Wednesday, August 26, 2009


The end of the 2008 College Football season saw the only undefeated team in the country Utah finish number 2 in the Associated Press poll. Now the 2009 season is dawning and Sports Illustrated’s Stewart Mandel has questioned “BYU pulled off a miracle 25 years ago; will it ever happen again?” That is in reference to BYU’s 1984 National Championship. Why is it that 25 years later critics still want to invalidate the title BYU earned?

Its time to get defensive and justify, once and for all, BYU’s 1984 National Championship.

1.WON-LOSS RECORD. In 1984, BYU was 13-0 and the only undefeated team in the country. Why the controversy? Not only did the University of Washington have a loss (11-1), the Huskies were not even Pac-10 champions; therefore, why would they be the national champion? (Fun fact: BYU beat Washington 31-3 in 1985.) The University of Florida (9-1-1) had two blemishes on its record. Why would they be considered the champion over a team with no blemishes? Florida actually had three blemishes—NCAA rules violations. Even if they had been voted number 1, any reputable poll would have stripped Florida of the title, just as the Southeastern Conference (SEC) did.

2.CONSENSUS NUMBER 1. More recently (2003, 1997, 1991 and 1990) the major college football polls could not agree who was number 1. BYU, however, was a consensus number 1. The Associated Press, the United Press International (UPI), Sports Illustrated, CNN-USA Today, the Football Writers of America all voted BYU number 1. Why should we dispute a championship that so many experts agreed on?

3.BEAT THE NUMBER 3 RANKED TEAM. To start the year, BYU went on the road to Pittsburgh, the number 3 ranked team, and won. Critics like to point out that Pittsburgh finished the year a disappointing 3-7-1, but they forget to point out that 11 Pitt players were drafted in the next three NFL drafts, including Bill Fralic (second overall pick, 1985) and Chris Doleman (fourth overall pick, 1985). Why wouldn't you rank a team with so much pro talent number 3? On opening day in 1984, the Pitt team (known then as “the Beast in the East”) believed that it was number three and played with that confidence. By losing, that confidence was shattered. College football is largely based on players’ mental psyche. An opening game upset loss can damage that psyche for an entire season, or at least bruise it and cause the season to be a disappointment. (For example, Michigan started 2007 season losing to Appalachian State, followed by a blowout loss to Oregon.) The mental psyche factor is also seen yearly come bowl season when teams who were dominant during the season play flat and lose to inferior competition. If anything, this Pittsburgh game is a testament to BYU’s superior mental psyche. They were on the road, playing the number 3 team, the game was a live, nationwide telecast on ESPN, the game was the first start for quarterback Robbie Bosco. Plus, BYU’s win exposed Pitt’s weaknesses and gave every other Pitt opponent confidence that they could win.

4.WON ITS BOWL GAME. BYU played Michigan in the Holiday Bowl. Critics argue that this was a 6-5 Michigan team that BYU beat only 24-17. Well, Michigan was ranked number 3 earlier in the year. Then injury struck. Jim Harbaugh, Michigan’s starting quarterback broke his arm. This goes a long way in explaining Michigan’s poor won-loss record. (Fun fact: Michigan ended 1985 ranked number 2.) While the Michigan offense was mediocre, the Michigan defense was strong (only two opponents scored more than 21 points). During the game, BYU lost its quarterback Robbie Bosco to injury for a series. He returned and played the rest of the game with an injured knee. In the game, BYU committed 6 turnovers, including a fumble at the goal line. You are not supposed to win when you commit 6 turnovers (the popular explanation for Florida losing to Ole Miss in 2008 was Florida’s THREE turnovers). Yes, BYU could have made a statement by winning 38-3, but it didn’t. However, what it did do—win despite playing with its star QB injured and despite turning the ball over 6 times—may be just as impressive, and it exemplifies what makes a team a champion: to overcome all obstacles and find a way to win no matter what. Kind of like the 2002 Ohio State National Championship team; they didn’t win pretty, but they didn’t lose either.


  1. Interesting post. Even though I cheer for BYU every week, I side with those who say BYU's national championship was undeserved.

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't it a fact that not a single team that BYU played that season finished in the top 25? That's a pretty weak schedule.

    You say, "The University of Florida (9-1-1) had two blemishes on its record. Why would they be considered the champion over a team with no blemishes?" Because Florida's "blemishes" came against better opponents than BYU's opponents. Your arguments could be used to make a case for an undefeated Div. I-AA team to be the NC for Division I-A. Of course, that's ludicrous, but why? Because Div I-AA teams play against weaker teams than the average Div I-A team.

