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Tanner Mangum will probably be great, but BYU fans should give him room to grow

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Don't let the Miracle at Memorial turn you into a crazed lunatic who treats football players like your personal jesters if Mangum happens to not become a Heisman Trophy candidate.

At the same time Jake Heaps' world began to fall apart, Tanner Mangum was co-MVP of the 2011 Elite 11 QB competition.
At the same time Jake Heaps' world began to fall apart, Tanner Mangum was co-MVP of the 2011 Elite 11 QB competition.
Student Sports

Seven days ago, we saw the Tanner Mangum era of BYU football begin about 13 games too early.

Despite the fact that we'll very likely never see Taysom Hill strap on the Y-decaled helmet ever again, we still felt okay about this changing of the guard. That's because Mangum, thrust into action in the second quarter, performed pretty well.

Then when pressed into action again, Mangum entered BYU football lore forever.

We fell in love more when we got to see Mangum watch himself be #1 play on SportsCenter.

A great yet scary way for Mangum to start his career.

Yes, scary. At BYU, you're instantly held up to a pantheon of quarterbacks almost impossible to live up to: six All-Americans, Super Bowl champions, and a Heisman Trophy winner.

But for Mangum, it's a whole new ballgame. Not only are fans already champing at the bit to see Mangum take his place next to the Detmers, Youngs, and McMahons -- after having thrown exactly 11 passes at BYU -- but comparisons to the last heir apparent are juxtaposed with them.

Jake Heaps, the #1 QB recruit in the country, started his BYU career innocently enough. Playing every other series with Riley Nelson, Heaps helped BYU defeat Washington 23-17. Though none of BYU's TD drives came with Heaps in the game, the offense moved the ball and things seemed great.

By the end of his freshman season, Heaps was the full-fledged starter and tuned up poor UTEP in the New Mexico Bowl like he was a seasoned junior ready to take off for his final huge season at BYU.

If expectations for Ben Olsen were over the moon, they were launched to the planets pioneered in Interstellar for Heaps.

We know things didn't go so well. Under a new offensive coordinator in 2011 -- Brandon Doman, the QB coach who secured Jake's services -- Heaps led the Cougars to a 2-2 record but mostly on the strength of the defense, with the offense scoring just enough to win those two contests and not enough to land an upset win in a 17-16 loss at Texas.

Fans had already started turning on Heaps, calling him "Captain Checkdown" for his propensity to never throw the ball down field. He got lambasted for the way he pursued the Ole Miss defender who executed a lengthy interception return for a touchdown.

Heaps was replaced in game five, Riley Nelson led BYU on an improbable game-winning drive to beat Utah State, and Heaps was done. He transferred after that season.

With that, scores of Internet experts claimed to know exactly why Heaps failed, down to the core of his being.

With that backdrop, Mangum is already being assumed to transcend it by fans, destined to overcome the pitfalls that ensnared Mr. Heaps.

He won't be entitled.
He won't lose the locker room.
He's already three times the leader as Heaps.

You see, strange things can happen when placed under such pressure. Maybe some become diamonds, but some do get crushed.

Heaps' parents got divorced at the beginning of that 2011 season -- only after moving to Utah and relationships becoming so strained that Jake stopped talking to them.

Things got so bad for Heaps that he stopped going to church, because nowhere in Utah could he get away from his perceived failures. Heaps was given zero space to be imperfect in any way.

So do we really want to start strapping Mangum into the Spaceship Endurance and see if he can reach Dr. Mann in time to save BYU football from the decaying Earth of Independence?

(Okay, my movie analogy is getting pretty strained. Thanks for playing along nicely, though.)

Look, I'll be the first to admit I've said or tweeted things that play into this. We can be real about what we saw at Nebraska. Hail Mary aside, Mangum navigated the pocket and checked progressions like a senior John Beck -- but hadn't played in a real football game in 3+ years. And in that massive stadium, one of the most iconic in the sport, Mangum strapped on that ill-fitting helmet and balled. If he had nerves, none of us could tell.

That's damn impressive, and it's okay to admit as much.

But, that doesn't mean every game for forever is destined for the glimpse we saw in Lincoln. We're very likely to go through growing pains with Mr. Mangum at the helm. Yes, he was Elite 11 co-MVP with Jameis Winston (get ready to hear that a lot on ESPN for the rest of the season). Yes, he was highly rated out of high school and didn't really show us much to doubt him.

However, BYU plays some good teams this season. Boise State appears to have a really good defense. Then after teams get tape of Mangum playing entire games, things could change. He could also hit a wall physically. Again, he still hasn't played a full football game in 3+ years. When Nelson subbed in for Heaps in that comeback win over Utah State, we damn near though Nelson had solved world hunger. (We were wrong.)

So before we rush to social media to say that we know with every fiber of our beings Tanner Mangum will be a Heisman finalist next year and BYU will win 10 games this year because Mangum is just so good and ........ Let's just pump the brakes.

Whatever degree of brilliance we get from Mangum will be really, really fun, and we should enjoy that now. And where he falls short? Let the kid grow into the shoes we all so very badly want him to fill. Then, if he gets there, we'll have been able to enjoy being part of the ride.