The Washington Huskies won the 1984 National Championship but the voters forgot or were not paying attention.
In one of the closest votes ever, BYU eclipsed UW in both the AP and Coaches polls. BYU went undefeated but they did so against the 82nd rated schedule (SRS), defeated only one bowl team (by 5 points) and had to come back to beat a 6-6 Michigan team in the Holiday Bowl to preserve its #1 ranking. Ultimately, 1984 was a bizarre season of numerous upsets and losses amongst the top teams. However, any objective look shows that Washington has the strongest and best case to be National Champion.
First lets take a look at how the top 4 teams stack up by record, SRS (nominal) and by the AP and Coaches Poll rankings….
Florida 9-1-1 19.7 3 7
Nebraska 10-2 17.6 4 3
Washington 11-1 15.9 2 2
BYU 13-0 14.7 1 1
Keep in mind the national champion isn’t necessarily the best team, which SRS does a good job of measuring.
The national champion is the most accomplished team or the most deserving.
But let’s start with who was the best team.
According to SRS it was clearly Florida with Nebraska second.
As far as who was the most accomplished or deserving, one objective way to look at it would be to use the old BCS formula.
The initial BCS formula used the average of the polls, the average of the computer rankings, schedule rank (multiplied by 0.4), losses and then added these figures together. Finally, quality wins based on the AP top 15 were deducted. (A win over #15 would deduct 0.1 while a win over #1 would deduct 1.5). Teams are ranked in order of lowest score.
I did my best to estimate the final BCS rankings without knowing the computer averages. However, I realized, it makes the most sense to just use SRS as the average for all the computers. I also used the strength of schedule data from SRS. Here is the data. Washington edges Florida for #1.
Two quick notes.
First, we used SRS for the average of the computer rankings. There were 8 different rankings in the formula and right now I don’t have any idea as to whether the average would bump the results in favor of Florida or not.
Secondly, if I used SRS rather than the AP Poll for quality wins then the final tab would be 6.2 for Florida and 7.6 for Washington. So the moron voters helped us in this scenario.
Now, time for the subjective arguments.
Florida was the best team as SRS shows. They played the most difficult schedule and were the clear #1 in SRS.
However, the problem is Florida was found to have committed massive violations early in the 1984 season and they were not allowed to go to the Sugar Bowl as the SEC champion. They would have played Nebraska who was ranked #5. They were stripped of their SEC title in 1985. They were not able to play in a bowl game.
For those reasons, it makes no sense that Florida would be crowned the national champion. Wouldn’t you at least have to win a bowl game?
Nebraska’s chances were killed by a late season loss, as the #1 team to then #6 Oklahoma. And the game was in Lincoln and they lost by 10! Home losses are much worse than road losses. After that crushing defeat, the Big Red had two losses and could not win their conference.
This brings us to Brigham Young (BYU), which has zero argument other than going undefeated against the #82 schedule (SRS).
According to TipTop25, BYU’s 1984 opponents went 61-85-3, placing their schedule 96th amongst 98 division 1A schools. And yet their performance was as weak as their schedule. They won five games by a touchdown or less, from a 20-14 win at 3-7-1 Pitt in their opener to a 24-17 win against 6-6 Michigan in the Holiday Bowl– by far the worst bowl opponent ever faced by a so-called “national champion.” How bad was Michigan? They finished 6th in the Big Ten, and the Big Ten was a horrid 12-15 against nonconference opponents and 1-5 in bowl games. The only conference in the country that was as bad as the Big 10 was the WAC itself.
BYU’s best win was 30-25 on the road over #28 (SRS) Air Force.
BYU ended the season with a come from behind 7 point win, 24-17, over #39 (SRS) Michigan in the Holiday Bowl. And BYU had played in the Holiday Bowl in the preceding 6 seasons! It was practically a home game. In addition, BYU faced Michigan without its starting QB Jim Harbaugh, who was hurt early in the season. Furthermore, by SRS, it was the worst Michigan team from 1968 to 2007.
