BYU Cougars Football News: Quarterback Riley Nelson Has Chance To Live Up To High School Hype, 7 Years Later

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Through the early 80's and 90's Rileyball described the physical brand of basketball promoted by Pat Riley as Knicks, Heat and Lakers head coach, however, BYU football plays a different type of Rileyball. 

On Thursday night, most fans tuned in to watch the return of BYU alum Mike Leach and his explosive Air Raid offense from the depths of coaching hell.

As a result, millions of eyes in Provo and around the nation were on Washington State senior quarterback Jeff Tuel and his right arm.

However, BYU quarterback Riley Nelson stole the show just as he defied the odds by once retrieving the starting job from heralded recruit Jake Heaps. For the first time in his college football career, Nelson began the season as the undisputed starter of a college football team.

Nelson may be one of the most intriguing athletes in college football and his journey to his senior season has taken him to many peaks and valleys. After committing to play for Utah State in 2006 as a Parade High School All-American, Nelson embarked on a two-year mission as part of his commitment to the Mormon Church of Latter-Day Saints.

After transferring from Utah State after his freshman season, Nelson split snaps with true freshman Jake Heaps.

However, after suffering a season-ending shoulder injury, Nelson was replaced by Heaps and granted a medical redshirt.

Heaps was anointed the starting quarterback heading into the 2011 season and in the meantime, Nelson began covering kickoffs on special teams, played gunner role Tim Tebow has made famous with the punt unit.

"I hadn't even imagined Riley becoming our quarterback," head coach Bronco Mendenhall told ESPN.com. "until I watched him put on a scout jersey and run down our kickoff in practice. And run down in a scout jersey and cover a punt. I watched the team begin to be captivated by how he was handling this very unique situation [of] being the backup. Rather than just having a ballcap on and watching, he was anxiously engaged in doing anything he could to help our team."

Mendenhall also considered moving the quarterback to the opposite end of the defense to free safety.

Surprisingly, Heaps was never able to make his stamp on the position and the next year Nelson re-assumed his starting role in dramatic fashion. Trailing 24-20 with 2:46 remaining in the game, Nelson led BYU on a 98-yard game-winning drive including 66 yards passing and 30 rushing.

Nelson would finish the season with a 7-1 record over his final eight games, Heaps transferred to Kansas, where Charlie Weis is building an army of mercenary signal callers led by ex-Notre Dame starter Dayne Crist.

On Thursday night, none of the heroics were necessary. While Washington State failed to reach the end zone all night, Nelson did most of his damage in the pocket, going 25-of-36 for 285 yards and two touchdowns.

BYU's 1984 national championship remains the last national championship won by a current non-BCS conference program and in 2009, the Cougars enjoyed an 11-2 campaign that began with a 14-13 upset of No. 1 ranked Oklahoma.

If the Cougars are going to return to their former glory, BYU's Davey O'Brien Award and Maxwell Award pre-season favorite, Riley Nelson, will lead the charge.

Nelson will have quite the challenge ahead of him as the Broncos face a daunting schedule that includes Boise State, Notre Dame, Georgia Tech and Utah but Thursday night was an impressive start.