The Ultimate Cinderella Story: How BYU Won a National Championship in 1984

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The Ultimate Cinderella Story: How BYU Won a National Championship in 1984

In recent years, there have been some monumental Cinderella stories in college football. Utah in 2004 and 2008. Boise State in 2006. But if you are willing to go back 25 years, to 1984, you will discover one of the greatest stories in the history of sports.

Just a decade earlier, in 1974, BYU's football program had been historically inept. They had never had much success. They were a private school owned by the Mormon Church. People thought the program could never be successful.

Missionary service interrupted football players careers' for two years. Many thought that returned missionaries made poor football players, they weren't mean enough, and taking two years off disrupted their rhythm too much.

There seemed to be little hope that BYU could ever do anything significant in football. Then they hired LaVell Edwards. Things turned around quickly.

He made BYU famous for having good QB's who manufactured a prolific passing attack. Many experts say that this was where the spread offense started.

Since BYU won in 1984, no school outside of a major conference (besides Notre Dame), has won a national championship.

Before the mythical 1984 season, BYU had impressed the nation with several All-American QB's. Gifford Nielson, Marc Wilson, Jim McMahon, and Steve Young were all named first-team All-Americans at QB.

Heading into the 1984 season, Steve Young had led BYU to 11 straight wins, before leaving to play professional football.

BYU was unranked heading into the season, having lost several key contributors from the previous year's 11-1 team. And they were starting Robbie Bosco, who was starting for the first time as a junior.

BYU started off the season by travelling way out to the East Coast to play the third ranked team in the country, Pittsburgh.

It was the first college football game televised on ESPN. BYU wasn't supposed to have a chance in this game. Yet they pulled off the road upset 24-17. They shot up the polls and got on everyone's national radar.

They had several close calls along the way. Most notably they needed and got a miracle against Hawaii.

Hawaii was inches away from winning the game, when on fourth down, BYU's safety flew over the Hawaii's offensive line on a perfectly timed blitz and stopped all of the QB's momentum, preserving BYU's undefeated season.

As BYU continued to win and win, the teams ahead of them lost. And by the end of the regular season, BYU was ranked No. 1 in the country. They were set to play in the Holiday Bowl.

Washington, who finished ranked No. 2 and had the most compelling argument besides Brigham Young, declined to face BYU, going for a bigger payout and and a matchup with another top 5 team, Oklahoma.

BYU got Michigan instead, who had been ranked as high as No. 2 earlier in the year, but came in ailing at 6-5.

Michigan was defending the pride of all of the major conferences and schools, and they injured Robbie Bosco and had a 17-10 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

But Bosco toughed the injury out, returned to the game, and led BYU to two fourth quarter TD drives and a 24-17 victory.

This game was played on Dec. 21, and in the weeks ahead, the pundits and media debated whether BYU, even though they were the only undefeated team, was worthy of a national championship.

Bryant Gumbel famously remarked, "Who have they played? Bo-Diddley Tech?" And many agreed with him.

But supporters of BYU for No. 1 had a more convincing argument. Washington (No. 2) lost to USC who lost to LSU, who lost to Notre Dame, who lost to Air Force, who BYU beat.

Florida (No. 3) lost one game and tied another, and only won 9 games. In the end the arguments can be best summed up with this, "nobody beat anybody, who beat BYU."

So weeks after their Holiday Bowl Victory, BYU was awarded a consensus National Championship, in all the major polls.

This would be comparable to Boise State winning the championship this year. It was BYU who played in and dominated the WAC back then.

I can't think of a more unlikely national champion. In 1984 an unranked (preseason) team from a non-power conference won the mythical national championship.

In the last 25 years, 16 different teams have won national titles. This includes Oklahoma, Miami, Notre Dame, Penn State, Colorado, Alabama, Florida State, Nebraska, Florida, Michigan, Tennessee, Ohio State, LSU, Texas, and USC. 

These are all, traditionally, football powerhouses. All of them (except Notre Dame) are in current BCS conferences.

There is one anomaly however. Twenty-five years ago, BYU won the National Championship; receiving the No. 1 ranking in all major polls with a 13-0 season; riding a 24-game winning streak. No one can ever take that away from BYU fans.

They will always be able to be proud of the fact that they are the only team to truly bust the college football system; winning the national championship while playing in a non-power conference, after starting the year unranked.

BYU's 1984 national championship truly is the greatest college football underdog story of all time.

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