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PROVO — Moments after Alabama won its sixth college football national championship under Nick Saban with a 52-24 win over Ohio State in Miami Gardens, Florida, the final poll of the season was released by the Associated Press.
Good news for a lot of teams, and not just the Tide, who finished No. 1.
Good news for BYU, as well.
The Cougars finished No. 11 in the final Associated Press Top 25 poll of the season, their best finish since finishing No. 5 in the final poll in 1996. BYU also finished 12th in 2009 and 14th in 2007.
BYU (11-1) wrapped up the season with a 49-23 win over UCF in the Boca Raton Bowl, a shining light on a season that was the best in program history in at least a decade — or even longer.
The Cougars last won 11 games in 2009, an 11-2 season in the waning years of their membership in the Mountain West Conference. BYU's last one-loss season came in that 1996 season, when the then-Western Athletic Conference champions beat Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl under the arm of now-Alabama offensive coordinator and soon-to-be Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian.
Moreso, the Cougars' 11 wins are tied for the most since Gary Crowton led BYU to a 12-2 record in his first season in 2001.
No matter how you count it, Zach Wilson, Dax Milne, Brady Christensen, Khyiris Tonga and the rest of the Cougars led BYU to its best season in years. No wonder, then, that all four of those players have already declared for the draft — and then some, leaving multiple seasons of collegiate eligibility on the table.
Wilson, a 6-foot-3 junior from Corner Canyon who finished in the top-10 in Heisman Trophy balloting, finishes his electric three-year career with 7,652 passing yards and 56 touchdowns with just 15 interceptions. Nine of those picks came during an injury-riddled sophomore season in 2019, but Wilson rebounded to throw for 3,692 yards and 33 touchdowns with just three picks in 2020.
Milne was part of a high-octane offensive unit that finished in the top-10 nationally in both scoring and total offense, alongside Gunner Romney, running backs Tyler Allgeier and Lopini Katoa, and an offensive line that included Christensen, James Empey, Tristen Hoge and Chandon Herring, to name a few. It was a group that led to offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes earning a promotion to accept the same position at Baylor, where he also took offensive line coach Eric Mateos along the way.
A former walk-on from Bingham High, Milne had 1,188 receiving yards and eight touchdowns as a junior in 2020.
Alabama finished No. 1 for the third time in the last six years, followed by Ohio State, Clemson and Texas A&M. Notre Dame, the No. 4 team in the College Football Playoff, rounded out the top five, followed by Oklahoma, Georgia, Cincinnati, Iowa State and Northwestern.