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December 27, 2013

Legacy Check: KVN Edition (aka One Long Post)

-- Debating the final ranking of an all-time Cougar

There was a time in my life when I was close enough to talk to Kyle Van Noy, he of BYU stat-stuffing fame, half man, half man-crush.  I took the opportunity of course, yelling from the bleachers, "You're the man Van Noy!"   Kyle, having dismissed a heckler just moments before, turned to me, pointed and said, "Thank you." It was the greatest conversation11.  I admittedly use this term rather loosely. I've ever had.

Kyle was the man, both in that game against Utah State -- pick-six on the opening play, various tackles for loss -- and throughout his BYU career at large. He's the best defensive player BYU has seen since ... who?  Aaron Francisco in 2004?  Rob Morris in 1998?  Jason Buck in 1986?  The list of Van Noy's Cougar contemporaries is not long.  Consider: as of this writing Van Noy needed to block one kick and force one fumble to record a stat in every single defensive category ... for the third season in a row.  No other player in the NCAA has accomplished the feat in at least the last two years.

That moment when KVN acknowledged me in conversation -- looking into his eyes was like looking into Yvonne Strahovski's -- I decided he was in.  He had reached my personal pantheon, my Cougar Hall of Fame, this simple list:  he had made it as one of my three favorite Cougars of all time.

With football -- as compared to the 5-man game of basketball -- and college football in particular, so many players are shuffled through a fan's conscious that as you age it becomes harder and harder to rank the who's who among the white and blue.  So in an act of attempted simplification I decided some years back that I wouldn't go through the trouble of ranking my favorite tackle, guard and center of all time.  I wouldn't have a favorite player from the 90's and from the 00's and so on and so forth.  I would just have a top 3; my favorite players, for whatever reasons I deem, of all-time.2 To make the list requires knocking another out.
2.  And to make things more interesting than simply listing Ty Detmer, Steve Young and Player X, I only allow players I've watched to qualify.
What did the pantheon look like prior to Van Noy's bombardiering of Utah State?  My favorite three were these:

Austin Collie
2.  Luke Staley
3.  Steve Sarkisian33.  Don't worry, a future opus which no one besides Devon will be interested in reading is coming which will detail the vigorous thought processes that led to these rankings.

Going into the 2013 season I wondered if Van Noy would do enough to crack the top three. I had planned to reserve judgment until the season concluded, but Van Noy's performance against USU was so quick, so devastating and so personally vengeful against the city of Logan that he immediately jumped (the) Sark and took over third place.  As far as Van Noy was concerned, I had seen enough. The five defensive touchdowns,44.  I've searched high and low for the record for most defensive touchdowns in NCAA history to see how Van Noy's number stacks up. The best I can find is the stat for most career interceptions returned for touchdowns, which is five. Therefore unless those interceptors are also returning numerous fumbles back for TDs, Van Noy's 5 career TDs have to be in the all-time mix. the sack from nowhere, the tribute to Jordan Pendleton, the goal-line stand at Boise, the tackle-tackle for loss-sack sequence against Tulsa to deny field goal range, the return for his senior campaign ...5

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            5. A feat the first two names on this list failed to do. 

BYU's win over Utah State was the second in a five-game winning streak which included what were then impressive victories over Houston, Georgia Tech and Boise State.  BYU was rolling and I felt great about Van Noy cracking the top-3 of favorite all-timers.

But now seven weeks later? In the aftermath of the second half of the season going sour, with blown opportunities against Wisconsin and Notre Dame and a whole lot of average against Nevada, I'm not so sure.  With an enormous chance to crack the top-25 and forge a special season, BYU whiffed.

Van Noy's level of play seems to have synchronized sunk with that of the team as a whole and a season that once looked really, really good has turned into the classic 'if only' season.66.  The biggest of these if onlys? If only the PAC-12 degenerates wouldn't have thrown the absolutely absurd flag for holding on Hine's kickoff return for a touchdown against Utah. That stripped touchdown was the biggest stomach punch I've felt since MJ's push-off not to mention the 3rd TD since 2002 that officials have taken away from BYU during the rivalry game.  One player alone is not to blame, especially one who is playing with an undisclosed injury severely limiting his ability.  But when I step away from my top-3 and wonder about Van Noy's overall legacy at BYU -- and by extension, that of his senior running mate Cody Hoffman -- I think two things will always stand out:

a)  Both these players accomplished feats of such physical and statistical dominance, the likes of which had never before been seen at BYU, that we fans will long marvel over and over when reliving their careers.77.  I mean seriously, are you guys kidding us with some of these plays?

b)  Both these players were part of teams that for the most part will be remembered as disappointments, and because of that we will never marvel at their accomplishments like we would have otherwise. 

To get an idea of what I mean, answer this: How much more adoration would you heap on Van Noy and the Hoff if BYU had beaten Utah, Virginia and Notre Dame this year and gone 12-1 with a top-15 ranking? How does that change their legacy? Does Kyle Van Noy make 1st team All-American under that scenario?   Does Hoffman take the best wide receiver in BYU history belt from Collie without argument?

