Winning an FCS national championship requires a team to win four, sometimes five playoff games. If there are struggles, inconsistency or lack of production at the quarterback spot, that will be exploited the deeper into the postseason.
Entering the 2019 season, there are four notable teams with high expectations, but face uncertainty at the QB position.
Below average play from the signal caller probably results in an exit in the second round or quarterfinals for these programs. But if they can find their starting QB and get good production, a deep playoff run is definitely in the cards with the surrounding talent.
[divider]MORE FCS COVERAGE:
- FCS Home
- Top 2020 NFL Draft Prospects
- Herder: The FCS Coaches Poll Is A Problem
- Potential Playoff Teams That Weren't In Last Year's Bracket
The worries at the quarterback position for JMU are overblown to a certain degree. Yes, Ben DiNucci threw five interceptions in the playoff loss to Colgate. He also struggled in the loss to Elon and was pulled in the New Hampshire loss. But those games are put under a microscope. The reality is DiNucci was still a Third Team All-CAA quarterback, and if he plays like he did for 75 percent of the 2018 season, the Dukes look primed for another national title.
Now, the QB1 spot is an open competition under new head coach Curt Cignetti. DiNucci, a senior, has the advantage of being last year's starter, but he'll be pushed by veteran Cole Johnson, a junior, and sophomore Gage Moloney, the 2016 South Carolina Mr. Football award winner who has many excited ever since he stepped foot on campus.
JMU returns essentially its entire team. And the gaps the Dukes need to fill are positions of strength (CB and RB). Eastern Washington didn't even make the playoffs in 2017, returned a ton of starters in 2018 and made it to the national title game. The Dukes were a game-winning field goal miss away from advancing to the quarterfinals despite those five interceptions.
The offensive line needs to continue improving, and you never know how a new coaching staff's first year will go. But the roster is loaded with talent. If the QB play gets more consistent, this team will back up its preseason hype.
The case of the QB has been fascinating at Montana State. Dakota Prukop was a standout before transferring to Oregon for the 2016 season. Chris Murray emerged as a top dual-threat QB that season and was named the Big Sky's Freshman of the Year. Murray was solid again in 2017, but the Bobcats lacked that passing threat.
Murray had to sit out last season due to academic issues. In stepped Troy Andersen, the 2017 Big Sky Freshman of the Year who played RB and LB. Once again, MSU had one of the best running QBs in the country but lacked the ability to stretch the defense in the passing game. Andersen ran for 1,412 yards and passed for only 1,195 in 13 games played.
Andersen is moving back to linebacker in 2019, although it's safe to assume he'll have the ball in his hands some on offense. But the Bobcats are looking for a starter once again. Murray will be in the mix, but MSU will want a more balanced offense. Sophomore Tucker Rovig and redshirt freshman Casey Bauman are two traditional QBs who are 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-6 and were coveted recruits.
Rovig started two games last year, struggling at South Dakota State but threw for 310 yards and three touchdowns a week later against Wagner.
The Bobcats should have high expectations after reaching the second round last year. The entire offense is back with a great offensive line and the defense has around eight returning starters. If they can get the QB position settled, the Bobcats are a sleeper team to keep an eye on.
You can get a better look at who's battling for the starting QB spot for the Bison in that link above. The Bison have had a ridiculous string of QBs since this run of FCS titles began. From the all-time wins record breaker Brock Jensen to a future No. 2 NFL Draft pick Carson Wentz to Easton Stick, the new all-time FCS wins leaders.
NDSU has been fortunate, but now faces its first question marks surrounding the QB position and its first true competition since 2010. The Bison's starting lineup took a huge hit. Just three starters are back on offense and four on defense. They proved they can reload after a big senior class and coaching staff departed after the 2013 season, but Carson Wentz isn't taking over the reins in 2019.
NDSU should still have a great defense. Rotating players, depth and some young players waiting in the shadows of multi-year starters will result in the Bison being solid on that side of the ball. Offensively, per usual, the offensive line will be a top unit in the FCS and the running back room is deep and talented.
The receiver and tight ends are probably just as big of a question mark as who the quarterback will be. But it still all comes down to quarterback play. If you look back at the seven national titles in eight years, each QB has had heroic performances. Whether it was Jensen versus Georgia Southern, or Wentz versus SDSU and Illinois State, or Stick versus Eastern Washington, NDSU has gotten huge performances from its signal callers.
It's hard to win it all with OK play at the QB spot. Whoever takes over the spot won't be groomed in the system for a few years like Wentz or get starting experience as a redshirt freshman like Stick. It'll either be a transfer in Zeb Noland who did play in some big games at Iowa State, a very talented and a big-time recruit but a redshirt freshman in Trey Lance, or sophomores Holden Hotchkiss and Noah Sanders who haven't taken meaningful snaps yet.
Expect the Bison to reload. But the QB play will be the difference between a trip to the quarterfinals or semifinals and a trip back to Frisco.
SDSU is loaded in 2019. The Jackrabbits return roughly seven starters on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. This is a program that has steadily been on the climb, from second round appearances to a trip to the 2016 quarterfinals and now coming off back-to-back semifinal games. SDSU might be as talented overall as its ever been in terms of the WR and RB groups.
But the big question is that QB1 spot.
Taryn Christion broke plenty of school and MVFC records. His replacement has huge shoes to fill but doesn't need to be a single-season record breaker for the Jacks to make a deep playoff run. The talent around him is that good.
Junior Kanin Nelson was the backup last year, but redshirt freshman J'Bore Gibbs was a big recruiting get that some believed was going to be the guy to replace Christion once he was on campus. SDSU also added Kurt Walding to the QB room, who transferred from Arizona State. Matt Connors is a redshirt freshman who impressed during spring ball, but Walding and Gibbs appear to be the front runners.
Great recruiting has led the Jacks to take that next step as a program compared to the early 2010s. They replaced pass catchers Jake Wieneke and Dallas Goedert just fine last year when the outside preseason perception questioned the offense. If SDSU can replace Christion, the Frisco drought could realistically end.
SUBSCRIBE: HERO Sports FCS Podcast