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BYU Football - 1996 Team
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BYU Football To Honor 1996 Cotton Bowl Team Against Arizona State

  25 of 580701fbccougars.spt.155d 50937.jpg   Players, coaches and those involved with the 1996 Cotton Bowl champion football team pose for a photo during BYU Media Day at BYU Broadcasting in Provo on Thursday, June 30, 2016. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

PROVO, Utah – One of the greatest teams in BYU football history will be honored on Saturday night. This weekend members of BYU’s storied 1996 team that won 14 games will be celebrated during the Cougars game against No. 23 Arizona State.

It’s crazy to think, but 2021 marks the 25th anniversary of BYU’s memorable 1996 team coached by the legendary LaVell Edwards.

The 1996 edition of BYU football put together the first-ever 15-game season, finishing with a 14-1 record and winning the Cotton Bowl over Kansas State. The program’s first appearance in a New Year’s Day bowl game. A huge turnaround from the 7-4 campaign a year prior that left BYU out of the postseason for the first time in nearly 20 years.

According to BYU associate athletic director Chad Lewis, who was a starting tight end for BYU 25 years ago, nearly everyone will be in Provo for this weekend’s celebration. However, there will be one player from that team who won’t be in attendance.

That’s former starting quarterback Steve Sarkisian.

Sarkisian is currently the head coach of the Texas Longhorns and his squad will be hosting the Rice Owls on Saturday night.

During his senior year in 1996, Sarkisian led the country in passing efficiency at 173.56 and won the Sammy Baugh Trophy, an award given to the nation’s top collegiate passer.

Coach Edwards passed away in 2016. Months before his passing, Edwards reunited with members of the ’96 squad for a 20-year anniversary during BYU’s annual football Media Day event.

Depth defined BYU football in 1996

The depth on BYU’s 1996 team is one of the defining traits of that squad. At tight end, BYU had Lewis and Itula Mili forming one of the nation’s top tight end tandems. At running back, heralded freshman Ronney Jenkins teamed up with JUCO transfer Brian McKenzie to give BYU’s high-octane passing attack elite speed on the ground.

On defense, BYU was led by senior linebacker Shay Muirbrook. Muribrook recorded six sacks in the Cotton Bowl win over Kansas State and was inducted into the Cotton Bowl Hall of Fame for his memorable performance. The Cougars also had a pair of star-studded cornerbacks in Tim McTyer and Omarr “The Blanket” Morgan providing lockdown coverage against opposing wide receivers.

With the third phase of the game, BYU had the nation’s most electrifying return man in James Dye.

It was a complete team that nearly completed BYU’s second perfect season had it not been for a slipup against Washington in Seattle.

Could the 1996 team be considered the greatest team in BYU football history? Lewis says no because the 1984 team was the only BYU team that was perfect. But the talent from the 1996 team will never be forgotten by Cougar fans.

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

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