Quarterback play is instrumental in a football team’s success. It can turn a good roster into an average team. And it can turn an average roster into a good team.
In the FCS, there are a lot of variables in national success. Style of ball, play in the trenches, depth, defense, resources, and playoff matchups. But QB play is absolutely key in stringing together multiple postseason wins and threaten for a national title.
And when looking at the top five contenders so far this fall, their quarterbacks are leading the way.
Mark Gronowski Has “It”
Gronowski is now 24-1 vs. FCS opponents as a full-game starter for No. 1 SDSU.
After missing the 2021 fall season with a knee injury suffered early in the spring championship game, Gronowski returned last season and led the Jackrabbits to their first FCS national title. He finished 232/356 passing (65%) for 2,967 yards, 26 TDs, and five interceptions and rushed for 408 yards and 12 scores.
SDSU’s non-conference opponents this year were all over the place, from D2 Western Oregon to No. 2 Montana State to non-scholarship Drake. Gronowski has done his thing in three games, completing 68% of his passes for 531 yards, eight TDs, and one interception along with 56 yards rushing and three scores. His 189.5 passing efficiency ranks No. 1 in the FCS.
Even when he wasn’t at his best against MSU, Gronowski was big in big-time moments. Down 16-13 with 2:04 to play and the offense struggling, Gronowski hit a 40-yard dime to Grahm Goering on the first play. He then found Griffin Wilde on a 35-yard catch-and-run game-winning score, seemingly out of nowhere. A player that won the starting job as a true freshman back in the spring season, Gronowski has that “it” factor about him.
Cam Miller Silencing The Doubters
Miller was pretty good in 2021. Efficient as he helped NDSU to another national title, but nothing spectacular as the Bison leaned on the run. He was mostly fine last year, but he lost again to SDSU in the regular season and then had underwhelming performances in three of the four playoff games, the last being in the championship game with another loss to SDSU, who Miller has yet to beat.
Several questioned whether Miller was the guy in 2023, especially with prized HS recruit Cole Payton behind him.
Through three games, though, he’s silenced doubters with tremendous play for No. 2 NDSU. Miller has always shown good arm talent. But he’s been playing with more consistency and confidence while the playbook has opened up more to get him into a better in-game rhythm.
Miller is completing 80.6% of his passes for 526 yards, four touchdowns, and zero interceptions with 158 rushing yards and five TDs. His 173.2 passing efficiency ranks No. 7 in the FCS, while his 91.1 PFF offensive grade is No. 3.
Mellott/Chambers Give MSU A Good QB1 Debate
Tommy Mellott is arguably the most recognizable name in Montana. The Montana son from Butte, America, took the state and the FCS by storm in 2021 after the freshman was inserted as the starting QB for the playoffs and led the Bobcats to their first FCS title game since 1984.
Last year, Mellott was electric again, forming a dynamic QB duo with Wyoming transfer Sean Chambers. When Mellott missed time with an injury, Chambers filled in great and won FCS national weekly honors for his play, making some wonder if Chambers should be the full-time starter.
We’re at the same spot again today. Mellott, who can be considered QB1A, is sidelined with an injury. QB1B Chambers stepped into the QB1 role and again played great. He won Big Sky Offensive Player of the Week honors after an impressive 40-0 win at No. 10 Weber State, passing for 172 yards and two TDs and rushing for 86 yards and two scores.
MSU’s rushing attack was the best in the FCS last year, running a lot of shotgun and outside zone concepts with Mellott and Chambers. But the offensive look at Weber with Chambers under center, one back, two tight ends, and getting more vertical through the air off of play-action might be the toughest to stop for defenses, especially deep in the playoffs. At the same time, it’s hard to reduce Mellott’s reps when he is back due to how well he operates MSU’s rushing attack with his ability to get to the edge.
Mellott and Chambers are exceptional talents. And both will play a lot when both are healthy. But the Bobcats, ranked No. 3, have a good problem in determining what scheme they want to utilize most to give them their best chance at a natty.
Matthew Sluka Playing Like A Walter Payton Award Favorite
Sluka is one of the most entertaining players to watch in the FCS. The dual-threat QB will take Holy Cross far in the playoffs if he keeps this play up, just like he did against SDSU in last year’s quarterfinals where it was a tie game heading into the fourth.
Holy Cross, No. 4 on HERO Sports’ Top 25 ballot, has a Walter Payton Award frontrunner leading its offense.
Sluka is the highest-graded FCS QB on PFF. In four games, he has thrown for 781 yards, 10 TDs, and one interception along with 365 rushing yards and four touchdowns. Against P5 Boston College, he threw for 130 yards and ran for 135 yards.
Sluka has a moxie to him that rubs opponents the wrong way but his teammates rally behind. He’s the emotional and physical leader of the team, and one of the toughest guys in the FCS to contain.
Gevani McCoy/Idaho Delivering On The Hype
Some questioned the preseason hype behind Idaho. But the Vandals are delivering, out to a 3-1 start with an FBS G5 win, a Top 5 FCS ranked win, and a competitive P5 loss.
McCoy’s play has been key in Idaho’s success, who is No. 5 on HERO Sports’ Top 25 ballot. Last year’s Jerry Rice Award winner is completing 66% of his passes this season for 980 yards, six touchdowns, and two interceptions, adding 136 yards and a score on the ground.
McCoy is a smooth operator, confident in his arm and continuing to develop still young into his career. It helps to have elite talent at wide receiver, but he’s also making throws into tight windows or dropping them into a bucket for his playmakers.
He took the FCS by storm last season, helping the Vandals turn the program around quickly in Jason Eck’s first season as head coach. And McCoy looks even better in 2023.
QB Depth In The Top 15
The Top 15 in HERO Sports’ ballot all have something in common, and that’s strong quarterback play.
No. 6 Furman has a strong veteran leader in Tyler Huff: 706 yards passing, 2 TDs, 2 INT, 218 rushing yards, 4 TDs
No. 7 Sac State has seen Kaiden Bennett emerge as the full-time QB to continue its hot offensive play: 912 passing yards, 6 TDs, 3 INT, 236 rushing yards, 4 TDs
No. 8 UIW has another standout QB in P5 transfer Zach Calzada, who is PFF’s No. 4 graded FCS quarterback: 1,193 yards passing, 7 TDs, 3 INT, 99 rushing yards, 4 TDs
No. 9 Western Carolina has shown an electric offense led by Cole Gonzales: 1,019 yards passing, 10 TDs, 2 INT, 73 yards rushing
No. 10 William & Mary’s creative offense is engineered by veteran starting QB Darius Wilson: 630 passing yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT, 122 rush yards, 1 TD
No. 11 SIU’s Nic Baker is in his fourth year starting and playing some of his best football: 825 yards passing, 6 TDs, 2 INT, 16 rush yards, 1 TD
No. 12 NC Central has one of the most talented FCS QBs in Davius Richard, who did miss the last game due to injury: 391 yards passing, 3 TDs, 2 INT, 148 rushing yards, 3 TDs
No. 13 Delaware is rolling offensively thanks to new starting QB Ryan O’Connor: 895 passing yards, 7 TDs, 2 INT
No. 14 UNH is getting more great QB play from Max Brosmer: 1,233 passing yards, 12 TDs, 1 INT, 47 rush yards, 1 TD
No. 15 UND’s Tommy Schuster is now a four-year starter and continues to lead an explosive offense: 663 yards passing, 5 TDs, 0 INT, 2 rushing TDs