Contrast their careers with that of another recent BYU record-setter, Mr. Jimmer Fredette. Does Jimmer-mania explode like it did if the basketball team had lost to #4 ranked SDSU back in January of 2011 or if they'd gotten knocked out of the first round of the tournament in 2010? Does it happen if the 2011 team starts 15 and 8 instead of 22 and 1? Even assuming Jimmer were to score the same amount point-for-point under this hypothetical, saddled with those losses he would never have become as beloved as he is now.

And so it is that even though Kyle Van Noy and Cody Hoffman will graduate as the most accomplished to ever play their position at BYU, I think fans may be hard-pressed to grant them ultimate veneration because their teams weren't good enough to win the meaningful games that make a special season.  Think about it for a minute.  What are the memorable wins BYU had during the 4-year tenures of Van Noy and Hoffman? (Granted, everyone has their own definition of what makes a big or memorable game, but here's my list.)

1. Texas in 2013
2. Utah State in 2012

That's it.  Two games.  You can make an argument for the victory over USU in 2011 (the Riley Nelson miracle, which was less miracle than karma) and maybe the win over Washington in 2010 but I can't find many others.88.  OK, and maybe the win against SDSU in '10 because that was the day the defense was reborn and the crowd and the team was awesome in the rain.  This doesn't mean that there weren't impressive wins along the way, even dramatic wins at that.  It's just that over the last few years those two big wins and all the others are seemingly blocked from view thanks to the pile of lost opportunities stacked in the corner: versus Texas and TCU in '11; versus Notre Dame in '12 and '13; versus Boise State and Oregon State in '12; versus Utah in '10, '11, '12 and '13.

These aren't the ramblings of an outlandish fan who complains about every loss his team experiences. These were games that BYU was in, where their talent was sufficient to keep the score close and give BYU a 50-50 shot at winning!  In the end, the lame outcome of those 50-50 games may be the difference maker in how this dynamic senior duo is remembered. 

Please keep in mind this isn't fair.  It is not the fault of Van Noy or Hoffman that the team switched offensive coordinators twice during their four years together, that their offense was so messed up it once started two QBs at the same time, that during their careers the level of scheduling difficulty increased beyond what BYU football had ever experienced, that their o-lineman have been pushed over by cornerbacks,  that field goal kickers and hikes into the end-zone lost them half their games against Utah, that against TCU in 2011 the punting team forgot how to work.  It's not fair that if Van Noy had starred opposite of Max Hall and recorded 3 consecutive 10-win seasons that I would probably rank him second only to Collie in the all-time annals. But unfortunately this is the way history works.  No one hardly remembers that John Stockton owns the NBA record for assists and steals; this, because he never won the big one. 

And so regarding this personal legacy tracking system, the Hansen Hall of Fame as it were, I'm back where I started: debating Van Noy and his four years of merits versus Steve Sarkisian and one magical season in 1996.  In writing this I probably watched a solid hour of pure Kyle Van Noy highlights, being reminded over and over of the fact that HOLY SMOKES this guy is awesome!  I mean unbelievably freaking awesome!  I listed five career highlights of his in the paragraph above and could list five more with ease.  Can you remember another defensive player at BYU that disrupted so many plays?  Losses in big games be damned, the guy won at least three games on his very own -- Ole Miss in '11, SDSU in '12 and USU in '13 -- and this from the defensive side of the ball!  And still I'm probably forgetting over three-fourths of the plays he's made!

But does all that mean I can place Van Noy above the first quarterback I ever loved, the player who single-handedly baptized me into BYU football with this pass in the first football game I ever watched? Can I demote the QB who led BYU to the highest ranking I've seen while alive, 
the player I immortalized via 8-year old art on sacrament programs for an entire Fall of church meetings?


There was a time in my life when I was close enough to talk to Kyle Van Noy's girlfriend, she of Miss Utah fame, half YouTube star, half YouTube scar.  I took the opportunity of course, interrupting her walk about the concourse by exclaiming, "Where the heck did you get that sweet hoodie?"  Her hoodie, boasting the number 3 and the Van Noy appellate across the back, was obviously not to be found in stores because the NCAA is great at screwing the people who make them rich
.  She responded that Van Noy himself had gifted it to her. Duly impressed, I wanted to ask if I could buy it off her, but then realized a girl like her is probably sick of guys trying to get her to take off her clothes. And so we parted ways. 

Walking back to our seats, my brother-in-law remarked that the girl we had just met was astoundingly hot.  I concurred, mentioning she did win Miss Utah afterall.  The exchange led to a simple question from my brother-in-law: Who would you rather spend a day with? Van Noy, or his babe girlfriend?  I had just seen one of the most beautiful girls I'd ever come across, the winner of a contest based primarily on making guys want to be with you, and yet the answer was near instantaneous. "Van Noy."

Regarding the other question, the one that's taken 25 paragraphs to address, caused me to go back-and-forth seven times and ended with me having a headache?  I at long last answer the same way.

Welcome to the pantheon, Kyle.99.  These rankings are subject to adjustment at any time the author sees fit.

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