BYU QB Zach Wilson’s Heisman buzz went kaput in loss to Coastal Carolina, but it was fun while it lasted

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young quarterback Zach Wilson (1) runs the ball for the Cougars, in football action between the Brigham Young Cougars and the UTSA Roadrunners, at Lavell Edwards stadium, Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020.

Provo • Just as the loss at Coastal Carolina cost BYU a chance to play in a NY6 bowl, it also cost Zach Wilson the chance to go to New York as a Heisman finalist.

Just as Wilson quickly entered the conversation, he’s been left out. No longer is the BYU quarterback included in watch lists or projections. The battle for the Heisman seems to be between Alabama quarterback Mac Jones and Florida quarterback Kyle Trask.

Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith round out the top four spots.

Stewart Mandel, the editor-in-chief of The Athletic’s college football coverage, always thought Wilson was facing some long odds and believed the BYU quarterback needed to put up a big game at Coastal to stay in the competition.

“This was basically his showcase opportunity, it ended up being a very highly watched game, and they lost and he didn’t have his best game,” Mandel said. “Now if [the Cougars got] two more yards on the last play, maybe that’s a different story, but it’s hard for me to see him reentering the conversation at this point.”

Wilson and the Cougars caught the attention of viewers nationwide early on simply because they were playing early. BYU was one of the first programs to start its season, opening up on Labor Day at Navy.

The Cougars’ original schedule, its toughest of the independence era, was torn to tatters, but athletic director Tom Holmoe was quick to find a solution. Gone were the six Power Five opponents, but the mere fact that BYU put a schedule together — any at all — was a success.

It may have been a weak schedule, but there was nothing weak about the Cougars, who have dominated the majority of games this season. Part of that domination has been led by Wilson, who more often than not put up big numbers on just one half’s performance.

Because there weren’t many programs playing back in September, BYU (through its relationship with ESPN) was able to earn some much coveted TV spots, even the Pac12 After Dark slot, regardless of who the Cougars were playing.

And that’s how, without having laid down the groundwork last season, Wilson was able to break into the Heisman conversation this year.

“I remember the Friday night game against Houston, he was outstanding in that game,” Mandel said. “And then, with the Heisman, there’s so many kind of intangibles that come into it, and he’s just got like kind of a personality and a style that people gravitate to.”

The BYU coaching staff, along with Wilson, avoided getting into the Heisman hype early on, but eventually bought into it. On Nov. 6, BYU football officially launched Wilson’s Heisman candidacy with a tweet that read: “#W1LSONHE1SMAN.”

BYU football most recently used the hashtag on the morning of Dec. 5 (prior to the Coastal Carolina game) when it tweeted out a photo of Wilson that read “Respect the Man,” but have been mum about it since then.

When asked earlier this week what impact the recent loss had on Wilson’s Heisman chances, BYU coach Kalani Sitake said he wasn’t worried about that.

“I acknowledge that he’s getting attention for that, but the key is to try and win games,” Sitake said. “There’s probably a lot that goes into that — it’s not just one player that’ll make a difference, there’s a lot of factors that go into it when we win and when we lose. I think the key for us would be to adjust things that need to be fixed and make sure we give credit and praise when and where it needs to be given.”

Wilson still has two more opportunities to pad his stats: this Saturday against San Diego State and at whichever bowl game ESPN sends the Cougars to.

So far this season, Wilson has thrown for 2,964 yards and 27 touchdowns while completing 73% of his passes and has only been picked off three times. The junior has also added 246 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns this year.

Even with Wilson out of the Heisman conversation, he is still expected to be a first-round pick should he enter the NFL draft.

With that possibility on the horizon, Saturday could be the last game in LaVell Edwards Stadium for the junior.

“The fact that our quarterback is being mentioned as a possible guy to go to the next level, that’s a good sign,” Sitake said. “... That’s a good sign that the program is developing well and that we’ve got the right talent and doing things the right way. To me, that just confirms that what we’re doing is correct, and how we’re recruiting and developing guys is key to our success.”


At LaVell Edwards Stadium

When • Saturday, 8 p.m.