Mike Sorensen: Fans always think the backup quarterback is better than the starter

Published: Sunday, Sept. 23 2012 6:56 p.m. MDT

Taysom Hill, back to camera, of the Brigham Young Cougars celebrates scoring BYU's only touchdown during NCAA football in Boise, Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

Enlarge photo»

SALT LAKE CITY — Most folks believe the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Or in the case of Boise State fans, bluer.

The old adage refers to the idea that no matter what you have, what someone else has looks better. It also reminds me of football fans’ attitudes when it comes to choosing quarterbacks.

There’s never a more popular player than the backup quarterback. Unless the starter is John Elway or Joe Montana, the belief is that there’s got to be a better quarterback than the starter.

Right now it’s happening at BYU where everyone is clamoring for a new quarterback.

Who do the fans want? Anyone but Riley Nelson. That guy could be freshman Taysom Hill, who has shown flashes in his brief appearances this year. Others believe James Lark, a senior who has never been given a chance to start, deserves a shot. Maybe there are some out there who believe junior Jason Munns is the guy.

No matter that Nelson has played with a sore back the past two games, close Cougar losses by a grand total of four points. No matter that Nelson led the Cougars to seven victories in eight games last year after taking over for Jake Heaps. No matter that Nelson was once the favored backup when fans were unhappy with Heaps.

It’s all about now and someone’s got to be better than Nelson, even if it’s an inexperienced freshman or an unproven senior.

Up at Utah, it’s a similar scenario. Earlier this year, there were reports of Utah fans actually cheering when Jordan Wynn got hurt against Utah State because they wanted to see backup Jon Hays instead of an ineffective Wynn.

Hays delivered a victory over rival BYU a week ago. But don’t be surprised if everyone soon jumps on the Travis Wilson bandwagon after Hays couldn’t produce much offense in an ugly 37-7 loss Saturday night at Arizona State.

Wilson actually did get a chance for a little over a quarter Saturday night but looked like a deer in the headlights. He’s probably not ready yet. Third-stringer Adam Schulz anyone?

A decade ago, Utah fans were brutal on Lance Rice, even though he won 15 games as a starter in two years. Before that it was Darnell Arceneaux, who was loved when he was the backup to Jonathan Crosswhite, but not so much when he was the starter.

In the late 1990s, Kevin Feterik was the whipping boy of Cougar fans, who preferred to see Drew Miller or Bret Engemann or Brandon Doman.

I remember back in 2008 getting emails back from Ute fans saying Brian Johnson should be replaced by freshman Corbin Louks, after Johnson had a couple of shaky performances. This was the same year Johnson led the Utes to a perfect 13-0 record with a win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl

Corbin Louks over Brian Johnson? Are you kidding me?

But that’s how some fans think when things aren’t going exactly as hoped. "Let’s go with a freshman who shows a flash here or there over a seasoned veteran," the fans say.

BYU might find itself in a similar situation now, although Hill is better than Louks was and Nelson isn’t as good as Johnson was.

One thing that’s always amused me is how easily fans second-guess coaches over who they play on the football field. I don’t understand how they often believe a coach is favoring a certain player over another and supposedly can’t see just how good the backup player is.

For one thing, who knows better how well players perform than the coaches who watch them every day in practice?

For another, why would a coach use a player who he didn’t feel was as good as another? Coaches get paid exorbitant salaries to win ball games. They’re not about to risk losing their million-dollar contracts by playing the wrong quarterback.

Here’s what I say about the local quarterback situations:

If he’s healthy, let Riley Nelson play the next two weeks. He should be able to lead the Cougars past a lousy Hawaii team and then he’ll get a chance to beat his old Utah State team from the start of the game rather than just the second half. If he can’t beat the Aggies when healthy, perhaps it’s time for a QB change in Provo.

As for the Utes, Hays is clearly the best quarterback they’ve got right now, even though he may not be a Pac-12-caliber quarterback. If the Utes get on a losing streak, they should start playing Wilson more. But unless they’re out of bowl consideration, it may not be a good idea to hand the reins over to Wilson.

Sometimes the grass isn’t always greener — or bluer.

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