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BYU football hopes and dreams: 50 years of reflection

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Virgil Carter prepares to throw the ball as BYU faces Utah State.

Virgil Carter prepares to throw the ball as BYU faces Utah State.

Mark Philbrick, BYU

As the 1965 BYU football season approached, BYU fans were filled with tempered optimism. Second-year coach Tommy Hudspeth had put together a fairly competitive team, led by future record-setting quarterback Virgil Carter.

The Cougars were coming off a losing but promising 1964 season. Who would ever say today a losing season was promising?

But it was the 1960s and BYU football had a history of mediocrity. There was a blip of hope in 1958 when the Cougars led the Wyoming Cowboys in Provo, 14-7.

A win in that final game of the season would give BYU its first conference championship in history, even though it was the unheralded Skyline Conference.

The Cougars lost that game 22-14 and high hopes were dashed. The spark was ignited again in 1962, as Eldon Fortie ran and passed with such elan in Hal Mitchell's single-wing offense that he was enshrined in BYU football lore.

Amazingly, that season is fondly remembered by BYU fans, even though the final season record was 4-6. Fortie's heroics in coming off the bench after an injury to lead the Cougars to a 14-7 victory over Wyoming in Provo in the last game of his career are etched in BYU football history.

The 1965 team also had a good supporting cast for Carter with future All-Conference performers returning in John Ogden, Grant Wilson, Curg Belcher, Bobby Roberts, Mel Olson and Max Newberry.

To top it off, the BYU coaching staff pulled off a coup by signing a number of U.S. Marines who had been playing together in California. Wide receiver Phil Odle, a three-time All-Western Athletic Conference performer led that group. Cougar fans' hopes were on the upswing.

A good indication of 1965 becoming a special season began early as the Cougars trounced the Arizona State Sun Devils and their legendary coach Frank Kush, 24-6, in Tempe, Arizona.

In a season filled with ups and downs, it is hard to believe that a 6-4 season with no bowl game could be so special, but to the hard-core 1960s BYU fan the season was nirvana.

In the last game of 1965 BYU won 42-8 at New Mexico to cap a WAC Championship season, and broke the streak of no championship seasons that seemed to last for an eternity. It was certainly historic, but it was also fleeting.

It took another nine years and the advent of LaVell Edwards to win another conference championship, but this time it came with a bowl game to boot, the Cougars' one and only appearance in the Fiesta Bowl.

When we fast-forward 50 years from 1965 to the present day, hopes and dreams are still alive with tempered optimism.

There is optimism because in recent years there have been times with a flicker of greatness, sometimes on offense and sometimes on defense, but seldom with both during the same season.

There is also a tempered emotion, since three consecutive 8-5 seasons leave BYU fans thirsting for an upswing in performance over an entire season.

What should BYU fans be expecting during the upcoming football season? How about hope, optimism and reason all wrapped in one?

The potential for an outstanding season is there, especially if stars Taysom Hill and Jamaal Williams come back at full strength. But the daunting road schedule and the recent drop in defensive effectiveness should give the fans pause.

But then again, who would have dreamed 50 years ago that BYU would be playing at Michigan, UCLA in the Rose Bowl, Nebraska in Lincoln, Nebraska, and Missouri at Arrowhead Stadium, the home of the Kansas City Chiefs, all in one season?

I, for one, am ready to get my ankles taped.

Ken Driggs of Mesa, Arizona, is a BYU graduate and served as Cosmo in the '60s. Contact him at kkdriggs@gmail.com.