EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — This is the year people start pointing to Brigham Young's won-loss record instead of its schedule.
The Cougars, who finished 12-0 and won their first national championship last year, have been maligned for playing a weak schedule in the past. But BYU has a tough first three games in 1985, beginning with Thursday night's battle against Boston College in the Kickoff game followed by home games against Pac-10 powers UCLA and Washington.
If the Cougars continue to win, they can finally erase the knocks against them for playing in the weak Western Athletic Conference. If they falter, however, Coach LaVell Edwards isn't ready to hand back his national championship trophy.
"I don't think this team has to prove what last year's team accomplished," Edwards said. "The thing I'm going to tell this team is, 'Don't worry about last year, just go out and be what you can be.' "
Boston College Coach Jack Bicknell will probably tell his new quarterback, Shawn Halloran, the same thing about replacing Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie. But while Bicknell wants to play down last year's success by his diminutive passer, he does point out history is on his side against BYU.
"This is the fourth straight year we've played the defending national champion," he said. "We tied Clemson (1982), beat Penn State (1983) and beat Miami (1984)."
Bicknell has far more respect for BYU than most people around the country. If football coaches could sue for plagiarizing offenses, Thursday night's confrontation would be held in a courtroom rather than Giants Stadium. And defendant Bicknell would plead guilty.
"When I took the job at Boston College (in 1981), the team I looked at was Brigham Young," Bicknell said. "We felt like we had to do something a little better than the people trying to stop us. We looked at Brigham Young's program and we copied it, to be honest."
Bicknell marvels at BYU's passing offense so much that he planned to go to Provo, Utah, to observe BYU's spring practice this year. Those plans were squashed when the two schools were invited to play in the third Kickoff game.
If the trip could have come off, Halloran might have asked Robbie Bosco for a few tips on following an All-American quarterback. Bosco did that last year when he replaced Steve Young and led the nation in total offense with 327.7 yards per game and finished second to Flutie in passing efficiency with a 151.8 rating.
Bosco, who completed 62% of his passes and threw for 3,932 yards, 33 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, had his most gutsy performance in a 24-17 victory over Michigan in the Holiday Bowl. He passed for 343 yards and two touchdowns despite suffering strained knee ligaments and a badly sprained ankle in the first quarter.
Bosco is one of BYU's five returning offensive starters. Wide receivers Glen Kozlowski and fullback Lakei Heimuli are two others, but none of last year's starting offensive linemen are back.
"Unlike a year ago, we have the name players back, like Bosco and Kozlowski, but also unlike a year ago we lost the heart and soul of our team--defensive players, linemen, linebackers," Edwards said.
The Eagles' "name" player last year was also the heart and soul of their 10-2, fourth-ranked squad. Bicknell expects to have a solid passing game without Flutie but is worried about constant comparisons Halloran will have to deal with.
At 6-foot-4, Halloran is more of a classical quarterback than Flutie but won't be as exciting to watch. The Eagles will use tailback Troy Stradford more, and the defense is in fine shape with nose tackle Mike Ruth and linebacker Bill Romanowski but it will be tough to make people forget Flutie.
"My main job is to take pressure off our quarterback," Bicknell said. "We don't want him to be another Flutie.
"They say 'What are you going to do without Flutie?' I'm looking forward to it. Look at Brigham Young, they keep coming up with people (Gifford Nielsen, Jim McMahon, Marc Wilson, etc.). You just find a guy and plug him in. It's not that simple, but they've done it."
Defending national champions have split the first two Kickoff games. Penn State was walloped by Nebraska, 44-6, in 1983, and Miami shaded Auburn, 20-18, last year.
Close to 53,000 tickets were sold by a week before the game, which already passed last year's attendance of 51,131. Officials are hoping to draw 60,000.