BYU's '84 feat yet to be repeated (cont.)
Edwards watched the game from his hotel room in Palo Alto, Calif., where he was preparing to coach in the East-West Shrine Game. The next morning, Baylor coach Grant Teaff joined him at breakfast.
"Grant said to me, 'Did you hear about the about the big investigation going on in Miami?' Word is out that the driver of the Boomer Schooner was a Mormon.'"
Even in defeat, Switzer leveled one more shot at the team from Provo. "Washington deserves to be No. 1," he said. "They are 11-1, have the next-best record, and I guarantee you they are a better team than Brigham Young."
Weeks later, Switzer received a bunch of letters from Midvale, Utah, with pictures enclosed. The local government there had passed a resolution that renamed its sewage center "The Barry Switzer Bowl."
"I had nothing personal against LaVell Edwards and his team -- they were an excellent team," Switzer said recently. "It was my job to promote my team and promote the Orange Bowl for the national championship. I was just doing my job, and I got a sewer system named after me."
A group of anxious reporters spent the afternoon of Jan. 2 hanging around the football offices in Smith Fieldhouse waiting to hear the results of the final AP poll. Most of the coaches were on the road. With secretary Shirley Johnson flooded with calls from curious fans, receivers coach Norm Chow wound up inadvertently fielding the AP call in his office. He emerged to deliver the news that would soon be displayed on a dot-matrix banner on the side of the building.
"BYU National Champs."
Today, Chow is the offensive coordinator at UCLA. In 2003 and '04, he served in the same capacity for USC's back-to-back national championship teams. Asked about that '84 season, Chow says, "No, I don't think it could happen again -- because of the BCS."
The BCS, which began in 1998, was designed to avoid situations like the one in '84, when the top two teams in the polls could not meet in a bowl game. However, because the system was founded by the six major conferences (ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10 and SEC) and Notre Dame, it's become significantly harder for a team from outside that group to rise to No. 1 or 2.
Starting in the late-'90s, the five leagues without automatic BCS berths (the Mountain West, WAC, MAC, Conference USA and Sun Belt) came to be known as "non-BCS" conferences, an unwanted label that undeniably influences voters' perceptions of their teams.
Since 2004, six "non-BCS" teams have completed undefeated regular seasons, but none have rated higher than sixth in the BCS standings. The most ambitious goal such teams can realistically hold is to finish in the top 12 and earn an at-large berth to one of the BCS games. Four such teams -- Utah in 2004 and '08, Boise State in 06 and Hawaii in '07 -- have done that.
"They've opened it up a little bit for the non-BCS schools," said Edwards. "But playing in one of the BCS games is a far cry from playing in the national championship."
Both Boise in '06 (which beat Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl) and Utah last year emerged from the postseason as the nation's only undefeated teams, but neither entered the national-title discussion until after their bowl upsets. "There were a lot of people still wondering if we were for real," said Whittingham.
It's easy to see why. Even with wins over 12-2 Alabama, 11-2 TCU, 10-3 BYU and 9-4 Oregon State, last season's Utes ranked just 56th in Jeff Sagarin's strength-of-schedule ratings. By comparison, Florida rated fourth and Oklahoma seventh. While BYU was rewarded in '84 simply for going undefeated, today's voters place far more emphasis on who teams beat.
Considering the non-BCS conferences will always face an inherent schedule handicap, is there any possible scenario in which the voters would place one of their teams in the championship game?
"I would never say never," said Philadelphia Daily News columnist Mike Kern, a Harris Poll voter, "but it would probably mean that just about every worthy BCS team would have to finish with two losses, to give me a good enough reason. I just don't feel that in most cases the schedules are equitable."
Many inside the game share that sentiment. "If the cards fall just right, yes, it could happen," said Florida Sate coach Bobby Bowden, a coaches poll voter. "Some of the big names would have to fall flat and not have good years. You know how people are about history and tradition -- it's hard to break those old habits."
BYU running backs coach Lance Reynolds -- who was also on the Cougars' staff in '84 -- believes non-BCS teams would have to go on an extended winning streak like those Cougars did. "By the time we got to the end [of the '84 season], we'd won 24 straight games," said Reynolds. "And during that time we'd beaten UCLA, Missouri, Pittsburgh, Michigan and Baylor -- and Baylor was really good then. It's not like we had this one-year flash."
Fowler agrees. "I think for a Mountain West or WAC team to play in the national championship game, they have to have back-to-back amazing years like we did in '83 and '84," he said. "If Utah were to be undefeated again this year, there would be a lot of sentiment to put them in the national title game."
Amongst present-day programs, Boise State most closely resembles BYU of the mid-'80s. The Broncos have dominated the WAC this decade, winning the league's championship seven of the past nine years, and earned considerable notoriety when they stunned Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. Boise finished last season 12-1 and ranked 11th in the AP poll, and it opens the '09 season against Oregon, a top 10 team last year.
However, the Broncos' conference is held in lower regard than the upstart Mountain West. Besides Boise, no WAC team finished higher than 71st in last year's Sagarin ratings. Voters would be hard-pressed to justify the Broncos' inclusion over a one-loss team from the power conferences.
The 2009 team best suited to pull off '84 BYU's achievement may well be ... BYU.
"If you play big teams like an Oklahoma, or a Florida or a Texas -- teams that are in contention every year -- and then you go undefeated, I think you absolutely should get to play in [the title game]," said Hall. "But it's very, very hard to do."
In 1984, it took 13 weeks for BYU to reach No. 1. It probably will take longer than 25 years for it to get back.
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