One of the most unfortunate questions in BYU lore will always be: How good could Taysom Hill have been without the injuries?
We'll never know.
BYU needs to make sure its fans don’t have to ask a similar question about Tanner Mangum that goes like this: How good could Tanner Mangum have been had his sophomore season not gone to waste?
When Hill announced in February that he was coming back to BYU for the 2016 season, there were two general ways to look at it.
Perspective No. 1 was that Hill was one of the most dynamic playmakers to ever play at BYU and gave them the best shot at that elusive “special” season.
Perspective No. 2 was that Tanner Mangum was coming off the best freshman QB season in BYU history wherein he showed all kinds of high-level potential, and that Hill coming back would stunt his progress and the offense’s overall development under Ty Detmer’s new scheme.
I was strongly in the Perspective No. 2 camp.
The thought of Mangum coming into his sophomore season, from spring camp forward, as the unquestioned quarterback and leader of the team felt like a much better plan than Hill coming back to create a “quarterback battle” for the starting spot, dividing reps not only for the quarterback with the first-string offense, but also the reps for the first-string offense with each very different quarterback.
After Mangum more than earned his stripes and the trust of his teammates as a freshman, with his best football ahead of him, it felt like a quarterback battle was the last thing the team needed.
The only way it would have been a good thing for Hill to take reps, snaps and game experience away from Mangum was if Hill was truly just that good — was so much better than Mangum that he could win at least two more games this season.
For example, a 2016 season with seven wins and 13 games of irreplaceable experience for Mangum would have been far more valuable for the BYU program overall than eight wins with Hill on his way out.
Thus far through three games, the Cougar offense has been abysmal, Hill has been erratic at best, the team is 1-2, and while a “good” or even “excellent” season is still theoretically within reach, any shot at a “special” season is gone.
The best-case scenario at this point is a Poinsettia Bowl matchup vs. a Mountain West Conference team and a top-20 ranking.
In other words, the only possible outcome that would have made starting Hill over Mangum a worthwhile endeavor is no longer a possibility.
Additionally, the best-case scenario where the Cougs win the rest of their games seems like a pipe dream given the offense’s FCS-level performance thus far (and that might be an insult to Southern Utah and Weber State).
Going back to Mangum at this point is a no-brainer. There’s nothing to lose now or in the future by making the move. On the other hand, there’s certainly much to gain for the future by going with the sophomore, and the offense would probably be better now too.
It couldn’t be worse.
No, Hill hasn’t been the only bad player on BYU’s offense in 2016, but he’s been the most consequential. Sure, he’s made some nice throws — just like Andrew Bogut makes some free throws — but his passes have generally been woefully off-target for a starting quarterback at the FBS level. Hill has a terrific arm, but simply not the ability to deliver the ball how, where and when it needs to be delivered with any consistency. Many throws are not even close.
And as a friend texted me during the UCLA game after Hill was caught from behind by a defensive lineman for the fourth or fifth time: “If Hill doesn’t have the explosion to beat you with his legs anymore, there is absolutely no point in having him out there.”
I can’t help but wonder what might have been, how much further along the offense might have been, if Mangum had been the unquestioned starting QB from day one this season. I believe with the performance of the defense and everything else being equal, the Cougars would be 3-0 right now with a point differential of around +30 (only 19 points in a game where your defense got six turnovers!?).
Again, it’s not only about plugging Mangum in for Hill, it’s about how the entire offseason would have been different for the offense and the team as a whole.
But, as they say, what’s done is done.
The BYU staff can only control what they do now going forward.
The program cannot afford to waste the opportunity of giving Mangum up to 10 extra games of priceless experience going into next season — not when they risk nothing by making the move now.
By all accounts Taysom Hill is a world-class human being. Surely he could handle the move to backup with the same humility and class that Tanner Mangum did. With Hill’s bright business mind, he’d have to see the logic in it — that an investment in playing time for Mangum at this point simply has more value for the BYU program than playing time for himself.
How good could Taysom Hill have been without the injuries?
It’s a football tragedy that we’ll never know.
How good could Tanner Mangum and BYU have been had his sophomore season not gone to waste?
It’s (mostly) not too late to eliminate that question.
Hill had his shot. Cougar fans will love him forever.
But it’s time for the Tanner Mangum era to (re)-commence at BYU.
Nate Gagon is a songwriter, playwright, novelist, sports writer and founder of collaborative media company, Gaxagon Media. He is a former regular, now occasional, contributor to DeseretNews.com. Reach him via email at email@example.com.