by Daniel Olsen | The hype train at BYU has become the butt of many jokes, mostly from their rival schools up north in Utah. However, this year could be different due to one person: Zach Wilson.
Wilson had average injury-riddled seasons in his first two years as an underclassmen. Now, Wilson is performing at the same level as several Heisman hopefuls across the country. It’s time to take a look and see why he should be in consideration for the award.
1. Statistics back him up: The Heisman candidates usually are one of the top leaders in statistical categories for their position and Wilson plays at the position that usually wins the Heisman most years: The Quarterback.
After the first five games, Wilson is among the top five in almost every statistical category at the quarterback position. He currently ranks third in passing yards (1,641), second in average yards per completion (12.1), second in quarterback rating (207.7), tied for fifth in passing touchdowns (12) and first in completion percentage (78.7).
Say what you will about the softer strength of schedule, but it is hard to pass at that clip to wide open receivers in practice for most people. Many Heisman candidates have come from non Power Five conferences. He’s not the definite favorite to win the Heisman but the stats show he’s in the mix.
2. Winning doesn’t hurt: For the first time since 2008, the Brigham Young University football team has started the season 5-0. As long as they keep winning they will continue to climb in the polls. An unbeaten BYU team with this schedule could easily be a top 10 ranked team. If they played with their previous brutal schedule and went undefeated, they would strongly be considered for the College Football Playoff.
Most Heisman winners or even finalists tend to play for winning teams. As long as Wilson keeps winning, he has a great chance to move up the ladder in Heisman voting. The Cougars have a great chance to do just that. According to ESPN, they have a 49 percent chance to go undefeated. That is the highest odds of any team in college football at the moment. BYU still has to go and prove it but the general feeling is they’re well on their way to achieving something special.
3. He has the attention of the national media: Heisman finalists don’t get to that level without at least some major attention from national sports writers. This isn’t just local BYU fans hyping up another quarterback they hope is the heir to Ty Detmer. Check out this tweet from ESPN following Wilson’s sneaky shovel pass touchdown. The “Shovel King” Patrick Mahomes retweeted it and also gave Wilson some well-deserved attention. If that’s not enough, he was seventh in voting from an ESPN panel for their Heisman watch list. If he keeps playing like this, that will only continue to climb.
4. He has the supporting cast: If a quarterback has total scrubs to throw to, a bad offensive line and a terrible defense, they aren’t going to have much success. Zach Wilson has arguably his best supporting cast in quite some time. Yes, injuries are starting to pile up. However, with this schedule and depth at almost every position, BYU isn’t going to put Wilson in a bind anytime soon.
Behind a stout O-line, Wilson has been sacked only four times which is the lowest among any quarterback ranked in the top ten in passing yards. While his favorite tight end Matt Bushman did have a season-ending injury, Dax Milne and Gunner Romney rank among the top 15 receivers in the nation with 1,006 combined receiving yards. BYU also ranks eighth in points allowed (14.0), ninth in total yards allowed (288), and tied for fifth in sacks (16).
With the protection of the offensive line, the defense quickly giving the offense the ball back, and talented receivers, all Wilson has to do is sit back, make his reads, and throw the dimes he is absolutely capable of making.
5. He is coachable: Wilson is a confident kid. His teammates have admitted that when he was a freshman he thought he was the greatest thing since sliced bread. His roommate and favorite target Milne can tell you firsthand of the key to Wilson’s rise this year.
“Zach is really comfortable right now,” Romney told the Athletic. “He’s finally taking the next step of being the commander of the offense. He’s taken that next step and seems so much more confident and poised this year. It feels like the game is slowing down for him. He’s not rushing anything this year.”
Wilson has taken a page out of the books of several great quarterbacks. He trained with former great BYU quarterback John Beck and even had a workout with Drew Brees. Brees is the all-time NFL leader in passing yards so he might have taught Wilson a thing or two to help increase that completion percentage by 16 percent. Through five games last year, Wilson had thrown for 1,312 yards. He is over 300 yards ahead of that pace and could join some elite competition in BYU history if he returns for his senior season. As it stands right now, some project that Wilson could be one of the top quarterbacks selected in the 2021 NFL Draft. He might decide to leave early and go get his money while the fire is hot.
Prediction: Wilson isn’t Joe Burrow or Patrick Mahomes but he made a similar leap in his game as Joe Burrow and is a student of the game like Patrick Mahomes. With a shaky “sophomore slump” and the depth of the BYU quarterback position, many thought someone like Baylor Romney or Jaren Hall could win the starting job this year due to stellar play in Wilson’s absence.
Wilson has proved the doubters wrong and if he stays healthy, he can be a serious contender in the Heisman race. He doesn’t have much room for error but if he builds upon his first 400 yard passing night against Houston on Friday night, he will do just fine. He will join other elite Heisman finalists in Manhattan and watch the long-haired version of himself, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, pick up his first Heisman award.
Image courtesy Deseret News