Flashback: Gifford Nielsen’s Breakout Season (1976)

The 1975 season started rough for the Brigham Young Cougars. Quarterback Gary Sheide had graduated, and finding his replacement proved to be difficult. Four games into the season, however, Gifford Nielsen came off the bench and rallied BYU to victory. BYU was just 1-3, but rallied to finish the season 6-5. Nielsen was fully entrenched as BYU’s starting quarterback. He was 5-1 as a starter, but his stats were nothing to get excited about: 110-180 (61.1%), 1,471 yards, 10 TDs, 7 Int.

The next year, 1976, would be a different story. Following 1975, BYU hired Doug Scovil to be the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Under Scovil’s watch, Gifford Nielsen blossomed. He would have the best season, to date, for a BYU quarterback, and the team would become the best team in BYU history.

Over the final seven games of the season, Nielsen averaged 371 yards passing and threw a total of 23 touchdowns. For the year, Nielsen set BYU single-season records for most completions (207), most attempts (372), most yards passing (3,192), and most touchdown passes (29). His 29 touchdown passes led the nation, and he was fourth in the nation in pass efficiency (143.2). People across the nation took notice. Nielsen was voted first-team All-American, and he finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting.

As for the team, BYU won the WAC championship. BYU set a new school record by winning 9 games in a single season, and for only the second time in school history was invited to a bowl game.

It was a breakout year for Nielsen. He exceeded everyone’s expectations. Quarterbacking and BYU football, overall, would never be the same.

More flashbacks can be found on the Flashbacks page.

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