Loyal Cougars

Four ingredients to BYU football’s next national championship

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Geoff Johnston names four ingredients that must be gathered for BYU ever to reach the top again.

Thirty years ago, BYU football won the national championship in football. It was a stunning achievement and still remains an unmatched accomplishment by a team outside of the traditional power conferences. There were several ingredients that went into BYU pulling off that seemingly impossible feat in 1984 — ingredients that I believe BYU would need again. A second national title for BYU will probably be even harder to attain than the first one, but it is not a completely unattainable goal. Here are some of the ingredients BYU used to get there in 1984 and can use to get there again.

1. Unusual, even Radical Schemes on the Field

I wrote about this last summer. In 1984, BYU was a radical place (on the football field). The team passed the ball more and did it better than just about any team had ever done in college. Being way out on the cutting edge with the passing offense gave BYU a distinct advantage during those glory years, despite the fact that BYU didn’t always field more raw talent than opponents.

BYU needs to be radically peculiar again to ever have a shot a another title. Being different and trying new schemes has plenty of risks, but has lots of upside potential too. Robert Anae is attempting to be radically unusual again by fielding the fastest paced offense in the country at BYU. In year one of “Go Fast, Go Hard” (GFGH) the results were mixed. BYU players weren’t ready to consistently execute the GFGH offense at such a fast pace of play. That led to BYU gaining lots of yards between the 20’s but then sputtering in the red zone on a regular basis. Year two of GFGH will reveal if that problem has been solved. If BYU players, especially the offensive linemen, are ready to execute GFGH at a high level in 2014, BYU’s offense will have a significant advantage over teams that are going with more traditional schemes and conditioning routines.

On the defensive side of the ball, Bronco Mendenhall has always been somewhat of a radical. He was running a 3-3-5 before it was popular, then was an early adopter of the 3-4’s takeover at the college level. He runs plenty of 2-4-5 on passing downs. People think of Bronco as being a buttoned down type of coach, but don’t fall for the facade — the man is a radical at heart.

2. Enough NFL-Caliber Talent

Those BYU teams in the early 80’s put a lot of guys into the NFL. BYU wasn’t just fielding a bunch of slow, scrappy, gritty kids who had no future in football. The Cougars had rosters peppered with guys who would go on to be NFL veterans, all-stars, and even Hall of Famers in some cases. BYU doesn’t need to start 22 NFL-bound players, but the team will need to field a healthy number again if the school is ever going to have a shot at finishing the season at number one again. That’s because BYU will surely have to beat teams that are starting more NFL caliber players than a BYU team will ever field. Radical schemes are an advantage, but they won’t solve all problems — BYU needs enough NFL-caliber guys to be running those schemes to have a shot at winning another title.

Recent recruiting news has been encouraging on the raw talent front. Between the ESPN TV exposure, some terrific new hires, and a new emphasis on bringing in highly-talented transfers, it looks like BYU has been loading up on kids with real NFL potential recently.

3. Tremendous Discipline, Effort, and Synergy

Even in the best of years, while fielding lots of NFL-caliber athletes, BYU will never have more 5 star recruits on the roster than most of the teams they would face in the college football playoffs. BYU just doesn’t get as many of those guys as the Alabama’s of the world. So BYU will have to be more disciplined, more organized, and more in sync together than their opponents. Football is still a team sport; a unified, disciplined team can be much greater than the sum of its parts.

4. Plenty of Good Luck

Even the teams that are chock full of future first and second round NFL draft picks need some good luck to win a national title. That luck includes avoiding key injuries, having other teams stumble at the right times, and having the ball bounce your way on occasion.

A team like BYU, which may never match the raw talent of some of the powerhouse teams, needs even more good luck those traditional power teams need. This is especially true now that there is a playoff system in place. In 1984, BYU was the sole undefeated team in the country heading into bowl season and only had to beat a 6-5 Michigan team in the Holiday Bowl to seal the deal. In 2014 and beyond, a 12-0 BYU will require some good fortune to be selected for the playoffs to begin with; beating two powerhouses in those playoffs will require even more. It’s a very tall task.

Gathering Ingredients and Long Shots

Of the four ingredients I list above, three are largely in the control of BYU’s coaches and players. Cutting-edge schemes, solid recruiting, and maximum effort and execution are all variables BYU can influence. Luck is not in BYU’s control, but no other team controls luck either.

BYU’s 1984 national championship was shocking. It would be at least as shocking for BYU to win another one. There is no denying that winning a second national title is a long shot for BYU. But as Jimmer reminded the world, long shots are BYU’s thing.

17 Comments

  1. Jared vdH

    July 9, 2014 at 11:42 am

    At first I thought this article would be a rehash of the usual points, and it mostly was. However that last paragraph made it all worthwhile.

  2. Hugh Johnson

    July 9, 2014 at 2:21 pm

    I would be interested in knowing who the players were, on the 1984 National Championship team, that made the NFL Hall of Fame. I personally cannot recall any. They all made the BYU Hall and maybe some in the College Hall.

