By Adam Mangum
I love ‘What If’ scenarios. When I was a big-time comic book reader in the late 80s and early 90s, Marvel had a series entitled ‘What If?’ They would take popular Marvel comics story lines, and flip them with different facts and endings, exciting things like “What If Spider-Man Joined the Fantastic Four” or “What If the Avengers Lost the Evolutionary War”, my personal favorite.*
* I realize that I consistently re-affirm my complete geekiness with things I write on this blog and say during the podcast. If you want true confirmation of how geeky I really am, check out my other blog where I tackle tough questions like “The Top 5 Worst Love Interests in Superhero Movies.”
Bill Simmons has done this from a sports context, and there is a small genre of historical fiction that tackles ‘What if’ scenarios. It’s kind of fun to think about how things could turn out differently.
The ‘what if’ scenario we’re going to tackle today is: “What if BYU had joined the Big 12 10 years ago?” The genesis of this is the following: I was chastised on Twitter the other day for my concluding paragraph on a post talking about conference expansion and football independence:
But be careful what you wish for, BYU fans; an invitation to a BCS conference could just be a ticket to a decade of third place finishes and frustration, not one of multiple BCS bowl appearances, if such an invitation ever comes.
Was I showing a lack of faith in the Cougars? Maybe, but I view it as realism, not a lack of faith. Whatever you think of the Big 12 as a football conference over the past couple of years, it’s certainly better than the MWC, anchored by Texas and Oklahoma with some other good teams mixed in.
Why 10 years ago? It’s mostly arbitrary, but I picked Gary Crowton’s first year as the coach and went from there. Here are some of the things I had to consider and some of my assumptions as I wandered through the abyss of this academic exercise:
- I gave BYU Colorado’s conference schedule and kicked out CU. I left the Cougars with their own out-of-conference schedule and left the results of these games as they actually happened. I only ‘simulated’ the Big 12 conference schedule.
- I occasionally had to drop one non-conference game from BYU’s schedule because of the 8-game Big 12 conference schedule. I just chopped off the last non-conference game if needed.
- I only focused on the regular season and conference championship games; I gave no real thought to bowl games except to say if I put BYU into a BCS game.
In case you don’t want to read my brief season summaries below, I’ll give you an overall summary: BYU does pretty well, considering that there are some of the worst BYU teams of the past 30 years during this time (thanks, Crowton). The Cougars won four North division titles, making it to the Big 12 Championship Game each of those seasons (’01, ’04, ’06, ’09). This translated into only one BCS Bowl: 2006, when an 10-2 BYU teams beat Texas to advance to a BCS Bowl.
Now I realize you can argue with any of the season summaries I have below. Some may think I was too optimistic against tougher competition, and others may think I am not worthy to cheer for the blue and white because of my lack of faith.
Take a look at the season summaries, and tell me this: What do you think would have happened with BYU had joined the Big 12 ten years ago?
2001: 10-3 record, lost to Texas in the Big 12 conference championship. No BCS Bowl.
2003: 3-9. Yikes.
2004: 5-7. Lost to Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship game after ‘winning’ the North with a 4-4 record. Don’t laugh; this is actually what CU did in 2004. Despite the mediocre season, does Crowton get canned after a season where he makes it to the championship game and is that close to a BCS berth? No that’s an interesting question. But since this is my imagination, I fire Crowton. Wow, that felt good.
2005: 4-7. Bronco’s first season does not go well, with conference losses to Oklahoma State, Texas, Kansas State, Missouri and Nebraska.
2006: 11-2. BYU’s presence changes the entire Big 12 picture. Beating Oklahoma in Norman during conference play means OU does not win the South, and BYU beats UT in the championship game. The Cougars make their first BCS bowl appearance, and it becomes as great what if that if the Cougars had won one more game, they could have been playing for a second national championship. John Beck finishes 4th in the Heisman voting and is selected by the Philadelphia Eagles with the 36th pick in the draft (instead of by Miami four picks later).
2007: 6-5. Mediocre year due to a very tough conference schedule.
2008. 7-5. Another tough year due to a tough conference schedule.
2009. 9-3. Had to fudge a little here and take out the OU non-conference game. But the Cougars have a 7-1 conference record and ultimately lose to UT in the Big 12 championship game.
2010. 5-7. No bowl game for these hypothetical Cougars, but Heaps & Co. win 3 of 4 to finish the year strong and the Cougars