Editor’s Note: Dick Harmon, Jeff Call, Brandon Gurney and Jay Drew of the Deseret News witnessed every BYU football game the past decade, most of them in person, some of them on television. They collaborated on this project to name the Deseret News’ BYU Football All-Decade Team and also chose the best and worst teams of the decade (2010-2019), the biggest win and most devastating loss, the most impactful assistant coach and most important development or trend affecting the program the past 10 seasons.
Best team of the decade: 2016
Our panelists voted 3-1 in favor of the 2016 team, current coach Kalani Sitake’s first, which went 9-4 and beat Wyoming 24-21 in the Poinsettia Bowl. Led by current NFL players Taysom Hill, Jamaal Williams and Fred Warner, the team won at Michigan State and Cincinnati, defeated Mississippi State in overtime at home and was a play away from beating Utah, Boise State and West Virginia. It lost four games by a combined eight points. Harmon picked the 2014 team, which routed Texas 41-7 in Austin and was off to a 4-0 start before Hill sustained a season-ending injury against Utah State in an eventual 35-20 loss.
Worst team of the decade: 2017
The 2017 team, which eked out a 20-6 win over Portland in the opener and then lost seven straight games, is the easy pick here. Embarrassing losses at East Carolina, Utah State and Fresno State and at home to UMass were part of the 4-9 season, BYU’s worst in 50 years. Second-year offensive coordinator Ty Detmer, the former Heisman winner and one of the most popular figures in school history, and several offensive assistants were dismissed two days after the Cougars ended the season with a 30-20 win over Hawaii. It was BYU’s first losing season since 2004.
Biggest win of the decade: BYU 24, No. 6 Wisconsin 21 (2018)
BYU’s shocking upset of then-No. 6 Wisconsin as a 22-point underdog in 2018 won by a 3-1 vote, mostly because it came totally out of the blue (the Badgers pummeled the Cougars 40-6 in Provo in 2017) and also because it propelled BYU into the national rankings and gave quarterback Tanner Mangum a nice memory in an otherwise forgettable senior season. Gurney picked the 41-7 win over Texas in 2014 because it came in Austin, produced one of the most memorable plays in school history — Hill’s “Leap of Faith” over a UT defender on a touchdown run — and put the school and QB into the national conversation.
Most devastating loss of the decade: Utah 35, BYU 27 (2018)
A recency bias? Perhaps, but BYU fans know all too well what happened on Nov. 24, 2018, at Rice-Eccles Stadium. They say it will never stop stinging. Leading Utah 20-0 at halftime and 27-7 late in the third quarter and threatening to finally snap Utah’s lengthy winning streak in the rivalry game, the Cougars’ best players started dropping like flies due to injury and the deeper Utes rallied to take the win. Call went with BYU’s 35-20 loss at home in 2014 to Utah State because the Cougars were 4-0 entering the game and Taysom Hill was gaining steam as a Heisman Trophy candidate. But Hill sustained a fractured leg in the second quarter, USU held on for the win and BYU’s once-promising season was destroyed.
Most impactful assistant coach of the decade: Jeff Grimes, offensive coordinator
Hired in 2018 after the woeful 4-9 season in which BYU’s offense was as bad as it has ever been, Grimes injected newfound energy and confidence into a group that could barely move the ball in 2017. Despite a midseason quarterback switch in 2018, the Cougars rode freshman Zach Wilson to a bowl berth and repeated that feat in 2019, somehow emerging from a 2-4 start to upset Boise State and Utah State with backup quarterbacks Jaren Hall and Baylor Romney. Passing game coordinator Aaron Roderick (Gurney) and former head coach Bronco Mendenhall (Harmon) also received votes, Mendenhall for firing Jaime Hill after a 31-16 loss to Utah State in 2011 and giving himself those duties to turn the season around.
Most important development or trend of the decade: Nine straight losses to rival Utah
Call and Gurney call the losing streak the most significant happening, and obviously the most disturbing trend for BYU fans; seven of the nine losses were one-score games, but that’s little consolation for a program that once owned the Utes. Eight of those losses have come during BYU’s nine seasons of independence. The teams didn’t meet in 2014. Harmon says BYU’s inconsistency and injury woes at the quarterback position was the most significant factor in BYU’s unsatisfying decade, while Drew says BYU’s strict adherence to its honor code and lofty academic standards has limited its recruiting pool and ability to lure talented players.