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BYU: A Football Power in the Modern Era

20 June 2013 Brett Richins

Former BYU head football coach LaVell Edwards.

Former BYU head football coach LaVell Edwards. BYU PHOTO

by Louis E. Deaux

Since 1970, which is delineated as the beginning of the modern era, BYU has done extremely well as an established football program.  

Back before the Edwards era, BYU was not considered a power like many other programs–and for good reason. BYU’s pre-Edwards’s program–spanning 50 seasons–had compiled a won-loss record of just 175-233-23 (.428).  

When I enrolled at BYU in the fall of 1971, BYU had won only five games against Utah in the previous five decades.  

Soon after 1970, the NCAA modified offensive line blocking rules to match the AFL and NFL. This meant offensive linemen could now use their extended forearms and palms.  This huge rule change helped BYU’s revolutionize the entire game.  

It isn’t that some programs didn’t ever pass the ball before that. Don Coryell at San Diego State and Bill Walsh at Stanford had incorporated the play action pass from the I-formation as an any-down option, something that was unheard of before. 

Most programs used the pass in third and long situations, and not much more. The reason was obvious.  It was nearly impossible to create a pocket or hold a block for very long without the use of palms and extended forearms. Prior to this period, blocking required bent elbows and closed fists, and you could not extend the forearms, wrists or hands towards the defender.

When LaVell Edwards became head coach at BYU, the new pass blocking rule was codified at the NCAA level.

Edwards, like Walsh at Stanford, had seen BYU generate some success using the forward pass under Tommy Hudspeth. That was with the first really great BYU quarterback, Virgil Carter.  Edwards began developing the west coast offense over the next few seasons with close friends and coaches Bill Walsh, Don Coryell and offensive line coach Roger French.

Others like Wally English, Doug Scovill and Hal Mummie came along at the same period and helped refine and enhance the ball-controlled passing offense designed to establish and set up the run. Mike Leach, who had never actually competed as a football player, became a graduate assistant in those early years. 

The change in blocking rules had an enormous impact on the game and BYU was at the heart of revolutionizing it. Techniques, X-O Hat on Hat Plays, the entire foundation for the WCO was formed over the next ten years and refined at BYU, experimented with and moved simultaneously to the 49ers and Chargers of the NFL.

BYU’s pedigree in the modern game is deep and significant.

The change in blocking methodologies was so profound, I believe it to be one of the main reasons that totalfootballstats.com selected that line of demarcation between eras beginning around 1970.  

I have personally set approximately the same line of division between the historic, middle and modern eras as 1972.  I have done that for decades and have no affiliation or relationship to their site. I simply generally agree with them in picking that time frame to differentiate between the wing-t and I-formation eras and the modern game. 

By the way, the modern era also created more opportunities to utilize hands and extended forearms in the rushing game. It is no small coincidence that great option rushing attacks also came out of that early 70s-80s period. The wishbone, Veer, Flexbone all came from the original Power-I option pitch at Nebraska, Ohio State and Michigan.  The modern versions of the west coast, run and shoot, pro-set and gun are all descended from the work of Edwards and friends at BYU. 

Finally we arrive at today, where the modern “spread” offense is a hybrid of packages that come from two granddaddies–the west coast (passing and blocking elements) and the flexbone (rushing and option elements). The main drawback to all spread offenses is that great defenses can cover the option and shut it down. It also requires a healthy, mobile quarterback to execute it.

How many times have we seen these great, mobile quarterbacks go from being superstars to ACL failures in a moment?  The spread can be a fantastic offense, but it can quickly be a team’s downfall as well.  Every offense has its advantages and disadvantages.  I personally think the Anae version of the WAC will be the best and QB-safest form of a modern game plan as executed. 

We will never again see a BYU QB fail to take a knee when one could win the game and preserve his health.

