As Cougar Nation is getting whipped into a frenzy waiting for the 2012 football campaign to begin, here is a topic of debate that I often hear among the Cougar fans I visit with on a regular basis, who is the best quarterback ever at BYU?
As this debate renews from year to year, I have decided it must be a generational thing when it comes to the answers given. There is no question that BYU has produced some of the best college quarterbacks of all-time, but as with any list, there always has to be a number one.
Think of the players who have passed through Cougar Stadium/LaVell Edwards Stadium: Nielsen, Wilson, McMahon, Young, Bosco, Detmer, Sarkisian, Doman, Beck and Hall. Looking at those names, you'll notice each one has played a role in continuing the quarterback tradition at Quarterback U. Each won a conference championship and put up big numbers when they donned the Y on their helmets. It would be easy to take those 10 and create a top-10 list of all-time.
So all that said, here is my list of the top 5 quarterbacks to have passed the pigskin at BYU.
Max Hall is the kind of guy you want on your side. He was (and probably still is) an ultra-competitive person. His intensity resonated with his teammates and they loved going to battle with him each week.
Hall took the reins from John Beck and helped BYU reel off one of the most successful four-year periods in school history (Beck's senior year and Hall's three years at the helm). The Cougars were 43-9 during that period.
Hall is behind only Ty Detmer on most of the statistical categories for quarterbacks at BYU. That is how good he really was when he donned the block Y on his helmet. Here is the short list of some of Hall's most impressive stats:
- 32 wins—The most all-time by a BYU quarterback
- 20 300-yard passing games
- Seven touchdown passes in a game—against none other than former BYU OC Norm Chow and the UCLA Bruins. Hall could have had 10 TDs in that game if Bronco Mendenhall would have let him
- 94 career touchdown passes
- 11,365 career passing yards
- One Conference Championship
- Beat #3 ranked Oklahoma in a nationally televised game, the first-ever game played in the new Dallas Cowboys stadium
Hall wanted nothing more than to win. Plus, let's be honest, everyone remembers his famous press conference after the Utah game in 2009. Nothing like pouring a little fuel onto the already caustic rivalry.
1984. That year will live in the memory of BYU football fans for generations to come as BYU brought home its only National Championship to date. Robbie Bosco led the charge as the Cougars ran the table and finished with a perfect 13-0 record.
Many remember Bosco playing on basically one leg as the Cougars finished off their perfect season by beating the University of Michigan in the Holiday Bowl. Here is some classic video of that epic performance.
Bosco played in an era where quarterbacks at BYU only got two years at the helm as LaVell Edwards did a fantastic job of keeping the quarterback cupboard well stocked. Here is a rundown of Bosco's great feats at BYU:
- QB of 1984 National Championship team
- Second in Davey O'Brien voting 1984, 3rd in 1985
- Third in Heisman Trophy voting 1984 & 1985
- 66 touchdown passes
- 8,400 passing yards
- Led nation in total offense 1984 and second in 1985
- Averaged over 300 yards passing per game in two seasons as a starter
While Bosco spent 13 years on the Cougar coaching staff as the QB coach and was a part of some really good teams (the 14-1 1996 Cougars), Bosco and his band of 1984 Cougars will always hold a dear spot in the hearts of Cougar Nation.
Steve Young is probably better known for his time in the NFL as a Hall of Fame, Super Bowl winning quarterback. But before Young was clutching the Vince Lombardi trophy with all his might, he was a superstar in his own right at BYU.
Young was one of the first to break the mold of the traditional drop-back quarterback. He had amazing abilities to escape the pocket and take off down the sidelines. Frankly, he was a little reckless when he scrambled and legendary Hall of Fame coach LaVell Edwards probably cringed when Young took off and wouldn't slide.
But his most famous play probably comes from the 1983 Holiday Bowl against Missouri.
While he may not have the miles of passing that Ty Detmer and Max Hall have, Young did do some pretty impressive things during his time at the helm of the Cougar high-octane offense:
- First team All-American in eight different publications in 1983
- Finished second in Heisman Trophy voting 1983
- Davey O'Brien winner 1983
- Conference Champions in his two seasons as starter
- 56 touchdown passes
- 851 yards rushing in two seasons as starter, 1044 for career
- 7633 passing yards
Cougar fans had it pretty good in the 1980s and Steve Young was a huge part of that success.
Jimmy Mac certainly left his mark at BYU, probably as much for his antics off the field as on. There is no doubt that Jim McMahon would not survive at BYU with the Honor Code in today's digital media world we live in.
So I guess in some ways, it was good he played in the era in which he did. McMahon rewrote the record books at BYU and still has a number of BYU and NCAA records. He had to split time as a sophomore with Marc Wilson, who went on to become an All-American himself. But when McMahon got the keys himself, he led the Cougars to a 23-3 record as a junior and senior.
His most famous moment is a top play in college history as McMahon and the Cougars derailed the Pony Express from SMU in the 1980 Holiday Bowl. McMahon led the Cougars to one of the biggest comebacks in NCAA bowl history, erasing a 20-point lead with four minutes remaining. The Cougars had never won a bowl game before the "Miracle Bowl" of 1980. Here is the clip of that famous last play,
Here is the short list of McMahon's accomplishments at BYU:
- First Team All-American 1981
- Third in Heisman Trophy Voting 1981
- BYU record 47 touchdown passes in a season
- Davey O'Brien Winner 1981
- Broke 70 NCAA records
- 84 touchdown Passes
- 9,536 career passing yards
- First round draft pick 1981
- 11 consecutive 300-yard passing games 1981
McMahon is still loved in Provo for all he did during his tenure. He received the loudest ovation last season when former BYU quarterback great Gifford Nielsen arranged for former Cougar QB greats to come and be at the home opener for a halftime ceremony.
Was there any surprise who would be #1 on this list? Ty Detmer is by far the greatest quarterback in BYU history and one of the best in the NCAA ever.
Detmer was a passing machine, all 175 pounds of him. As a freshman, he played in 10 games—sharing a lot of the playing time with Sean Covey—and came off the bench to lead BYU to a Freedom Bowl victory over Coloado in the 1988 Freedom Bowl and he never looked back.
As a sophomore, Detmer passed for 576 yards against Penn State in the 1989 Holiday Bowl, a bowl record for passing yards. Detmer finished his sophomore season with a 10-3 record and 32 touchdown passes.
Then came 1990. Ty led the Cougars to a win on ESPN over the defending National Champion Miami Hurricanes in the second game of the season. That is what started it all during Ty's Heisman Trophy winning 1990 season. Detmer went on to pass for over 5,000 yards and 41 touchdowns during his junior year. Ty was the first player in the Rocky Mountain region to ever win the Heisman Trophy.
Here is a clip from Detmer's signature win during his time with the Cougars against Miami.
Here is the short list of Detmer's greatness at BYU:
- 1990 Heisman Trophy Winner
- Third place in Heisman voting 1991
- First Team All-American 1990, 1991
- Davey O'Brien Winner 1990, 1991
- Three-time Conference Champion
- 121 touchdown passes
- 15,031 passing yards
- 37-13-2 record in games Detmer played in 1988-1991
By the time it was all over, Detmer had amassed an astounding 59 NCAA records. A Heisman Trophy with his name on it sits in Legacy Hall on BYU's campus. Ty was a huge part in what BYU's football legacy has become and he is beloved among the Cougar faithful.