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BYU Football: Quarterback Struggles Are Nothing New for 'QB U'

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BYU Football: Quarterback Struggles Are Nothing New for 'QB U'
Todd Warshaw/Getty Images
Steve Sarkisian

BYU wrapped up their Media Day last week with a special feature entitled "The Quarterback Factory", which highlighted the success of some of the greatest Cougar quarterbacks. Gifford Nielsen, Marc Wilson, Gary Sheide, Jim McMahon, Steve Young, Robbie Bosco, Ty Detmer and Steve Sarkisian all joined the show, along with legendary coach LaVell Edwards.

Looking at all of the success that came from those gunslingers—541 passing touchdowns, 66,155 passing yards, a Heisman trophy and a national championship, according to BYUtv—it's hard to imagine that there were any times of QB struggle in those years.

But looking back in history, there were. And lots of them. 

Let's start at the beginning of the "Glory Years", over four decades ago.

Edwards was hired as head coach in 1972 after a stint as defensive coordinator, and a passing offense was installed a year later. Gary Sheide led a top-10 offense his senior year, but after his graduation in '74, there wasn't a clear replacement for the record-setting player.

Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU

In 1975, Terry McEwen entered the season as the starter at quarterback. After three straight losses, including a 20-0 loss to Arizona State, Gifford Nielsen came off of the bench to lead the Cougars to six wins in eight games.

Nielsen kept a starting role until he was injured a year later, and Marc Wilson took over. Wilson led the Cougs to a top-three offensive finish, but in 1978, he faced a preseason battle with Jim McMahon, almost reminiscent to the Heaps-Nelson controversy from two years ago.

They shared time between center for a season, but Edwards soon decided to redshirt McMahon for a year. Wilson graduated, and McMahon took over.

After years of success, including an '84 national championship, the Cougars faced yet another controversy, this time between Mike Young and Bob Jensen. The BYU offense in 1986 was overshadowed by a dominant defense (sound familiar?) led by Shawn Knight and Jason Buck, and in '87, the defense led the nation in takeaways and the offensive line led to a dismal record early on.

Sean Covey turned the ship around in the latter stages of the 1987 year, but—once again—got stuck in a quarterback battle, this time against Ty Detmer. Detmer prevailed and led the offense until 1991.

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The Cougars used four different quarterbacks in 1992, but still managed to have an offense ranked nationally in the top five. BYU soon found success behind John Walsh and Steve Sarkisian and won the 18th WAC title since Edwards' first year as head coach. 

In all of these situations where the quarterback position was either struggling or undecided, the cause was either a lack of a good quarterback in the starting role, a bad offensive line or a preseason battle to be the starter.

We've seen all of these in the past few years—Heaps, Nelson, Lark and Hill fighting for a starting job—but when one came out on top, he didn't pan out. We saw what a below-average line can do to an offense. We saw a defense that eclipsed the offense.

But, historically, after every quarterback controversy in the LaVell Edwards era, they saw a great QB take over within three years. Times have changed, but if the past has told us anything, BYU is overdue for a breakout quarterback.

Maybe it's Taysom Hill, maybe not. Only time will tell.

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