In the eight football games pitting the BYU Cougars versus the Washington Huskies, each of the contests has been filled with significance for Cougar fans and the team, for better or worse.
After the Cougars captured the college football national championship in 1984, there was an outcry from a number of sources that BYU had not played a tough enough schedule to qualify for that distinct honor. An interesting opportunity then ensued. The 1985 BYU team would play three universities whose teams had won Jan. 1, 1985, bowl games. Boston College had won the Cotton Bowl, UCLA had won the Fiesta Bowl and Washington defeated Oklahoma and the bombastic Barry Switzer in the Orange Bowl to finish second to BYU in the national polls.
The 1985 contest between the reigning No. 1 and 2 teams in the nation was played at Cougar Stadium. BYU completely dominated Washington, 31-3, and put to rest the notion that the Cougars couldn't play with the "Big Boys." While it is true that the Huskies and Cougars were not the same squads as the 1984 teams, they were the same programs, and both were coming off momentum-inducing seasons. It was a statement game and one that will live well in Cougar fandom lore.
The next year, the Cougars got a comeuppance in Seattle. Coming into the third game of the season, BYU had gone more than seven years with only 12 losses, and only two of those losses were by more than seven points. In other words, if the Cougars lost a game, at least it would be close. After a 52-21 spanking by the Huskies, the Cougar fortunes changed, and it would be another 10 years before BYU lost less than three games in a season.
Interestingly enough it was that very year when the Cougars lost less than three games in a season, the glorious 1996 year, that a loss to Washington in Seattle was the only blemish on the Cougars' 14-1 record. The loss prevented the team from playing a game in the Bowl Alliance, the precursor to the BCS. The season ended with a Jan. 1 comeback win over Kansas State, but Washington had managed to put a dent in the Cougar juggernaut.
It didn't take long for the Huskies to do some damage again to Cougar fan hopes. After the 1996 season, fans expected a continuation of the magic, but the Huskies put that hope to rest with a big 42-20 win in Provo, and followed that with a win over the Cougars in Seattle in 1998. That may not seem so significant, but the Cougars had started that season with a close seven-point loss at Alabama, and then followed with a 26-6 trouncing of Arizona State in Provo. Then came Washington to spoil the party.
The Cougars got some revenge in 1999 with a highly entertaining season-opening win over the Huskies in dramatic fashion. Then-BYU Athletic Director Val Hale saw his son Chris catch a touchdown bomb from Kevin Feterik in the last few minutes of the exciting game, with the Cougars recording a 35-28 win.
The series resumed in 2008 when the Max Hall-led Cougars traveled to Seattle to face quarterback Jake Locker and the ill-fated Huskies, who would not win a game that year. They almost did, but a controversial celebration penalty on Locker cost the Huskies 15 yards after a potential game-tying touchdown resulted in a long extra point try, which was blocked by the Cougars to preserve a dramatic 28-27 win. After the 59-0 blowout of UCLA the next week, the Cougars attained lofty national rankings, only to lose three games later in the year. It was nice while it lasted.
In 2010, the last time these two teams faced each other, the rotating tandem of BYU quarterbacks Riley Nelson and touted freshman Jake Heaps provided Cougar fans with a win to start what was to be a checkered season, but still ending with a bowl victory. Washington was rebuilding by then and gave the Cougars a run for their money, but the Cougars prevailed by six.
Fast forward to 2013 and the Fight Hunger Bowl. Not only are the Huskies and Cougars both standing with identical 8-4 records for the season, but they are also 4-4 in the series. For Cougar fans, a win would give momentum and hope for continuing success in the program, a 7-2 bowl record in the Mendenhall era, and wash the taste from two early season losses that dulled a quite bright and productive remainder of the season. Whatever the outcome, it is going to be significant.
Ken Driggs of Mesa, Ariz., is a BYU graduate and served as Cosmo in the ’60s. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.