Charismatic leader Riley Nelson has been in the middle of a quarterback controversy for a third-straight season at BYU. But his college career didn't start in Provo.
In 2006, the lion-maned Nelson was a true freshman at Utah State. The local boy -- who put up big combined numbers with his arm and his feet at Logan High School -- made his debut at Utah State in sixth game of that season. With his team at 0-5, he would throw 9-19 for 120 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions his first college start. He led the Aggies on a last-minutes touchdown drive to claim a 13-12 victory over Fresno State in what would be the Aggies' only win of the year.
While departed on a two-year mission to Barcelona, Spain, Nelson decided he would play at BYU upon his return. His defection ended up the cause for a new NCAA recruiting rule forbidding coaches from contacting players who are serving missions.
As a sophomore in 2009, he saw time in mop-up duty behind senior Max Hall, which mostly consisted of QB draws. He was given the backup role by senior Brenden Gaskins, who acquiesced his birthright to allow the young Nelson more reps in preparation for the future.
But before the 2009 season began, BYU had landed Jake Heaps, who some scouting services pegged as the #1 quarterback of the 2010 class. Heaps was set to be ZOMG BEST EVAR quarterback to set foot on the grass at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
A split-duty quarterback plan between Heaps and Nelson was employed in 2010, but just games into the campaign, Nelson was sidelined with a shoulder surgery. The young Heaps QB'd the Cougars within inches of a win at rival Utah, and to a bowl win. With the subpar Nelson out of the way, the time was now for the QB of the future.
Until it wasn't. Heaps seemed to have made no progress in the mental aspects of the position in 2011, and Nelson re-emerged to save BYU from a second-straight loss to Utah State. Heaps would still see time, as the oft-injured Nelson would suffer cracked ribs during the season. But Nelson led BYU to a bowl win over Tulsa, and Heaps transferred to Kansas.
So now it's Nelson's team ... except it isn't. More injuries and poor play (how well those two are connected is at least somewhat unknown) have led to Nelson sitting out while a new true freshman Taysom Hill runs the show.
It was against that backdrop that Jeremy, BYU tailgating connoisseur, asked the following:
Attention BYU bloggers I want to read the piece "What if Riley never came to BYU?" So make that happen— Jeremy Salmon (@KingRanch51) October 3, 2012
To the batmobile!
For starters, the evil BYU coaches would still be contacting players from other schools serving missions, using the evil network of mission presidents, stake presidents, and parents to steal players in re-recruitments. BYU's evil empire grows.
At Utah State, Nelson returns in 2009 and tutors under junior Diondre Borel. In 2010, with the senior Borel struggling to complete 50% of his passes and throwing more interceptions than touchdowns, Nelson gets the call in game 8. Borel has taken the Aggies as far as he can, and after a 7-23 for 99 yards and 2 INT performance in a 45-7 home loss to Hawaii, Borel is benched.
Nelson, gritty and charismatic as he is, leads Utah State into Reno and the Aggies defeat #24 Nevada 57-56. Utah State finishes 2010 at 5-7.
In 2011, the Aggies come to Provo and win for a second-straight time over BYU behind a powerful rushing attack. Utah State posts 300 rushing yards and wins 24-13, as Riley Nelson isn't there to save BYU's impotent offense.
Nelson's grit and leadership puts the Aggies on the right side of luck at every chance. Having defeated Auburn in the season opener, Utah State finishes the year 11-2 and is the toast of the West.
Gary Andersen changes phone numbers three times to manage the barrage of communication from athletic directors around the country, but is eventually hired at Arizona State to replace the finally-fired Dennis Erickson. Once there, he ends up having to punch out Todd Graham, who Andersen finds sitting in the coach's office upon his arrival.
Chuckie Keeton de-commits from Utah State (THE HORROR) and instead goes to Nevada. Replacing Colin Kaepernick as a freshman under Chris Ault, Keeton pilots the pistol attack and his Wolf Pack to a 9-3 record in 2011. In 2012, Nevada goes 12-0 as Keeton is quickly on his way to becoming the all-time NCAA leader in combined passing and rushing yards. Nevada loses to Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl because ... Bill Snyder, that's why. Nevada is invited to the Big East for football only and can't hardly accept fast enough.
As for what happens to BYU ... that's a little more tricky.
Brenden Gaskins ends his BYU career with a touchdown pass to McKay Jacobsen in the fourth quarter of a 52-0 win at Wyoming in 2009, and rides off into the sunset for his future as a regional leader in home security-system sales.
All the eggs are in the Jake Heaps basket in 2010. This means he gets all the starter's reps from the word go. What does he do with them?
Heaps, thrust into the fire, realizes the weight of the situation. He works as hard as ever to improve athletically and to study film. The 2010 Cougars still finish 7-6, but growing pains are taken care of in one season. In 2011, with wins over Texas and Utah, the 8-0 Cougars stumble to TCU -- Dick Bumpas, y'all -- and finish 12-1 on the cusp of greatness. Todd McShay and Mel Kiper can barely contain themselves from breaking into dorm rooms to meet Ross Apo and Cody Hoffman.
The 2012 Cougars start 7-0, and carry a #13 ranking into South Bend to face #6 Notre Dame. Jake Heaps football career is ended, however, when he unwittingly steps into the crosshairs of Manti Te'o during a quarterback scramble.
The gray-haired true freshman Taysom Hill is unable to salvage that game, but leads BYU to an 11-2 finish with a Poinsettia Bowl victory over San Diego State.
Thrust into the fire from day one, the pressure eventually becomes too much for Heaps. After a 7-6 record in 2010, he gets married, neglects offseason workouts, and alienates his teammates, who are too "mature" to play hard regardless of circumstance. With the offense sputtering, Brandon Doman finally inserts James Lark at quarterback after a 2-4 start and two terrible home losses to Utah State and San Jose State. Lark salvages wins over Idaho State and WAC fodder for a 6-6 record -- but fares very well in the Armed Forces Bowl, leading BYU to a 35-21 win over Tulsa.
Lark assumes his role as senior starter in 2012, and effectively implements a heavy passing attack in a 41-6 opening-week win over Washington State. BYU fans get a nice look at the future in week two, when Taysom Hill plays the entire second half in a 45-13 win over Weber State.
Equipped with a veteran QB who doesn't have a broken back, BYU avenges a loss to Utah, then hands Boise State a 13-3 loss on its home field. The Cougars ride into South Bend at 7-0 and ranked #13 to face undefeated #6 Notre Dame. The newly-established rivalry draws millions of viewers, and Notre Dame never fathoms dropping the game off its schedule to accommodate its pseudo-ACC membership.
Unfortunately, James Lark's football career is ended when he unwittingly steps into the crosshairs of Manti Te'o during a quarterback scramble. The gray-haired true freshman Taysom Hill is unable to salvage that game, but leads BYU to an 11-2 finish with a Poinsettia Bowl victory over San Diego State.
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Is that how it would have happened? Leave your alternate realities in the comments below.