What Caused BYU Football To End The 2010s With Zero Top 25 Finishes?

Jan 14, 2020, 11:29 AM | Updated: 11:36 am
LaVell Edwards Stadium...
(BYU plays against Washington during the third quarter on September 21, 2019 at LaVell Edwards Stadium.)
(BYU plays against Washington during the third quarter on September 21, 2019 at LaVell Edwards Stadium.)

PROVO, Utah – It’s not often BYU football goes an entire decade without a top 25 finish, but that’s what took place in the 2010s.

With the 2019 college football season now over, the final polls were released making it official that 7-6 BYU was not in the Associated Press Top 25 poll. There was no chance of that happening to begin with after the Cougars lost their final two games of the season against San Diego State and Hawaii. But what it highlights though is that the 2010s were the first decade since the 1960s that BYU went an entire decade without a Top 25 finish in the AP poll.

That’s before LaVell Edwards became the head coach.

The previous four decades saw BYU produce 17 top 25 finishes, with five of those taking place in the 2000s. BYU had one Top 25 finish in the coaches poll back in 2011, ranking at No. 25. The Cougars benefitted from USC receiving a postseason ban making them ineligible to be ranked in the Coaches Poll.

Is Independence the cause?

Many would make a knee jerk reaction that BYU finishing with zero ranked seasons is a byproduct of being an independent. Independence plays a role in because of the imbalance of the schedules.

During the independence era (since 2011), BYU’s final strength of schedule average has been 67th nationally. The toughest schedule was in 2013 where BYU finished 8-5 and had the 38th most challenging schedule according to Sagarin.

The second-toughest schedule oddly enough was the first year of the decade in 2010 when BYU was still a member of the Mountain West Conference. BYU’s strength of schedule rating that year was 55th.

BYU is playing more Power 5 programs than ever before, but they are also playing more of the cellar dwellers in college football than when they were in the Mountain West. Opening a season with a four straight Power 5’s is never ideal, but it’s the only time BYU can schedule those teams.

The positive for BYU is that they are showing an ability to knock off Power 5 teams when they have good seasons. BYU has three wins over the last two years against P5 programs that finished with 8 wins in a season.

Struggles at Quarterback

Looking at the seasons where BYU finished ranked in the Top 25, the Cougars were blessed to have excellent quarterbacks who stayed healthy. That wasn’t the case in the past decade.

It’s well documented that the only season over the last decade BYU had one quarterback start each and every week was 2013. The season where BYU had its toughest schedule in the past 10 years.

From season-ending injuries to lack of year-over-year improvement, it left BYU in the decade without a season that made a mark on the national landscape.

Will the 2020s produce a Top 25 finish for BYU?

Yes, I think BYU will find a way to get a Top 25 finish in the upcoming decade. This past season BYU had 10 wins in front of them if they had taken care of business against Group of 5 teams. That will be the key for BYU moving forward. Can they take care of business against opponents from the Group of 5 that they are favored against? If they can, they will find a way to produce a nine or ten-win season that puts them around the Top 25.

But it won’t be easy as the number of games against Power 5 teams isn’t slowing down. Over the next two years, BYU will play 13 games against programs from Power 5 conferences.

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12-3 pm) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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What Caused BYU Football To End The 2010s With Zero Top 25 Finishes?