Historic positions

Since 1970, most college football programs have played in the neighborhood of 480-540 games. Won-loss records produced over that 42-year span are interesting because most of the traditional powers were already in place before 1970. But new and re-emerging powers appeared in that era as well, like programs from Brigham Young, Penn State, Florida State, Florida and Clemson.  

All five of those programs were in the doldrums prior to 1970 and all five became powers again and rose to greatness after the rule changes to the blocking game. Clemson and Penn State did that primarily through solid defense and maintaining a hard I-formation running game with good play action passing. They basically stuck to old school methods, just worked much harder than before and became giants under Danny Ford (1978-1989) and Joe Paterno (1966-2011).

BYU’s years of 1970-75 were not fantastic, but did produce at the time two of BYU’s better historic seasons (1972; 7-4, and 1974; 7-4-1).  Overall, BYU was 33-33 so it wasn’t like BYU was on fire, but the traditionally sub-par program that averaged about 3 wins a year from 1922 through 1972 was certainly improving under Hudspeth in the mid-sixties. Consider that of BYU’s 167 losses since 1969 ended, 33 (20%) came in the seasons 1970-75. BYU was 224-68-2 (.765) after the first few years.

Performance table for FBS programs:  1970 to the present

The following enhanced table (some information gleaned from the site mentioned above) shows some interesting information about the life and state of college football during the last 43 seasons since 1970. Notice that only three teams among the first 21 have not won a national championship. That is because in the modern era, those are former 1-AA programs that only moved up to the FBS level in the last 2-16 years (Boise, Troy and UTx San Antonio). Every other major program (Nos. 1-21) has actually won at least one NC in that era. 

All are relatively regular finishers in the top 25 today. BYU, for example, has 18 top 25 finishes beginning in 1976 and is the 13th most ranked team in the last four decades.  What is most interesting is the fact that the same programs are the ones that have won titles and remained fairly competitive enough to rank in among the long-time top-20 FBS level programs of the period.   Only five other NC (national championship) winners are outliers (excluding Boise, Troy and UTSA).

There are some fun facts here. Teams that won national championships have “YES” checked in the NC column, while teams that won contested or minor titles by a few outlets such as the NY Times, or some other organization, have OTHER written in the same column.

Notice that only a precious few teams have ever won a national title over the last 43 years, and only a handful have won minor polls. Only five teams have won major national titles in the modern era and yet rank below No. 20 (Clemson 21st, Washington 29th, Pitt 44th, GT 50th, and Colorado 52nd) in total won-loss percentage. The interesting thing for someone older folks like me to consider is how we could never have envisioned BYU even reaching .500 for the program history.  BYU’s all-time record is now 538-388-26 (.575). As it stands today, the Cougars have won 150 more games than they have lost.

So with that in mind, I present the historic data.  Have fun and enjoy.  Utah at No. 40 over the same period and USU No. 94 are both far down the performance list, well below BYU.  Also of note the some historically major programs have done fairly poorly in recent yeas, while others have only recently begun to emerge as power programs. For example, Wisconsin (43rd) and Oregon (39th) are roughly in the same place as a recently rising Utah porgram.  

Programs that appear far below on the list may surprise you. Those include Stanford (65th), Missouri (75th), Michigan State (54th), Oklahoma State (53th), and Oregon State (111th).  

Also of note, Notre Dame (13th) a long-time power of over eight decades, and BYU have drawn almost dead even.  Maybe they have more in common than their own individual TV contracts. ND has of course played a significantly tougher schedule over that time period, but the Irish also had a major head start as a program from the collective measuring date. Again I didn’t pick the 1970 date; I would have stuck with the 1972 rule change date, but it makes little difference in the rankings.

Also of note, when this list is cut to the last 35 seasons, which corresponds more with the development of the west coast offense, the list changes dramatically. Oklahoma, Nebraska, Michigan and Ohio State rank No. 1-4, while BYU checks in at No. 5.  However, the ranking below is from the site mentioned above, with added columns to indicate national titles. 

