Give the Cougars credit for going undefeated because there is not much else they did in 1984 to deserve national championship consideration. Several “mid-major” teams since, like Boise State in 2006, Utah in 2004, and Tulane in 1998, have gone undefeated only to miss out on any serious national title consideration.
The Cougars defeated only one bowl team during the regular season (Air Force), and did not play anyone who finished the season ranked in the top 20. BYU’s most impressive road win was at Pittsburgh, who finished the season 3-7-1.
Lavell Edwards’ squad clinched the national championship by playing in the Holiday Bowl against a 6-5 Michigan team, easily Bo Schembechler’s worst squad in his 21 years in Ann Arbor. It is still the only Michigan team to finish without a winning record since 1967.
Also, the Holiday Bowl has not played host to another game with national title implications before or since 1984.
The AP probably should’ve awarded their No. 1 ranking to Washington, a team that went 11-1 and won the Orange Bowl over No. 2 Oklahoma. Instead, the Huskies finished second in the final poll behind a BYU team that had not truly been tested all season.
Georgia Tech, 1990
Bobby Ross’ Yellow Jackets came out of nowhere to win the UPI national title in 1990 largely because, like BYU, they were the only undefeated team at the end of the season. The “Ramblin’ Wreck” finished the season with a solid 11-0-1 record.
But the ACC, which had not yet added Florida State, was still a conference where most schools put basketball well ahead of football in the pecking order.
The Jackets’ only blemish was a tie against North Carolina, who would finish the season 6-4-1 and miss out on a bowl. Big wins for the Jackets included Virginia, who was ranked No. 1 at the time of the game, and Clemson, who finished No. 8. Those were the only two ranked opponents that Tech played during the regular season.
In fact, Virginia would go on to lose three more times, including the Sugar Bowl to SEC champion Tennessee, and finish 23rd in the final AP Poll.
Tech travelled to Orlando for the Citrus Bowl to play a Nebraska team coming off an embarrassing 45-10 drubbing by Oklahoma in the regular season finale. Tech would win convincingly over the plodding Cornhuskers 45-21.
In fact, Nebraska was so upset about how their season ended that head coach Tom Osborne changed his recruiting philosophy to pursue faster players. The 1990 Cornhuskers finished the season ranked No. 24, the lowest-ranked team Tom Osborne ever coached in Lincoln.
Give Georgia Tech credit for picking the right year to go 11-0-1. It was the best record in the country and the UPI poll awarded them with a national championship. However, Tech likely would’ve been underdog to any other team in the top five had they played in a bowl game.
The Citrus Bowl, like the Holiday, has still not hosted another game with national title implications.
The year started off slowly for the Buffaloes, with a season-opening tie against Tennessee in the Pigskin Classic and a loss at Illinois in their third game. However, the Buffs would not see another blemish on their record as they closed out the year with 10 consecutive victories.
A key turning point for Colorado was an out-of-conference win at eventual SWC champion Texas the week after the Illinois loss. CU would go on to convincingly defeat ranked opponents Oklahoma and Nebraska and win the Big Eight with an undefeated conference record.
However, the season did not end without controversy, as the team narrowly escaped Missouri with a late touchdown on what turned out to be the fifth down of that particular series.
In the Orange Bowl, Colorado needed a clipping penalty on Notre Dame to bring back a punt return for a touchdown by Rocket Ismail that helped preserve a tight 10-9 win.
Colorado was probably the best team during 1990 and played several quality opponents, but ended up being only the second AP national champion ever to have both a loss and tie on their record.
Due to their controversial wins over Missouri and Notre Dame, a very good argument could be made that the Buffaloes did not deserve the national title.