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Five Things: Breaking down BYU’s QB competition

The battle for QB1 will come down to a freshman phenom or a former freshman All-American

BYU v Mississippi State Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

It’s been quite some time since I’ve been in Provo for fall camp. It was such an exciting time of year, not just because football was around the corner, but there was a common thread of conversation in the community. Sure there would be a few people that would want to discuss the weather or how much fun they had eating buffalo chunks on Pioneer Day, but a majority of Utah Valley citizens are using football as their most common topic of conversation.

This year I imagine is no different and I have a pretty good idea the quarterback competition is what they’re talking about in the Costco aisles and before bishopric meetings. There’s so much to discuss as the Cougars will be sporting a new offense, and there is a chance that it will be under the direction of a new quarterback.

So who are the coaches going to choose? That’s a great question that we don’t have the answer to but we do have a few things to consider about the competition as we inch towards the first game against Arizona.

(1) The coaches probably won’t reveal the starter anytime soon

Based on how Kalani has been operating the last few seasons, and what they’ve said in various press conferences, I wouldn’t be surprised if they wait until the first offensive series to announce who will be the starter. He’s been incredibly tight lipped about pretty much everything from suspensions to injuries and I suspect that it will be the same here.

There has been some that have speculated that the tight race is an indictment of Tanner, noting his inability to create clear separation from a true-freshman quarterback is not a good sign. This very well could be true, but if we look back to the 2016 season the coaching staff maintained the competition for the QB spot until August 23rd. The coaches could already have their starter picked out, but they want to push both players by keeping the job open.

(2) Whoever gets the starting job won’t be asked to throw the ball 40+ times per game

Take this for what you will because the only people who have seen this new offense are the members of the media and they only get to see a small selection of the full practice sessions. That said, it sounds like the new offense implemented by Jeff Grimes will be heavily influenced by his former offensive cohort Matt Canada. Based on the quotes coming out both spring and fall camp, the new offense will be committed to lots of pre—snap motion and formations. If you (mercifully) missed the 2017 BYU / LSU game or didn’t watch much Pitt football in 2016, the video below gives you a quick taste of how Matt Canada operates his offense and how it sounds like what BYU could be using.

If BYU does indeed operate under the Canada philosophy, don’t expect the quarterback to be throwing the ball 40+ times per game. Heck, it might even be a stretch if they average 30+ attempts per game. Last year at LSU, the Tigers averaged around 21 pass attempts per game with Danny Etling at the helm. That probably had more to do with the fact that they had a world class running back in Derrius Guice (and that Danny Etling is incredibly meh) but even if you look at Pitt’s 2016 numbers they only averaged 23.5 pass attempts per game. I suspect that Grimes will showcase a more balanced attack that doesn’t put as much pressure on the QBs to move the ball. This could work in favor for either quarterback. Tanner has the game experience that helps with game management but also if you don’t need a quarterback to be THE guy then a true freshman could come in and fill that role.

(3) In 2018 true freshman QBs are ready to start week 1, but the successful ones are surrounded by boatloads of talent

People have been doubting the impact that Zach Wilson simply because he’s a true freshman. Having experience at the college level is incredibly valuable and Tanner Mangum has that in spades, but that shouldn’t be the only reason he is starting over Wilson. If you look at the rest of the college football landscape you’ll see major college football programs that are plugging in kids that just graduated from high school.

In 2016 Alabama made their way to the national championship with true freshman QB Jalen Hurts and in 2017 they had their bacon saved in the title game by another true freshman. Speaking of that title game, Georgia started super frosh Jake Fromm who was filling in for the injured Jacob Eason, who was also a starting quarterback as a freshman in 2016. It probably won’t happen but there’s a small chance that Jake Fromm is getting challenged for his starting job by Justin Fields, considered to be the #1 recruit in the 2018 class. Heck even USC is considering JT Daniels for the starting job AND THE DUDE SKIPPED HIS SENIOR YEAR OF HIGH SCHOOL. He was supposed to be in the 2019 but then decided that playing at the LA Coliseum would be more fun. The list goes on.

There are two major caveats with all of these situations. The list of guys above that are playing as freshman are the cream of the crop, true-blue chippers. There are very few knocks on Zach Wilson but he’s not quite in the same class as the rest of these guys. It also helps that when one of these true freshman steps onto the field at Alabama or USC, they’re playing alongside future NFL talent at multiple positions. Jake Fromm was great his freshman year but if you take out Sony Michel and Nick Chubb I doubt it’s the same story. Zach Wilson could very well be ready for the spotlight but he might a taller task than the rest of these guys.

(4) Pretty much every QB on the roster is handsome

Good quarterbacks are talented but above all else, they are handsome. Just look at the great quarterbacks that came before, like Taysom Hill who was so handsome that these Utah cheerleaders were ready to trade their red for blue after looking into his eyes. This year we have Tanner Mangum, who looks great even when sporting this Mangum PI mustache; Zach Wilson, who allegedly took the entire BYU dance team to prom, and even as we work our way down the list we have Baylor Romney and Stacy Connor who could pass for starters based on their looks. No matter who gets the top spot will be looking good in those post-game interviews.

(5) Fall camp (and coaches interviews) won’t tell the full story

I’m sure we all know that some things will change between what we’re hearing in fall camp and what will transpire on the field but let me just as a reminder let me tell you of the first time Dylan Collie was at BYU. In fall camp we kept on getting reports from the media (who was hearing from the coaches) that Dylan was making plays and that he was going to be an important part of the offense. He didn’t see the field at all that season as he redshirted. Granted that was a completely different coaching staff back then but even Ed Lamb waxed poetic in the spring about Joe Critchlow, who is now competing for the 3rd spot with Jaren Hall. We could hear for the next two weeks how Tanner Mangum is in the best shape of his life and how Zach Wilson has more moxie than Max Hall** but until they suit up in Arizona there’s still some level of mystery.

**Quick sidebar here about Max Hall. Since he was the last great passing quarterback at BYU, fans use him as the cheap reference for anyone who looks somewhat confident throwing the football. No offense to any QB on BYU’s current roster or anyone that will come to play for BYU in the next few years but there probably won’t be another QB like Max Hall for a long time. Sure we might get a great passing quarterback who can move the ball down the field with ease but please remember the insane level of confidence that Max Hall wielded. When playing #3 ranked Oklahoma in 2009 he ran into the locker room at halftime yelling to everyone in the stands “WE’RE GONNA WIN” for everyone on national TV to see. The dude would regularly mix it up with opposing defenses and get the occasional unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. We might see some great things out of the QB position this fall but please think before you compare them to Max.