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Brigham Young's Curse

How a national champion nobody liked changed college football.

by James Leroy Wilson
December 3, 2013

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Brigham Young's Curse

College football crown update: Four days after my November 19 column, about Baylor, the Bears were crushed by Oklahoma State. Congratulations to the Cowboys for now holding the crown. The crown, of course, is NOT the same as the national championship, which is the focus of this week's column...

In 1984, the Western Athletic Conference's Brigham Young University was the Boise State of its time -- except it really wasn't. It swept through its schedule undefeated and, as the only Division I-A school to do so, won the unofficial national championship ahead of a strong 11-1 Washington squad.

The voters in the press and coaches polls seem to have regretted it ever since. That year, BYU did not play any ranked opponent. Even its Holiday Bowl opponent, Michigan, had a down year with a 6-5 record -- and even then BYU barely won.

In contrast, Boise State's recent mid-major "dynasty" included two undefeated teams, and signature wins over powerhouses like Oklahoma, Georgia, and Oregon. But even when they've gone undefeated, they were locked out of the national championship game. As were recent non-BCS undefeateds such as Utah and TCU (both of whom later got "promoted" to BCS conferences). A few times, such schools were passed over in favor of a one-loss team.

The most direct reason for this is that such schools have weak conference schedules, an important consideration when the BCS selects teams for the national championship.

But why is it so important?

Because we don't want to see a repeat of BYU, 1984. The emerging consensus is that going undefeated is neither necessary nor sufficient to "deserve" competing for the national championship. That's why several undefeated teams have been  locked out of the BCS national championship game. Conference matters. Schedule matters.

When players and coaches do everything asked of them and win every game, but don't get any respect or a chance at the title, call it the curse of Brigham Young.

And yet, who'd have thought Ohio State might be the victim of the curse?

For the record, the Buckeyes probably won't be a victim. But there's a debate. Many think Auburn's victory over #1 Alabama, propelling them to #3 in the polls, warrants that the Tigers be considered. Although Ohio State is undefeated and Auburn has one loss, it's argued that Auburn beat more quality opponents.

That's the difference between today and thirty years ago. Back then, BYU's Western Athletic Conference was considered a step behind in talent compared to teams in the PAC-10, Big 8, Southwest, Big 10, Southeast, and most eastern independents.

Recent years provide us with a new, odd development: the Southeast Conference is considered a step ahead of everyone else in talent. For instance, in last year's NFL draft, 11 of the first round picks (out of 32) came from the Southeast, whereas only one came from the Big 10 -- and not until the 31st pick. Currently, the SEC holds the four of the top eight positions in the BCS standings, and seven of the Top 25.

This could still work itself out. Ohio State is very capable of losing to Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship game. That would probably make the winner of the #3 Auburn vs. #5 Missouri Florida State's opponent in the title game.

If that doesn't happen, there will be arguments forever.

But the good news is that next year, this "play-off" will expand to four teams. The more teams that go to the play-offs, the less right any team has to complain about being excluded.

And maybe, just maybe, an undefeated team from a mid-major conference may get that fourth spot.

If so, farewell the Brigham Young curse.

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