BYU football: Cougar bowl games, then and now

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 27 2011 7:00 a.m. MST

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 ever 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.

"We were very lucky," Corso recalled. "Marc Wilson had an incredible game. He threw for something like 900 yards against us. Our guys had never been so exhausted. And then they have a guy who had never missed a field goal in his life and he misses a chip shot. We were very, very fortunate."

Corso has gotten a lot of mileage out of that win over the years, having referred to it numerous times on the air.

In 1980, the Cougars entered their showdown with SMU (dubbed "The Mormons vs. The Methodists") with an 11-game winning streak. But the only streaking they saw for most of that game came from the Pony Express — Craig James and Eric Dickerson — racing into the end zone for touchdowns. James was named the co-offensive MVP, along with BYU's Jim McMahon. James rushed for 225 yards and two TDs.

The Cougars, who trailed 45-25 with four minutes remaining, capped a miraculous comeback with a "Hail Mary" pass with no time remaining as one Catholic, McMahon, connected with another Catholic, Clay Brown. (Edwards likes to point out, though, that the game-winning extra point was nailed by Kurt Gunther, a returned missionary).

Years later, James still had strong emotions about that bitter loss to BYU.

"They were very lucky to beat us," he said. "We dominated that game for 57 minutes and then we just let up. If we would have played them again the next day, we would have kicked their fannies."

Added James, "That whole week after the game that's all anybody around the country would talk about, the Holiday Bowl. It was the most exciting game I've ever been a part of."

NO LONGER OH-FOR-OSU (1974, 1976, 1982, 1985, 1993, 2009)

Six times, BYU has met an OSU in a bowl game. The result? Five losses. The Cougars' first two bowl matchups were against Oklahoma State. BYU has played, and lost to, Ohio State three times in bowls (1982 Holiday Bowl, 1985 Citrus Bowl and the 1993 Holiday Bowl). The Buckeyes are the only opponent that Edwards' teams faced at least three times without winning at least once.

BYU broke that streak against OSU teams with a resounding 44-20 victory over Oregon State in the 2009 Las Vegas Bowl.


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