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On This Date in Sports December 21, 1984: BYU National Champions

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BYU beats Michigan 24-7 at the Holiday Bowl in San Diego to stake its claim for the National Championship. The Cougars at 13-0 were the only unbeaten team at the end of the season and had climbed to the top of the rankings after starting the season unranked. Washington, who finished #2, passed up a chance to face BYU in a bowl game, choosing the more prestigious Orange Bowl.

The 1984 College Football season may have been one for the crassest seasons in the sport’s 150-year history, week after week powerhouses fell, as the top spot became a revolving door. Remaining steady all season was Brigham Young, a small Ladder Day Saints school in Provo, Utah. The Cougars coached by Lavell Edwards had begun to gain a national identity, thanks to the growth of cable television and the play of two recent quarterbacks who were in professional football with Jim McMahon and Steve Young.

BYU began the season with a bang, stunning #3 Pittsburgh 20-14 on the road. The win moved the Cougars up to #13 in the AP ranking. While the usual top teams battled for their place in the rankings, BYU playing in the Western Athletic Conference began a season-long climb up the polls. By the time the regular season ended, BYU was the last team that was unbeaten at 12-0. This earned them a #1 ranking, much to the chagrin of the usual powerhouse schools.

At the time, teams were locked into their bowl games by conference, and there was no football playoff, no BCS, as teams would have to make their case in the bowls. BYU’s perfect season other than their Week 1 win over Pitt was a cakewalk. This would be a source of controversy as the other top five teams felt that BYU played too soft of schedule to be considered for the national title. There had been a chance to get #4 Washington with a 10-1 record did not with the Pac-Ten and were permitted to play in any bowl of their choosing. BYU, by winning the WAC, had no choice but to play in the Holiday Bowl. Washington declined and chose the more lucrative payout in the Orange Bowl against Oklahoma.

A full ten days before New Year’s Day had BYU playing Michigan at San Diego’s Jack Murphy Stadium with a win all but assuring a championship. The Wolverines coached by Bo Schembechler did not have a great season and went into the Holiday Bowl with a record of 6-5. BYU had a shaky first quarter as Michigan picked off Robbie Bosco on their first possession. However, the Wolverines could not take advantage as Kelly Smith scored the game’s first touchdown in the second quarter. Michigan would tie the game, taking advantage of sloppy penalties from BYU as Rick Rodgers had a five-yard run. The Cougars would get down the field in the two-minute drill for a Lee Johnson Field Goal to take a 10-7 lead at the half.

Despite holding a 10-7 lead at the half, BYU appeared to be fumbling their chances away as they had committed five turnovers. Michigan took a 14-10 lead as Bob Perryman caught a scoring pass from Chris Zurbbrugg. Things looked especially bleak as Vai Sikahema fumbled the ensuing kickoff at the end of the third quarter. The BYU defense kept the team in the game as Michigan settled for a Robert Bergeron field goal to make it 17-10 in the early stages of the fourth quarter. BYU finally began to find their match on the next drive as they went down the field to tie the game as Glen Kozlowski made a diving circus catch in the end zone. On the next possession, the Cougars were not as lucky as the ball bounced off Kozlowski for Robbie Bosco’s third interception of the game. Michigan was unable to take advantage as BYU had a shot at winning the game late. With 1:23 left, Kelly Smith caught a 13-yard pass to put the Cougars in front to stay as Marv Allen sealed the win for BYU with an interception.

BYU was the last of the unbeaten teams at 13-0, but many felt they should not be the National Champions. However, as the rest of the bowls played out, the voters were left no other choice as #2 Oklahoma was upset by #4 Washington in the Orange Bowl 28-17. The third-ranked Florida Gators were unable to claim the title as they were on probation for violating several NCAA rules.