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  • Writer's pictureAdam Gibby

BYU Football Top 100: No. 2 Jim McMahon, BYU's Best Quarterback

BYU Football is only two days away from kicking off against Utah.

Think of the greatest player in modern college football history. Who would it be? Lamar Jackson, Vince Young, Christian McCaffrey and Terrelle Pryor are all players that come to mind for me. They are those players that when they stepped on the field, it didn't matter who they were playing I felt that they were by far the greatest player on the field and it wasn't even close.

BYU Football has had quite a few of those players whether it was Steve Young, Robbie Bosco, Ty Detmer, Luke Staley or Jamaal Williams, but nobody was as dominant as Jim McMahon.

Jim McMahon - Quarterback/Punter - 1978-1981

26-3. That is the overall record that McMahon had when given significant playing time. The guy just did not lose that often. Although he was never the "perfect" representitive of BYU while playing or since, he was perfect for what he was recruited to do, throw the ball and win football games.

McMahon never gave up on his team and never thought any task was too difficult. For proof, look at the 1980 Miracle Bowl when McMahon led his team to the biggest fourth quarter comeback in bowl game history.

Whether he likes it or not, McMahon will always be a Cougar and we will always look to him as one of, if not the greatest player to ever lead the BYU.


McMahon wasn't the first great quarterback for BYU Football, but he was the first of a line of really dominant quarterbacks. He changed what people thought was possible in the passing game. Prior to him playing, it was crazy to watch a player like Marc Wilson throw for 300 yards in a game. McMahon showed that Wilson wasn't necessarily unqiue, in fact he made him look like an average quarterback after throwing for 400 yards in many games. It showed that teams can win through the air and don't need a balanced attack. Until McMahon, nobody had ever thrown for 4,000 yards in a season. Now there are a few who do it every year. And much of that can be credited to McMahon doing it first.

Statistics A+

99 touchdowns. Again, that is 99 touchdowns or 594 points. That is hos many scores McMahon was responsible for either throwing or running the ball. And he did it in essentially 29 games. In total he threw for 10,113 yards on 8.96 yards per attempt. The only reason he doesn't have even more yards is because he didn't play in very many fourth quarters. In 12 games the Cougars outscored their opponents by 28 points or more, meaning that McMahon probably left a good 1,000 yards off of his potential.

In total, he broke just about every single NCAA passing record and at the time was the holder of 70 overall records. He won the Davey O'Brien Award and the Sammy Baugh Award, both for his performance as a quarterback and offensive play maker.

Memorable Moments A

First the bad. McMahon wasn't the greatest BYU student as far as living the honor code. While I'm not here to judge anything he did or did not do, it left a bad taste for a group of fans. Besides that, he was phenominal with memorable moments. Obviously the one that comes to most peoples mind is the comeback victory against SMU in the 1980 Holiday Bowl. Some other moments that come to mind include scoring 83 points against UTEP, putting up 50 or more points in eight games, thumping Utah 56-6 in 1979 and throwing for 564 yards against them the next year.

The most memorable part of McMahon's game however was his ability to find ways to score points. He would do many of his reads while he was shuffling back after the snap and before defenders even had a chance at getting to him the ball was out and down the field 30 yards.

Finally, if you thought watching Jonny Linehan was exciting, imagine watching McMahon play, because yes he was also the punter and always was a threat of pulling off a fake.

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