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Top 5 BYU Quarterbacks of the Independence Era

Looking back at the era of independence, which quarterbacks stood above the rest at BYU?

NCAA Football: Brigham Young at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

As BYU puts the independence era in the rearview mirror and looks ahead to the Big 12 Conference era, let’s take a look back at some of the top moments and players of the last 12 years of BYU football.

Today, let’s review the top five quarterbacks at BYU of the independence era.

5. Tanner Mangum, 2015-2018

You would be hard-pressed to find a BYU quarterback in school history, perhaps any quarterback at any program, that started their college career off with a bigger bang than Tanner Mangum.

In 2015, he was thrust into duty on the road at Nebraska in the season opener when Taysom Hill went down with what would be a season-ending Lisfranc injury. Facing a sea of red in one of the best environments in college football, Mangum entered the game with BYU trailing 28-24 in the fourth quarter.

First, he led the Cougars on a nine-play, 71-yard drive for a field goal to cut the deficit to one.

BYU then had the ball, still down 28-27, with 40 seconds left in the game on their own 24 yard line. He got the offense to the Nebraska 42 yard line, with one second left in the game. He hurled a Hail Mary towards the end zone. Receiver Mitch Mathews caught it right at the goal line for an exhilarating, miracle win on the road at Nebraska.

If that wasn’t enough, Mangum summoned more heroics that very next week at home against Boise State. With the Broncos ahead 24-21 late in the fourth quarter, Mangum launched a deep ball from the 35 yard line into the hands of Mitchell Juergens with 45 seconds left. A Kai Nacua pick six sealed the win and the Cougars had captivated the nation with back-to-back last-minute winning touchdown passes by Mangum.

Mangum eventually regressed after that epic coming-out party. Much like how he started 2015, Mangum was the backup in 2016 for Taysom Hill, before Hill suffered another injury late in the year.

2017 was a disaster, with Mangum struggling on the field and also struggling to stay healthy. He helped BYU upset No. 8 Wisconsin in Madison in 2018. However, he was eventually benched later in the year for someone higher on this list.

He finished his BYU career with over 6,000 yards and 39 passing touchdowns. Yet it felt like much of his potential was left unfulfilled. Still, no one will forget his epic start to 2015.

4. Riley Nelson, 2009-2012

While Nelson will never be accused of being the most athletic, naturally gifted quarterback BYU has ever had, you cannot argue against his clutch factor. In his first big chunk of game action during the Utah State game in 2011, he entered late to lead BYU to a dramatic last-second victory.

He was the imperfect, flawed hero that every fan could get behind. BYU rattled off four straight wins with Nelson, the first being that dramatic win over the Aggies. He also threw for three scores in a win over Oregon State in Corvallis.

Despite a less-than-stellar stat line in the 2011 Armed Forces Bowl, no one will forget his fake spike that led to a game-winning touchdown against Tulsa. He helped lead BYU to a 10-3 record in their first ever season of independence.

In 2012, the cracks began to show in his game. The Cougars suffered a four-game losing streak in the middle of the year, including losing in heartbreaking fashion to the eventual BCS runner-up in Notre Dame.

Overall, Nelson did not light up the stat sheet, but he was a winner. He logged the third-most wins over Power 5 opponents among BYU quarterbacks of this era.

3. Taysom Hill, 2012-2016

There is no valid argument against Taysom Hill being the greatest athlete BYU has ever had at quarterback. Despite his lack of premier arm talent, Hill was an absolute force. He burst onto the scene in 2012, against Hawaii, running for 143 yards and a touchdown.

2013 was the beginning of his legend. BYU hosted No. 15 Texas and Hill single-handedly ran all over the Longhorns, giving BYU a 40-21 victory. A full year later, Texas did everything to try and contain him in Austin, to no avail. He ran for 99 yards and three touchdowns in an emphatic win for BYU, notching their second straight win over Texas.

Despite the injury history, Hill put up some big numbers. His best overall game was in 2013 against Houston, when he threw for 417 yards and four touchdowns and ran for another 128 yards.

Among BYU signal calls in the independence era, no QB has more total yards, rushing yards, and total touchdowns responsible for than Taysom Hill.

2. Jaren Hall, 2018-2022

If there are two quarterbacks above Taysom Hill, they will have to be good. The margin between Jaren Hall and Zach Wilson is razor thin (we are just talking about their college days, relax NFL fans). On one hand, no quarterback in BYU history has more wins over Power 5 programs than Hall.

Hall was the starting quarterback for wins over Arizona, Arizona State, Baylor, Stanford, USC, Virginia, Washington State, and yes...Utah.

Hall is the only BYU quarterback in the independence era to defeat the Utes.

He finished his BYU career with 6,174 passing yards, 800 rushing yards, and 61 total touchdowns. He is ranks fifth in BYU history with a career 158.2 passer rating and fourth among qualified signal callers in completion percentage.

There is one quarterback who is superior to Hall in efficiency and accuracy in BYU’s independence era.

1. Zach Wilson, 2018-2020

First off, yes Zach Wilson played an easier schedule than Jaren Hall. Allow me to explain.

One, Jaren Hall will not be the No. 2 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. Wilson earned that distinction in the 2021 Draft with the Jets. Indeed, things have not worked out for Wilson thus far in New York. However, the draft buzz and hype Wilson got was unprecedented for a BYU quarterback.

He also received Heisman votes, including three first place votes, finishing eighth for the award. Hall got no such recognition.

His college tape was off the charts. He threw for 7,652 yards and 56 touchdowns, both tops among BYU quarterbacks since 2010. He also ran for 15 touchdowns, second only to Taysom Hill in this era.

It’s not like Wilson played poorly against better competition. He just played the schedule he was given. He led that dramatic last-second comeback on the road at Tennessee. BYU doesn’t beat a ranked USC in 2019 without some of Wilson’s heroics with his arm and legs.

In 2020, he led BYU to its best season since the 14-1 Cotton Bowl-winning squad of 1996. They rose to eighth in the rankings, just missing an invite to a New Year’s Six Bowl by a yard (no thanks to Coastal Carolina). Only six BYU teams ever have achieved a ranking higher than the one Wilson guided them to in 2020. That was also BYU’s 12th ever 11-win season and seventh-ever one-loss season.

Let’s not forget Wilson is likely BYU’s best-ever bowl game quarterback. He tossed a perfect game in the 2018 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, going 18-for-18, for 317 yards and four touchdowns. In 2020’s Boca Raton Bowl against UCF in their home state, he picked them apart mercilessly for 425 yards and three touchdowns, with two additional rushing scores.

Even with BYU being “QBU,” with some legends among legends at the position, Wilson is the all-time leader in Provo in career completion percentage and passer rating. He is the most efficient quarterback in school history.

Say what you want about the schedule or his NFL tribulations, but Wilson was absolutely electric at BYU.