Beating the odds. It’s a quest that has captured the attention of mankind since the beginning of time. We love our Cinderella stories. Some are as big as David taking down Goliath, while others are as simple as balancing the checkbook.

No. 16 BYU has a history of beating the odds and the Cougars will roll into Las Vegas on Saturday to challenge Notre Dame at Allegiant Stadium (5:30 p.m. MDT, NBC) as a three-point underdog. Can BYU prove the naysayers wrong and upend the favored Irish? It’s certainly in play.

That’s because LaVell Edwards changed it all when he took the head job 50 years ago and BYU has been beating the odds ever since.

To wit ...

• When the national power programs were running the football, Edwards decided to throw it. He knew there was a difference between the BYU athlete of his day and the ones at places like Notre Dame. Power football wasn’t going to work in Provo. He gambled on the pass, beat the odds and won 257 games.

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• Winning a national championship as a member of a non-power conference is a long shot; only one team has done it in the last 77 years. Quarterback Robbie Bosco and the Cougars defeated Michigan 24-17 in the 1984 Holiday Bowl to finish the season ranked No. 1 at 13-0. BYU beat the odds and won the national title.  

• A quarterback from the Western Athletic Conference had never won the coveted Heisman Trophy as the best player in college football. BYU junior quarterback Ty Detmer threw for 5,309 yards and 42 touchdowns in 1990 and upset No. 1 Miami. He beat the odds, and Notre Dame’s public relations machine, which was pushing its own Raghib “Rocket” Ismail, to win the Heisman Trophy.

• The thought of a BYU running back winning the nation’s Doak Walker Award as the top running back in the country is as far-fetched as the Cougars winning a national championship or Heisman Trophy. Luke Staley rushed for 1,582 yards and 28 touchdowns in 2001, outperforming the studs at Wisconsin, UCLA and Tennessee. Staley beat the odds and won the trophy.

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• Not happy with the state of affairs in the Mountain West Conference, BYU decided to go independent in football in 2011. While some questioned the long-term feasibility of the move, the Cougars rolled the dice, believing that they were better off with their own television partners (ESPN/BYUtv) and controlling their own scheduling.

• BYU bet on an eventual P5 invitation and patiently waited for 11 years. A call from the Big 12 came last September and the Cougars will join the league next July. BYU beat the odds of surviving as an independent.

• When the COVID-19 pandemic rocked the world in 2019, BYU, living free from the restrictions of a conference, controlled its own testing procedures and health guidelines. While most football programs were opting out of the season, the Cougars declared they were all in. As a result, BYU became a mainstay on ESPN, which was starving for programming. The Cougars finished 11-1 and quarterback Zach Wilson earned the No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft. BYU beat the odds of playing through the pandemic.

• Tyler Allgeier walked onto the football team in 2018. Over the course of the next two years, he was moved from running back to linebacker and back to running back. Last season, as a redshirt sophomore, Allgeier rushed for 1,601 yards. He beat the odds and beat Staley’s single-season rushing record before being selected in the fifth round of the NFL draft by the Atlanta Falcons.

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Late Saturday afternoon, Notre Dame (2-2) will kick off against BYU as the most storied program in the history of college football. The Irish have won 931 games since 1887. They claim 11 national championships, seven Heisman Trophy winners, and have had 522 players selected in the NFL draft.

BYU has won 607 games since 1922. The Cougars have one national championship, one Heisman Trophy winner and have had 149 players selected in the NFL draft.

As independents, Notre Dame’s television deal with NBC (estimated at $26 million) is twice what BYU makes from ESPN. Those numbers will change as Notre Dame renegotiates with ESPN for a reported $60 million annually and BYU joins the Big 12.

When it comes to the national scene, the Irish typically sing on the front stage while the Cougars are relegated to keep its noise in the back — except for Saturday when the two will perform on the same stage at the same time.

It’s not surprising that Las Vegas lists Notre Dame as the favorite. They have the name and the history to warrant the bias. But being the underdog shouldn’t deter BYU. The Cougars have a long history of beating the odds.

Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is the studio host for “BYU Sports Nation Game Day,” “The Post Game Show,” “After Further Review,” and play-by-play announcer for BYUtv. He is also co-host of “Y’s Guys” at 

BYU’s Jonny Harline makes a touchdown catch against Notre Dame’s Chinedum Ndukwe in 2005. The two teams will meet on the field in Las Vegas this fall.
BYU’s Jonny Harline makes a touchdown catch against Notre Dame’s Chinedum Ndukwe in South Bend, Indiana, Oct. 22, 2005. The Cougars were on the short end of the stick that day, but get another crack at the Irish in Las Vegas this Saturday. | Tom Smart, Deseret News