There’s a lot of talk about BYU’s 2016 schedule, and there should be. Kyle Kensing of Athlon Sports ranks BYU’s 2016 schedule as the nation’s 15th toughest. Bleacher Report ranked the Cougars’ schedule fifth. Most of us are assuming that this will be one of the toughest, if not the toughest schedule in program history.
That begs the question on just what are the toughest schedules in BYU football history. For reference, I used Sports-Reference’s SOS rating as a reference. You can check that out here.
Keep in mind a few things. First, there’s a healthy amount of subjectivity in this. It is better to be top-loaded (see 1991 or 2004) or to be more well-rounded with fewer bad teams (see 2013). Second, how BYU did in the season is mostly irrelevant — I’m judging the schedule, not the team. And third, I’m only looking at modern seasons, which I started in 1972.
Also, check out our discussion of this topic (and more) on the latest edition of the Rise & Shout Podcast.
5. 1990 season BYU’s record: 10-3 Opponents winning %: .539 S-R SOS: 1.3 Number of opponents with 9+ wins: 4 Toughest 3 opponents: Miami (10-2), Texas A&M (9-3), Colorado State (9-4) Weakest opponent: New Mexico (2-10)
This season is most well-known for two things: the historic victory over Miami and Ty Detmer winning a Heisman. There were four 9-plus win teams on the schedule, the three mentioned above and Wyoming. Playing Miami in the regular season and A&M in the bowl game complemented a good conference schedule. This could have been the best if Washington State hadn’t been bad (3-8) or if the WAC bottom feeder hadn’t been as terrible (I’m looking at you, New Mexico).
4. 2013 BYU’s record: 8-5 Opponents winning %: .536 S-R SOS: 2.49 Number of opponents with 9+ wins: 4 Toughest 3 opponents: Notre Dame (9-4), Washington (9-4), Wisconsin (9-4) Weakest FBS opponent: Virginia (2-10)
BYU played no great teams in 2013, but it played only one really bad team (I’m not counting Idaho State). Nine opponents finished the year with seven or more wins. Because there’s no great teams, I can’t put it any higher, but I couldn’t leave it out either.
3. 1991 BYU’s record: 8-3-2 Opponents winning %: .583 S-R SOS: 1.71 Number of opponents with 9+ wins: 5 Toughest 3 opponents: Florida State (11-2), Penn State (11-2), Iowa (10-1-1) Weakest opponent: New Mexico (2-9)
In 1991, BYU fans were hoping to dethrone another top-ranked team from Florida to start the season, but a magical season was not meant to be for the Cougars after they were handled 44-28 in the opener. FSU spent the first 12 weeks of the season ranked No. 1 until consecutive losses to Miami and Florida spoiled the season. FSU finished ranked No. 4. Penn State finished at No. 3 and Iowa at No. 10. Hard to beat a schedule with three top-10 teams. The Cougars also had an excellent WAC foil (Air Force) and a good UCLA team on the schedule. But after those first four tough games (FSU, Penn State, UCLA and Air Force), BYU wouldn’t play another team with more than five wins for seven weeks.
2. 2003 BYU’s record: 4-8 Opponents winning %: .597 S-R SOS: 4.22 Number of opponents with 9+ wins: 3 Toughest 3 opponents: Boise State (13-1), USC (12-1), Utah (10-2) Weakest opponent: Wyoming (4-8)
I am not defending Gary Crowton; he failed as a coach on many levels and he was fired with cause. But boy did he get two tough schedules to finish his tenure. USC and Boise State were awesome teams — the Trojans won the national championship, and Boise was a tough road loss against Oregon State away from having its magical season happen a few years earlier than it did. Also, BYU played no terrible teams in 2003. Wyoming wasn’t good, but it wasn't bad — with one or two exceptions, all of their losses are against good teams. And Utah was pretty good in 2003 as well (even if that 3-0 loss to Utah is one of the most painful games I’ve ever watched).
1. 2004 BYU’s record: 5-6 Opponents winning %: .586 S-R SOS: 6.36 Number of opponents with 9+ wins: 3 Toughest 3 opponents: USC (13-0), Utah (12-0), Boise State (11-1) Weakest opponent: UNLV (2-9)
The 2004 schedule is 2003 but better. The Trojans would win another national championship, this time all by themselves. Utah would finish fourth, its best season ever. And Boise was a loss against Louisville away from a perfect season. Read that again: BYU’s top three opponents were a combined 36-1. With only one terrible opponent (UNLV) and a few other pretty good ones (Notre Dame, Wyoming and New Mexico), 2004 was the toughest football schedule in BYU history.
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