Would BYU be denied again if they were undefeated this year against four BCS teams; of which three were ranked in the Top 25 last year?
BYU can play again for a National Championship as a member of the Mountain West Conference only if these criteria are met.
1) BYU must go undefeated: Regardless of strength of schedule, BYU must go undefeated during the regular season to receive serious consideration for a spot in a BCS bowl.
BYU should have learned its lessons from the 1996 and 2001 seasons. The lesson from 1996 is that finishing 13-1 won't guarantee BYU a spot in a money bowl -- even if their average margin of victory is 21 points per game. In 2001, BYU learned even if they had gone 13-0 during the regular season with the nation's most prolific, entertaining, and explosive offense, a BCS bowl bid is not guaranteed.
BYU is held to a much higher standard of admission or qualification -- a perfect season -- because they do not play in a BCS conference. The challenge is clear for BYU: Go unbeaten or go to the Liberty Bowl.
2) BYU must have a strong out of conference schedule: The strength of BYU's schedule is the second most important consideration for the Cougars to clinch a BCS spot.
The MWC has not fared well against out of conference opponents in recent years; thus it has not yet earned the respect of the BCS powers and national news media. We know from 2001 that if BYU doesn't schedule top teams from BCS conferences, its hopes or aspirations for National Championship consideration are over before its season even starts.
Wins this year against USC, Notre Dame, Georgia Tech, Stanford and an emerging Boise State, coupled with an undefeated season, will give BYU its strongest case ever for a BCS berth and possibly a national championship game slot -- depending on how well those teams also perform this season.
More importantly, BYU must continue to schedule and win two or three high profile, perennial Top 25 teams every season to earn the respect and gain credibility with the media and football movers and shakers. Scheduling out of conference games against lower tier opponents like Hawaii puts BYU in a no-win situation. The BYU basketball team figured out how to manipulate the RPI. The football team needs to do the same.
3) There cannot be two undefeated BCS teams besides BYU: If BYU goes undefeated during a season that features two undefeated BCS schools, BYU will not play in the National Championship game. This assumes BYU has also beaten 2-3 high profile BSC teams on any given year.
BYU, however, would receive an automatic at-large BCS bid if they reached the Top 4 of the BCS standings. The best case scenario for BYU would be a repeat of the 2001 Nebraska situation where there was no clear cut opponent to challenge an undefeated BCS team for the National Championship. In this case, the BCS would be forced to choose the only other unbeaten team available.
In 1984, BYU was aided by the fact there were no other undefeated or one loss (and untied) teams to choose from. Since there wasn't an official National Championship game at that time, BYU was the only logical choice to be crowned the National Champion, by process of simple elimination. And it was still a controversial judgment.
4) BYU must avoid key injuries: Injuries have plagued BYU throughout its history. Special players at key positions need to stay healthy in order for BYU to remain undefeated for a season.
In recent years, BYU has been especially vulnerable at QB, RB, CB, OL, and DL. In 2001, we lost all our key running backs including Luke Staley and Brian McDonald-Ashford for the season. As a result, BYU's offense went down with them in the final two games.
Rarely is a team able to replace a special player with another special player, although BYU has seen it happen on rare occasions. For example, back in its "quarterback factory" days, BYU seemed to have an endless supply of gifted quarterbacks emerge from oblivion. When one of its All-American quarterback's went down, in would step another future All-American off the bench.
Those days are long gone, but BYU appears to be slowly building a stable of quality and depth in all their key positions. That begins and ends with great recruiting and BYU is once again attracting a higher caliber of recruits. It appears BYU has addressed most of the depth issues the team was plagued with last year.
5) BYU must establish a new defensive reputation: BYU is an unquestioned and acknowledged national offensive college football power. Everyone knows last year was an aberration. Unfortunately, BYU has never enjoyed that level of respect or credibility of the defensive side of the ball.
Enter Bronco Mendenhall. His new aggressive, fresh and innovative defensive philosophy gives BYU the chance to immediately make waves as a national defensive powerhouse for years to come. Indeed, BYU needs to consistently field a Top 25 defense, with its typically potent offensive power, to firmly establish itself as a perennial Top 25 contender.
