Blog: Succeeding on the big stage: BYU football and basketball


The BYU football and basketball teams used to live for the big stage, upsetting Top 25 teams whether they came to Provo or welcomed the Cougars into their own hometown. However, over the last couple of seasons for the hoops team and a few more for the gridiron, BYU has seemed to stumble right before achieving the big win.

The Cougars last beat a Top 25 team in football (not including the postseason bowls) in the last game of the 2009 season, when they beat No. 23 Utah 26-23 in overtime at LaVell Edwards Stadium. Coincidentally, this is also the latest BYU win in the series, with the Utes winning the last three, including the wild finish at Rice-Eccles Stadium earlier this year.

Earlier in that same season, the Cougars defeated No. 3 Oklahoma 14-13 at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, setting the tone for what would be an 11-2 overall finish and a final BCS ranking of 12th in the AP Poll. This biggest win for the football team in years forced the country’s experts to look at BYU as a serious contender for busting the BCS year in and year out:

For (quarterback Max) Hall and BYU, this victory could be a springboard for their most memorable season in decades. It turns them into a top candidate to be the latest BCS busters from the Mountain West and it should shove Hall to the fringe of the Heisman discussion.

-Associated Press recap on

However, with their loss two weeks later to Florida State and the thumping they took at the hands of No. 8 TCU later in the season, this kind of hype was sorely diminished — and sadly, hasn’t been the same since.

This past season, the Cougars lost to No. 24 Boise State by one point, to No. 5 and eventual national runner-up Notre Dame by just three and saw a close game against No. 10 Oregon State balloon to an 18-point deficit in the fourth quarter.

Obviously, BYU football is so close to achieving the kind of success it has had in past years, with a No. 3 defense returning a solid portion of its starters, a revamped offense led by coordinator Robert Anae and promising young talents in Taysom Hill and Jamaal Williams. Additionally, BYU has its toughest schedule to date in the 2013 season, hosting Texas and Boise State and traveling to play at Wisconsin and Notre Dame, all of which are likely to start the season in the Top 25.

In basketball, the story has been similar, but the team is only two seasons removed from its glorious season led by national sensation Jimmer Fredette. In the 2010-11 season, the Cougars defeated San Diego State both in the Marriott Center and in San Diego. Both times, the Aztecs were ranked No. 4 in the nation, solidifying BYU as a national title contender en route to its first sweet 16 appearance since 1981, in which the Florida Gators had to use overtime to advance to the Elite 8.

BYU basketball and football both are trying to return to the national spotlight. (Photo by The Universe)

Last season, the first without Fredette and backcourt mate Jackson Emery and also the first in the West Coast Conference, the Cougars were still able to defeat No. 24 Gonzaga in Provo, but fell short against the other three chances against Top 25 teams: a close three-point loss to No. 6 Baylor at the Marriott Center, a double-digit loss on the road at No. 11 Wisconsin and an at-home loss to No. 21 Saint Mary’s.

This season has been the same story. BYU wasn’t able to hold on to a late lead against No. 20 Notre Dame and had to watch the game slip away in the final minutes. Then the Cougars were off to a slow start at No. 10 Gonzaga and never could catch up.

The Cougars’ next game is at home against the Bulldogs, who are now ranked No. 3 and could move up even higher in next week’s polls. BYU is still looking for that signature win that will not only pad its already-weakened resume for the NCAA Tournament, but bring Cougar basketball back into the limelight.

There’s no question both the football and basketball teams are talented. The football team has played in eight straight bowl games, all under head coach Bronco Mendenhall, and won six of the last seven, including the 2012 Poinsettia Bowl victory over San Diego State. The basketball team has made it to the NCAA Tournament the last six years, all under head coach Dave Rose, and has won 20 or more games each of the last eight years, including the current season.

However, the Cougars are right on the cusp of greatness, trying to find the right key to break into the national spotlight in both sports. As soon as both teams can find the right combinations, more than just momentary greatness could be achieved. It could stick.

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