Utah Is A Top 50 Team All-Time, BYU Is Not

Aug 19, 2019, 11:01 AM | Updated: 11:17 am
Head coach Lavell Edwards of Brigham Young University stands between his players Ronney Jenkins and...
Head coach Lavell Edwards of Brigham Young University stands between his players Ronney Jenkins and Jared Kennedy during their 31-3 win over Southern Methodist University at Cougar Stadium in Provo, Utah. Mandatory Credit: Andy Lyons/Allsp

PROVO, Utah – The 2019 college football season is the celebration 150 years of the sport. There are plenty of lists to get fans excited, some include – All-Time Teams, All-Time All-Americans. A list of the top 50 programs caught Scott Mitchell and Alex Kirry of KSL’s UnRivaled off-guard.

ESPN ranked the top 50 programs of all-time. The usual suspects were at the top with Alabama, Notre Dame and Ohio State. The encompassing list includes Ivy powers of the past and non-Division I teams.

Locally on the list, it is Utah and not BYU that makes the cut. The Utes come in at 49th.

Utah is one of eight teams on the list without a national title.

To understand how this list was put together, first one has to know at the criteria. The percentages included represent the weight each factor was given.

  • Dominance, 20% – Number of national championships
  • Peak strength, 20% – Winning percentage for best 50 seasons in program history
  • Since integration, 30% – Winning percentage over the past 50 seasons (1969-2018)
  • Early modern, 20% – Winning percentage over the middle 50 seasons (1919-1968). Mostly pre-integration and included some games against non-college teams
  • Pre-modern, 10% – Winning percentage over the first 50 seasons (1869-1918) *mostly pre-standardization of current rules and many games against non-college teams

These numbers place an emphasis on longevity for programs like the dominant Ivy League – Yale, Harvard and Princeton. Those schools won a lot of games in a time when there were fewer schools and well before teams were integrated.

Not all wins and national titles are created equal but even with the break up of eras to adjust for the disparity, those early adopters of college football who played well have the edge.

BYU Snubbed

BYU has been a brand since legendary head coach LaVell Edwards took the sidelines in 1972. Edwards posted just one losing season in 28 years. He led BYU to a national title in 1984.

There are countless All-American quarterbacks from BYU with the pinnacle being Ty Detmer’s Heisman Trophy in 1990.

The Cougars join Army as the only non-power schools to win a national title at the highest level during the poll era beginning in 1936 to be left off of ESPN’s list.

The winning is where BYU shines and over the past 50 years, they are one of the elite college football teams with the 10th most wins making the omission even more puzzling for the Cougars.

While the last 50 years have been beyond great for BYU, from 1920 until the Edwards era the program had some lean years, which is a partial explanation for the snub. With winning percentage from 1869-1968 counting for 30 percent of the formula, those years dinged the Cougars quite a bit.

Kirry, co-host of KSL’s UnRivaled, found it hard to believe that BYU is not on a list that includes multiple current FCS teams, a Division III school in Mount Union, plus Boise State who started as a JUCO and has only been an FBS member since 1996.

“In my mind, I think, ‘how on Earth did BYU not make the list?’ Before you make this decision saying that this ‘BYU fan is making excuses for this team.’ That is not what I am doing,” Kirry said.

Playing at the highest level of college football should count for something. The Cougars may not be in a Power 5 conference but they were playing an FBS/I-A schedule which is more than current FCS teams can say, according to Kirry.

“I really think that these lists that are arbitrarily thrown together with Yale being between Michigan and Nebraska on the top 10,” Kirry said. “I get it, I may not necessarily know all the history where Yale is on the great history list of football. What I will tell you is they have never ever gotten close to the national championship level football that we see today.”

There are a lot of historical teams on the list and there is no argument the Ivy League schools have a place in college football for how well they fared.

However, BYU did a lot more than just win games. Look at what Edwards’, former offensive coordinator Norm Chow, and other offensive coaches did in Provo. He left a lasting legacy on college football that is still around today, Kirry continued.


The passing game at BYU has been replicated across the country and over history. At the time teams were not throwing all that much, in came the Cougars who decided to throw all the time with a vertical passing attack.

Washington State head coach Mike Leach was at BYU and part of his passing attack can be traced to his time in Provo. Chow went to USC to help win national titles and he even made Vince Young a solid NFL quarterback with the Tennesee Titans.

“You can’t leave a team like BYU off of the top 50 teams of all-time in college football because of the legacy of one of the great coaches that’s ever been in college football,” Kirry said. “Edwards was at the school for 34 years coaching a team that won a national title and had a Heisman Trophy. Eight teams that are on the list have not won a national championship and are just there due to recent success.”

The contributions BYU had should be held in higher regard and be considered on a list like this. However, when it is pure numbers over 150 years of college football those type of things don’t count at all.

Former Utah quarterback Scott Mitchell, the other half of KSL’s Unrivaled, agreed that BYU should be considered one of the best college football programs ever. Football has evolved and changed so much that the rules have drastically changed from that Princeton v Rutgers game that started it all back in 1869.

“It is really, really hard for me to comprehend some of these schools that go back to the 1800s, and really say, ‘yeah, that is college football, that is kind of the essence’ but it is not. It is hard to buy this whole list,” Mitchell said.

Utah Barely Makes The Cut

Utah checks in at number 49. One reason being Utah’s best 50-year stretch back in the 1920s and 1930s.

Other elite years that helped the Utes crack the list started when Urban Meyer was hired in 2002. He led Utah to a 22-2 record with a Fiesta Bowl win as the first BCS bowl buster.

Next, Kyle Whittingham took over and went undefeated in 2008, plus a slow but steady upward trajectory in the Pac-12 helped the Utes.

Utah has a case to be even higher on this list when looking at other programs above them. Both hosts point to Boise State who comes in at 23. According to the duo, Utah should be above Boise State.

“Boise State is there and I am not going to diss Boise State, ever. Its contributions to college football in the last 20 years have been as important for small schools as there ever has been,” Kirry said “I think Boise State has done more for the BCS-busting kind of way of life than Utah did before they were invited to the Pac-12. However, their national title is I-AA… don’t act like this national title as if it were the same others. Boise State I like, but they are not number 23 all-time in college football.”

Tune into KSL’s Unrivaled every Monday through Friday, 7-9 p.m., or download the KSL NewsRadio app to subscribe to the podcast.

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