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Zach Wilson Enters All-Time Greatest BYU Quarterback List

Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Zach Wilson (1) signs an autograph for a young fan after the Boca Raton Bowl in Boca Raton, Fla., on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020. BYU won 49-23. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

PROVO, Utah – Former BYU football star Zach Wilson put together one of the best seasons by a Cougar quarterback in recent memory. Wilson dazzled everyone with efficiency and big playmaking ability that put BYU as the nation’s third-best scoring offense in college football for the 2020 season.

Now that Wilson’s days at BYU are in the rearview mirror, where does he rank among the greatest quarterbacks in BYU football history?

It’s a difficult question because, in most programs, a QB that puts together a season that finishes in the Top-10 of Heisman voting would instantly catapult to the best QB ever. Not as easy at BYU that has long prided itself as one of the great quarterback factories in college football history.

I decided to take on the tall task of ranking the greatest quarterbacks in BYU football history. Here’s my top 10.

Mitch Harper’s Top 10 QBs in BYU Football History

1. Jim McMahon (1977-1978, 1980-1981)

2. Ty Detmer (1988-1991)

3. Steve Young (1981-1983)

4. Marc Wilson (1975-1979)

5. Max Hall (2007-2009)

6. Zach Wilson (2018-2020)

7. Robbie Bosco (1982-1985)

8. John Beck (2003-2006)

9. Gifford Nielsen (1974-1977)

10. Steve Sarkisian (1995-1996)

BYU QBs just missed the cut: Taysom Hill, Brandon Doman, Gary Sheide, Virgil Carter, and John Walsh.

Why Zach Wilson at No. 6

It could have been easy to cave to recency bias and put him in the top five. But that upper crust of BYU quarterbacks is some of the greatest in college football history. I couldn’t put him above Max Hall, the winningest QB in BYU history, and the four legends at the top helped reinvented how the quarterback position is played in college football.

Wilson slides in at No. 6, and I think it’s the right placement for him. The 6-foot-3 signal-caller delivered big wins in his BYU career against USC, Tennessee, Houston, and Boise State. He also tossed a perfect game in his freshman year against Western Michigan in the Potato Bowl.

He’s one of only three BYU quarterbacks to win two bowl games as a starting quarterback, joining Jim McMahon and Max Hall.

What’s also impressive about Wilson is that he was one of the nation’s best quarterbacks in 2020. In a year and in an era of college football where offense wins championships and the QB play in 2020 was top shelf.

Wilson was just as good if not better than the likes of Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, Ohio State’s Justin Fields, and Alabama’s Mac Jones in major statistical categories and efficiency. Guys like McMahon, Detmer, Young, and Wilson didn’t have QB peers in college football that could come close to what they were doing. Offensive football wasn’t evolved to the level it is today. Wilson deserves a lot of credit for being among the best in the sport during a time when quarterbacks are more valuable than ever.

He became the youngest starting quarterback in BYU football history, and he navigated a lot of criticisms. Just like many of the other guys on this list. Being a BYU quarterback is not easy.

The most controversial aspect of this ranking might be Wilson being ahead of National Champion quarterback Robbie Bosco. Bosco was good; there’s no question. He led BYU to their only undefeated season. But digging into some of the numbers, Bosco tossed many interceptions, 36 to be exact. Also, his teams in 1984 and 1985 averaged 36 and 33 points per game, respectively. Modest numbers compared to some of the other BYU teams during their glory years in the 1980s.

Also, at the end of the day, I think Wilson was a better quarterback at BYU than Bosco. From his arm strength, arm angles, accuracy, it’s hard not to like what Wilson displayed throughout his BYU career.

Quarterback play conjures up a lot of debate. So I’m ready to hear your thoughts on this list. You can email me at, or you can slide into my DMs on Twitter. They are always open.

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12–3 p.m., KSL Newsradio). Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper and the KSL Sports app.

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