Ranking the biggest bowl games in BYU history

BYU has been a mainstay in post season football since its first bowl appearance in 1974. The have played 33 bowl games during that time with a record of 13-19-1. Along the way there have been big wins, heartbreaking losses, remarkable comebacks and more than a few memorable performances from some of the best players in Cougar history.
Here is a look at the 25 biggest bowl games in school history.
Plenty of factors were taken into consideration when doing these rankings, including big plays, meaning for the program, individual performances and value to the season.
Here is a look at the biggest 25 bowl games in school history.
Stats and award information from BYUCougars.com and Sports-reference.com.
25. 1992 Aloha Bowl: The Cougars jumped out to a 20-12 lead before falling to the Kansas Jayhawks 23-20 on a 48-yard field goal. It was a year of injuries for the Cougars who were down to fourth-string quarterback Tom Young by the time they reached the Christmas day matchup against the Jayhawks.
Young had a solid day with 262 yard through the air and a touchdown in the loss, but it wasn’t enough to overcome a tough Kansas defense. The most impressive part of the game is that BYU could still compete because the coaching staff could really recruit quarterbacks.
24. 2001 Liberty bowl: It looked like the start of a new generation of Cougar football in the first season with Gary Crowton at the helm. BYU started the season with 12 straight victories before a crushing defeat to Hawaii without Doak Walker Award winner Luke Staley.  That loss dashed the Cougars hopes for a major bowl and left them with a Liberty Bowl matchup against Conference USA champion Louisville.
BYU mustered only 272 yards of total offense without Staley as the Cardinals came away with a 28-10 victory. It turned out to be the only bowl game appearance for the Cougars under Crowton.
23. 2005 Las Vegas Bowl: After three straight losing seasons, the Cougars returned to a bowl game under first-year coach Bronco Mendenhall against the Cal Bears.
The Cougars dug themselves a huge hole because they couldn’t contain the Cal run game led by Marshawn Lynch who rushed for 194 yards and three scores.
John Beck tried to bring the Cougars back up fell just short in a 35-28 loss. Beck finished the day with 352 yards passing and three touchdowns in the first of 10 consecutive bowl appearances (and still going) for BYU.
22. 1985 Citrus Bowl: A year after winning the national championship the Cougars were back in another big bowl game after and 11-2 season. The outcome wasn’t pretty as BYU turned the ball over six times and could only muster one score.
BYU ended up with a 10-7 loss to Ohio State even though both touchdowns on the day came off the arm of Bosco. The first came on a 38-yard touchdown to David Mills and the second on a 14-yard interception return by Ohio State defender Larry Kolic.
21. 1993 Holiday Bowl: Even though the Cougars held a 389-61 edge in passing yards, Ohio State came away with 28-21 win over BYU. The catalyst for the Buckeyes in the win was Raymont Harris who put up 235 yards on the ground and three touchdowns.
Even in defeat, the Cougars showed that they had another dominant quarterback as John Walsh accounted for 389 yards, including touchdown passes of 27, 8 and 27 yards.
20. 2010 New Mexico Bowl: After a terrible start to the season, the Cougars were able to right the ship behind the arm of freshman signal caller Jake Heaps.
Their great second half play carried over to the New Mexico bowl led by Heaps and two other freshmen. In a 52-24 win over UTEP, Heaps completed 73.5 percent of his passes for 264 yards and four touchdowns. His favorite target was Cody Hoffman who totaled eight catches for 137 yards and three scores. The third piece of the puzzle was running back Joshua Quezada who had 101 yards and a touchdown.
It looked like the start of a special run for the Cougars, but it never came to pass as both Heaps and Quezada left BYU before finishing their eligibility.
19. 1991 Holiday Bowl: In the last game of BYU legend Ty Detmer, the Cougars had to settle for a 13-13 tie (yes! they used to let you tie in bowl games) against the No. 7 ranked Iowa Hawkeyes.
Iowa scored the games first 13 points before Detmer threw two touchdown passes to square the game at 13. BYU had a chance to win it late but the Hawkeyes got an interception in the end zone to secure the tie.
Detmer threw for 350 yards, including touchdown passes of 9 and 26 yards to end his career on a strange note.
18. 1978 Holiday Bowl: The Cougars couldn’t hold onto a big lead as Navy came back to beat BYU 23-16 in the first Holiday Bowl.
Jim McMahon accounted for both BYU touchdowns, including a 10-yard pass to Mike Chronister and a 2-yard run to give the Cougars a 16-3 lead in the third quarter.
The midshipmen scored the next 20 to give BYU its third straight bowl defeat. Even though BYU lost, it did start the lasting legacy of BYU to the Holiday bowl and gave us a glimpse of what was to come from Jim McMahon.