Interestingly, UW played and defeated Michigan on the road the second week of the season, before Harbaugh got hurt. UW won 20-11 but Michigan scored a TD and 2 pt conversion at the very end of the game. So UW was ahead 20-3 until the end.
The week before Michigan beat then #1 Miami who would end up finishing the season 8-5 but #16 (SRS). They lost their last 3 games by a total of 6 points. Miami was ranked #6 going into those last 3 games.
So BYU faced a clearly worse Michigan team in a near home environment and needed a 4th quarter comeback to win. UW of course defeated them on the road and held a 17 point lead in the waning minutes.
BYU likes the claim they were the rightful national champion because they defeated Washington 31-3 in the first game of the 1985 season. Why would 1985 have any relevance to 1984? Its a different season! And Washington had lost something like 18 starters after 1984! This argument has no objective merit or relevance to 1984.
The argument against Washington was they did not win their conference. Then #14 USC defeated Washington 16-7 and that clinched the Pac-10 title. It was UW’s only loss on the season and UW would go 6-1 in league play while USC was 7-1 in league and 8-3 overall.
Conference championships are now used by the committee as somewhat of a tie breaker or last resort because they know that it doesn’t necessarily indicate who was the best team or most accomplished team. In every sport, a division or conference title is only that. It doesn’t determine who was the champion.
USC would go on to defeat #6 Ohio St 20-17 in the Rose Bowl. That’s almost a home game for them. In fact, it was where they played the previous game (against UCLA).
Washington had a much tougher bowl game. They had to fly all the way across country to play #2 Oklahoma, who they defeated 28-17.
(Moreover, USC’s margin of victory in conference play was only 5.1 ppg to UW’s 12.5. Remove USC’s loss to UCLA and their margin of victory of 8.5 remains below UW’s).
Yes, USC won the Pac-10 but Washington clearly had the more impressive and accomplished season.
Interestingly, 1984 was a year where UW’s failure to win the Pac-10 is not so much of a negative. Nebraska did not win its conference and Florida was stripped of its conference title. BYU of course did not play in a major conference. These things mitigate UW’s failure to win the conference.
The deciding factor that ultimately gives UW the national championship over Florida (and lifts it to #1 in our estimated BCS numbers), is UW had the best victory of the entire season and Florida did not play in a bowl game (aside from being found guilty of 67 violations). UW defeated then #2 Oklahoma 28-17 in what could be called a road game.
Let’s not forget how good Oklahoma was. In its last two games of the regular season it defeated then #1 Nebraska on the road by 10 points and then #3 Oklahoma St. Oklahoma defeated the #2 and #6 teams (in final SRS) and had a chance to defeat UW, who then was ranked #4 in the AP and #3 in the Coaches Poll. The voters were ready to give Oklahoma the national championship had they beat UW. How the coaches did not vote UW #1 after that game, we’ll never know.
Washington could have played then #1 BYU in the Holiday Bowl or then #2 Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl for a larger payout. Regardless of money, Washington made the right decision facing the better team in a more prestigious game in a difficult location.
Washington’s win over Oklahoma puts it above BYU subjectively and in the BCS calculation. BYU’s problem is they did not play any top 25 teams and their win against Michigan (a common opponent) was much worse than UW’s. Also, UW’s loss was to a team that was clearly superior to anyone BYU played. Had BYU been ahead of UW in SRS or in the BCS then they would have a real claim. If you play a weak schedule, you need to blowout almost everyone. Even in a year of no outstanding teams, BYU was 4th in SRS.
Finally, according to Wikipedia, the NCAA record book does recognize UW’s claim to the 1984 national championship. It notes: The B (QPRS), FN, and NCF polls awarded Washington the national championship, which the school does not claim.
It’s time for UW to officially recognize it.
Here are some relevant links:
Bill Connelly on 1984
1984 AP Poll
Fixing the 1984 AP Poll
Barry Switzer, Oklahoma head coach says Washington is #1 and the best team they played all season