The BYU Cougars are a college football program playing for Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. And their history in the sport can be traced as far back as the late 19th century.
During this early period, Benjamin Cluff, who had become the university’s third principal of the then Brigham Young Academy, was influenced by his collegiate studies at the University of Michigan to bring an athletics program to Brigham Young. This ambition led to the first BYU football team in 1896 and their game against the University of Utah, which BYU won 2-4. The team went on to win its very first championship after defeating teams including the Elks, the Crescents, the YMCA of Salt Lake City, and Westminster College to name a few.
The team went on to win the championship the following year, but football was banned from all LDS Church schools following an accidental football-related death in Utah in 1900. This ban lasted until 1919.
After a 20 year ban, the sport was brought back to BYU on an intramural basis, with intercollegiate games resuming the following year under coach Alvin Twitchell. BYU was admitted to the Rocky Mountain Conference in 1921 and had its first winning year in 1929 under G. Ott Romney.
The school had plenty of history and important games and seasons, but the biggest upswing for the school came in the period known as the Lavell Edwards era.
Lavell Edwards Era
LaVell Edwards, who had been an assistant coach for BYU, was promoted to head coach in 1972. He immediately installed a drop-back passing game that came to be known as an early version fo the West Coast offense, which resulted in Cougar Pete Van Valkenburg as the nation’s leading rusher that year. Following this, the Cougars struggled to find their mark ending a season with a 5-6 finish.
Which may have upset fans at the time. But it turns out that that would be Edwards’ only losing season during his run.
In fact, over the next three decades, the Cougars won the conference championship every year except from 1974 to 1985, including the national championship run in 1984. Despite this wave of strong performances, the team struggled to succeed in post season play, losing their first four bowl games. But this streak came to an end in the 1980 Holiday bowl in what came to be known as “The Miracle Bowl”.
BYU was trailing SMU 45-25 with four minutes left in the game and came back to secure a surprising win. After that, the program won their bowl games in 1981, 1983, and 1984. And the university also became known as “Quarterback U” since it had gained a reputation for fielding All-American quarterback players including Gifford Nielsen, Marc Wilson, Jim McMahon and Steve Young.
These and later successes led to the university honoring Edwards by renaming the stadium after him following his retirement.
About Lavell Edwards Stadium
Lavell Edwards Stadium is an outdoor athletic stadium situated on the campus of BYU in Provo, Utah. It is mostly a football venue that serves as the home field for the BYU Cougars. When it was opened in 1964 it went by the name “Cougar Stadium” and present has a seating capacity of 63,470 spectators.
When the stadium opened in 1964, it replaced the much smaller 5,000 seat venue that shared the same name. It was the university’s first step in providing a real home for college football on its campus.
The first game played at the venue was attended by 33,610 fans, which at the time was a state record. What makes this impressive is how the seating capacity at the time was just over 28,800. And this may have spurred the university to add room for 35,000 guests, with temporary bleachers in the end zones raising that to 45,000.
The stadium was later expanded further to accommodate more than 65,000 permanent seats that includes concrete stands in the end zones.
The stadium got its present name after LaVell Edwards, who was the head coach at BYU for 29 seasons following 10 years as an assistant. He retired after the 2000 season, afterwhich the stadium was renamed to honor him.
Jurassic fossils under the stadium
One of the most famous features of the stadium is the largest collection of Jurassic period fossils in North America, which is housed at BYU and was stored underneath the east bleachers of the stadium until 2005. The fossils were then moved and placed on display in the BYU Museum of Paleontology’s collection room.
Football Team Summary
The BYU Cougars represent the Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. The team has competed in college football since 1922 and have won 23 conference championships and one national championship since that time.
The team has competed in several different conferences over its long career, but had recently played as an independent organization. But then, on September 10, 2021, the Big 12 Conference accepted BYU’s application to the conference. So the university will rejoin conference play as a member of the Big 12 starting in the 2023-24 season.
The team’s home, Lavell Edwards Stadium, is named after legendary BYU head coach LaVell Edwards who had won 19 conference championships, 7 bowl games, and 1 national championship during his tenure.