Brigham Young Cougars Starting Quarterback Rhetoric

Brigham Young Cougars head coach Bronco Mendenhall proved last week he is very media savvy. The big question since the New Mexico Bowl on December 18 was is Jake Heaps BYU’s permanent starting quarterback? Mendenhall and new offensive coordinator Brandon Doman gave evasive responses to that question whenever it came up. They neither denied nor confirmed that Heaps would be the starter in 2011. Then, as spring practices opened, the following headlines popped up:

BYU football: Jake Heaps still Cougars’ starting QB
BYU has no quarterback controversy

Everyone from Heaps, the media, and the fan base appear to be pacified. They have moved on to the next issue. Except for me. While Coach Mendenhall did say, “Jake will begin the spring as the starter,” he made other comments that give the impression that Heaps has not locked up the starting spot for 2011.

Here are the complete Mendenhall quotes (emphasis added):
"That's where [Heaps] finished last season. The way he progressed and the way our team performed under his leadership through the season is something that he's earned the rightful chance to begin the spring as our quarterback."
"Riley's recovered really well. He's exhibited the same type of leadership which I chose to recognize when I named him the starter going into last season. He's back 100 percent in terms of how he's working out, how he's leading and how he's training and adding chemistry to this team. He's had a very good off-season. We're not allowed to have footballs out there prior to spring, so I haven't seen him throw a pass. That will be fun to have a chance to see exactly where he is now in terms of mechanics and decision-making.

"Riley, and our other quarterbacks, will have to beat Jake out now to become the starter. Spring is a great chance for competition. We have a number of quarterbacks that would like that spot, but Jake will begin the spring as the starter. His intent is to continue to grow and mature and perform at an even higher level than he did in the fall."
From the italics you can see the two areas of interest are with “begin the spring” and “will have to beat Jake out … Spring is a great chance for competition.” Mendenhall said nothing about the season opener at Ole Miss September 3. Heaps is simply number one on the depth chart. Mendenhall appears to be keeping his mind and options open. Why else would he call spring a “great chance for competition”?

The most insinuating part of Mendenhall’s words are that Riley Nelson, James Lark, or Jason Munns could “beat Jake out” for the starting spot. When a quarterback is the starting quarterback he cannot be beaten out. Rather, the starting job is his to lose.

This is more than a question of semantics. To beat out Heaps for the starting spot means, regardless of how well Heaps plays, if one of the other three hits a hot streak and outplays Heaps, then he would win the starting job. Last year, that would have worked. None of the quarterbacks had any real game experience. This year, just as Mendhenhall said, Heaps has a definitive edge on the other quarterbacks—game experience. Heaps' play down the stretch is the major reason the expectations for 2011 are high.

Think back 10 years. Brandon Doman started and won the last two games in 2000. Going into 2001, he didn’t have to beat out Brett Engemann and Charlie Peterson to start. The way he played in those two games earned Doman the starting spot and it was his spot to lose.

To lose the starting job means that Heaps is BYU’s starting quarterback until he goes through a real slump, in real games, and shows no signs of improvement.

Did Bronco Mendenhall’s comments really change anything last week? No. They were simply more of the same rhetoric that has been going around for the last three months. The quarterback competition is still open. Yet, somehow, while still being noncommittal about a 2011 starter, Mendenhall found a way to diffuse this issue without saying anything substantive or conclusive. It was genius. Now the team can go through spring practices and into the fall without constant questions from the outside about who is starting.

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

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