STARKVILLE, Miss. — How things have changed in the 16 years since the last time BYU played at Mississippi State.
In December 2001, the high-scoring Cougars of the Mountain West Conference arrived undefeated and ranked in the top 10, hoping to bust the BCS.
This time? BYU is independent, has one of the worst offenses in the country, and is mired in a five-game losing streak.
In 2001, the two teams were originally scheduled to play on Sept. 15. BYU defeated a Cal team led by current athletic director Tom Holmoe, in Berkeley, California, on Sept. 8 and was looking forward to a showdown with another ranked, unbeaten team in Mississippi State.
"We know that's going to be a slobberknocker," BYU center Jason Scukanec said.
But a few days later, the 9/11 terrorist attacks postponed games throughout the country. As a result, the BYU-MSU game was moved to Dec. 1.
The Cougars kept winning and entered the contest with an 11-0 record and a No. 10 ranking, but they didn’t have a signature victory on their resume. BYU, which had its sights set on getting invited to a BCS bowl game and earning a $13 million paycheck, was hoping a victory over the Bulldogs would provide that.
But MSU had a 3-7 record.
As it turned out, the Cougars rallied from a 21-7 first-half deficit. Quarterback Brandon Doman engineered a last-minute drive that set up Matt Payne’s game-winning 25-yard field goal as time expired to break a tie and lift BYU to a dramatic 41-38 win at Davis Wade Stadium.
On that final drive, running back Luke Staley, who would go on to win the Doak Walker Award, suffered a season-ending injury. It was his last game in a Cougar uniform. Current running backs coach Reno Mahe caught 10 passes for 189 yards and two touchdowns in the game.
BYU's BCS hopes remained alive after the win. The Cougars, who improved to 12-0 in Gary Crowton’s first season as head coach, probably didn't earn any style points with the BCS — a Sugar Bowl official was in attendance — but they were able to defeat Mississippi State, which fell to 3-8.
Days later, BYU was eliminated from BCS consideration despite a perfect record and top-10 ranking.
The Cougars finished the regular season the following week with a blowout loss at Hawaii and ended up playing in the Liberty Bowl, where BYU fell to Louisville. The victory at Mississippi State was the last bright spot of the 2001 season.
Sixteen years later, the Cougars (1-5) arrive in Starkville under much different circumstances, having dropped five straight games in the same season for the first time since 1970.