    Also, you make some claims that have no empirical evidence (as far as I am aware) to support your position that BYU's NC was deserved. For example, you try to make the win at Pitt look better by claiming that Pitt's loss in that first game destroyed their "psyche" and is to blame for their poor record at the end of the year.

    But you have no evidence to back up your claim that "psyche" (whatever that means) really affects football teams in this manner. You might think that you have personal experience to back up your claim, but personal experience can lead you astray (why do you think so many people believe in bogus medical therapies?).

    Further, your argument that Washington didn't win the PAC-10 and therefore was undeserving of a national championship is weak. How conferences decide on who their champion is arbitrary. If the PAC-10 had a slightly different set of rules for determining their champ, then Washington would have been the PAC-10 champ, and you would have no argument. The case for a national championship should not depend on the arbitrariness of a particular conference's rules for determining a conference champ.

    I do have to admit, however, that I have no response to BYU's unanimous number 1 ranking in the polls. Looking back, it seems clear to me that BYU shouldn't have been number 1, and I can't see why so many pollsters would have thought otherwise.

  2. "The mental psyche factor is also seen yearly come bowl season when teams who were dominant during the season play flat and lose to inferior competition."

    Show me the data. Sure, every once in a while, a dominant team will lose in the post season to an inferior opponent. But we expect that to happen every once in a while just by chance. The real question is whether this happens more often than can be explained just by chance. To answer that, you need data. Got data?

  3. McKay, how did I know that we would often have a difference of opinion? Anyways, that is what I am looking for, a forum where fans can debate and look at all sides of the issue. I will respond to your points soon.

  4. A counter-example to your "psyche" argument:

    Last year, the Florida Gators (ranked No. 4 at the time) lost *at* *home* to unranked Ole Miss. According to your psyche argument, Florida should have imploded and ended the season looking as bad as Pitt did when BYU beat Pitt at home.

    But Florida didn't implode. Instead, they won the National Championship.

    So, which is more likely:

    1) In 1984, Pitt really was an excellent, national-championship-caliber team whose poor psyche after the loss to BYU led them to a poor record.

    2) Pitt was vastly overrated at the beginning of the year.

    Two seems more likely to me. It's easy to over/under estimate how good a team is when they haven't played a single game -- it happens every year.

  5. Hey, teams are not made up of beans in a jar to be drawn randomly and therefore easily analyzed using purely statiscal methods. If they were you could become a millionaire betting on them. Teams reflect many things, one of them is the head coach, Foge Fazio seemed to me to be more affected in a negative way by dissappointing losses whereas Urban Meyer is challenged and energized by them. In both cases the phsyche argument holds true with different results. Dang humans! they're hard to predict.

  6. "Your arguments could be used to make a case for an undefeated Div. I-AA team to be the NC for Division I-A. Of course, that's ludicrous, but why? Because Div I-AA teams play against weaker teams than the average Div I-A team." - McKay

    Wrong. That is ludicrous not because of weaker compition (not that I'm saying Division I-AA is on the same competitive level as Division I-A), but it is ludicrous because Division I-AA is a DIFFERENT DIVISION. Of course it would ludicrous to argue that a team from a different division should be the National Champion for another division. That would be like agruing that BYU, or Utah, or some other MWC team should be the PAC-10 confrence champion. That would be ludicrous - not because the PAC-10 is better then MWC, but because neither BYU or Utah is in the PAC-10, so they can't be that Confrence Champion. Likewise, a Division I-AA team is not in Division I-A, so they could not be the National Champion for Division I-A.

  7. Here is the Bottem line:

    After all is said and done, BYU IS STILL THE 1984 NATIONAL CHAMPION. They earned it fair and square, the same way any other team had to earn it back then - by being ranked #1 by the "experts" at the end of the season. BYU was picked to be #1 by every major Poll at the time, which means that while some dispute the validity of BYU's National Championship now, they didn't then. At the time, it was the consensus of College Football guru's! And with how dominate BYU was throughout the 1980's, why should we doubt that they had National Championship caliber one of those years?

  8. From the number first definition of CHAMPION: a person who has defeated all opponents in a competition or series of competitions, so as to hold first place.

    This is why my number 1 arguement was the won-loss record. No one else "defeated all opponents" that year. We do not need to resort to schedule strength or anything else. The Stewart Mandel article points out that other top teams (Nebraska, South Carolina, Oklahoma) all lost to teams with overall records similar to Pitt's record. There is your imperical evidence McKay. Remember 2007 when we had "upsets by the barrel"? We had to have a 2 loss champion. Further evidence that the first and most important question is did the team win, then if more than one team is equal we can consider other criteria for crowning the champion. So who cares who Florida's blemishes are too, they are still blemishes and rule them out of championship consideration.

