No. 52 Gifford Nielson – Quarterback – 1973-1977
Yesterday we featured Mike Chronister, a running back that I feel strongly helped to lift the Cougars into their dominant days. Gifford Nielson did the same from the quarterback position. A good football team not only needs a good quarterback, but they need really good receivers. It doesn’t matter how good a quarterback is if the receivers are unable to get open.
Gifford Nielson arrived at the beginning of Lavell Edwards career and he helped him develop the kind of offense that Lavell would use throughout his coaching career.
Although the Cougars never won a bowl game or had a ten game winning season with Nielson, his role and influence for the future is unmeasurable.
While actually playing, his impact was about average for a quarterback on this list. He did what he was supposed to do and was really good at it leading the team to an overall 18-8 record as a starter. At the time, passing the ball on first or second down was a new thing, sort of a wildcat kind of offense in a way. Nielson changed that. He showed that you can pass on 3rd down and short or 1st and ten and convert more efficiently than running every time. It changed college football and it changed BYU football forever. Receivers wanted to come to BYU. As a former receiver myself, I can tell you, every receiver loves to run routes, catch the ball and score touchdowns, not block. It’s my belief that if Nielson is an average quarterback, the Cougars don’t get the recruits that they need to set up the 1984 Championship season.
Unfortunately like so many other quarterbacks on this list that could have been ranked much higher, injuries gave Nielson a bunch of DNP, a statistic that kills players in the ranking. Nielson played all of his sophomore and junior seasons before being injured in the fourth game of the season against Oregon State his senior year. While he did play he led the NCAA in passing yards in 1976 with 3,401 yards. He was also first that season in touchdown passes with 30. For his career, he threw for 6,039 yards and 56 touchdowns. The 33 interceptions is higher than preferable and the 8.6 yards per attempt is good overall, but not great for this list. Something else that hurts his statistics is a bit is his rushing yards at -436. I know he wasn’t a scrambler, but -436 yards is a lot of yards to be losing.
Memorable Moments B-
At the time, Nielson was lighting up college football with the passing game. It was unheard of to throw the ball 30 times in a game, making him memorable for viewers back then. Watching the games now, they seem a bit dry and slow because today’s game is much quicker. One big memorable moment he has however is his injury. Against Oregon State, he injured his leg to the point of being taken out the rest of the season. Instead of leaving immediately however, he played another 11 plays before telling coaches he was finished for the day. Another memorable moment was a game winning touchdown pass with time expiring against Arizona.