The unique 2021 FCS spring season is right around the corner. The first game is scheduled for Feb. 13 (McNeese at Tarleton State) and 22 games are scheduled the following week.
As of this writing, only a limited number of teams have opted out of the spring. With each passing day, it gets more likely this unprecedented season is going to happen. So it’s time to start looking at the top returning players.
This series will look at the top returning player at each position in every conference.
*Not included in these rankings:
Conferences that have opted out as of the publish date
Players on teams that have opted out as of the publish date
Players who are in the transfer portal as of the publish date
Perhaps the top QB in all of the FCS entering the spring season, Barriere has been electric since stepping into the starting role mid-2018 and leading EWU back to the national title game.
Last season, he finished fifth in the Walter Payton Award voting as a junior. Barriere has 6,300 career passing yards, 56 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He has also rushed for 1,219 yards and 17 TDs.
Barriere was a 2020 fall preseason HERO Sports Second Team All-American.
Jonathan Murphy, Kennesaw State
The Owls had a few different starting quarterbacks last season in their triple-option attack. Two of them are coming back. Tommy Bryant appeared in 11 games and made three starts, leading the team with 16 rushing touchdowns.
When Bryant went down with an injury, sophomore Jonathan Murphy stepped in and went off in the playoffs. He ran for 206 yards and three touchdowns in 2.5 quarters in a first-round win against Wofford. Murphy then led KSU in a near-upset of No. 3 seed Weber State, running for 116 yards and one touchdown while throwing for a TD.
Jeff Undercuffler, Albany
Undercuffler had one of the best freshman seasons in FCS history last year. The 6-foot-5, 231-pounder led the subdivision with 41 touchdown passes as he threw for 3,543 yards.
He finished second in voting for the Jerry Rice Award, given to the best FCS freshman. Undercuffler was named a HERO Sports Freshman All-American and the CAA Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Undercuffler was a 2020 fall preseason HERO Sports Second Team All-American.
Juwan Carter, Norfolk State
A 2019 All-MEAC Second Team selection, Carter led the conference in passing yards (2,631), total offensive yards (2,856) and touchdowns responsible for (29). His 23 touchdown passes tied for the MEAC lead.
Now a senior, Carter is entering his fourth season as a starter. He has 6,760 career passing yards with 49 TDs to 28 interceptions. Carter has also logged 587 yards on the ground with 10 touchdowns.
Will McElvain, Northern Iowa
McElvain had a solid first season as a starter in 2019. The redshirt freshman began with a near-upset of No. 21 Iowa State, throwing for 228 yards and a touchdown. He finished the season with 2,778 yards passing, 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
McElvain was named a HERO Sports Freshman All-American and was an All-MVFC honorable mention selection.
Kory Curtis, Bryant
The title of best QB in the NEC is up for grabs this spring with the top guys from last season being seniors and Saint Francis (who would have had the top returner in Jason Brown) opting out of the spring.
Curtis is the best candidate to be the No. 1 NEC QB. He began his career at Ohio State before transferring to Bryant in 2019. Curtis started the final nine games, throwing for 1,700 yards and seven touchdowns while rushing for two TDs. He’ll want to improve his TD-to-INT ratio as he threw six interceptions last year.
Zerrick Cooper, Jacksonville State
Cooper is an All-American level player for the Gamecocks and a potential 2021 NFL Draft prospect.
After serving as a backup at Clemson in 2017, Cooper transferred to JSU in 2018. In his first season, he threw for 3,416 yards, 32 TDs and 14 interceptions. In 2019, Cooper passed for 3,404 yards, 28 TDs and 12 interceptions.
Tim DeMorat, Fordham
After starting eight games as a true freshman in 2018, DeMorat elevated his game even more last season. He was named on the 2019 All-Patriot League First Team.
DeMorat led the conference with 222.8 passing yards per game. He finished with 2,674 passing yards and 20 TDs to 11 interceptions.
Jack Cook, Dayton
Dayton was the highest-scoring FCS team in 2019, averaging 42.6 points per game. Cook was instrumental in that, leading the subdivision with 24.7 points responsible for per game.
Cook threw for 2,697 yards, 33 touchdowns and five interceptions. His 33 TDs ranked No. 4 in the FCS while his 169.1 passing efficiency was No. 3.
Brandon Rainey, The Citadel
Rainey was tremendous during the 2019 season. He led The Citadel’s option offense with 240 rushes for 900 yards and 17 touchdowns. Rainey was also efficient throwing the ball, passing for 1,114 yards, 13 TDs and four interceptions.
He set a new program record for touchdowns accounted for in a season.
Rainey was a 2020 fall preseason HERO Sports First Team All-American at the “athlete” spot, given to dual-threat QBs.
Cole Kelley, Southeastern Louisiana
Kelley was ranked a 4-star recruit by ESPN coming out of high school. He began his career at Arkansas, making six starts in two seasons. Kelley transferred to Southeastern Louisiana in 2019.
Chason Virgil was the starter for the Lions, but Kelley got plenty of reps. At an imposing 6-foot-7 and 260 pounds, Kelley had a team-high 10 rushing touchdowns. He also threw for 816 yards, 10 touchdowns and two interceptions. He should be the full-time starter this spring.
Felix Harper, Alcorn State
The 2019 SWAC Offensive Player of the Year is back for his senior season. Harper was electric last year, stepping in for an injured Noah Johnson, who was the conference’s Preseason Offensive Player of the Year.
Harper finished with 2,954 yards passing, 33 touchdowns and nine interceptions while rushing for another six scores.
Harper was a 2020 fall preseason HERO Sports Third Team All-American.
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Sam’s coverage of the FCS began in 2012 as the sports editor and eventual editor-in-chief of NDSU’s The Spectrum. After graduating in 2015, he spent three years in the newspaper and magazine industry while starting his work for HERO Sports in the fall of 2016 as a freelancer. In May 2018, he joined the website full time as the Senior FCS Analyst.