In 1984, BYU's defense gave up a paltry 14.1 average points per game compared with the 35.1 points per games -- which was not as impressive as other offenses BYU fielded over the years.
It's an old axiom of football that "defense wins championships." The defensive mindset and intensity Mendenhall brings with him is exactly what BYU needs to contend again for a National Championship. Evidence of this is that in the only years BYU's defense allowed less than 21 points per game, the results were convincing: 1983 (11-1); 1984 (13-0); and 1996 (14-1).
6) BYU must get lucky on the field: Every National Championship team needs a few lucky plays and the right bounces of the ball to get through a season unbeaten.
In 1984, BYU needed a pivotal goal line stand against Hawaii to preserve its unbeaten season. During the stand, Kyle Morrell timed the snap count to prevent a critical touchdown and allow BYU to win. Was that play great, lucky or both?
The 1983 Holiday Bowl flea flicker back to Steve Young was another example of greatness and luck rolled into one. Fumbles that aren't turned over or opponents' field goals bouncing off goal posts would definitely help the cause at going undefeated. BYU will need and will gladly accept all the lucky breaks it can get.
7) BYU should precede a break-the-BCS campaign year with a stellar year: Before its 1984 National Championship undefeated season, BYU won its previous 11 games, finishing 11-1 the season before with its only loss to Baylor on the first game of the year. The momentum of the previous season carried over to the championship year.
Indeed, the national media polls had BYU in the Top 25 preseason rankings despite the fact they had just lost Steve Young, its All-American quarterback to graduation. The preseason Top 25 ranking helped BYU climb in the polls enough to reach #1 before the end of the regular season. If BYU had begun the season as a lowly unranked team, they may have only made it into the Top 10 and not considered a National Championship contender.
Marshall and Tulane were lowly unranked teams that went undefeated in recent years and failed to garner BCS bowl bids -- let along National Championship game consideration. During the 1990s, BYU had a difficult time stringing consecutive years of stellar performances.
Significantly, we have observed that Crowton he is much more willing to play freshmen or better underclassmen than LaVell Edwards was. By playing his most talented players, regardless of class, Crowton may be trying to develop greater consistency in the program. Opting to go with redshirt freshman Matt Berry over Brett Engemann last year should reap greater rewards with a more experienced Berry apparently leading the revitalized BYU charge in 2003, 2004 and 2005.
8) BYU should win convincingly against weaker opponents: During the 1984 and 2001 campaigns, BYU was scrutinized early and often by the media for not blowing out weaker opponents.
BYU needs to put away opponents that shouldn't be hanging around in the game. It simply doesn't look good to keep it close with teams that have losing records. Another factor is that BYU tends to hit a perceptual ceiling in the polls once they reach the Top 10. If a Top five team loses and BYU wins unconvincingly, the team that loses will sometimes remain higher in the polls.
9) BYU must recruit more nationally recognized prospects: Crowton's success in landing Ben Olson, Ofa Mohetau, Jake Kuresa, Brian Soi, transfer Manaia Brown from Nebraska and other nationally ranked recruits will only strengthen the depth and caliber of play from future BYU teams.
10) Top MWC teams must have successful showings against strong out of conference BCS teams: The apparent lack of respect for MWC teams stems from losing important out of conference games year after year.
Ideally, the year BYU goes undefeated again would be the same year other MWC teams also have winning seasons. If other MWC teams are receiving positive national exposure, media poll voters will take this into consideration when analyzing BYU's SOS.
Playing a respectable Colorado State or Utah team would be considered quality wins by the media. The second benefit of having a strong out of conference performance by MWC schools is that it would be a boost BYU's overall SOS.
BYU must have an incredible season in order to burst the BCS protective bubble and have a chance to play in the National Championship game.
As long as BYU is a member of the Mountain West Conference, the criteria for getting a BCS bowl bid will be substantially more difficult than for any BCS team.
Since BYU's conference affiliation does not appear to be changing anytime soon, the criteria will remain the same until a college playoff system is implemented.
Only time will tell what the future of BYU football holds.
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