by Matt Mangum
A few weeks ago I posted a list of players I was considering to be included an on All Time BYU Offensive Team. Since then I have agonized over some of these selections. I have changed my mind on some of these as recently as this morning and if I were to continue thinking about it I am sure I could change my mind again. The final team here is comprised of the players that I feel best fit the criteria that I originally set out. One of the best parts of writing something like this is the opportunity to watch old games online and remember how good some of the BYU teams of yesteryear have been. Very few football programs can put together a list with this type of talent. Even the two deep chart on a team like this is very impressive. I tried to be concise as I talked about my selection so I am looking forward to discussing this with everybody. So without further ado, here are my selections to the BYU All Time Offensive Team:
Quarterback – Jim McMahon
McMahon was recently ranked by Adam here on LoyalCougars.com as having had the best QB Season in BYU History. There is a reason he was ranked number one on that list: He’s the greatest BYU QB of all time. His 1980 season is a thing of legend. The man threw for nearly fifty touchdowns that year! He finished his BYU Career with 84 passing touchdowns and 9,500 yards. These kinds of numbers were galactic compared to is contemporaries. He owned every record in any meaningful statistical category for his position and was the undisputed leader of his team. He was also behind one of the greatest comebacks in the history of sport when he led BYU back to win the 1980 Holiday Bowl against the Pony Express from SMU. There have been some great quarterbacks that have come through BYU. I submit that McMahon was the greatest of them all.
Running Backs – Harvey Unga and Luke Staley
Harvey Unga was a singularly dominant force when playing. He is the current leading rusher at BYU. Without the running game of Harvey Unga, I would argue that Max Hall does not become Max Hall. Austin Collie and Dennis Pitta probably would have had a much different experience as well. Not that he made them better players, but he created opportunity because he was such a threat. They all did that for each other. 2007 was his best season statistically. He topped 1,200 yards and ran for 13 scores. He was a fierce competitor and really came alive in the Utah game at the end of that season. He was a leader on the field and dominated with brute force. While he did not top 1,200 yards again he had three 1,000+ yard seasons in a row and, had he remained for another season, would have set a BYU career rushing record that would not even be approached for a long time. If I were only choosing one running back, Harvey would be my choice.
This was a difficult decision for me. Because I missed Luke Staley’s best games, I spent some time really looking into Staley’s career at BYU. Using the new BYUtv app on my iPhone I watched the BYU vs. Utah game from 2001. Luke Staley was a force in that game. In a sport where each team puts 11 men on the field at a time, it is difficult for a single person to take charge of games in the way that Staley did. The final 5 minutes of that game against Utah being the best example. He broke loose from pass blocking when the play broke down and was available for Doman to throw a TD pass. A few minutes later he took the corner, off of a great downfield block, and ran the rock across the yard and to the house. Going back through his body of work he has got to be the choice for this team. While he may have had just one big year, his performance meets all of the criteria that I originally set out. He is in the top ten all time for rushing yards in a game, rushing yards in a season and rushing yards in a career. Taking into account that he really only had one breakout year, that is pretty significant. Staley beats out Eldon Fortie with his prominence among his contemporaries. In 2001 he led the nation in yards per rushing attempt and scoring. He also received the Doak Walker Award.
While it is difficult to leave Fortie off of this list, I think he barely loses out to Staley. Fortie led the team in total offense, passing and rushing in 1961. He then led the team in all three of those and scoring in 1962. If you take a minute to look at that, it really is a staggering statistic. His contribution is very unique among BYU Running Backs. My Dad has told me that if I had seen Fortie play in person he would easily have made this team. He may be right.
Wide Receivers – Austin Collie and Eric Drage
It would be a joke not to include Collie on this team. In my opinion he is simply the best receiver that has ever played at BYU. The offense at the time did not lend itself to a very ornate use of the passing tree. Collie still managed to shred secondaries. BYU fans have gotten plenty mileage out of some of Collie’s plays against Utah and he was also a nationally respected receiver. He simply had more talent that any other Cougar to play the position. In 2008 Collie had 11 games were he topped 100 yards receiving. In 2006 he accomplished the feat 6 times. He is also the all time leader for receiving yards in a career and in an individual season.
Eric Drage does not feel like the obvious choice for me. Having a Heisman Trophy winner as a Quarterback almost feels like an unfair competitive advantage. On the other hand, how many receivers in BYU history have had the benefit of quartberbacks who competed on the same level as Ty Detmer? There have been alot of them. So in other words, that competitive advantage evens out. Eric Drage was a consistent high performer and was involved in some big games for the program. Drage had 4 100 yard receiving games in 3 separate seasons (1991, 1992, 1993). He is number 2 in receiving yards in a career to Austin Collie and appears in the top ten of just about every pertinent statistic. Maybe I am way off base here, this was an unexpected choice for me. However after looking at the stats and the period of time he was playing for the team, Eric Drage is my choice.
Tight End – Clay Brown
In 1980 Clay Brown played in a Holiday Bowl game where he caught 5 passes for 155 yaards. 3 of those receptions were touchdowns. One of them was the TD reception that tied the game. His participation in that game alone earns him a place in this discussion. He is not in the top ten for receptions by a tight end at BYU, but he is the the top ten for receiving yards by a tight end. (He’s no. 6 with 1,691 yards.) He gained more yards with much fewer receptions. His 15 TD receptions in 1980 place him tied for first among all pass catchers for TD receptions in a season. If you include his 3 TD catches in that year’s Holiday Bowl, he passes Austin Collie for the sole no. 1 spot on that list. Taking into account some of the prolific receiving seasons at BYU, for him to do that as a Tight End is remarkable. He may not have run away with this like McMahon did with the QB slot, but the top spot is his all the same.
I know Adam wanted to put Chad Lewis here. I stand by my earlier comment that I am not sure Chad Lewis was the best Tight End on the 1996 team. I think that distinction belongs to Itula Mili. The coaching staff in 1996 said that Mili may have been the best tight end they had ever coached. (As reported by the color commentator on the ESPN broadcast of the 1996 BYU vs. Utah game). Chad Lewis went on to a much more illustrious NFL career which may cloud the way that BYU fans remember him. Don’t get me wrong, he was awesome. He just wasn’t the best one of them all.
Offensive Line – Eli Herring, Mo Elewonibi, John Tait, Trevor Matich, Bart Oates
Eli Herring may be most famous for his decision to forego the opportunity to play in the NFL. Herring determined that he was not comfortable playing professional football on Sundays. His decision met a variety of responses from BYU fans. His decision and it’s aftermath have gained a unique place in BYU lore.
Mo Elewonibi won the Outland Trophy on 1989 and was a consensus All American. He is arguably the best offensive lineman to ever play at BYU.
John Tait is the sole member of the 1996 team that made this list. If I were to rank offensive lines as a unit, I beleive that the 1996 O-line may have been the best that BYU has ever seen. As individuals, Tait is the only one that makes it to this list.
Trevor Matich was a great offensive lineman at a great time to be at BYU. Matich was the center on the 1984 National Championship team and I love watching him on ESPN.
Bart Oates was also at BYU at a great time. Oates was in the huddle with some great teams and led offensive lines that blocked for some very talented teams. Men like Steve Young and others owe a great deal of their success to centers like Bart Oates.
*Statistics for this article were collected at cougarstats.com and the media guide available at byucougars.com.