Jacksonville State preparing for Wentz return

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(STATS) - The site of the FCS championship game seems particularly appropriate this year because one of the leading storylines is straight out of an episode of "Dallas."

North Dakota State and Jacksonville State will play for the national title Saturday at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, which some would say is just a touchdown toss north of Dallas.

But tune in Saturday to see if NDSU quarterback Carson Wentz will play again when the Bison try to add to their record four consecutive FCS championships. The fifth-year senior, and the Most Outstanding Player of last year's title game, hasn't played since breaking a bone in his right throwing wrist on Oct. 17. The Bison have won their last eight games with redshirt freshman Easton Stick as the starter.

"I would definitely think that he's playing in this game," Jacksonville State's John Grass said on a conference call of the game's two head coaches Monday. "He's had enough time to recover and play. And it's his last college football game with his guys, so why wouldn't he play? We're definitely preparing as if he's playing."

The original time frame for Wentz's return from the injury was six to eight weeks. Saturday will mark 12 since the South Dakota game.

North Dakota State coach Chris Klieman said on the conference call that Wentz, who returned to practices in mid-December, is often evaluated by his doctors but has yet to be cleared for game action.

Considered a candidate to be selected in the first or second round of the NFL draft in April, Wentz received an invite to play in the Senior Bowl on Jan. 30 while being sidelined.

"He's just continuing to progress," Klieman said. "He's throwing some 7-on-7, and that's kind of the extent of it right now. I'm really not going to get into it any more than what he has done, which is just throw a little bit of 7-on-7, and we're continuing to be hopeful that he has an opportunity to play, but we'll find out as the week progresses."

Wentz passed for 1,454 yards and 16 touchdowns with only two interceptions and rushed for 215 yards and four TDs in six full games. Stick has played with great poise and production since being rushed into action, throwing for 1,144 yards and 13 touchdowns with three interceptions and rushing for 498 yards and five TDs in 10 games, including two before Wentz's injury.

Sophomore Cole Davis has served as Stick's backup and will be in uniform Saturday. The roster spot in question would go to Wentz or true freshman QB James Hendricks.

"Easton benefited last year as a redshirt freshman of being able to travel with us all the time and being able to learn from Carson and being around him," Klieman said. "When Carson got hurt, to Carson's credit, he stuck with Easton every week and watched film with him and was on the sideline with us on a headset and visiting with him before series and after series. The two have so much respect for each other."

"They're not a lot different with either one of them when you break all those tapes down from last year and you look at this year with either one of 'em, they're not a whole lot different," Grass said. "But definitely (Wentz) throws the football much better, he's got the NFL arm. We're preparing like he's playing."

Stick has unselfishly talked about how he wanted to keep extending NDSU's season in the playoffs to give Wentz time to return to the lineup. That would give the veteran standout the chance to be the closer on another national title, although a switch could disrupt the rhythm gained under Stick. It's also possible both could play Saturday.

Whatever the subplot, it falls right in J.R. Ewing's backyard.