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Every few years, it happens: BYU enters the college football season with a senior starter at quarterback. Such is the case this season, with Riley Nelson slated to start under center on August 30th, as the Cougars host Washington State in 2012's lid-lifter.
Over the better part of the last four decades, a pattern has been observed in Provo. Since LaVell Edwards took over as head coach in 1972, every time a senior has been the clear-cut starter at QB, the Cougars have followed that player's lead in successful fashion:
BYU QB Passing Stats and Team Results With Senior Starters, Since 1972
|Season||Name||Team Record||League Standing||Passing Yards||Completion %||TDs||INTs||Pass Efficiency Rating|
|1974||Gary Sheide||7-4-1||WAC Champions||2,174||60.3%||23||19||133.8|
|1979||Marc Wilson||11-1||WAC Champions||3,720||58.5%||29||15||147.1|
|1981||Jim McMahon||11-2||WAC Champions||3,555||64.3%||30||7||155.0|
|1983||Steve Young||11-1||WAC Champions||3,902||71.3%||33||10||168.5|
|1985||Robbie Bosco||11-3||WAC Champions||4,273||66.1%||30||24||146.4|
|1991||Ty Detmer||8-3-2||WAC Champions||4,031||61.8%||35||12||168.5|
|1996||Steve Sarkisian||14-1||WAC Champions||4,027||68.8%||33||12||173.6|
|1999||Kevin Feterik||8-4||MWC Champions||3,554||61.3%||25||15||138.9|
|2001||Brandon Doman||12-2||MWC Champions||3,542||64.0%||33||8||159.7|
|2006||John Beck||11-2||MWC Champions||3,885||69.3%||32||8||169.1|
|2009||Max Hall||11-2||MWC 2nd place||3,560||67.2%||33||14||160.1|
|<b>Average for all 11 QBS</b>||<b>10.6-2.4</b>||<b>3,657</b>||<b>64.8%</b>||<b>30.5</b>||<b>13.1</b>||<b>156.4</b>|
Note: Steve Lindsley was a senior starter in 1986 (8-5; WAC 2nd place), but he was replaced in the third-to-last game of the season and did not start the final two games.
Riley Nelson's record of 6-1 as a starter in 2012 would translate to an 11-2 record over 13 games--right in line with BYU's historical average for senior starters.
In Nelson's six complete games last season (he missed most of the Idaho game with a rib/lung injury and threw for only 56 yards), he threw for 1,479 yards, or an average of 246.5 passing yards per game. Over a 13-game season, that would have resulted in 3,205 passing yards--slightly off the pace for senior starters, but in line considering his experience level.
In 2012, Nelson was a 57.4% passer, with a pass efficiency rating of 152.93. His completion percentage needs to come up, but his efficiency as a junior leads one to believe that a season in the high 150s or low 160s is within reach.
Nelson threw for 19 touchdowns and only seven interceptions in 2012--a TD-to-INT ratio of 2.7-to-1. The senior starters' above average of 30.5 TDs to 13.1 INTs results in a ratio of 2.3-to-1, so Nelson performed notably better than the historical precedent.
Riley Nelson did not assume his senior starting role in the most conventional of ways; indeed, of the quarterbacks listed, he most resembles the QB who is now his position coach and play-caller. Like Brandon Doman, Nelson was a relatively late discovery. Like Doman's off-the-bench breakout campaign as a junior, Nelson's junior season was an inspirational shot in the arm and then some, as Nelson led BYU to a double-digit win season and a bowl win, while Doman's exploits in 2000 only hinted at the highlights to come in 2001.
That 2001 season featured Doman passing and running with equal success, as he added more than 500 rushing yards to his 3,500-plus passing yards. Nelson is equipped for the same kind of dual-threat success, coming off a season in which he ran for almost 400 yards and passed Doman for third place on BYU's alltime QB rushing chart.
Should Nelson be firing from both barrels in 2012, the Cougars could be positioned for yet another double-digit win season. If BYU pulls off ten-plus wins again this year, Nelson will certainly add his name to the list of BYU QBs who not only got better with age, but often saved their best for last.