ESPN College Football Live is running a special on all 50 states, specifically college football in each state. Though they haven't done Utah yet (I'm sure that comes later this summer), it's interesting to look at the poll questions they'll be asking. Each state is pretty much given the same polls, dealing with anything from best coach, best player and best team.
Now I thought best team would yield an interesting result, because the state has provided a few really great teams throughout its rich college football history. Of course, it's all subjective and when this poll question is really asked by ESPN, I'm guessing Utah fans will vote for the Utah teams listed and BYU fans will vote for the BYU teams listed. As for the rest of country? Hard to say.
But instead of waiting until then, I thought we could get a little sneak preview and do the poll ourselves. Obviously the results will be slanted in Utah's favor, since this is a Utah blog, but I think this could lead to a good and healthy debate.
So what is the greatest team in Utah state history?
Well for starters, I think you have to establish what makes a great team.
That is more difficult to figure out, since Utah, under Ike Armstrong, had some truly solid football programs. Then you have the Aggies, who while not good right now, were a fairly solid program in the 60s. How do you rank them?
Well we'll choose teams that finished the season in the top-25.
In this regard, BYU will have a larger pool to choose from, since they were consistently ranked in the top-25 throughout the late 70s, all throughout the 80s and part of the early 90s. Of course, only a handful of those teams were considered great. Many were very good and finished with only a couple of losses, but you'd be hard pressed to call them great teams, let alone the best and greatest in state history.
So with that established, here are the teams I put up for nomination, listed by each program:
As mentioned, the Cougars have produced some really good teams over the years. They've had 14 teams win 10-games or more, Four that finished with only one-loss and one team that went undefeated. Since I don't think you can consider a 2 or 3 loss team as great, we'll begin with those teams that went undefeated or finished with no more than one-loss.
1979: These were the first true great Cougars. They finished the season 11-1, won the WAC and pretty much rolled through their season and finished the season 13th.
Best win: Texas A&M (6-5)
Worst win: Weber State (non-1A)
Bowl result: Lost to Indiana in the Holiday Bowl
This is probably one of the most deceiving teams in BYU history. They finished with a great record, but hardly faced anyone of consequence. Texas A&M only went 6-5 that year and their toughest opponent -- Indiana -- was a game they lost. So while this makes the list, I find it extremely hard to take them seriously.
1980: A year later and BYU again dominated their way through the season. They did have a slipup at the start of the year, which cost them any chance at a title, but that didn't stop them from winning 12-straight.
Best win: SMU (8-4)
Worst win: UTEP (1-11)
Bowl result: Beat SMU in the Holiday Bowl
Better than 1979, but again, we're looking at a team who rolled through a rather easy schedule. 1980 provided LaVell Edwards his first bowl victory with the Cougars (one of only a few), which came in dramatic fashion over the Mustangs of SMU. That victory would go down as one of the greatest in bowl history, unfortunately, it doesn't help that the team couldn't beat anyone with more than 8-wins.
1983: This was the team that really positioned the Cougars for their title run a year later. They would finish 11-1 and 7th in the nation -- higher than their ranking in 1980 (highest in school history at the time). The season, like '80, started with a loss and ended with a win streak that the Cougars would carry into the 1985 season.
Best win: Air Force (10-2)
Worst win: UTEP (2-10)
Bowl result: Beat Missouri in the Holiday Bowl
Again the Cougars win the Holiday Bowl and finish with one-loss. This team actually had a better schedule, but it's hard to excuse that early season loss to a mediocre Baylor team. With that said, up to this point, the '83 Cougars were the best team program history.
1984: This team claimed the 1984 national championship. They went undefeated and did so in style. Not much to explain about this one.
Best win: Air Force (8-4)
Worst win: Utah State (1-10)
Bowl result: Beat Michigan in the Holiday Bowl
BYU wins the national championship after going 13-0. The Cougars have officially arrived as a 1980s power. Unfortunately, they weren't really tested as their schedule was fairly light. Still, undefeated is undefeated.
