BYU's greatest football players
The top three pillars of the program are in the video above -- now check out who just missed the cut ...
BYU holds a college football distinction as the only national champion to play its bowl game before New Year's Day when on Dec. 21, 1984, the Cougars defeated Michigan 24-17 in the Holiday Bowl to complete an undefeated season. But BYU's impact on the national scene has a much more historical significance. When LaVell Edwards took over as head coach in 1972, he implemented a precursor of sorts of the West Coast offense and BYU took flight. On seven different occasions, Cougar quarterbacks led the nation in total offense. In the 29 years Edwards served as head coach, the Cougars led the nation in passing eight times and finished in the top five 17 times. Beginning in the mid-1970s and culminating in the early '90s with its lone Heisman Trophy winner, Ty Detmer, BYU produced a string of All-Americans and subsequent College Football Hall of Fame inductees at the quarterback position, earning a Quarterback U. moniker.
Quarterback | 1982-85
♦ Led BYU to national title (1984)
♦ Third in Heisman balloting (1984, '85)
Quarterback | 1978-81
♦ First Davey O'Brien winner (1981)
♦ Set 75 NCAA records
Quarterback | 1988-91
♦ 1990 Heisman Trophy winner
♦ Set 94 NCAA records
Tight End | 1980-83
♦ Two-time All-American (1982, '83)
♦ 2,484 career receiving yards
Quarterback | 1975-77
♦ First Utahn to be named All-American
♦ Two-year basketball player at BYU
Running Back | 1999-2001
♦ 2001 Doak Walker Award winner
♦ 48 career touchdowns
Quarterback | 1977-79
♦ 1979 Sammy Baugh Trophy winner
♦ 1979 Senior Bowl MVP
Quarterback | 1980-83
♦ Heisman Trophy runner-up (1983)
♦ 8,781 career yards (pass & rush)
With all those quarterbacks leading the way, they had to have someone to throw to and in 1983, QB Steve Young had that in Hudson, a senior tight end. Hudson had burst onto the scene as a sophomore, setting an NCAA record for most yards by a tight end in a single game when he racked up 259 against rival Utah. He also tied the NCAA mark for receptions by a tight end that season with 67 in earning All-America honorable mention honors.
Hudson was a consensus All-America selection his junior and seniors seasons and despite his final year being cut short by injury, he and Young gave BYU two consensus All-Americans for the first time in school history. Hudson finished his career as the NCAA record-holder for most career receiving yards by a tight end with 2,484. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2009.
Before such quarterback luminaries as Jim McMahon, Young, Robbie Bosco and Detmer, there was Nielsen, a first-team All-American in 1976 who led the nation with 29 TD passes and was second in total offense. During his time at BYU, Nielsen led the nation in three passing categories, broke 13 school records and set 13 Western Athletic Conference records.
Nielsen had thrown for 1,167 yards and 16 TDs in just four games in his senior year before a knee injury ended his collegiate career. Nielsen then served as mentor for his replacement, Marc Wilson, who would go on to leave his own mark on the BYU history books. Nielsen's support and coaching of Wilson was recognized as a great example of sportsmanlike behavior, and contributed to his being named by the NCAA as a member of the College Athletics' Top Five in 1978.
Nielsen was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1994 and was a Class of 2003 member of the NCAA Silver Anniversary Awards.
Staley scored three touchdowns in his very first game and never stopped reaching for the end zone, setting school records for most touchdowns in a season (28) and career (48), and most points scored by a non-kicker (290).
As a junior in 2001, Staley was the main cog in a BYU offense that led the NCAA in scoring (46.8 points per game) and total offense (542.9 yards per game). Staley rushed for 1,582 yards and 24 touchdowns, both school records. His rushing average (8.1 yards per carry) led the NCAA and his 143.8 rushing yards per game ranked third nationally. For his efforts he received the Doak Walker Award and the Jim Brown Award as the nation's top running back and was a consensus first-team All-American.
Staley left for the NFL after his junior season with a school-best 6.0 rushing average.
In his first start as injured All-American Gifford Nielsen's replacement, all Wilson did was throw for seven touchdowns. He racked up a 22-4 record as a starting quarterback.
His senior season in 1979 famously began by leading BYU to an upset of highly ranked Texas A&M just weeks after undergoing an emergency appendectomy as the Cougars finished the regular season undefeated. Wilson threw for 3,720 yards and 29 touchdowns, becoming the school's first consensus All-American and was the winner of the Sammy Baugh Trophy as College Passer of the Year.
Wilson broke nine NCAA records, including 571 yards passing against Utah, and tied two others during his time at BYU. He received the NCAA Top Five Award in 1980 and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1996.
The great-great-great-grandson of school founder Brigham Young, it took a while for Steve Young to gain footing at BYU. Actually, footing was his strong suit. Unlike other BYU quarterbacks before and since him, Young was a better runner than passer and was nearly switched to defensive back early in his career.
At one time Young was eighth on the depth chart but by 1982 had earned the starting role as successor to McMahon. Young became a breakout star in his senior season of 1983, setting a single-season record for completion percentage of 71.3, one of 13 NCAA records he broke that season. He passed for 3,902 yards and 33 touchdowns in the regular season and, coupled with hiss 544 rushing yards, BYU set an NCAA record by averaging 584.2 yards of total offense per game, with 370.5 of those yards coming from Young's passing and rushing.
Young won the Davey O'Brien Award as the nation's top quarterback and was named a first-team All-American. He capped his college career by scoring the game-winning touchdown -- he caught a halfback pass -- in BYU's 21–17 victory against Missouri in the 1983 Holiday Bowl.
Young finished his career with 7,733 yards and 56 touchdowns passing, along with 1,048 yards and 18 TDs rushing. Post-playing recognition includes the NCAA Top Five Award (1984), College Football Hall of Fame (2001) and NCAA Silver Anniversary Award (2009).