What, did you think that a completely new coaching staff, rumors of Big 12 expansion, the progress of former BYU coaches in Virginia, and a challenging 2016 schedule wouldn't be enough to make BYU's football offseason interesting? Well, you're in luck. Because the intrigue dial just got turned all the way to 11.
You've heard the news by now, of course. Taysom Hill will return to Provo to play in 2016, despite rumors and speculation that he would quit playing football, or perhaps transfer to a place like Michigan or Virginia. Outside of perhaps Notre Dame, the most intriguing quarterback battle in all of college football will be in Provo.
Most BYU fans I've seen are delighted with the news, and justifiably so. A completely healthy Taysom Hill is one of the most exciting players in all of college football, something basically everybody can agree on, except for perhaps those who have a Pac-12 sticker affixed to the back of their car. His speed, power, and dynamic play-making ability in the open field is nearly unmatched among college football quarterbacks, and gives BYU an X-Factor and a chance to score against anybody they'll face in 2016.
But bringing Hill back for one more season isn't just about giving us all a reason to post Taysom-Hurdles-Texas-Dot-GIF again and again all summer long. It also potentially complicates the 2016 season significantly, raising questions that even some of the brightest minds in college football have struggled to answer.
See, BYU already has a quarterback, and a really good one. After Hill was injured in the first game of the season last year, former blue-chip recruit and Elite 11 superstar Tanner Mangum did more than just admirably fill in. Mangum threw for 3,337 yards and 23 TDs, against 10 picks, while completing 59% of his passes. He stole the heart of America with not one, but TWO Hail Mary bombs to beat name opponents. Not bad for a freshman that didn't have the benefit of an efficient running game for most of the season.
Based on that season long performance, it seems completely reasonable to assume that Mangum should be BYU's presumptive starter for next season. I'm not the only person who thinks this, for what it's worth.
This decision isn't being made in a total vacuum either. Hill, after all, isn't completely healthy at the moment, and isn't expected to do much during Spring Practice. Plus, BYU is apparently looking to run most of their offense under center, rather than out of the shotgun, where Hill had often operated before. The Taysom Hill that is dunking over fools from Texas and Virginia still lives in our memories, but it isn't immediately clear if that Hill still exists. It won't be clear for several months.
But on the other hand, why come back just to ride the bench? And also, this is Taysom freakin' Hill we're talking about. If he can walk, how could you not use him?
The old saying about how if you have two quarterbacks, you have no quarterbacks doesn't seem exactly true in this case, but the principle is still there. BYU has two very good QBs who have demonstrated they can produce at a high level. If healthy (and that's still a big caveat for Hill), they'd both start for many, if not most, programs across the country. You can only play one of them at a time, but if either falters, you're going to hear it from fans, on the internet, on sports radio, and even in #columns. What do you do?
It's a tough question for even experienced coaches, which is why true two-QB systems don't have a great track record of working out. Last year's Ohio State team had this problem, with J.T. Barrett, Cardale Jones and Braxton Miller. Miller eventually changed positions (something that BYU's staff has said won't happen with Hill), but Urban Meyer and an inexperienced offensive coaching staff were never able to figure out the right way to use Jones and Barrett. As a result, an offensive loaded with first round NFL talent floundered for most of the season.
A QB battle between two players who have earned credibility from their peers, even among two who are good natured leaders, has the potential to become a distraction for everybody. That degree of difficulty ramps up even more when you remember that BYU has a brand new, first-time head coach, and an OC who has never even coached in college before. Sure, having two awesome QBs is way better than not having any, but expecting this transition to go off without any growing pains over the course of the season might be a bit unrealistic.
I don't really have a great answer or suggestion. One of our writers pitched the idea of using Hill as a situational player, with Mangum getting the majority of the snaps. That might work, (it's closer to what 2006 Florida did with Chris Leak and Tim Tebow, rather than a true two-QB system), but it requires some real offensive creativity to get defenses to trust Hill as something more than a decoy or de-facto running back.
You could let Hill start, but keeping Mangum on the shelf for an entire year could devastate his NFL hopes, and rob BYU of some of his downfield passing gifts, a weapon that say, Jonah Trinnaman could really benefit from. You could try to alternate the players depending on matchups, but that could keep either player from developing a strong rhythm. You could try some other hybrid system too. Who knows?
At its best, BYU get another chance to play one of the most dynamic playmakers ever to step on the field for BYU football. At it's worst, another cloud of uncertainty hangs over a program that is already making some huge changes, and threatens to become a distraction for what could be a pretty good season.
I have no idea what is going to happen. But I do know that it isn't going to be boring. #TeamTanner or #TeamTaysom isn't going to go away any time soon.