BYU kicks off its 100th year of football on Aug. 31 against Southern Illinois. The Cougars’ history book is stuffed full of accomplishments, including a national championship, a Heisman Trophy winner, a Doak Walker Award winner, two Outland Trophy winners, seven inductees into the College Football Hall of Fame and the National Coach of the Year.

But as the school finalizes the season-long festivities to commemorate a century of football, there are several other milestones to celebrate in 2024.

50th anniversary of first bowl game

Not only did coach LaVell Edwards and quarterback Gary Sheide kickstart BYU’s quarterback factory, but they also led the No. 17 Cougars to their first bowl game at the Fiesta Bowl on Dec. 28, 1974.

Playing Oklahoma State in front of 50,878 at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona, and televised by CBS, BYU jumped ahead 6-0 before Sheide was knocked out of the game with a shoulder injury on what he still contends was a questionable hit.

The Cowboys rallied to win 16-6.

Fifty years later, BYU and Oklahoma State share the same conference and the Cowboys will play BYU in Provo for the first time in program history on Friday, Oct. 18, at 8:15 p.m. (ESPN).

Incidentally, the Cougars will also return to Mountain American Stadium (formerly Sun Devil Stadium) on Nov. 23 against Arizona State.

40th anniversary of national championship

BYU’s 24-17 victory against Michigan in the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 21, 1984, secured the program’s first undefeated season and national championship.

Quarterback Robbie Bosco, playing on an injured knee and ankle, engineered a pair of fourth quarter touchdown drives to rally the Cougars past the Wolverines and finish the season 13-0 and ranked No. 1.

Despite finishing 1983 on an 11-game winning streak, BYU began the ‘84 season outside of the polls and eager to make an early statement at Pittsburgh.

Upsetting the No. 3 Panthers 20-14 in the opener was historic on two fronts. First, the game was the first live college football telecast on ESPN, and second, it was the first of what would become 13 straight victories.

By late November, BYU had climbed to No. 3 in the rankings, and on the same day the Cougars beat Utah 24-14 in Salt Lake City, No. 1 Nebraska lost to Oklahoma and No. 2 South Carolina was upset by Navy.

BYU took over the top spot in the AP Top 25 the following Monday and held on to it.

30th anniversary of ‘Super Saturday’ at South Bend

This year marks 30 years since BYU upset No. 17 Notre Dame 21-14 in South Bend, Indiana, on Oct. 15, 1994. Running back Jamal Willis scored his second touchdown of the game early in the fourth quarter, and it proved to be the deciding factor.

Willis amassed 75 yards rushing and 83 yards receiving while Jon Pollock’s team-high seven solo tackles and a sack infused a BYU defense that shut out the Irish in the second half.

Quarterback John Walsh told The New York Times, “Nobody gave us a chance in this game, but we believed in ourselves and that’s all that matters.”

20th anniversary of September to remember

It has been 20 years since two of the most storied programs in college football history — Notre Dame and USC — each booked trips to Provo to play BYU in the same month.

The Cougars kicked off the 2004 season against Notre Dame on Sept. 4. BYU’s defense held the Irish to 201 yards of offense while Cougar receivers Todd Watkins (five catches for 115 yards) and Austin Collie (three catches for 54 yards) stole the show.

Playing for the injured John Beck, quarterback Matt Berry came off the bench and hit Collie on a 42-yard touchdown bomb in the third quarter to give BYU a 20-3 lead, and the Cougars held on to win 20-17.

Two weeks later on Sept. 18, No. 1 USC and eventual Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush brought their Hollywood production to LaVell Edwards Stadium.

Bush rushed for 124 yards and a touchdown and also caught at touchdown pass. LenDale White ran for 115 yards and a touchdown while quarterback Matt Leinart threw for two touchdowns and ran for another in a 42-10 Trojans victory.

BYU led 3-0 midway through the second quarter before Leinart hit Bush on a 21-yard score. Bush followed that up with an electrifying 66-yard touchdown run, and the rout was on.

10th anniversary of the Taysom leap

Ten years ago, the Cougars traveled to Austin, Texas, on Sept. 6, 2014, to face the No. 25 Longhorns in front of 93,463 fans. This was supposed to be a payback game for the home team in the wake of BYU’s 40-21 one-sided victory in Provo 12 months earlier.

Texas learned quickly that there would be no payback, only more pain. After two first half field goals, the Cougars exploded for 28 points in the third quarter to amass a 34-0 lead.

Quarterback Taysom Hill rushed for three touchdowns, including a 30-yard burst and a flying leap over a Longhorns defender.

BYU routed Texas 41-7. In two games against the Longhorns, Hill combined for 358 yards rushing and six touchdowns, solidifying his Cougar legacy as a quarterback Texas couldn’t contend with.

Here and now

Celebrating and commemorating the past is important because it has done much for BYU’s present. A national championship, 40 bowl appearances, significant victories and the elevation to Power Four status will do that for a program.

As for the future, there is work to be done. Coming off a disappointing 5-7 season, the 2024 Cougars are picked to finish at or near the bottom of the Big 12, and Las Vegas lists their chances at winning another national championship this year as slim to none.

The roster of players who will report for fall camp next month (July 30) will be on their own. The past can’t win in the present, and it can’t foretell the future.

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However, history does have a place in the process.

Philosopher George Santayana wrote, “Those who don’t learn history are doomed to repeat it.” On the other hand, the sports translation could be: “Knowing that it has been done before fuels optimism that it can be done again — even when the odds scream against it.”

What makes BYU dangerous this fall is Kalani Sitake and his Cougars are an optimistic bunch.

Dave McCann is a sportswriter and columnist for the Deseret News and is a play-by-play announcer and show host for BYUtv/ESPN+. He co-hosts “Y’s Guys” at ysguys.com and is the author of the children’s book “C is for Cougar,” available at deseretbook.com.

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