Mon Jul 13 12:49pm EDT
The Doc begins the preseason program in earnest with a week devoted to the little guys, building up through the major conferences on the way to counting down the opening kick on Sept. 3. And if you're going to do mid-majors, there's no better place to start than the controversial '84 national champs, celebrated this week by the Deseret News in an eight part series commemorating their 25th anniversary.
Depending on your perspective, you can quite plausibly blame -- or perhaps I should say credit -- those Cougars with the very existence of the BCS, and for setting in motion the wheels that led to the bizarre scene of a a sitting U.S. senator calling for a Justice Department investigation into college football's postseason structure last week. That may be farfetched, depending on what you see in a team that finished No. 1 in both major polls for surviving the schedule at right.
And remember: They accomplished several of those wins in dramatic fashion, including wins over teams that were supposed to be good (Pitt started the season No. 3, Michigan rose as high as No. 2 before quarterback Jim Harbaugh broke his arm) but turned out to be mere mirages. No wonder Barry Switzer went out of his way to stump for Washington after the one-loss Huskies beat Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl.
Maybe the '84 champs' enduring influence is far-fethced, but today, it's inconceivable that a team from an historically second-tier conference could finish No. 1 without beating a single team that finished in the final polls, on the heels of a two-week-old victory in the Holiday Bowl; in fact, Utah's 13-0 run last year, which featured four wins over ranked teams, completely dwarfs the Cougars' championship resumé, and the Utes didn't get a sniff at a title in the polls or otherwise, despite a much better position re: one-loss teams from bigger conferences and a more impressive win in a marquee bowl -- and Utah came closer to the top than any other upstart since the Cougars' triumph.
Whether you think that's justice in the name of top competition or scandal on the order of a federal crime, it's a fact that teams outside of the major conferences have been more or less automatically shut out of the race for No.1 since BYU snuck behind the velvet rope a quarter-century. Which may be just a coincidence, but with the evolution of the Bowl Alliance, the Bowl Coalition and finally the Bowl Championship Series -- a more radical series of changes in 15 years than the bowls had seen in the previous 50 years of "the national championship" combined before it went to the Cougars -- no one's taking any chances.