In the FCS Huddle: New QBs work to carve their niche

Give a college football coach a choice between having a returning starting quarterback and a new offensive line, or vice versa, and he likely would go with the veteran group in the trenches.

But the fact remains many of us are enamored with our favorite team having a veteran quarterback.

Look at the scenarios among last year's FCS finalists. Delaware's fickle fans no longer have the feeling of comfort that Pat Devlin gave them the last two years. Eastern Washington fans love that Bo Levi Mitchell is back to lead the defending national champion Eagles.

Sometimes it's easy to forget college football teams have four, five, six quarterbacks on their roster. The starter isn't necessarily the only signal- caller capable of leading a successful season.

New Hampshire fans basically only heard the names Ricky Santos and R.J. Toman for years, only to find out how good fifth-year senior Kevin Decker is in playoff action last season and through two strong starts (he's 44 of 62 for 492 yards and four touchdowns) this season.

"It's made my life easy, the last six or seven years around here," UNH head coach Sean McDonnell said after Saturday's 48-41 overtime win over Lehigh. "When Santos left, we had a quarterback, and then Toman came in. And Toman beat out Decker by that much (he holds two fingers an inch apart), guys. It was that close."

UNH coaches persuaded Decker not to transfer from the CAA Football school when he pondered a move. After his long wait in the wings, he's paying dividends this season.

This year, plenty of other schools were faced with having to replace their offensive leader. The early results are mixed, but the transition is well underway.

Five teams are replacing the 2010 offensive player of the year in their respective conferences. The list includes Devlin and the top two finishers for the Walter Payton Award (sponsored by, winner Jeremy Moses of Stephen F. Austin and runner-up Matt Barr of Western Illinois.

Trevor Sasek, who backed up Devlin last season, injured his right knee in Delaware's season opener. Junior Tim Donnelly, a former walk-on, managed a good game in Saturday's 28-17 win over Division II West Chester, but the position is far from settled as the Blue Hens rev up for their CAA Football schedule.

Brady Attaway is at the controls of SFA's offense and has a rifle for an arm. After tearing into Division III McMurry in the opener, he threw three interceptions in a loss to No. 4 Northern Iowa. But Attaway is known to shake off bad plays, and he will need to considering the two-time defending Southland Conference champion Lumberjacks go to Baylor on Saturday.

At Western Illinois, junior college transfer Josh Hudson has gained the upper hand on Wil Lunt in replacing Barr, the Missouri Valley Conference's finest QB last season. Hudson has thrown for four touchdowns, including a 92-yarder, without an interception through two games.

Bethune-Cookman's Jamarr Robinson, a Maryland transfer, is replacing MEAC Offensive Player of the Year Matt Johnson. After a dominant game against Prairie View A&M, he followed up with a four-interception performance against South Carolina State.

At Dayton, Will Bardo is replacing two-time Pioneer Football League Offensive Player of the Year Steve Valentino. Bardo is a composed redshirt freshman, but has completed only 49 percent of his passes for 304 yards and two touchdowns, with 93 rushing yards, in the Flyers' 1-1 start.

Other quarterbacks who are off to solid starts in replacing veteran quarterbacks include Northern Arizona's Cary Grossart (Michael Herrick was the 2010 starter), Colgate's Gavin McCarney (Greg Sullivan), Missouri State's Trevor Wooden (Cody Kirby), Elon's Thomas Wilson (Scott Riddle), Weber State's Mike Hoke (Cameron Higgins) and Southern Illinois' Paul McIntosh (Chris Dieker).

Quarterbacks who are off to lesser performances and are trying to instill continuity in their teams include Coastal Carolina's Aramis Hillary (Zach MacDowall), Massachusetts' Brandon Hill and Kellen Pagel (Kyle Havens), Prairie View A&M's Jonathan Troast (K.J. Black), Sacred Heart's Luke Wischnowski (Dale Fink), South Carolina State's Derrick Wiley (Malcolm Long), Arkansas-Pine Bluff's Benjamin Davis (Josh Boudreaux) and Villanova's Dustin Thomas (Chris Whitney).


