FCS Football: 10 Best Returning Quarterbacks for 2020

Trey Lance, Kevin Thomson and others like Brandon Rainey headline at the sport's most important position

The Walter Payton Award honors the national offensive player of the year in FCS college football and has come to be dominated by quarterbacks ⁠— 15 of the last 16 winners and 22 of the 33 overall.

 

In 2020, there are plenty of top returning quarterbacks, many of whom are leaders and dual-threat signal-callers. They dominate at football's most important position, so the Payton will likely belong to a quarterback once again.

 

Here is a ranking of the 10 best returnees in the FCS, although the quality depth extends far beyond that number:

 

1. Trey Lance, North Dakota State

Year: Redshirt Sophomore

Height: 6-3; Weight: 221

Lance became the first freshman to claim the Payton Award and was named the Most Outstanding Performer in the Bison's national championship game win over James Madison. The strong-armed dual-threat QB accounted for 3,886 yards and 42 touchdowns in the 16-0 season. He threw 287 pass attempts without an interception — an NCAA all-divisions single-season record.

 

2. Kevin Thomson, Sacramento State

Year: Redshirt Senior

Height: 6-2; Weight: 200

The Big Sky Offensive Player of the Year beats opponents with his arm (3,216 yards, 27 TDs) and legs (619 yards, 12 TDs). A fearless competitor, he led Sac State to three consecutive wins over nationally-ranked opponents Eastern Washington, Montana State, and Montana.

 

3. Daniel Smith, Villanova

Year: Redshirt Senior

Height: 6-0; Weight:205

Perhaps it's not surprising Smith stepped in at Villanova as a two-year-eligible grad transfer and led the FCS in points responsible for (288) on 48 total touchdowns. He already was dominant at Campbell, accounting for 56 touchdowns in just 20 games.

 

4. Eric Barriere, Eastern Washington

Year: Redshirt Senior

Height: 6-0; Weight: 200

As a junior, Barriere ranked second in the FCS in total offensive yards per game (355.8) and threw 31 touchdown passes against only four interceptions. His seven touchdown passes against Maine in the 2018 national semifinals is a playoff record.

 

5. Zerrick Cooper, Jacksonville State

Year: Redshirt Senior

Height: 6-4; Weight: 225

A few mixed performances have plagued the former Clemson backup, who has thrown for more than 3,400 yards in each of his two seasons with Gamecocks. He had three touchdown passes in five straight games last season.

 

6. Breylin Smith, Central Arkansas

Year: Redshirt Junior

Height: 6-3; Weight: 210

The Bears' confidence was high with the quarterback position after the loss of 2017 Southland Player of the Year Hayden Hildebrand because of Smith, who is excellent at breaking down defenses. Last season, he threw for a school-record 3,704 yards and added 32 touchdowns, which tied a school mark.

 

7. Brandon Rainey, The Citadel

Year: Redshirt Senior

Height: 6-0; Weight: 205

Rainey was injured during an early-season FBS win over Georgia Tech, but he proceeded to gut out one big performance after another. He rushed for 900 yards and 17 touchdowns in the triple option and added 13 scores through the air, including at least one in nine games.

 

8. Jeremiah Oatsvall, Austin Peay

Year: Redshirt Junior

Height: 6-1; Weight: 200

Austin Peay's JaVaughn Craig was the Ohio Valley Conference first-team all-conference quarterback last year, but Oatsvall was its preseason player of the year and opened as the FCS quarterfinalist's starter before suffering a foot injury. He gained nearly 1,000 rushing yards over the 2017 and '18 seasons and has 30 career touchdown passes.

 

9. Bailey Zappe, Houston Baptist

Year: Senior

Height: 6-2; Weight: 180

Houston Baptist's program became relevant for the first time last season, and that tied into Zappe setting program marks for passing yards (3,811), completions (357, also the FCS high), and touchdown passes (35). He has 8,171 career passing yards, which ranks No. 1 among returning FCS quarterbacks.

 

10. EJ Perry, Brown

Year: Senior

Height: 6-2; Weight: 210

His speed and toughness help set Perry apart in the Ivy League, where he established the league record with 3,678 yards of total offense in 10 games last season. The 367.8 yards per game average led the FCS and the Boston College transfer — also Brown head coach James Perry's nephew — produced 30 total touchdowns.

 

Also Top 10-worthy: Reece Udinski, VMI; Jeff Undercuffler, Albany

 

— 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.

 

(Brandon Rainey photo courtesy of The Citadel Athletics)

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