A plethora of top quarterbacks return in FCS college football, and there’s nothing like having senior leadership in the sport’s most important position.
Eight of the following top 10 signal-callers are entering their final season. Many in the next wave of the country’s best are seniors as well.
Yes, the keys to many of the top offenses are in good hands.
Here is a countdown of the best of the best in the FCS.
Other QBs to Watch
Tyrie Adams, Jr., Western Carolina
Zach Bednarczyk, Sr., Villanova
Trevor Knight, Sr., New Hampshire
John Lovett, Sr., Princeton
Sean McGuire, Sr., Western Illinois
Chris Murray, Jr., Montana State
Daniel Smith, So., Campbell
James Tabary, Sr., McNeese
Kevin Thomson, Sr., Sacramento State
Zerrick Cooper, So., Jacksonville State
Mike Dare, Jr., Sam Houston State
Cole Johnson, Jr., James Madison/Ben DiNucci, Jr., James Madison
— Compiled 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.
10. Brad Mayes, Lehigh
2017 Statistics: 292-of-455 (64.2 percent), 3,866 yards, 31 TDs, 12 INTs, 153.13 passing efficiency
What to Know: A 406-yard, four-touchdown passing performance against Villanova got Mayes’ junior season going, and they weren’t even his career highs (he threw for 524 yards and six TDs against Yale in 2016 as an injury replacement). The All-Patriot League first-teamer works the field well, ranking seventh in the FCS in passing yards per game (323.8) and tying for fifth in TD passes a year ago.
(Photo courtesy of Lehigh Athletics)
9. Anthony Lawrence, San Diego
2017 Statistics: 245-of-374 (65.5 percent), 3,131 yards, 33 TDs, 3 INTs, 163.3 passing efficiency
What to Know: While playing in his hometown, Lawrence has passed for 8,521 yards and 81 touchdowns with only 17 interceptions through his first three seasons. Behind his gaudy TD-to-INT ratio, the 2017 Pioneer Football League offensive player of the year ranked fifth in the FCS in passer efficiency rating. He also led San Diego to a win in the playoffs for the second straight year (the Toreros’ 2016 win was the first in league history).
(Photo courtesy of San Diego Athletics)
8. Jake Maier, UC Davis
2017 Statistics: 306-of-446 (68.6 percent), 3,669 yards, 26 TDs, 10 INTs, 152.47 passing efficiency
What to Know: While winning 2017 Big Sky newcomer of the year, the Long Beach City (Calif.) College transfer formed a lethal combination with wide receiver Keelan Doss (a Division I-high 10.5 receptions per game). Maier set the school record with seven 300-yard passing performances, finishing fifth in the FCS (and second among non-seniors) in passing yards per game (333.5). He will face two FBS teams (San Jose State and Stanford) and one dropping from the FBS (Idaho) in the Aggies’ first four games this season.
(Photo courtesy of UC Davis Athletics)
7. Lamar Raynard, North Carolina A&T
2017 Statistics: 209-of-328 (63.7 percent), 2,932 yards, 27 TDs, 7 INTs, 161.7 passing efficiency
What to Know: While winning 2017 MEAC offensive player of the year award, Raynard led the Aggies to the only unbeaten record (12-0) in the FCS. Included was a win at Conference USA member Charlotte, when Raynard collected 320 yards of total offense. He ranked sixth in the FCS in passing efficiency. He has a strong arm from the pocket, but can take off on the run when necessary.
(Photo courtesy of North Carolina A&T Athletics)
6. Chandler Burks, Kennesaw State
2017 Statistics: 76-of-155 (49.0 percent), 1,307 yards, 9 TDs, 3 INTs; 1,103 rushing yards, 18 TDs
What to Know: The first signee in start-up program Kennesaw State history hasn’t disappointed. In his third season running the Owls’ triple option, he led them to the Big South title and two playoff wins before they bowed out in the quarterfinals. The Big South offensive player of the year became the first player in conference history to gain 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 passing yards in the same season.
(Photo courtesy of Kennesaw State Athletics)
5. Taryn Christion, South Dakota State
2017 Statistics: 249-of-428 (58.2 percent), 3,515 yards, 35 TDs, 14 INTs, 147.6 passing efficiency; 500 rushing yards, 9 TDs
What to Know: Only Walter Payton Award winner Jeremiah Briscoe of Sam Houston State was responsible for more points last season than Christion (266). He’s put up huge numbers the last two seasons, but this year faces a potential drop-off following the loss of tight end Dallas Goedert and wide receiver Jake Wieneke. The dual-threat signal-caller was the Missouri Valley’s 2016 offensive player of the year, setting or tying 11 school records. He has a 23-8 career record as a starter.
(Photo courtesy of South Dakota State Athletics)
4. Case Cookus, Northern Arizona
2017 Statistics: 275-of-474 (58.0 percent), 3,413 yards, 22 TDs, 6 INTs, 131.29 passing efficiency
What to Know: Cookus returned last year from a medical redshirt season (shoulder) to throw for even more yards than he did in winning the 2015 Jerry Rice Award which recognizes the FCS freshman of the year. This year, he gets back his No. 1 target, two-time 1,000-yard receiver Emmanuel Butler, who played in only two games last season. Cookus stands tall in the pocket and has downfield ability. He’s thrown for 72 touchdowns in 27 career games.
(Photo courtesy of Northern Arizona Athletics)
3. Easton Stick, North Dakota State
2017 Statistics: 164-of-264 (62.1 percent), 2,466 yards, 28 TDs, 8 INTs, 169.5 passing efficiency; 663 rushing yards, 12 TDs
What to Know: All Stick does at FCS national champion NDSU is lead victories. As a starter, he has a 34-3 career record, including 9-1 in the playoffs. In January, he was voted the most outstanding player of the Bison’s sixth national championship game win in the last seven years. He ranks third in school history in career passing attempts (699), completions (423), yards (5,941) and touchdowns (60). He’s also rushed for 1,846 yards and 24 TDs in his career.
(Photo courtesy of North Dakota State Athletics)
2. Devlin Hodges, Samford
2017 Statistics: 347-of-528 (65.7 percent), 3,983 yards, 31 TDs, 11 INTs, 144.29 passing efficiency
What to Know: It can be argued that Hodges commands the top spot because he enters his final season with a massive 11,005 yards of total offense in his career. He is rewriting the Samford record book with his quick release and accurate arm, but the drawback is he’s yet to win a playoff game. He’s been named the Southern Conference offensive player of the year twice, just missing a second straight 4,000-yard season. His 334.2 passing yards per game as a junior ranked fourth in the FCS.
(Photo courtesy of Samford Athletics)
1. Gage Gubrud, Eastern Washington
2017 Statistics: 261-of-422 (61.8 percent), 3,342 yards, 26 TDs, 12 INTs, 143.02 passing efficiency; 236 rushing yards, 5 TDs
What to Know: Gubrud took a step backward last year from his 2016 season, but that sophomore campaign was going to be hard to match, when he passed for an FCS single-season record 5,160 yards as well as 48 touchdowns, ranking second nationally. He served a one-game team suspension in November, then came back to throw for 445 yards on only 17 completions in Eastern Washington’s final game. With the perennial FCS power seeking to get back to the playoffs after getting snubbed last year, Gubrud should have a banner senior season.
(Photo courtesy of Eastern Washington Athletics)