Missouri Valley rivals NDSU, SDSU are replacing veteran stars
Little sparks more interest in an offseason than when a college football team has competition at quarterback.
A lot of top FCS programs have to answer an important question behind center, even North Dakota State, the two-time reigning national champion and a winner of seven of the last eight titles.
Here are 10 quarterback situations (alphabetical order by team) to watch for in the FCS this spring and leading into the 2019 season:
As the first team to begin spring practice — on Jan. 25! — the Southern Conference tri-champ got a jump on replacing Harris Roberts. The Paladins are most likely looking at a redshirt freshman, Darren Grainger or Hamp Sisson, to run the offense. Grainger made one start and appeared in four games last season, while Sisson appeared in two late-season wins.
In the Vandals’ disappointing return to the FCS level in 2018, Mason Petrino was No. 1 behind center, but Colton Richardson was never far behind. It makes sense to solidify the offensive style because the two signal-callers have different skill sets.
Junior Cody Orgeron, son of LSU head coach Ed Orgeron, is No. 1 going into spring practice, but first-year head coach Sterlin Gilbert isn’t making any commitments with redshirt freshman Cam Smith and junior Matt Keller also seeking the starting job.
The Bobcats have perhaps the most unique situation in the FCS. Troy Anderson, who made the All-Big Sky first team and led the Bobcats to the FCS playoffs as a sophomore, is moving to linebacker, where he played in 2017 when he also was a two-way running back. it’s due to the return of fellow running-style signal caller Chris Murray, the 2016 and ’17 starter, who took last season off to focus on academics. But Tucker Rovig and Casey Bauman have the stronger arms and are in the competition.
North Carolina A&T
Lamar Raynard went 35-2 as a starter in his career, including wins in the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl each of the last two seasons. Fifth-year senior Kylil Carter enjoyed some big games behind Raynard, including a 2016 win at Kent State. Two sophomores also are in the mix, East Carolina transfer Kingsley Ifedi and Jalen Fowler.
North Dakota State
The FCS dynasty is replacing Easton Stick, who set the record for FCS quarterback wins by going 49-3 as a starter. Highly regarded redshirt freshman Trey Lance has a potentially electric style, but will have to beat out redshirt sophomore Holden Hotchkiss and transfer Zeb Noland, who started five games over two seasons at Iowa State, including a 360-yard, two-touchdown performance against Oklahoma.
Quarterback is especially unsettled as the Missouri Valley Football Conference power seeks to replace Eli Dunne. Colton Howell would likely gain a medical redshirt for a fifth season of eligibility, but he's not expected to pursue it following surgery. While redshirt freshman Will McElvain is fast with a terrific arm and lefty Nate Martens is already on campus as a true freshman, head coach Mark Farley figures to look to the transfer market.
Four-year starter Anthony Lawrence lost only one Pioneer Football League game and had a 5-to-1 ratio with 120 touchdown passes compared to 24 interceptions in his standout career. Senior Reid Sinnett backed up Lawrence the last three seasons, but the competition is open with juniors Mason Randall (last year's third-stringer) and Alex Farina and sophomores Bryce Fledderman and Derek Kline.
South Dakota State
The Jackrabbits have been to the national semifinals in two straight seasons, but they’re replacing 3½-year starter Taryn Christion. Redshirt freshman J’Bore Gibbs has good size and athleticism and was recruited to be the heir apparent to Christion, yet junior Kanin Nelson has been in the program longer and was the backup last season. The Jackrabbits also signed former Iowa Western/Arizona State signal caller Kurt Walding, who has two seasons of eligibility remaining.
Head coach Rod Reed wants the merry-go-around to stop spinning. Demry Croft, Michael Hughes, and Cameron Rosendahl all earned wins last season and will be seniors in 2019. Croft is still recovering from a season-ending injury after four games and will miss spring practice.
— Written by Craig Haley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Haley has covered the FCS level since 1999 and is the national writer for www.fcs.football. He appears frequently on radio shows and podcasts to discuss everything FCS. Follow him on Twitter @CraigHaley.
(Photo courtesy of Raymond Stewart/McNeese Athletics)