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BYU winning the national title in 1984 was fine because no one else deserved it either

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To win the national title as a mid-major your timing has to be amazing. Like BYU's.

In the last 50 years, only one year has produced a No. 2 or No. 3 team in Est. S&P+ with a worse percentile rating than 1984: 1967. The fifth year of the 1980s produced no 99th-percentile team and only one above the 96th. That's pretty incredible. And in this year of amazing parity, BYU walked right through an open door.

This was not the best BYU team of the LaVell Edwards era, not even close. In terms of Est. S&P+ percentiles, the Cougars hit 97.3% in 1979, 97.6% in 1980, and 96.9% in 1983, all better than 1984's 95.1%. But as I end up saying a lot, your best shot at an amazing breakthrough is simple consistency -- it's being good every year. Edwards and BYU established and maintained an incredibly high level for a WAC team, and when monstrous parity hit college football, the Cougars swooped in.

I can still remember my father being frustrated by the thought of this team winning the national title. The Cougars beat preseason No. 3 Pitt, 20-14, in the season opener (Pitt was SIGNIFICANTLY overrated and would go just 3-7-1), blew past Baylor and Tulsa, then worked their way through the WAC. They beat Hawaii by only 5 on the road and eked out a three-point win over a bad Wyoming team at home. They crushed a decent SDSU team and beat Utah by 10 on the road. And with the structure of bowl bids rigidly defined, they ended up in just the Holiday Bowl despite a No. 1 ranking and ended up surviving 6-5 Michigan by just a touchdown.

Still, this wasn't a total travesty. They ranked fifth in Est. S&P+. As we'll see, 1980 Georgia ranked a lot lower than that. The next year, Penn State went unbeaten in the regular season with a rating quite a bit worse. The Internet has shown me that there are fans of power schools who are STILL annoyed by BYU winning this title. Be more annoyed with everybody else for either stinking or losing a game they had no business losing. Florida was excellent and lost only to S&P+ No. 16 Miami (while tying No. 11 LSU) but was banned from the postseason. Nebraska lost at No. 28 Syracuse. Doug Flutie and Boston College lost at a pretty mediocre Penn State. Oklahoma State was very good but still figured ways to lose to Nebraska and OU by double digits.

Washington was really the only team to have a legitimate claim to being screwed in 1984. The Huskies were very good (11-1, No. 3) and suffered a reasonably acceptable loss (16-7 at No. 18 USC). But the rest of their resume still looked a lot like BYU's. They beat Michigan by 9. They eked by No. 65 Oregon at home. They beat No. 44 Wazzu by 9. Their regular season strength of schedule wasn't demonstrably better than BYU's, and really the only difference was that they got a chance to prove themselves in a bowl, beating a good OU team in the Orange.

I wouldn't have had any problem with UW taking the title here, and neither did the AP voters -- the Huskies ended up only 20 points behind BYU (1160 to 1140). Still, I don't really have a problem with BYU either. In a year of mediocre "great" teams, the Cougars were the ones who didn't lose.

