Flashback: A historic bowl streak begins

BYU played Navy in the first Holiday Bowl (Source: Pinterest)

The 2017 season saw the BYU Cougars miss playing in the postseason for the first time since 2004. Most Cougar fans expect BYU to return to a bowl game in 2018. Forty years ago, BYU football was in a similar position. When the Cougars reached a bowl game in 1978, it was the start of a very long and historic bowl streak.

BYU had played in a bowl for just the second time ever in 1976, but it was the second time in three seasons. Despite winning nine games and the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) championship the next season, BYU did not play in a bowl game due to scheduling conflicts (the Fiesta Bowl was played on a Sunday).

In 1978, quarterback Marc Wilson was returning for his junior season. BYU had just posted back-to-back nine-win seasons, which were the first nine-win seasons in school history. Arizona State and Arizona were no longer members of the WAC, so winning the conference championship for a third consecutive season would be significantly easier. For all of these reasons, playing in a bowl game was expected.

Sure enough, BYU finished the regular season with nine wins, once again (9-3). As WAC champs, the Cougars represented the conference in the inaugural Holiday Bowl against Navy. From that point on, BYU and bowl game went, pretty much, hand in hand.

BYU continued to represent the WAC in the Holiday Bowl annually through 1984. From 1985-88, BYU made appearances in the Citrus Bowl (1985), the Freedom Bowl (1986, 1988), and the All-American Bowl (1987). The Cougars had another string of Holiday Bowl appearances from 1989 through 1991. After a trip to Hawai'i for the Aloha Bowl in 1992, BYU made it's final appearance in the Holiday Bowl in 1993. The bowl streak continued in 1994 with a showing in the Copper Bowl.

BYU won a share of the WAC championship in 1995, but a disappointing 7-4 regular season record kept the Cougars home for the holidays. That ended BYU's bowl streak at 17 straight seasons.

That number, in and of itself, is impressive. It becomes even more impressive when remembering the streak began when college football had just 15 total bowl games. Just 30 schools could say they played in a bowl game 40 years ago. When the streak ended in 1995, there were still only 18 bowl games.

At the time, only three other schools in the country could boast a longer streak of consecutive bowl appearances: Nebraska (26 from 1969-1994), Alabama (25 from 1959-1983), and Michigan (20 from 1975-1994). At present, BYU's 17 consecutive bowl games is the 11th longest streak in college football history.

It is still the longest streak in school history. Hopefully, BYU does return to a bowl game in 2018, and 18 years later that streak is still in tact, thus marking this year as the beginning of another historic bowl streak.

Note: Nebraska and Michigan's bowl streaks continued beyond the 1994 season. Nebraska's continued through 2003 for a total of 35 years and Michigan's continued through 2007 for a total of 33 years.

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