This is the first of a nine-article series previewing the 2015 BYU Cougars football team.
One moment it seemed that BYU could send a quarterback to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist for the first time since Ty Detmer. The next, that star quarterback was helped off the field with a broken leg and broken dreams for the 2014 season.
Taysom Hill's career at BYU has more ups and downs than the wildest roller coasters.
Hill showed promise from the first time he took the field back in 2012. His first pass was a on-the-run touchdown against Washington State. It looked like he could take over for a struggling Riley Nelson as the starter as a freshman as he led a comeback that came just short against Boise State as well as wins against Hawaii and Utah State.
Unfortunately, Hill tore his knee against the Aggies on a play where he should have taken a knee. That was the first time his season ended prematurely.
His sophomore season didn't end in injury, but it certainly had its ups and downs. The year 2013 started with a thud against Virginia as he completed just 32.5 percent of his passes and rushed for just 42 yards as the Cougars lost to an opponent that would finish 2-10 that season.
The very next game Hill was making the mighty Texas defense look like a high school squad as he torched the Longhorns for 259 yards rushing and three touchdowns.
At times Hill seems unstoppable. Texas certainly couldn't stop Hill from going around, over, under and through its defense in the 2014 rematch in Austin. He's the kind of quarterback that can leave defenders in his dust and he's physical enough to push them out of the way if needed. He's also shown that he can put the team on his shoulders and will it to victory, particularly in games against Houston and Virginia last season.
And Hill had made some nice improvements in the passing game. While Hill strength is still in the running game, he was completing 66.7 percent of his passes in 2014. That was a 12.8 percent increase over 2013.
It was even more clear what kind of impact Hill had on the team after he was gone. Hill's season-ending injury against Utah State sent the Cougars into a four-game losing streak as the Cougars limped to a 8-5 finish after a 4-0 start.
Simply put, the biggest question in Provo as the 2015 season approaches is this: Can Hill stay healthy?
Of course, Hill wasn't quite 100 percent in spring ball, although he is expected to get there before fall camp opens. While he did participate in non-contact drills, the Cougars turned to Christian Stewart to handle live drills. While Stewart did an admirable job in a difficult situation last season in taking over for Hill, the problem is he has no eligibility left.
That pretty much sums up BYU's quarterback situation.
The Cougars had only three quarterbacks on the roster in spring football. McCoy Hill suffered a foot injury in spring camp. Hunter Moore is the only other quarterback on the roster and he has yet to attempt a pass in a college game.
BYU will not have a senior like Stewart waiting in the wings should Hill go down a third time. That places all the more pressure on the Cougars to prevent that from happening.
Still, BYU has some interesting newcomers.
Mangum is an interesting player and could well be the future of BYU football under center. He was invited to the prestigious Elite 11 and shared an MVP award with Neal Burcham and future Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. He's a more traditional type of BYU quarterback as he is more of a pro-style quarterback than a dual-threat like Hill. He passed for 3,885 yards and 35 touchdowns as a senior at Eagle High School in Idaho.
Only problem is he's been away from football for a while. Whatever opposing programs may say about the advantage of having older players, LDS Church missions mean two years of doing a lot of not playing football. Besides, being a highly recruited high school star is no guarantee of success at the college level.
Just ask Jake Heaps.
Mangum has some stiff competition also coming in this season. Take Beau Hoge, another true freshman coming in from Kentucky. He's a quarterback in the Hill mold. He made "SportsCenter" after he avoided 12 tackles en route to a 85-yard rushing touchdown. Plus, Hoge has an impressive pedigree as he's the son of former Pittsburgh Steelers running back and ESPN analyst Merril Hoge.
Mangum vs. Hoge should be a fascinating battle for the backup quarterback come this fall. The winner will have a leg up in the battle to replace Hill after this season. Hopefully, neither young man will be called upon to replace him sooner than expected.
At best, Taysom Hill could still end up as the first Heisman Trophy finalist from BYU since Detmer. If he can stay healthy he'll gain national attention like he did before his injury last season.
At worst, BYU could be depending on a true freshman next season.
Either way, Cougar fans would be well advised to strap in. The year 2015 promises to be a wild ride at the quarterback position.
Lafe Peavler is a contributor for the Deseret News. Follow him on Twitter @LafePeavler.