The Brigham Young Cougars were poised for a special year 35 years ago. Gifford Nielsen had finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting and was named All-American in 1976. He was back for his senior year in 1977. Through the first three games everything was going as planned. Nielsen had BYU undefeated, ranked #13 in the nation, and the Heisman Trophy was his for the taking. All of that changed in game four.
Oregon State beat the Cougars, knocked BYU out of the rankings, and added injury to insult. Near the end of the game, Nielsen was sidelined with a knee injury. His college career was over. What was BYU going to do? How could anyone adequately replace the Giff?
To make matters worse, BYU was scheduled to go on the road to Ft. Collins, Colorado and play the 5-0 Colorado State Rams.
In his first start at quarterback, Marc Wilson drove BYU down the field for a touchdown on the first series for a 7-0 lead. Wilson was just getting warmed up. At halftime it was 42-10, in favor of the Cougars. The Rams were completely caught off guard by BYU’s new roll out passing scheme.
When the game was done, Wilson had completed 15 of 25 passes for 332 yards and 7 touchdowns. He also ran for another score. Wilson had accounted for eight of BYU’s nine touchdowns in the 63-17 route. His pass efficiency rating of 255.95 was the best in BYU history, topping the 254.1 mark that Nielsen had set just two games earlier.
BYU jumped back into the rankings at number 17.
Everyone in Provo heaved a huge sigh of relief.
Wilson started the final seven games of the season for BYU. The Cougars won every game, except one, to finish 9-2 and tie for the WAC Championship. Wilson set four NCAA records during the season. He finished with 2,418 yards passing completing 59.2 percent of his passes (164 of 277) and had 24 touchdowns with 18 interceptions.
Marc Wilson’s heroics off the bench saved the 1977 season. Should Riley Nelson go down with injury in 2012, a Wilson-esque performance from Nelson's replacement would be gladly accepted.
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