1996: My belief is this was the best team in BYU history. They finished the season with 14-wins (then an NCAA record) and ranked 5th in the nation. If it weren't for an early loss to Washington, it's extremely likely the Cougars win their 2nd national championship in school history. Which is interesting, since their 1984 title came at the expense of Washington.
Best win: Kansas State
Worst win: Hawaii
Bowl result: Beat Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl
These Cougars were good. Really good. Unfortunately, in their biggest test, they lost to Washington three weeks into the season. That probably cost them a shot at being the greatest team in school history (maybe state history).
So there are the nominees for the Cougars. If I had to pick, I'd say 1996 and 1983 were actually better than 1984. However, you can't beat undefeated and the '84 Cougars most certainly should get the nod for their title as the best team in BYU history.
But does that make them the best in state history?
Utah State really doesn't have much of a football history, so this list won't be nearly as extensive as BYU's.
In fact, only one team really fits the rules I set for the Cougars: 1961.
1961: These Aggies finished 9-1-1 and 10th in the nation. Not bad for a program that has only finished ranked in the top-25 twice in school history (they'd return to the polls again a decade later, for the last time). They would lose to Baylor and Wyoming.
Best win: Utah (6-4)
Worst win: Colorado State (0-10)
Bowl Result: Lost to Baylor in the Gotham Bowl
The Aggies only will have one team on this list, so there won't be a debate as to whether they were the best in school history.
How do they stack up against the best Utah and BYU teams? You decide.
The Utes had early success under Armstrong and then decent amount of success until about the 1970s, when the football program essentially died. Under McBride, they didn't really reach greatness level, but came close once, so Utah's list won't stretch through three decades like BYU's. With that said, I am going to bend the rules just a bit and include one team that finished the season with two-losses. I do this because no BYU team that finished with two-losses sniffed where Utah finished the 1994 season when they went 10-2.
And that's where we'll begin.
1994: These Utes are the biggest What If team in Utah history. After starting the season 8-0, Utah slipped up two weeks straight and had to rebound to finish the season 10-2. In the final poll they were ranked 10th.
Best win: Oregon (9-4)
Worst win: Idaho State (non-1A)
Bowl result: Beat Arizona in the Freedom Bowl
This team isn't the greatest, though it had the potential to be the greatest team in school history.
2004: The true first great team in Ute football history. A moment where Utah took to the Big Stage and established itself as one of the elite non-BCS teams in the country. They became the first to bust the BCS, first Utah team to go undefeated and finished 4th in the nation.
Best win: Pittsburgh (8-4)
Worst win: UNLV (2-9)
Bowl result: Beat Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl
This team, like the Cougars in '79, '80, '83 and '84, were plagued by a rather mediocre schedule. While they did beat five bowl teams, there were zero wins over schools with 10-wins or more and only one victory over a team ranked, Pitt.
2008: The most recent and the most improbable. Utah won a school record 13-games, finished undefeated for the second time in four years and dominated its way to a top-2 ranking.
Best win: Alabama (12-2)
Worst win: SDSU (2-10)
Bowl result: Beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl
Unlike in 2004, this schedule was actually difficult. The Utes beat three teams with 10+ victories (TCU, BYU and Alabama), dominated the Sugar Bowl, beat Michigan on the road and then defeated Oregon State (9-4). If they aren't the greatest team in state history, they sure have the greatest schedule in state history.
These are the Utah nominees. In my mind, you've got to go with 2008. 2004 may have been a better team, but they didn't do what these Utes did. Which is similar to the 1984/1996 BYU debate.
So that would give us the 1984 Cougars, 1961 Aggies and 2008 Utes.
BYU might have won the national title that year, but I think we all know who the greatest team in Utah state history is.
And I'll leave it to the Deseret News to tell us why.
With that said, this is a poll and I'm going to have you vote on EVERY nominee.
Who do you believe is the greatest team in Utah state history?