If Jake Locker doesn’t know, it’s a pretty safe bet that a lot of Washington Huskies fans don’t know.
And as of Monday, UW’s sophomore quarterback didn’t know that the Huskies have an old score to settle when Brigham Young visits Husky Stadium at noon Saturday.
That score dates to 1984 – before Locker was born – and it involves a national championship flag that flies over Provo, Utah, instead of Seattle.
“I was completely unaware of that,” Locker said. “So, I had no idea that had even occurred.”
That season, Brigham Young went 13-0. Washington went 11-1, with perfection – and the Pacific-10 Conference title – lost in a 16-7 defeat at Southern California.
After BYU capped its season with a 24-17 win over Michigan in the Holiday Bowl and UW with a 28-17 win over second-ranked Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, all that was left was to see what the polls would value more: perfection in the Western Athletic Conference or near-perfection in the Pac-10.
Both major polls went for perfection. BYU finished first in the Associated Press poll, as the Cougars got 38 first-place votes to Washington’s 16 (and Florida’s six). The coaches poll gave 38 first-place votes to BYU, while giving three each to Washington and Florida.
Washington got No. 1 nods from the Berryman and Football News polls, and a share of the title from the National Championship Foundation. However, BYU is considered that season’s consensus champion.
But not everyone agreed – then or now.
NBC sportscaster Bryant Gumbel and Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer – still referred to in the BYU media guide as “so-called experts” – accused BYU of playing a “Bo-Diddley Tech” schedule.
As recently as last season, then-UW athletic director Todd Turner said he would consider the 1984 team’s claim to the national title and perhaps choose to have the university officially recognize it, as was belatedly done with the 1960 team.
“The fact that we didn’t win our conference I think ultimately is what did us in,” said radio personality Hugh Millen, who quarterbacked those ‘84 Huskies. “I’m not saying there was a real hands-down unequivocal national champion for the ages for that particular year. But every season has to have a champion, and they’ve had two-loss teams be champion both recently and historically. I don’t know that being undefeated warrants you the national championship if you’re coming from a lesser conference. ... Basically, BYU in 1984 to me looks a heck of a lot like Hawaii in 2007.”
In his case for Pac-10 superiority, Millen noted that Pac-10 teams won the Rose, Orange and Fiesta bowls that season. Also, Washington’s regular season included a win over Southwest Conference champion Houston. And the Huskies beat the one common opponent – Michigan – by more points on the road than BYU managed at a neutral site.
Current UW coach Tyrone Willingham was an assistant at North Carolina State in 1984. Whatever he thought of the controversy back then, he has no doubt about the rightful champion now.
“Obviously, Washington,” he said Thursday. “Come on.”
Purple passions aside, Brigham Young’s 1984 season may be remembered by much of the country as a feel-good Cinderella tale. And Millen went out of his way to acknowledge that Cougars fans have a case, too.
BYU opened unranked, debuted at No. 12, climbed as high as third, and broke through to No. 1 on Nov. 17 after the Cougars’ defeat of Utah combined with Nebraska’s upset of No. 1 Oklahoma and Navy’s upset No. 2 South Carolina.
They went on to visit Ronald Reagan in the White House. LaVell Edwards was selected national coach of the year. And 15 players from that team went on to play in the NFL.
And the following season when Washington and Brigham Young finally did meet on a football field, BYU rolled to a 31-3 victory in Provo, Utah.
In his final meeting with the media before kickoff against BYU, Willingham said that tailback Brandon Johnson (calf) was limited this week and is questionable for Saturday. Johnson was second on the depth chart behind Chris Polk, and if he can’t go, Willie Griffin or David Freeman would likely move up to the top reserve role. ... On the other hand, tight end Michael Gottlieb (hamstring) remains likely to make his season debut.
Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808
1984 BYU season (13-0)
at Colorado StateW52-9
at Air ForceW30-25
at New MexicoW48-0
San Diego StateW34-3
1984 UW season (11-1)
at Oregon StateW19-7
at USCL 7-16