BYU Football: Ranking the top-10 players of all-time
"Quarterback U" is the most common nickname for BYU, a factory that seems to perenially churn out guys like Ty Detmer, Jim McMahon, Robbie Boscoe, John Beck and Steve Young. However, BYU has also produced its share of great defensive players, skill position players and more, standing as an underrated school in terms of producing college and NFL talent. With that in mind, here's our ranking of the 10 best BYU players of all-time, based on longevity and impact at the collegiate level, not necessarily play in the NFL:
10. Jason Buck, Defensive Tackle, Mohammed Elowinibi, Offensive Guard, 1988-1989
A pair of Outland Trophy winners start off the list for the Cougars. Buck, a force at defensive tackle, racked up 59 total tackles, 13 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks in his career and won the 1986 award. Elowinibi was a steamroller at offensive guard, paving the way for a great running game on his way to the 1989 award and recognition as a consensus All-American. Players in the trenches rarely get recognized, but both of these guys are worthy of some praise.
9. Gordon Hudson, Tight End, 1981-1983
Hudson's career coincided with Steve Young's and in his three seasons at BYU, Hudson became one of the best tight ends in college football history and one of the best pass catchers in BYU history. Hudson, a College Football Hall of Famer, was a consensus All-American in 1982 and 1983, holding the all-time NCAA record for passes caught per game by a tight end in a career (5.4), most career yards per game by a tight end (75.3) and most yards in a single game by a tight end (259 and three touchdowns against Utah). He's since been passed by other receivers like Cody Hoffman, Dennis Pitta and Austin Collie, but Hudson is a unrivaled at the tight end spot in BYU history.
8. Steve Young, Quarterback, 1981-1983
Young comes in at lower on this list compared with his fellow Cougar quarterbacks because the large part of his success came later in the NFL, but he still weighs in as probably the best dual threat under center in BYU history. In 1983, Young tossed 33 touchdowns to 10 interceptions with 3,902 yards through the air and a 71 percent completion percentage. He was also rushed for 444 yards and eight touchdowns for a total of 41 touchdowns from scrimmage and the Davey O'Brien Award as the best quarterback in the nation. Young finished his career in Provo with 7,733 passing yards and 56 touchdowns, with a 19-5 record as a starter. He went on to have one of the best NFL careers of all-time, leaving a strong legacy in Provo and San Francisco.
7. Luke Staley, Running Back, 1999-2001
Staley was a revelation in the BYU backfield in 2001, averaging a heady 8.5 yards per carry on his way to an unbelievable 1,930 yards and 28 total touchdowns. He led the NCAA in touchdowns by four and finished second in yards per carry, yards from scrimmage and total rushing yards, good for a consensus All-American selection. In BYU history, Staley is tied for first in touchdowns scored in a single game (5) and outside of kickers, scored the most points in a single season (170), the most in a single BYU career (290) and rushed for the most yards in a single season (1,596). If his success had been better sustained over three seasons, Staley would be higher on this list, but he's still a top-two backfield threat in school history along with Harvey Unga.
6. Jim McMahon, Quarterback, 1977-1978, 1980-1981
McMahon falls just behind Bosco because of the latter's championship title, but no one embodied the gun-slinging attitude and pure throwing ability like McMahon. In 1980, McMahon scored the first postseason victory in school history in the Holiday Bowl and threw for a ridiculous 4,571 yards and 47 touchdowns on the way to a 12-1 record. From that season, he still holds the record for most touchdowns responsible for in one game (8) and touchdowns scored in a single season (53). McMahon also engineered one of the best comebacks in college football history that year, leading BYU on a 21 point comeback over SMU in the Holiday Bowl to score a 46-45 victory, punctuated by a hail mary from the 41-yard line as time expired for the game winning touchdown. McMahon isn't statistically as successful as Ty Detmer, Max Hall or John Beck, but his legacy as a pure passer is the best in BYU history.
