2004 BYU Football Preview: Quarterbacks

The good news is BYU returns three quarterbacks this season with playing experience. The bad news is no one has established themselves yet as bonafide stars of the future in the mold of former Cougar quarterback greats.

Sophomore John Beck has replaced junior Matt Berry as the preseason favorite to start this fall because Berry's injured hand took many more months to heal than expected. Both inexplicably broke bones in their hands during the season last year, but will battle for the starting nod in fall camp during the next few weeks.

MATT BERRY

Their positions have reversed from last season when Berry entered fall camp as the definitive favorite to start. Both have worked hard in the off-season to prepare for fall camp, although Beck was seen a lot more in informal 7-on-7 drills with teammates during the summer. Beck's worth ethic, off-season leadership, bonding with virtually all his wide receivers and tight ends in voluntary workouts since spring practice ended, will likely land him the starting nod this fall.

JACKSON BROWN

The only other quarterback with BYU game experience is junior Jackson Brown, who was recently awarded a coveted scholarship by head coach Gary Crowton. With both Beck and Berry sidelined by injury during last season's rival game against Utah, Brown saw most of the game action in a Provo snow bowl where the Utes emerged victorious with an underwhelming 3-0 victory margin.

The Cougars lost reserve signal caller senior Todd Mortensen, who opted for immediate playing time this fall at the University of San Diego. Mortensen had already graduated from BYU and was attending law school in Provo.

JASON BECK

As insurance against the freakish injuries suffered by BYU's top two quarterbacks last season, Crowton signed junior college standout Jason Beck from College of the Canyons. He will not be mistaken for an immediately emerging All-American caliber passer, but Jason Beck proved he can win consistently with great instincts, escapability and an adequate arm that often gets the ball to its intended targets in unimpressive fashion.

Redshirt freshman Mike Affleck, a transfer from Arizona State who committed to Utah but changed his mind, will instead walk-on for the Cougars. He will file an appeal with the NCAA that might allow him to play this fall without sitting out a year. Even if he was eligible to play immediately, Affleck is not in the same league as a fully healthy John Beck or Matt Berry, according to informed sources.

The only remaining $64,000 question regarding the Cougars quarterback position is whether high school All-American Ben Olson will return to BYU after his LDS mission in Canada later this year. Olson is talented enough not to be intimidated by any of the current quarterbacks on the roster, but a lot of his final decision may hinge on how well Crowton leads and guides the Cougars and its emerging quarterbacks this fall. Affleck's addition to the Cougar roster should have no negative impact on his decision.

Recognizing his quarterbacks are still young with no playoff-caliber experience, look for Crowton to change the way he utilizes his quarterback this fall. It should come as no surprise to any analyst that BYU's quarterbacks will get rid of the pigskin a lot faster this season than last, eliminating a lot of the defensive pass-rush pressure. The key is good decision-making by the Cougar signal callers. Whoever does best in this category earns and keeps the starting job.

Moreover, the Cougars have substantially rebuilt and upgraded its offensive arsenal with more seasoned tight ends and a bunch of new wide receivers that will transform the Cougars offense immediately. In addition, all the top running backs and projected fullback starter are excellent receivers out of the backfield. What does it all mean? It opens up the threat of BYU's running game like opponents haven't seen in the last two years.

BOTTOM LINE:

John Beck enters camp with a decided edge because he's earned the respect and trust of teammates and he possesses the strongest arm of the bunch with above average mobility and speed.
• Until we see otherwise, Matt Berry holds the edge as the best game decision-maker among the quarterbacks.
Jason Beck may not start this season, but his proven instincts, mobility and escapability may be put to good use in specific situations by Crowton.
Jackson Brown is a gifted all-round athlete, but will not break the two-deep roster unless injuries take their toll again this season.
Mike Affleck will not contend for a starting quarterback slot, even if the NCAA approves his appeal this fall.

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