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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Can Taysom Hill be this generation’s Ty Detmer?

Taysom Hill’s career as a quarterback for the Brigham Young Cougars is only five games old, but he has already linked himself with three of the schools legendary quarterbacks. In game one, Hill linked himself with Gary Sheide by throwing a touchdown pass on his first career pass attempt. In game four, Hill linked himself with Steve Young.

Game five was Hill’s first career start. In this game he made his third link with the past. Coaches and fans hope that this link can be added to and become a chain.

Ty Detmer is a BYU quarterback who needs no introduction. A Heisman Trophy, multiple All-American citations, and oodles of NCAA and school passing records will do that for a player.

However, before the records, before the recognition, and even before Detmer wore BYU blue, the Cougars went through a disappointing period. From 1976-85, BYU ruled the WAC. BYU won 43 games from 1982-85. The Cougars also became a national brand after winning the national championship in 1984 and playing in the Kickoff Classic and Florida Citrus Bowl in 1985.

In 1986, the Cougars boasted a menacing, terrifying defense anchored by two future NFL first round draft picks on the defensive line. One of those first rounders would also win the Outland Trophy that year. Adding this defense to BYU’s famed passing attack sounds like the perfect formula for a second national championship. Imagine the disappointment when the Cougars finished 8-5 and without a WAC championship.

What had been the most reliable facet of the BYU football program over the last decade was MIA: the passing game. As a team, BYU had only 2,847 yards passing for the 1986 season. Steve Lindsley was the starter for game one, but he was replaced by Bob Jensen before the year was over. Less than 3,000 yards passing? Changing quarterbacks during the season? That was blasphemy in Provo.

Head coach LaVell Edwards and quarterback coach Norm Chow went back to the drawing board for 1987. The defense tortured opponents again. They generated an amazing 50 turnovers. The final record improved to 9-4, but the Cougars were not the WAC champs for the second year in a row. The quarterback carousel continued with Jensen being benched in favor of Sean Covey.

In 1988, the quarterback situation really got convoluted. Covey had a special place in Edwards’ heart. What else would you expect; they were neighbors? Covey, however, was injury prone. He was knocked out early in multiple games. When Covey couldn’t play, Ty Detmer would take his place. For the most part, Detmer played well when given the opportunity. He even started one game and directed a 65-0 win.

At this point, fans were taking sides and the Detmer camp was rapidly growing. Edwards stayed committed to Covey when he was healthy.

The season ended as another disappointment. Despite the Cougar D allowing less than 300 yards per game, the win-loss record was 9-4 and BYU had dropped to third in the WAC. Fans and the media were increasingly vocal about their displeasure with Edwards and Chow.

Detmer became the full time starter in 1989, and rescued BYU from falling into the college football abyss. In a very short time he revitalized BYU football. In 1989, BYU won 10 games, the WAC championship, played in the Holiday Bowl, and finished ranked in the nation’s top 25. Detmer fell 11 yards shy of tying Jim McMahon’s school record 4,571 passing yards in a single season.

The eyes of the nation were back on Provo. BYU was, once again, a player on the national scene. Whether it was plaudit from national pundits, or the lauding of legendary coaches, Detmer had BYU back in the limelight.

Fast forward to 2010. BYU was coming off a pretty big high. BYU had finished the season nationally ranked for four consecutive years, and won a total of 43 games during that span. Much of this success could be attributed the consistently great play at quarterback. For five consecutive seasons, the starting quarterback had passed for over 3,000 yards.

Then, it all came to a screeching halt much like it did from 1986-88.

Consider the following:
  • Notwithstanding the very good play BYU has seen on the defensive side of the ball, BYU has posted just a 20-11 record since 2010 began. Percentage wise, that isn’t too far off of the 26-13 record BYU had from 1986-88 (64.5 to 66.7).
  • BYU has been unsettled at quarterback, to say the least. Like 24 years ago, BYU had a different starting quarterbacks in game one than game 13. No quarterback in 2010 or 2011 passed for over 3,000 yards, and it doesn’t appear that this streak will end this year.
  • BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall is fiercely loyal to Riley Nelson. He constantly reiterates that Nelson will be the starter again once he is healthy.
  • Mendenhall and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Brandon Doman are being blamed for many of BYU’s shortcomings the last few years.
  • BYU may not have conference championships to play for as an independent, so a national ranking would be nice. The Cougars were unranked in 2010, and have a somewhat tainted half ranking from 2011. BYU is currently unranked in 2012.
Then Taysom Hill came along.

Like Detmer, Hill made his first start as a freshman as a result of an injury to the incumbent starter. With the 47-0 win, Hill joined Detmer as the only freshmen quarterbacks in BYU history to win their first career start.

One generation ago, Detmer rescued BYU from what appeared to be an impending free fall. Rather than continue to stand apart, the Cougars were going to nicely blend in with the rest of the college football canvas.

Walking into a similar situation, can Hill do something similar for this generation of BYU and college football fans?

Hill doesn’t have to pass for 4,000 yards every year, or throw more touchdown passes than anyone ever has. He just needs to help focus the nation’s attention on Provo.

No one disagrees that BYU’s move to independence was bold. There is not a consensus on whether BYU will survive as an independent. The best chance for survival is for BYU to have someone generate buzz nationally. Get people talking about BYU. Get people’s respect. And the sooner the better.

Right now, Hill is first in line.

The Editor appreciates all feedback. He can be reached via email at bluecougarfootball@gmail.com

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