S&P+ Rk Team Record Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
1 Florida 9-1-1 19.2 98.08% 32.8 3 13.7 11
2 Nebraska 10-2 16.1 95.93% 29.0 14 12.8 7
3 Washington 11-1 16.0 95.79% 28.7 15 12.7 6
4 Boston College 10-2 15.4 95.21% 38.9 1 23.5 78
5 BYU 13-0 15.3 95.13% 32.3 6 16.9 20
6 Oklahoma State 10-2 14.6 94.30% 26.4 23 11.8 2
7 Florida State 7-3-2 14.3 93.91% 35.6 2 21.2 57
8 Oklahoma 9-2-1 11.9 90.12% 25.5 30 13.6 10
9 Auburn 9-4 11.8 89.99% 29.6 12 17.7 27
10 Ohio State 9-3 10.7 87.61% 30.0 10 19.3 39
11 LSU 8-3-1 10.7 87.61% 27.9 18 17.2 23
12 Tennessee 7-4-1 10.5 87.26% 30.4 8 19.9 47
13 Arkansas 7-4-1 10.5 87.19% 23.0 45 12.5 5
14 Maryland 9-3 10.0 86.01% 32.6 4 22.6 68
15 SMU 10-2 9.9 85.76% 27.5 20 17.6 25
16 Miami-FL 8-5 9.6 84.97% 32.4 5 22.8 73
17 Georgia 7-4-1 9.5 84.69% 25.3 34 15.8 14
18 USC 9-3 8.8 83.06% 20.7 62 11.9 3
19 West Virginia 8-4 8.7 82.74% 22.2 50 13.5 8
20 South Carolina 10-2 8.6 82.24% 30.4 9 21.9 63
21 Air Force 8-4 8.1 80.85% 26.1 28 18.0 29
22 Clemson 7-4 8.0 80.71% 29.8 11 21.7 61
23 Iowa 8-4-1 7.7 79.79% 25.4 33 17.7 26
24 UNLV 11-2 7.7 79.77% 28.4 16 20.7 53
25 Notre Dame 7-5 7.6 79.34% 26.2 26 18.6 33
S&P+ Rk Team Record Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
26 Virginia 8-2-2 7.2 78.31% 27.1 21 19.9 45
27 Arizona State 5-6 7.1 77.90% 26.3 25 19.2 38
28 Syracuse 6-5 6.7 76.54% 17.0 85 10.3 1
29 Bowling Green 8-3 6.6 76.25% 25.4 32 18.8 35
30 Illinois 7-4 6.6 76.23% 27.5 19 20.9 56
31 Georgia Tech 6-4-1 6.4 75.69% 25.5 29 19.1 36
32 Arizona 7-4 6.4 75.54% 24.3 40 17.9 28
33 Kentucky 9-3 6.0 74.17% 24.6 36 18.6 32
34 Rutgers 7-3 5.5 72.57% 21.9 55 16.3 17
35 Michigan 6-6 5.3 71.76% 19.9 69 14.5 12
36 Fullerton State 11-1 5.3 71.76% 25.5 31 20.2 50
37 Alabama 5-6 5.2 71.27% 22.3 49 17.1 21
38 Texas 7-4-1 5.1 70.94% 24.4 39 19.3 40
39 Temple 6-5 4.9 70.19% 19.7 72 14.8 13
40 Army 8-3-1 4.4 68.36% 21.0 61 16.6 19
41 Utah 6-5-1 4.3 68.00% 26.4 24 22.0 66
42 Tulsa 6-5 4.1 67.06% 23.3 44 19.2 37
43 Virginia Tech 8-4 3.9 66.23% 16.1 91 12.2 4
44 Washington State 6-5 3.8 66.00% 30.9 7 27.1 87
45 Hawaii 7-4 3.5 64.81% 19.8 70 16.3 16
46 Penn State 6-5 3.5 64.72% 20.0 68 16.5 18
47 UCLA 9-3 3.5 64.66% 23.5 42 20.1 48
48 Central Michigan 8-2-1 3.0 62.61% 19.2 74 16.3 15
49 Wisconsin 7-4-1 2.8 62.08% 20.0 65 17.2 22
50 Houston 7-5 2.7 61.36% 23.5 41 20.9 55
S&P+ Rk Team Record Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
51 Baylor 5-6 2.6 61.00% 24.4 38 21.9 62
52 Stanford 5-6 2.3 60.02% 24.7 35 22.4 67
53 TCU 8-4 2.3 59.79% 29.4 13 27.1 86
54 San Diego State 4-7-1 2.1 59.08% 22.5 46 20.4 51
55 Vanderbilt 5-6 2.0 58.48% 26.2 27 24.2 80
56 Indiana State 9-3 1.9 58.02% 20.0 66 18.1 31
57 Purdue 7-5 1.6 56.75% 24.5 37 22.9 75
58 Ole Miss 4-6-1 1.4 55.89% 19.4 73 18.0 30
59 Missouri 3-7-1 0.9 53.93% 28.3 17 27.4 89
60 San Jose State 6-5 0.1 50.31% 22.1 54 22.0 64
61 Navy 4-6-1 -0.4 48.25% 22.3 48 22.7 72
62 Toledo 8-3-1 -0.4 48.24% 13.1 100 13.6 9
63 Pittsburgh 3-7-1 -1.2 45.03% 18.7 77 19.9 46
64 Fresno State 6-6 -1.2 44.93% 22.1 53 23.3 77
65 Oregon 6-5 -1.4 44.06% 21.5 58 22.9 74
66 Texas A&M 6-5 -1.5 43.70% 20.2 64 21.7 60
67 UL-Lafayette 6-5 -1.8 42.32% 20.2 63 22.0 65
68 Michigan State 6-6 -1.9 41.94% 15.5 95 17.4 24
69 Wyoming 6-6 -1.9 41.76% 27.0 22 28.9 98
70 Mississippi State 4-7 -2.2 40.53% 18.3 80 20.5 52
71 Memphis 5-5-1 -3.1 36.69% 16.4 88 19.5 41
72 North Carolina 5-5-1 -3.2 36.42% 21.5 57 24.7 82
73 Miami-OH 4-7 -3.7 34.56% 16.1 90 19.8 44
74 Texas Tech 4-7 -4.1 32.73% 15.9 92 20.1 49
75 Tulane 3-8 -4.1 32.69% 18.5 78 22.6 69
S&P+ Rk Team Record Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
76 Kansas 5-6 -4.6 30.83% 21.2 60 25.8 84
77 Wake Forest 6-5 -5.0 29.55% 16.7 86 21.6 59
78 Long Beach State 4-7 -5.1 29.03% 22.2 52 27.3 88
79 Western Michigan 5-6 -5.7 27.06% 17.0 84 22.7 71
80 Illinois State 5-6 -5.8 26.46% 13.9 98 19.8 43
81 Oregon State 2-9 -5.9 26.10% 15.7 93 21.6 58
82 NC State 3-8 -6.4 24.47% 22.4 47 28.7 96
83 Colorado State 3-8 -7.0 22.57% 23.4 43 30.4 101
84 California 2-9 -7.8 20.03% 14.9 96 22.7 70
85 Kansas State 3-7-1 -8.0 19.37% 19.8 71 27.8 92
86 Kent 4-7 -8.2 18.69% 10.4 107 18.7 34
87 Northern Illinois 4-6-1 -8.6 17.75% 11.1 106 19.7 42
88 Iowa State 2-7-2 -9.0 16.56% 14.2 97 23.2 76
89 Utah State 1-10 -9.1 16.39% 22.2 51 31.2 105
90 Eastern Michigan 2-7-2 -9.1 16.35% 11.7 105 20.7 54
91 Minnesota 4-7 -9.6 15.06% 18.4 79 28.0 93
92 East Carolina 2-9 -9.7 14.64% 18.9 76 28.7 94
93 Southern Miss 4-7 -10.6 12.62% 15.5 94 26.1 85
94 New Mexico 4-8 -11.0 11.80% 20.0 67 30.9 104
95 Northwestern 2-9 -11.2 11.25% 16.5 87 27.8 91
96 Ball State 3-8 -11.7 10.33% 12.8 102 24.5 81
97 Ohio 4-6-1 -11.9 9.87% 12.1 104 24.0 79
98 Colorado 1-10 -12.3 9.20% 18.3 81 30.5 102
99 Duke 2-9 -12.3 9.20% 13.3 99 25.6 83
100 Pacific 4-7 -12.5 8.75% 16.2 89 28.7 95
S&P+ Rk Team Record Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
101 Indiana 0-11 -12.7 8.42% 17.4 83 30.2 99
102 Louisville 2-9 -13.5 7.17% 21.2 59 34.8 108
103 Cincinnati 2-9 -14.4 6.01% 21.6 56 36.0 110
104 Rice 1-10 -15.7 4.45% 19.2 75 34.9 109
105 UTEP 2-9 -16.5 3.69% 18.0 82 34.5 107
106 Southern Illinois 3-8 -17.4 2.98% 10.3 108 27.7 90
107 Wichita State 2-9 -18.2 2.43% 12.7 103 30.9 103
108 Drake 4-7 -20.4 1.37% 8.5 109 28.9 97
109 New Mexico State 2-9 -21.3 1.07% 13.1 101 34.4 106
110 West Texas A&M 3-8 -22.0 0.86% 8.3 110 30.3 100

