Ken Driggs: Taysom Hill is on track for rare BYU sophomore QB breakout year
Tom Smart, Deseret News
BYU quarterbacks have had a great legacy, but relatively few had breakout seasons in their sophomore years.
There are a variety of reasons, including playing behind an All-American QB, less than stellar team performances and limited playing time. But Taysom Hill is on track to be one of those select few with breakout soph seasons. The following is a recap of BYU QB performances since the mid-1960s.
The first true star QB at BYU was my contemporary and friend Virgil Carter. His soph season was good, but the team only won three games. He led the Cougars to their first conference championship in 1965, and the next year broke the NCAA record for total offense in a game with 599 yards against Texas Western. In 1967 Marc Lyons, current BYU football commentator, led the Cougars to a 6-4 season with some pretty good stats. Gary Schiede lit up the stat sheets in 1973 and 1974, but he came to BYU his junior year as a transfer.
Gifford Nielsen had a breakout year in 1975, but had to come off the bench for a win against New Mexico in the fourth game of the year to begin his storied career. He was headed for a Heisman-caliber year in 1977 until a knee injury against Oregon State in the fourth game ended his college career. The injury allowed a future All-American Marc Wilson to excell during his sophomore season. Wilson threw seven touchdown passes in his first start in a blowout win at Colorado State. Wilson then shared time the next year with another future All-American, Jim McMahon, but it wasn't until McMahon survived a redshirt year that he would explode upon the college football scene with a record-setting 1980 junior season, culminated by the "Miracle Bowl" pass to Clay Brown to defeat SMU and its "Pony Express" backfield of Eric Dickerson and Craig James.
Another in the string of All-American QBs was Steve Young, who as a sophomore played behind McMahon in 1981. Young proceeded to light up the scoreboard in his last two years and was second in the Heisman voting in 1983. Young's backup, Robbie Bosco, had his breakout year in 1984, his junior year, when he led the Cougars to their only footbal national championship.
Each of the All-American QBs had to wait his turn, and the succession did wonders for the success of the program from the mid-70s through the mid-80s. Steve Lindsley, Bob Jensen and Sean Covey manned the QB position for the next few years, but it wasn't until the young Texan Ty Detmer exploded on the scene his sophomore year in 1989 did we have another breakout season early in a career. Detmer produced prolific numbers as a portent for his 1990 Heisman Trophy season, his junior year, highlighted by a stirring triumph over then No. 1 ranked Miami.
Third stringer Ryan Hancock was elevated to the starting QB position in 1992 because of injuries to John Walsh and Steve Clements, and had a promising sophomore year. His season was cut short by an injury in the Utah game, and Young's brother Tom was the QB for the bowl game against Kansas. Walsh got his soph season back in 1993 and had some good games and stats, but the team only went 6-6. Current Washington coach Steve Sarkisian was a junior when he came to BYU in 1995, but his 1996 season was a memorable one, culminating with a Cotton Bowl win over Kansas St. and a No. 5 final ranking.
Kevin Fetierick beat out Paul Shoemaker in 1997 to start as a sophomore, but injuries to Feterick and others left the Cougars with a mediocre 6-5 season. After Feterick's last year in 1999, there was a merry-go-round of QBs, with Bret Engemann, Charlie Peterson and Brandon Doman taking turns, until Doman broke out late in his junior year to win two straight games, the first a win over New Mexico on the night President Gordon B. Hinckley announced the naming of LaVell Edwards Stadium, and the next a dramatic win over Utah in Edwards' last game. Doman proceeded to lead the Cougars to 12 consecutive wins in an exciting 2001 year.
The parade of QBs began again in 2002, with Engemann, Matt Berry, Lance Pendelton and Todd Mortensen all seeing action, and in 2003 promising returned missionary John Beck was added to the mix. Beck eventually took over the starting duties in 2004 during his sophomore year and had some outstanding performances. But the team stuggled to a 5-6 record and coach Gary Crowton was replaced by Bronco Mendenhall after the season.
The 2005 season was a promising one, with continuity at the QB position and newfound enthusiasm with the advent of the Mendenhall era. In 2006 the team and Beck really blossomed, and the first of two 11-2 seasons took place, punctuated by a dramatic pass from Beck to Jonny Harline to defeat Utah and then a trouncing of now nearly invincible Oregon in the Las Vegas Bowl.
The next great QB hope was waiting in the wings, and Max Hall fulfilled the ardent Cougar fans' dreams with a breakout sophomore season in 2007. He finished his career in 2009 with the most wins ever by a BYU quarterback, and capped it with a trouncing of Oregon St. in a windy Las Vegas Bowl.
Just as the hopes for a great career performance from a No. 1 rated high school QB were dashed in the early 2000s by the transfer and demise of Ben Olson, 2010 brought what BYU fans thought would be a superstar performeance by Jake Heaps. His promising freshman season was followed by a disappointing sophomore season and a transfer to Kansas. Riley Nelson didn't start until he was a junior at BYU and had some spectacular moments, but an injury in his senior season allowed the Cougar fans a taste of what they might have in the future, a breakout quarterback season and career, from athletic freshman Hill.
Hill went down with a season-ending injury against Utah State, but the appetite was whetted for Cougar fans. Hill's performance against Texas on a national stage catapulted him into that rare atmosphere, a potential breakout sophomore season for a BYU QB.
Is this the year and the QB performance that we have been yearning for? I, for one, believe that it is and can't wait to see the season and Hill's career play out.
Ken Driggs of Mesa, Ariz., is a BYU graduate and served as Cosmo in the '60s. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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