Philadelphia, PA – Brian Bell didn't necessarily look the part of a starting quarterback when he stepped into the Sam Houston State huddle as a true freshman in 2010, but he acted the part.
Even better for the Bearkats, he played the part.
For over a decade, Sam Houston State was a program that had utilized a wealth of veteran and transfer quarterbacks. First-year head coach Willie Fritz then committed the offense to the wiry 6-foot-2 Bell, who barely looked his 175 pounds when he gained the starting job just three games into his rookie campaign.
Bell quickly earned his teammates' confidence through his leadership qualities in the huddle and composure during games.
All he has done since is win games - 30 as a starting quarterback, a school record.
A victory on Jan. 5 would be his biggest one. The Bearkats (11-3) face North Dakota State (14-1) in Frisco, Texas, in a rematch of last season's NCAA Division I Football Championship Game.
For Bell, it's a chance to reverse a poor performance - 12-of-31 for 115 yards and two interceptions with minus-eight rushing yards - in the Bearkats' 17-6 loss to NDSU last January.
The junior comes into this season's championship game amid a strong postseason run. Over the Bearkats' 11-3 campaign, he has completed 61.6 percent of his passes for 2,460 yards and 24 touchdowns, with only seven interceptions, ranking 11th in the FCS in passing efficiency (151.27). He also has rushed for 354 yards and six touchdowns in the read option.
Raised in a football family, Bell played under his father, Mark, at China Spring High in Texas and acts the part of an extra coach on the field. Behind his lead, the Bearkats rank second in the FCS in scoring offense (41.3 ppg), but they will face the nation's No. 1-ranked defense in North Dakota State.
In Five-a-Side - In the FCS Huddle's monthly feature of "five questions, five answers" with an influential person in the FCS - Bell discusses the Sam Houston State offense and the upcoming national championship game.
Let's kick off:
TSN: Obviously your team was disappointed by last season's championship game. Did your team come away feeling the better team won that game?
BB: I feel like they played a great game and we beat ourselves in a lot of aspects. But they were a great ball team last year, we were a great ball team. They were fortunate to come out with the victory, which was very disappointing on our end. It's a new season, we're excited about this season. (Playing in the championship game) was our No. 1 goal coming into this year. Our motto is 'Finish' this year. We've put ourselves into a great opportunity to finish this year, so we're looking forward to this matchup.
TSN: Can you talk about how your team's offense has evolved this season?
BB: With Coach Ruse (first-year offensive coordinator Doug Ruse), he's a really fun coach to play for. He's got us throwing the ball just a little bit more than we did last year; it's a lot more fun for everybody. We're just having a good time. We have some dimensions that we didn't have. (Wide receiver) Trey Diller is making a lot of big plays for us this year. (Slot receiver) Chance Nelson is making a lot of big plays in the passing game. There's just a lot of things that we didn't have last year that we do have this year. It gives us a lot of confidence going into this game.
TSN: What do you think you're doing better as a quarterback?
BB: My main focus is not to turn the ball over. My job is to get the ball from the center into my hands and get it into the playmakers' hands. We've got a lot of playmakers on our offense, which can make big things happen. Our job is to get them the ball. That's not new. Don't turn the ball over, just be patient and take what the defense gives me.
TSN: Can you break down what makes the North Dakota State defense so good?
BB: You're not going to make it to the national championship without a great defense, you know that. I couldn't say enough, they're a great defense. They play technique-sound football. Great D-line, great linebackers, great secondary, the whole nine yards. They have a lot of great athletes, they have a lot of team speed. Nobody is going to underestimate them, they're a great ball team. We're just looking forward offensively to get in there and compete with them.
TSN: Obviously, this is a matchup of two great teams and it could come down to the end. What kind of a game do you want to turn this into as opposed to last season?
BB: Throughout our season, and I'm sure North Dakota State as well, we've had a lot of games that we've gone through and experienced, I guess you could say. We've got a lot of players who have played a lot on our offense. I think we're prepared and we're ready for any game that comes upon us. If it's a grind-it- out all four quarters and overtime, we're ready for that. It's going to be a great ball game.