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In the FCS Huddle: FCS quarterback class is deep

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The recent concept of Eastern Washington University quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. leaving the FCS level one year early is startling.

Adams, the Walter Payton Award runner-up in each of the past two seasons, is on track to graduate at the end of the spring semester. At that point, he could leave EWU, enroll elsewhere, a la the University of Oregon which is in the market for a new starting quarterback, and have immediate eligibility for his senior season.

Former Gardner-Webb defensive end Shaquille Riddick, another FCS All-American, followed such a path last year when he graduated in the spring and spent his senior season on the FBS level at West Virginia University.

Players in those situations view such a transfer as a way to boost their NFL Draft status by playing against a higher level of competition.

Adams, who has accounted for a combined 100 passing and rushing touchdowns in 25 games over Eastern Washington's last two seasons, did not apply for early entry into this year's draft, although he would have been eligible as a fourth- year junior had he sought an NFL career.

He has downplayed the talk of a transfer. If he returns to the Eagles' lineup, they will be the favorite to win a fourth straight Big Sky Conference title and considered a top contender for the FCS national championship.

If Adams were to play his senior season at an FBS school, the FCS would lose its most high-profile player. However, what won't change is the talent level at football's most-important position, which is incredibly high across the division.

Including Adams, this past year's all-conference first-team quarterback is scheduled to return in 10 of the 13 FCS conferences. In the case of the Big Sky (Adams), Big South Conference (Coastal Carolina's Alex Ross), CAA Football (Villanova's John Robertson), Southern Conference (Chattanooga's Jacob Huesman) and Southwestern Athletic Conference (Alcorn State's John Gibbs Jr.), the first-team selection also is the conference's reigning offensive player of the year.

There's also the first-team QBs from the Ivy League (Dartmouth's Dalyn Williams), Missouri Valley Football Conference (Tre Roberson of national runner-up Illinois State), Northeast Conference (Sacred Heart's RJ Noel), Ohio Valley Conference (Jacksonville State's Eli Jenkins) and the Pioneer Football League (Jacksonville's Kade Bell).

Robertson not only won the 2014 Walter Payton Award as the outstanding player in the FCS - Adams was considered the front-runner in October until he missed four games with a broken foot - but the Villanova magician was the 2012 Jerry Rice Award recipient as the FCS freshman of the year.

So there would be no shortage of star power without Adams.

Plus, there are plenty of other elite FCS quarterbacks who will return next season, including North Dakota State's Carson Wentz, the most outstanding player of the national championship game when the Bison won for the fourth straight season.

In addition, dual-threat signal callers Dakota Prukop of Montana State and Vad Lee of James Madison warrant consideration for the Payton Award even though they are in the same conferences as Adams and Robertson - the Big Sky and CAA, respectively.

Other returning standouts include Cal Poly's Chris Brown, Murray State's KD Humphries, Sam Houston State's Jared Johnson, Western Carolina's Troy Mitchell, Yale's Morgan Roberts, Eastern Illinois' Jalen Whitlow, Grambling State's Johnathan Williams and Liberty's Josh Woodrum.

Johnson, who helped lead Sam Houston to the national semifinals, makes up for QB losses in the Southland Conference, which is the only one in the FCS not to return either its all-conference first- and second-team selections, if not both. The second-team QBs are back in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference with North Carolina Central's Malcolm Bell and the Patriot League with Holy Cross' Peter Pujals.

There's no doubt the FCS quarterback class will run deep next season.