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Monday, February 14, 2011

Doing Jake Heaps Justice: Is Heaps the Best Brigham Young Cougars Freshman Quarterback Ever?

Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Jake Heaps had a rough start to his college career. The start was so rough that 2/3 of the way through the season, this site questioned: Is Jake Heaps the worst Brigham Young Cougars freshman quarterback ever? The answer, at that point, was that Heaps fell in the middle of five freshmen quarterbacks, and the outlook for Heaps’ final position was stated as: “With four, maybe five, games left, he could still move ahead of [Matt] Berry, or drop below [John] Beck. … Heaps has demonstrated that he has the tools and the potential. When he starts using those tools to consistently play to his potential will determine where he sits on this list at the end of the year.”

Heaps immediately started to consistently use his QB tools and played much closer to his potential during the final five games of 2010. Now that the final 1/3 of the season, plus a bowl game, has been played it is time to do justice. Heaps’ complete freshman season can be compared to his peers and see if he improved his final ranking. 

Just as before, the analysis will start with each player’s resume:

83 completions, 153 attempts (54.2%), 1,252 yards, 13 TD, 10 Int., 138.0 Efficiency

Notes: Detmer has the highest efficiency, however, he also threw the most interceptions. He was 1-0 as a starter, a 65-0 blowout of New Mexico (2-10). He threw for 333 yards and 5 TDs. Detmer came off the bench to win 3 other games, including the Freedom Bowl. Detmer was named the MVP of the Freedom Bowl.

108-184 (58.7%), 1,309 yards, 7 TD, 9 Int., 121.2 Efficiency

Notes: Berry has the highest completion percentage. He was 2-4 as a starter. In his best game he threw for 360 yards against Wyoming (2-11).

219-383 (57.2%), 2,316 yards, 15 TD, 9 Int., 116.2 Efficiency

Notes: Heaps set BYU freshmen records for moss passing yards, most attempts, most completions, most TD passes, and most wins. Heaps was 6-4 as a starter. He was named the New Mexico Bowl MVP, after he set several New Mexico Bowl records, as well as BYU bowl records (best completion percentage, most points scored, and tied most TD passes). Heaps had the eighth most efficient passing game and best for a freshman (242.6 rating) in BYU history against Colorado State (3-9).

By the resumes alone, Heaps did enough to move ahead of Berry. Heaps vs. Detmer requires a more in depth look. While Heaps clearly has bigger numbers in nearly every category, does bigger always equal better? Three facts hold me back from declaring Heaps the clear cut winner:
  1. While Heaps started or took most of the snaps in 11 of 13 games, he never hit the 300 yards passing benchmark in one game. Detmer did it in the only game he started.
  2. Ty Detmer had a “Tim Tebow effect” as a freshman. When Detmer came off the bench as a freshman, he instantly infused life into the BYU offense. He led comeback wins against UTEP and Colorado. He threw what would be the winning score against Hawaii.
  3. Detmer was much more efficient. The difference between Detmer’s 138 and Heaps’ 116.2 pass efficiency ratings is too much to ignore. It makes me wonder what Detmer might have done if he had been given the same number of reps as Heaps. Simple projections gives Detmer a stat line of: 207-383, 3133 yards, 32.5 TD, 25 Int. My mantra has always been that if you start a freshman quarterback, you are sentencing your offense to less than 3,000 yards passing, less than 20 TD passes, and more interceptions than TD passes. Detmer would have been the exception in all three areas. Heaps was only an exception in the final area.
In short, Detmer has a lot of quality inside his numbers to compensate for not having the quantity that Heaps brings to the table. Is there enough quality inside Heaps’ numbers to counter these advantages that Detmer has over him.
  • No 300 yard passing game. To counter the fact that Heaps didn’t pass for over 300 yards in a single game, he did some things that BYU quarterbacks have not been able to do, even as sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Heaps had a 242.6 pass efficiency rating against Colorado State. Heaps also has the bowl records.
  • “Tim Tebow effect.” To counter Detmer’s Tim Tebow like impact, Heaps was able to leave his own mark on the offense. During the transformation down the stretch, the BYU offense had a potency matched only by the best Cougar offenses. They were slaughtering opponents. The outcome was determined by halftime against UNLV, Colorado State, New Mexico, and UTEP. It took a monumental stretch of bad luck (most were plays that Heaps had no part in) to lose to nationally ranked Utah in Salt Lake City.
  • Superior Passing Efficiency. To counter the difference in pass efficiency rating, Heaps can start with his better TD:Int. ratio (1.67 to 1.3). Heaps’ best rebuttal to the pass efficiency numbers, however, is that he didn’t get to pad his stats when games were out of reach. In three blowouts in 1988 (Texas, Utah, and Miami), Detmer amassed 514 yards passing and five TD passes when the outcome was already decided. That is 41% of his total passing yards and 38% of his total touchdown passes. Heaps accumulated his stats when the battle was most intense. He had to go against fresh defenses that were giving their best. There was no 34-3 or 30-7 cushion the opponent could fall back on. All week long, defenses were studying film of Heaps and game planning to stop him. Even though, Heaps was able to pull his pass efficiency rating up from 87.9 to 116.2 over the final five games.
All things considered, the scale tips in favor of Jake Heaps. He has earned the label Best BYU Freshman QB—ever. Heaps put up bigger numbers than any previous freshman quarterback this school has ever seen, and those numbers were not inflated. They had substance to them, and that had led him to the top of the list.