  9. Neal,

    The fact that we call some schools Div IA and other schools Div IAA is irrelevant to my argument. Let's say that tomorrow the NCAA president decides to (just for fun) call all Div IAA schools Div IA. But everything else remained the same --- the scheduling, the number of scholarships the schools can hand out, etc.

    So should a school that was formerly called a Div IAA school be crowned the national champion because they were the only team to go undefeated.

    Absolutely not.

  10. Anonymous,

    I am a millionaire. I made my fortune using sophisticated statistical techniques to bet on college football games.

  11. Scott,

    The problem with using your dictionary definition is that it sets a pretty low bar for crowning a national champion. So a team from the WAC, who doesn't play a single team that ends the season ranked in the top 25, can beat all the teams they play? If that's the criterion you want to use, then, sure, BYU fit that criterion in 1984. But who cares if a team who doesn't really play any tough opponents can go undefeated?

    Was BYU the best team in 1984? No way. Did they fit your definition for a "champion." Sure, but that's a pretty low bar.

  12. McKay,
    Where is your "empirical evidence" that "No way" was BYU the best team in 1984? You have none. Why? BYU did not lose. Say what you want about the strength of BYU's schedule. The empirical evidence we have is that BYU did not lose while everyone else did lose, some of them even lost to bad teams (read Stewart Mandel's article).

    How about some "empirical evidence" that the dictionary definition of a champion is a "pretty low bar"? How many teams that didn't "play any tough opponents" were undefeated this year? 2008? 2007? 2006? 2005? 2004? (Should I keep going?) What you will find is that it is tough for a team to go undefeated, period. Whether it is in high school, junior college, 1-AA, and especially the NFL. 1984 proved to be a particularly hard year for teams to win all their games, so if one team was able to do it, they are more deserving than anyone else, regardless of who the competition was. If another team was undefeated then I agree that additional measures need to be used to separate one from the other and to crown a national champion, and BYU would probably end up second. But in 1984 no one else was undefeated.

    What is wrong with BYU being national champions? Nothing. The reason that the debate continues is that the "big boys" had their ego bruised becasue for one year they were not as good as one of the "little boys." That's their problem, and that is how the poll voters could do what was right and put BYU number one. No objective person complains about BYU being number one, only people who criticize the BYU national championship are those who were hurt by it.

  13. The empirical evidence is in the W/L records of BYU's opponents in 1984. All wins are not equal. You tacitly agree with this statement on some level, because you admit that if two teams were undefeated you would have to examine some other criterion to determine who should be NC...perhaps, the "quality"" of their wins?

    Again, Scott, perform the following thought experiment (as I described in an earlier comment): Suppose that tomorrow the NCAA decided to categorize all Div IAA schools as Div IA, got rid of the Div IAA playoff, but required that everything else to remain the same INCLUDING THEIR SCHEDULES. Now suppose under this new set up that a (formerly) Div IAA team goes undefeated the very next year and every other Div IA team has at least one loss. Under this hypothetical scenario, should the undefeated, formerly-DivIAA school be crowned NC? (Go ahead, Scott. Answer it.)

    I think the clear answer (to an "objective" person) is "No" for the same reason I think most "objective" people actually don't think BYU was the best team in 1984.

    "...only people who criticize the BYU national championship are those who were hurt by it."

    Sorry, Scott, you are dead wrong here. I was not hurt by BYU's NC. In fact, I like the fact that they have a NC and that it caused the "big boys" in College Football some consternation. I am a BYU fan through and through. I even pay the exorbitant prices for DirecTV (and put up with their crappy customer service), so I can get "the Mtn" and see all of BYU's games. I'm happy to have the NC banner in LES.

    But do I think BYU was the best college football team in 1984. No way.

    "No objective person complains about BYU being number one..."

    I think you are wrong here too. One example: I used to work with a guy who was a huge college basketball fan (he loved UNC and hated Duke). He didn't care so much about college football, but tuned in every once in a while. We had a conversation once about BYU's '84 NC. He thought it was a little silly that they won the NC. Why? Because BYU had such weak opponents that year. My guess is that this attitude is typical of most "objective" people's attitudes.

  14. McKay,
    Are you willing to take a challenge? You keep pushing what I say aside and come back with this strength of schedule talk.

