The 2020 BYU football season will go down in history. After all, the Cougars mounted a 10-1 regular-season record after almost not having a season at all.
While most college football programs still weren’t playing, BYU took center stage, playing in prime-time slots on national platforms. The opportunity allowed Zach Wilson’s breakout season to be showcased.
The Cougars’ starting quarterback, who’s a Manning Award finalist, may very well wrap up his collegiate career Tuesday at the Boca Raton Bowl. After BYU beat San Diego State 28-14 in the regular-season finale, Wilson was seen wearing a lei, just like the the seniors who were being honored. It led many people to speculate that Wilson played in his final game in LaVell Edwards Stadium and will enter the NFL draft after the season is over.
So, if Tuesday is the last time Wilson plays in a Cougar jersey, where would the junior land in the list of BYU quarterback greats?
“I don’t know,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said. “... I’d rather rank guys when they’re done, their careers are done, playing here.”
Robbie Bosco brought a national title to Provo. Ty Detmer won the Heisman. Jim McMahon and Steve Young went on to Super Bowl-winning careers in the NFL. And then there were Marc Wilson and Gifford Nielsen, who got the whole quarterback train rolling in Provo.
BOCA RATON BOWL
NO. 14 BYU VS. UCF
When • Tuesday, 5 p.m. MST
TV • ESPN
With BYU’s history of being considered a quarterback factory, Stewart Mandel, the college football editor for The Athletic, believes it’s been a while since the Cougars have had a true, star quarterback.
“If anything, it’s been one year after another trying to figure out who the quarterback should be,” Mandel said. “It’s been refreshing to that point. I think it’s also important to note that, whether he becomes a Heisman candidate or not, he’s now being projected as a first-round quarterback. And that brings a lot of notoriety to the school.”
Wilson was considered a possible Heisman candidate for much of the season, but he most likely won’t be invited to New York as a finalist. But Wilson joined the 3,000 Club, which includes only 17 former quarterbacks who threw for more than 3,000 yards in a single season, and recently surpassed Taysom Hill for No. 11 on BYU’s career passing yard list.
Wilson won’t have some of the same accolades as the best BYU quarterbacks but should still be remembered among them.
“I would hope that he’s remembered fondly like that, if for no other reason than, given the most difficult circumstances possible, he turned in this great season for a team that had to re-create a schedule and play through some extremely difficult circumstances,” Mandel said. “[He] just brought a lot of excitement to BYU football this year. I hope he goes down as one of their all-time greats just for that.”
When asked what kind of legacy Wilson and the other juniors and seniors that will look to take the next step in their careers will leave behind, quarterback coach Aaron Roderick was clear that they are focused on the game that’s left. The bowl game will dictate what Wilson and the other players leave behind.
“I don’t think we can find out about legacy until we find out what happens in this next game — it’s a big deal,” Roderick said. “Eleven wins is hard to do. Being a one-loss team is really hard to do. We’ve got to win this game first before we can talk about that.”
The best quarterback in BYU history is debatable. Ask any Cougar fan, and it could be McMahon or Detmer, Young or Bosco.
It depends on who they grew up watching, when they became BYU fans or even just based on a random connection. But, after this season, Wilson will be mentioned among them.
Wilson has become one of BYU’s greats.