The best part is that the man he replaces at the top of the list went on to pass for over 15,000 yards and 121 touchdowns and rewrite the NCAA record books in his career. Oh yeah, he also won the Heisman Trophy. If any BYU quarterback will ever accomplish more, Jake Heaps seems to be the guy to do it.

The Editor appreciates all feedback. He can be reached via email at

Other recent posts on BLUE COUGAR FOOTBALL:
Friday Highlights: Brigham Young Cougars vs. San Diego State Aztecs (2001)
Thursday Trivia: Three 500 Yard Rushers
Flashback: Winning 10 Consecutive Games In One Season
Poll Results: Who is the Best Recruit in the 2011 Class? 


  1. What about all the balls that receivers dropped? Heaps was extremely accurate, and his numbers would have been much better if our receivers would have caught the ball consistently.

  2. Thanks for the comment. You raise a good point. However, I try to stay away from "what if's"

    I agree that the receivers seemed to drop many more passes than usual this year. The problem is, we don't have official stats on dropped passes. So we can't difinitively quantify how many more there were and how that may have altered each QBs stats. More importantly, no astrisks are added to game scores for dropped passes.

    I don't think Detmer would have had the big numbers projected if he had played as much as Heaps did. Those are there to help better illustrate how significant of a difference a 138 rating is than a 116, not to present a "what if" scenario.

  3. How is the efficiency rating gap so wide when Heaps has a superior TD:INT and better completion %. It shows that the efficiency rating is slanted towards the one stat that I personally think is the most important: yards/attempt. Detmer was > 8 and Heaps was at 6 yards/attempt. The bottom line is Detmer threw downfield more than Heaps and had a better receiving corp. Because of that, I give the nod to Detmer, but knowing how Jake would've done under Detmer's circumstances and with Detmer's teamates and vice versa is pure speculation.

  4. Yards per attempt is key for a great efficiency rating. The other big advantage that Detmer had was TD passes per attempt.

    Detmer threw a touchdown once every 11.77 passes
    Heaps threw a touchdown once every 25.5 passes

    If we removed each QBs TD passes from his freshman season stats, the pass efficiency rating changes accordingly:

    138.0 w/TD passes
    109.9 w/o TD passes

    116.2 w/TD passes
    103.3 w/o TD passes

    While everything else remained equal, one QB saw his rating fall 28 points while the other just 13 points.

    We can do the same with YPA. Give Heaps the 8.18 YPA and Detmer the 6.05 YPA, and keep everything else constant.

    Heaps' rating would go up to 134.1 (18 point increase).

    Detmer's rating would go down to 120.0 (18 point decrease).

    Based on these results, I think TD passes/attempt is the biggest factor in a QBs pass efficiency rating. However, I would agree with you that the most important stat for a QB is yards/attempt.

    Higher YPA = more first downs = better scoring chances.

    When it is 3rd down, completing a pass for 5 yards when you needed 7 for a first down is no better than missing on a pass 9 yards downfield. End result will usually be the same: punt.