Eleven of BYU’s 12 scheduled opponents for 2013 are highlighted on the list, along with the Cougars.  Idaho State is an FCS program and not covered by the survey.  Notice that the Nevada Wolfpack is ranked No. 28 on this list.  Chris Ault did an amazing job with Nevada.  He should be commended for his work there.  BYU faces the Nos. 7, 9, 13, 28, 40, 43, 50, 57 and 61 teams on the list this season. Only Virginia at No. 72 and USU appear in the lower half of the FBS profile for the period. Remember that some teams have moved up to the FBS level since 1970 and so some of the records are skewed because of that.  Boise State and Western Kentucky are just two examples.

NCAA FBS COLLEGE FOOTBALL–RECORDS SINCE 1970

 

 

 Name

NC

GP

 

W

 

L

 

T

 

PCT

 City

1

 

 Nebraska Cornhuskers

YES

540

 

422

 

113

 

5

 

0.7860

 Lincoln, NE

2

 

 Ohio State Buckeyes

YES

521

 

396

 

117

 

8

 

0.7680

 Columbus, OH

3

 

 Oklahoma Sooners

YES

526

 

396

 

122

 

8

 

0.7600

 Norman, OK

4

 

 Michigan Wolverines

YES

521

 

386

 

127

 

8

 

0.7490

 Ann Arbor, MI

5

 

 Alabama Crimson Tide

YES

530

 

393

 

133

 

4

 

0.7450

 Tuscaloosa, AL

6

 

 Penn State Nittany Lions

YES

521

 

383

 

136

 

2

 

0.7370

 University Park, PA

7

 

 Boise State Broncos

 

518

 

371

 

145

 

2

 

0.7180

 Boise, ID

8

 

 Florida State Seminoles

YES

525

 

372

 

149

 

4

 

0.7120

 Tallahassee, FL

9

 

 Texas Longhorns

YES

519

 

367

 

147

 

5

 

0.7120

 Austin, TX

10

 

 USC Trojans

YES

523

 

366

 

145

 

12

 

0.7110

 Los Angeles, CA

11

 

 Georgia Bulldogs

YES

520

 

362

 

151

 

7

 

0.7030

 Athens, GA

12

 

 Florida Gators

YES

525

 

362

 

156

 

7

 

0.6960

 Gainesville, FL

13

 

 Notre Dame Fighting Irish

YES

511

 

349

 

158

 

4

 

0.6870

 South Bend, IN

14

 

 Brigham Young Cougars

YES

535

 

365

 

167

 

3

 

0.6850

 Provo, UT

15

 

 Miami Hurricanes

YES

509

 

345

 

164

 

0

 

0.6780

 Miami, FL

16

 

 Tennessee Volunteers

YES

523

 

349

 

163

 

11

 

0.6780

 Knoxville, TN

17

 

 Auburn Tigers

YES

512

 

340

 

164

 

8

 

0.6720

 Auburn, AL

18

 

 UTSA Roadrunners

 

12

 

8

 

4

 

0

 

0.6670

 San Antonio, TX

19

 

 Louisiana State Tigers

YES

516

 

331

 

176

 

9

 

0.6500

 Baton Rouge, LA

20

 

 Troy Trojans

 

488

 

304

 

177

 

7

 

0.6300

 Troy, AL

21

 

 Clemson Tigers

YES

512

 

318

 

186

 

8

 

0.6290

 Clemson, SC

22

 

 Texas A&M Aggies

 

515

 

320

 

192

 

3

 

0.6240

 College Station, TX

23

 

 Virginia Tech Hokies

 

512

 

317

 

190

 

5

 

0.6240

 Blacksburg, VA

24

 

 Arkansas Razorbacks

OTHER

513

 

314

 

190

 

9

 

0.6210

 Fayetteville, AR

25

 

 Arizona State Sun Devils

OTHER

506

 

311

 

191

 

4

 

0.6190

 Tempe, AZ

26

 

 West Virginia Mountaineers

 

510

 