17. 1987 All-American Bowl: Although the Cougars lost 22-16 to the Virginia Cavaliers, the game was remembered by some remarkable individual performances.
Fred Whittingham scored both of the Cougars’ touchdowns, including an 8-yard run and a 1-yard reception from quarterback Sean Covey. Even though Whittingham was the only one who found the end zone for the Cougar, he wasn’t the only offensive player to have a huge day. David Miles had 188 yards receiving while Covey completed 37 of 61 passes for 394 yards and a touchdown.
16. 1989 Holiday Bowl: Even though the Cougars got beat 50-39 by Penn State, it was the performance by Ty Detmer that made this game special.
In the loss, Detmer threw for  a bowl game record 576 yards and two touchdowns to go along with two rushing scores to share the game MVP honors with Penn State running back Blair Thomas.
That day gave Detmer and the Cougars plenty of notoriety heading into his Heisman Trophy winning junior season.
15. 2014 Miami Beach Bowl: although the game is just a day old, it will leave lasting memories in the minds of Cougar fans for years to come. The 55-48 double overtime loss was a fitting cap to a difficult season that saw BYU lose much of its top-level talent to injury including the likes of Taysom Hill, Jamaal Williams, Craig Bills, Alani Fua, Jordan Johnson and Bronson Kaufusi.
Through all of that adversity the Cougars managed to hang in games while adjusting to a new quarterback before finally figuring it out and winning the last four games of the season.
Like so many games during the middle of the year, BYU had its chances but couldn’t quite figure it out in a heartbreaking loss to the Tigers. Add in the fact that there was a nasty brawl following the games final whistle and its easy to see that it was a game fans wont soon forget.
14. 2011 Armed Forces Bowl: The 24-21 win over the Tulsa Golden Hurricanes  can be summed up using four names – Riley Nelson, Cody Hoffman, Kyle Van Noy and Riley Stephenson.
Nelson didn’t have his best game, but made enough plays to lead the Cougars to victory. He completed 17 of 40 passes for 250 yards and three touchdowns, including the game winning score with just :11 remaining. Hoffman was on the end of the game winning pass to cap off a game that saw him make eight catches for 122 yards and all three BYU touchdowns.
Stephenson punted eight times in the contest for an average of 41.9 yards, including seven punts that pinning Tulsa inside its own 20-yard line.
Van Noy carried the defense to the come-from-behind win with 10 tackles, including five tackles for loss and a pair of sacks.
13. 2012 Poinsettia Bowl: For a school that normally makes headlines because of the offense, it was the defense that won the day in the 23-6 victory over the San Diego State Aztecs. Namely, it was Kyle Van Noy who put on a show to lead BYU to victory.
Van Noy’s line from the game is still unbelievable. He finished with a blocked punt, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, an interception, 1.5 sacks, 3.5 tackles for loss, eight tackles and two of the three BYU touchdowns.
The win gave the Cougars a school record fourth straight bowl win.
12. 1988 Freedom Bowl: BYU had two quarterbacks throw touchdown passes as the Cougars came from behind to outlast the Colorado Buffaloes 20-17. Sean Covey registered the first touchdown pass on a 14-completion to Mike Salido before he was replaced. Ty Detmer took over the reins and completed 11 of 19 passes for 129 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown pass to Chuck Cutler. His play was good enough for Detmer to earn MVP honors
Even though it wasn’t his most impressive performance, it was the only bowl game the Cougars won with Ty Detmer under center.
11. 1981 Holiday Bowl: The Cougars did most of their work through the air as they outlasted Washington State 38-36 for their second straight bowl win.
Jim McMahon went over 300 yards passing, including touchdown passes of 35, 7 and 11 yards. His favorite target on the day was Gordon Hudson who caught seven passes for 126 yards and a score.
Tom Holmoe also found the end zone on a 35-yard interception return as BYU showed that the 1980 Holiday victory wasn’t a fluke.
10. 2007 Las Vegas Bowl: While Austin Collie won the MVP award, it was a play by Eathyn Manumaleuna that saved the game as the Cougars beat UCLA 17-16 in their third of five straight trips to the Las Vegas Bowl.
Manumaleuna blocked a 28-yard field goal attempt in the closing seconds to outlast the Bruins.
Collie didnt have a bad day either with six catches for 107 yards and a 14-yard touchdown, but it will always be remembered for the blocked kick.
9. 2009 Las Vegas Bowl: While winning close games is nice, blowing out quality Pac-12 opponents is even better. That is exactly what the Cougars did in 2009 as they crushed Oregon State 44-20.
