History of the BYU QB Carousel

By Jacob Kendall

Just six games into the 2012 season, BYU has already started two different quarterbacks, and potentially a 3rd starter coming this Saturday (vs #10 Oregon State). Traditionally, when BYU is good they have a good or great quarterback. In years when they have struggled, if you look at the quarterback play, it is usually sub-par. What should BYU fans expect from their team in a year with such instability at the most important position on the field?

To answer that question, I want to highlight the historical highs and lows of the quarterback position at BYU, and see how the QB position affects the year-end result.

Here is a look at the “Quarterback Factory” Era under Lavell Edwards from 1979-1985.

Year W L Conf RK AP RK 1st QB Yds 2nd QB Yds
1985 11 3 1st 16th Robbie Bosco 4273 Blain Fowler 309
1984 13 0 1st 1st Robbie Bosco 3875 Blain Fowler 279
1983 11 1 1st 7th Steve Young 3902 Robbie Bosco 252
1982 8 4 1st na Steve Young 3100 Eric Krzmarzick 61
1981 11 2 1st 13th Jim McMahon 3555 Steve Young 731
1980 12 1 1st 12th Jim McMahon 4571 Royce Bybee 347
1979 11 1 1st 13th Marc Wilson 3720 Royce Bybee 331
Totals 77 12 7 1sts 6x   26996   2310
Avg 11 1.7 1st 10.3 3856 330

Lavell Edwards experienced his most successful period at BYU from 1979 to 1985. Not surprisingly, this was at the height of the quarterback position for the Cougars, with Wilson, McMahon, Young, and Bosco taking a majority of the snaps. BYU played without a quarterback controversy for each of these 7 years. They had a National Championship, 6 AP rankings and 7 WAC titles. The starters remained mostly healthy during this run, and as a result, they piled up nearly 27,000 yards of passing at an average of 3,856 yards per year. The backups, playing mostly garbage minutes, passed for 2,310 yards, at an average of 330 yards per year. Over the 7 year period, BYU had a record of 77 wins and 12 losses, at an average of 11 wins and 1.7 losses per year. They finished 6 of these 7 years with 11 or more wins and a national ranking.

Immediately following the “Quarterback Factory” years, Lavell Edwards struggled to find the next great BYU quarterback. As a result, they experienced sub-par quarterback play from position 1986-1988.

Year W L Conf RK AP RK QB 1 Yds QB2 Yds
1988 9 4 3rd na Sean Covey 2607 Ty Detmer 1252
1987 9 4 2nd na Bob Jensen 1833 Sean Covey 1668
1986 8 5 2nd na Steve Lindsley 2247 Bob Jensen 465
Totals 26 13 6687 3385
Avg 8.7 4.3 2nd na 2229 1128

After Robbie Bosco and before Ty Detmer, came Steve Lindsley, Bob Jensen, and Sean Covey. These names are not synonymous with ‘great BYU quarterbacks,’ and most BYU fans have either forgotten them, or blocked their names from memory. But, each of these players was the leading passer for BYU for one season. In this span of starters, BYU did not win a WAC title and they did not have a ranked season. They were 26-13 overall, those 13 losses came in just 3 years, while the Cougars had only had 12 over the  previous 7 seasons. The starting quarterbacks passed for 6,687 yards, at an average of 2,229 yards per season. The 2nd string quarterbacks passed for 3,385 yards at an average of 1,128 per season. The 2nd leading passers in these seasons received meaningful minutes (highlighted by a Ty Detmer, who led the Cougars to a bowl victory over Colorado in 1988).

To sum it up: Lavell Edwards had his best years when one solid starter remained healthy.

Lavell Edwards coached for 9 years after Ty Detmer graduated from BYU. During that time, the Cougars only had 2 double digit win, top 25 seasons. Those were in 1994 (10-3 10th in the AP, and 18 in the Coaches Poll) and 1996 (14-1 and 5th in both the AP and Coaches Polls). Those two teams were led by John Walsh and Steve Sarkisian, respectively. Both of those quarterbacks started the majority of the games those seasons.

In 1992 (8-5 record), 1997 (6-5), and 2000 (6-6), BYU played 3 to 4 quarterbacks because of injury and/or ineffective play. Simply another few points that demonstrate that a single, quality starter leads to greater team success.

Fast forward to the Bronco Mendenhall era [Gary Crowton era redacted]. Mendenhall’s teams experienced their best years (to date) from 2006-2009. Here are how his quarterbacks played in those years:

Year W L Conf RK AP RK QB 1 Yds QB 2 Yds
2009 11 2 2nd 12th Max Hall 3560 Riley Nelson 99
2008 10 3 3rd 25th Max Hall 3957 Brenden Gaskins 73
2007 11 2 1st 14th Max Hall 3848 Brenden Gaskins 31
2006 11 2 1st 16th John Beck 3885 Jason Beck 321
Totals 43 9 4x 15250 524
Avg 10.8 2.2 2nd 16.75 3812 131

Max Hall and John Beck led BYU to four consecutive 10 win, top 25 seasons–something never before done at BYU. They passed for over 15,000 total yards at an average of 3,812 per year. In comparison, the 2nd stringer passed for only 524 yards, at an average of 131 per year. Like Lavell before him, Bronco is successful with a quality, healthy starter who plays throughout the season.

Here’s a look at the last two seasons, which have been mired in this recent round of quarterback controversy:

Year W L Conf RK AP RK QB 1 Yds QB 2 Yds
2011 10 3 na na Riley Nelson 1717 Jake Heaps 1452
2010 7 6 3rd na Jake Heaps 2316 Riley Nelson 205
Totals 17 9 4033 1657
Avg 8.5 4.5 3rd na 2016 828

Mendenall actually broke the trend last year by winning 10 games and finishing 25th in the coaches poll (others receiving votes in the AP poll)–thanks to USC being ineligible. But in the 2+ years since last seeing great quarterback play (Max Hall), BYU has yet to find the next guy. Similar to the post-Bosco era, the post Max Hall era has been frustrating. History seems to hold true, as Lavell Edwards averaged 8.6 wins and 4.3 losses in the years after Bosco, which is almost identical to the 8.5 wins and 4.5 losses averaged by Bronco Mendenhall in 2010-2011.

Based on this history, BYU 2012 should finish 8-4 heading into their bowl game.

Lets hope that next year the starting quarterback is more like Ty Detmer and Robbie Bosco than Steve Lindsley, Jake Heaps, or Riley Nelson. All it takes is having talent and keeping healthy. Taysom’s got the talent, but can Doman and Co keep him healthy?

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