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SALT LAKE CITY — The time has come to recognize the brilliance of Tyler Huntley, who is having the best senior season of any quarterback in the state of Utah since BYU’s John Beck in 2006.
A three-year starter, Huntley is the primary reason Utah is 8-1 and ranked No. 8 in the latest Associated Press poll. With three games remaining in the regular season, the Utes are heavy favorites to win the Pac-12 South Division and likely contend with Oregon for the opportunity to represent the conference in the Rose Bowl.
In 15 years as Utah’s head coach, Kyle Whittingham has built a strong foundation on toughness spearheaded by an excellent defense. For years, particularly since starting Pac-12 play in 2011, the offense has come up short in big games that left an entire program frustrated.
Credit the quiet man.
“He’s a man of few words,” said Utah offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig, “but his actions speak very loudly.”
If those actions were words, Huntley’s voice would cause ears to ring. No other player in the Pac-12 has performed better, even as he has fought through injuries the last three games.
Opponents have a better chance at hearing a sermon from Huntley as they do in getting him to make a mistake. Out of all Huntley’s impressive statistics, the best come on third-down situations during which he is the most accurate passer in the country with a completion percentage of 76.9%.
“Very impressed with his passion for the game, his work ethic. His toughness is unquestioned,” Ludwig said.
“He’s as tough a quarterback, as tough a player, as any I’ve been around.”
Like many quarterbacks have done over the years, Huntley struggled early as the starter. As a sophomore, he battled injuries (sitting out three games) and inconsistency (four interceptions in a 20-point loss to Arizona State) as the Utes stumbled through a mediocre 7-6 season.
Huntley started to shine last season as a junior in leading Utah to four consecutive wins in October. But he suffered a season-ending collarbone injury in a loss to ASU the first week of November.
Beck also plodded through his college career until taking off as a senior. In 2006, he put together one of the great seasons in BYU history, completing 289-of-417 passes for 3,885 yards with 32 touchdown passes.
Most importantly, Beck led BYU to an 11-2 record in what was the first of four consecutive seasons with double-digit wins. The Miami Dolphins drafted him in the second round in 2007.
As a side note, Brian Johnson also deserved mention for his outstanding senior season during Utah’s undefeated run to the Sugar Bowl in 2008.
Huntley has blossomed this season, pushing Utah into contention for a shot at the four-team College Football Playoff. The Utes, on target to play No. 7 Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game next month, are also ranked eighth in the first playoff poll that came out Tuesday.
Through the nine games this season, Huntley has completed 141-of-191 passes for 2,062 yards. His excellent decision-making is evidenced by 11 touchdown passes and only one interception with a passer rating of 182.46.
While a spot in the playoffs may be a longshot, the Rose Bowl is a definite possibility for Utah. Whatever the postseason holds for the Utes, the quarterback will lead the way.
“He’s the leader of this team,” said coach Kyle Whittingham.
About the only difference between Beck as a senior and Huntley this year becomes an apparent during media interviews. Beck always gave in-depth answers to every question, while Huntley prefers brief, to-the-point responses.
But don’t make any judgments based on Huntley’s interviews. He grades out high on the field and in the classroom as a leader and student.
Teammates and coaches also love him. And come senior day before Utah’s last home game later this month, Huntley likely will draw the loudest cheers from the adoring fan base.
“He’s extremely focused,” said Ludwig, who joined Utah’s staff in the offseason. “He wants to be a great football player and he works very hard at it. He has been extremely coachable since the day I walked in the building.”