Villanova's struggles aren't particularly surprising considering the Wildcats lost the most talented senior class in the FCS after last season.

But the 2009 national champions have some company that nobody foresaw -- 2010 FCS champion Eastern Washington also is off to an 0-2 start.

While Villanova should reverse Saturday's 31-10 clunker at Towson next weekend against visiting Monmouth, EWU can't dwell on its 30-17 stunner at South Dakota on Saturday, as well as the fact it will relinquish the top spot in The Sports Network/ FCS Top 25.

The Eagles have back-to-back Big Sky games against Montana (Saturday in Missoula) and Montana State (Sept. 24 in Cheney, Wash.) in the next two weeks. A conference title, maybe even the possibility of returning to the playoffs, could vanquish if they don't right the ship.

"It's disappointing," EWU head coach Beau Baldwin said. "There is no question we are capable of a lot more. We all have to do a better job this week and respond from this loss. That's where we are. We don't like the situation we're in, but we have to learn from this and step up, including myself.

"This is a tough spot we're in -- it's never easy to dig out of an 0-2 hole. But the only possible chance we have is to grind it out a practice at a time and a game at a time. All our energy needs to go toward playing Montana."


No. 2 Georgia Southern seemingly stands to claim the nation's top ranking on the heels of its 62-21 thrashing of Division II Tusculum and Eastern Washington's loss.

The Southern Conference could control the top two spots in the national poll after No. 3 Appalachian State rolled to an expected blowout of North Carolina A&T, 58-6 on Saturday.

But Stephen F. Austin coach J.C. Harper begs to differ about the top spot after No. 4 Northern Iowa made the difficult trip to Nacgdoches, Texas, and came away a 34-23 winner over the Lumberjacks behind quarterback Tirrell Rennie (126 rushing yards and two touchdowns; 151 passing yards).

"When you play a team as good as Northern Iowa, you can't make mistakes," Harper said. "I believe UNI is the No. 1 team in the country, but we really hurt ourselves tonight."


You might say all 20 FCS teams took a swing and a miss in falling to FBS opponents on Saturday. But it's a lot better to go down swinging, right?

Five of the teams came within a touchdown of the FBS teams: Alabama State lost at Eastern Michigan, 14-7; Maine fell to Pittsburgh, 35-29; No. 7 Wofford lost to Clemson, 35-27; Rhode Island went down at Syracuse, 21-14; and No. 18 Central Arkansas lost at Louisiana Tech, 48-42, in overtime.

"I was proud of our team the way that they just fought their tails off. They didn't give up," Wofford head coach Mike Ayers said.

Through two weeks, FCS teams are 2-56 against FBS. That's showing how last year's seven FCS upsets was a good number.


