Zach Wilson Enters All-Time Greatest BYU Quarterback List

Jan 20, 2021, 11:51 AM | Updated: 11:51 am

Zach Wilson - BYU Football...

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)

(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 [email protected], 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.

  • BYU Cougars Scoreboard

  • BYU Cougars Team Leaders

  • BYU Cougars Standings

Cougar Tracks

BYU Football, Zach Wilson, Kalani Sitake, Signing Day...

Mitch Harper

Ranking BYU Football’s Best Players To Sign During The Kalani Sitake Era

The best players to sign with BYU football for Kalani Sitake from high school and the Transfer Portal.

5 months ago

Foster Pavilion, Baylor Bears, BYU Basketball, Big 12...

Mitch Harper

Foster Pavilion Was Great Stage For BYU’s First Big 12 Road Game

Baylor's new $212 million home was a great setting for a Big 12 basketball game.

5 months ago

BYU Football, 12-Team Playoff, LJ Martin...

Mitch Harper

Three Things BYU Football Needs To One Day Reach 12-Team Playoff

The 12-team Playoff is coming in college football. What does BYU need to do to one day play in the bracket?

5 months ago

Big 12 Basketball, BYU, Dallin Hall...

Mitch Harper

How Will BYU Basketball Fare In Big 12? Projecting 2024 Order Of Finish

Where will BYU finish in their first season of Big 12 Conference play? Time to make predictions.

6 months ago

BYU Basketball, Mark Pope, Big 12...

Mitch Harper

Mark Pope Lays Out BYU’s Expectations For Inaugural Big 12 Schedule

Big 12 play has arrived for No. 12 BYU Basketball. Mark Pope shares his expectations for conference play.

6 months ago

BYU Basketball, Trevin Knell, Three-Point Shooting...

Mitch Harper

What We Learned About BYU Basketball During Nonconference Play

BYU basketball turns its attention to Big 12 play. But first we take a step back at look at what we learned about the Cougars in nonconference.

6 months ago

Sponsored Articles


KSL Sports

Utah Hockey Newsletter: Sign Up Now

Want to get the latest info on Utah's newest sports franchise? Sign up for the Utah Hockey newsletter!

Hans & Scotty's Day of Adoption...

Hans & Scotty’s Day Of Adoption

Join the KSL Sports Zone for Hans & Scotty's Day of Adoption, in partnership with the Humane Society of Utah, on June 25th, 2024!


KSL Sports

KSL Sports Newsletter: Sign Up Now

Sign up today for the KSL Sports newsletter. Get the latest Utah sports news delivered to your inbox.


KSL Sports

Jazz Notes Newsletter: Sign Up Now

Sign up today for the Jazz Notes newsletter. Get insider analysis, game recaps and opportunities to win tickets!

3 kids wearing real salt lake jerseys smiling...

Real Salt Lake

6 Reasons You Need to Experience a RSL Matchday

RSL Games are a great way to spend time with your family with fun activities, good food, and traditions you can only experience at the field.

High angle view of the beautiful Rose Bowl Stadium...

KSL Digital Sales

How to Prepare for the 2023 Rose Bowl

Everything you need to know to plan your 2023 Rose Bowl trip in Pasadena, California. This year, the Utes will face Penn State.

Zach Wilson Enters All-Time Greatest BYU Quarterback List