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Mountain West football's best team ever: 2001 BYU vs. 2000 Colorado State

The latest matchup in our grand tournament is the most throwback of throwbacks.

Matt Newton leads the MWC's first-ever outright conference winner into the tournament.
Matt Newton leads the MWC's first-ever outright conference winner into the tournament.
Brian Bahr/Getty Images

As our tournament to determine the best Mountain West football team ever continues, I noticed that most of the entrants hail from the last eight years of the MWC's existance rather than the first eight. Just four teams that played from 1999 to 2006 made the cut and, perhaps coincidentally, two of them take center stage in this early Mountain West tilt.

After breaking away from the WAC before the 1999 season, both the BYU Cougars and Colorado State Rams shared the MWC title in its debut campaign and proved themselves to be the first powers in the nascent conference. For CSU and Sonny Lubick, winning the conference outright the next year represented perhaps the highest peak in the program's history to that point. For BYU, 2001 was a return to prominence under Gary Crowton. Only one of these MWC classics, however, can move on.

Tale of the tape

Overall record: 2001 BYU - 12-2 (7-0 MWC); 2000 Colorado State - 10-2 (6-1)

Best wins: 2001 BYU - vs. Colorado State, 56-34; 2000 Colorado State - vs. Louisville, 22-17 (Liberty Bowl)

Worst loss: 2001 BYU - @ Hawaii, 72-45; 2000 Colorado State - @ Arizona State, 13-10

Seasons summarized in a sentence: The 2001 Cougars faltered at the end of a very successful season in which they rose as high as 8th in the AP poll. The 2000 Rams rode the conference's best defense through a competitive Mountain West to what remains as the highest AP ranking in program history, finishing 14th in the nation.

Fun fact: Both teams earned trips to the Liberty Bowl for winning the conference and faced the Louisville Cardinals. Colorado State won, while BYU lost.

Memorable players

BYU: Running back Luke Staley ran for 1,597 yards in 2001, a total which still stands as seventh-best in conference history, and six yards per carry, ranking third overall. Little surprise, then, that he won Offensive Player of the Year honors, one of four RBs to do so in conference history. Quarterback Brandon Doman led the MWC in completion percentage and passing yards and touchdowns by a fairly wide margin, throwing mainly to Reno Mahe, who paced the field in receptions and receiving yards himself.

Colorado State: Though the Rams won the title outright in 2000, quarterback Matt Newton had to share the Offensive Player of the Year award despite leading the conference in passing yards and touchdowns. Lineback Rick Crowell, on the other hand, had no such trouble in becoming Defensive Player of the Year after intercepting three passes and racking up 125 tackles. Running back Cecil Sapp ran for nearly 900 yards and 11 scores in a committee role.