    • Geoff Johnston

      July 9, 2014 at 4:55 pm

      I intentionally left that section broad, Hugh. Notice I talked about “those BYU teams in the early 80’s”. There were players from teams in the early 80’s ended up in all of the Halls of Fame you mentioned.

  3. Manapua

    July 10, 2014 at 7:13 am

    I’m a BYU fan but please stop this nonsense talk about BYU and a national championship. It’s gotten very old and stale.

    • Geoff Johnston

      July 11, 2014 at 3:38 pm

      That’s silly. A national championship is the ultimate goal of all 125 FBS teams.

  4. Dale Cahoon

    July 10, 2014 at 9:23 am

    I agree with but with Anae as the OC we have zero chance of a national championship! With our easy schedule this year we might even win 10 games. But the year after we will be 500 and Anae and Bronco will both be gone.. Love our cougars but I am expecting another year of up the gut up the gut up the gut

    • Jared vdH

      July 10, 2014 at 9:29 am

      I seriously doubt that even a .500 record next year would get Bronco fired. It might get Anae to leave again, but I think Bronco is too well loved by the administration to get fired for only a .500 season.

      Now if we went .500 this season and .500 next season, or a 10 win season this year followed by a sub .500 season and no bowl game, then I’d believe Bronco could be fired.

    • Geoff Johnston

      July 11, 2014 at 3:40 pm

      I very much disagree. Anae is trying to be very innovative. Innovation is one of the key ingredients for a team like BYU to win 14 straight games in a season.

  5. Derek

    July 10, 2014 at 2:00 pm

    I’ve been a BYU football fan for 30 years and during that time I have noticed too many instances of missed opportunities and lack of mental discipline, not to mention relatively few high-quality recruits, for this team to win another National Championship (NC). First of all, any college football fan knows that BYU would have a tough time with any top tier team in the SEC and that conference year in and year out contends for a NC. Special Teams, in particular, the FG unit has been a consistent problem for as long as I can remember. With the offense seemingly changing schemes every other year, it also makes it very difficult.

    To suggest BYU can win another NC is just laughable.

    I’ll leave you with this…BYU had an awesome passing attack in ’84, but you have to remember that most of the teams they played lacked significant speed in the secondary, unlike the teams contending for a NC during the past 20 years or so.

    • Geoff Johnston

      July 11, 2014 at 3:47 pm

      To suggest that BYU can never win another national championship is laughable. Even Vegas has BYU’s odds of winning a title in 2014 at just 150/1. See here: http://www.oddsshark.com/ncaaf/bcs-national-championship-odds

      That is a long shot, as I stated in the post, but it is certainly a possibility.

      • Derek

        July 16, 2014 at 10:51 am

        Every BYU team finds a way to blow it. One loss and they are done.

        • Geoff Johnston

          July 16, 2014 at 2:10 pm

          “One loss and they are done” applies to about 115 of all 125 FBS teams when it comes to making the playoffs. The best way for any team to win a national championship has always been to avoid that one loss.

      • Derek

        July 22, 2014 at 2:56 pm

        Correct. What I should have said was BYU teams in the past have figured out a way to lose 2-3 games/season that they should’ve won, mainly due to special teams.

  6. Brad Smith

    July 10, 2014 at 2:30 pm

    Number 2 is understated. BYU doesn’t just need “enough” NFL talent – they need TONS of NFL talent.

    On the offensive side, we would need a QB, running back, and at least one receiver or tight end and at least two linemen who are NFL caliber.

    Defensively, BYU would need at least one linebacker and one dlineman who are NFL-worthy and the secondary would need to have at least two borderline NFL prospects (even if they don’t ultimately stick in the NFL).

    Anything less than that will leave a BYU Natty as a pipe dream.

    • Geoff Johnston

      July 11, 2014 at 3:50 pm

      Well it is pretty self-evident that enough means enough. The real question is how many future NFL players is enough. Maybe 4-5 guys on each side of the ball. BYU will never out-talent a Nick Saban Alabama team but with the proper combination of the four ingredients I mentioned the stars could align for BYU again.

  7. Geoff Johnston

    July 11, 2014 at 6:04 pm

    For those interested, Alema Harrington and I discussed this topic on Cougar Sports 960 this week. You can listen here: http://1280thezone.com/index.php/story/read/cougar_sports_960_geoff_johnston

  8. ken

    July 21, 2014 at 1:20 pm

    There is NO way an un-aligned school and not respected (see ACC-SEC) would EVER win a national championship. .. the big five would not allow it. the elders or old dudes who make decisions for BYU who have no experience in football dropped the proverbial football when conference realignment occurred and were touting independence just for missionary purposes.
    I guarantee if nothing changes BYU football well be relegated back to tier two (junior type varsity) football and will follow BYU Idaho and BYU Hawaii and eventually disappear. I promos this will happen like I promised the mountain network that they will lose BYU… I’m never wrong