Next QBs step up into the spotlight

Mar 28, 2016 - 2:09 PM (STATS) - Replacing a standout, two- or three-year starting quarterback is difficult for any team - even one which seems to have the right signal-caller waiting in the wings.

For every team that thrives with a successor, there's more than enough teams that struggle to fill football's most important position.

Last year, Richmond won a share of the CAA Football title and advanced to the FCS semifinals as redshirt sophomore Kyle Lauletta threw for the second-most passing yards in the nation. It was a pleasant surprise after he sat out the 2015 season while the Spiders relied on not one but two QBs named Michael - Strauss and Rocco - who both seemed to be at Richmond forever.

Meanwhile, a program like Southeastern Louisiana went from winning back-to-back Southland Conference titles to a 3-8 record when it failed to replace All-American Bryan Bennett. Injuries, though, factored into his replacement D'Shaie Landor's season.

Other top programs got a look into this season a year early. Easton Stick won eight starts for five-time defending FCS champion North Dakota State in place of an injured Carson Wentz, while Villanova turned to Zach Bednarczyk following a season-ending injury to John Robertson, the 2014 FCS Offensive Player of the Year.

Throughout all the changes, some teams are well on their way to filling the void in 2016 and others have competition this spring as they head toward preseason camp.



Chattanooga - The three-time defending Southern Conference champion is replacing a three-time conference offensive player of the year in Jacob Huesman. The left-handed Alejandro Bennifield, a redshirt junior, has a strong arm and terrific speed (7.4 yards per carry in a backup role last season).

Grambling State - After losing Johnathan Williams, the SWAC offensive player of the year whose 37 touchdown passes tied for the most in the FCS, third-year coach Broderick Fobbs signed former Ole Miss third-string quarterback Deonte Kincade, a redshirt junior. He's basically been anointed as the No. 1 despite sitting out the spring with a broken foot suffered in Sugar Bowl warmups.

Illinois State - All is not lost with the two-time defending Missouri Valley Conference co-champion following the departure of Tre Roberson. The Redbirds got a good look last season at Jake Kolbe, who saw action against the likes of Iowa and Richmond and won his only start against Northern Iowa. A pocket passer, he offers a completely different style than Roberson.

Liberty - The Flames are replacing four-year starter and potential NFL Draft choice Josh Woodrum. But remember the Big South program's win over Coastal Carolina to end the 2014 regular season and get into the FCS playoffs for the first time? Stephon Masha had the start that day in place of an injured Woodrum. The 6-foot-1 Masha is much more of a running option than Woodrum, but his 76 percent career completion percentage (44-of-58) stands out as he enters his redshirt junior season.

McNeese State - At 6-6, 219 pounds, redshirt junior Grant Ashcraft passes the eye test as the defending Southland Conference champion seeks to replace Daniel Sams in coach Lance Guidry's first season. Ashcraft is more of a pro-style quarterback than the dual-threat Sams.



Bethune-Cookman - While it hurts to lose Quentin Williams, who played extensively over the last four years and was the FCS leader in passing efficiency last season, redshirt junior Larry Brihm has appeared in all but one game over the last two years. But considering the MEAC squad doesn't rely on one QB, junior college transfer Anthony Cruz, who at 6-5 is more of a pocket passer than a scrambler, and redshirt freshman Arkevious Williams have to be considered for playing time as well.

Cal Poly - With their triple option, the Mustangs ranked first in the FCS in rushing yards per game in each of the past three seasons, the last two behind quarterback Chris Brown, their leading rusher. The Big Sky program has two strong options (literally) with fifth-year senior Dano Graves, who redshirted last season and made the first five starts in 2013, and sophomore Khaleel Jenkins, whose redshirt was burned in the second half of last season. Jenkins carried 16 times for 93 yards in his one start against Portland State.

Charleston Southern - As the Big South champion replaces Austin Brown, the good news coming out of already completed spring practices was that redshirt junior Kyle Copeland showed command of the spread option. It wasn't too surprising and left him ahead of redshirt freshmen Shane Bucenell and London Johnson. The wild card is junior college transfer Robert Mitchell.

Coastal Carolina - In its final season of FCS competition, the one-year independent has to replace Alex Ross, who set many school records. The Chanticleers need health as much as quick growth at the position. Redshirt sophomore Josh Stilley, last year's backup, had a foot injury, and Chance Thrasher, who was touted coming to Coastal, redshirted with an injury to his throwing arm which required surgery.

Dartmouth - With the Big Green home to a robotic tackling dummy, Dalyn Williams was anything but robotic as a 3 1/2-year starter, but he made some defensive players look like dummies. Bruce Dixon IV, a strapping 6-4, 230-pound Carolinian, who coach Buddy Teevens compares physically to Cam Newton, rates as the front-runner with junior Jack Heneghan in the mix.

Harvard - Scott Hosch ended up as the Ivy League's offensive player of the year after the Crimson won a share of their third straight conference title, but he was supposed to be pushed for the starting job by Joe Viviano. However, Viviano suffered a season-ending broken foot in the preseason. An ESPN Top 50 quarterback coming out of high school, he has a good chance to win the No. 1 job as a senior over sophomore Tom Stewart.

James Madison - As a redshirt sophomore, Bryan Schor was forced into the starter's role for the final four games after standout Vad Lee suffered a season-ending foot injury. Schor's efficiency reflected in his seven touchdown passes to one interception. But under new coach Mike Houston, Schor could have competition from Northeastern Oklahoma A&M transfer Mack Waldman.

Montana State - The Bobcats weren't supposed to post a "Help Wanted" sign, but All-Big Sky standout Dakota Prukop has followed Vernon Adams' trail to Oregon to play his final season as a graduate transfer. So first-year coach Jeff Choate figures to turn the ball over to transfer Tyler Bruggman or redshirt freshman Jordan Hoy. The well-traveled Bruggman is at his fourth school (2013 at Washington State, 2014 at Louisville and last season at Scottsdale Community College).

Southern Illinois - All-Missouri Valley QB Mark Iannotti led the FCS in total offense as a senior, leaving big shoes for coach Nick Hill to fill in his first season. The Salukis offensive coordinator last year, Hill has brought in graduate transfer Josh Straughan, who threw for 5,470 yards and 53 touchdowns at Stillman College. The top returning candidate is redshirt sophomore Sam Straub, who has a big arm.

Southern Utah - The Thunderbirds' two most recent quarterbacks, Brad Sorensen and Ammon Olsen, transferred from BYU, and the defending Big Sky champions have another candidate in 6-6, 235-pound McCoy Hill, who was buried on the Cougars' depth chart. New Thunderbirds coach Demario Warren also is giving a shot to redshirt junior Tannon Pedersen, last year's backup to Olsen.

Western Carolina - The Catamounts turned their program around with Troy Mitchell under center. To keep the momentum going, coach Mark Speir can turn to junior Wes Holcombe - Mitchell's backup the past two seasons - or redshirt freshmen Tyrie Adams and Kalen Whitlow, along with Mars Hill transfer Garrett Young.

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