When quarterback Easton Stick left NDSU as the all-time wins leader in FCS history after the 2018 season, all signs pointed to redshirt freshman Trey Lance taking over in 2019. But the Bison made a surprise addition during the early signing day in December of 2018, adding Iowa State transfer Zeb Noland.
Noland came in to push Lance for the starting job as a fourth-year junior with starting experience for the Cyclones. Lance won the QB1 job and went on to lead the Bison to a 16-0 record while becoming the first freshman to win the Walter Payton Award.
The assumption then was, unless Noland decided to transfer for his senior season in 2020, that he would finish his college career as a backup.
But then the pandemic hit. And right around that time was when Lance began to blow up as a potential first-round NFL Draft pick in 2021. With the 2020-21 season being a free year of eligibility, Noland made it known he planned to return to NDSU for his sixth year in the fall of 2021, regardless of if Lance returned or not.
Lance ultimately decided to declare for the 2021 NFL Draft after playing in NDSU’s lone game in the fall of 2020. Noland now takes over as the Bison’s starting QB for the spring season and will compete with Virginia Tech transfer Quincy Patterson in the fall. Patterson is on NDSU’s roster now but is not eligible for the spring since he played games at Virginia Tech in 2020.
“Last fall, as you guys know, when Trey was announced the starter, I told him I’d always have his back no matter what, and I stuck with that and ran with it,” Noland said in a Zoom press conference. “Dreams come to reality sometimes. Those who wait will be a champion, and I hope that we can accomplish that this spring. Waiting it out has been worth it because I did learn a lot, and I grew as a person and as a football player.”
Noland is 6-foot-2 and 224 pounds. His playing style is said to be a gunslinger mentality with a strong arm and a running ability more like Brock Jensen rather than a Stick or Lance.
He was a three-star recruit in the class of 2016 out of Watkinsville, Georgia. Coached by his dad, Travis Noland, at Oconee County High School, Noland was a two-time all-region selection and was named the Region 8AAA Player of the Year as a senior.
With offers from Iowa State, App State, Colorado State, FIU, Mercer, Middle Tennessee State, Richmond, and Toledo, Noland chose the Cyclones.
Noland redshirted at Iowa State in 2016, then started one game and played in four in 2017. As a redshirt sophomore in 2018, he started four games and went 70-of-110 passing for 722 yards, four touchdowns, and one interception. His best performance came against No. 5 Oklahoma when Noland passed for 360 yards and two TDs.
In his first year with the Bison in 2019 as the backup, he appeared in eight games and completed 9-of-14 passes for 120 yards and a touchdown.
Noland was recently named a team captain for this season.
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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.