313

 

193

 

4

 

0.6180

 Morgantown, WV

27

 

 UCLA Bruins

 

504

 

303

 

189

 

12

 

0.6130

 Pasadena, CA

28

 

 Nevada Wolf Pack

 

510

 

311

 

197

 

2

 

0.6120

 Reno, NV

29

 

 Washington Huskies

YES

507

 

300

 

204

 

3

 

0.5950

 Seattle, WA

30

 

 Toledo Rockets

 

498

 

291

 

201

 

6

 

0.5900

 Toledo, OH

31

 

 South Florida Bulls

 

189

 

111

 

78

 

0

 

0.5870

 Tampa, FL

32

 

 Fresno State Bulldogs

 

517

 

301

 

212

 

4

 

0.5860

 Fresno, CA

33

 

 Central Michigan Chippewas

 

490

 

274

 

204

 

12

 

0.5710

 Mount Pleasant, MI

34

 

 Miami Redhawks

 

489

 

273

 

205

 

11

 

0.5700

 Oxford, OH

35

 

 North Carolina Tar Heels

 

509

 

287

 

216

 

6

 

0.5700

 Chapel Hill, NC

36

 

 Texas Tech Red Raiders

 

509

 

286

 

216

 

7

 

0.5690

 Lubbock, TX

37

 

 Southern Miss Golden Eagles

504

 

284

 

215

 

5

 

0.5680

 Hattiesburg, MS

38

 

 Boston College Eagles

 

505

 

282

 

220

 

3

 

0.5610

 Chestnut Hill, MA

39

 

 Oregon Ducks

 

505

 

279

 

221

 

5

 

0.5570

 Eugene, OR

40

 

 Utah Utes

OTHER

502

 

278

 

221

 

3

 

0.5570

 Salt Lake City, UT

41

 

 Air Force Falcons

 

512

 

282

 

226

 

4

 

0.5550

 Colorado Springs, CO

42

 

 Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

 

484

 

265

 

214

 

5

 

0.5530

 Bowling Green, KY

43

 

 Wisconsin Badgers

 

510

 

277

 

223

 

10

 

0.5530

 Madison, WI

44

 

 Pittsburgh Panthers

YES

505

 

275

 

222

 

8

 

0.5520

 Pittsburgh, PA

45

 

 Hawaii Warriors

 

518

 

282

 

230

 

6

 

0.5500

 Honolulu, HI

46

 

 Louisiana Tech Bulldogs

 

498

 

270

 

220

 

8

 

0.5500

 Ruston, LA

47

 

 North Carolina State Wolfpack

509

 

273

 

228

 

8

 

0.5440

 Raleigh, NC

48

 

 Bowling Green Falcons

 

487

 

260

 

218

 

9

 

0.5430

 Bowling Green, OH

49

 

 Arizona Wildcats

 

498

 

266

 

224

 

8

 

0.5420

 Tucson, AZ

50

 

 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

YES

510

 

272

 

230

 

8

 

0.5410

 Atlanta, GA

51

 

 Louisville Cardinals

 

498

 

265

 

227

 

6

 

0.5380

 Louisville, KY

52

 

 Colorado Buffaloes

YES

510

 

271

 

233

 

6

 

0.5370

 Boulder, CO

53

 

 Oklahoma State Cowboys

OTHER

502

 

265

 

228

 

9

 

0.5370

 Stillwater, OK

54

 

 Michigan State Spartans

 

503

 

265

 

229

 

9

 

0.5360

 East Lansing, MI

55

 

 Marshall Thundering Herd

 

522

 

277

 

242

 

3

 

0.5340

 Huntington, WV

56

 

 Iowa Hawkeyes

 

510

 

267

 

235

 

8

 

0.5310

 Iowa City, IA

57

 

 Houston Cougars

 

504

 

264

 

234

 

6

 

0.5300

 Houston, TX

58

 

 South Carolina Gamecocks

 

501

 

259

 

