Dear 100 Hour Board,
Is it possible for BYU football to ever win a national championship again?
-My Name Here
I would have to say no. I am a huge BYU Football fan, but I just don't think that it's possible.
Mitty already talked about the challenges facing BYU because they don't come from a major conference. Even if BYU were to join a major conference they would most likely still face bias from the playoff selection commitee. The college football playoff has only been around for 3 years, but there have already been several controversial snubs to schools in major conferences. In the 2014-2015 season Baylor and TCU were ranked 2nd and 3rd the week before the teams were selected, but right before, they were dropped to 5th and 6th in the rankings. The reason given was that their conference did not have a conference championship game. Last year, Penn State and Ohio State were both 12-1. Penn State beat Ohio State head to head, and won their conference, but Ohio State was selected ahead of Penn State. Why was this? Ohio State is a bigger program that would attract more money. Penn State was a top 4 team that year, had won head to head, and is one of the most storied programs in college football, but they were left out because Ohio State was a bigger name. If schools such as Penn State and TCU get snubbed, it's unlikely that a playoff committee would select even an undefeated BYU team.
Mitty also mentioned recruiting. BYU faces a disadvantage because football isn't our biggest priority. Schools such as Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State have huge recruiting budgets, put tons of players into the NFL, and can pretty much promise recruits a chance to play for a national title. BYU has a hard time competing for talent against Utah, let alone against big time programs like Alabama or USC. Does that mean BYU can't put together good teams? No. BYU finished ranked in the top 25 4 years in a row between 2006-2009. The 2009 team finished in the top 12, and featured an offense with 8 future NFL players. (Max Hall, Harvey Unga, Manase Tonga, Fui Vakapuna, Dallas Reynolds, Dennis Pitta, Andrew George, and Austin Collie). BYU can recruit good talent, but not the kind needed to win a National Championship.
It could happen like Mitty said, but it is unlikely. You know what though? That's perfectly okay. Most college football programs have never won a National Championship or had a Heisman trophy winner (BYU is also the only school to win a national championship and not have a single major NCAA violation, so that's impressive). Losing happens. Half of the teams that play every week lose, and even top notch programs like Texas, Notre Dame, and LSU have down years. Sometimes I think BYU fans take what we have for granted. BYU Football is awesome! This might be BYU's first losing season in 12 years. That's awesome! Most schools would kill for a football team that successful. BYU has had many amazing teams and will continue to play well in the future. They probably won't win a national championship soon, but that's true for pretty much any school outside of 5-10 schools. BYU football can be, and still is, awesome. Go Cougars!
As much as it pains me to write the following answer, I must persevere. Short answer? No. Let me explain why.
First, the 1984 championship team is arguably one of the greatest underdog stories of college football. In the twelve seasons previous to 1984, LaVell Edwards had completely turned the program around. Although the team had finished with an 11-1 record in 1983, a number of important players had left the team, including Steve Young. No one expected BYU to accomplish much that year; they weren't even ranked at the beginning of the season.
Then, in week one, they traveled to play Pitt, who was ranked No. 3 in the country at the time. BYU pulled off the upset and people took notice, moving BYU to No. 13 the following week. However, Pitt finished the season at 3-7-1, severely damaging what appeared to be a marquee win for BYU. Although BYU went undefeated the rest of the season, their competition was arguably inferior to that of larger, more traditional football schools. Had statistics such as strength of schedule existed back then, BYU never would have sniffed a championship.
Due to contractual obligations, BYU (ranked No. 1) was set to play in the Holiday Bowl against an at-large opponent. Washington, who would finish No. 2 in the country, declined to play BYU, choosing the more lucrative offer of playing Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl. This meant that BYU's opponent would be 6-5 Michigan. After squeaking out a win, the powers that be weren't quite sure what to do. As the only remaining undefeated team, they declared BYU the champions.
This is not to take anything away from that season. LaVell Edwards was the greatest thing to ever happen to BYU football. He single-handedly took a team with limited previous success and turned them into a national contender. They DID win a national championship by going undefeated, a remarkably difficult feat in college football. However, they benefited from a remarkable amount a parity in the 1984 college football season; many of the normal championship contenders had spent the season beating each other up. BYU was simply the last man standing.
Since then, the NCAA has specifically tried to avoid a similar situation of a mid-major school being crowned champion. The BCS system and the current playoff system allow the NCAA to pick who will be able to compete for a national championship. In the early 2000's, although both Boise State and Utah completed undefeated seasons, with bowl wins over national powerhouses, neither was selected as champion. In fact, BYU is the last mid-major school to win the national championship.
On top of that, BYU's independence is extremely detrimental to its championship hopes. Teams within a Power 5 conference can lose a game during the season but still come back to win their conference championship, thus reentering the discussion for the playoff (see Ohio State in 2016). As soon as BYU loses a game, they are out of the playoff picture. This also hurts their recruiting ability. Top recruits want to be seen on the biggest stages possible, and BYU can't provide those stages at a level consistent to other teams. Whereas BYU will be featured in a few games a year like the LSU and Utah games, by November they're playing San Diego while Utah plays USC. The honor code also makes it difficult to recruit non-LDS players, many of whom would rather go elsewhere with their beards.
Could it happen? Sure. Leicester City won the English Premier League last year after opening the season with 5000-to-1 odds of doing so (to put that in perspective, BYU opened the season at 300-to-1 odds of winning the national championship). It would take some extraordinary factors and minor miracles to do so, but if sports has taught us anything, it's that we should never count out the underdog. I will continue to love and cheer for BYU football. I will begin every season convincing myself that this is the year that such and such star player takes us to the promised land. Just don't be surprised if those dreams are crushed around week 3.
In life, just because something is possible doesn't mean it is probable. Take the winning the lottery, for example:
BYU football might be like that.
And them's the facts.
Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to walk around LaVell Edwards Stadium to burn off the tray of BYU Mint Brownies he'd eat each morning on the way to work.
One evening, as he was walking along the perimeter of the stadium, he noticed an entry gate ajar. Stomach growling, he ambled inside, hoping perhaps to find a half-eaten Cougar Tail doughnut discarded on the concourse.
As he entered, he heard a commotion out on the field. Curiosity prevailing over hunger for the moment, he reluctantly veered away from what might have been a moldering Irish Taco behind a shuttered food cart and moseyed out past the bleachers where he could see the wide acres of freshly spray-painted grass.
As he stepped on to the darkening field, he saw a freshman moving among a multitude of large, motionless forms at the 20-yard line. The young man was reaching down to the grass, picking up the limp objects, and tossing them aloft far, far across the turf.
Thinking perhaps the lad was rehearsing some Olympic hammer-throwing-and-song routine to impress his FHE sisters ("Kids these days," he muttered), he came closer still and called out suspiciously, "Good evening! May I ask what it is that you are doing?"
The young man paused, looked up at the portly patriarch and replied, "Throwing BYU Football players into the end zone."
"I must ask, then, why are you throwing athletes into the end zone?" queried the incredulous greybeard.
To this, the young man replied, "Rise and Shout, the Cougars are passed out on the field. If I don't throw them into the end zone, they'll die."
Upon hearing this, the diabetic geezer jeered, "But, young man, do you not realize that there are like a paskillion rushed yards, passes, plays, and kicks missed this season and these 'athletes' can't even cross the 50-yard line?!? You can't possibly make a difference!"
At this, the young man bent down, hefted yet another quarterback, and hurled him bodily into the end zone. As the helmeted figure soared disappearing into the gathered gloom—at last landing with a satisfying thud—the freshman smiled and said, "It made a difference for that one."