After the Beavers jumped out to a 7-0 lead, the Cougars scored 37 straight points, including touchdowns by Harvey Unga, Matt Bauman, Luke Ashworth, Dennis Pitta and Manase Tonga.
Even though Max Hall won the MVP after throwing for 192 yards and three touchdowns, it was a total team effort that saw BYU improve to 11-2 on the season.
8. 2006 Las Vegas Bowl: The most impressive of the three Las Vegas bowl victories under Bronco Mendenhall came in 2006 when the Cougars drilled Oregon 38-8.
BYU amassed 548 yards of offense, including 375 through the air to win its first bowl game in 1996. Jonny Harline put up a good chunk of the offense with nine receptions for 181 yards, including a 41-yard touchdown catch. Curtis Brown added 120 yards and two touchdowns in the run game to go along with seven catches for 55 yards.
After four straight losing seasons, the huge win showed that the Cougars were back in the spotlight.
7. 1974 Fiesta Bowl: The Cougars outgained the Oklahoma State Cowboys by a large margin, but couldn’t overcome the loss of quarterback Gary Sheide as they fell 16-6.
BYU took the early lead on a pair of field goals before Sheide was sidelined with a dislocated shoulder, according to BYUCougars.com. After that, BYU had no answers as the Cowboys scored 16 unanswered points for the win.
Even though the Cougars got beat, just making it to a bowl game was huge. In fact, it was the first ever bowl appearance by a BYU team.
6. 1994 Copper Bowl:The Cougars dominated both sides of the ball from start to finish as they dismantled the Oklahoma Sooners 31-6.
Quarterback John Walsh did most of the damage as he completed 31 of 45 passes for 454 yards, including touchdown passes of 7, 25, 4 and 28. Bryce Doman accounted for a pair of the BYU scores while Mike Johnston added the other two.
The win gave LaVell Edwards his second to last bowl win and gave BYU its highest post season AP ranking since 1985. It was also the last of a school-record 17 straight years that BYU made a bowl game.
5. 1979 Holiday Bowl: The Cougars fell to the Indiana Hoosiers 38-37 in devastating fashion when Brent Johnson missed a 27-yard field goal with :11 remaining.
Marc Wilson was the offensive MVP with 380 yards passing and three touchdowns. His favorite target on the day was Clay Brown who registered nine receptions for 142 yards.
The narrow loss kept that Cougars from recording the first undefeated football season in school history.
4. 1983 Holiday Bowl: Steve Young helped the Cougars find the end zone in three different ways as they came from behind to beat the Missouri Tigers 21-17.
With BYU trailing late in the fourth quarter, the Cougars executed the perfect throwback pass from Eddie Stinnett to Young who took it 14 yards for the game winning score.
Young earned MVP honors with a 10-yard rushing touchdown, a 33-yard passing touchdown and the 14-yard receiving touchdown. Stinnett also had a big day with a receiving touchdown to go along with his game-winning touchdown throw.
3. 1996 Cotton Bowl: In their first New Year’s Day Bowl game in school history, the Cougars used two fourth quarter touchdowns to knock off the Kansas State Wildcats 19-15.
Steve Sarkisian shared the offensive MVP honors after he threw touchdown passes to James Dye and K.O. Kealaluhi.
The defensive side of the ball was owned by Shay Muirbrook who had six sacks, including the first score of the game on a safety to win the defensive MVP.
The win propelled the Cougars to a school best 14 wins and also gave LaVell Edwards his last bowl game victory.
2. 1980 Holiday Bowl: Jim McMahon led the Cougars back from a huge deficit in the fourth quarter too stun the SMU Mustangs 46-45.
Trailing by 20 points with a little more than four minutes remaining, the Cougars scored three touchdowns, including a 41-yard pass from McMahon to Clay Brown to give BYU its first bowl win.
McMahon completed 32 of 49 passes for 446 yards and four touchdowns.
The most amazing win in BYU (and quite possibly all of college football) history isn’t at the top of the list for one reason – it didnt bring the Cougars a National Championship.
1. 1984 Holiday Bowl: Robbie Bosco threw two fourth quarter touchdown passes as the Cougars knocked off the Michigan Wolverines 24-17.
Bosco won the MVP after BYU put up 371 yards in the passing game. Kelly Smith and David Mills were his favorite targets in the win. Smith caught 10 passes for 88 yards and had a pair of touchdowns, including the game winner while Mills had 11 receptions for 103 yards.
It wasn’t the biggest comeback or the most impressive win. It wasn’t against the tought team or have record-setting performances, but the 1984 Holiday Bowl brought the Cougars their one and only National Championship. For that reason, it is the biggest Bowl game in BYU history.

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