Just call off the Playoff

This year's hypothetical College Football Playoff is every bit as messy as you would assume. The Committee would have had no choice but to include BYU, even if it had questions about the Cougars' SOS (which really wasn't quite as bad as we maybe want to think -- lost of opponents in the 40-60 range, few truly awful ones ... you know, like the ACC).

After that, though? Here's the AP top 10 at the end of the regular season:

1. BYU (11-0)
2. Oklahoma (9-1-1)
3. Florida (9-1-1)
4. Washington (10-1)
5. Nebraska (9-2)
6. Ohio State (9-2)
7. South Carolina (10-1)
8. Boston College (9-2)
9. Oklahoma State (9-2)
10. SMU (9-2)

I'm going to assume Washington's in even though USC (8-3 with losses to LSU, Notre Dame, and UCLA) was the Pac-10 champion. I'm going to assume Big 8 champ Oklahoma is in despite two blemishes (well, 1.5 -- a controversial tie against Texas and a mind-blowing, out-of-nowhere loss to 5-6 Kansas). Either of those teams could be knocked out of contention by other solid contenders ... but there are no other solid contenders. Florida is ineligible, and the only other one-loss team is South Carolina, which beat Georgia and Florida State, and then, having moved to No. 2 in the country, lost to four-win Navy. Navy!

Do Joe Morrison's Gamecocks get in over a Nebraska or Ohio State? I have absolutely no idea. Ohio State suffered bad road losses to Purdue and Wisconsin, neither of whom finished in the Est. S&P+ top 40. Nebraska lost to the only two good teams it played, and the Huskers' marquee win over No. 8 UCLA ended up being pretty mediocre (UCLA was No. 47). They looked the part on the field (as suggested by a No. 2 Est. S&P+ ranking), but their résumé was amazingly flawed for a potential Playoff team.

My gut says Nebraska gets in here, edging out South Carolina. That's probably good, as NU was the superior team. And it could have very much opened the door for a two-loss champion. I assume we would have gotten 1 BYU vs. 4 NU and 2 Washington vs. 3 Oklahoma. Going by Est. S&P+, that gives us a Nebraska-Washington title game, and NU would have been favored by the slightest of margins.

Well, we're dealing with tiny margins regardless: NU by 0.8 over BYU and by 0.1 over Washington. Any of those teams obviously could have won the whole thing.