BYU Football: Is Utah the Biggest Season Opener Ever?
Thursday will be the first time that the Utes and Cougars have ever met to start off the season.
Most college teams around the nation open up their seasons against FCS or low G5 games. Take for example Arkansas who will be playing Portland State this year and most years opens up with a team like Troy or Coastal Carolina. BYU is not like most schools.
The Cougars historically, even before going Independent, have opened with big games more times than not. While a lot of those games were huge opportunities for the Cougars, it is a valid question to ask, 'Is Thursday's game the biggest ever?'
The answer... It's complicated.
Depending on how you view the rivalry and the importance that you put into it will determine whether it is the biggest game or not. Someone could argue that beating Utah for the first time in a decade while all but destroying the Utes' preseason hype at the same time would have a valid point.
I'm not going to take it that way though. Although the rivalry factor does give the tiebreaker to some of the other games, it isn't the biggest game ever. Here is a list of the Top 6 biggest season openers for the Cougars.
Honorable Mentions: 2016 Nebraska, 1999 Washington, 2004 Notre Dame, 1997 Washington, 1979 Texas A&M
6. 2011 Ole Miss and 2017 Arizona
While Ole Miss wasn't ranked, or even a very good team in 2011, it was the first game in Independence for the Cougars and it left a strong statement to all of college football that BYU was for real. Most of the time when a team goes Independent it is because they are searching for a new conference or too weak to be in another conference (Liberty, UMass, NMSU). A loss would have potentially put BYU in that category since it was a bad SEC team. That is why that game was so important. BYU ended any thought of that when they took down the Rebels in the first game.
Arizona similar to Ole Miss was a chance to show that BYU Football wasn't fading after Bronco Mendenhall left. Many thought that hiring a coach with no head coaching experience was going to be the end of BYU being a good team and beating Arizona in week one helped prove that the Cougars weren't going to fall back out of relevance.
5. 1991 #1 Florida State
Ty Detmer was coming off a Heisman Trophy season and was hoping to lead his team to a National Championship in 1991. #1 Florida State stood in their way at a game that was played in Anaheim, California. A win would have probably pushed the Cougars all the up to a Top 5 team in the nation whereas a loss would put some perspective to how good the Cougars actually were. Turns out they weren't as great as fans hoped as they not only lost to Florida State, but the following two teams as well.
4. 2000 #2 Florida State
Everyone knew that BYU wasn't going to have a super special season in 2000 and most knew that Lavell Edwards was likely going to retire at the end of the year. Florida State gave Edwards one last huge national game in the first game of the season when the Cougars traveled down to Tallahassee. The win would have been a huge upset and an opportunity for Edwards to put another feather in his already great legacy. Unfortunately for the Cougars, they lost 39-3.
3. 2019 #14 Utah
This years game is the third biggest game for an opener in BYU Football history. It is also the biggest home game to start off the season. The Cougars not only will have the chance to beat their rival and essentially ruin their season, but the win would give the Cougars a path to a really special season as the only other true top 15 team they will play this season is Washington. Add on the fact that the team is in a vulnerable position with young impact players and this game is a huge opening game.
2. 2009 #3 Oklahoma
All of the hype in college football was around Sam Bradford and the Oklahoma Sooners. The game was played in the brand new Dallas Cowboy stadium and the game was prime time on ESPN. Led by Max Hall, the 20th ranked Cougars knew that like 1984, if they beat the third ranked team they would be set up for a run at the National Championship. They took down the Sooners and were in a position to make a run before losing to Florida State a few weeks later.
1. 1984 #3 Pittsburgh
In 1984, Pittsburgh ended up not being very good due to injuries and a lack of morale after not meeting preseason expectations. That didn't matter though to BYU. When the Cougars beat them, they were No. 3 in the nation and that is all anyone knew. It propelled the Cougars in the Top 25 to a position where they were able to make a move for the National Championship later in the season.