With national signing day in the books and most high-profile transfers off the market already, this long stretch of the offseason typically doesn’t produce many player moves that could boost a team’s roster.
That was not the case on Tuesday, however, as BYU fans and coaches received a nice, unexpected present when quarterback Taysom Hill announced on Twitter his intention to come back for another season in Provo:
The decision to return to the Cougars in 2016 is an interesting one for Hill on many levels, but it's one that should be met with excitement far beyond the state of Utah. The signal-caller is among the most exciting players in the country when healthy and simply a joy to watch making plays with his arm or his legs.
While adding—or more accurately, keeping—a veteran quarterback who knows the program and its players well is always a good thing for a new coaching staff, Hill remaining in the fold does have plenty of implications for BYU head coach Kalani Sitake.
“Taysom is a proven commodity and is a great leader for our football team,” Sitake said in a release. "We are thrilled to have him back for one more year.”
The short and sweet statement hit on all the right notes and said all the right things, but it does little to speak to the issue at hand. Now, for the first time as a head coach with a say in things, Sitake must deal with and sort out a quarterback battle.
He has two solid options in Hill and up-and-comer Tanner Mangum, but figuring out which signal-caller is the right choice for the Cougars going forward may not be an easy decision for the new coach and his offensive coordinator, former Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer—someone who lacks college coaching experience and comes straight from the high school ranks.
More than that, the decision could have significant ramifications beyond 2016 for the team.
To start with, this is a quarterback battle in theory much more than reality at the moment despite the news on Tuesday. Hill still has to apply for and receive approval for a medical hardship waiver from the NCAA. He has a good case, though, missing virtually all of last year and suffering season-ending injuries in 2012 and 2014. Players or schools don't make these sorts of announcements in the middle of February if there isn't an inkling that the NCAA would approve.
Just as important, Hill has to continue to rehabilitate the Lisfranc injury he suffered last September and make a full recovery. That’s not an easy injury to come back from, and it’s undeniable that the dual-threat QB's legs are a key part in him being a great quarterback.
Then there’s Mangum, who improbably became part of BYU lore with his Hail Mary heroics after the Cougars pressed him into action due to Hill’s injury against Nebraska. All he did as a freshman was throw for 3,377 yards and 23 touchdowns in a surprising nine-win season.
His late-game highlights drew all the attention, but lost in that was the fact that the former Elite 11 star in high school was impressive in his debut campaign.
Based on what we saw in 2015, Mangum has the higher ceiling at the position and probably is much more of a fit with the kind of offense Detmer wants to run. He earned his teammates’ trust last year not only because of his playmaking abilities, but because of his infectious enthusiasm and hard-nosed play between the lines. Without taking a snap during spring ball, people should rightfully label him the incumbent starter.
BYU can't count out Hill, though. He’s proved people wrong on the field before and has shown remarkable resilience in overcoming his past injuries. He easily could have moved on to another program (Michigan was rumored, as was Virginia and ex-BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall) or gone about starting his career in the business world. But he’s back for one last shot at glory, and you can’t blame him for trying if you watched him play over the years.
Still, it’s going to be a tricky situation for a first-time head coach to manage. Redshirting Mangum probably isn’t an option, as he’s already 22 years old and likely harbors hopes of giving the NFL a shot one day. Hill’s injury history and the wear and tear he’s already experienced don’t rule out a two-quarterback system, either.
Sitake will have two good options to choose from when it comes time to pick a starting quarterback this fall. And as BYU has proved the past several years, having two good options is a welcome sign given the position’s injury history. In this case, having two quarterbacks really is better than one.
With a schedule that includes 10 bowl teams from this past season and six Power Five foes, picking a quarterback is probably the least of Sitake’s worries. But for now, it’s going to be his biggest decision as a young coach and a key part in shaping how his early tenure will go.
Bryan Fischer is a national college football columnist at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.