5. Robbie Bosco, Quarterback, 1983-1985
Bosco is down the list in pure statistics compared with the litany of star quarterbacks to come through the BYU program, but he has one inherent advantage that none can touch: A National Championship. In 1984, Bosco guided the Cougars to an undefeated record after tossing 33 touchdowns and passing for 3,875 yards. In 1984 and 1985, no one in the nation led an aerial attack like Bosco, who finished first in pass attempts, pass completions, passing yards and passing touchdowns in he NCAA. Boscoe also owns one of the program's most iconic moments, throwing the game winning touchdown pass to Kelly Smith with less than two minutes remaining in the Holiday Bowl against Michigan despite playing most of the game injured. Boscoe threw for 343 yards and two touchdowns during the game and finished his career with 66 touchdown passes, 8,400 yards and a 24-3 starting record.
4. Austin Collie, Wide Receiver, 2004, 2007-2008
Collie was named the Mountain West Freshman of the Year in 2004, making an immediate impact that would foreshadow his legacy at BYU after 2007 and 2008. Collie stepped in and grabbed 53 passes for 771 yards and eight touchdowns, becoming an offensive centerpiece and John Beck's favorite receiving target. After serving his mission, Collie came back in 2007 like he had never left, racking up 946 yards and seven touchdowns on 56 receptions in a season where BYU won 11 games. However, his junior season was one of true dominance. Collie was the top receiver in the NCAA in 2008, finishing first in the nation in receiving yards per game, total yards receiving and consecutive 100 yard games. Overall, he caught 106 passes for 1,538 yards and 15 touchdowns, finishing his career as BYU's all-time receiving leader with 3,255 total yards.
3. Harvey Unga, Running Back, 2006-2009
Unga withdrew from BYU after an honor code violation in 2010, but his impact in the three seasons prior are unrivaled by any 'back in school history. Unga took over as a starter in 2007, promptly seizing a bell cow role by rushing for 1,227 yards and scoring 17 total touchdowns from the line of scrimmage. Over his three seasons in Provo, Unga averaged 1,148 yards rushing and 14.6 touchdowns per season from the line of scrimmage, finishing as the all-time rusher in school history with 3,455 yards and 45 total touchdowns. He finished first in touchdowns in the Mountain West twice and first in conference rushing yards once. He was dependable and as consistent as any player in school history.
2. Max Hall, Quarterback, 2007-2009
Hall stands out as a passer for the Cougars for his consistency under center and for leading BYU to its most successful three year stretch in the Bronco Mendenhall era. With Hall at the helm, BYU won two of three bowl games and cruised to a 32-7 record in three seasons. He tossed at least 26 touchdowns and threw for at least 3,500 yards in each of his three seasons, finishing as the second leading passer in school history behind Ty Detmer with 11,365 career yards. He also finished 2-1 over the Utes, providing one of the best game-winning moments in rivalry history with an overtime touchdown pass to Andrew George in 2009 to beat Utah 26-23.
1. Ty Detmer, Quarterback, 1988-1991
The top player on this list is the only Cougar to ever snag college football's highest honor. Detmer, the Heisman Trophy winner in 1990, epitomized the mantra of "Quarterback U" among guys like Boscoe, McMahon, Hall, Steve Young and John Beck. That season, he threw 41 touchdowns to 28 interceptions and an almost unbelievable 5,188 yards passing and led BYU to a victory over No. 1 Miami in the second week of the season. At BYU, Detmer finished first in passing yards, first in yards per attempt and first in passing yards in at least two seasons from 1988-1991. He finished first in passing yards, passing touchdowns, total yards and total touchdowns in 1991. BYU also won at least eight games in each of his four seasons in Provo, including a 10-3 record in his Heisman season. Before his college career was done, Detmer had broken 59 NCAA records and still holds the third most career passing yards in NCAA history with 15,031, nearly 4,000 more than second leading school passer Max Hall. From under center and all over the field, no one has had as much impact for the Cougars as Detmer.
Best of the rest:
• John Beck
• Marc Wilson
• Jamal Willis
• Eric Drage
• Dennis Pitta
• John Walsh
• Lakei Heimuli
• Cody Hoffman
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