BYU football: Cougars' bowl history as rich as it is varied

Published: Friday, Dec. 17 2010 11:00 a.m. MST

BYU captured the national title by defeating Michigan in 1984 as a gimpy Robbie Bosco threw the game-winning touchdown pass to Kelly Smith against Michigan to cap the biggest win in Cougar history.

Mark Philbrick

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PROVO — The BYU Cougars boast a colorful bowl history, filled with their share of strikes (amazing comeback victories), gutter balls (a few embarrassing blowouts) and a few games that would be the equivalent of a 7-10 split (a 10-17-1 overall bowl record).

In honor of the 30th anniversary of the 1980 "Miracle" Bowl and in honor of an end of an era as BYU goes independent next year, here's a crash course on Cougars' bowl past.

BOWLING 101 (1974)

Six weeks into the '74 season, no one could have guessed BYU would end up going to a bowl game. Besides the fact that the Cougars had never been to a bowl game before, they started the season with a miserable 0-3-1 record. Furthermore, they didn't earn their first win until Oct. 12.

To begin the season, both Hawaii and Utah State defeated BYU without scoring a touchdown (the Cougars lost 15-13 and 9-6, respectively, on a flurry of field goals). Iowa State then pummeled BYU, 34-7. BYU's first Western Athletic Conference game of the season, against Colorado State, was a wild affair that ended in a 33-33 tie.

Coach LaVell Edwards has called those weeks "the low point of my coaching career." But it was also the turning point of his coaching career.

The Cougars defeated Wyoming the following week, 38-7, and then went on to win their next six games. They won the WAC title and were invited to the Fiesta Bowl, which automatically took the league champion. After playing football for 52 years, BYU finally earned a trip to a bowl game.

"It was one of the major early accomplishments we had," Edwards has said. "We had won a championship when I was an assistant (in 1965), but we had never gone to a bowl game. It was an exciting period of time. As a boy growing up, I remember listening to bowl games on the radio. So for us to go to a bowl was very special."

BYU fans gobbled up the allotment of 8,333 tickets for the game. The Cougars fell to Oklahoma State, 16-6, as quarterback Gary Sheide suffered a dislocated shoulder in the first quarter after leading his team to an early 6-0 lead. He was sidelined for the rest of the game.

Still, reaching a bowl was a huge accomplishment, and 1974 was the year BYU's bowl tradition began.


Two of the three gentlemen who are now well-known ESPN college football broadcasters are not only quite familiar with BYU, but also have played prominent roles in BYU bowl history — Lee Corso (aka "The Coach") and Craig James (aka "The Pony").

Both games occurred about the time of ESPN's birth. It was a fledgling local cable network headquartered in Bristol, Conn., that began broadcasting on Sept. 7, 1979, just months before Indiana coach Corso faced BYU in the '79 Holiday Bowl.

The next year, James was a running back at Southern Methodist, which squared off against the Cougars in the Holiday Bowl.

As it turned out, Corso won a game he should have lost, and James lost a game he should have won.

In '79, the 11-0 Cougars were unbeaten and ranked No. 9 in the nation — their highest ranking at the time. Indiana, from the Big Ten, was 8-3. BYU's offense, behind quarterback Marc Wilson, led the nation in scoring. The Cougars put up 37 points on the scoreboard that night, but it wasn't enough. Late in the contest, with BYU trailing by one point, kicker Brent Johnson missed the potential game-winning field goal from 27 yards (Johnson did convert three field goals earlier in the game, including a 40-yarder), leaving the Hoosiers the winners and spoiling BYU's would-be perfect season. The final score was 38-37.

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