Teaff was highly respected among his peers. After he retired from coaching, he was the Baylor athletic director for one year and then served as the American Football Coaches Association Executive Director from 1993 to 2016. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2001.

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  1. The '84 championship changed the playing field. It was the father of the current play-off system. ie THEY weren't going to let that happen again and UCF is today's goat. Never again will we see a non-P5 get ranked close enough to rise like BYU did that year. That is why no matter how good the Cougars can ever get; THEY will never let us get close enough to the head of the table to trouble them again.

    1. Completely agree. That has been clear since 1996.The Bowl Alliance chose a rematch of Florida-Florida State for the "championship" game that year, rather than giving 13-1 and #5 ranked BYU a crack at the Seminoles.


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