Give credit to South Alabama. Saturday's 30-8 triumph over Lamar made the Jaguars a perfect 19-0 in their first three seasons, but mostly against inferior competition. The perfection under head coach Joey Jones won't last much longer. The Jaguars visit FBS opponents in their next two games, Saturday at North Carolina State and Sept. 24 at Kent State. That type of competition will serve them better because they are just passing through the FCS en route to joining the FBS and the Sun Belt Conference in 2013 ... Sam Ojuri's 95-yard touchdown run to kick start North Dakota State's 56-3 blowout of St. Francis (Pa.) set a school record. He finished with 165 yards on 12 carries ... Youngstown State scored on its first 11 possessions in a 77-13 rout of Valparaiso, which suffered its 22nd straight defeat. The Penguins had 657 yards and 34 first downs ... South Dakota has to share some of the Great West spotlight with Southern Utah, which throttled No. 12 Sacramento State, 35-14, one week after the Hornets upset Oregon State. SU quarterback Brad Sorensen completed 30-of-37 passes for 271 yards and defensive end Tyler Osborne had 1.5 sacks and a fumble recovery ... There's no shortage of offense with Southeastern Louisiana, which is averaging 510 yards and 48 points through a 1-1 start. The Lions ran 93 plays against Savannah State after running 89 versus Tulane. Only two teams have run more through the first two weeks ... The inaugural AT&T First Nation's Classic drew 18,409 to RFK Stadium in Washington, where Howard held off Division II Morehouse, 30-27. Greg McGhee threw for 248 yards and three touchdowns in the win ... Classics involving Historically Black Colleges and Universities dominate FCS attendance. The weekend's high attendance of 43,532 watched Jackson State beat Tennessee State, 35-29, at the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tenn. ... Elon retired quarterback Scott Riddle's No. 16 jersey in a ceremony before the Phoenix's 42-10 win over Concord. Riddle holds 41 NCAA, Southern Conference or Elon records ... His team having just missed the FCS playoffs last year, Chattanooga coach Russ Huesman is calling for his players to build on their impressive win over Jacksonville State. Next up is a trip to another Ohio Valley Conference opponent, Eastern Kentucky. "We are 1-1, but we have got to be 2-1, bottom line," Huesman said. "That's what I told them in the locker room. That is all we're thinking about." ... If Western Carolina true freshman Shaun Warren rushing for 203 yards and four touchdowns seemed out of this world, consider it came in a 52-31 victory over Mars Hill on Saturday ... Linebacker Jimmy Thomas, strong safety Tom Mannix and a fired-up Holy Cross defense "held" Colgate All-America running back Nate Eachus to 96 yards and one touchdown on 25 carries in a 37-7 rout in the Patriot League. The rushing total was the second-lowest for Eachus in Colgate's last 15 games ... Another big crowd (31,634) greeted start-up program UTSA at the Alamodome, but the Roadrunners' 24-21 loss to Division III McMurry was unacceptable for a program headed to the FBS next year ... Few players in the FCS can rival Rodrick Rumble's start at Idaho State. The 6-2 junior wide receiver has caught 20 passes for 362 yards and four touchdowns in two games ... Smoke from area wildfires was a problem for winded players on Saturday at Montana's Washington-Grizzly Stadium. The Grizzlies posted a 37-23 win over Cal Poly to avenge last year's loss when they were ranked No. 1 ... New Hampshire junior linebacker Matt Evans set the seasonal bar high with 24 tackles, including 23 in regulation, as the Wildcats outlasted Lehigh, 48-41, in overtime. He had 17 solo tackles ... Until its passing game improves, James Madison will struggle in the CAA. The Dukes had to survive a 14-9 scare against Central Connecticut State before a record-setting crowd of 25,102 at expanded Bridgeforth Stadium ... Delaware starting wide receiver Nihja White didn't play against West Chester because of a hand injury, but is expected to return against Delaware State next weekend ... The first two teams to surpass last year's win total: Bucknell and Towson, which are both 2-0.


Next Saturday's action will feature mainly non-conference games again.

Not to be overlooked nationally is the Columbia at Fordham matchup. They are two of the three Division I football programs in New York, and since 2002 they have met for the Liberty Cup trophy, which was dedicated one year after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Many Columbia and Fordham alumni and students died that day, including two former Fordham football players, Nick Brandemarti and Kevin Szocik.

Fordham holds a 5-4 lead for the Liberty Cup, but Columbia has a 12-7 all-time series lead.

Wagner, the other D-I program in New York, will open Northeast Conference play by hosting preseason favorite Central Connecticut State.

Other non-conference highlights are Chattanooga at Eastern Kentucky, Hampton at Old Dominion and James Madison at Liberty.

The marquee conference game is defending FCS champion Eastern Washington going to Big Sky power Montana, with the visiting Eagles in survival mode.

Also, there's Central Arkansas at Sam Houston State in the Southland Conference and Grambling State at Alabama State in the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

Sixteen FCS teams will travel to FBS opponents, including Stephen F. Austin at Baylor.