The 2011 football season was one of the most fascinating in recent memory. So fascinated am I, in fact, that I had to write one more blog post about it.
This season was the Rattlesnake Rapids of football seasons. We fans were taken to dizzying heights, devastating lows, and turbulent middles. Our expectations were sky high when the season started, but then by the end we were happy just to scrape out a win over a mediocre Tulsa team in the Armed Forces Bowl.
And in the middle of it all was a baby-faced quarterback from Issaquah, Washington: Jake Heaps. I've been thinking a lot about the course of events that led Jake to transfer, and with your permission I'd like to present them now with just a little tiny bit of commentary.
December 18, 2010: BYU beats UTEP in the New Mexico Bowl, 52-24. Jake Heaps had 264 yards passing, four TDs and 1 INT. He was named the bowl MVP, and definitely ended a rocky 2010 season on a high note. BYU fans like me saw nothing but bright lights for 2011.
January 4, 2011: Bronco Mendenhall names Brandon Doman the new Offensive Coordinator. Doman promises to bring unpredictability and explosiveness back to BYU with his new "pro-style" offense. Jake Heaps, who played in a spread offense since he was a freshman in high school, says he can't wait.
Spring, 2011: Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall admits (finally) that Jake Heaps will be the unquestioned starter in 2011. Heaps, during a very good batch of spring practices, continually refers to the 2011 Cougars as "his team."
Summer, 2011: According to BYU columnist Dick Harmon (and unbeknownst to fans), Jake Heaps misses all but three of the 66 scheduled team practices. Is this where the team started taking Riley's side?
July 13, 2011: BYU Media Day, and this famous quote from Jake Heaps: "There's only championship to play for now and that's the national championship." Expectations continue to soar.
August 6, 2011: BYU opens fall camp. Jake Heaps has an incredible camp in which he completes almost all of his passes without many mistakes. The 2011 Cougars are a mix of youth, experience, raw talent and hard work. USC transfers Uona Kaveinga and Hebron Fangupo are expected to make a big splash on what is assumed will be a stingy defense, and the offense is projected to be among BYU's best, with a returning core of skill players (including the much heralded Heaps and his favorite 2010 target Cody Hoffman). Fans are foaming at the mouth, dreaming of the elusive undefeated season and subsequent BCS bowl.
September 3, 2011: BYU beats Ole Miss 14-13. The offense looked bad. Jake Heaps showed a strange combination of costly hesitation and nervous anxiety. Kyle Van Noy saved the day with an extraordinary defensive touchdown to seal the win. BYU fans brush off the offensive performance with excuses like "BYU always starts slow," "It's a new offense with a new OC," and "Ole Miss needed the win more than BYU."
September 10, 2011: BYU loses to Texas 16-17. Jake Heaps looks great early, but then flatlines in the second half to let Texas come back and win. Brandon Doman shoulders most of the blame. Note: The first half of this game was the highlight of Jake's year.
September 17, 2011: That fateful day. BYU loses to their arch rivals, the Utah Utes (or is it Hawks?), 54-10. Jake finds new and creative ways to turn the ball over, including tossing the ball in our own endzone so the Utes could recover it for a TD on the first play of the game. Jake's follies land him on ESPN's "Not Top Ten," and Cougars everywhere hit an epic low.
September 23, 2011: BYU barely beats what turned out to be a very bad Central Florida team, 24-17. Jake Heaps did very little to help the team win. Rather, it was Cody Hoffman's 93-yard Kickoff return TD that made the difference.
September 30, 2011: Another week, another painful look into the poor play and poorer execution of a once proud quarterback. Jake Heaps is ineffective against an improving but still bad Utah State Aggie squad. Utah State leads for most of the game, and finally Jake Heaps is benched in the third quarter. The crowd goes wild as Riley Nelson enters the game, and they go even wilder when Riley leads his team back from the dead and to the sweet shores of victory. A wild hail mary to McKay Jacobson and a miraculous deflection TD to Marcus Matthews sealed the win for the Cougars, and Jake Heaps' future at BYU started to disintegrate.
November 12, 2011: Heaps, who watched silently on the sidelines for six straight weeks, finally got called into action when the Idaho Vandals knocked Riley Nelson out of the game with a cracked rib and punctured lung. Heaps responds well, throwing for 185 yards and 2 TDs.
November 19, 2011: Heaps gets his first start since the Utah State game, and crushes the Aggies of New Mexico with 238 yards passing and 4 TDs. Despite two solid weeks from the sophomore phenom, Bronco insists that Riley Nelson will start again when he is healthy.
December 3, 2011: Riley Nelson is back. After a speedy recovery, Nelson makes the trip to Hawaii and BYU pounds the Warriors 41-20. Riley Nelson passes for an eye-popping 363 yards and 3 TDs (and not a single interception). Heaps gets some play in mop-up time, and his final pass as a BYU Cougar was a zippy incompletion on a McKay Jacobson out route. Fitting.
Decenber 5, 2011: Jake Heaps announces he will transfer from BYU. Eager for someone to blame, fans point fingers at coaches, players and Heaps himself, but the fact remains: Our golden boy, the QB that was supposed to win us a National Championship, no longer wanted to be a BYU Cougar.
What an incredible year. Clearly getting benched vs. Utah State was the turning point of Jake Heaps' Cougar career. Had Jake stayed in the game, we almost certainly would have lost. Riley showed guts in his comeback win, and he earned a shot to start the next week.
Riley had a lot of success as a starter in 2011, but how much of that success was simply due to bad competition? I could argue, for example, that Jake would have beaten San Jose State, Oregon State and Idaho State just as badly as Riley Nelson did. So was it wise to let Nelson take the credit?
It was a tough position for our coaches, and We'll debate their decisions for years and years, but you can't argue that Jake badly underperformed in his Sophomore season at BYU. He looked uncomfortable and jumpy. He had no touch on his throws, and even though there were glimpses of pure talent, by and large Jake Heaps turned out to be a huge disappointment.
Clearly Jake and Riley could not coexist at BYU. Riley, the tough and gritty no-name who did whatever he could to get on the field and help the team win, and Jake the rocket-armed 5-star recruit who went to all the right camps, said all the right things and built himself into an NFL quarterback. They just didn't get along.
And Jake couldn't take it anymore.
I would have preferred Jake Heaps stay at BYU, redshirt and start his career anew in 2013. Taking his lumps, staying home and redshirting, all in the name of helping his team improve, would have done much to heal the wounds suffered in the locker room as a consequence of having to live with a QB controversy for two straight years.
But for the first time in his life, Jake Heaps was challenged. And instead of fight, he flew the coop. It's sad. And that's why this season will always live on as one of the most fascinating in Cougar history.