As the season nears, we’ll rank the top five returners at each position group. Today, we give you the quarterbacks.
NOTE: Idaho, who is moving back to the FCS and Big Sky, is eligible for these lists. North Dakota, who plays a Big Sky schedule but is an independent while transitioning to the MVFC, is not.
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The Hornets surprised many last year, going from 2-9 overall to 7-4 and 6-2 in the Big Sky. Thomson was a huge reason behind the turnaround. After starting his career at UNLV, he transferred to Sacramento State and won the starting job in 2017. All he did from there was set the program single-season record with a quarterback efficiency of 171.8.
Thomson threw for 1,828 yards with 17 touchdowns and just three interceptions. He added another 494 yards on the ground and nine more scores. Thomson did all this despite starting only eight of the 11 games. Expect a big-time senior season as the Hornets compete for a playoff spot.
Gueller has had back-to-back seasons of 2,300+ yards passing and 20+ touchdowns as a sophomore and junior, finishing with 2,754 yards last year. The Bengals have a chance to be one of the better offenses in the Big Sky this season, which says a lot about one of the more explosive conferences in the FCS.
Gueller gives them an opportunity to do so as he has plenty of weapons back, including his brother and wide receiver Mitch. In 2017, Gueller threw for more than 300 yards three times and had five different three-touchdown games.
3. Jake Maier, UC Davis
The UC Davis passing attack starts with future NFL Draft pick Keelan Doss at wide receiver and is complemented well with tight end Wes Preece. But Maier deserves a ton of credit on how he played last year as a sophomore. Named the Big Sky Newcomer of the Year and placed on the All-Conference Third Team, Maier passed for 3,669 yards and 26 touchdowns along with 10 interceptions.
He had a pass efficiency of 152.5 and finished second in the Big Sky with 333.5 yards per game, which also ranked fifth in the FCS. His 68.6 completion percentage was the second best in the country.
Coming off an injury in 2016, Cookus was back to his usual 2015 self when he won the Jerry Rice Award for best freshman in the FCS. Last year, he put together his second All-Big Sky First Team season. He totaled 3,413 yards through the air with 22 touchdowns and just six interceptions.
Cookus' 284.4 passing yards per game ranked 10th in the FCS. Not counting the game against Montana when he was questionably ejected for targeting after throwing a block on a linebacker, Cookus had just one game where he didn't surpass 200 yards throwing. Expect those number to increase even more as just a junior with NFL Draft prospect Emmanuel Butler back from injury.
The 2018 preseason Big Sky All-Conference quarterback and HERO Sports preseason Third Team All-American seems to have been around the Big Sky for a long, long time. But he's finally a senior. Gubrud is a two-time finalist for the Walter Payton Award, finishing third in 2016. Last season, he earned Second Team All-Conference honors with 3,342 passing yards, 26 touchdowns and 12 picks.
Gubrud was second in the FCS in total offense per game (357.8), fourth in passing yards per game (334.2) and third in points responsible for per game (19.4). In his second year in Aaron Best’s system and now comfortable with a new crop of receivers, Gubrud hopes his senior season is his best.