    I don't understand how the win-loss record of BYU's opponents is "empirical evidence." You are a stats guy, why don't you do an analysis of teams that played opponents with the same or worse win-loss records as BYU in 1984 and see how many of those teams were undefeated. You don't have to limit yourself to 1984 either. I can say with 99 percent confidence that you would find that for BYU to go undefeated against the competition (using win-loss record to define competition) it played in 1984 was significant.

    There are two sides to your argument. You are failing to analyze the level of difficulty of going undfeated, while over emphasizing SOS. Sure the win-loss record of BYU's opponents wasn't glamorous, but if it was so easy for teams to go undefeated agaisnt that schedule strength why are there not more teams undefeated that year. Just to use random numbers, to illustrate, if BYU's schedule strength was 80th in 1984 and there were 100 Division 1A teams that year, why weren't any of the teams with schedule strength 81-100 undefeated, and did the teams with the 70-79th strongest schedules have one loss? If you can show some correlation between schedule strength and a team's overall record, then all the strength of schedule arguments would have a leg to stand on. Until I see some, then I will stand by my position that going undefeated is worthy of a national championship regardless of schedule. This year Boise State had a SOS of 102 and TCU has a SOS of 66. I think Boise State proved that SOS is way overrated.

    Look at 2009, 2/120 teams were undefeated. that is less than two percent. So teams have a less than two percent chance of going undefeated in in 2009. One team in 2008, that is less than 1 percent chance.

    You are dismissing my argument that BYU deserved to be national champions because they were undefeated with an argument that does nothing to justify that going undefeated was not an impressive accomplishment. When you do something that no one else can do you deserve to be recognized for that.

    This SOS stuff is like saying Bob Beamon was not really a great long jumper because when he set the world record 29 feet 2 inches he did it in Mexico City, with an elevation over 7,000 feet. We all know that people can jump farther in altitude. He can't really jump that far, it was just because he was in Mexico City. He should do that at sea level before we recognize it.

    Why don't you show me it is easy to go undefeated instead of continually coming back with unsubstantiated beliefs about strength of schedule/opponent win-loss records.

    As for your hypothetical 1-AA and 1-A unification situation. Yes that formerly 1-AA team should be national champion because then it becomes even more significant that they went undefeated. We are talking about 1/200+, so there was a less than one half of one percent chance that a team would be undefeated, as well as everything else I said above. It is time to recognize the great accomplishment that an undefeated record is.

    I don't consider your college basketball fan co-worker as objective. As a UNC fan he is suseptible to the same thought processes as those who criticize BYU's championship. (He probably thinks that the UNC basketball team, 12-7, is better than BYU's basketball team, 20-1, this year.)

  15. Since you like hypotheticals, here is one for you. Consider the following results for Team A:

    WEEK 1, lost to the number one ranked team 31-30, and Team A had a chance to win but the snap for a 23 yard field goal was muffed.
    WEEK 2, lost to the number two ranked team 17-16, and Team A lost when a normally reliable receiver drops a pass in the end zone on the final play.
    WEEK 3, lost to the number three ranked team 45-43, and Team A had a touchdown with 5 seconds left that would have won the game called back on an obviously wrong call by the officials that is not reviewable by replay (not all plays are subject to replay in college football).
    WEEK 4, lost to the number four ranked team 9-6, and Team A was ahead the entire game until the last play when the number four ranked team used 7 laterals to score a 63-yard touchdown and win.

    After four weeks of football, Team A is 0-4 with four very close losses to the top 4 teams in the country, and in each loss, team A was in a position to win and 9 times out of 10 the plays that lost the game for Team A would have gone the other way. Where do you rank team A?

    To continue the hypothetical, suppose team A finishes the year 8-4 and won those 8 games by an average of 20 points, while the four teams that Team a lost to two of them finished undefeated and two lost one game and they are still considered the four best teams in the country. Where does team A rank at the end of the year?

    Could you really rank Team A number 5 or even in the top 10? You play the game to win, so when you reward a "pretty" loss more than you reward an "ugly" win you compromise the integrity of the game.

    That is what people are trying to do to BYU. They are saying that BYU's wins were not as good looking as other teams' losses.

    You can't compare one team's win to another team's loss. That is an apples to oranges comparison.

  16. I have stated my argument for the undefeated record and backed it up. The burden of proof is on you to show that being undefeated is not a valid argument. You have not provided that burden of proof. Strengh of schedule is only a hypothesis that regularly fails when tested (such as the TCU-Boise State example I used).