Twenty-five years ago, the BYU Cougars shocked the world of college football with an undefeated season and a national championship.
The current landscape of college football scarcely resembles the way things were in 1984, with BCS contracts, computer-generated rankings, and huge corporate sponsorships dominating the way champions are crowned today. But BCS outsiders from the WAC and Mountain West Conference have been making noise in Congress and on the football field lately, and the culmination just might be, gulp, another national championship for BYU 25 years later.
Earlier this year, BYU announced that it had cancelled its scheduled game against Arizona St. and had accepted an invitation to play Sam Bradford and Oklahoma in the season opener. Cougar fans were left scratching their heads, wondering why the school would walk away from a winnable game against a quality Pac-10 school in favor of a certain bloodbath at the hands of the Sooners.
Fast forward to Sep. 5 in Dallas, and the entire college football world watched the Cougars topple mighty Oklahoma in what amounted to a road game in front of 70,000+ rabid Sooners fans. BYU's huge gamble to play the game paid off, and the Cougars are suddenly the darlings of the college football world.
How big was BYU's win over Oklahoma? Big enough to get them into the national championship conversation, a feat that no other BCS buster has been able to accomplish. But before Provo can become title town once again, the Cougars have to navigate a series of challenges to make them BCS-worthy. It starts on Saturday when Bobby Bowden and the FSU Seminoles visit the Cougars in a hugely anticipated showdown.
Nobody thought the Cougars would get past Step 1: Beat Oklahoma. But with the Sooners successfully in their rearview mirror, BYU is on to Step 2: Beat Bowden.
Bowden admitted this week that BYU has the best chance of any non-AQ team to burst the BCS bubble this year.
Was it a foreshadowing of a Cougar victory on Saturday, or just Bowden playing coy?
FSU's 101st-ranked pass defense suggests that BYU should have big success through the air. FSU is improved from last season, but lost a heartbreaker to Miami to open the season and barely squeaked past Jacksonville State in Week Two. The 'Noles are still young and inexperienced, meaning senior QB Max Hall may be able to exploit FSU through a passing offense that is based on precision and timing.
Still, FSU poses a huge challenge for the Cougars in terms of athleticism and speed. Conference foes who are built on speed—namely TCU and Utah—have given BYU plenty of trouble in recent years on both sides of the ball.
The Cougar defense will have a particularly difficult challenge trying to cover the FSU receiving corps, which is loaded with big, fast receivers. QB Christian Ponder has shown accuracy in throwing downfield during FSU's first two games, so BYU's relatively inexperienced secondary will need to come up big to avoid getting into a shootout.
Looking past FSU, the Cougars' schedule shapes up perfectly for a BCS run. If the Cougars take care of business against Florida St., they are likely to be 7-0 heading into their homecoming game against TCU on Oct. 24. A victory over the Horned Frogs, currently ranked 15th, will give BYU a third quality win and will set up a potential winner-take-all deathmatch with rival Utah (currently ranked 16th) on November 28.
The key to BYU's dream season is its schedule: BYU will play the FSU, TCU, and Utah games at home, where they are a combined 18-0 the last three seasons. The BYU fan base is already rabid following the team's victory against Oklahoma. Lavell Edwards Stadium will be hopping on Saturdays, creating a formidable 12th-man advantage for the Cougars all season long.
The current BCS paradigm is openly created to block the little guys from joining the party. But in a scenario that the BCS braintrust had to know would materialize someday, the BYU Cougars actually control their own BCS destiny. It's not enough just to "bust" the BCS; the 2009 Cougars have national title aspirations and the memories of a similar dream season 25 years ago in the back of their minds.
As Cougar fans are saying, "Y Not?"