The legacy of Jim McMahon at BYU: Ranking his 10 greatest games as a Cougar

There will be plenty of reasons for Cougar fans to cheer on Friday night. Not only does instate rival Utah State come to town for a big game, but BYU will also be honoring one of the best signal callers in school history in Jim McMahon.
33 years after he shattered NCAA passing and offense records, McMahon will finally have his number retired at LaVell Edwards Stadium. With such a special night right around the corner, it gives us just enough time to relive his remarkable Cougar career by ranking his best games at BYU.Here is a look at the best-of-the-best games for McMahon under center.

10. Sept. 13, 1980 vs. San Diego State

McMahon had his first huge game as a junior just one week after BYU suffered its only loss of the 1980 season 25-21 to New Mexico. In the 35-11 win over San Diego State, he completed 19-of-30 passes for 373 yards, including two touchdown throws to Clay Brown as well as one each to Scott Phillips and Bill Davis.

9. Oct. 11, 1980 vs. Wyoming

McMahon had his first of nine 400 yard passing games as the Cougars beat up the Cowboys 52-17. In the win, he completed 22-of-31 attempts for 408 yards, including touchdown passes to Bill Davis, Dan Plater, Matt Braga and Clay Brown. He also 15 yards rushing on four carries.

8. Nov. 22, 1980 vs. Utah

The rivalry game wasn’t much of a game as McMahon did damage in the running and passing game as the Cougars cruised to a 56-6 victory. In the win, he completed 21-of-34 passes for 399 yards and three touchdowns.  He also carried the ball eight times for 27 yards a another score.

7. Nov. 29, 1980 vs. UNLV

McMahon had another big day as the Cougars put up at least 50 points for the fifth time on the season in a 54-14 win over UNLV. In the victory, he completed 21-of-37 passes for 338 yards and five touchdowns, including a pair of touchdown throws to Scott Phillips as well as one each to Matt Braga, Dan Plater and Eric Lane.  McMahon also recorded 12 carries for 43 yards, including scores of 11 and 2 yards.

6. Nov. 15, 1980 vs. Colorado State

McMahon always played well against the Rams and the 1980 game was no different. In the 45-14 win, he completed 23-of-33 passes for 441 yards and five touchdowns even though he exited the game with 10 minutes remaining in the third quarter, according to

5.Oct. 18, 1980 vs. Utah State

Many consider the game against the Aggies as his best game ever and it probably would have been had he not thrown three interceptions.  In the 70-46 win, he completed 21-of-33 passes for 485 yards and six touchdowns. He also added 10 carries for 31 yards and two rushing touchdowns for the eight score day.

4. Nov. 1, 1980 vs. UTEP

The Miners didn’t pose much of a test for McMahon and the Cougars set a new WAC and school scoring recording, according to as BYU destroyed UTEP, 83-7. In the massive win, he completed 28-of-36 passes for 451 yards and six touchdowns against just one interception, including a pair of touchdown throws to both Clay Brown and Scott Phillips.  As past of his big passing day, McMahon threw for 372 yards in the first half alone, according to

3. Nov. 21, 1981 vs. Utah

McMahon set his BYU career-high in passing yards as the Cougars outdistanced the Utes 56-28.  In the lopsided win, he threw for 565 yards and four touchdowns, including 259 yards and two touchdowns to Gordon Hudson as the Cougars improved to 10-2 on the season and won the WAC title, according to

2. Nov. 7, 1981 vs. Colorado State

McMahon set his BYU career-high in touchdown passes and finished with his second highest passing yardage mark as the Cougars hammered the Rams 63-14. In the win, he completed 44 passes for 538 yards and seven touchdowns, including three to Gordon Hudson.

1. Dec. 19, 1980 vs. SMU

Sometimes games are about what a player does on the field while others are about impact on a program and on a school. The 1980 Holiday Bowl was an impressive statistical day for McMahon, but it is remembered much more for his impact.  On that day, the Cougars scored on a “Hail Mary” from McMahon to Clay Brown to win 46-45.  In the come-from-behind victory, he completed 32-of-49 passes for 446 yards, including touchdown passes of 64, 13, 15 and 41 yards.


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