234

 

8

 

0.5250

 Columbia, SC

59

 

 Western Michigan Broncos

 

486

 

252

 

228

 

6

 

0.5250

 Kalamazoo, MI

60

 

 East Carolina Pirates

 

496

 

259

 

235

 

2

 

0.5240

 Greenville, NC

61

 

 Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders

492

 

256

 

232

 

4

 

0.5240

 Murfreesboro, TN

62

 

 San Diego State Aztecs

 

501

 

258

 

235

 

8

 

0.5230

 San Diego, CA

63

 

 Stanford Cardinal

 

497

 

256

 

233

 

8

 

0.5230

 Stanford, CA

64

 

 UCF Knights

 

390

 

203

 

186

 

1

 

0.5220

 Orlando, FL

65

 

 Syracuse Orange

 

501

 

258

 

237

 

6

 

0.5210

 Syracuse, NY

66

 

 Maryland Terrapins

 

503

 

256

 

241

 

6

 

0.5150

 College Park, MD

67

 

 Tulsa Golden Hurricane

 

499

 

256

 

241

 

2

 

0.5150

 Tulsa, OK

68

 

 Ball State Cardinals

 

485

 

243

 

235

 

7

 

0.5080

 Muncie, IN

69

 

 Ole Miss Rebels

 

496

 

247

 

245

 

4

 

0.5020

 Oxford, MS

70

 

 Rutgers Scarlet Knights

 

488

 

238

 

244

 

6

 

0.4940

 Piscataway, NJ

71

 

 Connecticut Huskies

 

479

 

233

 

240

 

6

 

0.4930

 East Hartford, CT

72

 

 Virginia Cavaliers

 

504

 

246

 

254

 

4

 

0.4920

 Charlottesville, VA

73

 

 Kansas State Wildcats

 

503

 

242

 

257

 

4

 

0.4850

 Manhattan, KS

74

 

 Texas Christian Horned Frogs

497

 

237

 

252

 

8

 

0.4850

 Fort Worth, TX

75

 

 Missouri Tigers

 

503

 

240

 

256

 

7

 

0.4840

 Columbia, MO

76

 

 Cincinnati Bearcats

 

495

 

236

 

254

 

5

 

0.4820

 Cincinnati, OH

77

 

 California Golden Bears

 

497

 

236

 

255

 

6

 

0.4810

 Berkeley, CA

78

 

 Idaho Vandals

 

501

 

237

 

261

 

3

 

0.4760

 Moscow, ID

79

 

 Mississippi State Bulldogs

 

495

 

233

 

257

 

5

 

0.4760

 Starkville, MS

80

 

 Northern Illinois Huskies

 

492

 

232

 

256

 

4

 

0.4760

 DeKalb, IL

81

 

 San Jose State Spartans

 

498

 

231

 

257

 

10

 

0.4740

 San Jose, CA

82

 

 Purdue Boilermakers

 

498

 

231

 

260

 

7

 

0.4710

 West Lafayette, IN

83

 

 Arkansas State Red Wolves

 

494

 

228

 

258

 

8

 

0.4700

 Jonesboro, AR

84

 

 Wyoming Cowboys

 

503

 

233

 

268

 

2

 

0.4650

 Laramie, WY

85

 

 Colorado State Rams

 

505

 

228

 

272

 

5

 

0.4560

 Fort Collins, CO

86

 

 Akron Zips

 

481

 

214

 

260

 

7

 

0.4520

 Akron, OH

87

 

 Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks

487

 

216

 

264

 

7

 

0.4510

 Monroe, LA

88

 

 Baylor Bears

 

493

 

218

 

269

 

6

 

0.4480

 Waco, TX

89

 

 Navy Midshipmen

 

496

 

221

 

273

 

2

 

0.4480

 Annapolis, MD

90

 

 UAB Blazers

 

249

 

110

 

137

 

2

 

0.4460

 Birmingham, AL

91

 

 Illinois Fighting Illini

 

495

 

212

 

273

 

10

 

0.4380

 Champaign, IL

92

 

 UNLV Rebels

 

493

 

211

 

278

 

4

 

0.4320

 Las Vegas, NV

93

 

 Louisiana Ragin Cajuns

 

483

 

205

 

272

 

6

 

0.4310

 Lafayette, LA

94

 

 Utah State Aggies

 

487

 

208

 

275

 

4

 

0.4310

 Logan, UT

95

 

 Washington State Cougars

 

492

 

209

 

278

 

5

 

0.4300

 Pullman, WA

96

 

 SMU Mustangs

OTHER

472

 

198

 

265

 

9

 

0.4290

 University Park, TX

97

 

 Minnesota Gophers

 

495

 

210

 

281

 

4

 

0.4280

 Minneapolis, MN

98

 

 Florida Atlantic Owls

 

144

 

61

 

83

 

0

 

0.4240

 Fort Lauderdale, FL

99

 

 Iowa State Cyclones

 

495

 

202

 

285

 

8

 

0.4160

 Ames, IA

100

 

 Kansas Jayhawks

 

494

 

201

 

284

 

9

 

0.4160

 Lawrence, KS

101

 

 Kentucky Wildcats

 

493

 

202

 

286

 

5

 

0.4150

 Lexington, KY

102

 

 Memphis Tigers

 

486

 

196

 

283

 

7

 

0.4100

 Memphis, TN

103

 

 North Texas Mean Green

 

489

 

195

 

288

 

6

 

0.4050

 Denton, TX

104

 

 New Mexico Lobos

 

504

 

201

 

299

 

4

 

0.4030

 Albuquerque, NM

105

 

 Ohio Bobcats

 

487

 

190

 

290

 

7

 

0.3970

 Athens, OH

106

 

 Wake Forest Demon Deacons

491

 

193

 

295

 

3

 

0.3960

 Winston-Salem, NC

107

 

 Temple Owls

 

475

 

185

 

287

 

3

 

0.3930

 Philadelphia, PA

108

 

 Army Black Knights

 

485

 

178

 

300

 

7

 

0.3740

 West Point, NY

109

 

 Indiana Hoosiers

 

489

 

180

 

304

 

5

 

0.3730

 Bloomington, IN

110

 

 Tulane Green Wave

 

493

 

184

 

309

 

0

 

0.3730

 New Orleans, LA

111

 

 Oregon State Beavers

 

495

 

175

 

314

 

6

 

0.3600

 Corvallis, OR

112

 

 Northwestern Wildcats

 

494

 

173

 

317

 

4

 

0.3540

 Evanston, IL

113

 

 Eastern Michigan Eagles

 

475

 

159

 

305

 

11

 

0.3460

 Ypsilanti, MI

114

 

 Rice Owls

 

484

 

164

 

315

 

5

 

0.3440

 Houston, TX

115

 

 Duke Blue Devils

 

485

 

156

 

322

 

7

 

0.3290

 Durham, NC

116

 

 Kent State Golden Flashes

 

485

 

158

 

325

 

2

 

0.3280

 Kent, OH

117

 

 Florida International Golden Panthers

130

 

42

 

88

 

0

 

0.3230

 Miami, FL

118

 

 Vanderbilt Commodores

 

487

 

154

 

329

 

4

 

0.3200

 Nashville, TN

119

 

 Buffalo Bulls

 

395

 

125

 

269

 

1

 

0.3180

 Buffalo, NY

120

 

 UTEP Miners

 

498

 

145

 

351

 

2

 

0.2930

 El Paso, TX

121

 

 New Mexico State Aggies

 

486

 

140

 

343

 

3

 

0.2910

 Las Cruces, NM

122

 

 South Alabama Jaguars

 

13

 

2

 

11

 

0

 

0.1540

 Mobile, AL

 Name

NC

GP

 

W

 

L

 

T

 

PCT

 City

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